Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Lost" recap: My mutha was an otha

Gotta say, I had high hopes for tonight's episode of "Lost." For one thing, it was the series' 100th episode, and many shows try to do something big to mark that occasion. For another, the episode was titled "The Variable," a scientifically-skewed title that brought to mind one of last season's most beloved and twistiest episodes, "The Constant."
Admittedly, it was a decent episode, giving us some solid back story on Daniel and Eloise (and helping explain why both of them seem so cuckoo), and advancing the main plot a bit. Yet it wasn't a spectacular episode -- certainly not up to the standard of "The Constant," but also paling in comparison to the two excellent episodes that preceded "The Variable," "Dead is Dead" and "Some Like it Hoth."
I guess the problem is, though I like (liked?) Daniel, I just don't feel as connected to him as I do the other characters. Maybe it's because he's just so strange and otherworldly -- and not in a badass Ben Linus way. Daniel just always seemed like a cipher to me, an intriguing yet spooky character that I admired but just couldn't warm to. Even Ben, the show's probable villain, is more engaging. I want to know what's going on in Ben's mind because I sense it's a deep, dark, complicated place.
Daniel's mind seems like it's all equations and hypotheses and theories about destiny. Oh, and a deep love for women who will eventually experience terrible suffering because of him... or shoot him.
Still, though I found it underwhelming, the episode provided plenty of fodder for discussion. We learned just HOW close Eloise and Charles Widmore really were; whether Desmond survived Ben's gunshot; and how the assault of Phil will affect the islanders.
Below is a rundown of some thoughts about, observations on and highlights from "The Variable."
* First, we must talk about Desmond. I guess I was so relieved that Ben didn't kill Penny that I didn't realize how hurt Desmond was. I was pretty worried about ol' Des when I saw him being wheeled into the hospital on that stretcher -- partly because it would be sooooo typical of "Lost" to spare Penny, only to murder Des. It was even more stressful when an unusually frazzled Eloise showed up at the hospital and apologized to Penny for her role in Ben's attack. Then, near the end of the episode, when a frightened Eloise admitted that she didn't know if Des was going to be OK, I almost wet myself. Thankfully, Des was fine (though I am a bit worried about little Charlie. Why would Penny leave her son alone with a nurse she didn't know right after she and her entire family had almost been killed. Wouldn't she be hanging on to her tot for dear life?)
* Ok, with Desmond out of the way, we can discuss Daniel. Following his return to the island, Daniel ends up where we always knew he would, in the Orchid, bumping into Dr. Chang. That's, of course, how the season started. Turns out, Daniel was there to persuade Chang to get his people off the island because there was going to be an electromagnetic event that day. The event leads to the building of the Swan, which eventually leads to Desmond's failure to push the button, which leads to the crash, which leads to the arrival of the freighter, blah, blah, blah.
Basically, Daniel later informs Kate and Jack, if he can stop that electromagnetic event, he can keep everything that followed from happening. Daniel also helpfully explains that this is possible, despite his previous assertion that the past can't be changed and that whatever happened, happened.
Apparently, he had not previously taken into account "the variables," i.e. himself and the others on the island. Because of them, things could possibly change. All they have to do is detonate the H bomb and...Ok. I have to stop. My brain is throbbing just thinking about it. Let's move on, shall we?
*Eloise's chilly demeanor and insistence on concepts like destiny make a whole lot more sense now that we know she unwittingly killed her son (or, at least, it appears that he's dead. I won't believe it for sure until his body is buried. Or possibly burned). I imagine shooting your child is more palatable if you believe it serves a higher purpose.
* Quick question -- when did Dan test his time travel experiment thingie on himself? We saw him test on the mouse and knew he tested on Theresa. Did he get sick from testing his mouse? Or did he test on himself in between the mouse and Theresa? Or, did we see him test on himself, and I've developed a case of Faraday-itis that has caused me to forget this incident? Please offer suggestions.
* Still not entirely sure why Daniel is crying when he sees the Oceanic 815 wreck on TV. Is it because, somewhere in his brain he knows the manufactured crash will lead to his mother shooting him? Is it because, somewhere in his brain, he know the crash will lead to the death of another woman he loves? Or has he just gone bat-poop insane?
* So, we've learned that Widmore is Daniel's father. Sort of shoots a big hole in my theory that Widmore was Charlotte's father. I suppose Widmore could be her father too...but ewwwww!!
* Speaking of Charlotte, Daniel finally gets around to freaking out the 1970s version of his red-headed lady love this episode. That led to what was arguably the most touching moment of the episode. Little Charlotte is eating chocolate when Daniel sees her. When she spots hims, she mournfully states "I'm not allowed to have chocolate before dinner." If I'm not mistaken, those were also adult Charlotte's last words. Awww. Poor Daniel looks heartbroken. Must say, though I sometimes find his character opaque, Jeremy Davies is excellent as Faraday, doing his best to pull back the curtain on this enigmatic guy and show us some semblance of a human being.
* Charlotte isn't the only one that Daniel freaked out. When he informs Chang that a) he's from the future and b) Miles is Chang's son, Miles wigs big time. However, I'm guessing his fervent denial that he and Chang share blood only served to convince Chang that Miles is his baby son, all grown up. Then again, I thought Widmore was Charlotte's dad, so what the hell do I know?
* With Phil/Jimmy Barrett tied up in the closet, Sawyer and Juliet know it's only a matter of time until their perfect Dharma life is torn asunder. They gather Jack, Kate, Hurley and Jin and take a vote on whether they should return home on the sub, or go back to the jungle. Jungle is winning when Daniel turns up and suggests a third option: taking a day trip to the Others' camp. Jack is for it, as Daniel has already told him that coming to the island was a mistake. Kate is wavering. Sawyer, looking to sway her, gazes in her eyes and calls her Freckles. Juliet then blurts out the code for the fence and tells her romantic rival (oh yeah -- and Jack and Daniel, too) to scram.
* Best line of the episode, while arming themselves for the journey to the Others' camp, Kate tosses Daniel a shotgun. The perplexed egghead looks at her and asks "Do you have anything for a beginner?" Ha!
* This light moment is followed by an intense shootout with Radzinsky and his merry band of black jumpsuit-wearing goons. Jack and co. escape and Radzinsky is calling for blood. He heads back to Sawyer's to ask "LaFleur" why he isn't being a better security dude. Sawyer hems and haws bit, but the jig is up when Rad-man finds Phil in the closet. D'oh! Sawyer and Juliet are busted.
* When Jack, Faraday and co. get to the Others' camp, Faraday asks for Eloise. Instead, he finds Richard who insists Eloise isn't there. Faraday then demands to see the bomb. Richard hems and haws, as Daniel sticks a gun in his face and threatens to pull the trigger. A trigger is indeed pulled, but it's Eloise doing the shooting. She shoots Daniel and apparently kills him. As he dies, Daniel gazes at his mother with a look of horror and betrayal. You knew this would happen, he tells her, but you let me come back here anyway.
Tragic. Yet somehow way less exciting than prolonged scenes of Hurley and Miles bantering in a microbus. I'm not sure why.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Bea Arthur: 1922-2009

