Monday, September 28, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: Who's contract is it, anyway?

This week on "Mad Men," we saw a lot of people acting out against authority figures. Don, picking up on last season's revelation that he doesn't have a contract, kicked and screamed when the Ster/Coop bosses finally insisted on tying him down. Betty continued in her flirtation with the politician she met a few episodes ago -- and bought a fairly ugly piece of furniture, flying against the wishes of her imperious decorator.
And Peggy, upset from an argument with Don, made another excellent decision about men.
Spoilers below.
So, a few episodes ago, we had our first real fantasy sequence, with a doped out Betty in the hospital. This episode, "Mad Men" went all "Lost" on us and intercut the storylines with shots of Don, Betty, and Peggy all in the aftermath of the decisions they'd make throughout the hour.
In fact, the episode begins with quick snaps of how they'll all end up. An ashamed, confused Peggy is lying naked in a hotel room, next to an as-of-yet unidentified man, whom we'll later learn is Duck Philips. Betty is lying on her new fainting sofa, no doubt fantasizing about Henry Francis, the man she's flirting with. And Don is lying on the floor, after having been doped, beaten and robbed by those draft-dodging hitchhikers. He staggers up, sees his beaten face in the mirror and...we cut back to the Don of a few days before, fresh and heading off to work. That's when we know that the scenes we've just witnessed are snips of what's going to happen, not what has happened.
When Don gets into work, he sees Pete and the other youngsters eagerly camped outside his door. Conrad Hilton is inside, they inform him. By the way, this scene is hilarious, with all the guys so giddy that I thought for sure Pete was about to launch into another awkward dance routine. Alas, this was not to be. Don shoos the little flies away, and meets the hotel magnate, who proceeds to lecture Don about the absence of a Bible and family photos in his office. Then, they do business. Connie hires Don to do all of his New York business, and they'll go from there. Don agrees. Meanwhile, Pete comes in, still all bouncy and excited, and says he'd love to work on the Hilton account. Don patiently tells Pete to tend to his other work first, then they'll see. I mention this mainly because Don's grace and patience with Pete at this point is starkly different from how he treats Peggy when she makes a similar request later in the episode.
Don is invited to the Ster/Coop inner sanctum, where Bert, Roger and Lane all congratulate him on his victory with Hilton. There is one small thing, however. Hilton's people insist that Don finally have a contract with Ster/Coop. They want make sure Don will be around a while, I guess. The Ster/Coop guys make Don an offer, and Don basically spits in their faces, stamping his feet and yelling "I won't sign a contract! You can't MAKE me sign!"
Well, no. I made that last part up. But that's about the size of it. The three wise men all respond typically. Lane is indignant. Roger gets all silver foxy, calling the Draper house and "accidentally" mentioning Don's contract to Betty. Cooper, meanwhile, thinks. Because that's what Cooper does.
After Roger's call, Betty actually stands up for Don, but is unnerved and later unloads at Don for his unwillingness to be tied to Sterling Cooper. No doubt she sees this as a reflection of the larger commitment issues that spurred her to throw him out of the house.
Don finally gets clarity after a misspent night in which he picks up some hitchhikers who ply him with drugs, beat him up and take his money (they do leave him his car, though, which is sporting of them). The next day, a beaten Don shows up at work claiming he was in a fender bender. To make matters worse, Coop shows up in his office, and lays down the law, slyly uses the whole Dick Whitman thing as leverage. Once again, he tells Don (as he did last season) "Would you agree I know something about you?" Don agrees, and Cooper gently pushes the contract in front of him, pointing out that, when you get right down to it, who's really signing this contract anyway? Ha! Coop you sly one! You act all dotty but you really don't miss a thing, do you?
Anyway, on to Betty's thread of the episode, which I'm kind of going to speed through, due to a lack of time and a lack of interest (I always find the Betty threads important but, with rare exceptions, they're kind of the vegetable you have to plow through to get to the treat of the Don/Peggy/Pete/Roger/Joan/etc. scenes). Anyway, Betty is already neglecting her brand new child, instead sinking her time into redecorating and working with the Junior League. The latter is especially important, because Betty finds a way to use it to reconnect with Henry Francis, the belly groper from Roger's party. She wants him to use his influence with the governor to keep a local reservoir from being drained. There's little he can do, but that doesn't seem to bother our Betty. Really, she's just happy for the time away from home, and the opportunity to continue her flirtation. Her investment in the Henry Francis relationship deepens throughout the episode. When she complains of dizziness following their outing to the bakery, Henry suggests she buy a fainting sofa, like Victorian ladies used. She does, and her decorator has a fit. I kind of agree -- the sofa is ugly. Of course, sometimes a sofa is more than a sofa. This one is, judging from the way Betty gently runs her hands over her body while lying upon it, no doubt dreaming of the potential of this new quasi-relationship.
Now onto the good stuff -- Peggy. Duck is continuing to woo her and Pete, sending them expensive gifts. When Peggy's arrives, Pete is on hand, telling her he knows it's from Duck. It is -- and it's a lovely Hermes scarf. Then we get our longest, and least hostile, Pete/Peggy interaction of the season. Pete, less angry than we saw him a few episodes ago, asks Peggy what she's going to do. Peggy doesn't know -- she's probably not going to take the job, but she REALLY likes this scarf. Maybe she'll keep it? Nope, says Pete. Duck is using Peggy to hurt Don and, even if she turns down the job, keeping the scarf will make Duck think he has some sort of advantage with her. She's got to give it back. Peggy sheepishly agrees. During this same conversation, she learns about the Hilton account, which must strengthen her resolve to remain at the Coop. She calls Duck and firmly refuses the gift. Duck, genially, tells her he's meeting the Hermes people at a hotel. Maybe she could swing by and return the gift in person? She says no, but is momentarily softened when Duck jokes that his new agency resembles a Penn Station bathroom. That Peggy. Always impressed by a well-turned phrase. But she maintains her position, and hangs up the phone. Then, she goes to Don, asking to be put on the Hilton account. Don, frustrated by the whole contract situation, berates her for always wanting something. You know -- like basic respect. The nerve of her! "You were my secretary" he sneers, chiding her ambition and neediness. You're good, he says, in a half-assed attempt to say something kind. Then he undercuts the compliment by telling her to get better and stop asking for stuff. Ouch. What's a girl to do but swing by the lair of Don's mortal enemy, Duck Philips? Duck is happy to see her, even after she, once again, turns down the job at Grey. This is what opportunity looks like, he gently tells her. She says no again.
Then Duck starts hitting on her. He never noticed her before, he says, but now... they make out and Duck offers to remove her clothes with his teeth and give her the "once over" of her life. How can poor, angry, vulnerable Peggy say no? They shag and, the next morning, she walks the walk of shame to Ster Coop, clad, I believe, in her clothes from the day before.
Weirdly, no one seems to notice.
Here are some more thoughts on "Seven Twenty Three":
* Ah -- I've gone and forgotten Miss Farrell, whom Don sees again after her intoxicated phone call to him. She's helping the kids make viewing boxes for the coming eclipse. Don flirts with her and she, oddly, calls him on it immediately. Don, put off by her directness, is flustered and, seems to back off (unless I misread the scene). Maybe they aren't headed for affairs-ville after all? And why does Miss Farrell put Don off, telling him he's just like the other dads, as she's clearly flirted with him as much as he's flirted with her? Oh, those naughty schoolteachers.
* Though I really found the Betty plot boring (we get it! Her affair has made her curious about extramarital hanky-panky!), I did like one moment from it: the contrast between her polite phone voice with Henry Francis's secretary, and the way she bellows "LUNCH!" at her children. Ha! That's such a mom thing to do!
* OK, so, who's watching Gene while Betty's redecorating/Junior Leaguing/Henry Francis flirting? Didn't she say last week that she was letting Carla go to spend more time with the kids? I assume Carla's not there, as we haven't seen her. Also, Sally is clearly looking after Bobby, as evidenced by her chiding him to wash his hands before lunch (and how adorable is their horseplay at the sink? So refreshing to see them acting like kids!). So who's watching Gene?
* We established a few episodes ago that Duck has stopped drinking. However, he's clearly got a ways to go on the 12-step road. "I love the taste of alcohol on your breath" he lustfully tells Peggy during their tryst. Eek.
* So why does Duck seduce Peggy? Is it just to hurt Don? Or maybe to hurt Pete who, we've been led to believe, also rejected the job? Or does he just assume Peggy's easy, because she slept with a goofball like Pete? Peggy, for her part, does seem to be acting out against her surrogate daddy Don after he hurt her. Though she was admiring Duck's turtleneck during their lunch a few episodes back. And she's chronically incapable of making good decisions when it comes to guys.
* You gotta love Bert calling Hilton "eccentric." Man, I love Bert Cooper.
* During their climactic exchange, Don tells Cooper that he does not want to have any more interaction with Roger. Oh Don -- don't you know that will just make Roger more dead set on winning you over?
* Overall, I wasn't that into this episode. It felt a little flat, particularly after last week's spectacular "Guy Walks into an Advertising Agency." I liked the furthering of the Peggy storyline, but the Betty/Don stuff wasn't that interesting. What did you think?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Killer TV: Reviewing the new season of "Dexter"

