Friday, December 30, 2005

See ya next year

Just popping in for a minute to link to my review of ABC's "In Justice," and to wish everybody a happy and safe new year. Midseason kicks into high gear starting next week, plus I'll be weighing in on some of the flicks I saw in theaters and on DVD -- including that noted crowd-pleaser "Munic" -- while I was waiting for late-December reruns to go away.

Oh, and I can't let 2005 slip away without at least one more reference to "Lazy Sunday" (which, if it had debuted even a week earlier, I'm sure would've been somewhere on my Top 10 list): it's so popular that even the paper of record had to weigh in on it. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Best of the best

Merry Chrismukkah, everybody. My top 10 list ran in today's paper (Matt's is here). For posterity's sake, here's my list, if not the descriptions:
  1. "Battlestar Galactica"
  2. "Deadwood"
  3. "Veronica Mars"
  4. "Arrested Development"
  5. "Sleeper Cell"
  6. "Grey's Anatomy"
  7. "House"
  8. "The Daily Show" & "The Colbert Report"
  9. "Bodies" & "Viva Blackpool"
  10. "Rescue Me" (FX)

Honorable mentions: "Lost," "The Shield," the finales of "Six Feet Under" and "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Project: Greenlight," "How I Met Your Mother," "The Office," "Survivor: Palau" and "The Amazing Race: Rob & Ambuh."

Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 23, 2005

How much is that gorilla in the window?

First, the links. Because I haven't written enough about "Lazy Sunday" this week (it's now available on both NBC's website and for free at the iTunes store), I wrote about it some more in today's mailbag column (expounding the same theory about the show needing to pretape more).

Today is also Festivus, which means it's time for Matt and I to write our annual Festivus column about the TV folks who disappointed us in the past year. (Cookie Monster, you're in trouble...)

Went to see "King Kong" last night. After being warned by every movie critic I know that it's too damn long, I had braced myself for the kind of butt-numbing experience I haven't had since "The Green Mile"). But I was into it pretty much the entire time. Could it be trimmed? Yeah, particularly in the first hour, when a lot of time is spent, as my friend Dan said, giving elaborate backstories to people who are just going to get eaten. But that stuff was over before I had time to get bored, and once they land on Skull Island, that picture moves. It didn't even occur to me to look at my watch until we were back on Broadway. I liked Naomi Watts (especially after I noticed that she and my wife have the same nose), thought Jack Black was restrained but still Jack Black enough for my taste, and Andy Serkis needs to win some kind of special Oscar at some point.

For those who celebrate, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas or just Happy New Year. Not a lot to watch in the next week, so there may not be much blogging before 2006 rolls around. With all my family's been through, I'll be damn glad to see the back of '05. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Too much to do, too much to see

The only new TV of note was the "Nip/Tuck" finale, but I gave up on the show again five or six episodes into this season, and after listening to my friend Rich describe all the contortions of the finale ("And did I mention that Quentin doesn't have a penis?"), I feel comfortable with that decision.

Instead, I want to talk about the problem of too much TV -- or, rather, too much TV bonus content. There was an article by Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe a few days ago that summed up one of my growing concerns about this job:

In the coming months, you and your TV addiction are going to be reeled into an expanded ''environment" of your favorite network show, one that may require a cover charge for entry into certain exclusive zones.

You'll be invited to visit characters' blogs at MySpace.com, or pay for mobile phone episodes (known as mobisodes), or buy DVD packages and video games containing new and additional plot information. Your once-simple affair with your TV ''story" could have as much to do with your PC, your cellphone, and your DVD player as it does with your TV set.

I've always prided myself on keeping up with as much TV as I possibly can on this job. In the 10 years I've been doing it, that mission has become exponentially more difficult. When I started, there were six broadcast networks, one of which (UPN) could pretty much be written off every season after I watched the pilots, and maybe a half-dozen cable shows of any real note. Now there are dozens of channels with original programming that interests me (or that I feel I should be watching because of general reader interest), and there aren't enough hours in the day to see them all.

And now I not only have to keep up with all these shows, but their assorted podcasts, blogs and web and mobile phone episodes? Does someone want to give me one of those time-travel gizmos like Hermione has in Prisoner of Azkaban just so I have a prayer of getting to it all?

I'm actually in favor of all these new bonuses. If I was an average TV viewer with two or three shows that I absolutely loved, I'd be in heaven to be able to extend my entertainment beyond those two or three episodes a week. But as a professional TV watcher, I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed.

I just spent two days jumping through ginormous logistical hoops to replace our two broken cell phones, and I'm pretty sure the new ones we got aren't capable of downloading and playing video, so unless I want to shell out several hundred bucks to upgrade, I won't be able to watch any mobisodes until our new cell contract ends in two years and we can get cheap new phones. I love that Ronald Moore does podcast commentaries for every "Battlestar Galactica" episode, but it feels wasteful to me to watch each episode twice (once without commentary, then with) when there are so many other things I need to get to.

I usually like to think I'm staying close to the leading edge of entertainment technology, but for my own selfish reasons, I feel like I'm turning into a Luddite. "In my day, we didn't need no fancy podcasts! We got 22 episodes a year, with lots of reruns in December, March and April, and we liked it! We loved it! Flibble-dee-floo!"

Oh, and love for "The Chronic-WHAT?-cles of Narnia" continues to spread. Just remember, Mr. Pibb + Red Vines = Crazy Delicious! Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A most ingenious paradox

This is a tricky time of year to be a daily TV columnist. On the one hand, I have so many midseason shows arriving in the mail that I barely have time to watch them all. (Today's jackpot: the first four episodes of "The Shield" season five.) On the other, I can't write about those until closer to when they air, so I have almost nothing to fill the column with. Other than my top 10 list and our annual Festivus list of TV shows and people who disappointed Matt and me, it's an idea vacuum. Today's column, dealing with a couple of religious news specials and some more speculation on the post-John Spencer "West Wing," may be our last non-list column of the year.

"Arrested Development" was decent, not great last night. The J. Walter Weatherman's lessons gag is played, and we got three different lessons-within-lessons last night. Glad to see the return of Bob Loblaw (and the introduction of the Bob Loblaw Law Blog), plus the return of Tobias' gay single entendres, and even the brief snippets of the GOB/Franklin "It's not easy being white" duet, but overall, pretty meh.

"How I Met Your Mother" is about to have to do some fancy footwork. Either the producers saw that they had underestimated the level of Ted/Robin chemistry or someone at the network started sending very angry notes on the subject, because it's clear that, whatever Future Ted may have said about "Aunt Robin" in the past, the two of them are going to get together, and soon. Maybe we discover that Future Ted has been playing a large mindgame on his kids, and that Robin's name isn't really Robin so they wouldn't realize their dad was talking about their mom. But, like the other really strong episodes (the one at the nightclub, the one with Drunk Ted), the writers stuck to a single plotline and made Present Ted as upbeat as possible. Best moment: Marshall running out of the fog to the strains of "You Give Love a Bad Name."

I also half-watched "Two and a Half Men," which Marian enjoys more than I do but isn't bad. Senses-jolting moment: when I realized that Alan's hot but insane girlfriend was played by Josie Davis, the wallflower middle sister from "Charles in Charge" (aka "Bob Loblaw in Charge"). And, apparently, I've seen her before in things like "Titans" and the awful "LA Law" reunion movie without recognizing her. It's one thing for a former child star to turn hot in front of your eyes (Natalie Portman, the pre-anorexia Lindsay Lohan), but to have one disappear and turn up as a babe 15 years later? Unsettling.

Getting back to midseason for a second, I already blogged about "The Unit," and I got to see the excellent pilot for "Book of Daniel" (Vicodin-addicted minister pals around with Jesus) six months ago. In the last few days, I watched "Courting Alex," the new Jenna Elfman sitcom where she essentially plays Greg to Josh Randall's Dharma. Not a lot there, but if Randall starts wearing his "Vote Dukakis '88" t-shirt, I might be willing to give it another look. I hated Julia Louis-Drefyus' "The New Adventures of Old Christine," but Marian laughed hysterically at it, so either it's a show with a large gender skew or her standards have really dropped since sitcoms went into the tank at the end of the '90s.

And the "Chronicles of Narnia" rap remains firmly lodged in my head. "Google Maps is the best! True dat! DOUBLE TRUE!" Click here to read the full post

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Chronic-WHAT?-cles of Narnia

Slow, slow, slow weekend of TV. Decent "Simpsons" Christmas episode, especially the last act, which felt very "22 Short Films About Springfield," and I liked what I saw of "Family Guy" (especially Stewie's trip through the psychedelic "Sesame Street" pinball game), but most of what I watch in primetime was in repeats.

So instead, I'm going to write about "Saturday Night Live." I know, I know, I'm blogging a dead horse here (very dead horse), but I was a fan for so long and this current season pains me so much that blogging about it is cathartic.

There were exactly three funny things in the episode: Jack Black's "King Kong" song, the TV Funhouse about Jews on Christmas, and the short film with Parnell and Andy Samberg rapping about their trip to see "The Chronicles of Narnia." What do they have in common? All three were written outside the traditional "SNL" creative process, by outside people. If Black didn't write all of the Kong song, he wrote most of it, Robert Smigel writes and produces TV Funhouse on his own, and the Chronicles video (which I've gone back and watched at least three more times in the last 24 hours) was made by Samberg and his buddies from The Lonely Island, who were hired to make films for the show this year.