When I was a kid, there were two signs of a good babysitter: 1) he or she let me have more than one cookie, even if my parents told them not to and 2) he or she always let stay up late enough to watch "Golden Girls" on a Saturday night.
I don't why I loved that NBC sitcom so much when I was a little kid. Certainly, a 9-year-old probably couldn't have found much common ground with a show about a bunch of women over the age of 60. I didn't know anything about the struggles of caring for an elderly parent, or trying to maintain a social life well into late middle age. Yet I still loved "Golden Girls" for a simple reason: it was funny.
Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia were the kind of women we all hoped we'd be when we got older -- funny, resourceful, wise, kind and generally satisfied with life. As a little girl, I'm not sure I had a favorite. However, when I became reacquainted with the show later in life through its seemingly inescapable reruns on Lifetime, I most closely identified with Dorothy, the brainy teacher and divorcee brilliantly played by the great Bea Arthur. I had never seen Arthur as the title character on the iconic 1970s sitcom "Maude," so to me, she'll always be Dorothy Petrillo Zbornak.
Dorothy was the kind of woman I know well now; the type to disguise pain with an acid tongue and quick wit. With her deep, smoky voice and flawless timing, Arthur was made for the role. Whether threatening to send her mom, Sophia back to Shady Pines rest home or tartly chiding her roommate Rose for her ditziness or Blanche for her trampiness, Dorothy had many of the show's funniest lines.
But she also had some of its most touching moments. Dorothy, don't forget, got pregnant young, married a man who cheated on her and went through a painful divorce. She also found herself in the difficult position of looking after her mother, and had to move in with two other women to support herself. That's a lot of baggage, and Arthur always let you see the sadness and weariness under Dorothy's witticisms.
Arthur died Saturday in Los Angeles. Though she played numerous other roles (most notably on Broadway, where she won a Tony award for the musical "Mame"), I'll always remember Arthur sitting around a kitchen table, eating cheesecake and making witty observations about life.
She'll be missed.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Thoughts on "Dollhouse"

Figured I'd check in and say a few quick words about Fox's "Dollhouse," since I'm really liking it and haven't written anything on it since my initial review.
Though the show was promising at the outset, coming from acclaimed TV auteur Joss Whedon, it was a little shapeless and flimsy at first. The concept -- a super-secret business that erases the identities of human beings and implants them with new ones to satisfy the needs of wealthy clients -- was so complicated, it immediately called for a lot of mythology-heavy episodes explaining what the Dollhouse is and why we should care about any of the characters (particularly the "dolls," most of whom are just vacant shells).
However, the first few episodes were stand alones, focusing heavily on "missions" undertaken by a doll named Echo (Eliza Dushku). There was a little backstory: pre-Dollhouse, Echo was a girl named Caroline who, due to some terrible occurrence in her life, volunteered to have her identity erased. There was an FBI agent named Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) trying to track down the Dollhouse (and Caroline). There was an escaped doll named Alpha who had killed a bunch of his house-mates, but spared Echo. And there was all sorts of intrigue and shady characters. But it didn't add up to much.
Whedon and Dushku begged fans to stay tuned, telling them the mythology would kick in. Eventually, it did, with a set of excellent episodes that gave us a good bit of insight into how deep the Dollhouse conspiracy runs. We learned why Caroline offered herself up (the tragic death of her lover) and why Ballard's neighbor Mellie (Miracle Laurie) seemed so unbelievably smitten by him (she was a doll, sent to spy on him and kill him if required). We learned that Echo is, gradually, showing some signs of self-awareness that both fascinate and frighten her Dollhouse keepers.
We also got some insight into Dollhouse manager Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams), and learned that she's not the cold fish we once thought she was, but a sad, guilt-ridden women who knows her life is dedicated to something awful.
Then, this week, the show gave us another stand alone "mission of the week" episode, in which Echo was inhabited by the psyche of a wealthy, murdered friend of Ms. DeWitt. It wasn't as good as the mythology episodes, but I didn't mind it as much as I would have in the beginning.
I've come to care about DeWitt somewhat, so I sensed her pain at the loss of her friend, and the relief she felt in being able to help the woman solve her own murder.
Yet I didn't like how the the storyline did sidelined Echo. I guess that's an odd way of putting it, since Dushku was on screen for much of the episode. But, through the whole episode, she was only Margaret, the dead woman, and never Echo. There were no scenes with a post or pre-implant Echo hanging out in the Dollhouse. There were no hints of Echo hiding under or in the spirit of the dead woman inside her. That's problematic. If Echo is supposed to be the main character, there should be some growth in her story (at least, as much as the concept allows) in every episode. I didn't like seeing her development put on hold.
But I loved the development in Mellie/Ballard storyline. In the last episode, Ballard learned his neighbor and new love interest was a doll named November -- but that he can't show any sign that he knows this, or Mellie/November will kill him. So this episode, he kept trying to pretend everything was OK, but was secretly torn up by the idea that he had inadvertently become a Dollhouse client. It was distressing, particularly in the scene where Mellie offered herself up to Ballard physically, saying that she could be anything he wanted her to be. Instead of turning Mellie away, Ballard proceeds to have rough, angry (and highly disturbing) sex with her. It was an intense, scary moment, well-played by Penikett and Laurie.
The episode was worth it for that scene alone, but I also liked the forward movement with Topher (Fran Kranz), the skeevy tech who erases the dolls' identities and implants their new personalities. This episode, we saw him implant one of the dolls, Sierra, with the persona of a fellow geek. The two spent the whole episode playing video games and laser tag, and talking about sci-fi. It seemed pointless, until DeWitt eventually explained to Echo's ex-handler (and new head of security) Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix) that this is something Topher does for himself every year on his birthday. It's lonely being Topher, she explained. And even someone as seemingly odious as this lab rat needs a friend now and then. This revelation didn't make me like Topher, exactly, but it did make him a little more tolerable. All in all, "Dollhouse" is still promising, and still worth watching.
I know it's not doing well in the ratings, but it's apparently scoring some respectable numbers if you factor in DVR viewership and streaming. Hopefully, that's enough to buy it a second season. Though "Dollhouse" has its ups and downs, there's a lot of potential here, and I'd love to see it get a chance to develop.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A small consolation prize for "Lost" fans

As most of you know, there is no new "Lost" episode tonight -- only one of those "specials" that purports to give you answers about the show, but really just leaves you more confused. Thus, there will be no "Lost" recap tomorrow morning. However, I'm nothing if not generous, so, to help with your "Lost" withdrawal, I'm posting a little video for your enjoyment.
It's an oldie but a goodie -- and, for some reason, I only just found out about it last week. It's a montage of Sawyer saying what has now become his catch phrase, "son of a [witch]." It's pretty awesome. Because, if there's anything I like almost as much as a shirtless Sawyer, it's a swearing Sawyer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Desperately seeking your feedback

With "Lost" on a one week hiatus (booo!) and other shows I follow on relatively unexciting tracks (except "24" -- so Tony really is evil! And Larry really is dead!), I thought I would take a minute to ask you for your opinion.
This blog is still pretty new, and I'm still finding its direction. I'd like you to help me. Are there any shows you want me to write about that I've been giving short shrift to? Any topics you'd like to see discussed?
What do you think?
Please, please comment below, or click on the "Click Here to E-Mail Me" link in the "Contact I Screen" box to the right.
I want to hear from you!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

