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Posts in: May 2008

Twittered

More Diablo Cody rage:

http://twitter.com/diablocody

It seemed pretty innocuous at first, until I stumbled across one Twitter:

I just bought an amazing dress for my girl Dana’s premiere tomorrow. I am SO gonna get Fugged!

Not that it’s without precedent, but it just bugs me. Really, the Fug girls are going to follow her around, Fugging her constantly? She’s that important a person, that edgy and interesting in her apparel choices? Maybe she wore a hideous Pebbles Flintstone dress to the Oscars, but it doesn’t quite count if you’re expecting to get Fugged—practically goading them into it. It’s just another example of someone thinking highly of themselves while pretending they don’t think highly of themselves. You want to have a colossal ego? Have a colossal ego, and be upfront about it. Aaron Sorkin does a really nice job showing his off. You want to be known as “Oscar-winning* screenwriter” instead of “former stripper”? Well, the first step is to write a good screenplay, but once you’ve done that, maybe try hiring a publicist who will force the media to downplay the stripper connection, now that it no longer suits your purposes. Turning your back on what helped you broke through to mainstream success will be sure to give you indie cred!

*Still makes me shudder.

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Spring Cleaning

Good news, everyone! Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles, the season’s best new network show, got renewed for a second season. I don’t want to say this surprised me, but it did. I had a strong suspicion it’d disappear without a trace, but it’s a fantastic show so I’m glad Fox had the sense to renew it. Now, everyone just has to watch it. Seriously. If you liked Terminator 2: Judgment Day (and I don’t know anyone whose seen it and didn’t like it), you’ll love this show. It’s not Rise of the Machines-caliber.

On an unrelated note, it’s amazing how removing one show from my viewing schedule can affect my week. After finally giving up on My Name Is Earl, I feel great about what I’m watching. I say that despite the fact that I say below that this week’s House was the show’s worst episode to date.

Aliens in America (The CW)—How is it possible that this is one of the lowest-rated show on television and that its ratings decline week after week? It is, hands down, the funniest comedy on television. Much as I love The Office, Aliens in America has eclipsed it in both humor and dark satirical content. The only difference is in the level of broadness (Aliens is much more cartoonish, which isn’t a bad thing).

This week, Raja gets stuck in the stock kid-com plot of befriending a shy, friendless girl and having her get a little too attached. It manages to subvert this storyline by allowing Raja to play “the Muslim card”—he can’t date her because of their religious differences. So she converts. It doesn’t even have the usual sitcom solution where Raja has to confess the truth that he never liked her and everything has gotten out of hand; he does that, but he also adds that it’s a little insulting to adopt a new religion just because he was nice to her. Conversion should be a long, soul-searching prospect, not something done on a whim. I’m really pleased that they’ve given Raja strong religious convictions while still painting him as pretty much a regular kid—it’s something we rarely see on television, from kids of any religion.

Bones (Fox)—This episode did a really nice job of pointing out the dire state of the economy without getting overbearing or preachy. It also gave a stronger insight into both Booth and Brennan; forced to care for a baby who swallowed a crucial piece of evidence, it manages to both deepen their relationship and make them each understand a little more about themselves as individuals. Inserting a baby can often feel like a cheap gimmick, but these characters—especially Brennan’s comical (if hard-to-believe) inability to understand why a baby can’t just take care of itself—made the whole thing work.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)—I don’t know why this bugs me, but I really wish they’d made it clearer whether or not FBI agents are going to be following Chris around for the rest of the season. I assume, because it’s the nature of the show, that this is just a fantasy sequence, but I’m not convinced the show has ever closed on a fantasy, because they always want us to know, clearly and distinctly, that what’s happening isn’t real.

This was a funny but uneven episode about Chris’s continuing struggle to be “cool.” In order to get the cool kids to like him, he has to act as a lookout while they commit various illegal deeds. He realizes right away that this is bad, but he still does it because he wants to be recognized as “cool.” I admired this for tackling a legitimate problem in high-crime urban areas with the normal level of humor. I guess my main problem is that they didn’t sell me on why Chris wanted these particular cool kids—who are obviously thugs, and who we’ve never seen before—to like and/or respect him. It worked when he bought cigarettes just to give to the cool kids, but when he got suspended and decided to go trolling around with the cool kids, it lost believability. It just doesn’t seem like Chris-like behavior.

House (Fox)—Wow, what an awful episode to return with. I know I’ve been tough on House before, but that’s only because I know it’s capable of more. Maybe everyone’s off their game because of the post-strike rush, but returning with such a bad episode isn’t exactly going to make viewers sympathize with the strike (though I did think it was kind of cute that the nurses’ signs on the picket line were modeled after the writers’ strike signs).

So here’s what the episode would have us believe: House just happens to leave a syphilitic blood sample labeled with his name, because he “knew at some point somebody would test [his] blood,” and it just happens that they test his blood for the exact disease it’s tainted with because their patient happens to be infected? So he can prank them by showing a change in personality once they force him to take a shot of penicillin? And we’re expected to believe six doctors—diagnosticians, at that—who are familiar with House’s work would believe he has never had a shot of any kind of syphilis-curing antibiotic in decades? What the fuck?

This episode had one—and only one—nice moment. At the end, when the patient is “cured,” his wife is sitting with him as he eats. The entire time, she’s been trying to insist that brain swelling and/or syphilis couldn’t be the cause of his personality changes. Well, it also made everything he ate taste like lemon meringue pie, so he discovers to his dismay that he doesn’t like ketchup. “I wonder what else I don’t like.” The innocence with which he says that, and the look of fear on the wife’s face, almost made the episode worth watching. A great moment in one of the worst House episodes so far.

