Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Glee - "Britney/Brittany"

      FOX's Glee went two for two this season with this week's installment, "Britney/Brittany." The lesson plan was adult contemporary, but the kids has something different in mind: Britney Spears. They had a point, saying that they had grown up with the pop star, and that had influenced their lives. Too often Britney Spears is thought of as a joke, and she has become that. But don't forget the impact she made when she was at her zenith, and the crop of young female stars she inspired to follow in her footsteps. The Glee kids are not immune to Spears's history.

     The singer herself appeared in cameos, as several of the musical numbers were done as fantasy sequences. Britney was only there in the dream, and never actually joined the plot. Still, it was nice that she showed up.

     The second part of the title refers to the character of Brittany (Heather Morris), airhead cheerleader, newly minted as a full-time cast member, and now revealed to possess the full name Brittany S. Pierce. Because of the similarities between her moniker and the famous pop star's, Brittany has always felt like she was in Britney's shadow, and so at first resisted the other kids' urging to do Spears music. Then a trip to the dentist, involving being put under by hallucinogenic gas, changed that. She soon was performing "I'm a Slave 4 U." And Morris proved that she could handle some very tough singing and dancing, more than justifying her place in the cast.

     In fact, all of the Britney dance numbers seemed more complicated than the usual Glee fare. I assume that is why there were many backup dancers we have never seen before and probably won't soon see again, instead of just using the rest of the cast. The production value of several numbers matched Ms. Spears's own, with copies of her costumes and dance steps.

     Among the songs hit were Rachel (Lea Michele) doing "...Baby One More Time" as she lamented about her boyfriend, Finn (Cory Monteith), and the entire cast performing a version of "Toxic" that had the school up in arms. So much so that Coach Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch) declared it a sex riot and pulled the fire alarm. Artie (Kevin McHale) also turned "Stronger" into a buff number for the football team, and somehow the masculine performance succeeded. I'm not sure how, as I didn't expect it to, but it just worked.

     The entire episode wasn't concerned with the theme of the week, however. There was plenty of time for emotional development. Rachel and Finn worked out a balance in their relationship, though Rachel resorted to trickery to test their bond. Finn passed, but I worry about ramifications if he finds out what she did. With all the trouble they had getting to where they are, basically all of last season, I'd hate to see it crumble so quickly. Finn, along with Artie, also got to join the football team, as Coach Beiste (Dot-Marie Jones) realized that their pleas last week were genuine.

     Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison), along with the viewers, met Emma's (Jayma Mays) boyfriend, Carl (John Stamos). Carl was worked into the plot, as several of the Glee Club members sought his medical treatment. Will and Carl faced off for Emma's affections, though I believe this was just the start of their competition. Stamos appeared in at least one fantasy, but was not given the opportunity to sing and dance. With his Broadway resume, I'm sure it's just a matter of time until he does, and I look forward to it. We also got our first glimpse this season of the former Mrs. Schuester (Jessalyn Gilsig), who is insanely jealous of Emma and will certainly use her own brand of crazy to try to win Will back.

     So far, so good. This second episode continued the improvements over season one exhibited last week. I hope the show continues to move forward. The only way it will stay a phenomenon is if it keeps growing. The first year was great, but had plenty of weaknesses, as I addressed in my review of last week's season premiere, and which have mostly disappeared. The only problem I can pinpoint in this episode was that Britney Spears was featured, but Kurt (Chris Colfer) didn't get a solo. This was right in his wheelhouse! But the rest was fantastic. Keep it up, guys!

     Tune into Glee Tuesday nights at 8pm on FOX.

Article first published as TV Review: Glee - "Britney/Brittany" on Blogcritics.

Undercovers popularizes sexpionage

    For those viewers still missing Alias, among which I count myself, NBC's new show, Undercovers is the next best thing.  It has action, excitement, adventure, international travel, romance, cooking, and J. J. Abrams.  All of the necessary ingredidents to create one hell of a spy show.  Plus, after just one week, it has coined a term sure to grown in the pop culture lexicon: sexpionage.

     The series stars Boris Kodjoe (Soul Food) and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Spooks, Doctor Who) as husband and wife Steven and Samantha Bloom.  Both were top spies for the C.I.A., but kept the details of their classified lives from each other.  When they decide to tie the knot, the gave up the job to run a catering business together, retiring from the dangerous but titilating game they played.  By the way, Samantha's somewhat inept sister, Lizzy (Mekia Cox, 90210) works for them, so they have someone to keep them grounded.  As the pilot begins, they have been in this comfortable, but boring, state for five years.  But it doesn't stay that way for long.

     Leo Nash (Carter MacIntyre, American Heiress), a former partner and boyfriend of Samantha's, who trained with Steven, has gone missing, and may be defecting from the U.S.  Unknown to his friends, Leo has been captured by some Russians, but that's all part of his strategy to take down a dangerous man.  Agent Shaw (Gerald McRaney, Jericho, Major Dad) is reluctantly sent to bring the Blooms back into the fold, enlisting their help to find Leo.  Shaw is not happy about re-recruiting them, but he also isn't telling them (or the audience) the real reason why it is so essential the reactive the Blooms, when there are plenty of capable agents working already.

     Steven and Samantha both claim to be happy in suburbia, but separately approach Shaw to accept the job, on the condition that the spouse not be told.  It is quickly revealed that they both have the same idea, and with the help of Bill Hoyt (Ben Schwartz), who worships Steven, they set off to do the job.  It's a good thing they've both kept in shape and their skills remained honed.  Boy, would it have been embarassing if Steven's beer gut got in the way!  Yet, somehow despite their unhappiness with the status quo, they are still the same people who left the spy business, which makes for much sexier television.  The Blooms, despite having never worked together until after their wedding, already have a great rhytm and chemistry down.  I assume this is because that they are both so dedicated to their relationship, which while suffering a bit of a dry spell, is not what they want changed in their lives.  Once the thrill come back, they are able to swiftly reconnect in all aspects of their lives.

     Ok, so as you can see from my last paragraph, there is a bit of cheesiness.  But it's soon forgotten, because the rest of the elements are so nicely laid in place.  It's a fun ride, and well worth a TiVo season pass.  It's telling that I've forgotten to mention til now that it's the first show of it's kind starring an Afrian-American couple.  It's nice we've finally reached a point where that's not a necessary thing to mention, as it's not the slightest bit crucial to the show itself.  The couple is as sexy, inspiring, and heroic as any pair that have come before them.

     And although J. J.'s goodluck charm, Greg Grunberg is nowhere in sight (yet), lists his brother Brad Grunberg in 7 episodes so far.  Perhaps a new era of Grunberg will emerge?

