Thursday, January 29, 2009

"Lost" recap: What's up, Chuck?

Ok, it's been a few days since I saw this week's episode of "Lost," and I'm currently battling a fairly nasty cold, so this recap probably won't be my most thorough and insightful. But, to the best of my abilities, here's my recap of episode three of season five.
The episode starts with Desmond running around, frantically searching for a doctor. We assume the worst, but it turns out that Penny is having a baby. It's a boy. Fast forward and Des, Pen, and their toddler are on a boat to Oxford. Desmond's telling his boy about a magical island...called Great Britain. Nice mislead, Des. Penny points out that delving back into the island nonsense puts him at risk from her dad. She also serves as a conduit for the audience, asking why he only just now remembered meeting Daniel in the hatch, and being asked to look for Daniel's mom. Des doesn't know. He only knows it's important. When he gets to Oxford, he's told that there's no record of any Faraday working there. Well that's impossible, says Des. Of course, he met Daniel there years ago. But, through some poking around, Des discovers an abandoned lab, containing a picture of Daniel and some babe. A worker stumbles upon him, confirms it was Daniel's lab, but says it's no wonder that the University is denying Daniel's existence after what he did to "that girl." No, not Marlo Thomas. It turns out that the girl in the picture is named Theresa, and Daniel had been doing experiments with her. She's now a mess -- semi-catatonic and bouncing around in time, much like the people on the freighter last season. Theresa's sister tells Desmond that it would be impossible for them to get by without the help of Mr. Widmore. What? Yes, turns out old Charles was funding Dannyboy's experiments, and is now paying for Theresa's care.
Desmond goes to see Charles, who seems more worried about Penny at this point than he is about protecting any secrets. He tells Desmond that Daniel's mom is in L.A. Of course, so is Ben...who wants to kill Penny. Even without this knowledge, Des feels going to L.A. is a bad idea, but Penny tells him to. He tells her the only things that matter to him are her and their son...Charlie. Probably named not after his grandfather, but after a certain ex-junkie rocker. But she persuades them and they go anyway.
Back on the island, things are getting really crazy. Daniel, Charlotte and Miles go to the creek, which Sawyer set up as a meeting place during the flaming arrow attack. The creepy soldiers from the past find them and capture them and bring them to some early version of New Otherton, presided over by Richard, looking exactly the same. Turns out, the others think Daniel and co. are American military. Oh, and there's a hydrogen bomb on the island that needs diffusing. Yay. Daniel volunteers. Richard seems suspicious but Daniel tells Richard he loves Charlotte and wouldn't do anything to hurt her. Meanwhile, Locke, Sawyer and Juliet try to get answers from the two soldiers they've captured. Juliet figures out they're Others, because they speak Latin, like her. Man, those Others are fancy. One of the soldiers tries to spill some secrets, but the other one breaks his neck before he can talk. That soldier escapes. Juliet decides they should go to New Otherton 1.0, knowing that Richard will be there. Why? "Richard's always been here." Locke dashes out to meet Richard who, as future Richard predicted, has no idea who Locke is. But Locke gets his attention with the magic words "Jacob sent me." Jacob, apparently, is the Large Marge of magical time travel island. The previously kidnapped soldier begs Richard not to trust Locke. And we find out that that soldier is actually Charles Widmore! Gasp!
Locke tells Richard he's the new Others leader. Richard seems incredulous. Locke says that he will be born in a few years, and tells Richard to look him up and see if he's island material. He also shows Richard the compass. Then, he asks Richard to finish the conversation they started during the last time travel, about getting everyone back to the island.
Meanwhile, Daniel heads out to the bomb area with a chick who looks like Keira Knightly...oh, and she also kind of looks like Theresa, which Daniel notices (Note: Daniel didn't actually say the woman looked like Theresa. That was my inference. Some fans have guessed that she actually looks like Daniel's mother -- and that she might BE Daniel's mother as a young woman). He says the bomb is leaking and he can fix it -- by plugging the leak and burying the bomb. He tells her that he know the bomb doesn't go off because he's from the future. Sawyer and Juliet happen upon him.
And then...Flash. Time travel time.
Everyone is staggering around. The bomb is gone. But Charlotte isn't feeling well. Her nose starts bleeding again and she collapses. Oh no!
Now, a few brief words:
* The episode takes its name from the word written along the side of the hydrogen bomb
* And seriously, what is up with the bomb?
* So Charles was on the island before? That helps explain why he's so obsessed with out? Just how did he get involved with it in the first place.
* Daniel's mother being in L.A. helps lend weight to theories of those who think Mama F is Mrs. Hawkings, church denizen and part-time jewelery seller.
* Best part about the episode -- no whiny Jack.
* Worst part -- no Ben or Hurly