Showtime's "Dexter" is the TV equivalent of that little girl in the nursery rhyme -- the one with the curl right in the middle of her forehead. When it's good, it's very, very good. And when it's bad, it's...well, not horrid exactly. Just really disappointing.
But I try to cut this series some slack. After all, its central character is a serial killer. Talk about a high degree of difficulty. And, admittedly, nearly all the stuff involving the bloodthirsty Dexter (played brilliantly by Michael C. Hall) is usually pretty good. The highlight of last season was his attempt to establish a real friendship with unbalanced assistant district attorney Miguel Prado, played by the excellent Jimmy Smits. The problem was, everything surrounding the Prado plot kind of stunk (with the possible exception of Dexter's realization that his girlfriend Rita was pregnant with his baby). Also, the Prado stuff wrapped up in the second-to-last episode, meaning the finale was a bunch of mumbo jumbo about a killer who skinned his victims.
Given that disappointing wrap-up, I was less than enthused about the show's new season, which starts Sunday at 9 p.m.
I shouldn't have worried. Judging from the four preview episodes Showtime sent out, this has the potential to be the best season since the series' first. Since we last saw him absent-mindedly bleeding on his new bride at his own wedding, Dexter has fully ensconced himself in his role as father and husband. Rita, played by Julie Benz, has given birth to their new son, Harrison, and Dexter is now stepdad to Rita's two older kids. And, like many a working parent before him, he's determined to have it all. This means he must balance his new family with his day job as a forensics expert for the Miami police department, and his "side project" killing murderers who have managed to evade the law.
In the season premiere, Dexter's struggle isn't going well, as the addled dad botches a court appearance due to lack of sleep. Rest isn't coming any time soon. Dexter is quickly visited by a figure from his past, serial killer-hunting FBI Agent Frank Lundy (Keith Carradine, reprising his season two role). Lundy is on the trail of a murderer who has evaded him for decades and needs Dexter's help. The killer in question is nicknamed Trinity, for his habit of killing in threes. He's played by bracingly creepy John Lithgow who has only a handful of scenes in the first few episodes, yet still managed to scare the bejesus out of me.
Dexter is intrigued by the story of Trinity who, if Lundy is right, is the most successful serial killer of all time.
Meanwhile, the other stories are more successful this season than they were last time around. Dexter's foster sister Deb (Hall's real-life wife, Jennifer Carpenter) is trying to prove herself as a new police detective, while maintaining a new relationship and continuing to set records for profanity use. She's also sent into a tailspin by the return of Lundy, her former lover, though he insists he's just in town to track Trinity.
The rest of the characters are sort of background noise this time around, with the exception of an unexpected romantic subplot that I'm actually kind of enjoying.
Deb's partner Quinn (Desmond Harrington), continues to be a dull, grating drain, but, overall, things are in good shape.
There's a lot of serious, interesting examination of whether Dexter can balance his family and his dark desires. We've seen this explored before, but I think the arrival of a son -- the first flesh-and-blood relative Dexter's had since murdering his brother to protect Deb -- makes the conflict more difficult and more real. The story is explored extremely well in the fourth episode, in which Dexter stalks a cop who might have murdered her own family.
There's also a lot of humor, as lone wolf Dexter tries awkwardly to fit in with the other suburban dads in his neighborhood. In these moments, Hall's plastic smiles and deer-in-headlights expressions are things of beauty. Even when the show slips, Hall is always at the top of his game, showing us a man who has to playact at being human.
The show is flawed, but it's still one of the most challenging, and perversely entertaining, series on TV. I hope it maintains the complicated creepiness of these first few episodes. If it does, the season could be very, very good indeed.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is there an Echo in here?: Reviewing the new season of "Dollhouse"

The Fox sci-fi drama "Dollhouse" is a classic case of show improving the minute it gets out of its own way. When the series, created by "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" mastermind Joss Whedon, debuted earlier this year, it had little more going for it than the good will of fans.
Sure, the show's premise -- a massively successful "secret" company that imprints human beings with various personalities -- was intriguing, but the execution left something to be desired. That's mainly because the lead character, Echo (Eliza Dushku) was, by definition, devoid of personality. She was, simply, a human doll, just wandering aimlessly through the "Dollhouse" of the title, waiting for her next mission.
It was hard to get invested in someone who doesn't have a soul. And most of the non-doll characters were evil, with the possible exception of Echo's handler Boyd Langton (Harry Lennix) and the obsessed FBI agent Paul Ballard (Tahmoh Penikett) -- but even they were a little too intense and flawed to be relatable.
But, over time, the show opened up. We learned that Echo was slowly absorbing her personalities, evolving within the context of her "doll" persona. We learned more about Agent Ballard, who is completely infatuated with Echo's former self, Caroline. We learned that Dollhouse manager Adelle DeWitt (Olivia Williams), wasn't entirely evil and was, herself, just a pawn in a sprawling corporation.
As the characters grew and the show's arc became more apparent, it got better. By the end of its first season, Dollhouse had become a fascinating, if still flawed, parable about humanity, exploitation and free will.
The new season beings Friday at 9 p.m., and it picks up where we left off. Echo is back at the Dollhouse, after having all her old identities downloaded into her at once by rogue doll Alpha. Ballard now works for the Dollhouse, much to the disapproval of Langton. Given the assignment Ballard sends Echo on (see the above photo), Langton's skepticism is understandable.
Meanwhile, Dr. Saunders is still dealing with the realization that she's actually a doll named Whiskey. Full of rage and sadness, she's acting out by tormenting Dollhouse techie Topher (Fran Kranz) with mice and, um, other stuff (Topher, as usual, gets the premiere episode's funniest moment, which involves him denying lustful feelings for Fozzie Bear).
And, for those of you who were wondering, the show doesn't seem to be ignoring the unaired "Dollhouse" episode "Epitaph One," even though that episode was only unavailable via download and on the first season DVD. Judging from the premiere, the series does seem to be sowing the seeds for the futuristic world we see in "Epitaph." However, if you haven't seen that episode, you'll still be able to follow the premiere.
"Dollhouse," much like its heroine, really seems to be evolving before our eyes, developing depth and a strong identity of its own. I'm looking forward to seeing where it's going.

Please stop "Flash"-ing me

Look, I'm as willing to eat my sheep food as the next person. I respond to hype. I jump on bandwagons. I can follow with the best of them. So when ABC kept shoving its new series "Flash Forward" in my face in the form of a massive ad campaign, I was right there with them, declaring the show a must-watch before I'd even seen it.
And now, I've seen it.
And, well, it's not bad but honestly? I don't love it. I know! I'm a bad sheep!
As anyone not living under a rock for the past several months knows, "Flash Forward," which premieres tonight at 8, centers on a massive, worldwide blackout in which nearly everyone on earth loses consciousness for about two minutes. While blacked out, they all have a "flash" of an event on a specific day, at a specific time -- six months in the future. The unconscious FBI Agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes of "Elizabeth" and "Shakespeare in Love," ditching the tights for jeans) seems himself investigating the source of the blackout. He also sees himself drinking -- a major source of despair, as he's a recovering alcoholic. His surgeon wife Olivia (Sonya Walger of "Lost") sees herself with another man. And Benford's partner (John Cho) sees nothing. Maybe because he'll be dead in six months?
It's admittedly intriguing, but the pilot is all hype, no emotion. I wasn't invested enough in these characters to really care what happens to them in six months. And serials like this really depend on you being "with" the characters, don't they? Why would we follow these people down their twisty path if we don't care about them?
True, the pilot has a lot of glitz, lots of car crashes, helicopter crashes and other drama that occurs during the blackout. There's a healthy dose of melodrama and creepiness. Yet, underneath, I didn't feel much. I wasn't invested. But maybe that will change. There's enough good stuff on "Flash Forward" to make it worth a look, and I'm even willing to give it another shot.
After all, Dominic Monaghan of "Lost" is set to join the cast a few episodes down the line, and the story is interesting enough to keep me engaged for a little while longer. But it's not the powerhouse ABC wants me to believe it is. Sorry.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

When life changes in an instant: Reviewing "The Good Wife"

In the opening scenes of the new CBS series "The Good Wife" (which premieres at 10 tonight), Alicia Florrick (Juliana Marguiles) cuts a familiar figure. Clad in an uncomfortable-looking suit, she stands beside her politician husband Peter (Christopher Noth) as he apologizes to the American public for his role in a sex scandal. Alicia stands next to him, looking stunned but supportive. A closer look tells a slightly different story. Alicia is terrified, angry and lost. As the conference ends, she and Peter walk out of the room. In the adjoining hallway, free from the prying eyes of the media, Alicia hauls off and smacks Peter. It's a cathartic moment for anyone who has watched time and time again as the wives of embattled politicians stand beside their men in seeming support, as they admit to crime and/or infidelity.
But "The Good Wife" shows us what happens to Alicia after delivering that slap. It shows us that she needs to move on with her life and start taking care of her family. With her husband in jail, Alicia must rejoin the workforce and pick up the law career she abandoned to start a family.
The show offers a nice window into the lives of an archetype we think we all know: the scandalized political wife. As Florrick, Marguiles (along with the show's writers) turn a cliche into a human being. We see her struggle at work, where seemingly half her firm is conspiring against her. Her only allies are an old friend (the always welcome Josh Charles of "Sports Night") and the firm's smart, no-nonsense investigator (Archie Panjabi).
With its combination of legal drama (the pilot follows Alicia as she tries to clear a scorned woman of murder) and political intrigue, "The Good Wife" is one of the best new shows of the fall. Marguiles, coming off the short-lived "Canterbury's Law," seems to have found a TV character to equal the beloved Carol on "ER." Alicia is smart, strong and relatable, and Marguiles is radiant in the part. Panjabi is also excellent as the woman who reluctantly becomes her sidekick. The byplay between them is the show's highpoint.
Though other shows, including ABC's "Flash Forward," are getting a lot more hype, "The Good Wife" is definitely worth your time, if only to see what happens to those poor wives once the lights dim and cameras go away.