     The second episode of Undercovers airs tonight at 8pm on NBC.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Legal Drama 4 Pack: Chase, Detroit 1-8-7, The Defenders, and The Whole Truth

     Every year there are a slew of cop and legal themed procedurals, but this year, it felt like more than usual.  To save myself some time, I'm combining four of the shows into one review.  This works, because the basic premise of each is the same.  A team of people investigate or defend or prosecute crimes in the name of justice.  The viewer is supposed to root for them.  As a general rule, I have no patience for this type of show.  It tends to be the same thing every week.  If the show title contains Law & Order or CSI, I stay clear of it.  But occasionally a Bones or The Good Wife will slip through, so I try to give them all a chance.  Hawaii Five-0 last week was amazing, and it got it's own full review, which you can read hereBlue Bloods was also pretty good, and here's my review for that.  Finally, Outlaw, because it aired first, got it's own review.  The rest of these weren't nearly as special.  All right, here we go:

Chase (Mondays, 10pm, NBC): Typical cop drama.  I only made it through ten minutes.  I really have nothing more to say about this totally unoriginal snooze fest.

Detroit 1-8-7 (Tuesdays, 10pm, ABC): This reminded me a lot of the quickly-canceled-by-network-and-rescued-by-cable Southland, but with lighting that is easier on the eyes (I can't stand the harsh southwest colors).  It had the documentary feel, which was originally more pronounced, but as backed off a bit when it was re-edited.  It seemed to have smart writing and layered characters.  I acknowledge that this is probably a pretty good show.  It is not my cup of tea, though, so I didn't even make it through the first episode.

The Defenders (Wednesdays, 10pm, CBS): Starring Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell as the owners of a small firm, this entry is set in Las Vegas.  It is a bit wilder than most lawyer dramas, with the characters stepping a toe over the line occasionally.  As a big fan of Boston Legal, The Defenders does seem tame by comparison, but there may be a glimmer of something here.  Enough to earn a second watch, as I already set my TiVo to catch it again this week.  It is helped along by Jurnee Smollett (Friday Night Lights) as a new member of the legal team.

The Whole Truth (Wednesdays, 10pm, ABC): This was my favorite of the four.  It reminded me of old school episdoes of The Practice, but with a new formula.  Maura Tierney (ER, NewsRadio) is the prosecutor and Rob Morrow (Numb3rs) is the defense.  The show alternates viewpoints between the two, up through the trail.  After the verdict has been given, the truth comes out.  As both main characters seem to be good, interesting people who really care about what they do, no matter how the courtroom drama shakes out, the audience is left satisfied.  Plus Tierney and Morrow's characters have a history, and a possible romantic connection, so there's plenty going on.  This is the one that I am rooting for, and will continue watching for the time being.  Unless it gets stale.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Dexter, now with real emotions!

    Showtime's Dexter and it's title character have faced many challenges and changes over four seasons. Dexter (Michael C. Hall) the man grew into his role as a husband and father, and started using the ghost of his dad, Harry (James Remar), as a conscience-slash-debate partner. Dexter has gone from a psychopath with no emotions, to a devoted, caring provider. It has been so rewarding to watch the developments, and so it was disturbing when everything in Dexter's life was thrown so out of whack.

     The disappearance of Harry until late in the episode also raises some interesting questions, as it has never been clear why Dexter talks to his dead father, though since he started only after exhibiting the first signs on humanity, I believe that probably has something to do with it. His missing human side, until the breakdown in the bathroom, coincided with the absence of his father. It's a great replacement for the flashback scenes Remar used to be in, which had grown stale.

     Last season ended with Trinity (John Lithgow, in an Emmy winning performance) killing Dexter's wife, Rita (Julie Benz). Dexter returned home to find his baby son sitting in a pool of Rita's blood. Last night's fifth season premiere "My Bad" is an emotional drama, taking Dexter into inner struggles he wasn't aware existed. With real emotion comes the risk of real depression, and he feels that and more with the loss of Rita. Swallowed up by guilt at not having killed Trinity sooner, regretting that darkness he thinks he brings to people's lives, and feeling inadequate in his place in life, Dexter goes through things his character certainly never expected to experience. It was a truly memorable performance for Hall the actor, who was superb.

     It also leaves Dexter at a major crossroads. Clearly, he has to stop killing if he's going to keep his family safe. He now understands the consequences to other people if he ever gets caught, and he doesn't like it. As season four neared the end, it seemed that he might even try to give up his bad habits, though he insists that he has no control over them. His Dark Passenger won't go away, and he has to deal with it somehow. He clearly is a much better person than Trinity, but he may soon have to choose between the two personas he maintains. I think it might be pretty intriguing to see a non-killer Dexter at some point.

     Dexter truly loved Rita, and only in her death could he confess everything to her, and show her what he truly was. I found myself wishing that she took over as the ghost he speaks to. She will be missed, and her departure from the show will be painful to audiences, just as it is to Dexter himself. She brought out the best in him, and now that role will have to fall to someone else. It won't be easy to replace her.

     The rest of the cast got some meat to work with, too. Dexter's sister Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) has to deal with the brunt of the arrangements for Rita. At least that distracts her from her investigations, which had turned up Dexter's blood relation to the Ice Truck Killer from season one. Deb is too smart for her own good and if anyone does eventually catch Dexter for his murders, my money is on her. Love can only blind a person so much.

     With Dexter checked out, Deb is left helping with his baby, planning a funeral, and trying to get Dexter to speak with the F.B.I., which is investigating Rita's death. Dexter is numb from shock. He never has to process feelings before, and is overwhelmed by them, leaving Deb to worry at the lack of emotional display. It's no wonder that she has a bit of a break, culminating with her rolling around on the kitchen floor with her partner, Quinn (Desmond Harrington).

     Quinn joined the cast in season three, and I've viewed him mostly as a dull, unworthy replacement for his predecessor, Doakes (Erik King). That started to change late in season four, and Quinn actually has something useful to do this year. No one has really suspected Dexter of any misbehavior since Doakes was killed and blamed for the bodies Dexter had dropped into the ocean. Now as everyone in the department seeks to comfort the blood spatter analyst, Quinn is taking a hard look at him as a suspect. This is one murder that Dexter hasn't committed, but it can't possibly be a good thing for the serial killer to be investigated.

     There are plenty of other subplots, from the flashbacks to Dexter's terrible first date with Rita, to Rita's daughter, Astor (Christina Robinson), having to display acting talent, with her mother dead. While it isn't clear what will become of Astor and her brother, I'm assuming Dexter will take them in, as he has shown plenty of protectiveness towards them. But these are minor parts that enhance the whole, not drive the story.

     All in all, "My Bad" is a surreal experience of an episode, taking a break from ongoing story lines to delve deeply into a truly unique character's head. Taken as a stand-alone piece, it is truly a remarkable hour. Added to what's come before, it provides a splendid showcase of the best parts of a great series, as well as stretching the actors in new and exciting ways.

     Tune into Dexter Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on Showtime. If you haven't discovered it yet, it's one of the best shows currently on television. It provides more varied shades of gray than an old black and white television set

Article first published as TV Review: Dexter, Now With Real Emotions! on Blogcritics.

House is back in the house (excuse the pun)

    Last Monday, audiences were treated to the seventh season premiere of Fox's House M.D. (usually just referred to as House).  Tonight, we get another new episode.  But before we do, I'd like to take a look at last week's story, and reflect on how awesome it was.