For a long time now, the only time you know something on "SNL" is going to be funny is when someone's bringing in outside material (Dane Cook doing his stand-up act for the monologue), when it's being produced in advance (the commercial parodies, which are great even when the rest of the show is awful), or both. It's clear that either the talent or the process is badly flawed, and I'd like to believe it's the latter. If Lorne was willing to let a third or a half of each episode be shot on film, or even pre-taped, I think we'd see a radical jump in quality. As it is now, even the season premieres feel like no one bothered to think up sketch premises until Friday afternoon. You still leave enough time in each episode to respond to current events, and to let the actors who work well in front of a live audience do their thing, but you don't keep cranking out 90 minutes of live crap just because that's the way it's always been done.

(And even there, "always" is a relative term. The first year of the show featured regular films by Albert Brooks -- one of which was so long they had to put a commercial break in the middle -- and in the last few years of the Dick Ebersol era, about half of the show was put together in advance, including some all-time classic sketches like Eddie Murphy as Mr. White and men's synchronized swimming with Harry Shearer and Martin Short.)

If you look at the sketch comedy shows that have been outd0ne "SNL" for brief periods -- "The Ben Stiller Show," "Chappelle's Show," some of the early film parodies on "Mad TV" -- you see shows where the writers and producers took their time to make sure every joke was as funny as they could possibly make it, and not just as funny as they could get it by 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday. Click here to read the full post

Saturday, December 17, 2005

RIP, John Spencer

I was about 90 seconds from leaving work last night for our office holiday party when my editor walked up and said, "John Spencer died." After a minute to process this, Matt started working the phones while I began looking for archival quotes so we could write the obituary.

John Spencer was one of the nicest celebrities I've ever had the pleasure to meet. He always considered his post-rehab life to be time he hadn't expected to have, so while 58 is way too young to die, he enjoyed every damn minute of the last 16 years.

It's obviously much too early to know what "West Wing" is going to do without him. The show caught a bizarre lucky break when Leo wasn't included in the flash-forward to the dedication of the Bartlet presidential library in the season premiere. At the time, I heard lots of speculation about his absence: Leo's busy doing some VP assignment; Leo is actually the president (Santos having died sometime after winning the election) and is therefore the guy coming out of the limo; Leo suffered another heart attack and died. I'm almost certain they have to kill him now; the only question is how close production was to the election episode.

About the only silver lining of this whole situation is that it could spur Sorkin and Schlamme to come back to write and direct Leo's farewell. Hell, if we're really close to the end of the series, maybe Santos chooses a familiar face to be Leo's replacement: Sam Seaborn. Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 16, 2005

Bah, humbugowitz!

Before we get to discussing the worst Chrismukkah ever, I have to give some props to what is easily the greatest newspaper headline since the NY Post's "Headless Man Found in Topless Bar." In today's Star-Ledger, we have Mailman by day, award-winning pimp by night. If it was just "pimp by night," it would still be brilliant, but it's the award-winning part that kicks it up several notches. According to the story:

And when agents searched his homes this week, including one in South Jersey, they found a 4-foot-high trophy Thompkins won in 2003.

International Pimp of the Year, it proclaimed.

Who would've thought "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" was so prescient on this thing? To quote Flyguy, "My bitch better have my money, through rain, sleet or snow. My whore better have my money, not half, not some, but all my cash. 'Cause if she don't, I'm gonna put my foot in her ass."

In more depressing news, not even the annual Chrismukkah episode could help salvage this "O.C." season. Aside from Summer wearing a "Donna Martin graduates" t-shirt and Julie embracing her trailer-trash roots (maybe a bit too quickly, but still funny), there wasn't a lot to enjoy here. Johnny "My pride is too big to accept charity so I'll rob a convenience store whose cash register will be full enough to finance my arthroscopic knee surgery" Harper is such a moron that he and Marissa completely deserve each other; those two should go off and live barefoot in the wilderness together to raise a dozen or so idiot children. The Bar Mitzvukkah was a dumb idea (glad that Schwartz let Sandy explain exactly why before he rolled over and let it happen), but even if I'm willing to go along with it, how can the show spend so much time building up Ryan's inevitable humiliation and then cut away before we actually get to see any of it? Gun, meet third act. Third act, meet gun. Figure out what went wrong.

Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Come and join our latke clan

It was a medical show double-feature last night, which felt appropriate since Julia's virus seems to be dragging on and on and on and on and on (which, again, accounts for the slowness of late).

Sunday's "Grey's Anatomy" was a lot of fun, a Christmas/Chanukah episode that managed to treat all points of view about the holidays with equal weight without getting treacly or preachy. I was especially psyched to hear a song by The Leevees, since I already owned that album, and my usual pattern is to hit the iTunes store the morning after an episode airs. A bit lame to steal Chrismukkah without acknowleding "The O.C.," but bonus points to make up for it by giving Sandra Oh another chance to do her deadpan bad-acting as one of Alex's fake patients.

"House" continued its recent roll. Bizarre to see House successfully flirting with Cynthia Nixon at the OTB, even more bizarre to see Cameron being sneaky at her usual holier-than-thou approach, and funny as hell to watch House undermine temporary boss Foreman. With the holiday break coming, I fear that the show's going to come back in January with House's demotion already finished. I think that shaking up the status quo, even on paper -- as this episode showed, House is in charge no matter who has official authority -- would do this show some good.

With the TV business pretty much grinding to a halt until the new year, I've been spending a lot of time at work getting prepared for midseason. The other day, I watched the pilot of "The Unit," the new military drama from David Mamet and "Shield" creator Shawn Ryan. At first, it felt pretty generic -- "E-Ring" with CBS production values -- but after 10 minutes or so, I said, "Okay, now I can see that Mamet wrote this." The man's dialogue is unmistakable, and Dennis Haysbert (as a serenely ass-kicking special forces leader) delivers it beautifully.

I've been dipping back into "Country Boys," an amazing PBS documentary miniseries about two troubled teenage boys in Appalachian Kentucky. I saw the first two hours back in July, and even wound up hanging around the hotel pool with one of the two subjects, a Goth Christian rocker whose two big tourist stops in LA were Ozzy Osbourne's house and Venice beach. ("It felt like the family I never had," he said.) I sometimes get irritated when film snobs sniff at the inferiority of reality TV to old-fashioned documentaries, but after watching this, I'm going to have a harder time than ever trying to sit through an episode of "Laguna Beach." 2006 hasn't even started yet, but I already know one show that's going to be on that year's top 10 list.

And speaking of which, today I raced through the next two original episodes of "Battlestar Galactica," which is going to be at or near the top of this year's list. Sometimes, sci-fi shows suffer when you have to watch rough cuts with temporary effects, but not this one. A lot of the spaceship shots weren't much better than I could do with the Windows paint program, but this is a show about people and issues first and gadgetry a distant fifth or sixth. I won't spoil what happens with the whole Adama/Cain feud, but this is a show that is not slowing down in the least.

And because I can't allow myself to waste too much quality in a single day, I followed it with three episodes of "Four Kings," a bad NBC comedy that even Seth Green can't save. Gotta cleanse the palate now and then. Click here to read the full post

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Go Danni, go!

Still working on the sports movie post (it's an obsession of mine, and I want to do it right), but in the meantime, some brief thoughts on the "Survivor: Guatemala" finale:
  • I couldn't be happier that Danni won, not only because she seemed like one of the nicest contestants this time around, but because when her back was up against it and the whip came down and the going got tough and the cliches started piling up, she didn't roll over and accept that the numbers were against her. She fought and she schemed and she was the only one smart enough to bid on the damn immunity clue in the auction. If any of the other five had been smart enough to realize the threat that Danni would pose if she won that immunity challenge, the game could have gone down very differently. Hell, we could've had a Steph/Judd final two, which would've been really distasteful.
  • As Danni started wasting away to Lara Flynn Boyle dimensions, I mentioned my concern for her well-being to a friend at CBS. "Don't worry," he told me. "She'll clean up real well for the reunion." And he was dead on the money; it's amazing what an extra 10-15 pounds can do.
  • Why do so many players that I like have to turn into moralizing twits at the end? Tom from Palau got pretty damn sanctimonious with Ian at the end of last season, only forgiving the guy after Ian guaranteed him the million dollars. Now we have Rafe, who in back to back episodes gets all "Well, if it were me, I would have given away the cars, but Cindy will just have to live with her decision," and then "Danni, I'm going to tell you that you don't have to keep your promise to me, but what I really mean is that you had better keep it or I'm going to piss and moan for 18 hours."
  • Two very cool variations on familiar challenges, with the mega-maze and then the rope balance game. As soon as all three started leaning into the posts, I knew Danni was going to win. She just looked much stabler than the other two, and while I don't think this is an exact challenge she ever faced on the pageant circuit, balance is a big thing in that world.
  • Aside from Judd, one of the least bitter jury segments we've ever had. Nice. On the other hand, this is the second time where one of the two finalists had a chance to argue that she didn't need a second chance to make it to final two (Sandra in Pearl Islands was the other, since Lill got back in on the Outcasts twist), and didn't do it. Then again, I'm guessing Danni didn't think she needed to. She had Gary and Bobby Jon in the bag, and Judd and Jamie were so pissed at Steph that she had the win locked up right there.
  • Probst had his good moments and his bad in the reunion, but I felt like there were a lot of follow-up questions he should've asked but didn't. Why didn't anyone but Steph bid against Danni for the immunity clue, and why did Steph drop out so soon? Why did Gary insist on keeping up his stupid secret identity gag even after Danni outed him? (And, show of hands, how many people actually believed he was a landscaper after Danni started talking?) If Danni had chosen Rafe instead of Steph, who would've won? I appreciate that, unlike Rosie or Bryant, Jeff actually makes an effort to let everyone answer at least one question, but I'd be willing to sacrifice a moment with Morgan or Brianna or Brooke (who?) to get more info on the people who stuck around and affected the final outcome.
  • Speaking of Probst, he's delivered some pretty withering looks at contestants in the past, but I don't think I've ever seen him quite as disgusted as when Lydia, Danni and Steph admitted to eating the sacrificial chicken. I was sitting on the couch, and even I felt like whimpering, "I'm sorry, Mr. Probst. I didn't mean to!"
  • One last Probst thing: on the conference call before the season started, he said that Bobby Jon and Steph would be returning to the show "in some capacity," and I asked him flat out if that meant they were actually competing for the million bucks. I'd heard a rumor that, if they lasted until the merge, they would automatically wind up on the jury, but that no one would know it until/unless it happened. Jeff hemmed and hawed and gave an ellipticial answer that to me hinted strongly that the rumor was true. Whoops.
  • The spring season looks promising, because it's obvious Burnett and Tom Shelly have realized that they have to keep shaking up the game to safeguard themselves against casts who don't click the way they had hoped. Guatemala definitely didn't have the best bunch of personalities ever, but the season turned out pretty well thanks to twists like the mini-idol, the immunity clue, the Gift of the Car-gi, etc.
Another season down. Who'da thunk we'd still be so hooked on this show a half-decade later? Click here to read the full post

