Monday, January 31, 2011

The Onion Double Dose

     For fans of the newspaper The Onion, which originally began as a college project, the brand has been expanding these past few years. With editions in several cities, online videos and audio clips, books, and even a movie, there is no shortage of The Onion's distinct type of humor. This month, The Onion also launched two television shows: Onion SportsDome on Comedy Central and The Onion News Network on IFC.

     As a fan of the video and audio clips, but not one of sports, I was initially disappointed at Comedy Central's announced series. Because the sports-themed clips released online frequently had nothing to do with actual sports stories, but rather parodies of the genre of sports reporting, I found them entertaining. But I assumed a full half hour would have to take its source material from current events. Not necessarily the case. In the first few episodes, SportsDome plays more to the stereotypes and trends in the industry, rather than specifics. The hosts, Mark Shepard (Matt Oberg, Ugly Americans) and Alex Reiser (Matt Walton, One Life to Live), are incredibly funny, and get plenty of barbs in on each other. Even for the non-sports fan, the program is worth checking out.

     The Onion News Network is slightly different, in that the jokes are not about sports, and it stars only one host, sharp tongued Brooke Alvarez (Suzanne Sena). She is joined by a number of other 'reporters' and 'commentators', including some like Duncan Birch (Brian Huskey, Free Radio) and Lauralee Hickock (Julie Brister) who appeared in the online video clips. Some of the previous clip segments continue, such as my favorite, "Today Now!", so that the series feels like a longer version of the shorter videos released on the web.

     ONN tackles specific stories, though not necessarily real ones. For instance, in recent episodes, a judge decided to try a young, white girl as a black man in a court case, and assassins from the future came back in time to kill Suri Cruise. It's goofy humor, a mix of reality spoofs and commentary on what is wrong with our society. 
     Both shows pretend to be on a 24 hour network of their topic, such as CNN and ESPN. I'm glad they don't attempt more than 30 minutes a week, though, as I have a feeling the jokes could get old real fast. However, I was skeptical that either show could keep a consistently funny weekly half hour, but am glad to be proven wrong.

     Onion SportsDome airs Tuesday nights at 10 p.m. on Comedy Central, and Onion News Network runs Friday nights at 10 p.m. on IFC. Give them a try!

Article first published as TV Review: The Onion Double Dose on Blogcritics.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional TV news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Fringe Keeps Getting Better

     A fan of FOX's Fringe from the onset, I did get a little bored with the case of the week mentality the first season, and to a lesser extent, the second, brought us often. However, after beefing up Olivia's (Anna Torv) story little by little over time, it soon became apparent that The Olivia Dunham Show, as my wife likes to call it, was something pretty darn interesting. Not only that, but Walter (John Noble) also got better and better arcs. Late last season, and even more so this season, the third member of the central trio, Peter (Joshua Jackson), has finally been given his due, too.

     Somehow, Olivia and Walter's parts are no less central, even after Peter stepped front and center, ending his long reign as the third wheel. I think making each week's individual mystery less and less important allowed room for the growth, and now the series often jettisons the weekly stand alone stuff altogether. This season's arc of Olivia being trapped in the alternate universe, as Peter fell in love with her counterpart, Fauxlivia (also Torv), has been amazing! Torv and Jackson have been able to show such raw emotions, and allow such deep feelings to be ripped to the surface, that both are having banner years.

     In past reviews, I have discussed the debate over what name the alternate Olivia should go by. Bolivia was a popular suggestion, and seemed to be first on the scene, although I preferred Fauxlivia, as I used in the preceding paragraph. This week's episode was the first to refer to her by a special name on screen, and they chose Fauxlivia, making the debate essentially over. Fauxlivia seems to have won.

     But names are semantics. Torv has brought both characters alive in ways both obvious and subtle, showcasing her immense talent. These are two very different women, who are at their core, nearly the same. It's a strange paradox that Olivia and Fauxlivia can be alike and different at the same time, but Torv has excelled in demonstrating that in ways that it's hard to express in words. A++ for her performance.

     Peter seems poised to suffer even more as the rest of the season plays out. Friday night, he went on a killing spree, taking down shape shifters sent by the other side. He justified this to himself and Walter by calling them soldiers, making them casualties of war, and helping Peter sleep at night in a way he wouldn't after committing murder. But it is murder, and Walter's concern that the ancient machine has negatively affected Peter seems a valid concern, since the serial killing thing is kind of out of character for Peter. How this will play out is a burning question, as well as what will happen to Peter concerning the ancient machines, one of which exists in each universe.