     Season six ended with Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) and his boss, Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) in his bathroom, her coming in before he could take the drugs he had been avoiding taking, and some definite romantic context to the situation.  Season seven picked up right where that left off with "Now What?".  House and Cuddy spend the day in his apartment, finally consumating a love that has been simmering between them for many years.  Every moment of the episode with the two of them is pitch perfect for these characters, and played absolutely flawlessly by two very talented actors.  I'll admit, I wasn't taken with Cuddy, and have often found her a bit annoying.  She was probably the last member of the cast to grow on me, but even I had had to bow down to her this week.  I am fully on board this train.

     The ultimate question between House and Cuddy is, can they make a relationship work?  She gave up a much more stable fiance to be with him.  He has a history of screwing up relationships, despite being a secret romantic.  While he has softened, he isn't likely to fundamentally change.  Plus, the who employer-employee dynamic will shift.  Yet, I think they have a good shot.  Cuddy is willing to accept him for who he is.  When House tells her that it won't last, she confronts him, makes him air his issues, and they come to a resolution.  The only doubt planted in me at present comes from the uneasy looks on both of their faces at the end of the episode, after she exits the apartment to go home.  But is that foreshadowing of doom?  Or just an acknowledgement that there will be some serious things to work through before happy ever after?

     I found Wilson's (Robert Sean Leonard) efforts to invade the apartment and confront House humorous, and among his best scenes in the series.  Wilson had every reason to believe that House was undergoing an emotional crisis.  But when he finally did get in, and House seemed to lie to him about Cuddy, who hid in the closet, he left.  Is he going to feel left out of the new dynamic?  Probably not too much, considering his first ex-wife, Sam (Cynthia Watros, Lost) will be taking up much of his time.

     The subplot of "Now What?" involved a bit of an emergency at the hospital, where the only current neurosurgeon around got sick and had to be go home, which threatened to remove the hospital's Level One Trauma Center status and shut down key areas of the building.  House was aware of the going ons, but kept Cuddy in the dark, tasking his team to figure it out.  Which they went at great lenghts to do, typically showed their brilliant diagnosis skills, and proved that they can handle some things without their anti-social boss presiding over them.

     An unanswered question, though, is where did Thirteen (Olivia Wilde) go?  She turned in a leave of absence form on House's desk, but knowing that her colleagues would open it, lied about exactly why she wanted time off.  They were under the impression she would be undergoing experimental therapy to treat a medical condition.  Their reactions were interesting, and telling.  Taub (Peter Jacobson) supported her.  Foreman (Omar Epps) finally got over his malice over their breakup, and actually offered to go with her for support.  Chase (Jesse Spencer) tried, unsuccessfully, to sleep with her.  But none, including us in the audience, learned the truth.  Wilde will be filming two movies before her return, so the question is likely to stay unanswered for awhile.  However, the theme song was finally changed to include her and Taub, so her come back is pretty much guaranteed.

     If you're a House fan, I must admit that my review very much pales in comparison to a much longer, in depth look at the episode written by BlogCritic editor and author Barbara Barnett, which can be found here.  She writes with much depth and insight, and I highly recommend checking her's out if you're more than a casual viewer.  Her credentials are solid, and I am currently in the middle of her House companion book, Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., now on sale.  It is truly excellent.

     House airs Monday nights, including tonight, at 8pm on Fox.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Blue Bloods is a cop drama with a twist

    CBS is known for its crime and legal procedurals. What makes Blue Bloods different is that it is also a family show. Three generations of one family serve the New York City Police Department in different capacities. Each has his (or her) own unique opinions and tasks, but they work as part of a very large team to serve the greater good. Perhaps in part because of the amazing cast assembled, it works.

     Len Cariou (Damages) is Henry Reagan, the eldest, and though we didn't find out much about him in the pilot, it seems he made some mistakes that made his retirement necessary.  But Henry still dons the uniform to watch the newest member of the family, his grandson Jamie (Will Estes, Reunion, American Dreams), get sworn in on the force. Jamie, once on the path to becoming a lawyer, has chosen instead to pursue the family occupation.

     Jamie is coming into things in a very different time from his grandfather's era. The corruption supposedly has been cleaned up, and crime rates are down across the city. Yet, Jamie's brother Joe, who died on the job before the series begins, had been investigating a secret society within the NYPD known as the Blue Templar. Jamie is quickly recruited to help finish the work his brother started, but we are given the impression that he's getting mixed up into something pretty dangerous. I'm not sure he understands that, as his biggest qualm seems to be keeping the investigation secret from his father, Police Chief Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck, the Jesse Stone TV movies, Friends, Magnum P.I.).

     Frank is running into some difficulty, as he has always placed the public ahead of the political game. It has made him popular with the people, but not with his bosses. It may be a similar situation to what Henry encountered, though I can't be sure of that. It is so great to see Selleck back on a series that his presence alone is enough to warrant watching the show. He plays the reigning patriarch (Henry seems retired from that as well) as warm and supporting, but also strong. He loves his family and wants everyone in it to be happy, and sees the city as an extension of that. It's a great role for Selleck, who can convey emotion effectively without a lot of words.

     The star of the first episode was clearly Detective Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg, Band of Brothers). The former New Kids on the Block member can handle the serious drama required for the police work. His character has a lot of heart, but also a lot of heat. When questioning a suspected child abductor, he had no problem shoving the suspect's head in the toilet, which led to the confession being thrown out of evidence. Given the choice between saving the young victim's life (she needed an insulin shot urgently), or playing by the rules, he chose the former, and clearly would again.

     Which makes Danny a headache for sister Erin (Bridget Moynahan, Six Degrees, Sex and the City), who rejected the cop career to work for the District Attorney. It was her responsibility to bring the kidnapper to justice, but she couldn't because of her brother's actions.

     The family dynamic makes this show good. Their dinner table reminded me of the Walkers (Brothers & Sisters).  Blue Bloods airs Friday nights at 10pm on CBS, and I strongly suggest you check it out.

Article first published as TV Review: Blue Bloods is a Cop Drama With a Twist on Blogcritics.

Saturday Night Live premieres with Amy Poehler

     NBC may be (unfairly) holding Parks and Recreation until mid-season, but Amy Poehler returned to the network this week as host of Saturday Night Live's season premiere.  Not only did Amy show up, brought she brought a multitude of friends with her.  In her awesome monologue, she relayed a dream she had supposedly had the night before, and the sequence was filmed for our enjoyment.  She had a kissing scene with Justin Timberlake, who proclaimed her a horrible kisser. Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon taunted her, saying they were back, and she would not be doing the Weekend Update segment.  A polar bear devoured her friend Rachel Dratch.  The whole thing was bizarre, and also very funny.

     SNL has been uneven for awhile now.  One could argue that last season was pretty bad, on the whole.  This week's episode was mostly polished and sharp.  While Amy's friends did fill in during the monologue, only a couple of them appeared in skits, so they can't get all of the credit for improving the quality of the show.  Justin Timberlake was in one very short skit with Andy Samberg called "Actor II Actor".  There wasn't much to it, but I laughed out loud the entire time.  Maya Rudolph also returned for a brand new "Bronx Beat", which featured Katy Perry in a sly nod to her Seasame Street video that was cut.  Perry also returned for an Oscar segment that was probably the worst part of the episode.