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Coughing up, catching up

If the blog's seemed like a ghost town the last few days, it's because I've been hip-deep in toddler triage, which involve such lovely Catch-22s as my daughter refusing to drink anything at all because she doesn't feel well, even though fluids are pretty much the only way she'll feel better.

Fortunately, there hasn't been much to watch during this battle of wills, but here's what I did see in between calls to the pediatrician:

"Veronica Mars": Ahhh, the "12 Angry Men" homage, which is almost always the sign of a show with a budget or scheduling crunch. It's a testament to what an amazing movie that was that everything from "Happy Days" to "Picket Fences" to "Veronica Mars" can steal from it. This version was okay, but nothing special, especially for this show; the only part of the plot that really felt like it belonged was when Veronica's car got vandalized again. I'm disappointed that they got rid of Leo, who I didn't like at first but grew on me, and I'm damn glad to have Wallace back. My one worry at this point is that the two major story arcs -- Who Killed Felix and Who Engineered the Bus Crash -- are developing too many tangential branches over time. Last year's two big mysteries felt a little purer and straightforward to me, while here we keep diverting from the plots for things like Meg's baby. How long until the next episode again?

"Survivor": FYI, this is being written before I've watched the finale and reunion. I'll say this for Guatemala: what the season may have lacked in dynamic casting, it's more than compensated with clever twists like the mini-idol, the immunity clue and now the Car Curse Question. I think Cindy was placed in a no-win situation there; keep the car and some people (surprisingly, Rafe) resent you for your lack of generosity, give four cars away and suddenly you're so popular that no one wants to face you in the final two. Unless she could have leveraged the car giveaway into a guaranteed berth in the final three (and, as Judd and Jamie both learned, no promise lasts forever here), she was better off keeping the SUV in hand. For all my bitching about Stephenie this season (including this column that ran the day before Probst officially announced his desire to stick around), she came across as fairly likable in this episode. I still think Rafe has the inside track to the win (and I can't believe the preview for the finale gives away the results of the 4--->3 immunity challenge), but pretty much anything can happen.

"Saturday Night Live": Sometimes, I think Lorne Michaels is just screwing with me. Even if I didn't have the Season Pass, I would've tuned in for Alec Baldwin's latest appearance. (At this point, I think he and the show would both be much better off if he was a permanent castmember.) But this was easily the most underwhelming Baldwin episode I can remember (even "The Tony Bennett Show" sucked)... until the very last sketch of the show, which took the greatest five minutes of Baldwin's entire career and transplanted it into Santa's workshop. As scripted, it was brilliant, and made even better by Alec's screw-up on the Always Be Cobbling line; I'm sure he has so many people quoting "Glengarry Glen Ross" to him that he recites those lines in his sleep. The funniest "SNL" blooper since the first Debbie Downer sketch. So why was it at the very end of the show? Because, my paranoid brain is telling me, Lorne knows that this season is awful, but he knows that longtime fans/suckers like me are afraid that they're going to miss out on some great watercooler moment if they don't watch the whole thing, so he sticks it at the 12:50 mark as a warning shot to anyone who wants to tune out after "Weekend Update." It's a plan worthy of Dr. Evil, I think.

More "Survivor" talk on Monday, and if I have time before then, keep an eye out for my ode to the underdog sports movie. Click here to read the full post

Thwack it! Thwack it all!

My job may not be the most glamorous in the world, but every now and then it allows me to get my butt off the couch and meet interesting people in unexpected places. I once sat on the field at Dodgers Stadium talking to Rupert from "Survivor" about skirts and strategy. I once sat on the back steps of a small West Orange nightclub talking jazz and comedy with Bill Cosby, then had a front-row seat to see the legend do his thing. And one time I sat on a curb outside a funeral parlor and hit Steve Van Zandt up for some music recommendations. (Two words: Boss Martians.)

On Friday night, I wasn't at the most exotic location the job has ever taken me to, but it hands-down had the coolest name of any place I have ever set foot in: Drumthwacket. For those of you who don't know (and you could count me among them a week ago), that's the name of the New Jersey governor's mansion, and for the second time in a week, I found my path crossing that of our beloved interim governor. Before he departs office (one he would have kept in a landslide vote if he had Jon Corzine's war chest), he's getting in as many photo ops as he can, and his latest brainstom was to create an award for New Jersey filmmakers, and the first recipient was "Sopranos" don David Chase.

It was a very cold, very strange night. As I got out of my car and tried to straighten my tie and switch from parka to suit jacket in the least clumsy fashion possible, I was greeted by two silver trumpets. I felt like Frank Drebin in that scene in "The Naked Gun" where he mounts the Queen of England, and I wasn't alone. A little while later, I was taking a self-guided tour around the mansion when I passed the guest of honor and Mrs. Chase, both looking dazed and confused. Chase saw me and did a doubletake; he said he was so thrown by the trumpets that he forgot where he was and why he was there.

There was a very nice turnout by the cast. Guys like Steve Schirripa will show up for the opening of a envelope, they enjoy being in the spotlight so much, but I was pleasantly surprised to see James Gandolfini mingling among the great unwashed for the evening. He has to be more uncomfortable in public settings than any major star I've ever been around -- not because he's an arrogant asshole, but because he's painfully shy and doesn't understand why people are so interested in him -- and he spent almost the entire night smiling politely as guest after guest hit him up for an autograph or a chance to pose for a photo. That's how much he likes his boss.

I eventually drifted over towards Terence Winter, the "Sopranos" writer I tend to bump into more than any of the others, and we spent a lot of time talking about how much we liked the name Drumthwacket, and how we feel that every home deserves a name. (Winter: "I think we could call my apartment 'Dirty Socks.'") I mean, think about it: your great, memorable literary homes all have names like Tara. I'm thinking if I want to add some style to my life, I need to give my little split-level a name. Bob? Dude? The House That Sipowicz Built?

I'm wide open to suggestions on this one, people. Fire away. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

To thine own self be true

As Harry Callahan once said, a man's got to know his limitations, and I came face to face with my own twice yesterday.

First, I popped in a review tape of Bravo's "Project Runway," a show I missed altogether in its first season. After hearing so many fellow critics rave about it, I gave season two a shot, and I had a conflicted reaction to it. On the one hand, it was as well-produced as any reality show this side of "The Amazing Race." On the other hand, all the debate about muslin fabric and whether pretty=fashion just put me to sleep.

I didn't want to slam the show for the sin of not being tailored directly to my tastes, and I also didn't want to ignore it. What to do... what to do? In a nice bit of deus ex machina, our fashion writer Jenifer Braun -- who briefly wrote about TV before I got hired a decade ago -- walked past my desk at exactly that moment. The light bulb went off, and a couple of hours later, Jen had written a very special guest review for today's column (which also features me begging Mark Burnett to never, ever, ever let former contestants compete again).

Then, as I was casting about for things to watch for upcoming columns, an editor forwarded me a press release put out by our state's interim governor (a very popular guy whose recent "Daily Show" appearance was hysterical) condemning an assault by a radio talk show fan who assaulted a local TV reporter. I told my boss I had no idea what this was about, and she said, "Well, maybe you should make some calls and find out."

Now, I work for a daily newspaper, but I've never pretended to be a real reporter. In college, I wrote movie reviews for the school paper's weekly entertainment magazine, and I've been writing about TV since my third or fourth week here at the Ledger. Fortunately, the paper employs plenty of genuine reporters, several of whom helped me and Matt chase down the story:

Opie & Anthony have some running contest on their show called "Assault on the Media" where fans are encouraged to appear in the background of live TV shots holding O&A signs. Some idiot took the game's title way too literally and blew an air horn directly into the ear of a local TV reporter. That kind of thing can cause permanent hearing damage, moron. Our governor, who already is anti-shock jock ever since a local radio bozo made fun of his wife's postpartum depression, issued one of those "the offender will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law" press releases, and I sure hope it happens. People that stupid shouldn't be allowed to breed, let alone live free.

And speaking of idiots, Michael Scott was in rare form on last night's "The Office" in a cringe-worthy but very funny episode that made good use of the entire office staff, including tightly-wound Angela's meltdown over losing control of the Christmas party, Creed giving Jim the laziest Secret Santa gift of all time and, best of all, a drunk and topless Meredith throwing herself at Michael, who just flashed her picture and ran away. On "My Name Is Earl," it was nice to see Brett Butler acting in something other than "Vampire Bats," but I wanted to see more of Randy and Catalina during the hands-on-the-car contest.

