What happened this week? You’ll find that, with most of these shows, we got good-not-great outings. I’d call it post-strike jitters, but with the exception of The Office, I’m pretty sure these episodes were shot pre-strike. Nothing was outright awful—even My Name Is Earl managed to bounce back with the help of exceptional guest stars—but nothing came close to the inspired brilliance of last week’s The Office. (Okay, The Riches came pretty close.)
Bones (Fox)—I’m surprised how much I missed this show. I would compliment them for quickly falling back into the rhythm of the series after the strike, but I know Fox intentionally held up several episodes “just in case,” so I don’t even think we’ve hit the post-strike material yet. Nonetheless, a very good return with a genuinely compelling mystery. On this kind of standalone procedural, the mysteries are often so convoluted they don’t make sense (like CSI) or they’re so generic there’s nothing to grab onto (like Law & Order). I like Bones because, once they found their footing, the characters shine brightly enough that it doesn’t matter if the mysteries were lame. So when the mystery is top-notch, as this week’s was, it’s all the better.
I also have to add that John Francis Daley is a fantastic addition to the cast. I never thought he’d be bad—I was a huge fan of Freaks & Geeks—but I was a little concerned they’d have trouble integrating “FBI shrink” into the stories. While he had very little to do with the mystery, the subplot involving him and his girlfriend (and juxtaposing their relationship with Bones and Booth) was great. Nice comeback, guys!
Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)—Malvo, one of the weirdest characters in the history of the show (even weirder than Todd Bridges’s hilarious paranoid militant), returns from prison with the promise of turning his life around. The catch? He wants Chris to tutor him. From this wacky-mismatch sitcom premise comes a very funny episode, but one with a dark undercurrent that this show doesn’t often utilize, despite its mid-’80s Bed-Stuy setting. The writers mined a lot of laughter from the idea of Malvo’s thuggish, sociopathic behavior clashing with the Rocks, but at the same time: Malvo is a thuggish sociopath. There’s something a little unsettling there, and it actually made the ending a little depressing. Why couldn’t he have turned his life around? I know it’s a sitcom, and I’ll admit it was a good, ironic way to end the episode, but it’s interesting to contemplate the true feelings of the writers as to whether or not a person like Malvo can reform himself.
King of the Hill (Fox)—Upfront, I’ll say I enjoyed this episode. It was as funny as any King of the Hill episode, and I laughed a lot. Thinking about it for this column, though, has me wondering whether or not anything that happened in the story fit with Dale’s character. Obviously, the selfishness and total lack of consideration for Joseph’s feelings are pretty solid—but Dale’s the paranoid conspiracy nut. Wouldn’t an offer from a private school freak him out and make him wonder what kind of crazy information they want to fill Joseph’s head with? I’m not sure if this would have taken the episode in a funnier direction, but it would have been more consistent with Dale. He’s never been shown as particularly greedy or money-obsessed—in fact, the usual struggle between him and Nancy is the fact that his exterminator business doesn’t make any money.
Medium (NBC)—Bringing back Kurtwood Smith—and opening the possibility for him to return more often—was a masterstroke. Bringing in Kelly Preston…I’m not so sure about. She’s not bad or anything, but she seems to get pigeonholed in “sleazy vixen”-type roles. The idea of her and Joe working closely, and the recurring theme of possible psychic-related marital problems, makes me worry about what her recurring stint will bring to future episodes. Stay strong, Joe.
My Name Is Earl (NBC)—Last week’s episode sucked so hard, I said, “I’ll give it another week—if Earl’s still in a coma and the wacky antics of Randy/Joy/Darnell don’t improve, I’m done.” Then they cheated by bringing back Beau Bridges and Nancy Lenehan as Earl’s parents. The episode was actually really funny and featured a great comedic turn by Michael Peña as a truly strange drug dealer. Even better, if it featured any crappy sitcom coma fantasies, I don’t remember them. The rest of the episode was that solid. However, I acknowledge that about 80% of the episode’s success came from Bridges, Lenehan, and Peña’s guest appearances. My “one more week or I’m out” policy is extended until next week, when we most likely won’t have ringer guest stars taking over the show.
The Office (NBC)—Like this week’s King of the Hill, I don’t have much to say about this episode: I laughed a lot and, unlike Hill, I didn’t find anything terribly out of character. It just didn’t approach the show at the top of its game—difficult to do after last week’s “Dinner Party,” but I guess I still expected something more out of Michael’s sadness and obsession with both the chair model and with being fixed up with somebody hot (without coming out and saying it).
The Riches (FX)—“Well, that was a weird ending.” That about sums up my thoughts on this week’s episode. Everything about it was great—Cael getting involved with the Travellers, Dahlia attempting to lead a good life (or at least trick the parole officer into believing it), and especially Wayne and Sam’s “bonding” as they attempt to swap out a towel full of Pete’s blood with a towel of Wayne’s blood—but that ending…I don’t know what to make of it. Maybe I’m just being overly dense, but when the parole officer said, “It’s over,” did he mean, “Come with me to jail” or did he mean “I sort of like you, so we’ll just forget you ever showed up”? I’m leaning toward the latter, but if that’s the case, I hope this subplot doesn’t die. It’s an interesting turn that would feel wasted if they just dropped it now.
Scrubs (NBC)—I think I have to retire this show. Like Stargate Atlantis before it—although still much, much better than that show—I find myself unable to say anything about it. Maybe it’s just been on too long. The characters are set and, for the most part, unchanging (even the “big morals” they learn in pretty much every episode don’t change them enormously), and at this point the stories exist mostly to string together fantasy sequences and moments of absurdity.