Monday, September 21, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: Missed it by a foot

Before we get in to this week's "Mad Men" recap, I'd like to congratulate the entire cast and crew on their second consecutive Emmy win for Best Drama. And what a night to win! Look, we all know the "Mad Men" formula: slow, methodical character development that occasionally leads up to a shocking moment, made all the more stunning by the calm that preceded it. Well, last night contained one of those moments and, by my count, might be the first one to contain actual bloodshed. Yeesh.
Spoilers ahead.
Let's start with that bloodshed, shall we? This week's episode followed this dramatic template, once famously described by Chekhov: If you introduce a riding mower in the first act, then you must show a pompous Brit getting his foot chewed up by said mower by the last. I'm paraphrasing of course. But that's exactly what happened here. Near the start of the episode, co-head of accounts Ken Cosgrove tootles in on a lawn tractor, given to him by clients at John Deere. He's feeling chuffed, but sobering news is on the way. The British are coming. Specifically, the higher ups at Ster/Coop's new owners, Putnam, Powell and Lowe, are on their way in for an inspection.
Their visit also coincides with Joan's last day at Ster/Coop. She's expecting Worthless Greg to be made chief resident, so she can start a life of leisure as a doctor's wife.
In Bert's office, Coop and Roger muse over what the British visit will be like. Coop thinks they're interested in something big for Don, possibly in London. Alas, it's not to be. The British come and the only person they're interested in relocating is Mr. Pryce, whom they want to send to the PPL Bombay office. Mr. Pryce is sad, but stoic. Less stoic are the Ster/Coop peeps, who participate in a presentation about PPL's new plan for the agency. According to a chart, Don and Bert will share managing duties with a PPL rising star named Guy. There's, of course, an important name left off the chart: Roger's. When our favorite silver fox points out this fact, a flustered Guy claims it's an oversight, but fails to mention exactly what Roger's role is. Roger isn't pleased. In fact, no one is pleased, except Harry -- the only one to get a promotion under the new setup.
Just as Don learns, to his disappointment, that he won't be moving to London, Joan learns, to her disappointment, that Worthless Greg won't be made chief resident. He's still a doctor, he explains, but not a surgeon. After a lot of hemming and hawing, he reveals that he's only got one year left in his residency, and they can't afford for Joan to leave her job. But that's done, she says. Find a new one, he replies.
At work the next day, Joan is greeted with a nice sendoff from the bosses...then promptly bursts into tears. However, she gathers herself well enough to make the rounds of the office and have a heart-to-heart with Peggy, who awkwardly tries to explain how much Joan has meant to her. It's a nice moment...until the riding mower makes its reappearance.
As Joan and Peggy talk, Smitty is riding the tractor around the office with various secretaries. Ken seems mildly worried, but not enough to actually do anything. Then Smitty makes the mistake of allowing the massively incompetent Lois to ride the mower. She loses control of it and: MOWS RIGHT OVER GUY'S FOOT! Oh my God! I knew something bad would happen as soon as Lois took the mower controls, but I wasn't prepared for the sight of Guy's blood splattered all over Harry, Paul and others like melon at a Gallagher show. Unbelievable!
Joan, being the super-competent star she is, immediately takes over, staunching the bleeding of Guy's foot, and getting him off to the hospital.
As all this is happening, Don is taking a surprise meeting with hotel magnate Conrad Hilton, whose office seemingly calls him out of the blue. Turns out, the man in the white dinner jacket Don made a drink for a Roger's derby party was Conrad himself (kudos to those sharp-eyed viewers who immediately knew who he was). Conrad asks Don's advice on a set of ads featuring a mouse showing off Hilton hotels. Don, as usual, is pointed and practical: no one wants to think about a mouse in their hotel. Conrad agrees, and wants to hear Don's ideas. Don suggests Hilton hires Ster/Coop to create a new campaign. And, like that, a chance encounter at a party leads to a new relationship. Booze is good, people!
Anyway, Don gets a call from Joan while at Hilton's office and rushes to the hospital, where the blood-soaked departing secretary sits waiting for word. They have a tender moment together where Don says he'll miss her, and Joan looks grateful for his sincere admiration. The Brits arrive, and thank Joan for her quick thinking. But they also reveal that they have to dump Guy: He can't run an ad agency without a foot! How will he play golf? The logic is bizarre, but maybe it was par for the course at the time. Clearly, people with disabilities were treated much differently in the 1960s than they are now. A missing foot might have been viewed as a severe obstacle to success in a way that it wouldn't today. However, I can't help but wonder if Mr. Pryce wasn't at least a little responsible for pushing his bosses in this direction. Because, as soon as guy is out the door, Pryce is back in.
Here are some more thoughts on "Guy walks into an advertising agency" (by the way, I think this is my favorite episode title to date!):
* I've skipped over the entire subplot involving Sally and baby Gene, but let's sum it up here: little Sally has suddenly become afraid of the dark. Don solves this by buying a night light. But something's still wrong. She won't go near baby Gene not even after Betty, in a rare show of something resembling parenting, buys her a new Barbie, saying it's from the bambino. Sally later tells Don that she's terrified that Gene is her grandfather, reincarnated. He has his name, she explains. He sleeps in his room. He looks just like Grandpa Gene. Don consoles her, tells her the baby is just and baby, and even gets her to hold the child. It's a poignant subplot, because it reminds us yet again that Don is a good dad -- when he's around. He's much better at handling these little kid issues than Betty is, and he does love his children. I'm not sure how he's going to do with Gene, though. Like his daughter, Don seems disturbed by the fact that the child is named for his hated father-in-law. This could cause problems along the way.
* OK -- let's discuss the foot scene again. Has this show ever had such a gory moment? There's been pain and violence -- Betty shooting the pigeons, Peggy's sudden labor, Roger's heart attacks -- but nothing quite so, well, gross. The image of the cleaning staff mopping up Guy's blood in the wake of the debacle is at once comical and horrifying, as is Roger's assertion that, in some office, somewhere, this has happened before. Speaking of Roger, the foot incident gives him possibly his best line to date. When Paul mentions that the ambitious Guy lost his foot, the acerbic Roger replies "Just when he got it in the door." Zing!
* When Guy gets mowed down Peggy, in a rare show of feminine delicacy, faints -- and Pete catches her. Aw. So maybe he doesn't completely hate her.
* Joan once again shows that she's simply awesome, rushing to Guy's side and using basic First Aid to help him when everyone else is freaking out. Yet she seems so convinced that her job is lost to her forever. I just can't believe that. First, they're replacing her with Mr. Hooker, who isn't even a tenth as competent as Joan. Second, she's so well-liked and well-thought of. I'm sure they'd thrill to have her back. Plus they can afford it, as I'm sure they'll finally be firing Lois for good now that she's maimed someone.
* When it's announced the British are on their way, Bert demands that Roger and Don make amends -- and compares them to Martin and Lewis. I think we can all agree that Roger is Jerry Lewis in this scenario, correct?
* Must mention Roger's pointed line about being left off the Putnam, Powell and Low chart of power: "I'm being punished for making my job look easy." I wonder if John Slattery, who plays Roger, had the same reaction upon losing his second consecutive best supporting actor Emmy.
* Do you think there's anything to the tenderness between Don and Joan in the hospital, particularly her decision to kiss him on the cheek before leaving? I know some people might try to make something off it, but I found it to be perfectly sweet and innocent -- an honest exchange between two people who like and respect each other. I hope that's all it is.

Friday, September 18, 2009

I Screen's totally unscientific, most likely incorrect Emmy predictions!

Sunday night at 8, CBS will host the latest installment of the Primetime Emmy Awards. Though there are some glaring omissions among this year's nominees (OK, one last time: No major nominations for "The Shield"? GRRRRR!!!!), I still plan to watch, and I've still picked my favorites. Of course, my favorites almost never win, but I dare to dream.
Below is my list of the nominees for all the major categories, along with my picks for who should win, and who likely will win. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Best Supporting Actor, Drama
Christian Clemenson, "Boston Legal"
Michael Emerson, "Lost"
William Hurt, "Damages"
Aaron Paul, "Breaking Bad"
William Shatner, "Boston Legal"
John Slattery, "Mad Men"

Should win: Though this is a very strong category, it's a bit compromised by the fact the year's best supporting male dramatic performance, by Walton Goggins on "The Shield," wasn't nominated. Having said that, there are some great performances here, and it's tough to pick my favorite. I'd probably just barely go with Michael Emerson's always-perfect turn as Ben on "Lost" over Aaron Paul's wrenching work as a lonely drug dealer on "Breaking Bad." But it's hard to bet against Emerson, whose creepy stares and deadpan delivery are the best thing about many a "Lost" episode.
Will win: Unless the want to give William Shatner a winning sendoff following the final season of "Boston Legal," I'm guessing Emmy voters will back me up, finally rewarding Emerson.
Best Supporting Actress, Drama
Rose Byrne, "Damages"
Hope Davis, "In Treatment"
Cherry Jones, "24"
Sandra Oh, "Grey's Anatomy"
Dianne Wiest, "In Treatment"
Chandra Wilson, "Grey's Anatomy"

Should win: This is a hard category for me for a totally different reason -- I don't watch "In Treatment" or "Grey's Anatomy." So I'm going with Cherry Jones who, as "24's" first female president, actually managed to make the show's ridiculous dialogue sound less ridiculous.
Will win: A toughie, but Chandra Wilson is a favorite with critics and fans and her show is still popular, so I'm guessing Emmy voters will bless her with a statue.
Best Supporting Actor Comedy
Jon Cryer, "Two and a Half Men"
Kevin Dillon, "Entourage"
Neil Patrick Harris "How I Met Your Mother"
Jack McBrayer, "30 Rock"
Tracy Morgan "30 Rock"
Rainn Wilson, "The Office"