Oh, and today's "Arrested Development" moment: Rita deliriously singing along to "Hot Potato" by The Wiggles, which I sadly know by heart. Ah, parenting. Click here to read the full post

Still more "Arrested"

Since the show's almost over anyway, might as well write as much about "Arrested Development" while I still can, so...
  • Marian hadn't seen any of the previous four or five episodes, so right before we started to watch, I paused the TiVo and said, "Just FYI, Charlize Theron's playing a woman who's mildly retarded, only no one realizes it." She gave me the lemon-sucking face and made like she was going to go upstairs to read, but I insisted, "It's funny; trust me." "I can't see how that would be funny," she said, but she sat down. Five minutes into the episode, she turned to me and said, "Okay, I see it."
  • Two great references to actors' previous roles: the pre-plastic surgery Rita (aka a publicity still from "Monster"), and Buster singing "Mr. Roboto" in the stair car (just like Tony Hale did in that car commercial).
  • So Rita's parents were cousins, eh? Somebody ought to tell George Michael about that, especially since he seems to know so much about the California statutes about cousins marrying.
  • Is Bob Einstein ever not funny? He already had the best line of the year on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," in the episode with the Funkhauser anniversary dinner ("I said, 'Larry, do you want to get up and make a toast?' and someone said, 'Oh, he went home to take a shit.'"), and now he has to fire himself as George's surrogate. Genius genius genius.

More if I think of it. I have to laugh, otherwise I'll cry.

Click here to read the full post

Monday, December 05, 2005

Greetings from Sick City

Julia picked up a bug from the ol' germ factory (aka daycare), which is why I've been too busy to blog until today.

Reading is fundamental (a fact I learned from watching TV), and Sunday night I was so absorbed in finishing off "All the Stars Came Out That Night" (a novel imagining a secret all-star game between Major League and Negro League ballplayers in 1934) that I didn't see anything but "West Wing." (Short version on that: Santos' speech was a nice piece of writing by Debra Cahn, but I thought the direction of the scene was pretty sledge hammery, especially the slow clap at the end. Only underdog sports movies should have slow claps.)

So the next morning, I was about 15 minutes into the "Curb Your Enthusiasm" season finale when my friend Phil called. Since we talk about "Curb" ever Monday morning, I quickly told him where I was in the episode. He paused and said, "Finish it and call me. Trust me: you'll need to call me." The man was right; when they cut from Larry being wheeled into surgery to Larry on his deathbed (with a brief stop for Richard Lewis in paradise), I said, "Holy shit, it's the series finale and Larry kept it a secret from everyone!" The Larry-as-gentile montage and the brief stop in Heaven weren't enough to redeem this lousy season, but had Larry stayed dead, I would have considered it one of the more perfect series finales ever. Instead, they brought him back to life and left things open for more seasons. Sigh... (In today's column, I write a little more about this, including a comment from HBO about the show's status.)

"Grey's Anatomy" is so consistent in both its goodness and what makes it good that I don't have much to say about the latest episode. That brings me to the bittersweet return of "Arrested Development" and "Kitchen Confidential" last night. I'd already seen the next three of the latter (I wrote about 'em in yesterday's column), and while this wasn't my favorite of those three, Jim's shell-shocked recounting of being beaten by the Frenchmen ("they were all smoking...") makes me laugh every time I see it.

"Arrested," meanwhile, finally, finally figured out what to do with Charlize Theron, right as she was leaving. Yeah, maybe her earlier episodes will be funnier in retrospect when I watch the DVD collection, but this was a joke they should have revealed at the end of her first episode, not her fourth. Best gags:
  • George Michael's video opening with the familiar footage of his lightsaber practice, followed by him mumbling that he should probably invest in a second tape;
  • The pixellation of Buster's stump;
  • Tobias' paralysis (and it's been so long since the last episode that I can't even remember if this was set up previously);
  • Rita diving into bed like a five-year-old after Michael promised sexual relations after the wedding;
  • The "Being There" homage at the end, followed by one of the greatest "Next... on Arrested Development" sequences ever. ("Why can't I go into the pool?!?!?!!?")
Excuse me. I have to go smear blue handprints on my walls, then wipe a runny nose. Click here to read the full post

Friday, December 02, 2005

"Scumbags!"

I had expected the long-awaited Letterman/Oprah interview to be the highlight of Thursday night TV, but like so many things, it failed to live up to the hype. Dave went into the fawning mode he usually saves for beautiful young starlets, and even Oprah seemed shocked by what a straight interview it was. ("Thank you for being nice to me.")

Instead, the best moment came on "Survivor," when Judd proved once and for all what a poor sportsmanship he was. After saying minutes earlier in Tribal Council that getting voted out wasn't personal, just business, when he discovered that he had been voted out, his anger management problems bubbled over again and he called all the other players "Scumbags!" (Between this and that "Daily Show" interview with our governor a few nights ago, I've never been prouder to be from Jersey.) Not since "Survivor: All-Stars," when Lex told his backstabbed pal Ethan to learn to lose with a little class, then became the sorest loser of all after his pal Boston Rob did the same thing to him, has a contestant been this big a jackass at their exit.

Since I didn't watch anything else last night (I didn't realize "The O.C." was new, and upon realizing that I'd missed it, didn't feel that bad), a few other "Survivor" observations:
  • Cindy's identical twin sister is named Mindy? That's some good parenting right there. And seeing the two of them sitting next to each other and looking very different was one of the better reminders of the physical toll the show takes on people.
  • Unless they edited a lot out, this was the first food auction I can remember where all the contestants didn't wind up getting some grub. Weird, since the whole point of it is to prevent a lot of late-in-the-game whining about how everyone's too tired and hungry to do anything interesting. But if this is really all that happened, then Danni had a genius performance: she gets the two major sources of protein (the jerky and the steak sandwich), plus the clue that allowed her to stick around.
  • I can't believe how much I despise Stephenie this time around. It's so obvious that what we thought of as pluck and grit in Palau ("I can't believe how much I'm losing") was actually her enormous sense of entitlement, which has been allowed to flower by her position in this game.
  • In all, this is turning out to be a better season than I'd expected. Not remotely in the class of Australia, the Amazon, Pearl Islands or the original, but certainly a step up from Africa or Thailand or Vanuatu.
Two links: My review of "Sleeper Cell," and my column on NBC's scheduling moves. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Eko... Eko... Eko...

Okay, I need to get this off my chest right away: I want a Mr. Eko lunchbox, a Mr. Eko t-shirt, and Mr. Eko Underoos. I want a Mr. Eko & Locke spin-off where they kick ass and debate philosophy every week. If I was being given a $10 million bar mitzvah, I would want Mr. Eko to be at the top of the celebrity guest list. He's not only my favorite character on "Lost" right now, he's probably my favorite character on all of television. (It helps that Vic Mackey, Tommy Gavin, Al Swearengen and Paulie Walnuts are all on hiatus right now, but still.)

The Eko/Locke scenes were the highlight of an especially strong episode of "Lost." I bag on the show a lot for all the narrative foot-dragging, but for once, the writers didn't screw around with the audience. We finally know what Kate's crime was (not that it was a shock, but it was still well-played by the usually uneven Evangeline Lilly, and especially by the actor who played her adoptive dad), we know what was on at least one of the gaps in the Dharma film (though there could be others), Sawyer is finally conscious again, Jin finally got the damn handcuff off his wrist, Walt made another appearance (sort of), etc., etc., etc.

But best of all was Eko's Bible story to Locke (and if there were any doubt before over whether the guy used to be a priest, there shouldn't be now), and his later suggestion that John not confuse coincidence with fate. Someone's needed to tell our resident zealot that for at least half a season now.

Between that and "Veronica Mars," that was about as good a two hours of TV as you're gonna find, and since I'd already seen "Veronica" last week, I didn't have to tape one and watch the other.

Far too many highlights to list 'em all, so I'll give just a few: the Cordelia vs. Willow smackdown (though the best line in that scene -- and possibly the season -- was Logan's "Rode Hard, meet Put Away Wet."); Logan and Weevil doing the whole "48 Hours"-style "We'll team up, but only after we kick the crap out of each other" thing in the men's room; the (now former) vice-principal manipulating Veronica into doing his wetwork; and Trina Echolls showing actual emotion (her hug with Lunchlady Doris put almost as much dust in my eye as the Rose/Bernard hug last week on "Lost"). The alternate ending on AOL.com was an interesting little bonus feature, but I'm glad the real show didn't go in that direction. Without spoiling it (and, if you haven't seen it yet, the only change is in the last two minutes), it would paint Veronica and the show into an uncomfortable corner that would take weeks, at least, to get out of.

Finally, today's All TV column makes fun of Fox's usual switcheroo scheduling. NBC predictably followed that by moving "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" to Thursdays, while having back-to-back "Scrubs" episodes airing Tuesdays at 9, starting Jan. 3. (More details in tomorrow's column, or you can just read the press release here.) J.D. and Turk are back, baby! Is it time to do the Rerun dance? Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A quick one, while I'm not away

First thing's first: three day's worth of All TV column links. On Monday, I mused about the end of "7th Heaven," a show that, even though I hated it, holds some sentimental value for me as the last surviving new show from my first season as a TV critic. ("EZ Streets" gets 10 hours, and "7th Heaven" gets 10 years? A good system. Definitely.) On Tuesday, Matt interviewed Turner Classic's head of programming, while I wrote about the end of "Alias," the invasion of former "Ed" castmembers in primetime and the unfortunate return of "The Simple Life." And today there's a grab bag of news and reviews, including Matt on "Creature Comforts" (BBC America cartoon from the "Wallace & Grommit" people) and me on tonight's "Veronica Mars."