"Flight of the Conchords": A concert recap

As you know, this space is usually reserved for TV recaps and previews, but I thought I'd change it up a little by writing a recap of a concert I attended last night. OK, the concert was by Flight of the Conchords, a musical comedy act that's inspired its own HBO comedy series, so it's still TV related. But I don't typically write about concerts, TV-related or not, so I believe this counts as stretching my repertoire.
Anyway, I saw the Conchords (aka Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie) at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Penn. last night at 10 p.m. Yes, 10 p.m. I'm not typically a night owl, but the earlier show was sold out.
I was really excited about the concert. Admittedly, I'm a bit of a bandwagon fan, as I hadn't heard of the Conchords before their show started on HBO. But I quickly embraced Bret and Jemaine, due mainly to the TV show's combination of clever songs, deadpan humor and social commentary (yes, social commentary -- one of the recurring themes of this seemingly light-hearted show is poverty. Not only is it one of the few comedies to deal with this issue, it is possibly the ONLY comedy set in New York where the main characters live in a dump and not a glamorous high-rise. End of soapbox.).
When I heard the guys were touring, I had to go. This became even more urgent when I heard the show's recently concluded second season might be its last.
So, my husband and I dragged our weary, aging bones out at what is typically my bed time to enjoy an evening of killer robots, part-time models and racist dragons.
We arrived at the theater an hour before showtime and the line to get in was already stretching down the street.
Of course, we ended up standing in front of the World's Most Annoying Conchords Superfans (WMACS, for short), who literally didn't stop talking about what fans they were the entire hour we were in line! Even more annoying, it turned out that the WMACS were aspiring comedian/musicians themselves, and were attending the show "for inspiration." They were roughly 16 years old (I could be wrong -- now that I'm over 30, I've noticed that everyone under 25 looks like they're still in high school), so I'm hoping they'll one day grow out of their irritating behavior. But it seems unlikely.
When we finally got inside and got away from the WMACS, I was impressed by the venue. I'd never been to the Tower before. It was built in 1928, and was once one of the premiere rock venues in the region. It's a big, old-fashioned theater and my husband and I took a quick spin through it before going to our seats. During our walk, my husband pointed out the Conchords tour bus parked in the street below. This unnerved me. The TV Conchords are struggling musicians who probably ride their bicycles to the handful of shows they're lucky to book. It sort of shattered the illusion to see their actual transportation. Oh well.
About a half hour after we took our seats, the opening act took the stage. It was Kristen Schaal (aka Mel from the TV show "Flight of the Conchords)! She was pretty awesome, though I found the sparkly gold short pants she was wearing to be a bit distracting. Anyway, her act was basically some stand up interspersed with a series of brief, one-woman shows. One was a cautionary tale about marijuana use; another featured a love triangle between a spoon, a pot and a lid and a third was a performance piece in which Schaal played a discarded mattress. For the last bit, she donned a costume in the shape of a giant mattress. The only visible part of her body was her face.
For some reason, this elicited a series of wild catcalls from the audience. Look, it's not that Schaal isn't catcall-worthy, but no woman looks good in a mattress. It adds, like, 50 pounds. Still, I can see the appeal of a woman who carries her own bed with her.
After Schaal's big finale (an interpretative dance number to Britney Spears's "Toxic," natch), it was time for the headliners.
The Conchords. Yay!!!!!
The opening number was awesome -- the guys came out in their robot costumes and dove right into a rendition of the foot-stomping "Too Many Dicks on the Dance Floor." It was really crowd-pleasing. I mean, except for the fact that, through the whole number there was a really bright light on the stage, which, for some reason, was shining right in our eyes. So, though the number sounded great, I can't really tell you what it looked like, having been temporarily blinded.
Then it was on to one of my favorites, "The Most Beautiful Girl in the Room." I'm sorry, that line about being a part-time model just never stops being funny, no matter how many times I hear it.
Overall, the show favored the songs from the second season, which I guess makes sense (though I think the first season stuff was much better). Highlights included a particularly spirited rendition of "Albie the Racist Dragon," and a somewhat slowed-down version of "Sugalumps."
They also did "Carol Brown," one of my faves from the second season (though I preferred the TV version to the live one. Something about the slide show of old girlfriends playing behind Jemaine just made the song more poignant), and the underrated "If that's what you're into."
For some reason, the crowd was screaming for one of my least favorites, the lackluster "Mermaids." What can I say -- Philadelphians are weird. But the guys were good sports and obliged.
Throughout it all, Bret and Jemaine were fun to watch. It's a pretty minimalist show -- them, their instruments, and occasionally a third musician named Nigel. They were also pretty good at handling the crowd (Philly crowds are notoriously boisterous). When a guy in the audience bellowed "MURRRRAAAAYYYY!!!" -- a reference to the character played by Rhys Darby on the show -- Jemaine quickly feigned annoyance.
"That's sort of insulting, really," he quipped.
My only regret is that I didn't hear a lot of my favorite songs. Of course, that's probably because I'm old, and my husband and I were too tired to stay through the whole encore. We left in the middle of "Epileptic Dogs." I have no idea whether they played "Business Time," "Inner City Pressure," "I'm Not Crying" or "Hiphopatpotamus Vs. Rhymenocerous."
If you were at the show and stayed to the end, please comment below and let me know what happened after aged folk like myself left.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Weeds" grows on Leigh

I know a lot of people were disappointed with season four of "Weeds," but I got a press release from Showtime today that actually has me excited about season five. Turns out, another three-named star is joining the cast as the sister of Mary Louise Parker's character.
Check it out. The release also includes the new season's premiere date and some mild spoilers.

LOS ANGELES, CA – (April 16, 2009) – Award-winning film actress Jennifer Jason Leigh will take on the role of “Jill Price-Gray,” Nancy Botwin’s (Mary-Louise Parker) older sister in the fifth season of SHOWTIME’s highest-rated comedy series WEEDS, premiering Monday, June 8th at 10pm PT/ET. Leigh will debut in the season’s second episode (June 15th) and appear in at least two episodes.

This season, as Nancy finds herself and her family in harm's way, she sends Andy (Justin Kirk) to take her son Shane (Alexander Gould) to live with her estranged older sister (Leigh). But when Jill gets fed up with her own suburban family, she finds her way back into Nancy's life, jealous, frustrated, and intent on finally hashing things out with her little sister.

Best known for her breakout performance in Cameron Crowe’s ‘80s teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Leigh has made a name for herself in eclectic roles in films as wide ranging as Single White Female and Bastard Out of Carolina. She wrote and directed the 2001 film The Anniversary Party. Leigh is set to star opposite Ben Stiller, Greta Gerwig, Rhys Ifans and Juno Temple in Focus Features’ Greenburg, written and directed by Noah Baumbach with Scott Rudin producing. Her recent film credits include Charlie Kaufman’s award-winning film Synecdoche, New York and Margot at the Wedding, also written and directed by Baumbach and produced by Rudin.