     Two cast members, that I noticed, are no longer with SNL.  Jenny Slade had not been on the show that long, and she's gone.  Also, Will Forte resigned.  I do not know if his departure had anything to do with the box office failure of the Macgruber movie, but it wouldn't surprise me.  The show added four new cast members to this year's lineup, but they weren't featured much, so it's hard to form an opinion yet.  My current favorite, who really stood out this week despite very limited screen time, is Nasim Pedrad.  I wasn't overly impressed with her last year, but her mock of Edie Falco in Nurse Jackie was spot on, and she also could easily replace Amy Poehler in the "Rick" sketches.

     The one did a Will Smith impression during Weekend Update that marked the only blemish in that part of the show.  Update was fantastic this week, with one of the best "Really!?! With Seth and Amy"s of all time, covering Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and gays in the military.  The real Governor David Patterson also showed up to face-off with his rival, and played along with the recurring bits.  My favorite sketch of this week's episode was probably the Mosque commercial.  The sad part is, there are people in this country that would take that seriously.

     Next week Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) will be the host, and Kanye West is the musical guest.  Tune into NBC Saturday nights at 11:30 to watch the show.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Smallville's final season and the return of Lex Luthor

If you have not watched Smallville's 10th Season premiere, "Lazarus", please watch it before reading this review, as it contains plenty of spoilers about that episode.

You may want to click here to read my review of Smallville's 9th season finale, "Salvation", last May.

     The single most important thing in Smallville's 10th season is this: Lex Luthor is back.  Michael Rosenbaum, the actor who played him for most of the series, is not, but the writers have gotten creative in getting around that absence.  In the first episode, Clark (Tom Welling) is told once again that Lex will be his biggest foe, but he wonders at that, as Lex was last seen blowing up two years ago.  Tess (Cassidy Freeman), who was seen dying the in the hospital at the end of season nine, wakes up in a lab miraculously healed.  She is surrounded by Lex clones, some closer to the real Lex than others.  The worst of the batch escapes, killing almost all of the others, except for a young child version named Alexander (Jakob Davies), whom Tess takes home with her.

     I don't believe that the bad Lex clone will be the true nemesis that Clark will have to face.   He's already dying, and he lis considerably older than Lex.  Even though the bad clone says that the creator died two years ago, I have my doubts.  For one thing, who was in the hood, rescuing Tess? Sure, there will be other villains besides Lex this season, but without a strong Lex presence in the series finale, the last episode is sure to feel off.  I don't know why Rosenbaum keeps resisting overtures, but his return would be much more satisfying than having another actor take over this late in the game.

     The most compelling plot in the premiere, and likely throughout the season, is Clark's battle with inner darkness.  In the premiere, we see both a supportive Jor-El (Terrence Stamp), who wants Clark to vanquish his foes, and one who has deep doubts about whether Clark will ultimately be a villain or a hero.  Because Clark's encounters with Jor-El are dream-like sequences, there is no real way to tell which, if either, actually happened.  However, as Clark's Superman suit ended up in the Fortress at the end of the episode, the disappointed Jor-El is more likely the correct one.  The nice one may well have been Jonathan Kent (John Schneider), who returned to tell Clark how proud he was of his son, and express his faith that Clark would do the right thing.  Jonathan died years ago on the show, but his trippy return may have been something real in some way.  If Clark can talk to his deceased Kryptonian father, why not his human one, too?  Whatever it was, Schneider's return was welcome.

     With only four and a half main characters this year, Smallville is spending the money saved on principal actors by bringing back plenty of important guest stars.  Besides Jonathan Kent, also set to return this season are John Glover as Lionel Luther, who is also dead, Laura Vandervoort (V) as Clark's cousin, Kara, and quite likely Kristin Kreuk as Lana Lang, at least in flashback.  I don't much care if the deal with Kruek is finalized or not, as Lana had a fine ending, and there is no real need to see her again.  Keri Lynn Pratt will be bringing to life the comic book character of Kat Grant beginning with next week's episode, "Shield".  As long as Momma Kent (Annette O'Toole) and Perry White (her real-life husband, Michael McKean) come back as well, everyone essential will be covered.

     It must also be noted that Allison Mack, who plays the only original cast member left besides Clark, Chloe Sullivan, is only doing a limited number of episodes in the final season.  She remains in the theme song, at least in the first episode, but she traded herself to save Oliver (Justin Hartley) from his torturers, so I think it unlikely we will be seeing her again soon.  She has promised to return, and we can only hope she does a sizeable arc that includes the finale, as Chloe is such an essential part of the show.

     And with all that going on, Lois (Erica Durance) discovering Clark's secret was actually played quite minorly in the episode.  It's a huge event in the Superman saga, so I was surprised at how little it impacted the main plot, though she did have to be saved by evil Lex, and it did spur her to leave for Africa.  Her discovery will surely have lasting effects, though, and I doubt that the meat of it has been played out.

     Smallville airs Friday nights at 8pm on the CW.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Outsourced a bit better than expected

     I was quite perturbed to learn that NBC was holding Parks and Recreation until mid-season.  I admit that, because it shows that I was already biased against the network's newest sitcom, Outsourced, for pushing a great show off of the fall schedule.  The cheesy commercials for Outsourced didn't help, either, so when I sat down to watch it, I wasn't expecting much.  It wasn't terrible.  I'm not saying it's great.  But this cast of pretty much all newcomers delivered a few funny gags, but also, unexpectedly, some real heart.

     Ben Rappaport stars as Todd Dempsy.  Fresh out of manager training, he learns that the call center that he worked at has been outsourced to India, with all of the American employees being let go, save for him.  That is, as long as he is willing to move halfway around the globe to run the center where it is not based.  Reluctantly, because he is saddled with college debt and needs the job (highly relatable to today's audience), Todd takes the promotion and is off.

     The first worked Todd meets is Rajiv (Rizwan Manji, Privileged), the assistant manager who wants Todd's job.  Whether he gets it because Todd is promoted back to the states, or fails miserably and is fired, he doesn't care.  Because of that, he has hired a staff that isn't exactly the best in the business.  And yet, they don't seem that bad.  Perhaps it's Todd's inspired leadership, but whatever the reason, by the end of episode one, most of them were doing quite well.  That's where the heart comes in.  Todd refuses to give up on any of the misfits, believing that they can all succeed.  He may still be on a high from his management training, but it works.  Even Madhuri (Anisha Nagarajan), whom Rajiv hired just to fire in front of the other employees to scare them, manages to sell an add-on.

     The cast is populated with a few interesting characters.  One is a man in a turban who had no lines, but always left the room when Todd showed up.  I am curious what that is about.  I also liked Manmeet (Sacha Dhawan), despite his terrible name.  He just seems so enthusiastic about life, the job, and women, it's hard not to catch a little of his good spirits.  I'm sure many of the other minor characters will begin to stand out over time.  It's sort of like The Office with a competent boss.

     Of course, there is romantic tension already set up in the pilot.  Todd's two love interests are clearly going to be beautiful native Asha (Rebecca Hazlewood), who seems like the smartest person on his staff, and the Australian manager of another call center in the building, Tonya (Pippa Black, Neighbours).  Todd's foil will be the far less tolerant Charlie (Diedrich Bader, The Drew Carey Show), another call center manager.  His part seemed unnecessary, and unless they improve his dialogue, I'm hoping that his tenure on Outsourced is short lived.