As I said yesterday, a lot of my Tuesday shows were pre-empted, and I'd already watched the "House" episode, which was good but not as strong as last year's "Three Patients," which it was emulating. (Two key differences: reality didn't get bent enough this time, and Chase is a less interesting character than House.) On the other hand, the twist of making Foreman the boss for a few weeks is vedddy interesting. Foreman's always been the most House-like of the three junior docs, so will being in charge make him even crankier or bring out his warm and fuzzy side? I almost think it would be funnier to put Cameron in charge, because her Let's All Hug approach to medicine would drive House nuts, but this should be pritt-ay, pritt-ay good.

Beyond that? Well, my TiVo grabs "NCIS" whenever "Gilmore Girls" is in rerun. As I've written a bunch of times in the last three years, "NCIS" isn't going to change the world or elevate consciousnesses, but it's well put-together, blending the '80s TV of Don Bellisario's middle age with enough modern touches to not feel too corny. It's the kind of show I can watch while doing three other things and not miss much. Only one complaint about last night's episode: hasn't the "Probie" been a probie for more than two years now? At what point does the hazing end?

With "House," the NBC comedies and "Supernatural" all out of play and "Amazing Race" off my radar until spring, I decided to check out the second Steven Bochco-produced episode of "Commander in Chief." I only got about 15 minutes in before I got caught up in other things, but it sure seemed to me like Bochco came in and decided to fix a whole lot of things that weren't broken: putting the kibosh on the First Gentleman stories and giving Rod a real job in the administration, bringing in Mark-Paul Gosselaar to critique everyone else's jobs, separating Natasha Henstridge from Evil Donald Sutherland, etc., etc., etc. I'm not saying there weren't things that didn't need improvement in the Rod Lurie version -- for starters, Evil Donald Sutherland -- but most of what Bochco's done is just a blatant attempt to make sure viewers know a new team is in charge of the show. As far as I know, the network's only problem with Lurie was his slow production pace, but viewers obviously liked what they were seeing, based on the ratings.

I finished "Sleeper Cell," which sagged in the middle but finishes strongly. Asking viewers to commit 10 hours of their time in a little over two weeks seems like a bit much these days, and the mini could stand to be trimmed by at least two hours. I also watched the first installment's of Sci-Fi's new miniseries "The Triangle." It's not the second coming of "Battlestar Galactica" (or would that be third coming?), but it's a decent B-movie skiffy story, complete with a B-list cast that includes Sam Neill, Bruce Davison and Eric Stoltz.

And speaking of Eric Stoltz, with sweeps slowing down, I've been poking through the "Back to the Future" collected DVD set. They don't show any of the footage of Stoltz as Marty McFly (he played the role for a few weeks until producers decided it wasn't working and started from scratch with Michael J. Fox), but there are a few photo stills of him in the part, and it's bizarre to see him sitting on the bed with Lea Thompson or shooting video with the Doc. Stoltz did okay without that part, but the person I feel really sorry for is Melora Hardin, who was cast as Marty's girlfriend Jennifer, then got fired along with Stoltz because she was too tall to play Mike Fox's love interest. It's hard to say how much the role would have done for her career (Claudia Wells, who replaced her, dropped out of acting for health reasons a few years later), but she got stuck with the TV version of "Dirty Dancing," one of the two Lambada movies of '90, and other jobs of no note before making the awkward transition to middle-aged roles (because we know how much Hollywood loves middle-aged women) like Rachel McAdam's mom in "The Hot Chick" and Steve Carell's boss on "The Office." Would her career have been any different if she'd been short enough to star in one of the biggest, best hits of the '80s? Or would she still have wound up romancing a schoolteacher-by-day, Lambada-instructory-by-night? Unless I can get my hands on a Delorean with a flux capacitor, I guess I'll never know. Click here to read the full post

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Get outta here!

Working through the last two days in reverse chronological order:

"Prison Break": Well, the good news is that they didn't bust out yet, since I still can't imagine enjoying the post-escape show based on the ham-fistedness of the conspiracy scenes (exemplified by the reformed Secret Service baddie failing to shove the evidence into Veronica's hands before Kellerman pulled up). The bad news is that, even for a show where you check your disbelief at the door or you don't get to come in, the foiling of Michael's plan was damn hard to swallow. The guy has contingency plans on top of contingency plans, and one random janitor screws everything up? I'll be back in March, but my bullshit meter may need recalibrating before then.

"How I Met Your Mother": I got to see this one last week, and was pleasantly surprised to enjoy an all-Ted episode this much. Of course, the reason I liked it was because Drunk Ted is much, much funnier and more likable than regular Ted, a fact that his friends -- and, I hope by proxy, the writers -- all pointed out. But just because we're stuck with Present-day Ted doesn't mean we have to be stuck with Future Ted, too, since the voiceovers are shutting off a lot of good potential storylines. Danica "Winnie Cooper" McKellar was good as Drunk Ted's one-night stand, and I'd like to see her again, but Future Ted has already declared that she never turns up again, so that's what we're stuck with. Ted and Robin are both much more interesting when they're together than when they're apart, but Future Ted has already put the kibosh on them ever getting together (at least, not for very long). Go away, Future Ted, and stop ruining the fun for the rest of us!

"King of Queens": By default, one of the better remaining sitcoms on TV, though the return of Ray Barone was just okay. On "Everybody Loves Raymond," Ray's best moments were always reacting to other characters, and he and Doug are too alike to play to that strength. The fashion show, while predictable, was probably the highlight.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm": This is starting to feel like "SNL" to me: I tune in every week, knowing it's probably going to suck, but hopeful that for one night they'll recapture the glory days (which aren't nearly as far back as the "SNL" days). This was just awful again, full of people doing and saying things that they never would, even in Larry David World, notably Larry critiquing that woman's breast implants.

"Grey's Anatomy": In which Dr. McDreamy is revealed to be Dr. McPricky (during his taunting of Meredith), kind of appropriate given the priapism storyline. Sooner or later, every hospital show has to do an erectile superfunction gag subplot (Chicago Hope did it, and I'm pretty sure St. Elsewhere did it back in the '80s), and this one was well done. Not enough of the Nazi for my tastes, but another solid triple.

I'm running way late on this, so that's all for now. More tomorrow, which should come sooner given the number of shows that I watch being pre-empted for sweeps programming (Gilmore, Earl, Office, etc.). Click here to read the full post

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Luck be a Lady of the Lake

There's a traditional Jewish folk song that usually gets busted out around the Passover seder table called "Dayeinu" (that's pronounced die-AY-nu for the many Gentiles in the audience), which translates roughly as "It would have been enough." The lyrics are like "Even if God had only brought us out of slavery... dayeinu. Even if God had only brought us out of slavery and given us mannah to eat... dayeinu." Etc., etc., etc.

Passover is still a long way away (thankfully, since it's one of my least favorite Jewish holidays), but I had Dayeinu in my head a lot last night. My mom had been babysitting Julia in the afternoon, and the original plan was for us to pick her up around dinner time.

Even if we had just picked her up as planned and spent the evening hanging out and watching TV... dayeinu.

Then my mom offered to keep Julia overnight, and even if we had just gone to a holiday blockbuster movie at the local multiplex... dayeinu.

Then Marian suggested we take advantage of the mild weather and go into Manhattan, and even if we had just gone in and taken in a more obscure movie ("Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang" was our target) or gone out for a fancy dinner... dayeinu.

Any or all of those activities would have been just fine and dandy. But we had time to kill before the movie was going to start, so we wandered over to Marian's favorite Italian restaurant, Carmine's, and when we saw the huge line at the door, our eyes wandered across the street to the Schubert Theater, where "Spamalot" was playing. Now, I've been dying to see that show ever since Eric Idle announced it, but between huge ticket demand and the matter of the small child who needs us to take care of her 24-7 for some reason, it hadn't happened, and I figured it wouldn't happen at least until the original cast was all gone.

But we still had time before the movie, and it was about 15 minutes before the opening curtain, so we wandered over, and while Marian talked to an usher, I got on the end of the Cancellations line. There were at least a dozen people ahead of me, and I assumed we had no shot at getting in. But a minute after I got on line, a woman walked up to me and offered to sell me two orchestra seats, face value, that she couldn't use. And after I got my heart started again, I said "Um, how about YES?" and waved Marian over.

So while getting out of Egypt/the house was swell and all, I got to go all the way to the promised land of "Spamalot," with kick-ass seats for one of the silliest and most entertaining times I've ever had at the legitimate the-ay-ter. (And, appropriately enough for this particular theme, the show has a song where David Hyde Pierce explains that you can't succeed on Broadway "if you don't have any Jews.")

As we've already established on this blog, I'm a giant dork, so I've seen "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" a few dozen times and know most of it by heart. So as cool as it was to see the French Taunter or the Knights Who Say Ni (both played so well by Alan Tudyk that I can't imagine Hank Azaria, who had Tudyk's parts originally, being any better), my favorite parts of the show tended to be the original material, like the aforementioned song about Jews, or the Andrew Lloyd Weber parody "The Song That Goes Like This," or Lancelot's expanded encounter with limp-wristed Prince Herbert.

So, all in all, this Nov. 26th went a hell of a lot better than the last Nov. 26th (see below). And if I don't get to Broadway again for a while... (say it with me)... dayeinu. Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 25, 2005

My worst day ever so far, by Julio(*)

(Warning: the following has little to do with television, or movies or anything else, but given the date, it's something I needed to write. Snappy comments on lots of shows come towards the end.)