     Walter, who has always set himself apart as an amazing actor and essential piece of the show, is even more exciting now. He is a parent terrified for his son, but also thinking rationally most of the time for the first time in awhile, and willing to make sacrifices. He faced Peter's death only last week, and worried even more about Peter this week as test after test was performed on him. It's a change from the distracted scientist who doesn't care for others, and a welcome one. Walter and Peter's bond is the strongest on the show.

     The Observer (Michael Cerveris) last week seemed to reference Peter's death being among the upcoming events, but I am suspicious of this. Surely, Fringe would not kill off one of the central trio before a series finale? I could see Peter's death being one of the last things that happens on the show, although a happy ending with Peter and Olivia would be nice, so maybe Walter, being older, could somehow sacrifice himself and take Peter's place? But however it plays out, I don't see Peter dying in one of those machines this year. Unless it's a dying fake out of some sort. It would be kind of cool to see Olivia and Walter mourn Peter, though he couldn't possibly be permanently dead.

     The Observer saved Peter for a reason, unknown to us viewers, years ago, angering fellow Observers. That means Peter is vital to something in the two universe war. This plot arc seems finite, and closer to an end than a beginning. I really think things have to come to a head by the end of this season, with Olivia and co. facing down Walternate (also Noble), Fauxlivia, and the others. I don't see this going on for years longer, and the show is doing well enough that it is in no danger of immediate cancellation. Even the move to Fridays has only bolstered the ratings, not hurt them. Other shows that J.J. Abrams has been involved in have completely rebooted the plot after a couple of seasons, and always came out stronger than ever, so I'm not afraid of a reset. I'm excitedly anticipating one.

     I think the alternate universe story line has been fantastic. Normally when fiction tackles an alternate reality (I'm looking at you Star Trek and Star Trek: Deep Space 9), they face a reality drastically different than their own, often with evil versions of themselves. Yet, the Fringe alternate universe is quite similar. Sure, society and government have been drastically altered due to the rip factors on the other side. But our Walter clearly had the capacity for evil if his life had played out differently, and I can see how Walternate ended up the way he is. Other characters, like Charlie (Kirk Acevedo) and Broyles (Lance Reddick), are nearly the same man on both sides. Or were, as one of each has now been killed off. Which begs the question, were they killed (in the series or in the universe) because they were too alike, and it was repetitive to have both?

     Which brings me to the other main characters, who have too frequently been shut out of any real development. Seeing the alternate Broyles (who got no cool, trendy nickname and now probably won't) help Olivia escape was some of the best work Reddick has gotten on the show. Nina (Blair Brown) has had more to do with Massive Dynamic now under Walter's ownership, and the company working on the ancient machine, than she ever had before. Astrid (Jasika Nicole) has been more involved in what the rest of the team is doing, not just cleaning beakers in Walter's lab.

     It's a welcome change. All three of those actors are very talented, and were picked to star in Fringe for a reason. While the series is essentially a three person story, these other three can carry their own weight. In fact, letting Peter be believed dead for a little while might give them a chance to be fleshed out even more, and in that regard, I welcome the idea. However, seeing as how the writers made Olivia hallucinate Peter in the alternate universe episodes so that Jackson could keep starring every week makes me think that even if the characters think Peter is dead, he will probably still get ample screen time. I'm not asking for less Jackson, I think this is the best role of his career to date, but I would like a bit more fairness to Brown, Nicole, and Reddick.

      That aside, I have no complaints about this season of Fringe. It's tightly written, wonderfully exciting, super suspenseful, and beyond creative. Check out Fringe, now airing Friday nights at 9 p.m. on FOX.

Article first published as TV Review: Fringe Keeps Getting Better on Blogcritics.

Bones Handles Two Major Arcs Awesomely

     This week's episode of Bones, "The Bullet in the Brain", was one of the best they've ever made. For longtime viewers, the infamous Gravedigger (Deirdre Lovejoy), a serial killer who once buried Brennan (Emily Deschanel) and Hodgins (T.J. Thyne) alive, made her fourth and final appearance. Her screen time in her final episodes was brief (she was gone before the opening credits), but more than memorable. In fact, she not only had a profound effect on some of the cast, but also kicked off a brand new ongoing arc that will play out this winter and spring.

     The most effected by the whole incident, in which the Gravedigger's head was graphically blown off, was probably Sweets (John Francis Daley), who was shaken inside and out. His suit was a mess from the splatter, but the biggest problem was what the Gravedigger had said to him before she was killed. Sweets replayed those words over and over again to himself, though, as a trained mental health professional, he should have known it was a bad idea. Her words seeped into his brain and took root, shaking his confidence in himself and his abilities. Thankfully, Ms. Julian (Patricia Belcher) was able to get him out of his funk.