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Not mad about "Trust Me"

It's hard to talk about TNT's new drama "Trust Me," which debuts Monday at 10 p.m., without also mentioning AMC's brilliant Emmy-winning drama "Mad Men." After all, both shows are about the advertising industry, even though "Trust Me" focuses on modern-day advertising, whereas "Mad Men" is set in the early 1960s. And both shows deal heavily with office politics and discuss, at least to some degree, the sacrifices one has to make to get ahead in business.
But despite these surface similarities, "Trust Me" and "Mad Men" have about as much in common as hamburger and filet mignon. Sure, they have similar ingredients, but there's a noticeable gap in class and quality.
That's not to say "Trust Me" is bad, necessarily. It's just not as polished, smart, or well-written as "Mad Men." But "Trust Me" has its moments, particularly in the second episode released to the press. And it certainly has a likable pair of leading men in TV vets Eric McCormack ("Will & Grace") and Tom Cavanagh ("Ed"). The two play best friends and partners at a Chicago ad agency. Mason (McCormack) is the responsible one and Conner (Cavanagh) is the wacky creative genius. When Mason gets an unexpected promotion, it causes tension in their bromance. Also complicating matters at their firm is the threat of losing a major account, and the arrival of a talented but obnoxious copy writer (Monica Potter) who clearly has some sort of past with Mason.
The cast is impressive, and also includes Sarah Clarke (Nina Meyers from "24") as Mason's understanding wife, and character actor Griffin Dunne as Conner and Mason's boss. Cavanagh and McCormack make a good onscreen team, with Cavanagh's manic energy bouncing off of McCormack, one of the most sly straight men on TV. I like watching them together, and they both give the show their all.
But good acting can only get you so far. You also have to have strong writing, and this is where "Trust Me" falters, particularly in its pilot. The supporting characters come off as too shrill and silly, particularly Potter's. In the episodes I saw, I got no evidence that this woman was a brilliant copy writer. Her one presentation kind of stinks, and she openly admits a complete inability to write about shampoo. In fact, for a show that's supposed to be about dynamic creative types, the dialogue on "Trust Me" is pretty bland. I counted exactly one memorable line, the same one that's been replayed over and over already in the show's commercials. It's when Cavanagh's Conner claims that he's been carrying McCormack's Mason and Mason retorts "I've been carrying YOU so long, I've got scoliosis!"
The second episode I watched is a little funnier, and holds together fairly well. But, unfortunately for "Trust Me," it's hard to watch it without comparing it to that other, much better, show about advertising. And that's where it suffers. Fans of "Mad Men" will likely take one look at "Trust Me" and snort in disgust. That isn't really fair. In fact, judged on its own merits, "Trust Me" is solidly OK -- not a must-watch, but a perfectly fine show to veg in front of after a rough Monday.
"Trust Me" debuts 10 p.m. Monday on TNT.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Lost": Time travel, lies and Willie Nelson