A year ago today, I was driving home from a late-night run to my local comic book store, where I was taking advantage of a Black Friday Midnight Madness sale to pick up a copy of JLA/Avengers on the cheap. If I'd known then what I know now, I would've just stayed home and paid the retail price for the damn thing. Instead, I was driving home in my hand-me-down Honda, pleased as punch at my purchase, when I drove through a green light and, out of the corner of my left eye, saw a car roaring at me so fast that I thought, "Oh, God, that police car's about to hit me," right before the left side of the car caved in on me, I spun out of control for 270 degrees or so and wound up perpendicular to my original position, unable to move or breathe and in excruciating pain.

My lungs refilled after a minute or so, and I reached for my cell phone, never gladder to own one than I was at that moment -- or to have the ability to move my arms at all. I picked it up and dialed home, and when Marian picked up, I was able to gasp out her name before the connection went dead -- and Marian quickly decided that I was dead, too. But she called back, and I was able to tell her where I was and what had happened, and she called 911. So had the woman whose lawn I came to a halt in front of, so two different ambulance crews showed up, both annoyed that the other was there, both stuck on location until they could cut me out with the Jaws of Life. A paramedic with a French accent and a French-sounding name that I can't remember anymore (Gerard? Henri?) sat in the back seat, holding my head in place in the event I had any kind of spinal injury. I don't know if it was the shock, or my disbelief at why this had happened, but I asked one of the other medics to make sure he picked up JLA/Avengers and put it in the ambulance, because I was gonna be damned if I almost died for a comic book and then couldn't read it in the hospital.

They cut me out of the car, placed me on the backboard as gently as they could, given my height and bulk, and slid me into the ambulance, where they proceeded to cut off my clothes, including my favorite jacket and my Superman t-shirt. (And, yes, I'm enough of a dork to wear a Superman shirt on a trip to the comic book store; and, yes, I'm aware of the irony inherent in almost dying while wearing the thing.) I was hurt bad enough that they didn't even take me to the local hospital, but to the nearest trauma center, a place where I had history both good (Julia was born there) and bad (my dad died there). I think I was in too much shock to feel real pain during the ambo ride, but when they set me down in the ER, it all hit me. I would find out later that I had broken three ribs and had badly lacerated my spleen, and boy howdy did all that hurt. And I wasn't even the most mangled guy in the ER. There was someone a few curtains down making sounds like a wounded coyote; one of the nurses told me that a car had completely crushed one of his limbs.

To add injury to insult and injury, when Marian arrived at the hospital with Julia in tow, she noticed that the fever Julia had displayed earlier in the evening was back. With nothing else to do until she was allowed to see me, she walked Julia down the hall to the pedes ER, where she found out that Julia had pneumonia. Not a good health night for the Sepinwall clan.

To make a long story only slightly less long, they kept me in the hospital for a week to make sure my spleen wouldn't rupture and flood my body with poisons. I started out in the ICU, where I was the nurses' favorite patient because, as the only guy not in a coma and/or with a tube down his throat, I could actually have conversations with them. Then I got moved to a step-down ward, where I suddenly became very popular among the family members of the other residents, all of whom had eyes on my room, the only private one on the floor. ("So, you going home tomorrow? Can you put in a good word for me?")

This was, obviously, not a good time. But as I look back on it a year later (And has it really been a year? Because it feels like yesterday.), I feel really damn glad to be alive, to have most of my health back, to have my wife and daughter and my friends and loved ones and blog-readers. Today (today), I consider myself (self) the luckiest man (man) on the face of the earth (earth).

The sentimental portion out of the way, let's get to all the stuff I've watched since last we met -- and it's been a lot, so buckle up.

"Prison Break": Oh my god, they killed Abruzzi! Those bastards! I suppose if I had to choose between Abruzzi and T-Bag, I'd rather keep T-Bag, who causes more trouble and is funnier than our mob boss. (Abruzzi's funniest moment was cutting off Michael's toe, which was an accidental homage to Peter Stormare's role in "The Big Lebowski.") The sequence with Michael flooding the chamber so he could swim to the top of it was genius; that's the stuff that got me hooked on this show in the first place, and the stuff I expect we're going to lose once Michael and pals are outside the prison walls.

"Gilmore Girls": I used to think that Amy Sherman-Palladino wrote the wordiest scripts on television, but now I've realized that it's her husband Daniel. I almost don't need to look at the writing credits for a given episode to tell if it's a Daniel show or not; the staggering words per minute ratio is always the clue. Glad to see Rory and Lorelai enjoying the reunion some more, though I would've liked to see them deal with the fact that Luke essentially lives with them now. (Did he move back into the diner apartment when Rory came home?) Zach's meltdown at the band showcase was funny, even though I've never seen "Dig" and didn't get the homage. (That's the secret of good homage... and let's just say 'homage' one more time to stick it in our brains for the rest of the day... feel better? I know I do.)

"House": Greg, you magnificent, self-loathing bastard. Your plan to win Stacy back of course drove her away -- just as I'm sure you knew it would when you stole those files. Meth-Head Cameron was an interesting diversion, but most of this week's highlights took place away from the main medical story.

"My Name Is Earl": Okay, they need to keep revisiting that one-legged ex-girlfriend, because those scenes are always gold -- especially when they brought in her no-legged, one-armed, ass-kicking new boyfriend. One of the better episodes overall, what with the multiple taser scenes, the recycled negative campaign ad and Crab Man displaying a social conscience.

"The Office": This, on the other hand, was pain. Pure pain. I had to start fast-forwarding through the Michael improv class scenes after a while, it was so squirm-inducing. Now, the thing is, a lot of the British episodes were just as uncomfortable (his motivational speech comes easily to mind), yet I found those more tolerable and funnier than when Michael's being pathetic. If I could figure out why one works for me and the other doesn't, well, then I'd have a decent column, I suppose. (Then again, I just wrote my whole "Jim and Pam should be the leads" column last week, so maybe I'm done proposing ways to improve the show for a while.)

"Lost": Remind me to just ignore all Damon Lindelof interviews from now on. He went on and on about how no one would believe what Ana-Lucia used to do for a living, when I think every single person who watches the show would have picked either cop or soldier after seeing her for a few weeks. Ana-Lucia, former ballerina? That would be a twist. Ana-Lucia, ex-debutante? That would shock me. Ana-Lucia, cop with a hair-trigger temper? Not so much. The flashbacks did explain why she acts the way she does, and it established that even the writers think she's too extreme, so that was good. The best parts of the episode, however, were the meetings and reunions -- Locke and Mr. Eko, Jin and Sun, Michael and the dog and, best of all, Bernard and Rose. (Excuse me, I have something in my eye again. Be right back.) Someone needs to come up with a few flashbacks for those two.

"Veronica Mars": Hot damn, that was good. Because Veronica is almost never scared of anything, on those rare occasions where she shows any fear at all (think back to her seeing Aaron Echolls in her rearview mirror), you know the shit has absolutely hit the fan. So that biker bar scene was intense (and helped along by one of my favorite songs off the "VM" soundtrack, "Dakota," by Stereophonics). Just as freaky as Weevil's henchmen playing Russian Roulette with Logan's privates; I've already seen next week's episode, and the fallout from that is good. And if we can't have Wallace around for a while for budgetary reasons, Mac makes a fine substitute sidekick.

"Survivor": Didn't see much of it. I was otherwise occupied Thanksgiving night, and then my poor impulse control got the better of me and I read a recap of the episode before I got to see it, just so I'd know who was voted off. Damn spoilers and their tempting chocolatey goodness! I did check out the Tribal Council, just because it sounded like Gary went down swinging, and he sure did, taking shots at Stephenie (loved seeing Bobby Jon and Jamie giggle in hysterics at the autograph joke) and Judd the bad liar. I'll miss you, mighty landscaper. One thing I wish had happened: Hogeboom gets his torch snuffed, then turns to the others and says, "By the way, I really was an NFL quarterback," followed by everyone saying, "We know, Gary, we know."

"Sleeper Cell":
This one isn't on yet, but it's been taking up a lot of my viewing time lately, and it is very cool. A friend of mine described it as "'Wiseguy' meets '24'," and I think the description is pretty apt, though it doesn't have the constant plot logic problems of "24" and the bad guy doesn't act circles around the main character. I'm five or six hours into a 10 hour show, so I'll have more comments later this week, before I write the review. But if you have Showtime, check it out next week.

So, in short, it ain't no sin to be glad you're alive, and there was a lot of great TV in the last week. Sepinwall out.

(*)In case you were wondering, by the way, this post's title comes from Rick Schroder's finest moment on "NYPD Blue," a sarcastic interrogation from his very first episode with a suspicious gunshot victim named Julio; when Julio whined that he was having a bad day, Rick suggested he submit his tale of woe to Reader's Digest, and call it "My worst day ever so far, by Julio." You couldn't write that. David Milch could, but you couldn't.
Click here to read the full post

Monday, November 21, 2005

My life is now complete

In the All TV e-mailbox this morning, I got a message with the subject line "Come and knock on my door," which was full of praise for Matt and me, and which was signed by Richard Kline -- aka Larry Dallas, sleazy/wacky neighbor supreme on "Three's Company." Between this and the angry e-mail Tom Arnold sent Matt a while back, I'm pretty happy with our celebrity readership.

I've written so much here about the leads on "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Office" being the least funny characters on each show that I figured I ought to get a column out of it, so here it is.

