All right, I got my rant about CSI out of the way last week—let’s get back to business.
Aliens in America (The CW)—Last week, I decided to go on a rant about the low-quality but enduring (hell, thriving) CSI franchise, which caused me to miss reviewing last week’s unbelievable Aliens in America—by far the series’ best, and they’ve set a pretty high standard so far.
Winter has set in, and the Tolchuks are looking forward to their upcoming vacation to…Vancouver. When Raja foolishly attempts to pray before their flight, he’s flagged as a terror suspect and the entire family is thrown out of the airport. The frustrated Tolchuks give Raja hell for it, prompting him to leave the family. Meanwhile, Justin gets frustrated at Gary’s apparent disinterest in everything he does. In a nice twist, Gary is equally annoyed at his sons disinterest in sports, cars, and power tools.
Aliens in America‘s ability to simultaneously skewer and reenforce traditional family values is one of the things it does better than any show in recent memory. Even Arrested Development‘s values were as dysfunctional as the Bluths themselves. Dysfunctional as the Tolchuks are, they still operate as a family unit, and in this episode they discover just what that means.
Did I mention it was also hilarious? Justin’s rendition of “Space Oddity” might eclipse his uncomfortable Rent duet with Franny as the series’ funniest moment. I also admire this show for its ability to play on Americans’ “terrorist” prejudices without political pandering. The Tolchuks getting tossed from the airport marks one of the series’ funniest and most frenetic sequences, and the family’s visit to a mosque they think Raja frequents has to be seen to be believed.
Canterbury’s Law (Fox)—Though its rapid, unscheduled move from Mondays to Fridays is undoubtedly a portent of early cancellation, I’m enjoying this show. Like the first season of Rescue Me, a show that shares many of Canterbury’s writers, I still barely have any idea who the characters are, but it’s clear both the writers and actors know. They’re laying groundwork, slowly but surely, and I assume in the long run audience patience will be rewarded. Of course, there probably won’t be a long run, and consequently no rewards.
Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)—I admit the easter episode was a bit of a disappointment, but they bounced back with a great episode centering on Chris and Drew. They cut school in search of Wayne Gretzky, while at home the Rocks freak about the mysterious disappearance of both sons. The episode got a lot of mileage out of the fish-out-of-water syndrome Chris and Drew experience once they’re out of Bed-Stuy. The episode also had a great, extended callback to the infamous GRITZKY/#98 jersey Julius bought from Risky.
Jericho (CBS)—It’s really disappointing to see this one go, but I guess it’s a little easier to swallow this time around, since they’ve given audiences a proper finale. Granted, Jericho still had plenty of juice left, but I’m not exactly going to be sending Air Force jets or pints of blood to CBS to keep it on the air. Viewers got seven taut, well-crafted episodes with great guest stars and some subtle, even-handed political commentary—plus, a shitload of kick-ass action.
Echoing my CSI complaints from last week, I wish CBS could take a little ratings hit from a show like this. I know it’s tough to stay the #1 network, but the “all procedural, all the time” format can only work for so long before people get tired of the Bruckheimer mold. Even NBC, which has renewed Law & Order: Original Recipe for its 900th season, has a little variety in their programming (besides which, Criminal Intent has already been thrust onto USA Network, indicating the first sign of bland procedural fatigue; ironically, Criminal Intent is the most entertaining of the Law & Orders). When CBS dares to take a risk, and it doesn’t pay off immediately, they get rid of it. Remember Viva Laughlin? Neither do I, and they only canceled it in September…
Or, if it’s like Jericho and it does do well right out of the gate, they practically sabotage it with awful scheduling tactics that make sure the viewers didn’t return after the series’ early mixed-bag/finding-its-footing episodes. By the time it turned into a show worth saving, CBS had already killed it.
Is it telling that I no longer watch anything on CBS? Does this speak to a snotty critic mentality, or CBS’s quality vacuum? You decide.
King of the Hill (Fox)—I don’t usually like episodes that focus on Kahn, because he’s such an asshole, but this episode did a great job of exploring the character’s vulnerabilities while featuring a plethora of the show’s trademark subtle one-liners. My personal favorite:
“We initially came to make fun of you, but that was great. It actually makes you miss you around the office. It’s too bad they make you telecommute.”
Medium (NBC)—Another two weeks, another two-parter. Unlike the last two-parter, which was solid until a predictable ending, this one was a masterpiece—possibly the height of Medium‘s quality to date. Focusing on Anjelica Huston’s private investigator’s tragic past, with a wonderful subplot in which Joe both gets inspiration and argues with Allison about money for an idea involving solar panel magnification, the two episodes did an exceptional job of building the confusing, dream-contorted mysteries and semi-mundane domestic problems that have become the trademarks of Medium. What’s more—it built a conclusion both shocking and inevitable, but not nearly as predictable as the previous two-parter.
Would this have been as effective without the mysteriousness and, shall we say, brusqueness of Anjelica Huston’s Cynthia Keener? If we knew less about her, it would failed. If they had cast a lesser actress, it also would have failed. But hey, this isn’t just about Huston’s Emmy-worthy work—everyone involved with this show should take a bow. With The Wire out of its way, I’m tempted to call this the best show currently on television. If it’s not that, it’s definitely duking it out with Lost for the top spot.
My Name Is Earl (NBC)—The last time My Name Is Earl did an hourlong episode (“Our Other COPS Is On!”), it was a series low point. Considering the rapid quality decline during this season, I found myself dreading the show’s return.
To my surprise, it was actually pretty funny. The “coma sitcom” stuff was both gimmicky and pointless (practically speaking, the point was: Jason Lee stars as Earl, so putting him in a coma for the entire episode after returning from a six-month hiatus…might disappoint some viewers; creatively, it’s a total waste and a comedy vacuum), but fortunately it didn’t dominate the episode. We spent more time watching Earl’s friends and family react to the coma, providing us more proof than ever that this isn’t just a vehicle for Jason Lee. It boasts one of the finest comic ensembles currently on TV.
The Riches (FX)—The new season’s second episode was wonderfully done—ably using the entire ensemble, performing the usual balancing act between “will they get busted?” suspense and black humor—and now, this week’s return to Eden Falls has settled into last season’s groove. As Wayne tries to balance Hugh’s insanity and Dale’s stupidity with this season’s new “13 million dollar payoff,” he also finds himself dealing with the arrest of Cael. If you recall, last year he and some pals broke into the school’s computer to change grades. This has finally caught up with him, resulting in potential expulsion.
Like The Wire, The Riches‘ soap-opera structure makes it difficult to judge individual episodes in terms of quality. This felt like a step back after the season’s first two episodes, but it also started some gears turning on storylines that could carry us through a season or more. Perhaps the biggest revelation is Dale’s misguided attempt to blackmail Wayne; he didn’t come out and say it, but it’s pretty clear that he’s using the hidden body of Pete—the real Doug Rich’s friend—to get what he wants. Is Wayne finally going to have to put Dale away for good? (As annoying as the character can be, I hope not—Todd Stashwick is doing great work in the role.)