Should win: Though he's often overshadowed by co-stars Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, Tracy Morgan is an essential part of the "30 Rock" equation as lunatic comic Tracy Jordan. He's coming off of an especially strong season, and it's first nomination, so I'd love to see him win.
Will win: However, I'm pretty sure the Emmy will go to Neil Patrick Harris who, incidentally, is hosting the freakin' Emmys! He's a critic's darling, an industry darling, and he's funny. Sigh. Better luck next year, Tracy.
Best Supporting Actress, Comedy:
Kristin Chenoweth, "Pushing Daisies"
Jane Krakowski, "30 Rock"
Elizabeth Perkins, "Weeds"
Amy Poehler, "Saturday Night Live"
Kristen Wiig, "Saturday Night Live"

Should and Will Win: Though all her competitors are great, Amy Poehler is my bet for the win, as Emmy will likely want to reward what was more or less her "SNL" swan song. Also, the new mom performed on the show almost right until she went into labor. So I think an Emmy is the least we can do.
Best Actress, Drama
Glenn Close, "Damages"
Sally Field, "Brothers & Sisters"
Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit"
Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"
Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men"
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"

Should Win: A toughie. I think it's inexcusable that Kyra Sedgwick has never won an Emmy for her stellar work as Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson on "Mad Men," but I also love Elisabeth Moss's quiet, understated work as the talented, career-minded Peggy on "Mad Men." I guess, when you get down to it, I'm rooting for Sedgwick, but just by a hair.
Will Win: Again, the category is wide open, but voters rewarded Glenn Close last year for "Damages," and I expect they'll do it again. She's a film actress, which always catches voters' eyes. She plays a flashy character, and she's a gracious winner. All things Emmy likes. Sorry, Kyra, Elisabeth and company: I think Glenn's got this one.
Best Drama, Actor:
Simon Baker, "The Mentalist"
Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment"
Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
Hugh Laurie, "House"

Should win: Look, I love Jon Hamm and Michael C. Hall, but Bryan Cranston is just The Man. His performance in "Breaking Bad's" second season was even better than his Emmy-winning work in season one. This is a career defining performance, and I'd love to see him collect another statuette...
Will Win: ... but I think voters are going to go with Jon Hamm. He's glamorous and his show has burst into pop culture in a way "Breaking Bad" hasn't. Hamm is a star and Emmy likes stars, regardless of their decision to reward Cranston last year. I think he takes it home.
Best Actress, Comedy:
Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?"
Toni Collette, "United States of Tara"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "The New Adventures of Old Christine"
Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds"
Sarah Silverman, "The Sarah Silverman Program"

Should win: Can I just say that it's so nice to see the female-centered categories so full of quality nominees this year? It's a strong contrast to the Oscars, which often struggle to find enough actresses to fill the categories. Anyway, I'm going with Tina Fey who, even in an uneven season, was always a pleasure to watch as dippy but lovable Liz Lemon.
Will Win: The only thing I can say definitively here is that quirky category newcomer Sarah Silverman won't win for her work on her own Comedy Central sitcom (unless, of course, she does win. Emmy can surprise us, after all). Other than her, I think all the other nominees have a strong shot. But I think Emmy will go glamorous and pick Toni Collette, a former Oscar nominee who plays multiple roles on Showtime's "United States of Tara."
Best Actor, Comedy:
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Steve Carell, "The Office"
Jemaine Clement, "Flight of the Conchords"
Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory"
Tony Shalhoub, "Monk"
Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men"

Should Win: I love Jemaine Clement, but it's hard to top Alec Baldwin's oily, hilarious work as money-loving Jack Donaghy. He had another strong season, and I'd love to see him take it home.
Will Win: Everyone's gone gaga over category newcomer Jim Parsons, and Emmy does like to reward dark horses on occasion (case in point -- giving a statuette to Zeljko Ivanek over Ted Danson last year). But I think Baldwin will still win. Jack Donaghy is pretty hard to resist.
Best Comedy Series:
"30 Rock"
"Family Guy"
"Flight of the Conchords"
"How I Met Your Mother"
"The Office"

Should Win: Can I tell you which show I really, really, really DON'T want to win? "Entourage." This show is pleasantly amusing at best, and certainly not one of the five best comedies on TV. Other than that, it's hard, but I'm going to pick "30 Rock." Yes, the season was a little shaky at times, but there were so many great moments (Oprah! Kidney Now! "I want to go to there"!) that it can't be overlooked.
Will Win: "30 Rock," unless Stewie from "Family Guy" blackmails the Emmy voters into giving that series a statue.
Best Drama Series:
"Big Love"
"Breaking Bad"
"Mad Men"

Should and Will Win: Again, the category is compromised by the omission of "The Shield." That said, it's hard to see "Mad Men" losing this one, despite the presence of the excellent "Big Love" and "Breaking Bad." And you know what? I'd be fine with a "Mad Men" win.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"The Nightman Cometh": A Theater Review

"Do you think there will be someone dressed as Greenman?" asked my husband, not long after learning I'd be attending Wednesday night's performance of "The Nightman Cometh" at New York's Beacon Theatre.
It was a silly question. "Nightman" is based on an episode of the raucous FX sitcom "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." Despite relatively low ratings and a distressing lack of Emmy attention, the show has an insane cult following. That's why the New York performance of "Nightman" -- which features the entire cast of the series recreating their roles from the episode -- sold out almost immediately. That's why, every now and then, at certain sporting contests and other televised events, you'll see grown men donning green bodystockings, emulating "Sunny" oddball Charlie (Charlie Day). I was sure that at least one or two of the "Sunny" faithful headed to Wednesday's performance of "Nightman" would be decked out in head-to-toe green.
Yet, as I sat in the theater, a mere 20 minutes before showtime, I saw no sign of my favorite emerald-hued miscreant. I was a little disappointed. I hadn't come to this show expecting the atmosphere surrounding most live theater. After all, this play wasn't a dense thinkpiece or a celebrity-studded musical. It was a rock opera based on a show about alcoholic degenerates. I expected a party.
Then, about 10 minutes before the curtain went up, I heard cheers and laughter erupt behind me. I turned around...and saw a man in a green bodystocking darting in and out of the aisles. Woo-hoo! Greenman!
Fittingly, the show started not long after Greenman's appearance. First, there was a band, then "Nightman" composer Cormac Bluestone came on stage and introduced a clip from the upcoming "Sunny" DVD, "A Very Sunny Christmas," (to be released Nov. 17) and a full-length episode from "Sunny's" fifth season titled "The Gang Reignites the Rivalry." This was all great (particularly the "Christmas" clip, which featured a bloody battle between Charlie and a department store Santa), but I was totally ready for the show to start.
Finally, it did. The performance is simply an expanded version of the TV episode, in which Charlie writes a musical called "The Nightman Cometh," seemingly for no reason, and casts Frank (Danny DeVito), Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Mac (Rob McElhenny) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson) in major roles. The rest defies description, as the gang takes on Charlie's bizarre masterwork with its usually mix of commitment, selfishness and bizarre fixation on sex.
The episode translates surprisingly well to the stage, with expanded versions of the songs that were only glimpsed during the television episode. All of the cast members have great stage presence, but McElhenny is particularly hilarious. His Mac plays The Nightman in the show within a show, embracing the part with his usual psychotic glee. And let me tell you -- if you thought Mac's bizarre, random karate moves as The Nightman were funny on the show, they take on a whole new dimension in live performance. The Nightman even gets his own song here, a delightful tune about evil, human nature and sodomy.
But the best part of "Nightman" had nothing to do with what was on the stage. It was the intense reaction from the audience, who knew the episode by heart. They laughed at all the funny stuff, booed when The Waitress (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) rejected Charlie's marriage proposal at the end, and went plain nuts when Dee and Dennis burst into a rendition of the now-famous "Dayman" song. I've always loved that song, but you'll never know just much it's caught on with fans until you've heard a theater full of people singing along with it in full falsetto. Awesome.
As I'd originally suspected, the "Nightman" performance was one big party. That it was a party accompanied by a funny, well-acted, fairly well-produced live show made it even more fun.