Liked the "Grey's Anatomy" Thanksgiving episode a lot. Sometimes I think the show is too in love with its own sense of humor -- the twinkling string music over any scene that's even halfway amusing can get tiresome -- but this was a funny hour, mixed in with a strong poignant story about the rebirth and death of coma guy. One question: "My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance" is gay? Yet another reason that girl's parents should have hated him.

"Curb Your Enthusiasm" was awful, again. Much as I love to see Larry try to Jew it up, this one was so dumb and phony and contrived that I was surprised Richard Kline didn't pop into the chalet halfway through the episode to invite Larry to cruise for chicks at the Regal Begal. Good to see that Stuart Pankin has trimmed down, but I couldn't believe that any person in this episode would do or say anything that they were doing and saying. Even when "Curb" is wacky, there's an internal logic to it that wasn't anywhere to be found here -- except in the scene where the doctor busts Larry on his reason for lingering over Louis Lewis' bed, and Larry congratulates him for the deduction.

Back to "How I Met Your Mother," this was a solid one, though once again the non-Ted portions were much better than the Ted portions. Marian and I have about the same height differential as Lily and Marshall, and as Lily gawked at the turkey, Marian admitted that when we were seriously dating, some friends suggested that she might consider how big a baby of mine would feel inside her belly. (Sure enough, Julia had a ginormous head and didn't want to come out for weeks.) Oh, and that ending? If the stripper really was the kids' mom, I think I would be a lot more interested in Ted's story. But that's just me.

I'll be back tomorrow with thoughts on "Prison Break" and most of the Tuesday shows. Maybe my inbox today will have a message from Pat Harrington... Click here to read the full post

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wha happen?

I know, I know, I know... the four of you who actually read this blog have all been complaining about the tardiness of the latest entry, so I'll try to tackle Wednesday through the weekend (or what I've seen of it) as quick as I can.

"Lost": The whole Zen "no answers" thing works out really well for an episode like this, which was basically a one-hour expansion of a few lines of Ana-Lucia dialogue from the week before. If you're willing to accept that there's going to be wheel-spinning and hedging and no new information except when the writers have absolutely no choice, then you can enjoy the character and thriller aspects. I liked the extended look at the tailaways, and the sort of parallel structure to the main characters, with Ana-Lucia as Kate, Mr. Eko (my favorite character on the show by far these days) as Locke and Goodwin seeming to be Jack. Brett Cullen, who played Goodwin, is one of my favorite Hey, It's That Guys (TV division), and once again he got the job done. Hopefully, either this or "West Wing" is going to lead him to another regular job. (He has a supporting role on a WB midseason show with Rebecca Romijn, but it's so lousy that he'll probably be looking for a new gig inside a month.) The scene on top of the mountain where Ana-Lucia and Goodwin pleasantly chatted while each was sizing the other up for the kill was the kind of character-based suspense this show does so damn well that I'm willing to ignore the non-info thing.

The one problem the producers have is that they introduced Ana-Lucia in a way designed to make viewers just despise her -- sneering in every scene, bullying three of the main characters, yelling loudly whenever anyone tries to get answers and, last week, killing Shannon -- and now they're backtracking and trying to show why you should like her. It doesn't work that way, which J.J. Abrams (who I know isn't very hands-on these days) should remember from the "Alias" season with Melissa George. She was also intro'd in a manner where fans had no choice but to hate her (disrupting their long-awaited Sydney/Vaughn romance), and when the effort to make her sympathetic didn't work, J.J. admitted defeat and turned her evil full-time. Ana-Lucia has built up so much bad karma with the viewers over only a few weeks that she may never enter their good graces. Maybe she'll have to go and join The Others at some point.

"Veronica Mars": An odd episode, tonally darker than even this show usually gets. Sheriff Lamb is one of the show's better recurring characters, so I like giving him some depth, so long as he doesn't suddenly turn into a nice guy. (His jerkiness is his most likable trait.) Little movement on the bus crash and only slightly more on Logan's case, though the idea of having Logan and Duncan live together is genius, since it forces Veronica and Duncan to trade insults on a regular basis.

"South Park": I'm the only person I know who saw this one and was underwhelmed. I just feel like Tom Cruise and Scientology are like a turkey shoot these days, and this could have been a lot savager and funnier than it was. The two best jokes: the "THIS IS WHAT SCIENTOLOGISTS ACTUALLY BELIEVE" caption over the history video, and Stan (and, by proxy, Matt and Trey) daring the Scientologists to sue, followed by a closing credits full of John and Jane Smiths.

"Survivor": Hogeboom lives to landscape another day! Woo-hoo! What I liked about this episode the most was the irony Jamie becomes so paranoid that his allies are going to turn on him that his paranoia drives them to turn on him. Ever since Alanis Morissette ruined everyone's definition of irony, you rarely see the concept in its 100% pure form like this. Oh, and this blog entry has been brought to you by Folger's. Damn, that's good coffee! And hot!

"The O.C.": Well, I give them points for not letting Summer be dumb enough to fall into Taylor's jealousy trap -- yet -- and for letting Julie plausibly outsmart 7 of 9, but the show's overall IQ has dropped so many points since the first season that I feel uncomfortable watching it. Season three "O.C." is the kind of show that season one "O.C." would have mocked.

"ER": I'll give 'em this: as stupid as I thought the plane crash in Chicago idea was, it got me watching the show for the first time this season. Incredibly stupid, but entertaining in a C-level disaster movie way. No "ER" disaster episode is ever going to top season one's blizzard episode (where the producers didn't have to blow the budget on snow and crash effects, since everything took place inside the hospital), but this wasn't any cheesier than the helicopter crash, or the train crash, or the toxic waste spill, or the spree shooting, or... (As Matt put it, "Did they build this hospital on top of a Hellmouth?")

"SNL": I'm starting to feel like one of those monks from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" who wander around constantly smashing boards into their faces as mortification. Why else am I watching this show week after week? The problem isn't just the lousy writing and flimsy premises (a house music parody? a sketch designed to let the cast showcase their impressions of late '50s celebrities?), but the fact that it's a cast full of second and third-tier "SNL" types. The writing has been uneven practically since the show began, but the good casts always have at least one or two people who are funny even with lousy material: Gilda, Belushi and Murray in the original cast, Lovitz and Hartman in the late '80s, Will Ferrell in the late '90s. This group has some talented impressionists (Heder's Pacino is the best I've ever seen) and people who can be funny on the rare occasion when the sketch is working, but the closest thing they have to people who can rise above the material are Will Forte and Amy Poehler, but even they only occasionally can make something out of nothing.

"The Simpsons": Not the funniest episode of the season by a long stretch, but I give them points for a relatively coherent Homer-Lisa story, though the California recall election parody felt like filler between emotional beats of the story. This is two weeks in a row where they've tried to return to smaller stories about the family, and it's clear that most of the current writers have either let those muscles atrophy or never had them in the first place (the younger ones who grew up on the years of the show where Homer flew in the space shuttle and toured with Hullabalooza). Still, I appreciate the effort now and then; the first couple of seasons weren't always that hilarious, but there was a heart to those stories that kept me around, long after our hero turned into Jerkass Homer.

More on "Grey's Anatomy," "Curb" and other Sunday shows either later Monday or on Tuesday morning. I'll get a relatively fixed schedule on this thing sooner or later. Really. Click here to read the full post

Friday, November 18, 2005

Stay tuned...

Sorry for no update yet today. I half-wrote my entry and then got tied up with stuff at work. I'll definitely have it done at some point this weekend. Click here to read the full post

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A copy better than the original

If it seems like it takes me longer than it should to catch up on a specific night's worth of shows, it's because I've been spending a lot of time catching up on "Battlestar Galactica." One of the downsides of sharing the workload with another critic is that, if I'm not reviewing something, I rarely can make the time to watch it on my own. Matt snagged the "Galactica" miniseries back in '03 and proceeded to dump all over it in his review ("The Sci Fi version is better than the original, I guess, but that’s not much of a compliment," he wrote. "It’s like saying one brand of American cheese smells better than another.") So I filed it away as a show I didn't need to bother with, and moved on.

But when the first season began airing late last year, I began seeing reviews by other critics whose opinions I trust, and they were raves. Diane Werts wrote at one point, "Is this the best show on television right now or what?" Since Diane is the person who turned me on to "The Shield" and "Titus" long before they premiered, I had a George Bluth moment and said, "I've made a terrible mistake."

So when the miniseries plus the first season came out on DVD, I raced through all of them in about a week, and was embarrassed that I'd missed out on such a terrific show for so long. (When I confronted Matt about it, he admitted sheepishly that he really regretted his negative review of the mini, and later expressed that reversal of opinion in print.) Once I got out from under all the fall premieres, I got ahold of all the second season episodes to date, and when given the choice between one of them and most of what's been on the networks, I've chosen "Galactica." I was messing around with a rough draft of my year-end top 10 list today, and I'll be damned if this show didn't keep winding up at or near the top of every version.

It was swell for a while to be able to watch as many episodes as I wanted on whatever schedule I wanted, but now that I've finished with "Pegasus," I'm in the same boat as the rest of the show's fans, having to wait to find out what happens next. (Same thing happened to me with the Harry Potter books; after years of parceling them out slowly, I read the last three in a six-month span and now have no new Potter until J.K. gets around to writing the finale.)