     It makes me wonder, though, how much of the effect she had was multiplied by her sudden death. Did the traumatic experience of standing a few feet from her during the assassination make Sweets more vulnerable? Brennan and Booth (David Boreanaz) have criticized him on plenty of occasions, especially when he first joined the team, though that has lightened up over time. He had to have had a thick skin then to not be wounded. Now, after his talents have proved invaluable over and over again, he was so deeply moved. There was obviously more going on in his head than just some mean comments. I was worrying he might do something drastic, but am so happy it didn't come to that.

     I mentioned Ms. Julian above, and she is one character I can never get enough of. I hope this new arc provides her with plenty of episodes to be in. But another character I love is Max (Ryan O'Neal), Brennen's father. Initially a suspect, until it became apparent just how skilled the assassin was, Max rushed to town to reassure Brennan of his innocence. He was first introduced as such a scoundrel, I'm always touched at how he has evolved into a decent dad. His stint in jail helped that, and now a visit from him is welcome. Though he was on the suspect list, I doubt any of the main characters really considered him the most likely to have done it.

     This was a spectacular Booth episode, as this whole arc apparently will be. We know some things about Booth's past, but his expert sniper skills were driven home when a very short list was made of everyone that could have made the kill, and he was on it. I'm relieved that the writers saw fit to put Booth near the Gravedigger, so that he wasn't seriously suspected for the entire episode. However, some of Booth's past remains a mystery, and while surely the entire team will be involved in hunting the killer, Jacob (Arnold Vosloo, The Mummy, 24), who escaped, this is clearly a showdown between Jacob and Booth. They have a complicated past, as Jacob is someone Booth clearly admires, and Booth resisted even considering him in the crime for awhile. It's nice to see Boreanaz keep getting material worthy of his time and talent, as Bones has so often provided him.

     Another interesting story going on was Angela's (Michaela Conlin) disgust with Hodgins's reaction to the assassination. Hodgins, who was almost killed by the Gravedigger, was genuinely happy that she died. He explored those emotions with both Angela and Sweets. It was a look at another side of the issue, that of a victim who feels justice has been served, and that sometimes murder is acceptable. In a society where the morality of the death penalty is debated, it was a poignant, relevant line of inquiry.

     While I'm writing about the show, I'd like to mention that I am fascinated by just how well adjusted Brennan has become by this seventh season. She has admitted her romantic feelings for Booth, though he is currently involved with someone else. She allows herself to trust her father. She is starting to be able to relate to her friends. Her social skills have improved markedly, as evidenced by how quickly she bonded with new friend Hannah (Katheryn Winnick). She is so much more of a person than the odd bird we first met. The other main characters have grown, too, but as Brennan is the title character, and half of the central heart of the show (along with Booth), her maturation cannot be understated. Seeing how she's gotten better brings pleasure and satisfaction to me as a fan of her and of the show.

     The series also stars Tamara Taylor, who, despite a very limited presence this week, is a very valuable part of the series.

     The rest of this season of Bones will surely have cases of the week, which is the main format of the series, but also a really exciting story as Booth and Jacob face off. Be sure to tune in Thursday nights at 9 p.m. on FOX. That's right after American Idol, in case you're curious, which has given it a welcome ratings boost.

Article first published as TV Review: Bones Handles Two Major Arcs Awesomely on Blogcritics.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional TV news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Archer Pushes Boundaries

     Oh, Archer. The humor of FX's animated show crosses lines sometimes, but this week's season premiere, "Swiss Miss" went pretty far. And yet, all I can do it say, "Oh, Archer," and shake my head in feigned annoyance. That's because the show and the characters are as funny and charming as any series on television, and I delighted in the wrongness.

     This week, with Isis running out of money, Malory (Jessica Walter) took several of the team to a ski resort to provide protection for a billionaire potential investor and his almost-17 year old daughter. Archer (H. Jon Benjamin) immediately declared the daughter hot. When told her age, he backed off, but she sure didn't. The rest of the episode, the girl tried everything to get Archer in the sack, including removing clothing. To his credit, Archer saved her from bad guys several times, and only touched her bare breasts with his heavily gloved hands when said body parts were threatened by frostbite.

     Meanwhile, the billionaire took a liking to Pam (Amber Nash), as he was a chubby chaser, and they bonded over their shared experience of growing up on diary farms. When Malory came to the man's hotel room to talk money, she ended up in a pretty disturbing threesome with the pair.

     Archer may appear to be a spy show, but it's really a raunchy sex comedy, that just has spy missions in there to distract you. The main story this week was about Archer and the girl, and the billionaire, Malory, and Pam. Whether or not the assassins were stopped was barely relevant. In fact, had they succeeded in killing the girl, I don't think viewers would have cared much. And that's OK.