"The Nightman Cometh" is touring the country, and stops at the Tower Theatre in Upper Darby, Pa. tonight at 8. Other performances take place Sept. 24 at Nob Hill Masonic Auditorium in San Francisco and Sept. 25 at the Hollywood Palladium, in Hollywood, Calif.
The fifth season of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" starts tonight at 10 on FX.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New season of "Sunny" brings the funny

A man eats a pear -- the whole thing, including the core, the stem and the produce sticker. A group of people organize an intervention for an alcoholic friend -- because he's no longer a fun drunk. A potential surrogate mom offers the couple hiring her a discount for carrying twins.
That's right folks -- the degenerate freaks of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" are back. And boy, did I miss them. FX's dark, depraved and often hilarious company returns for a fifth season Thursday at 10 p.m. I've watched the first four episodes and, so far, it's shaping up to be a fun season. For the uninitiated, the show focuses on five people who own a bar in South Philadelphia: creepy Charlie (Charlie Day), delusional Mac (Rob McElhenny), vain, arrogant Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Dennis's needy sister Dee (Kaitlin Olson) and middle-aged degenerate Frank (Danny DeVito). In each episode, this gang of misfits embarks on some sort of scheme, ranging from the commonplace (a road trip to the Grand Canyon) to the bizarre (the aforementioned intervention).
In the season premiere, Mac, Frank, Charlie and Dennis decide to take advantage of the mortgage crisis by flipping a house in foreclosure. That the previous owners are still living in the house doesn't seem to bother them. Meanwhile, Dee rents out her womb to a yuppie couple, but seems more interested in swimming in their pool than in participating in the circle of life.
The show can be hit or miss, but there's always at least one big laugh per episode (many of them provided by the hilarious Olson who, were she on a more prestigious and less vulgar show, would have a stack of Emmys by now). In the premiere, the best moments come from Mac and Dennis trying to pass themselves off of as a pair of real estate agents named Honey and Vinegar. Trust me -- it makes sense in context. Of the episodes I watched, the second -- "The Gang Hits the Road" -- was my favorite, mainly because it includes Olson drunkenly belting out the Soul Asylum classic "Runaway Train" to a young hitchhiker. How do you not love that?
The show isn't for the easily offended, or for those who prefer their humor polished and sophisticated. It's dumb, crude and sometimes a bit too bizarre for its own good. But when it works, which is a lot, it's the funniest show on TV.
Note: tonight I'm going to see "The Nightman Cometh," the "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" live show that's touring the country. I'll be posting my thoughts tomorrow (provided that I'm not too exhausted), so look out for it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"Gossip Girl" returns: Um, yay?

Last night, the CW's Gossip Girl returned for its third season and I must say I was a bit underwhelmed. It just seems like nothing's really changed, except that Serena's finally admitting that her exhibitionist behavior is just a ploy to get her neglectful father's attention (but seriously -- a girl who acts out that much? Of COURSE she's subliminally begging daddy to love her. Duh. Read a psychology book). Oh, and Blair and Chuck are together and playing creepy games in which he pretends to seduce bimbos so she can show up at the last minute and act all pissed off. Admittedly, that's kind of funny. I'm sure people were worried that the show would go flat once C&B hooked up, and this seems like the show's way of saying: "It's OK. We hear you and we don't want it to get boring either." That said, their little waiter and angry customer role play at episode's end? Kinda lame.
Other than those two things, the episode was same old/same old. Vanessa was annoying. Jenny had terrible hair. Dan kept trying to pretend he's just Danny from the block, even in a limo, penthouse and Dior suit. Yawn. Even Scott, Rufus's illegitimate son who's hanging around Vanessa in order to gain entree into the Humphrey inner circle, is kind of bland right now.
But, next week, the kids head to college and Georgina comes back. And Dorota's going to be on it! Yay! Love Dorota! Where was she this week? I would have loved to see her take on Blair and Chuck's sex games.
Oh well. Here's hoping things pick up a bit.

Leno lament

So, Jay Leno premiered his new primetime talk show last night at 10 p.m. EST and...I totally forgot to watch it. I know. The debut of a show that could change the way networks program primetime and I totally flaked (I did watch the "Headlines" segment. That was pretty good. Though I'm not crazy about the new desk). But I promise to watch it this week and offer some thoughts near the end of this week. If I don't forget.
Did you watch it?
What did you think?

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Mad Men" recap: Duck, Duck, Herman

Note: Like my "True Blood" recap, the "Mad Men" recap is late this week because I was out last night at a friend's wedding. Sorry for the delay. Now on to the recap.
Spoilers ahead:
This week on "Mad Men," the Drapers welcome a new member of their dysfunctional family, Lane Pryce pinches pennies, and Peggy, Pete and Duck Philips enjoy the most awkward lunch in recent TV history.
Near the beginning of the episode, we learn that Sally's outburst last week wasn't the end of her acting out about Gene's death. She's had a conflict at school and Miss Farrell (the lovely young teacher Don was eyeing as she danced around the Maypole a few episodes ago) is worried about her. When Betty tells her of Gene's death, Miss Farrell is instantly sympathetic. She said she knew something was up when Sally started asking questions about Medgar Evers (the assassinated civil rights leader, who must have just died in "MM's" timeline). We later learn that she lost her father as a child and, during a brief exchange with Don in the classroom, she gets a hint of his own trouble childhood. I sense a bond! A bond that will, at the very least, lead to a flirtation.
Not long after, Betty goes into labor and has a heavily drug-assisted birth (the episode's title is "The Fog," in reference to Betty's drug-induced haze). While getting wheeled through the hospital, Betty glimpses a janitor that she swears is Gene. During her labor, she hallucinates her father, mother and, oddly, Medgar Evers. This is what happens to people whoo speak up, Ruthie says, referencing Evers (who, ironically, doesn't speak). Clearly, Betty got all of her parenting skills (or lack thereof) from dear old Mom.
As Betty's getting all Tommy Gavin on us, Don is making a new friend -- another dad-to-be sitting in the waiting room with a bottle of booze. Once again, Don's buddy is a fellow outsider, a prison guard named Dennis. Dennis's wife is having their first child. It's a breech. He's nervous. Don sympathizes, using his gift for words. Dennis is only mildly calmed. But Don's right -- Dennis's child is fine. And so is Don's -- it's another boy. Betty immediately wants to name him Gene. "We don't have to decide that right away," Don replies. Ouch.
Meanwhile, at SterCoop, Lane Pryce is chastising the staff for their travel expenditures, and use of office supplies (and that stolen credenza!). Don tells him that shattering employee morale is no way to save money. Pryce at least does him the courtesy of hearing him out.
Elsewhere, Pete is sweating over his, to him at least, lackluster list of accounts. But he notices something interesting with Admiral, which sells TVs. Its sales are flat, except in heavily black areas. He pitches the then-novel idea of marketing Admiral TVs to black customers, advertising in Ebony, Jet and newspapers that serve the black community. It's a great idea and it almost gets him fired. The Admiral execs are furious and complain to Bert and Roger, who chew Pete out. But Pryce, maybe heeding Don's advice about nurturing the workstaff, tells Pete that his instincts were good: he just picked the wrong client.
Pryce isn't the only one to appreciate Pete. Pete also gets a call from his Uncle Herman. Pete's Uncle Herman is in his 90s, so Pete is terrified that something's gone wrong. But "Uncle Herman" turns out to be Duck Philips, using a clever ruse (by the way, I guess never realized that Duck's real name is Herman. I guess that explains why he uses a nickname). Duck, as it turns out, is doing fine at Gray, another agency. He wants to have lunch with Pete and Pete accepts. Turns out, Duck invited someone else to their meal -- Peggy. Uh-oh! Duck tells them he knows that they have a secret relationship. He knows that Pete got Freddy ousted to move Peggy up. And he wants them to work together -- for him. Pete says no immediately and storms out, but Peggy stays. Turns out, she's a little more vulnerable to Duck's wooing, because she doesn't feel respected at SterCoop. She doesn't get paid as much as the guys. And, as she points out to Duck, no one there asks her to lunch.
Later, Peggy tells Don this very thing -- the being paid less part, not the lunch with Duck part. "I want what you have," she says. Don says he can't do anything, and I believe him. After all, Pryce and his folks are rationing credenzas and laying off the Burt Petersons of the company. They're not exactly going to cotton to giving a pay boost to a woman, of all people. But Peggy is agitated.
Wonder what her next move will be.
Anyway, here are some more thoughts on "The Fog."
* What do you make of Pete's talk with Hollis? Given this is Pete we're talking about, I expected him to say something stupid (and granted, he did get all obnoxiously self-righteous about the idea of Hollis thinking he was a bigot). But Pete did seem to listen when Hollis said he had more important things to worry about than television. And he even called Hollis on his own self-righteousness, gently pointing out that he finds it hard to believe that Hollis doesn't watch baseball. Hollis's smirk shows that he's right, and proves once again that Pete, for all his goofiness and immaturity, is a bright guy. Another thing worth noting about this scene is that it's the second major discussion between a black and white character this season. A few episodes ago, we had the Gene/Carla chat in which she chastised him for calling her by his former maid's name and asking if the two black women knew each other. The show definitely seems to be paying more attention to race issues this season.
* Before going off to look at his new son, Dennis the prison guard touches Don's face and tells him that he can tell Don is an honest man. In his line of work, Dennis says, he's learned to detect who's honest and who isn't. At this moment, I turned to Mr. I Screen and said "Wow. That guy must really suck at his job." My husband nodded in agreement.
* Don makes Sally and himself corned beef hash as their midnight snack. This isn't important, except I really like corned beef hash.
* The most poignant line of the episode? That would be when Pete confronts Peggy about her chat with Don, wanting to know whether she told him about Duck, and whether she intends to leave SterCoop. That's my decision, she tells him. "Your decisions affect me," Pete says pointedly. Again, ouch.
* OK, a little "Mad Men" math for you. Pretty young teacher + exposed bra strap x drunken phone call to known cad Don Draper = affair. But perhaps I've calculated wrong. We'll see.
* Nice touch during the conference with Sally's teacher: Don has to sit a child's desk, but Betty, due to her condition, can't fit and has to sit in a chair. Thus, they sit in front of Miss Farrell not as a unified front, but as a scattered, separate pair. Fitting.