But while I wait for what's surprisingly become my favorite show to return, I have to get back to the rest of the schedule. Back tomorrow with reviews of "Lost," "Veronica Mars," "South Park" and whatever I get to watching tonight. Much as I've been making fun of it -- as does Matt in today's All TV column (the token "Arrested Development" mention is on page 3) -- I have to admit that I'm probably going to check out the stupid "ER" plane crash episode. Click here to read the full post

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Sometimes, I amaze even myself

Another day, another attempt to mention "Arrested Development" in the column for at least an entire week. (Today's column talks about it in context of the ratings for "Prison Break.") So as I'm sitting around, scratching for an excuse to name-check it again, Matt says he just heard that HBO is pushing the premiere of "Deadwood" back to June so that the new Bill Paxton polygamy show "Big Love" can get the post-"Sopranos" timeslot. I call up one of my friends in the "Deadwood" production office, and after we discuss the scheduling move, he says, "You know what you should write in your column? Write that HBO should pick up Arrested Development." Bingo. These things write themselves from time to time.

On to the last couple of nights of TV...

Well praise the lord and pass the ammunition: Rory and Lorelai finally got back together on last night's "Gilmore Girls." Took 'em, what, nine episodes into the season? I'm so glad to be done with The Passion of the Rory that I'm willing to overlook all sorts of awkwardness, like:
  • Rory actually being rewarded for stalking the newspaper editor, when said behavior would have at best gotten her tossed onto the sidewalk by security while the editor told her, "And you can forget about that recommendation." There's a difference between perserverance and simply refusing to accept reality as it is.
  • Lorelai letting Emily off the hook for the many awful things she's done to both herself and Rory in the last season or so.
  • Rory magically getting reinstated at Yale with only a few weeks to go in the fall semester.
  • The reconciliation scene coming together so quickly that, even though we've been waiting months for it, it felt rushed.

But whatever. They're back together, and much like Lorelai, I'm just gonna let all that other water wash under the bridge. (Or is it over the bridge? My cliche dictionary's missing.)

The other big development, and the one that has the message boards filled with screams of shark-jumping, is Luke suddenly having a 12-year-old daughter of his own that he never knew about. On the one hand, I think it's a stupid idea and I'm going to be pissed if Amy uses this as an excuse to bust up Luke and Lorelai for a while just as we got her and Rory back together. On the other hand, I liked the actress playing Mini-Rory, and I thought Scott Patterson was great at both the comedy and emotion of this ridiculous twist, so I'll give it a little rope. A little.

An uneven "The Office." I know Carell's the star and the boss was the main character of the British version, but at this point I think there needs to be a refocusing, because the Jim/Dwight/Pam stuff is by far the highlight of every week, while Michael works best in small doses. Michael's attempt to turn his one-night stand with the boss into something more made me uncomfortable; Jim's mission to maintain Dwight's mistake about the days of the week just made me laugh. Given Carell's movie prospects after "Virgin," I don't know that he'd object to becoming a supporting player if it freed up his schedule for more film work.

On a very special sweeps episode of "House," Lance Armstrong -- or a reasonable facsimile (who used to be on "North Shore") -- comes to the hospital for... something to do with blood transfusions, I think. Marian's a hospital administrator, so when I watch medical shows with her, she's constantly pointing out inaccuracies (I'm sure I'd do the same if someone was ever dumb enough to create a show about a TV critic), and at one point she asked me if I minded the frequent interruptions.

"It's okay," I said. "I don't really pay attention to the medical stuff."

"But the medical stuff is the whole show!" she said.

So after hitting the TiVo's pause button, we got into a discussion of whether the cases in "House" matter at all, or if they're just the MacGuffin, the excuse to hang House's funny lines and fragile emotional state on. I went with the MacGuffin route; she said she likes the medical investigations (not to be confused with this) as much as the character material. What say you?

"Prison Break" edges ever closer to fulfilling its title. I'm disappointed that, one week after the writers felt the need to introduce a Super-Evil Secret Agent to put the two Regular-Evil Secret Agents in their place, they got rid of the guy, but I'm not surprised. With a show like this or "24," killing time is one of the hardest things to do. (Can you say cougar? Or amnesia?) So the writers vamp for a couple of weeks by introducing another bad guy, then throw him down a well when he's not needed anymore. A shame, really, as I felt he was much more legitimately threatening than Kellerman or his sidekick. As for the rest of the episode, T-Bag seems like the obvious one to get dumped from the escape team (again, Abruzzi should have several dozen ways to kill him without exposing their secret), which means I'm sure we'll go in a different direction. Early on, I suggested that the writers might try to really surprise people by taking a page from the "24" season one finale and having Michael escape while Lincoln dies in the attempt. Maybe they've got the onions to do it.

We're running long here, so I'll dispense with "Grey's Anatomy" pretty quickly. I'm surprised the writers didn't follow George's "carpe diem" day to its logical conclusion and have him profess his love to Meredith. Sooner or later, they need to pull a Sam Weir/Cindy Sanders and have the two of them hook up for a few episodes, only to have George realize he's really not that into her. Burke and Cristina's strained date was really funny, and it was weird to see the lead from "American Embassy" as a contemporary of McDreamy and Mrs. McDreamy. On "Embassy," she was playing the Ally McBeal part and was supposed to be in her late 20s at most, but according to IMDb, she's over 40. Huh.

I have nothing more to add, except: "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development," "Arrested Development"...

Click here to read the full post

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Watch her like a movie"

Real estate is an obsession in the New York/New Jersey area. At every party I attended during my single days, if there were four conversations going on at once, two or three of them would be about square footage, rent hikes, crazy landlords and, as we got older, mortgage rates. A lot of people want to live around here, and there's not enough elbow room for all, so everyone's constantly hustling for a bigger space, a better rent, a parking space, whatever.

Shortly after Marian and I resumed dating after a short and stupid break, she got a tip from a friend about a ginormous two-bedroom in a prime location in Hoboken. She brought me with her to check it out, and it was as great as advertised. Her only problem was that she would need to find a roommate to cover the rent. I offered to move in with her, only half-joking, and it was as much about my love of the place as my interest in taking things to the next level with Marian. She rolled her eyes and said, "Umm... no," and found herself a roommate who we'll call Georgia for legal reasons. When she was interviewing possible roommates, she told all of them that it would be a one-year deal, and at the end of that year, if Marian wanted the place to herself, she'd get it.

By the time that year was coming to a close, we were engaged and we wanted that place. One problem: Georgia claimed to have never had the one-year conversation with Marian, and told us in no uncertain terms that she wasn't leaving. Marian had put both their names on the lease so she'd have legal recourse in case Georgia turned out to be a flake who wouldn't pay rent, but that backfired.

So the plan became for me to move in -- along with all my furniture, books, comic books, electronic equipment, etc. -- and make my presence as big and loud as possible (as any of my friends will tell you, that wasn't much of a challenge) until Georgia decided she'd rather live in a smaller place than deal with me and my stuff. Georgia responded to Operation: Sasquatch with a strategic retreat into her bedroom, gradually removing all of her stuff -- including the TV, the lamp and one of the couches -- from the living room. My friend Jennifer advised us to get a bucket of popcorn and "watch her like a movie" to make sure she didn't start messing with our stuff.

After a few weeks, Georgia surrendered and found another place. But as one final salvo in our little war, she locked her bedroom door (a keyless lock that can only be opened easily from the inside) as she left, so that we were only a few minutes into our celebration of having the place to ourselves before we had to call a locksmith.

Why am I telling you all this? It's a (very) roundabout way of saying that I've lived something close to what happened on "How I Met Your Mother" last night -- minus the dueling part -- and I could relate to the anguish over shared real estate. (This, of course, is TV New York, where a kindergarten teacher can afford to carry the rent on an apartment big enough to be converted into a Chinese restaurant, even though she doesn't live there.) Not as good as the club episode, but pretty funny nonetheless. Barney's Lemon Law subplot was also nice, and featured yet another "Freaks and Geeks" guest appearance, by Martin "Bill Haverchuck" Starr as Robin's nerdy date. (Samm Levine was one of the losers stuck outside the nightclub, and, of course, disco-dancing Jason Segel is in the regular cast.)

I'm still catching up on other things from Sunday and Monday nights (I wasted most of last night watching the ugliest NBA game I have ever seen), but I did see the latest "Simpsons," which opened with what I think is the longest couch gag in the show's history. (My friend Dan suggested the parody of "Contact" as the only other one that came close.) That couch gag was also funnier than the rest of the episode combined. After all my complaining over the years about the writers moving away from the emotional dynamics of the family, I can't get too worked up over a half-hour about Marge and Bart bonding, but it felt like a rough outline of an episode; there was sort of a story, and sort of a few jokes, but they weren't close to finished. And the Homer's dumbbell subplot? I know the show's been around for 8,000 years, but this is at least the third different episode where Homer or Marge gets randomly bulked up (the last time, Homer accomplished it by unleashing the power of apples); if you're going to repeat that joke again, at least make it funny.

I also suffered through another episode of what's shaping up to be the worst "Saturday Night Live" season since Anthony Michael Hall and Randy Quaid roamed the halls. Watching it this year is like that Tom Hanks sketch where everyone in the family has to take a whiff of the rotten milk carton so they know for themselves just how disgusting it is. I love Jason Lee, but even he can't do much when the writing's not there. The closest thing to a good sketch was the HGTV parody, and even that was a rip-off of two older sketches: Schweddy Balls and a Prince Charles/butler sketch that featured the same caulk-in-the-crack joke.

I'd write more, but someone sitting on my lap needs a new diaper. More later after I've watched "Prison Break." In the meantime, links to the two most recent All TV columns: Monday's, featuring Matt on PBS' Las Vegas documentary and me bemoaning the fate of "Arrested Development," and Tuesday's, a mailbag dealing even more with "Arrested Development." (It's my goal to mention the show every day this week if I can get away with it.) Click here to read the full post