Because I don't have a lot of time, I'm just going to post a few quick thoughts on the two-hour, fifth season premiere of "Lost." Please feel free to share your comments in the space below -- and if you want a more substantial rundown, click on the link to Nikki Stafford's blog, in the blogroll on the side of this page. Ok, with that out of the way, let's start with the first episode, shall we?
"Because You Left"
I have to admit, when I first saw the opening sequence of this episode, I was totally disoriented -- yes, even more so than with a typical episode of "Lost." The alarm clock turns over to 8:15 (the flight number of the Oceanic plane that crashed, as we all know) and we see a couple in bed. The woman makes the man get up and feed the baby. He obliges, while listening to a record of Willie Nelson's "Shotgun Willie." The record skips (Daniel, of course, later compares the island becoming unstuck in time to a skipping record, so this is significant). The man then goes outside, into what is clearly New Otherton, and we see that he is ... Dr. Marvin Candle, man of many aliases, and orientation video appearances. Wow, maybe I'm idiot, but I totally was caught by surprise. He's filming the training video for The Arrow, one of the Dharma stations, when someone breaks in and -- calling him Dr. Chang -- calls him away urgently to the Orchid. There's funky goings on there (melting drills, collapsing construction workers, etc.) and the construction crew has found the Frozen Donkey Wheel -- the one that moved the island -- buried in a wall. Then, a worker comes in and bumps into Candle/Chang/etc. We eventually see that it's...Daniel? Sigh. What is going on here?
This is by far one of the craziest openings to the show ever. I've seen it three times and it still befuddles me. How did Daniel get there? Why is Chang filming the orientation videos under different names? How did Frozen Donkey Wheel get unearthed, and who put it there to begin with? And why didn't Chang/etc. fix the skipping record?
More thoughts on "Because You Left":
* Episode takes its title from a line spoken to Jack by Ben
* The island definitely is unglued from the time/space continuum, with flashes signifying time travel.
* I didn't realize that Sawyer and Daniel hadn't met before, but now that I think about it, Sawyer decamped for Team Locke before Team Jack met the freighter folk.
*Sawyer doesn't like Daniel insulting his intelligence and gives him a soap opera slap to the face. Nice.
* Hurley and Sayid get my vote for Hollywood's next great action-comedy team. Hurley advising Sayid that his violence is caused by an absence of comfort food was priceless.
* Sayid's "crazy ninja moves" with the people at the safe house were awesome. And further proof that you should always load knives in a dishwasher with the blades down.
* Richard is the one who tells Locke he has to die to bring the O 6 back to the island. But why?
* Desmond wakes up next to Penny after his "memory." She's wearing a wedding ring. I couldn't see if he was.
Ok, running out of time, so onto the second episode

"The Lie"
No one part of this episode leapt out at me (except Hurley flinging a Hot Pocket at Ben), so here's just a rundown of thoughts.
* Always happy to see Cheech Marin on this show as Papa Reyes. Is it me, or is Hurley turning out to have the best parents out of all the islanders? His mother had maybe the most loving moment I've ever seen on this show, after Hurley spills his guts about what really happened: "I believe you. I don't understand you, but I believe you." Don't those sentences just crystallize the purity of mother love?
* And, is it just me, or is there something more to Hurley's visions of the dead? I think they're not just the hallucinations of an unbalanced man, but some sort of guidance being given to him by an unseen force. I buy Charlie being a manifestation of Hurley's guilt, because they were friends. But why would he see Ana Lucia?
* So Ben has an off-island network of workers, that includes the creepy ring store woman from Desmond's past? Hmmm....
* Just what is Sun up to? Has she really forgiven Kate for pulling her off the freighter? Is she using Kate to get to Jack? What is going on?
* That sudden ambush of flaming projectiles has earned its place among creepy "Lost" moments. Who were the people who sent them? And why couldn't they have taken out the annoying Frogurt (aka Neil) a lot sooner?
* This has no bearing on the greater plot, but I loved the crestfallen look on Bernard's face when Frogurt called him "Bernie the Dentist," as if "Dentist" was the worst insult ever.
And I'm out. I may add more as stuff occurs to me.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Things I can tell you about "Lost"

As I mentioned before, I've been lucky enough to see the first two new episodes of "Lost" and, let me tell you, you're in for a treat. However, ABC basically threatens all writers with the unspeakable should they reveal anything too juicy about any episode they've seen. Thus, in lieu of a full preview, I shall simply list the things I can tell you about the new season of "Lost," which starts Wednesday at 9 p.m. I've tried to keep it as spoiler-free as possible, but my definition of "spoiler-free" may differ from yours, so proceed with caution.
1. When the first new episode starts, we see someone we've seen before, but in a different context.
2. Shortly thereafter, we see someone else we've seen before, again in a different context.
3. Sawyer appears shirtless. For a long time.
4. We learn that, not only are Hot Pockets gross and indigestible, they make ineffective weapons.
5. We see Juliette's cleavage. A lot.
6. We learn that Jack does, in fact, own a razor.
7. Angela Chase's father from "My So-Called Life" makes an appearance in the first new episode.
8. Hurley extols the virtues of comfort food.
9. Ben behaves mysteriously.
10. Desmond calls someone "brother."