"True Blood" season finale recap: "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'"

Before I get to recapping the second season finale of HBO's "True Blood," a quick apology for my tardiness. I was at a wedding last night and, as a result, didn't actually get to watch the finale until late this afternoon. The nerve of some people, scheduling their nuptials on the night of an important TV event like this! Anyway, I'm here now and ready with my thoughts.
Spoilers below:
I have to say, I didn't expect to like last night's finale, as it focused on my least favorite aspect of this season: the character of Maryann and her transformation of Bon Temps into mindless orgy-land. But I did like it. The resolution of the Maryann plot was very clever, with Sam fooling Maryann into thinking he was "the God that comes" by turning into a bull and goring her. And I just loved that image of Sam, in his true form and covered in Maryann's blood, crushing her black heart, causing the Maenad to crumple like the Wicked Witch of the West during a rainstorm.
And how spooky was Maryann's wedding scenario? Brainwashed attendants, human sacrifice, rotten meat -- having just been to a happy, sweet, non-demon-summoning wedding where the maiden of honor wasn't tied to a chair and used as shifter-bait, I found it all particularly unsettling.
It also was interesting to see the various ways the townspeople reacted to their Maryann experience after the brainwashing clears. Tara is lost and ashamed. Arlene is filled with guilt for unwittingly abandoning her kids. Jason is convinced that he did something heroic during his blackout and tries to convince Andy of the same. Andy, being less delusional than Jason, doesn't quite buy it. Lafayette, interestingly, is kind of at peace. Having been through a trauma that he remembers vividly, he's kind of happy for the gift of not knowing what happened to him (note: it's not made explicitly clear, but I'm imaging the same is true of Terry. Like Lafayette, he doesn't seem all that interested in knowing what happened during his blackouts). Then we have Eggs and his deep desire to know what happened during his blackouts, no matter how bad it was. Be careful what you wish for, Eggs: knowledge of his actions drives Eggs to insanity, leading him to hysterically confess to Andy while wielding the knife he stabbed Miss Jeanette, Daphne and Sam with. Jason, assuming Eggs is attacking Andy, shoots him and Andy willingly shoulders the blame. The irony here: Jason wants to believe that he's a hero, but Andy is the one who really acts heroically.
Though season two was a bit uneven, overall it was vastly entertaining and better than season one. I did like the Dallas vampire/Soldiers of the Sun story a lot better than the Maryann plot, but even that story had enough in it to keep me interested.
I'm looking forward to season three (alas, I'll have to wait until next year), and the many intriguing storylines the season two finale set up. Who kidnapped Bill? What's up with Sam's natural parents? And will Tara ever recover from Eggs's murder?
Anyway, it's been a fun season. Here are a few more thoughts on the season two finale, "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'."
* By the way, the lady in the striped shirt sitting at Merlotte's bar near the end of the episode? That was Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels on which "True Blood" is based.
* OK, I'm kind of torn on the Jason/Andy plot. After all that buildup about them being heroes who will take down Maryann, they end up getting turned almost as soon as they set foot on the Stackhouse property. What a waste. However, that story did nicely set up the whole confrontation with Eggs at the end. And I loved Jason's series of inspirational battle quotes as he tried to psych Andy up. My favorite? "I love the smell of nail polish in the morning." Oh Jason, you lovable dumb bastard.
* Um, how lame is it that that was an ostrich egg? And how pissed is Lafayette going to be that he can't cook it? That sucker could feed the entire dinner crowd at Merlotte's!
* How sad is the Hoyt/Maxine/Jessica plot? Maxine overcomes her Maryann sickness, only to inform Hoyt that the "lie" she told about his father while under the influence was the truth -- he DID kill himself. Hoyt is crushed. Maxine said it's better that he knows the truth. It would have been better if he'd known earlier, Hoyt replies, and he's not wrong. Maxine just let him live a lie so that she could keep him around. Hoyt is upset and, in a fit of anger, tells Maxine that he should have let Jessica kill her! Gasp! But, in a nice touch, the look on Hoyt's face shows that he instantly regrets his words. Good work by actor Jim Parrack, who plays Hoyt. He's done really well with his expanded role this season.
Meanwhile, Jessica tells Bill she's off to reconcile with Hoyt, but ends up feeding on some random dude at a truck stop. Why? Has she given up on Hoyt because she now thinks she's no good for him? Is she embracing her vampiric fate because she's convinced there's nothing else for her? I hope she works through her issues, because I think the Jessica/Hoyt relationship was one of the strongest parts of this season.
* Also wanted to mention the fatherly way that Bill bids Jessica good-bye upon leaving for his date with Sookie. He's really embracing his role as her maker. Too bad he's been kidnapped. And that the fruit of his fangs is acting out in a truly frightening way. Sigh. Parenthood is so hard.
* I was a little upset that this episode had so little Eric, particularly since it set up the intriguing idea that Sophie-Anne is the one providing Eric (and, by extension, Lafayette) with V to sell. That said, there was some really good Sookie/Bill stuff this episode, particularly the scene when Sookie goes to her room to find Bill waiting for her. She asks him how long with will be before sunrise. "41 minutes," he replies. "Hold me for 40?" she implores. Awwww.
* OK, I take back all the stuff I said previously about liking Sophie-Anne. Her comforting words to Eric about Godric's death? "That blows." What a bitch!
* One last note: despite my distaste for the Maryann plot, I did love Michelle Forbes's performance in the role. Now that Maryann's dead, let's get this fine actress her own show, shall we?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Bidding adieu to "King of the Hill"

Maybe there are funnier shows than Fox's animated comedy "King of the Hill." And there are certainly better shows. But it's hard for me to think of many shows that are more likable.
The show is airing its final episodes on Sunday, after 13 years on the air. And, actually, I'm fairly sorry to see it go.
Unlike its fellow Fox animated series "The Simpsons" and "Family Guy," "KOTH" is not interested in satire. At least not primarily. Instead, it functions more like a traditional sitcom, about red-blooded Texan Hank Hill, a grill salesman, husband and father who just longs for a simple, old-fashioned life. Unfortunately, everyone around him is far less interested in the old ways, including his wife Peggy and his aggressively goofy son Bobby.
The show is extremely funny but, this Sunday, after "King" airs its final two episodes, what I'll really miss is its values. Here's a show that celebrated things like decency and self-respect. You just don't see that much on TV these days.
Wisely, the show's final two episodes focus on the show's strongest facet, the relationship between Hank and Bobby. In the first episode, "The Boy Can't Help It," Hank is dismayed when he realizes that a group of girls is using Bobby as their plaything -- and Bobby doesn't care. In the second, and much stronger, episode, "To Sirloin with Love," Hank and Bobby finally realize that they have a passion in common -- they both love meat. And Bobby, much to Hank's joy, joins a junior college team that judges meat competitively. Yes, it's a silly subject, but "KOTH" uses it to make points about the generation gap, about fathers and sons and, yes, about the importance of a flawless cut of meat.
And that's what I'll miss. "King of the Hill" wasn't groundbreaking, but it was almost always a pleasure to watch. And that's rare.
The last two episodes of "King of the Hill" air from 8 to 9 p.m. Sunday on Fox.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Some incredibly late thoughts on "Epitaph One"

When your media organization is essentially run out of your living room, you're not always on the list to get the best materials from the networks. Don't get me wrong -- many networks have been great about hooking me up with DVD screeners of new and returning shows, including Fox. But, if a network has only a limited supply of something, I'm usually not among the chosen picked to receive it. Such was the case with "Epitaph One," the "lost" episode of "Dollhouse" that never aired on Fox during the show's first season. It is included with the show's first season DVD set, and some folks got a sneak peek. But, alas, Fox was out of copies by the time I requested one, so I had to wait until the show was released to watch the episode. Well, the show was released in July, but I got busy and, long story short, I only just watched it this weekend.
But I was totally blown away. For those who don't know, the episode takes place 10 years in the future, in a dystopian world where-- well, I should probably save that for a spoilers section below. It's peppered with flashbacks showing how the Dollhouse played a huge role in the world's ongoing destruction. Echo/Caroline (Eliza Dushku) actually isn't seen much, though she's mentioned frequently. Instead, much of the focus is on Amy Acker's Whiskey, the active who, until late last season, believed she was the Dollhouse's doctor, Dr. Saunders.
Anyway, the episode is awesome, and I highly recommend picking it up -- particularly since I also watched the second season premiere of "Dollhouse" this weekend and Joss Whedon does seem to be treating "Epitaph One" as canon (meaning, even though it didn't air, he's not ignoring the stuff that happens in it). Many things alluded to in "E1" are picked up on in the first ep (which I'll discuss at length closer to its Sept. 25 premiere), so watching that episode should give you greater insight into the show.
Anyway, a few (incredibly late) spoilers are below. I would appreciate those who have seen the show giving me their thoughts, particularly the answers to my questions.