"Lost" recap: From Dagobah to Dharma

On this week's "Lost," we get some much-needed background into one of the show's newest, least examined and most fascinating characters, Miles Straume (Ken Leung, whom I might one day run away with. Officially love him after last night's episode). I was so excited leading into this episode and, for me at least, it did not disappoint.
The "Lost" team has gotten really good at finding out which actor/character combinations work well together. Ben and Locke, for instance, are always a great match, because it's fascinating to watch Michael Emerson's tightly wound bug-eyed performance clash against the serenity of Terry O'Quinn. Likewise, this episode teams Miles, the least sensitive man on the island (well, now that Sawyer has grown up and stopped nicknaming everyone) with Hurley, the most sensitive guy on the island. Despite their differences, both characters are sort of overlooked by the others, and both have carried a lot pain inside. Also, both Miles and Hurley (and the actors who play them) are very funny, so they're a great pleasure to watch together.
Aside from the buddy comedy of the episode, we got a lot of Miles background (yay!).
We learn that, yes, he is indeed the son of Dr. Pierre Chang/Dr. Marvin Candle/etc. etc. and so forth. We also learn that, not only was he approached by Naomi to come to the island, but Ilana's hefty sidekick, Mr. What-Lies-In-The-Shadow-Of-The-Statue, also paid him a visit. We learned that Miles is a lost (hey, that's the name of the show!) and troubled soul who, like most characters on this series, had a father who seemingly didn't give a fig about him.
What else did we learn in this episode? Well, Jack might not be a complete jerk. Kate is definitely a complete idiot. And, of course, we learned that daddy issues lead to Ewoks.
Here are some more highlights, observations, and musings from episode 13 of season five, "Some Like it Hoth."
* In the episode's first scene, it was immediately clear that all of you who guessed that Miles is Chang's son were right. We open on a woman looking for a new apartment -- and it's clearly the woman who roused Chang to take care of the baby in the season's first scene. Then we meet her son, Miles. So good for you, if you called it. And I only hope that you didn't scream "I am the smartest Lost fan EVER!" as my husband did.
* Back to that opening scene. Seemingly every week, "Lost" manages to out-creep itself. This week's scene of a terrified young Miles realizing the voices he was hearing were coming from a dead body in his new apartment complex totally made my skin crawl. Yeesh. Poor little kid.
* The rest of the Miles flashbacks were also interesting. We see his recruitment by Naomi, who has him talk to a body as an "audition." The body was delivering photos, presumably of the phony crash scene, to Widmore. Why? Does this prove Widmore faked the crash? Or does it prove someone else did it? And who killed the dead guy? Widmore? Naomi? Abbadon?
* By the way, that was Dean Norris, Hank on "Breaking Bad," as the grieving dad Miles scams. Not that important, but I like Norris, and "Breaking Bad" so I thought I'd point it out.
* Ok, so, on to Lost island. Who else's stomach did backflips when Horace told Miles he was being brought into the "circle of trust." Yikes. That is NEVER good. It never leads to ponies, rainbows and happiness. It only ever leads to crazy men in the jungle carrying dead bodies wrapped in plastic. Always.
* Love how Hurley just never takes a hint. Miles clearly doesn't want him on his body delivering mission. He even basically tells Hurley that he's up to something creepy. Yet Hurley still bull-dozes his way into the Dharma bus so he can deliver those damn sandwiches. Because Hurley is a nurturer-caretaker.
* Ok, let's talk about the dead body, aka Alvarez, for a minute. When it "speaks" to Miles, it says that Alvarez died when a filling in his tooth came out and tore through his skull. Ewww! How does that happen? Clearly some sort of magnet. Had Alvarez wandered into the magnetic field of doom? What did the Dharma-ites do with the body?
* Also, let's talk about the conversation between Miles and Hurley re: dead speakage. Clearly, we've been lead to believe that what Miles does is real, and what Hurley does is a hallucination, usually brought on by loneliness, fear or guilt. But maybe they're both real. Hurley seems to think so. Just because it's not scientific doesn't mean it's not real.
* When Miles and Hurley deliver the body, Hurley totally reveals that he knows it's a dead body, much to Chang's chagrin. Chang threatens him with something worse than working in the kitchen. But Hurley loves the kitchen! Chang is, hilariously, flummoxed. Then he vows to send Hurley off on a polar bear poop-weighing expedition if he speaks. Hurley is properly cowed.
* Miles revealing his dad's identity to the one person who would not just understand, but try to help, is yet another example of the island working in mysterious ways. Fate didn't lead him to share this with Kate, who killed her father, or Locke, who was almost killed by his, but Hurley -- the one who reconciled with his bad daddy. Hmm.
* Ok, we've got to talk about "Empire." How awesome that Hurley figured out that, since it's 1977, "Star Wars" just came out, and George Lucas must be looking to do a sequel? So Hurley, the fanboy, decides to make good use of his time by writing "Empire Strikes Back." I suspect that he wasn't looking to make money, since he doesn't need it. I think he just thought it would be cool to write "Empire." Nice touch: Hurley actually writes out "RARRRR!" as dialogue for Chewbacca. Also, what "improvements" do you think Hurley was making to the story? I have a suspicion that, in this version, Han Solo isn't a scruffy-looking nerf herder, but a hefty comic book guy with a gift for dipping sauces. Also, perhaps Princess Leia became Princess Libby.
* Jorge Garcia gets another nice, tender moment when he tries to convince Miles to befriend Chang, using "Empire" as an example. Just like Luke denied that Vader was his dad, Miles doesn't want to reconnect with Chang, who hurt him and his mother so badly. But Hurley points out that, had Luke accepted Vader immediately, Luke might not have lost his hand. In fact, perhaps all of Jedi wouldn't have happened -- which would have been fine with Hurley. "Ewoks suck," Hurley explains. Well said, big guy.
* Another nice moment when Hurley realizes that the Swan hatch is being built, and that the numbers are being etched on. Great bit -- one of the workmen can't read what number comes next, Hurley, under his breath, recites it. Devastating.
* Miles seeing Dr. Chang with baby Miles was just really sad and sweet. Leung, whom I previously knew only as Junior's crazy roommate in the last season of "The Sopranos," has a great expressive face that makes him a perfect fit with this show.
* On the non-Miles side, Kate tried to be all nice and sympathetic with Ben's dad, and it backfired. Luckily, Jack covered for her. I loved how Juliet and Sawyer were all grateful to Jack for helping...but if Jack had saved Ben in the first place, there would have been no need to take Ben to the Others. So really, it's his fault Kate is in trouble. Why would you thank him?
* Phil aka Jimmy Barrett, finds Miles' un-erased tape and figures out that Sawyer/LaFleur kidnapped Ben. So Sawyer channels his inner Don Draper and decks the guy. Nice!
* Ok, I guess we (sort of) know what happened to Daniel. He apparently went off island and stayed with Ann Arbor scientists. Why? How? What's up with him? Why does he looked all stable and serene all of a sudden? What's going on?
* It would appear "Lost" isn't on next week.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The loss of Moss?