     I am still wishing that Parks and Recreation gets back on the air soon.  It is far superior to Outsourced.  However, the latter delivers more than just stereotypes (more jokes were had at the expense of Americans than Indians), and it will be worth watching at least a couple more episodes.

     Outsourced airs Thursday nights at 9:30 on NBC.

The Big Bang Theory delivers smartest humor on TV

     Last night, CBS's The Big Bang Theory returned to begin it's fourth season.  There are plenty of great sitcoms on television.  I've watched a great number of them them week, both new series, and old favorites.  However, Big Bang emerges as the most enjoyable.  It has such a polished cast of characters at this point, and feels fresh because of the inclusion of Mayim Bialik (Blossom), who was introduced in the season finale last spring.

     Jim Parsons recently won the Emmy for playing Sheldon Cooper, an incredibly smart scientists with little to no social skills.  What works best on Big Bang is the chemistry between Parsons and Kaley Cuoco, who portrays ditzy, slightly slutty neighbor Penny.  Sheldon and Penny are from two totally different worlds, but somewhere along the way, Penny was sweet enough to begin to feel a fondness for Sheldon.  Sure, he gets on her nerves frequently, but the two have formed an odd friendship.

     Last night, Penny finally learned of Amy (Bialik), pretty much the female version of Sheldon, and encouraged Sheldon to go on his first ever date with her.  He agreed, but only because he thought that text messaging would not 'provide the required intimacy' that he and Amy would need to share if they made a genetically superior test tube baby from their shared DNA.  He has no romantic or sexual interest in Amy, or anyone else for that matter.  He also does not have a driver's license, and so Penny ended up being the third wheel.  The dinner conversation, where Sheldon and Amy talked of mathematically calculating all of Penny's sexual partners, was one of the finest moments of the series.

     Amy is an interesting women who certainly brings a new dynamic.  Is she interested in Sheldon sexually?  It's hard to tell.  She certainly does not object to his company.  We are told that they have been texting and tweeting constantly for four months.  But it's unclear whether they have just found kindred spritis in one another, or if there is something more.  There is certainly is not from Sheldon's perspective, because he has no time to think of such pedestrian pursuits.  Which suggests that perhaps Amy is the same way.  Therefore, should things progress between them, there must be an outside catalyst acting to cause the merge, most likely Penny.

     The other characters had an amusing plot as well, though not nearly as side-splittingly funny as the above occurence.  Howard (Simon Helberg) brought his work home with him.  Namely, a robotic arm he had created to do outside repairs to the space station.  He quickly discovered it could do more remedial tasks, as well as help him out sexually.  This led to an uncomfortable situation when Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Raj (Kunal Nayyar) had to take him to the hospital to separate man from machine.  It was a bit raunchy, but provided a few good one-liners.

     With such a promising start, it's easy to believe that this season may top the previous three, which is a pretty tall order, considering how great the show has been in the past.  Tune into The Big Bang Theory on CBS on it's new night and time, Thursdays at 8pm.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Glee returns much improved with "Audition"

Be warned — spoilers below!

     Lest you attack me for my article title, I loved the first season of FOX's Glee. Finally, a show that combined good storytelling with entertaining musical numbers! The problem with the first season, though, was that the storytelling was just good, not great. Sometimes the plot meandered. Other times, it felt like twists happened just to fit the songs that had been slotted for the episode. Glee had many great qualities, but it was also lacking in a few critical areas.

     All of that was fixed by the season two premiere, "Audition." I can't point to a single weak spot in the first episode back. Spoilers will be rampant below, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, I suggest you bookmark this article and go watch it.

     The magic started with the opening credits. I knew that fan favorites Brittany (Heather Morris) and Santana (Naya Rivera) had been upgraded to series regulars, but I had no idea that the same courtesy had been extended to father-of-the-year, Burt Hummel (Mike O'Malley). Perhaps the Emmys helped him with that. The three are the only upgrades appearing in the first episode, though Burt sat the premiere out, along with a couple of the other starring adults.

     The music selections were amazing. From "New York State of Mind" to "Telephone" to "Billionaire," each enhanced the story, and was used to further the plot, rather than stop it. Rachel (Lea Michele) even got to finish the show by belting out a Broadway staple, her strong suit. It no longer felt like the songs were decided first and then the story written around them.

     Almost all of the main characters had interesting personal developments during the three months off. Rachel and Finn (Cory Monteith) are now in a serious relationship. Artie (Kevin McHale) lost Tina (Jenna Ushkowitz) to Mike (Harry Shum Jr., the only member of the club left who is not a series regular) because he ignored her. Finn attempted to help Artie win her back, and his efforts got him kicked off of the football team, calling into question his whole identity. Solid developments, all.

     Despite the focus on the core cast, there were plenty of new characters. My favorite was the female football coach, Beast (Dot Jones, The Boondock Saints, Patch Adams). She was introduced as a stereotype, but was fleshed out and sympathetic by the midway point of the episode. As much as I loved the Will (Matthew Morrison) and Sue (Jane Lynch) team-up, I loved even more when Will followed his moral code and apologized to Beast.

     Other new singers were also introduced. Sam (Chord Overstreet) is a new kid who gets Finn's place on the football team, and rejects the club to be cool. Sunshine (Charice) was a threat to Rachel's place in New Directions, until the diva alienated her enough to send her into the arms of their arch-rival, Vocal Adrenaline. Both could be really cool characters, and I look forward to their return.

     Part of what makes Glee succeed are the cast of recurring minor parts, and the premiere did not leave them out. "Audition" opened with great documentary interviews provided by Jacob Ben Israel (Josh Sussman, Warren the Ape), and Becky Jackson (Lauren Potter) sat in on Cheerio tryouts with Sue. I would be remiss if I did not mention Principal Figgins (Iqbal Theba), who had more than the usual refereeing to do in the first episode back.

     All in all, it was an unexpectedly awesome start for Glee's sophomore season. If they can maintain the fine tuning to an already hit formula, this show will only go up from here. Kudos to all involved.
Glee airs Tuesday nights at 9pm

Article first published as TV Review: Glee Returns Much Improved With "Audition" on Blogcritics.

Hawaii Five-0: TiVo 'Em, Danno!

     CW, take note. This is how you remake a classic television show. I was too young to have watched the original (it ended three years before I was born), but I loved the pilot of the new Hawaii Five-0 last night. Yes, the remake has a 0 instead of an O in its title, which seems weird to me. However, that was the only thing that appeared to be out of place.

     I dislike cop shows as a general rule, and procedurals as well. Hawaii Five-0 is probably both, and so may soon get boring and worthless. I suspect that will not be the case, though, because of just how right this first episode was. Not only do we get to see the beautiful island state every week, but CBS (which also aired the original show) brought together a terrific cast of four talented actors, and that may be what sets this series apart from other recent updates.