     What Archer does, it does well. It can easily be forgiven for crossing the line, because it makes you laugh so hard while it does it. Please, please watch Archer Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on FX.

Article first published as TV Review: Archer Pushes Boundaries on Blogcritics.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional TV news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

The Office Ricky Gervais Stunt Disappointing

     Fans of the British version of The Office have longed for Ricky Gervais' David Brent to stop by NBC's American remake for years, making it an official spin-off instead of just a remake. The news came that it was finally happening in this week's episode, and I got very excited. Looking back, it was said that Gervais would appear only in the opening, but the result was still a wasted opportunity! The show could easily have built an episode around him, not to mention an entire multi-episode arc, if they wanted to. Instead, we just got David and Michael (Steve Carell) talking weirdly to each other for a few seconds.

     I try not to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I am still thrilled that Gervais appeared at all. I'm sure the fact that it was a small part was of his choosing. However, there was no explanation for how or why David was where he was; really, no story at all. As one of the most unique TV characters of all time (before he was imitated repeatedly by others), David Brent is a very entertaining creation that deserves more. Not only that, but I was still trying to decide if Gervais was really bringing the Brent I know and love alive when his short scene ended. I'm not convinced he really acted the character, at least not as well as he used to. I can't help but feel it was too quickly done and that a longer part would have captured Brent better.

     Other than the opening, though, it was another excellent episode in this strong season of The Office. With Carell's episode count dwindling (he will be leaving the series for good four episodes before the season finale), Michael Scott has gotten more focus that ever. The arc most people want to see tied up is Michael's love for Holly Flax (Amy Ryan). Michael's other ex-girlfriends were all brought back earlier in the season and sent off one last time, but Holly is more than that. Holly is his soul mate, and the last few episodes have only confirmed that point. She actually gets Michael, and enjoys his zany antics. What more can you ask for in a partner?

     Holly is back at Dunder Mifflin Scranton, and has recently broken up with her long-term boyfriend, the one she got after she and Michael split following her transfer to a far-away branch of the company. The seeds have been sewn, and it seems that Holly is falling once more for Michael. Their interactions this week were heartwarming, especially Holly's brief comment to the camera, which was more about the look on her face than what she said. Or didn't say, for that matter. I predict a ride off into the sunset for the two of them, an  event many fans want to see. I think Michael will get the ending he deserves.

     I am hoping that Michael is not replaced by an outsider to the show, and I am pretty confident at this point that that will not happen. Writers on The Office have pledged more of an ensemble piece, with all of the very talented support staff getting more plot, following Carell's departure. The four episodes after Carell leaves will see the return of company owner Jo (Kathy Bates, who will be done filming the first season of Harry's Law by then) as she searches for a replacement, and various characters battle for the job and Will Ferrell will be doing a multi-episode arc as well.  My vote is for Darryl (Craig Robinson) to take over the office, as I think he will best be able to handle the mix of professional and personal relationships within it. As sad as Carell leaving is, I'm excited about this concept.
     The final season has not been all about Michael.  Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) haven't gotten much of a story though after they've gotten very large arcs in the past couple of years. Instead, we have been getting tons more Andy (Ed Helms), Dwight (Rainn Wilson), Darryl, and Erin (Ellie Kemper). Dwight is an old hand, and Andy was added years ago, though only recently to the opening credits. Darryl has been around since 2005, but once he got an office upstairs, has had so much more involvement with everyone. Erin is pretty new to the cast.  All three however shine so well when let out.

     Andy has lost every woman he ever goes after, and his would-be relationship with Erin is no different. Yet, unlike Angela (Angela Kinsey), there is actually some hope that Andy can get Erin back from Gabe (Zach Woods). In this week's episode, Erin was once again losing a game of Scrabble to Gabe, which meant that Gabe got to choose their movie night film, and he never chooses anything Erin wants to see.  Unlike Gabe, Andy understands Erin, they have complementary interests, and Andy would let her take as many turns choosing as she wants. Gabe and Erin have been portrayed as not working too well, which can only mean one thing: a happy ending is not out of the question for Andy and Erin. Andy just needs some more confidence to win her back, something he was building this week with the seminar he held this week.

     Dwight has undergone enormous growth. As owner of the building that they all work in, Dwight tried his own tricks and crazy leadership 'skills.' They failed. He tried outmaneuvering Andy again this week, and again, he failed. Dwight is at his best when he is actually showing compassion and bonding with the other characters, especially Pam. While a Dwight - Angela rekindling, which I have hoped for, is apparently not in the offing anytime soon, Dwight is showing real feelings of fondness for most of his co-workers. The gradual softening of Dwight has been a triumph, but he still has a long way to go. I just don't see his changes to this point being enough to get him the boss's job, despite his British counterpart having become Brent's replacement.