I haven't yet posted about this week's "24," but I know a lot of people are abuzz over the final few minutes in which we learned that -- GASP! -- Tony Almeida was apparently evil all along!
I honestly didn't think it was worth remarking on, because a) "24" throws in these twists all the time and b) I sort of figured Tony was going to turn out to be genuinely evil, judging from the fact that we've barely seen him all season. Clearly, he had been up to no good. But I decided to write something anyway, mainly because of another conversation brewing among "24" fans -- namely that Larry Moss, the FBI agent that Tony supposedly killed at the episode's end isn't dead.
Some sharp-eared fans pointed out that Moss's death didn't get the infamous "24" silent clock. As fans know, the clock that flashes before the commercial breaks and the end of an episode stops beeping when a major character dies.
Already this season, we've gotten a silent clock for the death of Bill Buchanan. Edgar, Teri, Palmer, Ryan Chappelle and others all go silent clocks. The lack of a silent clock after Tony's "death" in season five was used to set up his return this season. Renee even got a silent clock when she was buried alive earlier this season, though she didn't die.
So why no silent clock for Larry? Was it because he simply wasn't an important enough character? Or maybe he isn't dead. Maybe Tony's "suffocation" of him was feigned. It's an intriguing idea. Though if Tony takes yet another turn, I might whiplash.
On the other hand, I definitely would prefer for Tony to be good.
Any thoughts?

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thoughts on the "Terminator" season (series?) finale

Note: The following post contains major spoilers on the final two episodes of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles."
Last night, Fox aired the season (and possibly series) finale of its underrated, under-watched and yet deeply fascinating sci-fi drama "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles." I'm the first to admit that I sneered a bit when I learned that Fox was doing a TV take on the popular set of films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. How derivative, I thought. Can't they come up with some fresh ideas?
Two season later, I'm eating serious crow. As it turns out, "Sarah Connor" is one of the most intelligent shows on broadcast television. Despite its action roots, the show typically eschews run-and-gun heroics for complex character development and discussions on such weighty topics as the nature of humanity, the implications of time travel and our growing dependence on technology.
Yes, "Terminator" has its share of slam-bang action scenes (last night's harrowing jailbreak sequence was one of them), but, all in all, this is a complex psychological drama.
The show hit a bit of a slow patch this season, with a stretch of episodes focusing on Sarah (Lena Headey) and her increasingly fragile emotional state. I also found the supporting characters of time travelers Jessie and Riley grating and under-developed (though both of those characters' arcs came to surprisingly satisfying ends).
However, the series' last two episodes were excellent. The ambush that opened last week's episode (and left Brian Austin Green's Derek Reese quickly and undeniably dead) was absolutely gut-wrenching, as were all the scenes examining Catherine Weaver's (Shirley Manson) relationship with her human daughter and her "son," cyborg John Henry (Garrett Dillahunt).
This week was even better, presenting us with the most creepily intimate scene yet between cyborg protector Cameron (Summer Glau) and John Connor (Thomas Dekker). John climbing atop a topless Cameron to investigate her machinery was distressing, as we know the human feelings that a teenage boy like John would feel in such close proximity to a beautiful half-naked girl, cyborg or no. The final scenes, when the Connors, Catherine and Agent Ellison (Richard T. Jones) come upon Cameron's lifeless, chipless body, and John follows Weaver through time to save his robot crush, were also affecting. There was also a nice surprise when John, upon traveling in time, runs into Derek and his father...and Cameron (or possibly Allison, the human model for Cameron's body).
Though I don't have much hope that "Terminator" will get another season, I really hope it does. This show has come so far in its first two seasons, I'd love to see what they'd do if given more time.
Anyway, below is a bullet-speckled list of more of my thoughts on "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" and the second season finale, "Born to Run."
* Though Thomas Dekker's work as John was undeniably the show's weakest link in the first season, I've been impressed with the growth of both the character and the actor. The look on his face in the finale's last scene, when he glimpses Cameron/Allison and his father, Kyle Reese, is simply heartbreaking.
* Also loved the way they've developed the John/Cameron relationship. John's fixation on a non-human woman could have been creepy, but, due mainly to Glau's excellent work as Cameron, the character has just enough humanity (and more than enough physical attractiveness) to make us understand how John could fall for her.
* In addition to Glau, the show boasts a number of fine performances, mainly from Jones, as the conflicted Ellison, and the always-wonderful Dillahunt as John Henry. But this season's real surprise has been Garbage front woman Manson, who was absolutely chilling as molten-metal badass Catherine Weaver.
Well, what did you think? Would you like to see "Terminator" get another season, or do think the show never lived up to the movies?

Friday, April 10, 2009

An I Screen bonus

So, to make up for yesterday's late "Lost" posting, I've decided to include a bonus post this week. No, it's not about "Lost." It's actually a link to Bilge, a web show hosted by my friends Bill and Janice. Every week, the two them sit on their couch and talk about random pop culture things. Surprisingly, the show is really involved, as evidenced by the fairly intricate "Rock of Love" parody at the top of this week's episode. Eventually, it kind of devolves into an argument over who has the bigger scroll. But it's still funny. So, if you enjoy reality shows and absurdity, click here.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