     The new Hawaii Five-0 is not a sequel to the original series, but rather a reboot, featuring the same characters played by new actors. Steve McGarrett, the leader of the squad, is played by Alex O'Loughlin. This was a bit of a surprise, since O'Loughlin has very recently starred in two short-lived shows for CBS: the mediocre Moonlight and the terrible Three Rivers. Neither made it to a full-length season, but gladly, the network is taking a chance on the actor again. Third time's a charm, right? Danno is now Scott Caan of Entourage and the Ocean's movies. Daniel Dae Kim, who recently completed the Hawaii-filmed Lost, takes on the role of Chin Ho Kelly. Finally, Grace Park plays Kona Kalakaua, as she is apparently the go-to girl when a series is remade and the producers want to change a heavyset male part into that of an attractive female (she did the exact same thing for Battlestar Galactica).

     Each one of those four leads have magnetic chemistry. Add to that the legendary Jean Smart (Samantha Who?, 24, Designing Women) as the governor who sets up the task force, and there are the makings for a real television classic that breaks the standard cop show mold. Despite the familiar situations, there wasn't a thing ho-hum about the pilot. It has charm and amusement that no other crime show on the air matches. Plus, it retains the original theme song. And, if you need another reason to watch, the pilot guest starred Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters.

     Tune into the new Hawaii Five-0 Monday nights at 10pm on CBS.

Article first published as Hawaii 5-0: TiVo 'Em, Danno! on Blogcritics.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Event will be one to watch

    NBC has a new show this year that wants to become event television: The Event, which premiered last night. I don't really know what's going on, of course. This isn't the type of show where viewers are meant to, at least not at first. But peppered with a slew of likable and talented actors, and with some intriguing plot already laid out, The Event is certainly better than last year's similar offering, Flash Forward.

     As near as I can tell, there will be five main players in this series. President Elias Martinez (Blair Underwood, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Dirty Sexy Money, L.A. Law) found out about some event and secret group at an Alaskan hideaway about a year and a half before the series began. Sophia Maguire (Laura Innes, ER) has been locked away there, but has now arrived in Washington to announce something with the president. Sean Walker (Jason Ritter, Parenthood, Joan of Arcadia) is the everyman hero, whose girlfriend, Leila (played by Sarah Roemer), has been kidnapped by unknown people for unknown reasons. Michael Buchanan (Scott Patterson, Gilmore Girls) is Sean's girlfriend's father, and is clearly being blackmailed into doing bad things. And I'm not sure exactly who Simon Lee (Ian Anthony Dale, Day Break, Surface) is, but he's important enough to get close to the president, and smart enough to know that Michael is up to, and to try to stop him. Or maybe he was tracking Sean. That's unclear.

     If you haven't watched last night's premiere yet, stop reading here until you do.

     All five of these people have very interconnected stories, with Simon being the bridge between the two duos listed above. I don't particularly care about Simon, but the I already do about Martinez, Sean, and Michael. Martinez is shown to be a very principled president in the scenes before the action starts, in the vein of other great television presidents such as David Palmer and Jed Bartlet. The pilot was smart enough to give us plenty of Sean's background, and what his relationship with Michael is. There's a bond there appropriate for a soon-to-be-related couple of men, and it's touching. The fact that the woman they both love, in different ways of course, is in danger excuses their extreme behavior.

     The question is, why are Sean and Michael acting like they do in the framing story? My only complaint is that this should have been a two hour premiere. So much of the first hour had to take us back a week, or a year and a half, to set up the characters, that the framing story with all of the big stuff was not given time to be fleshed out. I presume we'll find out how Michael and Sean got to be on that airplane next week.

     The series is also clearly going to go into impossible territory. The plane disappearing into some energy-infused hole in the middle of the air seemed more appropriate for Fringe than The Event, which tells me that this isn't a cookie cutter series, and I might be interested in watching it. I assume Sophia will soon get the chance to explain to Martinez (and the viewer) what's happening.

     The other thing going for The Event is the supporting cast, which boasts such small screen heavyweights as Zeljko Ivanek (Heroes, Damages, True Blood, Big Love, 24, Oz) and Bill Smitrovich (The Practice, Life Goes On, Without a Trace). While neither did much more than stand around in this week's episode, I'm sure they will get to more than flex their acting muscles as the season unfolds.

     Only time will tell is this is the next Lost or a fizzling dud. But the signs in the premiere look promising. The Event airs Mondays nights at 9pm on NBC. 

Article first published as TV Review: The Event will be one to watch on Blogcritics.

Boardwalk Empire is pretty good...

     HBO spent $65 millions dollars on Boardwalk Empire. Yes, that's right. Sixty-five million on a television series! They actually built the entire boardwalk of the title from scratch in Brooklyn, and worked hard to ensure that every detail of the show is authentic to the 1920s, when the story takes place. Although parts of it are fictional (the main character's last name is Thompson, while the real-life man who ran the boardwalk had the last name Johnson), much about Boardwalk Empire rings very true. And the production values paid off, as the sets, costumes, and scenery are fantastic.

     Sadly, however, I can only call the series pretty good. In the pilot, the plot meanders along, and much of the screen time doesn't advance the action. The dialogue is fun, but not much is memorably quotable. Steve Buscemi does a fair job in the primary role, and proves he can handle a television show. I know it's about time that he got top billing. Yet, I couldn't help but feel something was lacking. It could have been better. Reviewers who have seen more than one episode have suggested that perhaps Martin Scorsese, who directed the pilot, is better at directing the big screen than the small, and future episodes with other directors flow better. I hope so, because this show has a lot riding on it, and I do want it to succeed.

     I hope my opening didn't scare you off from BE. There is much that is laudable, besides the setting. Buscemi plays Nucky Thompson, the treasurer who runs things on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As the series begins, Prohibition has just begun, but Nucky is keeping the libations flowing liberally. He is also facing a bit of a crisis, as the world modernizes and he is a little slow to change with it.

     The biggest threat to Nucky is his loyal but ambitious driver, Jimmy Darmody, played excellently by Michael Pitt (Dawson's Creek). This week, Jimmy helped a very young Al Capone (Stephen Graham) topple the balance of power in Chicago. He gave a cut of his dealings to Nucky, but angered plenty of other people.

     The third apparent star of the show is Kelly Macdonald (Trainspotting) as Margaret, a love interest for Nucky. Clearly there is some deeper attraction for Nucky, something to do with his childhood and babies, that brings him closer to the pregnant Margaret, but his fascination with her continues after she loses the baby. Now that Nucky got rid of her abusive husband, I'm interested to see how the relationship develops.

     Boardwalk Empire has eleven more episodes in the can, and will air Sunday nights at 9pm on HBO. 

Article first published as Boardwalk Empire Is Pretty Good on Blogcritics.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Lone Star anything but lonely

    Tonight, Fox will present it's new pilot, Lone Star.  The series centers around Robert / Bob Allen (James Wolk, You Again), a con man leading a double life in Midland and Houston, Texas.  As the pilot begins, Bob has been working schemes for his father, John (David Keith, The Class) for years, but is having doubts about continuing the family business.  When his Houston father-in-law, Clint (Jon Voight) offers him a position in his company, John is excited that his very talented son has hit pay dirt yet again.  But Bob sees it as something else entirely: the chance to make a real life for himself.