     The above are only some of the great characters showcased in the series, and The Office is as good as its ever been. Please watch it Thursday nights at 9pm on NBC.

Article first published as TV Review: The Office - Ricky Gervais Stunt Disappointing on Blogcritics.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional TV news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Blue Bloods Is All About Family

     I will be among the first to stand up and complain that there are too many cop and / or legal shows on the air currently (not to mentioned medical dramas). But amid all of the mediocre shows, a few stand out. I find myself very much enjoying CBS's new Blue Bloods. I think that's because each member of the family works in a different part of the New York City police force or legal system, and there is almost as much family plot as there is murder investigation. I love that every episode includes a scene where the four generations of Reagans sit and debate what is going on in their lives. Those are my favorite moments in the series.

     Last night's episode was called, appropriately enough, "Family Ties". Like most of the series's episode titles, it can mean a couple of different things. One was the mob connection, and the revenge being sought out after a prominent boss's son is killed at his engagement party. Bonus points to the writers for making the bride's mom Jackie's (Jennifer Esposito, who should be a main character!) high school friend. It was a gripping, compelling story all on its own, not to mention that part that will satisfy those fans of cop shows who watch.

     The other meaning relates to a plot following Erin (Bridget Moynahan), who works for District Attorney Charles Rosselini (Bobby Cannavale). Rosselini is running for mayor against the incumbent, Frank Ruzzo (Bruce Altman). Erin is assigned to pursue corruption charges against Ruzzo's deputy, raising Rosselini's profile, and dealing a blow against Ruzzo at the same time. Complicating matters is that Erin's father, Frank (Tom Selleck), is the police commissioner, and anything that reflects poorly on Ruzzo's administration also hurts Frank. And then Rosselini had to go ahead and kiss newly-divorced Erin last night, so there are all kinds of ties!
     Side bar, it is no surprise to me that Frank is easily the best character on a show of great characters. Selleck's talent is immense, and he chooses TV roles very carefully. As the boss with impeccable professional detachment, as well as the very loving family man and widower, Frank is one of the best characters around. No wonder Selleck took the part. It will likely be the defining role of the next stage of his career.

     Of course, more than one Reagan frequently has a stake in whatever case is going on. Most often the connection is between Frank and his son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg, who will be touring with his old musical group, The New Kids On the Block, this summer, which seems bizarre on so many levels). This makes sense because Frank is in charge of the entire police force, and Danny's occupation often delivers him the highest profile cases around. In that regard, it's easy to see how their jurisdictions would overlap. In a similar vein, Erin is one of the best assistant DAs, so she often gets involved in those same stories.

    Now the three of them all being on the same case has happened before on multiple occasions, so often that it does begin to stretch believability sometimes. Thankfully, only rarely has youngest son Jamie (Will Estes), a rookie on the beat, gotten drawn in, and usually only when every cop in the city is involved in something huge. Instead, Jamie has been pursuing his own mystery related to the death of his brother Joe, an event that pushed Jamie to give up a promising career as a lawyer and put on the uniform.

     Some critics have complained about Jamie's investigation, feeling that it adds an unnecessary continuing arc through the series, wishing Blue Bloods would instead focus on the more temporary cases of the week. If you read many of my reviews, or follow my twitter account, you know I grow bored of procedurals quickly, and so you should not be surprised to learn that I think those critics are dumb. The show does need that ongoing arc. It has been a little slow moving for my taste. Often episodes, such as last night's, give only one scene for Jamie to find another piece of the puzzle. I feel like Estes hasn't been as good as the other stars thus far, so I don't really miss him when he's not around. I more like his scenes because I love his partner, Renzulli (Nicholas Turturro). However, I'm ready for his plot to take center stage, and provide the chance for Estes to prove he belongs on screen alongside Selleck, Wahlberg, et al.

     While I don't believe Estes has been underused so much, I am disappointed that Frank's father, Henry (Len Cariou), gets so little to do. Sure, he's retired, but he's also a busy body. He likes to know what's going on with his son and grandchildren. I think Blue Bloods might benefit from him getting a little more nosy. Either that, or give him a consulting position with Frank, Frank's office, the Mayor, or the DA. I know Henry left the force under less than ideal circumstances, though they haven't been discussed in detail, but I could see it being enough time passed, and his family being entrenched enough into local politics, to let Henry be a little more active.