* Here's my biggest question: Just you do you think that little girl had been imprinted with when she went evil? Was it someone we know, you think? The fact that the persona wanted to inhabit Felicia Day's character and not the guy indicates that it was a female, but I'm not sure. Didn't it sound an awful lot like Lawrence Dominic? But maybe it was November/Mellie/Madeline. After all, we don't really have any clue what her true personality was like.
* I'm guessing that Rossum's idea of imprinting dolls permanently and using them as "new models" for existing personalities had a role in the imprinting technology run amok. But how? And is Topher the one who sent out that code via phone call? Or did that even happen? What's with Topher anyway? And does anyone else have tremendous new respect for Fran Kranz and his work on this show? His character really developed over the course of the first season, and "E1" sort of brought him full circle.
* Just what happened to Saunders/Whiskey? Why did she revert back to Whiskey? Why was she still at the Dollhouse? I assume that she was waiting for Boyd, as he promised to come back for her. And when/why did they fix her face?
* When were Victor and Sierra given their old personalities back? Why?
Sigh. So many questions. Hope the show is around long enough to answer them.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

"Leverage" seaason finale recap: "The Lost Heir Job"

Just a few quick thoughts on TNT's "Leverage," which ended its second season last night. Seems like a lot of people were divided on the sophomore season of this entertaining caper dramedy starring Timothy Hutton. Admittedly, I'm firmly in the camp that loved it. I was actually happy that the show spent less time on the dark side of Hutton's character, Nathan Ford, and more time on the bubbly fun of watching Ford and his team rob the rich and give to the poor.
Aldis Hodge's Hardison remains one of the more delightful characters on TV and Beth Riesgraf's Parker is continuing to grow on me (I burst out laughing at her impromptu meth addict imitation in last night's finale).
I know the show is flawed. The special effects are perhaps the cheesiest on TV and the show found a pretty flimsy way to handle co-star Gina Bellman's pregnancy (her character, Sophie, is having an identity crisis and flew home to London, where she wanders around in kimonos that barely disguise her baby bump).
Still, I kind of like her temporary replacement -- the always flinty Jeri Ryan. Given that all the press leading up to the finale revealed that Ryan would be Bellman's fill-in, I wasn't surprised that her character, a seemingly dedicated civil attorney, turned out to be a grifter. But she was still fun. And fun is what's needed here. Let other shows bring us dark drama. "Leverage" is a light, entertaining romp. That's what it does best, and I look forward to spending some more time with it when it returns in January.

"Vampire Diaries" is a bit of bloody mess

Remember a few years back when "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" debuted, became a big hit and spurred an onslaught of procedural dramas? Well, it's happening again -- this time with vampires.
Though vampires have always had a certain appeal and a place in pop culture, there's no better time than now to be undead. The vamp renaissance started with the insanely popular "Twilight" series of books and movies, then carried into the admittedly fun and sexy HBO series "True Blood," a soap about vampires, telepaths and other supernaturals. Now we have The CW's "The Vampire Diaries," an adaptation of a popular series of books, premiering tonight. I admit I've never read any of the books, but they have a strong following, so I was interested in giving the series a look.
The show's pilot centers on Elena (Nina Dobrev), a sad, beautiful teenager who has lost both of her parents and is living with her aunt and troubled brother. While she tries to put a brave face on things at school, she quickly becomes the obsession of the new kid at school, Stefan (Paul Wesley). Stefan's a brooding type with dark, sensitive eyes, an impressive grasp of local history and a disconcerting habit of appearing out of nowhere. Yes, he's a vampire. The nice kind. The kind that feeds on animals and turns his head away demurely when a female companion gets a luscious, bloody scrape on her knee. Stefan's pursuit of Elena is hampered by the arrival of his naughty brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder of "Lost," clearly enjoying the freedom of playing a bad boy).
Obviously, there are a lot of longing looks, unrequited love and, this being a CW drama, pretty people mouthing stilted dialogue.
Don't get me wrong -- the show can be entertaining, particularly in a fun opening sequence featuring a vampire's version of a carjacking. And Somerhalder is hilarious and vibrant as the bad guy -- when he's on screen, the show pops to life. But the key relationship is kind of flat. Dobrev is beautiful, and easily essays pluck and bravery on screen, but she's still a bit wan. And I didn't for a second believe the romance between her and Wesley's Stefan, who, I will concede, does look like he's been alive for hundreds of years. Or at least 30.
The subplots, involving Elena's brother and some other teens, are cheesy, and the vampire effects are a bit thick. Upon sensing blood, Stefan's eyes swirl with red. It's poetic, I guess, but I prefer the visceral shock of seeing the "True Blood" vamps pop their fangs with malicious glee.
In short, I couldn't really decide whether "Vampire Diaries" was campy fun or just plain bad, and I don't really care to find out. With the possible exception of Damon, none of the characters are that interesting. I can't really see myself spending week after week with them. And, frankly, I'm pretty sure that "True Blood's" Bill Compton would eat that pretty little Stefan for breakfast.
"The Vampire Diaries" premieres at 8 tonight on The CW.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A few brief words about "Glee"

It would be easy to bust on "Glee," the new, hour-long Fox comedy that officially debuts on Wednesday. I mean, the pilot for the series -- about a bunch of misfits in a high school glee club -- premiered in May. May! How's that for a lead on the competition? You'd think a show that debuted that early would get lost in the shuffle by fall, but our friends at Fox would never let that happen, would they? All summer long, my e-mail inbox has been bombarded with messages about "Glee" promotions, including an upcoming cast album and a contest. There are posters for the series everywhere, and Fox seems intent on shoving "Glee"-mania down our throats. With all that, you'd think I'd be really resentful toward "Glee" and hate it out of spite. But I don't, for two reasons. 1) I'm a professional, and I try not to let external factors affect my judgment of a series and 2) It's just damn good.
Really. I mean, I loved the pilot, with its plucky characters, terrific song and dance numbers and hilarious dialogue ("You think this is hard? Try being waterboarded. THAT'S hard."). I loved the way it used the great comedic actress Jane Lynch, who plays an evil cheer-leading coach. I loved it soo much! But I did wonder -- could the show carry this spirit into subsequent episodes?
Well, I've seen two more episodes of "Glee," and the answer is a resounding "yes." "Glee" continues to stand out as the best new show I've seen so far (admittedly, I haven't seen them all yet, but it's definitely the show to beat). Watching it is such a pleasure.
Few shows can mix music with storytelling in a way that's both seamless and entertaining. But "Glee" creator Ryan Murphy pulls it off. That's kind of a surprise, as Murphy is also the man behind FX's garish, over-the-top plastic surgery drama "Nip/Tuck," which is as messy as "Glee" is well-structured.
"Glee" is also just so much nicer than "Nip/Tuck." The characters are so likable, particularly the strident yet vulnerable ingenue Rachel (Lea Michele) and the sweet yet obsessive choir instructor Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison). And Lynch continues to be hilarious as the horrible Sue Sylvester, who fears the glee club will start sucking money away from her cheer-leading program. With her searing eyes and devastatingly dry delivery, Lynch is a perfect comic villain, and meshes nicely with Morrison's sheepish good guy.
The only character on the show that doesn't work is that of Will's wife, Terri, played by "Nip/Tuck" regular Jessalyn Gilsig. She's mean-spirited and crazy, and not in a fun way, like Lynch's character. In an irritating way. It's just hard to believe Will married her.
But why carp about that when the show gets so much else right? It's funny and it has such an inspired mix of music, from showtunes and Celine Dion to Kayne West and Salt 'n' Pepa (wait until you see the glee kids take on "Push It." No, I'm not kidding.).
Watching it is, at its best, like being front and center at a top-notch Broadway show. And I hope it's the hit of the season.
"Glee" airs Wednesday at 9 p.m. on Fox.