     In Houston, Bob is married to Clint's daughter, Cat (Adrianne Palicki, Friday Night Lights).  This is the reality that seems most dangerous for Bob to me.  Clint is certainly crazy dangerous, obviously having done something bad to his brother, who attempted to pull one over on him.  Clint also has two sons, and while Drew (Bryce Johnson, Pretty Little Liars) likes Bob, Trammell (Mark Deklin) is suspcious, and seems just as threatening to Clint.  While Bob claims to love Cat, and thus want to stay in this situation, I didn't really feel the chemistry between them in the pilot.  I'm thinking if it ever comes down to him choosing between the two lives Bob is building for himself, despite this one providing the solid income, I'm voting on ditching Houston.

     Midland is a different landscape entirely.  There, Bob was known as Robert, and only pretended to be in the oil business, swindling the locals in a series of fake deals.  Against his father's playbook, Robert fell in love with Lindsay (Eloise Mumford).  As the pilot unfolds, it becomes clear that Robert's charade in Midland is about to come crashing down when some locals look into who actually owns the oilfields that they invested in.  I won't spoil it, because the episode hasn't aired yet, but Robert has a clever way to keep this life going, too, although it further ties him to Houston.

     It all may sound a bit complicated, but it doesn't play that way.  Wolk shines in the central role, and the supporting cast each bring a great element to the table.  Palicki shows range, as her FNL character much more closesly resembles Lindsay than Cat.  Things will get further mired when Cat's daughter, Grace (Alexandra Doke), a main character who was not in the first episode, is introduced.  It was a really well put together pilot, and I am anxious to see how it will progress.

     Lone Star premieres tonight at 9pm on Fox.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Is Obnoxious Fun

     It has been nine long months since FX has aired a new episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia (there was a Christmas special released on DVD, but way over priced for something so short). I missed the gang at Patty's, and I'm sure many other viewers did, too. That's why it's so nice to have them back.

     The sixth season premiere was entitled, "Mac Fights Gay Marriage," and it vamped on many different types of marriages. Mac (Rob McElhenney) ran into The Tranny, whom he had previously been with, and was glad to discover that she had gotten her male private parts removed. Unfortunately for him, instead of calling him after the surgery, as he had hoped for, she went and got married. And so Mac begins a crusade to break them up, finding a bible and preaching of the evils of homosexuality.

     Frank (Danny DeVito) and Charlie (Charlie Day) learn of this so-called gay marriage, and ignoring Mac's complaints, decide to apply it to themselves. Charlie needs to see a doctor, and so tries to convince roommate Frank to marry him to get on his insurance. Frank is resistant; we eventually find out because he doesn't want to be the girl in the couple, nor does he want to see Charlie as a girl. Here's a little bit of the dialogue:
Charlie: We'd be two cool, straight dudes married together.
Frank: Oooh. Well, I never thought of it that way. Two dudes getting married, that doesn't seem very gay.
     Once he realizes it's just going to be two straight dudes, he doesn't see anything gay about it and is ready to go through with it. I wonder how long this plot will last.

     Meanwhile, Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and Dee (Kaitlin Olson), after hearing of Mac's problem, decide that they should be married, and look up a brother and sister they were interested in a long time ago. Dee's crush has gotten fat, but she sleeps with him anyway. Dennis takes it a step forward and takes his girl to the courthouse, where they are soon wed. I assume this new union won't last very long, because next week's episode is called "Dennis Gets Divorced." That's probably for the best, because by the first evening, he was getting tired of her.

     That's what It's Always Sunny does. The main characters are more self-involved than the Seinfeld gang. They act only in their interests, not caring a bit who they hurt along the way. Not a one of the main characters ever exhibits the slightest bit of remorse. Though past mistakes do sometimes come back to haunt them, they always escape those situations unscathed and go right back to what they were doing before, never learning any sort of lesson. The random recurring characters that drift in and out are just as shocked at their behavior as we the viewers are.

     For some people, it's loathsome television. For myself and plenty of other fans, it's hilarious. No, you can't feel for the cast, but you have to see what they're going to do next. Modern television has brought the anti-hero to the forefront of many a series lately, but none quite like this gang from Philly. It's one of the worst sitcoms out there, so bad that it's great. Like a train wreck, it's hard to look away.

     So I suggest you don't fight it. Tune if for new episodes of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Thursday nights at 10pm on FX.

Article first published as TV Review: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia Is Obnoxious Fun on Blogcritics.

The League: She-dre

     FX's sitcom The League began it's second season by heading to Las Vegas for "Vegas Draft".  It was a neat idea to take the show on a trip out of town in the very first episode back, and it played to the show's strength: namely, when the five main guys just hang out together.  The sixth primary character, Jenny (Katie Aselton), also got satisfying plot, but we'll get to that in a second.  The episode featured Chad Ochocinco, a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, who can actually act.  At least, he can while playing himself.  I don't care a lick about sports, and so was not excited by this casting get.  However, he added the fun, not detracted from it as some athlete turned actors do, and so I have no complaints about his appearance.

     I don't actually have any complaints about this episode at all.  Andre (Paul Scheer), last year's League Champion, decided to take the group to Vegas to pick their teams this year.  Of course, Pete (Mark Duplass) took the credit for the idea, and everyone else deferred to him.  The way the whole groups dumps on Andre is quite funny, but Andre never lets it defeat him.  Instead, he tries even harder to earn their respect.  For instance, in order to make sure attention was on him, Andre changed their believe Shiva trophy into one with a statue of him on top.  Which led the guys to combine the two names into a new nickname for Andre: She-dre.  But before the end credits rolled, the statue was broken, and part of Andre was in the actual Andre.

     Of course, all of the teasing wasn't against Andre.  Pete and Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) had plenty of other fun at Ruxin's (Nick Kroll) expense, too.  They created a game where they guessed famous people, and refused to tell Ruxin the rules.  They even were willing to be kicked out of a casino, rather than give up their secrets.  Taco (Jonathan Lajoie) still seems a little useless.  His only contribution to this week was turning Andre's cries of pain into a song.

     The character I felt got the shaft in the first season was Jenny, Kevin's wife.  Though she helped him with his picks, she was never part of the group, and so had a lot less to do.  The funny this is, she is probably a bigger football fan than her husband.  In this week's episode, she tried to join their gang, but they wouldn't let her.  Kevin was the biggest supporter of not letting her into the League.  It's a shame, really.  I love the guys' dynamic, but it would not have been hurt by allowing her to mix it up.  Jenny did have some fun, though, helping Ruxin with his draft, much to everyone else's dismay.

     If you'd like to check out The League, new episodes airs Thursday nights at 10:30 pm on FX.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Is Outlaw Just Another Legal Drama?

    Last night, NBC aired the pilot of Outlaw, several nights before its Friday night time slot. It stars Jimmy Smits (Dexter, The West Wing) as a Supreme Court judge named Cyrus Garza who resigns the bench so he can fight for people getting screwed by the system. The first 20 minutes of the show showed Garza agonizing with a moral dilemma of playing by the rules, or overturning a death penalty on an innocent man. Of course Garza did the right thing, then promptly quit.