"Lost" recap: Better late than never

So, due to some personal projects I needed to complete, I had to delay this week's "Lost" recap. Which is a shame, because last night's episode, "Dead is Dead," was probably the season's best yet. It was like a sort of greatest hits; a potpourri of all the things I like best about "Lost." It had showcase moments for my two favorite cast members, Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn. It had a little more insight into the nature of the smoke monster. It had glimpses of Alex, perhaps the only character to bring out Ben's humanity. And it, thank God, finally let us know that the Hume family is OK, despite Ben's "promise" to Charles.
It was so unbelievably awesome, I don't even know where to start. How about the beginning?
* Not to brag, but I totally called that the man who rode up on the horse at the start of the episode was a young Charles Widmore. I don't know how I recognized him, because he didn't look like the teenage Widmore we saw earlier, nor does he really resemble Alan Dale, who plays old Charles. In fact, he looked like a reject from a Lord of the Rings movie. But I figured it had to be Charles. It was the only choice that made sense, given his disdain for Richard bringing little Ben into the camp. Also, there was the small matter of the accent. Dude didn't look like Widmore, but he sure sounded like him.
* This moment, by the way, was a nice start to an episode that gave us tantalizing hints about the relationship between Widmore and Ben. Despite his reluctance to have Ben in the camp, Charles is kind to the boy. How does their relationship become so acrimonious? Did it start with Ben's refusal to kill Alex? Did it start earlier? Did Widmore harbor the kind of jealousy toward Ben that Ben has for Locke? What's up with these guys, anyway?
* And, speaking of Locke, I don't always love when "Lost" repeats moments from previous episodes, but I can never watch that Ben-Locke "welcome back to the land of the living" moment too many times. The "holy crapballs" look on Michael Emerson's face, and the smooth serenity of Terry O'Quinn's voice are just perfect. Then, this episode builds on the moment, by that brilliant exchange in which Ben tells John that he knew he'd come back to life, and John calls him on it, pointing out how surprised Ben looks. "Surprised" being a euphemism for "incontinent." Ben then tells John that believing something and seeing it happen are two different things. Fair enough. But we can tell John doesn't believe him. Neither do we.
* John's obviously right not to believe Ben because, within moments Ben is manipulating Cesar into believing that John is a murderous island native. Poor Cesar. The moment he shook Ben's hand, you kind of knew he was a dead man.
* Back to the John-Ben dynamic. I really loved the evolution of that relationship throughout this episode. Previously, John's been somewhat deferential to Ben. Before dying, John was so eager to be "special" that he allowed himself to be manipulated by Ben so easily. But that doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Resurrection John is more confident. He has no far of calling BS on Ben's story about seeking judgment from Smoky about breaking the rules, guessing that the journey is really about letting Alex die. John also leads the way to the smoke monster, and rescues Ben from the temple pit after the moment of Smoky reckoning. John's coming into his own now, and Ben knows it. That's why he's plotting to kill John until the vision of Alex appears to him and warns against it.
* So, we get a clearer idea of how one summons Smoky -- and it looks like the same process one uses to unclog a drain. A little disappointing. But that cave is creepy. A lot of bloggers have mused on the etchings on the walls. I don't know enough to get into it my self, but I'll direct you to "Lost" guru Nikki Stafford's blog.
* Ok, I almost pulled a Ben-seeing-undead-Locke when Ben shot Desmond down at the pier. We knew Ben was gunning for Penny, but to see him striding toward his enemy's daughter only to be surprised by Desmond was a nice little shock. Ben's taunting of Charles was also suitably creepy. The whole sequence, broken up though it was, was just really unsettling. When Ben confronts a terrified Penny, and apologizes for involving her in the vendetta, it made my stomach roil. Yet there was a nice turn when Ben sees little Charlie, and can't go through with his murder of Penny.
* Speaking of which, this episode gives us a nice little wrinkle in the Ben Linus character. Turns out that this liar, manipulator and murderer has a soft spot for mothers and children. He can't kill baby Alex, or murder Penny in front of her little boy. He even spares Danielle, the mom of his stolen daughter, and tells her to avoid the whispers that signal the coming of Smoky. Why this sympathy for moms and kids? Maybe it has to do with the death of his own mom. Quite possibly, he attributes all his suffering to his mother's death while giving birth to him, and wishes not to bring the same pain upon other kids.
* By the way, the name of Pen and Des's boat is Our Mutual Friend -- named after the insufferably long (and somewhat boring) Charles Dickens novel that Des said he wanted to be the last book he ever read.
* This episode was clearly an emotional one. There was the revelation that Ben truly loved Alex, and felt great guilt over her death. There was that Smoky slideshow of the key events in Ben's relationship with Alex. There was the reunion of Locke and his murder; the tense moment with the Humes; the confrontation between Ben and ghost Alex. Yet this was maybe the funniest episode not to future Hurley. It was packed with great lines. For instance:
-Locke: I was hoping you and I could talk about the elephant in the room.
-Ben: I assume that you're referring to the fact that I killed you.
Or, after Locke complains that the smoke monster is slow to turn up after Ben's summoning:
-Ben: It's not a train, John. It doesn't run on a schedule.
Or this, from Lapidus, after John tells he and Sun that there's a reason that everything's happening:
- As long as the dead guy says there's a reason I guess everything's going to be just peachy.

*Ok, we need to discuss the weird aesthetic choices being made for our Ben this season. First, there was the pimp ensemble he wore in "He's Our You," then his weird pageboy in some of this episode's flashback seasons.
*Just what's going on on the beach? Why was Ilana asking about the shadow of the statue? What does it mean? Has she gone crazy with island sickness, like Danielle's crew? What's going on?
Well, that's it for this week. Next week on "Lost": Miles backstory! Woo-hoo!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"Southland" is killer drama

There are lots of ways you can describe NBC's new police drama "Southland." "ER" with cops. "Hill Street Blues" with curse words. "The Shield" with cops who aren't more dangerous than the criminals. All are fairly accurate.
The ensemble series is executive produced by "ER" producer John Wells, and features that medical drama's hectic pace and inside baseball feel. It also possesses the messy realism of Steven Bochco's classic "Hill Street" and aspires to the grittiness of Shawn Ryan's masterpiece "The Shield."
But all these comparisons do "Southland" a disservice. In fact, perhaps this is the best way to describe the series, which debuts this week in "ER's" 10 p.m. Thursday timeslot: it's just really good.
The show focuses on a group of patrol officers and detectives in Los Angeles. These range from rookie Ben Sherman (Ben McKenzie, last seen whaling people in the face on "The O.C.") to his seasoned trainer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) to steely but kind Detective Lydia Adams (Regina King, of "Ray" and "Jerry Maguire) to gang specialists Nate Moretta (Kevin Alejandro) and Sammy Bryant (Shawn Hatosy). Throughout the pilot, the officers work on a variety of cases: shootings; a missing child; a dead body found in a rather disgusting state.
None of it's terribly surprising, and the pilot sometimes over-reaches in an attempt to be "edgy" (there are a lot of bleeped out curse words, which is distracting). Still, the banter between the cops is believably loose and familiar, and the characters are relatable and compelling. That's largely due to the excellent cast.
McKenzie was a bit misused on "The O.C.," but gets a better shake, here. In his hands, Sherman is an instantly sympathetic character. Like "ER's" John Carter, Sherman is trying to get his bearings in a scary new profession. Also like Carter, Sherman comes from wealth and privilege, giving the character some interesting texture. McKenzie each wrinkle. In the scenes where he sits alongside Cooper in the squad car, there are so many conflicting emotions on McKenzie face -- anxiety, fear, shame and, most importantly, determination -- the viewer can't help but feel for this kid. In the episode's final moments, the character gets a quick lesson in the violence his job requires and we ache for him.
But, if McKenzie is good, the rest of the accomplished ensemble is even better. As Cooper, Cudlitz has the weathered air of a man who has been scraping scum of the streets of L.A. for far too long. Even his teasing of Sherman seems weary. It's the perfect note for this character: a man who takes pride in the fact that he knows his job so well, but who's starting to wonder if he's a bit too familiar with human suffering.
And King, an excellent character actress whom I've always admired, is perfect as a woman who has seen too much, but who hasn't gone dead inside because of it.
The rest of the cast includes such familiar faces as Tom Everett Scott, C. Thomas Howell and character actor Patrick Fischler (recently see as acerbic comedian Jimmy Barrett on "Mad Men" and bumbling security officer Phil on "Lost").
"Southland" isn't the most original drama to hit the airwaves, but it's smart, sensitive, well-acted and well-made. And, at a time when many believe TV drama to be on the downslide, isn't that accomplishment enough?
"Southland" premieres 10 p.m. Thursday on NBC.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"Rescue Me" fires up for a new season