     Surprisingly, despite all of that family stuff among the Reagans out serving the city, little attention is paid to other members of the family. For instance, Danny's wife, Linda (Amy Carlson), has gotten an occasional meaty scene, which she always handles wonderfully, but I'd like to see more of her. Erin's precocious daughter, Nicky (Sami Gayle), perhaps annoying mostly because of her age and arrogance, has had more scenes than Linda, and that is a crying shame. How about a more home-focused episode every once in awhile?

     All said, Blue Bloods does touch on the typical legal and law enforcement shows, but has enough other elements to keep viewers who like to think interested. That was not a knock against the aforementioned genre, but shows within that category are frequently seen as mindless escapism, which has its place, but is not generally my cup of tea. The different points of view allow for a lot of flexibility from week to week, and the cast is amazing. Please check out Blue Bloods Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on CBS.

Article first published as TV Review: Blue Bloods Is All About Family on Blogcritics.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional TV news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gossip Girl Begins Beautiful Friendship

     Everyone is frequently switching romantic partners on a show like the CW's Gossip Girl. Serena (Blake Lively) has dated at least half a dozen guys alone. So it should come as no surprise that Dan (Penn Badgley) and Blair (Leighton Meester) are suddenly getting chummy. In fact, their intense animosity for each other since day one would have made them the predictable couple in a romantic comedy. Yet, their hatred was so intense, no flirting undertones were ever in sight, that I was super surprised at this season's development. They aren't anywhere close to being love interests... yet. But in the last few episodes, they have began a very sweet friendship.

     It was born out of necessity and mutual caring for Serena. Pitted together on a road trip just before the show took a winter break, fans were surprised at the chemistry these two had, as they'd never had more than a few moments to show it before. What came out of that story was surprising and fun, something very fresh in a four year old show, which admittedly, had already been having a stellar season. I think it might have been a one-shot episode if it hadn't been so magical. But it continued last night, as Blair and Dan reluctantly headed to the movies together. How reluctantly? It did feel like their protestations were only show, but it wasn't a date. I am extremely interested in how this will develop, more so than any other recent plot on Gossip Girl.

     I am sad to see the apparent end of Dan and Serena's will they or won't they, at least for now. As much as I love this new path with Dan and Blair, I was always a Dan and Serena fan, and I really enjoyed their renewed attraction lately. Last night, they said they'd only get one more chance, but they weren't ready to take it. It's really making the two of them echo their parents, who had a long, broken courtship, including whole years out of each others' lives, before ending up married. But if Dan and Blair get serious, and I hope that they do, that will likely make a Dan - Serena reunion near-impossible. As I am rooting for a new couple, it is with bittersweetness that I watch Dan and Serena end, perhaps for the last time. Unfortunately, I'm fairly certain it's not the last time, but this is really the perfect place to end it. Serena turning more and more into her mother won't do the two any favors.

     I am heartened by the return of Penelope (Amanda Setton) as one of Blair's minions. I admit, I did miss her snide looks. But I'm not sure she's a good fit for Blair anymore, and I feel her time back may be limited. Blair has grown so much, showing real maturity at times, even if she sometimes resorts to her scheming ways. In last night's episode, Blair's sneakiness got her into trouble with her mother (Margaret Colin, who should be a main character already!), but her new attitude allowed her to apologize and share a very, very cool scene later with mom. It was the best demonstration of the new Blair we could ask for, and I hope we see more of it.

     Lily (Kelly Rutherford) has been treated far less kindly. Once my favorite character, she was pretty much demonized when it came out that she sent an innocent man to prison, and intended to see her stepson Chuck's (Ed Westwick) company. In last night's episode, she backpedaled madly, as the writers tried to give her good excuses to do the things she had done, and attempted to right any wrongs. She only partially succeeded, and that's from a viewer satisfaction standpoint as much as a character arc one.

     It's hard to root for someone who has done some pretty horrible things, and Lily has. Even if she was just trying to protect Serena, getting Ben (David Call) locked up for all these years, and the very negative affect we saw it had this fall on his family, was really, really terrible. Lily has come back from having done bad things several times. I feel like, for once, several of the other characters are more willing to forgive her than I am, and that's weak writing. If they wanted to villanize Lily, then do it something more than halfway. They could pull her back from that brink eventually, but as quickly as they've tried to just isn't working.

     Related to that, what has put Rufus (Matthew Settle) in such a forgiving mood? Lily's husband has been much angrier with her for far less. It seems completely weird that he would stick by her so faithfully when she ruined a man's life. I just don't buy it. It seems like he's a whole other man; a whipped puppy. That's not Rufus. Compassionate and (eventually) forgiving, sure, but never castrated.