     After that, the show felt very rushed, trying to get to the typical legal procedural. Garza was able to find a law firm to hire him, and put his name on the letterhead, in one scene. He maintained the staffers the audience has already been introduced to, and then recruited the defense attorney named Al (David Ramsey, Dexter).

     And that's the problem with the show. I loved the opening. I love Jimmy Smits. I think the premise is interesting, but it certainly feels like plenty of other legals shows. In fact, it's most like the former series Shark. Garza's team includes the smart blonde trying to prove that she has brains as well as beauty (Ellen Woglom, Californication), the stuck-up guy who won't admit to his co-workers that he actually respects his boss, all along working to please him (Jesse Bradford, The West Wing), and the dangerous outsider who doesn't seem to belong, but gets things done (Carly Pope, 24).

     Clearly, between the star power and the unique setup, there are the makings of a good show somewhere in here. Sadly, the writers don't want to seem to find it. I don't know if the show will do well or not; plenty of same-thing-every-week crime and legal dramas thrive on television. But if it doesn't get better soon, even Smits won't be able to keep my TiVo season pass going.

     Outlaw will re-run the pilot tonight (Friday night) at 10pm on NBC, which will be its regular time slot.

Article first published as TV Review: Is Outlaw Just Another Legal Drama? on Blogcritics.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Parenthood begins season two a little lighter

     This past Tuesday, NBC's Parenthood returned for a second season. A surprise hit after a rocky start, the show has already received a 22-episode order, making this season a full one for the charming family drama. Season one ended with some heavy issues, and while those things have not gone away, the season premiere avoids being too depressing or melodramatic.

     The funniest moment in this week's episode came when young Sydney (Savannah Paige Rae) asked her parents, Julia (Erika Christensen) and Joel (Sam Jaeger), if she came out of a vagina, and if they did, too. She became obsessed with the whole concept of where babies came from. I thought it was just an amusing couple of scenes as the couple awkwardly tried to explain things to their daughter, but the plot then developed into Julia's desire for another child, and Joel's reaction against the idea. It's writing like this that elevates Parenthood above other shows in the way they manage to seamlessly intertwine the comedy and the drama.

     The most moving scenes came from Hattie (Sarah Ramos), who seems to be leaving behind the rebellious phase she went through last season. After knocking the mirror off her parents' minivan while her mother, Kristina (Monica Potter), was trying to teach her to drive, Hattie really stepped up and handled the situation with her mother in a surprisingly mature way. A few minutes later, she stepped up and helped out her brother, Max (Max Burkholder), who was upset that his cousin wasn't able to attend a sleepover. Hattie is certainly going to be an interesting character, already showing depth, and I hope that despite the very large cast, the show continues to follow her when she inevitably goes off to college.

     Speaking of the missing cousin, Crosby (Dax Shepard) is having a tough time being all the way across the country from his son, Jabbar (Tyree Brown), and girlfriend, Jasmine (Joy Bryant). I'm sure this will be milked for awhile, but Jasmine and Jabbar have to move back to town soon. Jabbar was in almost the entire first season, and this year has been upgraded to series regular. Jasmine also remains in the theme song, so I'm assuming that means they will end up back with Crosby. But that resolution can't come soon enough for me.

     Resolution is the key for the elders in the family. Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) is showing plenty of humbleness as he tries to make things right with his wife, Camille (Bonnie Bedelia). It seemed to me that he was back to living with her, but it wasn't completely clear. Their separation was one of the darkest paths explored last year, and I'm glad to see that bitterness will not be the reigning emotion between them.

     Perhaps the most anticipated plot this year will be coming from Adam's (Peter Krause) office. We met his boss (Billy Baldwin) this week, and it was revealed that his company is in trouble. Adam's sister, Sarah (Lauren Graham), is plenty creative, but has been striking out on the job front. A match made in heaven? It seems so. Making the story more juicy is Sarah's attraction to Adam's boss, and a love triangle will soon develop as Sarah also falls for a forklift operator (Kevin Alejandro, True Blood) at the company.

     Because there are 15 starring roles in this show, a couple of the characters weren't even in this episode. That means plenty more will be coming up! I urge everyone to check out Parenthood, airing Tuesday nights at 10pm on NBC.

Article first published as TV Review: Parenthood Begins Season Two a Little Lighter on Blogcritics.

My Boys have grown into "My Men"

***Article update: My Boys has been officially canceled.

     Sunday night, the TBS comedy My Boys completed its fourth season with two half-hour episodes. Sadly, the fourth season only had nine episodes, but My Boys has always aired sporadically. After a 22-episode first season, which had both a winter and summer run, seasons two and three had only aired nine episodes each, and ran during different times of the year. Many people believe that My Boys will not be renewed for a fifth season, though there has been no official announcement either way. It's depressing, as it's a great little show that never got the amount of attention it deserved. However, if it is gone for good, the final episode, "My Men," will serve as a nice series finale.

      The show stars Jordana Spiro as P.J. Franklin, a sport columnist in Chicago. As the series began, we were introduced to her three male friends, irresponsible, dumb Mike (Jamie Kaler), party boy Brendan (Reid Scott), and anal retentive Kenny (Michael Bunin). Also part of the group was P.J.'s brother, Andy (Jim Gaffigan) and her lone female friend, who mostly stayed away from the group, Stephanie (Kellee Stewart). Introduced in the pilot was a new co-worker and love interest for P.J., Bobby (Kyle Howard), who first joined the group, and only later became involved in a serious relationship with P.J.

      This season has brought about many changes. Bobby lost his fortune and moved in with P.J. Kenny lost his business, of which Mike was the sole employee, so they both were out of work. P.J. got the chance to go for her dream job, the gang's bar closed down, and Andy moved away to Japan. This last development allowed room for Stephanie to take a more central role and start to spend time with the rest of them. Add to that, she has been dating Kenny, so she is more firmly entwined than ever. I missed Andy quite a bit, but finally liking Stephanie after three years of wondering why she was even in the cast made up for the loss.

      It wasn't just external changes, though, that marked the fourth season. Each character grew to maturity in a new way. Bobby had to figure out what he wanted out of life. P.J. had to settle her priorities, whether she'd rather have her dream job, or a life with her friends. Kenny had to make a big commitment to Stephanie. Brendan traded in his night club for a more grown up venue. And last, but probably the biggest, Mike realized that he wasn't a kid anymore and needed to change some things. This culminated in his falling in love with, and wedding in the finale, Marcia (played by the hilarious actress Rachael Harris). I love Harris, and she made a great companion for Mike.

      Seeing how this past season panned out really made watching the show worth it. It was an enjoyable sitcom from the beginning, found its legs late in the first season, and really became something special by the fourth. The only thing I will regret if it goes off the air is that Jim Gaffigan did not return in any of the nine episodes. A guest spot for him at the end would have been perfect. However, if the show does somehow get picked up, which I sincerely hoped, not only could they save a scene for Gaffigan, but Harris should be installed full time, or at least half-time. It would shake up the dynamic, keep things fresh, and allow the show to grow even more.