Oh my God -- has it seriously been more than a year since FX aired an episode of its bracing comic drama "Rescue Me"?
Indeed it has. The show was absent from the airwaves all last year, due to the writers' strike. That means we've gone all this time without a glimpse of acerbic firefighter Tommy Gavin (Denis Leary) and his motley crew of colleagues, friends and lovers. This made me sad. Though I wasn't a huge fan of the show's fourth season (what was up with that plot about Sheila trying to steal Tommy's wife's baby?), the show is always worth watching.
It's one of the few series to combine over-the-top comedy with harrowing drama. And it's among the few shows to directly and frankly discuss the national tragedy of 9/11 from the perspective of people whose lives were changed by attacks in a heartbreaking way.
Thus, I'm pleased to announce that "Rescue Me" is finally back for its fifth season. Yay! The season starts Tuesday at 10 p.m., and consists of a whopping 22 episodes. I've seen the first eight, and can report that, so far, it's a vast improvement on the previous season.
For one thing, we get a lot more of what the show does best: long, candid, hilarious discussions among the guys in the firehouse about everything from male performance to...well, most of the conversations revolve around male performance. But there's some other stuff thrown in there, too.
Most notably, the characters have to face their 9/11 demons again, as a French journalist (Karina Lombard) visits the house to interview the guys for a coffee table book she's writing on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. This brings out interesting layers in the guys. Tommy, predictably, gets angry and self-destructive. Resident hunk Franco (Daniel Sunjata), less predictably, reveals himself to be a 9/11 conspiracy theorist. And the witty, lovelorn Lou (John Scurti) digs out his old poems in a clumsy attempt to seduce the attractive writer.
It's all funny, sad, and perfectly appropriate to this show and these characters.
In fact, the character arcs seem a bit clearer this season, too. Too often, the show has taken its characters on weird trajectories that don't suit them (remember Mikey the Probie's stint as a psycho stalker in season two? Unsettling). But, this season, everyone kind of behaves as they should. That's not to say the characters are flat and predictable. In fact, many of them develop some interesting wrinkles.
For instance, the house moron Sean (Steven Pasquale) confronts a major challenge in some later episodes that brings out welcome new layers in the character.
But the most interesting stuff, surprisingly, involves the show's female characters, which have long been its weak link. Too often, the women are either sex objects or shrill nags. The show's one layered female character, a firefighter played by Diane Farr, left in season two, and there's been a gap ever since.
Tommy's psycho on-again-off-again lover Sheila (Callie Thorne), the widow of Tommy's best friend Jimmy, started off as an interesting, believable character but eventually went over the top and became a rage-filled shrew. This season she finally goes into therapy and, though this seems like a joke at first, it leads Sheila to actually learn things about herself and her relationship with Tommy. Thorne, an excellent actress who has always transcended her material, is wonderful in the scenes when she finally realizes where all this rage comes from.
The show also does much better by Tommy's ex-wife Janet (Andrea Roth) this season. In fact, Roth (who, like Thorne, always operates at a level above what she's given) gets her best showcase to date in an episode in which she and Tommy go to visit their younger daughter at boarding school.
As it does every season, "Rescue Me" has scored some impressive guest stars this season, including Maura Tierney, who will show up later in the season (she wasn't in any of the episodes I saw). But the true revelation of the season is TV icon Michael J. Fox, who takes on an image-shattering role as Janet's boozing, angry self-destructive boyfriend, Dwight. Due to his brave, public battle with Parkinson's, Fox has become a beloved figure. As a sort of Tommy-on-crack, he tosses all that aside and reminds us that before he was noble and admirable, he was just really, really funny.
It's good to have "Rescue Me" back. And, if the rest of the season lives up these early episode, this year could be the series' best. Let's hope so.
"Rescue Me" airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. on FX

"Life on Mars" pours salt in fans' wounds

It's been several days since ABC aired the last episode of its unsuccessful freshman series "Life on Mars." In spite of its low ratings, the drama managed to attract a vocal cult of fans, including yours truly.
So you might have been wondering why it's taken me so long to write about my thoughts on the show's final episode, which finally provided an answer as to how Sam Tyler (Jason O'Mara) ended up in 1973. Well, let me tell you why: I've been busy processing my rage.
I hated that final episode so much, it literally left me speechless. I mean hated it. Hated it to the point where just thinking about it made me seethe. Hated it in a way that I have hated no other episode of a TV show. Words do not exist to express my complete and total dissatisfaction with that episode.
If you're still with me, allow me to explain exactly what I didn't like.
For those who haven't seen the show, a brief summary. "Life on Mars" was a remake of a British series about Sam, a modern cop who, following a car accident, ends up being transported to 1973. He's still a cop, but one who must live in an outdated world, working for bulldog-ish Lt. Gene Hunt (a hilarious Harvey Keitel) and toiling alongside colleagues like mustachioed misogynist Ray Carling (Michael Imperioli, also great fun), sweet innocent Chris Skelton (Jonathan Murphy) and spunky, marginalized policewoman Annie Norris (Gretchen Mol).
He tries to figure out how he ended up in this strange world, and how he can return to his old life.
During his time in the 1970s, Sam ran into figures from his own past, including his mom and dad. In this last episode, Sam had to rescue a younger version of himself from his violent jerk of a father. He succeeds, then realizes that he doesn't actually want to leave 1973. He likes the guys at the precinct, loves Annie, and is getting used to this life.
Let me clarify that I had no problem with any of this stuff. I always enjoyed the stories about Sam confronting his past, particularly the scenes between him and his mom. I loved Sam admitting he had feelings for Annie; loved him hugging Gene once he realized he wanted to stay in 1973. This was all fine.
It's what happened after he hugged Gene that pissed me off royally.
At that moment, the screen broke down, and we saw a flash of scenes from Sam's 1973 life flash by in blur. Then, Sam woke up, IN 2033!!
It turned out that he, Annie, Ray and Chris were all astronauts traveling to Mars (!) and, during their trip, their minds were occupied by some sort of fantasy. Sam chose to watch himself as a cop in 2008 -- but the transmission malfunctioned and he "traveled" to 1973 in the dream/hallucination. Oh, and Gene Hunt was actually the name of their mission -- not a person. The Gene in Sam's "fantasy" was based on Sam's dad, Major Tom (also played by Keitel), which I guess explains all the David Bowie references in earlier episodes.
To repeat: the last 5 to 10 minutes of this show explained that EVERYTHING that came before it was basically untrue. It pretty much negated the entire series, which made me so mad I could spit. Why did I invest time in this show, if it was all going to be undone in the final moments?
The twist might have been OK had it been well-executed, but it felt so corny and tacked on. Most likely, the writers and producers rushed to come up with a finish once they learned the show wouldn't be renewed.
For the record, this is not how the original British version ended. I haven't seen it, but I have read what happened in that ending and it sounds a million times better (no, I won't spoil it here, but feel free to look it up). I understand the desire of those involved with the American version to come up with something different, but was this really the best they could do?
Though the American "Life on Mars" wasn't the best show on TV, it was solidly entertaining. I loved O'Mara's performance as the befuddled Sam, and really connected with a lot of the characters. But this was just so awful, it flushes all the warm feelings I had about this show right down the toilet.
Great. Now I'm all angry again.
Thanks a lot, "Life on Mars"!