     Luckily, Lily's is the only questionable story right now. Last season was a little rocky as the show adjusted to many of its characters being high school graduates, but this year has been as strong as ever. I hate to say it, but a character not being present may be as responsible as the elements that are there. Jenny's (Taylor Momsen) extended, and now indefinite, absence actually helped the series, which is a shame, because once upon a time I really liked her. Momsen's behind the scenes drama got her benched, but her on screen tantrums made Jenny hard to like, too. I'm not anxious to get her back.

   Perhaps the most matured character is Nate (Chace Crawford), who has taken in his just-paroled father (Sam Robards). Nate has often had his own things going on apart from the other central characters, and sometimes it feels a stretch to tie him back in. However, this arc has been fantastic, showing a son's struggle to forgive his father for wrongs, see a role model as humanly flawed, and be a caregiver to a parent. What's more, last night's brilliant little move of linking the Captain to the man determined to ruin the Bass family name will entrench the two of them into other plots, keeping the show tightly written instead of sprawling as the rest of the season plays out. Nice move.

     Who are these new villains the Captain is getting involved with? Well, there's a new love interest for Chuck, appropriately, since his pairing with Blair, while amazing for a long time, seems done. And a familiar face in the form of Michael Boatman (Spin City, The Good Wife). We haven't learned hardly anything about him, except that he was screwed over by Chuck's father, but Boatman introduced the guy with such smoothness, charm, and a hint of vindictiveness, that he seems a well cast baddie for the second half of the season. The fact that his daughter, Raina (Tika Sumpter, One Life to Live) has taken a shine to Chuck, is delicious.

     If I could change one thing about this season of Gossip Girl, other than the small critiques above, because, as I said, it's been a truly awesome season, best since the first, it would be upgrading Eric (Connor Paolo) to a main cast member. He has been at the fringes of the show since the beginning, frequently there, but never getting much story of his own. With Jenny gone, there's room for him. Please give him the promotion.

     In a like vein, Dorota (Zuzanna Szadkowski) is irreplaceable, and always, always shines when she gets any story at all. She can take a small bit and really make it memorable. A larger Dorota presence would not be unwelcome.

     More than a guilty pleasure show, the series has great acting, writing, directing, and other elements. I can't recommend it enough. Gossip Girl's fourth season continues on the CW Monday nights at 9 p.m.

Article first published as TV Review: Gossip Girl Begins Beautiful Friendship on Blogcritics.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Episodes Quickly Improved

     With all of the shows I try to get to, it is rare to re-review a show I wrote about a mere two weeks ago. However, I was not at all impressed with the pilot of Showtime's Episodes, and the second and third episodes were fantastic. Since my opinion has changed so much, I felt it only fair to revisit Episodes, and write what the show is truly about, rather than just leave the bad taste of the pilot as my sole opinion.

     First of all, Matt LeBlanc (playing a character similar to himself, not coincidentally named Matt LeBlanc), who I complained was barely in the first episode, is wonderful. He is funny and comfortable with himself, which sometimes makes him seem arrogant, but sweet. This was illustrated best in last night's "Episode 3". Matt argued that the librarian at the school (in the show, now named Pucks) shouldn't be a lesbian. It was easy to see why Beverly (Tamsin Greig) would be upset with that opinion, and fight against it. Matt came across as a bit of a horn dog who just wanted to make out with the beautiful actress playing the role. But when Matt really opened up to Sean (Stephen Mangan) about why he made the suggestion, and how it would help their series, both Sean and I were swayed. Matt cares about what he's doing! A revelation!

     It's funny, because there are plenty of goofy characters on the series, such as the gate keeper, Wallace (Lou Hirsch), or the Head of Comedy, Myra (Daisy Haggard). I assumed that Matt was going to be one of them. If he had been, he would quickly have fallen victim to the same situation he outlined for Sean about the lesbian. I like the jokes and less developed characters, as they are wonderful recurring one-notes, but I'm glad to see that Matt isn't one of them, and he actually is a full player in the show.

     I had similar concerns about Carol (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and Merc (John Pankow), who delivered the same type of bits in both episodes one and two. A scene in episode three gave them each depth. Carol had always been Merc's yes-man in those first couple of shows, but while alone in her office, she suddenly showed him who is in charge, but of their professional and sexual relationships. It was a small scene, but a twist I didn't see coming. I have to say, it made them both seem much more interesting. I had been assuming that there must be real talent behind Merc's bluster. Now, I'm thinking maybe not. Maybe it's all Carol.

     Sean and Beverly have fleshed out nicely. I honestly was starting to question their legitimacy as a married couple. They have been shown fighting so much more than showing affection for one another. Their bedroom scene at the beginning of the third show was needed, to demonstrate their ongoing mutual attraction. They are both struggling with this new world they've entered, Beverly having more trouble with it than Sean, so of course they'd take it out on each other a little bit. Sean, in particular, has mixed motivations in L.A., so I'm very curious as to how he will play out. But they also have real love.