Thoughts on Desperate Housewives' 100th episode

Just some quick thoughts on last night's episode of Desperate Housewives, the 100th episode in the series.
I'm probably the only one, but I really enjoyed this anthology-style episode of the show. It didn't further any of this season plotlines, but I liked the device of using the death of a neighborhood handyman (played by the ever-reliable Beau Bridges) to shed some light on the backgrounds of the housewives. The episode reminded me of a collections of interlocking short stories, a format of literature I really enjoy. We learned a little about how Gabby integrated herself with the other women; why Lynnette was a stay-at-home mom at the start of the series; why Bree wrote a cookbook and, most intriguingly, that Edie was once married to a gay man (did we know this before? I was kind of shocked by that twist).
The little vignettes were sort of sweet and tender and I found them very entertaining. I also loved seeing some of our old, dead friends returned from the grave: Mary Alice, Rex and Mrs. Huber (what, no Ida?).
All in all, it was a light, but entertaining installment of the show. Thoughts?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Some brief words about "Flight of the Conchords," season two

The second season of HBO's cheekily absurd musical comedy "Flight of the Conchords" premieres tonight. And I could use this space to write a big long preview. I could go on about how, though the comedy in the show's second season is as good as ever, its parody songs aren't quite as strong as those in season one. I could bore you with details about the episodes I've seen so far, such as the one where Jemaine (Jemaine Clement) and Bret (Bret McKenzie) are plunged into economic strife when Bret buys a new teacup (previously, they only had one that they were required to share, thus making it impossible for them to both drink tea at the same time).
I could talk about guest appearances by the likes of Alan "Charles Widmore" Dale or Seymour Cassel. I could talk about the one excellent song in the preview episodes, the Black Eyed Peas-aping "Sugar Lumps."
I could do all that. Or I could post a video of the "Albi the Racist Dragon" song from season one.
And wouldn't you prefer that?

The second season of "Flight of the Conchords" premieres today at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

While I was out...

So, if you're wondering why I haven't posted in a while, it's because I've been on vacation for several days. And, though I had fun and am rested, I'm tragically behind on my blog and my TV viewing. I still haven't seen this week's "Gossip Girl" or "Desperate Housewives," and was only semi-conscious while watching "30 Rock" yesterday afternoon. But, I just thought I'd take a moment to check in and give a quick recap of some of the TV happenings of the past few days.
The end of "Prison Break": This week, Fox announced that it was canceling its giddy guilty pleasure of a drama, "Prison Break." That's somewhat bittersweet for me. I believe I'm one of the few people on the planet who not only still watches "Prison Break," but still enjoys it. I'll miss it, but I agree that it's time for the show to end. There's only so much conspiracy, drama, break-ins, and break-outs that one show can handle. "Break" has reached its limit. Besides, William Fichtner, who plays the shows best character, Alexander Mahone, would likely have left after this season anyway. Last I heard, he has a show in development at TNT. I wouldn't want "Break" to go on without him.
The Golden Globes: Even if I wasn't on vacation, I probably wouldn't have watched the Golden Globes anyway. I was so appalled by their failure to nominate so many worthy TV shows and actors (Seriously? Not one nomination for "The Shield?"). All I saw of the awards show was Mickey Rourke accepting a Globe for "The Wrestler." He seemed to be wearing purple sequins and thanked his dogs. I hope he wins an Oscar.
NPH on SNL: I did manage to catch some of Neil Patrick Harris on "Saturday Night Live" this week (I'll get the rest on DVR). Though I love NPH, I felt that (in what I saw, at least) he wasn't used that well. However, I did love that Broadway sketch. And I agree that it's racist to discriminate against people with green skin.
Getting "Lost": Lest you think my vacation was a complete waste, I did manage to sneak away and watch the first two new episodes of "Lost," posted on ABC's web site. I'll have more on that next week, closer to the start of the show's fifth season. But, for now, let me just say two things. The new season looks great. And I am super excited.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

"24" Returns: Tony! Tony! Tony!