Thursday, April 2, 2009

ER: "And in the End"

Tonight, after 15 seasons, NBC's iconic drama "ER" finally concluded its run.
Admittedly, I've had a bit of a sketchy history with "ER." I was a senior in high school when it debuted and, like many people, became a fan almost immediately. It was so raw and exciting, the way it worked to capture the frantic energy of a real hospital emergency room.
That first season, I watched it every week with my mother. It was our little ritual. When I went to college, I didn't watch a lot of TV, and sort of lost touch with the show. I'd catch an episode here and there. I remember sitting in my dorm room, watching the episode where George Clooney's Dr. Ross pulled a kid out of a storm drain, and finding it super-suspenseful. I remember a few years later, watching the episode where Dr. Carter and Kelli Martin's poor character got stabbed. I watched that whole season that Sherry Stringfield's Dr. Lewis returned (in fact, I might be the only person who liked that season).
But, mostly, "ER" wasn't an appointment show for me. It was decent, but I never considered it "must watch" after the first season. My attention waned even more as the original cast members began to depart: Stringfield, Clooney, Julianna Marguiles, Anthony Edwards, Eriq LaSalle and, finally, Noah Wyle. The plots got increasingly soap opera-y (I didn't see this episode, but apparently a regular cast member was killed by a helicopter? Crazy!)
Eventually, I stopped watching the show even casually.
However, I've been checking back in with it this season, particularly given he return of veteran cast members. I missed Edwards' return, but watched most of the Wyle episodes, and part of the Marguiles/Clooney return. Throughout it all, I realized something: "ER" was no longer the exceptional, ground-breaking show it was in its first year but, as broadcast TV dramas went, it wasn't bad. It was still energetic, with reasonably engaging characters. It was no longer edgy, but it was solid TV.
So, I made it a point to watch tonight's two-hour finale, which I found a rather fitting conclusion to this veteran show. We saw a lot of the old characters again, including LaSalle's Dr. Benton (his second appearance this year), Stringfield's Dr. Lewis (I think this was her first appearance this year, but I honestly don't know), Alex Kingston's Dr. Corday (I know she was on earlier this year) and Laura Innes's Dr. Weaver (again, no idea if she was on earlier this year). All the characters got fitting send offs. I particularly liked the familiar, if slightly awkward, final conversation between ex-lovers Benton and Corday. They act exactly like a pair of old flames might.
My favorite return, though, was the least flashy: that of Mark Greene's daughter, Rachel, who resurfaced as a would-be medical student looking to follow in dad's footsteps. Her appearance allowed Mark, who died several seasons ago, to get a fitting sendoff, which was nice.
But the return of old favorites wasn't the only thing I liked. I also enjoyed the parallels between the last episode and the first, like the new doctor, played by Alexis Bledel, who served largely the same role that Carter did in the pilot: the earnest, hard-working young doc who gets a quick lesson in the dark side of the medical profession. Plus it's always good to see Bledel (especially since her character was a bit Rory Gilmore-ish).
Overall, it was a nice, appropriate conclusion. I might not have been a big "ER" fan but, in weird way, I'll miss it.

"Lost" recap: So Doc Brown WAS crazy!

This week on "Lost" we learned a bunch of important things about time travel. First, if Ben is alive in the future, then it's impossible for Sayid to kill him in the past. Because, somehow this is the way things always were. Sayid always shot Ben. The Six always came back. The future island people always joined Dharma, blah blah blah. That means that, despite what Hurley believes (and what Doc Brown so convincingly told us in "Back to the Future"), Sayid shooting Ben doesn't mean that the people Ben brought back to the island will slowly start to evaporate with the help of poor, 1980s-era special effects.
We learned these very important facts during a conversation between the two great scientific minds of our times, Hurley and Miles. As always, the "Lost" folks found a way to make a subplot that was almost entirely exposition entertaining and informative at the same time. Basically, Hurley served as the audience proxy, desperately trying to get a handle on what it all meant. Miles was a stand in for the show's writers, trying to explain, and generally making Hurley feel like a moron. Until, of course, Hurley asked the same question we've been asking since the first time Ben brought Sayid a sandwich: how come Ben didn't recognize Sayid when the two met again years later?
Miles can't answer that. Luckily, the writers did answer it in last night's episode. Due to Jack's sudden decision to get all Locke-like and let the island sort things out for itself (more on that later), Mini Ben is at death's door. With the island's only surgeon flaking out on her, Juliet decides to go to The Others for help. Kate and Sawyer end up taking Ben to Richard Alpert, who tells them that, if he helps, Ben won't remember anything. But he'll also lose his innocence.
Ah. So that's how Ben became Ben. And it's why he doesn't recognize Sayid later. Does this mean we won't see Sayid on the island again? Or does it just mean Ben won't see him? I'm thinking he did recognize Kate and Sawyer. Maybe that's why he held them hostage later. I also think he recognized Juliet, which is why he became all obsessed with her.
In spite of all this head-spinning mumbo jumbo, this week's episode was, like last week's, basically a return to the season one format of using flashbacks to explain a character's actions. This week, we learned how Kate ended up on the plane. While her scene with Claire's mom was touching, I wasn't really that surprised by Kate's actions. Most careful viewers have guessed all along that Aaron is with Claire's mom. I was a bit surprised that Kate has gone to look for Claire. Apparently, her guilt about taking someone else's child -- and leaving Claire behind -- has gotten the better of her.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on episode 11 of season five, "Whatever Happened, Happened."
* Is it just me, or does Horace make a really unconvincing Tommy Lee Jones? When he started calling for a hard target search of every Dharma station, jungle tree and polar bear cage (I'm a paraphrasing, of course), I kind of just wanted to laugh. Maybe it's the long flowing hair. At any rate, despite the best efforts of the Dharma-ites, Sayid is long gone. We don't see him for the whole episode.
* Once again, "Lost" takes a character that we should hate -- Ben's dad -- and makes him sympathetic. Roger is genuinely nice to Kate, and shows real remorse about his treatment of Ben. When he realizes that Ben stole his keys and helped Sayid escape, he's genuinely heartbroken, and I felt really bad for Roger. I know, I'm a sucker.
* What's up with Jack's new direction? Though it has been foreshadowed over the past few weeks, we finally saw Jack dump his old savior complex for good. He refuses to save Ben, pointing out that, according to Miles, it's impossible for Ben to die. Kate points out that maybe Ben lives because Jack saves him. Jack isn't having it. The island has a way of working things out, he says. Oh, he and Locke are SOOO going to be BFFs if they meet up again!
* Another nice moment in the Jack transformation: Kate says she liked the old Jack better. Jack reminds her that that isn't really true. Nice.
* The Kate flashbacks mostly bored me, but I was intrigued by a few things. When Kate takes Aaron to see Sawyer's mark/old flame/baby mama, Kate's singing "Catch a Falling Star." We know that that's what Christian used to sing to Claire when she was little. It's one of the two musical cues in this episode, the other being good ol' Patsy Cline, who always pops up in the Kate flashbacks. This time, it's Patsy singing "She's Got You" -- a great song, but, personally, I prefer the Dean Martin cover, "He's Got You."
* The other thing that intrigued me (Ok, mostly it kind of made me laugh) was that the woman who finds Aaron in the supermarket is clearly supposed to look like Claire. And she does look like Claire -- if Claire had been assembled by Picasso. Seriously -- didn't her face look sort of crooked or something? Odd.
* Even though I don't like Kate, it was sad to see the parting between her and Aaron. Moms (even fake moms) leaving kids behind always gets me.
* Back to the island. Why did that one Other tell Richard that Ellie and Charles wouldn't like him helping Ben? Has someone else undergone this same treatment with disastrous results? What happened?
* Nice transition from Richard and Ben entering the Others' secret hideaway to grown-up Ben waking up in the future and seeing a very much alive Locke at his bedside. I always coo about the perfect work by Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn, but come on -- they deserve it. The expressions on their faces in this scene are perfect. Ben totally looks like he's going to crap himself. Fantastic.
* As an aside, I just switched from satellite to cable a week ago (didn't want to. Had to. Long story.) and we have this crappy new DVR that always cuts shows off in the previews. So I only saw a little bit of what's ahead next week. Arrrgh!