"Mad Men" recap: All you wanna do is ride around, Sally

This week on "Mad Men," we saw a bunch of children defying, and disappointing, their parents. Pete's new client is a spoiled rich boy (the son of a friend of Bert Cooper) who thinks Jai Alai will eclipse baseball as the world's most prominent sport. We saw Peggy trying to move away from the old neighborhood and get a place in New York. And, we saw Sally Draper finally call her parents on their cold, emotionless behavior.
Spoilers ahead.
This week's episode started with what I've decided is my favorite "Mad Men" scene to date: that image of Grandpa Gene and Sally in the family car, with Sally driving. She's got the wheel and Gene is pushing the pedals. It's a questionable move, especially considering Gene's somewhat fragile state. But he seems to be in control and Sally is, indeed, having the time of her life. We actually see the little girl smile -- and it's a genuine smile, not a polite formality or an attempt to garner Mom and Dad's approval. Sally's enjoying herself, and it's nice to see.
In fact, would you agree with me that, despite his somewhat age-inappropriate driving lessons (and the gift of the German helmet to Bobby), Gene is actually a much better parent to Bobby and Sally than either Don or Betty? I mean, he talks to the kids. He spends time with them. He encourages them (his talk with Sally, when he told her she was smart and could be whoever she wanted, was really sweet). He treats them like people, not little appendages.
I must say, I'm really surprised at the way the Gene storyline has gone. I was really expecting his unstable state to result in a lot more tension in the Draper house. And there is tension. Betty doesn't like hearing her dad talk about his impending death. Don REALLY doesn't like Gene talking to Bobby about the horrors of war (I kind of agree with him, but at least Gene is TALKING to Bobby, Don).
Yet Gene is really good to Bobby and Sally. And Sally, at least, is old enough to notice the difference between a parental figure who is attentive and one who is not. She's grown fond of her grandpa -- and, I'm sure, secretly loves hearing him talk about a time when her perfect mother was fat.
So, Sally is hit particularly hard when Gene doesn't pick her up from school to take her to ballet. When a frazzled Betty shows up instead, we see a return to the old, sullen, frightened Sally -- not the joyous little girl she was around Gene.
We soon learn why Gene wasn't there: he passed out and died in the supermarket while buying peaches for Sally. Betty is sad but Sally is downright devastated. Later, when Sally hears the grown-ups reminiscing about Gene, she's horrified when they start laughing. And our brave little girl steps up and totally calls them out. Grandpa is dead, she shouts. He isn't coming back. And you're acting like nothing happened. It's totally not in keeping with the Betty Draper, hold-it-all-in model of womanhood and Don and Betty are baffled.
But good for Sally. Maybe she has a shot at growing up to be a normal, emotionally healthy adult after all. Yes, Gene died, but he was around long enough for the little girl to know what affection and love feel like. She knows that the brusque way her parents treat her isn't how all grownups behave. She has a somewhat clearer idea of what normal is now, I think. So, maybe -- just maybe -- she'll be all right.
Elsewhere, on the Sterling Cooper side of things, we saw Pete take on a new client, the aforementioned rich kid with the fairly undignified nickname of Ho Ho. Ho Ho wants to make Jai Alai the national sport. He wants to film a TV show with a Jai Alai superstar named Patchy and broadcast it on every network. He wants magazine spreads, newspaper ads -- the works. Everyone knows the campaign is destined to be a failure, but Ho Ho has money and is willing to spend it like crazy. Don, once again showing something resembling a conscience, is uncomfortable with this. He feels like they're taking advantage of Ho Ho, so he tries to run interference. He talks to Bert Cooper, who is also alarmed, and calls in the boy's father. But Daddy is pretty resigned to his son's foolishness by now. There's nothing he can do. Don takes one last stab at reasoning with Ho Ho, over dinner with him and Pete (by the way -- how great was Pete's terrified expression when he realized that Don was trying to talk Ho Ho out of spending all that money?). But Ho Ho is resolute. And, we learn, this is actually an attempt to impress his dad. Ho Ho has a dream of giving his dad a Jai Alai team for his 75th birthday. It's sad because we know this will never work. And, even if it did, I imagine Ho Ho's pops wouldn't really appreciate his new Jai Alai team.
Meanwhile, Peggy is trying to move out of Brooklyn and get a place in Manhattan. She, a bit foolishly, places an ad for a roommate in the Sterling Cooper lunchroom, and Kinsey and company enlist a secretary to use it as fodder for some prank phone calls. Then Joan, of all people, offers help. Don't advertise here, she says. And don't be so formal. An apartment in Manhattan is supposed to be an adventure! Peggy takes her advice and ends up with Karen, a sweet, exuberant girl who I predict will be a terrible fit with Peggy as a roommate (the look on Peggy's face when Karen explains that she'll date anyone but a sailor was priceless). Eventually, it comes time for Peggy to tell her mom that she's leaving Brooklyn and Mom is PISSED. "You'll get raped, you know," is her supportive reply.
Here are some more thoughts on "Arrangements."
* I didn't mention this week's fourth subplot, in which Sal was enlisted to direct the Patio commercial. The most notable thing about this story was how it led to the scene between Sal and his poor wife in their bedroom. Kitty goes from trying to seduce Sal to comforting him when she sees his anxiety about his new project. Then, there's her reaction when Sal acts out his commercial concept for her. Sal's performance is quite something, complete with seductive twists and turns and racing toward the camera. Kitty, finally, realizes that this is NOT most husbands' idea of "performing in the bedroom," and is kind of shaken by this realization. Will she repress this epiphany and just go on with their lives, pretending that she doesn't know her husband is gay? Or will she cut and run? I'm thinking the former, as this is "Mad Men," where almost no one is capable of saving themselves.
* By the way, the Patio people don't like the commercial, even though it's exactly what they asked for. And Peggy, who objected to the concept right from the start, is silently smug. Check out her "I told you so" glance at Don as she leaves the room following the presentation. Oh, Peggy -- no one like a know-it-all.
* Holy Hell -- they broke Bert Cooper's ant farm! Well, mom always said, don't play Jai Alai in the Sterling Cooper visitor's office.
* A nice, sad touch at the episode's end: Sally goes to sleep clutching "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," the book she and grandpa were reading together. Sigh. Poor Gene.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Joss Whedon is trying to bribe me

It's well known among those who cover TV that the Fox network sends out the best promotional swag with screeners of its shows. For last year's "24" premiere, they sent out a Jack Bauer action figure. With the DVD of this season premiere of "Bones," they sent out a Kathy Reich's book and socks (socks!). And, of course, they hand out t-shirts like candy. Over the past couple years, I've gotten a "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" tee, two "House" tees and a makeshift jersey celebrating the network's new sitcom "Brothers" (sorry, guys -- even a free shirt won't make me say nice things about that show).
So, when I received the screener of the season premiere of "Dollhouse," I wasn't surprised to see a t-shirt sharing space with my DVD. But even better than a shirt is the hilarious note from show creator Joss Whedon that accompanied the DVD and the soft, red tee bearing the words "Dollhouse Activewear."
Lest you think Whedon restricts his wit to his series, let me share with you a few excerpts from the note, which is one of the funniest things I've ever received with a screener (yes, funnier than the prescription bottle/pencil holder I got with my "House" DVD).
The note, addressed to "Press Member" starts thusly:
"You hold in your delicate paws a rough cut of "Vows," the first episode of the second season of 'Dollhouse,' premiering Friday, Sept. 25 9 p.m. on Fox. More importantly, you also hold a free t-shirt! So that's a thumbs-up right there, no? I mean, do you even have to watch the show? It's clearly t-shirt-tastic! Did 'Grey's Anatomy' send you a shirt? They did? (Did they send any extra? I'd kill.)"
The note goes on to reference how "Dollhouse" barely evaded cancellation and garnered a second season or, as it's put in the memo "Like a man with the bright-eyed euphoria of narrowly escaped death, "Dollhouse" is coming back from a hilariously unexpected non-cancellation with a verve, a joy and a visceral excitement that borders on manic."
After that, there's some more info on the show and a couple references to series co-star Olivia Williams's hair (apparently she has a new haircut). Look, I liked "Dollhouse" quite a bit last season, particularly the later episodes. And, if the new season is half as energetic and witty as this note, I'm sold. The t-shirt also helps.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"Rescue Me" season finale recap: "Drink"

Wow. I mean, um, wow. What a bizarre, powerful unexpected way to end the fifth season of FX's already tough (yet hilarious) drama "Rescue Me." Last night we saw Tommy face very real consequences to both his drinking and his destructive relationships. His one chance at a relatively healthy relationship with someone he genuinely cares about was snatched away from him, and a distraught Teddy went from being a buffoon to an avenging angel bent on punishing Tommy.
It was dark and disturbing and I'm not sure where they'll go from here. I will say that this season was the series' strongest in a while. Though it lagged in spots (how could it not? At 22 episodes, this is the show's longest season ever), it had more than its fair share of powerful moments and hilarity. The opening scene a few weeks ago, set in the supermarket, was one of the funniest things I've seen on TV all year -- right up there with Jason Stackhouse posing as a god on "True Blood" and Peggy Olson requesting a joint on "Mad Men." I also like the way the show surprises me, as with the plot involving Lou's marriage to Candy, the hooker who stole from him back in season two. I totally thought she'd scam him again, or that he'd eventually become so suspicious of her that he'd drive her away. Instead, he figured out that the marriage was a sham all on his own and extracted a tidy, efficient revenge.
Anyway, I really want to talk about last night's episode, particularly that last scene. Read no further if you don't want spoilers.
So let's talk about that final scene. First things first -- do you think Tommy will die? I mean, with any other show, that's a no-brainer. Tommy is the star of the show and, ordinarily, he'd be beyond safe. But star Denis Leary has joked before that he plans to suddenly kill off the entire cast in the middle of a season. So maybe he and co-creator Peter Tolan would kill off Tommy. Maybe they'd have him be a ghost, lingering around the edges of his friends' lives the way that Jimmy lingers around Tommy's life. I don't think that would be a show I'd like to watch (as it is, I feel that a little of the ghost stuff goes a long way), but it would be daring. Anyway, aside from that question, I was shocked by the episode. Teddy has always been a purely comic character, a sidekick to both Tommy and his dad. He's gotten angry before, and even violent (he did shoot the drunken driver who killed Connor). But I never thought he was capable of this, even after Ellie's death. Still, it makes sense that he would blame Tommy for what happened. Now, I'm pretty sure that Teddy was drinking before the failed intervention at the bar (remember him telling Tommy how booze helped him process Tommy's dad's death?), but he wouldn't see it that way. And he did make a point -- Tommy does emerge unscathed, at least physically, while everyone around him is hurt or killed. The thing about this scene that I didn't believe was the inaction of the other firefighters. They face possible death every day. You're telling me that they wouldn't jump Teddy, particularly when his back was turned, and try to steal the gun? These men aren't cowards. Of course, they all have reasons to be angry with Tommy, too. But I doubt they wanted him to die. Why didn't they do something?
At any rate, excellent work by the actors in this scene, particularly Lenny Clarke as Teddy, who doesn't often get the showy speeches. He showed he can carry it off admirably. Also, between this and last week's moving storyline involving Black Sean, the show is really showing an interest in utilizing all of its fine actors (not just Leary who, good as he is, can be a little too dominant at times).
Here are some other thoughts on the fifth season finale, "Drink."
* Finally, we get a Janet/Sheila showdown. And, finally, we get some indication that the Janet/Tommy/Sheila lust triangle is ending (please, God, let it stop). Janet served Tommy with divorce papers and Sheila finally did something so terrible to Tommy that he'll, I hope, never forgive her. Hurting Kelly and ruining Tommy's one shot at happiness was, as Janet pointed out, a low point even for Sheila. Though I don't advocate violence against women, Tommy's revenge on Sheila was a long time in coming. It was actually pretty tame, considering all the stuff she's done to him over the years.
* Poor Damian, coming home to find his mom handcuffed, sweaty and gross. Wait until he learns where the handcuff key is. Awk-Ward!
* Wow, those Gavin girls are a chip off the old block, huh? Katie wasted no time drugging her baby brother and locking her babysitter in the basement before escaping with her dad. "You must be so proud," deadpans Lou.
* Overall, there wasn't much to laugh about this episode, with the Kelly plot and the Teddy plot giving us mainly drama. But you can't beat this line from Kelly, about the horrible Sheila: "That little one was like Joe Pesci with t---!"
What did you think?