The action series "24" succeeds at a lot of things. It's really good at making us terrified of the world we live in. It's really good at find new ways for superspy Jack Bauer to torture evildoers (and suspected evildoers). And it's really good at giving us at least one moment each season (yes, even the lackluster sixth season) that makes us shriek in terror and dismay.
But there is one thing it kind of stinks at: providing realistic relationships for Jack (Kiefer Sutherland). Seriously -- his wife, Teri, was more interesting dead than alive. His eventual girlfriend Audrey had a little more depth, but even she basically existed to shoot troubled looks at Jack as he executed his crime-fighting mayhem.
And, as much as Jack keeps telling us he loves his daughter Kim, we're just not buying it. I'm sure that, by this point, Jack is probably secretly glad that Kim and the constant cloud of trouble that follows her have shut him out of their lives.
But the show has provided Jack with one believable, emotionally fraught relationship. That's the bond between him and his former co-worker Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard).
Yes, in the beginning, the two weren't buddies, but a bond developed over time (perhaps spurred by their mutual deception by mercenary vixen Nina Meyers). They eventually became each others' go-to guy. When Jack and Audrey were trapped in that warehouse in season four, who did Jack call? Tony. When Jack needed to fake his death, who did he call? Tony. Also Chloe. And Michelle. And David Palmer.
But mostly Tony.
Anyway, that's why so many fans were upset in season five when Tony seemingly died in Jack's arms. Yes, "24" has killed off lots of characters before and since, but none quite so important to the show.
Without Tony, Jack had no real foil. Sure, he had Chloe and Bill, but there wasn't the same chemistry, the same connection.
So, was the absence of Tony responsible for the crappiness of season six? Eh, probably not. But it didn't help.
That's why last year, "24" fans were overjoyed (if a bit confused) to learn that the show was bringing back Tony. We were all for the resurrection of Almeida, but how would they bring him back from the dead?
Well, we never got to find out. The accursed writers' strike caused the show's production to shut down, and no new episodes aired last year.
So we waited, somewhat patiently, to see what was up with the whole Tony thing. We got no clue during the recent "24" movie, which centered only on Jack and a few new characters. We tried to remain patient, frantically wanting to know what the deal was with Tony.
Well, now the wait is over.
"24" returns next week, with two two-hour episodes on Sunday and Monday. And, much to my relief, Tony pops up quickly. Yay!
When the season opens, Jack is getting grilled by a senate committee about his frequent use of torture. He's the middle of justifying all the neck punching, drugging, electric-shocking and decapitation he's done over the years when FBI agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) bursts into the proceedings, claiming to desperately need Jack's help.
She sweeps him away from the Senate hearings and informs him that a group of terrorists (or something) has been stealing information that could compromise American security (or something).
Well, Jack wonders, how can I help you?
One of the terrorists is someone you know, Walker says. She then shows Jack a picture of Tony.
No, that's not a spoiler. Anyone who's seen ads for this season knows that Tony comes back as a bad guy. But how? And why? It's a while before we learn. Instead, we get a lot of silliness at the FBI, where Janeane Garofalo and Rhys Coiro aim to become "24's" newest comedy team, trading quips and insults. Yeesh. There's also some dull, but plot-forwarding, nonsense involving new President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) and her attempts to declare war on evil factions in the fictional African nation of Sangala.
But the show doesn't really pick up until the end of hour two, when Jack and Tony are finally reunited. The look in Jack's eyes when he sees what Tony has become is devastating and more emotionally compelling than anything we saw on "24's" sixth season (yes, I remember Curtis dying. And I wasn't that moved).
Once the two men are brought together, the show takes off, as Jack tries to use to their past relationship to help save the world. Other than that, I won't elaborate because, of course, there are twists and turns I'd rather not spoil.
But I will reveal that we see Bill Buchanan (James Morrison) by hour three, and he's wearing a spiffy black turtleneck. We also see Chloe (Mary Lynn Raksjub) and she, once again, gets the best line.
So far, I have high hopes for the new season of "24." Yes, I know it's disappointed us before, but maybe this season will be different. Maybe the return of Tony will bring the show back to its high-energy self. Let's hope so.
The four-hour season premiere of "24" starts Sunday, with a two-hour episode, airing from 8 to 10 p.m. The second half of the premiere airs 8 to 10 p.m. Monday. The show airs on Fox.