     I definitely misjudged the show by its pilot, which I still maintain was not a very good one. Three episodes in, I will not say the same for the series. It's wickedly funny, has tight writing and acting, and real talent that know how to handle themselves and their craft. I am a fan. I hope you will soon be, too.

     Watch Episodes Sunday nights at 9:30 p.m. on Showtime.

Article first published as TV Review: Episodes Quickly Improved on Blogcritics.

For frequent mini-reviews and occasional TV news, follow Jerome on Twitter.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Medium ends series strangely

***This article contains spoilers. If you have not watched "Me Without You" yet, I strongly recommend you do not read it, as there were some pretty neat twists.***

     Last night was the series finale of CBS's Medium. I used to watch the show religiously when it ran on NBC, but after the move to CBS last year, I thought quality went down. NBC wasn't afraid to shake up the series and make major changes. CBS, on the other hand, toned it down to a common procedural, something very successful on their network, because their viewers don't like to pay much attention apparently, but the reason I don't bother with much of their programming. Boring! However, having viewed a handful of episodes this year, and they were better, with more focus Dubois family, the true heart of the show.

     Last night's series ender pretty much dispatched with the children all together. It was the love story of Allison (Patricia Arquette) and Joe (Jake Weber). In the first moments, Joe is killed in a plane crash. Flash forward seven years later, and Allison is working with the district attorney (Roger Bart, Desperate Housewives, The Producers) to bring down a major Mexican drug cartel. The DA is killed and Mayor Devalos (Miguel Sandoval) tasks Allison with finishing the case. But then Allison begins dreaming about Joe, convinced the accused has her husband stashed away down in Mexico. Joe has suffered from amnesia, and doesn't remember her.

     I thought that the plot up to that point was unrealistic, and it was stretching my enjoyment. I like the series, and sometimes there are some fantastical things that happen, but even so, it was going a little too far. Amnesia? Come on. Been done before. Don't do such a hokey plot for your final episode! I kept trying to talk myself out of the disappointment and just enjoy the love story, but I was having a difficult time. When Allison blew the case on purpose to find Joe, it was really bothering me. Yes, she loves him, but she also cares about her job, and about putting away bad guys. Plus, I wasn't crazy about the new, older Marie. And, let's be honest, Arquette isn't the most talented actress in the world.

     And then came the big twist: Joe had died in the wreck, and sent her the dream of seven years later to show Allison that she would be fine without him. Allison's only brain forced the Joe survived subplot into the story, and she took over the dream. Now we're back to the night Joe died, and he's telling her that he's really gone.

     I was on board, now. Cool idea, executed wonderfully. Unlike Arquette, Weber is a hell of an actor, and he sold the whole thing brilliantly. I didn't see it coming, but it validated my doubts about the episode up until this point. Of course it seemed off, because it was! The whole Mexican case and amnesic Joe never happened! But with about ten minutes left in the show, I wondered what could possibly be done to top what the writers had just pulled off.

     Sadly, instead of using that ten minutes, the series chose to only use a few of them, and then do another few minutes of goodbye montage to the main actors in the show. The music was a little hokey, but I can appreciate that after seven years, the series wanted to give credit to the people who brought the characters to life. The words revealing that the real Allison and Joe are still living happily together was nice, and surely appreciated by some viewers who had remained heavily invested straight through to the end.

     Now, the last scene after Joe's reveal and before the tribute may have been the most interesting. It was set forty-one years after Joe's death, with Allison slipping quietly into, surrounded by pictures and memories of her family. Their three daughters were adults with children, and at least one great grandchild for Allison. Although she was alone at the time, it was clear that she was still loved by her family. And the aloneness worked out better, as just after Allison died, Joe appeared to take her into the after life.

    My question is, did this scene happen? Or was it another dream sent by Joe to comfort her, and Allison didn't take it over this time because she had her happy ending? Or Joe knew she'd take it over, but also knew that it would work anyway? Or did Allison make it up herself? It was a beautiful demonstration of their commitment together. Their marriage has always been a major cornerstone to the series, and I loved that the final moments of footage were an affirmation of their bond.

     Thank you, Medium, for an uneven, but mostly interesting story of a fascinating and relatable family. Besides those mentioned above, Medium also starred David Cubitt as Lee, Sofia Vassilieva as Ariel, Maria Lark as Bridgette, and Madison and Miranda Carabello as Marie.

Article first published as TV Review: Medium Ends Series Strangely on Blogcritics.

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