The De-Aaronization of "Gossip Girl"

There were a lot of significant things about last night's "Gossip Girl" episode: Dan's discovery that he has a love child sibling; Jenny's transformation from raccoon-eyed, she-mulleted home-schooled nightmare back to a normal girl; the downward spiral of one Chuck Bass, etc.
But the most notable thing about the ep was what wasn't in it: Aaron. Yes, this week when Serena returned from Argentina, she was without her pale-skinned, stubbly, judgmental, serially dating artist boyfriend.
Apparently, she dumped him three hours into the 15-hour flight from New York. Yikes. Must have been one awkward trip. Not that we blame her. Aaron was maybe the least good-looking, least-interesting character the series has ever introduced -- and this is a show that has Dan Humphrey as a character.
Even more annoying, despite his total lack of positive qualities, Aaron was a total chick magnet (this is at least believable -- every girl knows at least one really gross guy that she was, at one time, deeply attracted to. And he wouldn't give her the time of day because, incredibly, he was swimming in women. It's one of the many dirty little secrets of being female).
Anyway, the prospect of spending not just a long flight but an entire Christmas vacation with Aaron must have brought the usually dim Serena to her senses. Good for you, honey. We're proud of you.
Or, at least, we were until you hooked up with Dan again. Will you two never learn?
Well, enough Serena and Dan nastiness. As always, the true star of the episode was Blair.
This week, our bitchy little sweetheart was busy trying to impress the Colony Club, a group of snotty women who apparently hold the key to the higher echelons of New York society -- in between looking for her beloved Chuck who, as the episode opened, was in some sort of Thai opium den.
I'm sorry, but where does Chuck find these places? Is there a "Let's Go Hedonism" guidebook we should be aware of that has listings for every opium den, massage parlor and house of ill repute the world over?
Anyway, Blair finds Chuck, with the help of Chuck's heretofore never mentioned uncle Jack. Really? It's only the second season and already the show is playing the "relative out of nowhere" card?
Jack brings Chuck back to New York, but the little Bass-tard is still a mess, being mean to Blair and lighting up a joint in the school hallway. He's busted by the headmistress and, when Blair stands up for him at a disciplinary meeting, he cuts her off at the knees by sparking yet another doobie. I guess I understand. I mean, Chuck just inherited a fortune. He doesn't exactly need to go high school, does he?
Chuck runs off and Blair gets upset, which she expresses by weeping to Serena. As a side note, I've decided that Leighton Meester is the prettiest crier on TV. Those big eyes sparkle when filled with tears, her skin glows and her lips get even redder. Sigh. Nobody looks like that when they cry in real life.
I digress. Blair goes looking for Chuck and finds him at the Victrola, which he just bought back. He's planning a night of debauchery at the club and Blair must stop him except...gasp! The Colony Club ladies! Blair dresses up and prepares to get her society matron on. Serena stops by to judge Blair for hanging with the upper-crusters instead of helping Chuck.
I'm sorry, but where does Serena get off judging Blair? Blair has been trying to help Chuck all episode and Serena hasn't done one thing for him. You enjoy your tea party, Blair! You deserve it!
But, as it turns out, the Colony Club ladies are just an older version of high school mean girls (they even wear headbands) and say mean things about Serena, Lily and even Chuck.
Blair tells them off as a delighted Dorota looks on, and storms off to find Chuck. Chuck, meanwhile, is downward spiraling and ends up on the rooftop, drunkenly and druggedly walking the edge of the building. Yawn. Cliche.
Blair dashes up to the roof with sleazy Uncle Jack, and sweetly talks Chuck down and into her arms. Aw.
He goes home with Jack who, to Blair's dismay, is going to take care of Chuck. Please, Blair begs Jack. Don't tell him about New Year's Eve. WHAT??? Blair, honey, what did you do?
Well, judging from next week's promos, she apparently grabbed herself another piece of Bass. GAHHH!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

New season of "Damages" ripe with promise

Many people think television these days is losing its luster and, in a lot of ways, I agree with them. Many new shows are seriously lacking, and several old ones are losing their luster. There are multiple things to blame for this – the writers’ strike, networks allowing shows to linger on past their prime, etc.

Clearly, TV is due for, if not a makeover, some serious sprucing up.

But there’s one area of television with which I have no beef – the caliber of the actors and performances. By and large, TV acting is better than ever, even on shows that aren’t so great.

Why is that? My guess is that the recent, now-fading, renaissance in TV storytelling drew a higher class of thespians to the tube. Or maybe television is the only place that some of these performers (particularly the female ones) could find decent roles. Whatever the reason, television acting is still at a high point, and there’s no greater proof of that than FX’s twisty legal thriller “Damages,” which returns for its second season at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

In its first season, the series featured film actress Glenn Close (already beloved by FX audiences for her excellent work on “The Shield”) as scheming civil attorney Patty Hewes. Close won an Emmy for her work, but she wasn’t the only fine actor featured on the series.

“Damages” also provided a comeback role for erstwhile sitcom star Ted Danson, as Arthur Frobisher, the sleazy exec being sued by Patty’s clients, and a meaty, Emmy-winning part for highly-regarded character actor Zeljko Ivanek, who played tormented attorney Ray Fiske. And, though less lauded than his co-stars, we can’t forget Tate Donovan, who did nice, understated work as Patty’s right-hand man Tom.

The only weak link was Rose Byrne, who plays Ellen, Patty’s decent but ambitious associate, whose life is more or less ruined by her decision to work for Patty. It’s not that Byrne is a bad actress. She’s not. It’s just that she was not quite strong enough to stand up to such a formidable group of actors.

One wishes her luck in the new season. Most of the above performers return for season two, bringing along with them an even more impressive group of thespians, including William Hurt as a prospective new client for Patty and Marcia Gay Harden as yet another hard-boiled attorney.

Judging from the first three episodes of the new season, Hurt is likely to generate Danson-level buzz for his work as the volatile, mysterious scientist Daniel Purcell. Ok, maybe I’m biased. Hurt has always been a fave of mine, ever since my mom dragged me to see “The Doctor” when I was 13. Still, I think I can objectively say that he is beyond awesome playing a guy who is by turns sympathetic and kind of freaky.

Close, of course, is as strong as ever, tearing into the role of Patty like a shark ripping into an errant Scuba diver, while never letting us forget that there’s a conflicted human under all of Patty’s ruthless conniving.

Like the first season, season two of “Damages” starts near the end of this season’s storyline, then flashes back to the events that brought us to that moment. Last season started with a blood-covered Ellen dashing out of an apartment building. This season begins with Ellen calmly questioning an unseen someone about an unknown something. Oh, and she has a gun.

We then flash back to few months before this tête-à-tête, with Ellen in grief counseling following the death of her fiancé last season. She’s nursing deep bitterness toward Frobisher (yes, Danson is back), for his involvement in her lover’s murder. Ellen is plotting revenge on him and Patty who, after all, did try to kill her. Or, at least, we think that’s what happened. Anyway, Ellen’s aiding an FBI investigation of Patty, trying to bring down her corrupt law firm from the inside. Does Patty know of Ellen’s subterfuge? Maybe. She is, after all, Patty, who seems to be imbued with magical powers of perception.

But, at the moment, she’s actually more concerned with a potential new case, involving Hurt’s Purcell, a figure from Patty’s past.

Clearly, all this will end up explaining who Ellen is threatening in that first scene, and why she’s getting all vigilante on his/her behind. Last season, watching for the subtle (and not-so-subtle) clues of how Ellen ended all bloody and disheveled was great fun. And, mercifully, the season actually came to a satisfying conclusion, explaining pretty much everything.

I have high hopes for the new season as well, as the first two episodes were as good as anything in season one (the third ep wasn’t as good, but I’m willing to forgive a stumble if the end game is satisfying). While Byrne continues to be outclassed by her costars, she’s grown on me, and I’m looking forward to the development of the relationship between her and another member of her grief group, played by Timothy Olyphant, of “Deadwood.”

All in all, the new season of “Damages” has a lot of promise and potential. Can’t wait to see what happens.

Season two of “Damages” starts Wednesday at 10 p.m. on FX.

Thursday, January 1, 2009


Hello all, and welcome to my blog, I Screen You Screen. Here's a place where you can read about, and comment on, the best and worst in television.
I'm someone who's been passionate about television for a long time, and balk at any suggestions that it's inferior to other forms of popular culture, such as books, movies and plays. Yes, there's plenty of crappy television out there. Anyone who's glimpsed a second of "Deal or No Deal," "According to Jim," or almost any reality show knows that.
But, as we fans know, TV can be more. TV can be a place to tell complicated stories and develop interesting characters. Its open-ended format means it can delve into ideas and issues over the course of several episodes, as opposed to a few hours of screen time or a few hundred pages.
Television, at its very best, is an art form. This, after all, is the medium that brought us "The Wire," "The Sopranos," and "The Shield," as well as less weighty -- but still admirable -- programs such as "Everybody Loves Raymond," "30 Rock," "Mary Tyler Moore" and "The Bob Newhart Show."
Over the next few days, I'll begin posting my thoughts on various TV shows and also topics that relate to television. The advent of the new year is bringing with it a lot of new shows and many returning favorites.
So keep watching.