King of the Hill (Fox)—One great way to keep a long-running series fresh is to tackle some new facet of the characters. Seinfeld did it with Elaine’s driving (and, more famously, dancing). The Simpsons has done it dozens of times by giving secondary or tertiary characters the spotlight. King of the Hill did it this week by showing us Peggy’s legendary bad birthdays. We’ve never seen Peggy have a birthday before, and we may never see it again, but we get a brief history of birthday failures (including an armed robbery), so we understand right off the bat why it’s so important to have a good birthday this time.

Booking a ’70s-themed murder-mystery train seems like the perfect solution, but it all goes wrong. This had a tight, focused story where we’re given a train conductor who has no interest in mystery monkey business and results with Peggy getting a surprise—a happy birthday, but not in the way she expected.

Lost (ABC)—I like Jack as a character, but I rarely enjoy his flashbacks (or flash-forward, in this case). The surprise twist in last season’s flash-forward finale worked very well—in fact, his entire downer of a flashback worked pretty well, because it showed a new side of Jack. The typical problem with Jack’s flashbacks is the repetition of themes we already understand: he’s obsessed with “saving” people, so he’s a bad husband. He hates and resents his father, and his biggest fear is turning into him. The flash-forward was more of the same, albeit slightly more intriguing because we discover an actual (crumbling) relationship with Kate and a few hints that Jack knows Aaron is technically his nephew.

Otherwise, it felt like “prelude to a downward spiral”—he’s shown drinking heavily, he starts taking the pills, he’s seeing the ghost of his dad and, for some reason, hearing phantom smoke detectors. (Wouldn’t it have been awesome if that smoke detector beep had been the hatch countdown beep?) We know all of this, except the relationship stuff, from the flash-forward that closed season three. I guess it’s important to see where it started—it’s always Sawyer’s fault, damn him!—but it didn’t quite have the same intrigue and suspense of other flash-forwards. The scene with Hurley was effectively creepy, though. And the flash-forward did remind me of something that never occurred to me because I’m an idiot. Remember that whole “the baby will be raised by another” thing from season one? Kate’s raising Aaron! How did I not put that together sooner?

As for the present-day island antics, the idea of Jack having appendicitis and emergency island surgery will do well for his character. He always plays the big hero—a consistent complaint of viewers, although I’ve never had a huge problem with it because the writers have made him heroic more out of a desperation to please and a competitive spirit than actual selflessness—so hobbling him in an ironic way will have a decisive impact on his leadership. I’d like to see where they’re heading with that. The apparent foreshadowing—with Rose and Bernard trying to figure out why Jack would get sick when the island heals—will hopefully pay off, answering why both Jack and Ben were afflicted with debilitating diseases after taking leadership positions (yet Locke’s bullet was magically and quickly healed).

How the hell did Keamy and his cohorts survive the smoke monster? Come on, you can’t just leave something like that hanging! It’s like going six weeks without hearing a peep out of Michael. Oh wait… The genuine cliffhanger, with Claire and the ghost of her father (who Miles saw—an indication of his ability to communicate with ghosts, or an indication that he’s really there?), left me desperate to find out what’s going to happen.

Medium (NBC)—Another great episode concept—Joe buying Allison a haunted car—with a good but somewhat faulty execution. One of the liberties this show has always taken is having Allison experience her psychic premonitions in many ways. It’s mostly dreams, but she also sees ghosts like they’re just hanging around, sometimes she gets flashes upon touching a person or object (like The Dead Zone‘s Johnny Smith), or flashes just seeing a person. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen an episode where the “ghost” can interact with reality. I can understand hallucinations, but how did Allison get in that garage if the ghost didn’t open the door? Was it already open? Why didn’t the car’s previous owner—already sensitive to references of his wife’s murder—throw a fit when he found it parked back in his garage? Minor details, but in a mystery show, the details count.

The subplot with Joe and his “new boss,” and the possible affair, worked pretty well. Special Guest Star Kelly Preston works her usual, bordering-on-sleazy magic as an investor who isn’t just interested in Joe’s invention. Allison’s psychic jealousy is also an interesting element—will she see things correctly or not? It’s hard to accuse Joe of wrongdoing based on a dream that may not have been “psychic” at all.

The Office (NBC)—I love Michael’s utter fear of Stanley, and his misperception of Stanley as the office’s “sassy black” employee. So many great scenes—the initial outburst, the fake firing, Michael’s attempt to confront Stanley, Darryl’s advice to Michael, and even Ryan chewing out Jim and threatening his job. And it goes back to the simpler idea of tiny office events rocking everyone’s foundations. Michael’s leadership—or lack thereof—is called into question, and Stanley doesn’t back down. Not one bit. This is one of those instant classics that The Office seems to have every other episode these days. My only complaint: we got a little taste of Darryl, but where has he been lately, and will we see more of him? I keep seeing Craig Robinson pop up in movie trailers, which is great for him (he’s hilarious), but I want to see him every week, not every six months.

Reaper (The CW)—This show has improved greatly since the introduction of Steve and Tony, but not solely because of Steve and Tony. They represent our introduction into a deeper mythology—a faction of earthbound demons want the Devil dead, and Sam’s caught in the middle. On top of that, they finally let Andi in on the big secret (it’s about time), leading to some genuine drama as she first thinks Sam’s a liar, then insane, then frightening, and eventually…kinda cool. What’s more, the show is no longer a Buffy-esque balancing act of hiding his secret identity from loved ones while (sort of) kicking ass and taking names. It never made much sense to keep the information from her to begin with, so I’m glad they did away with it.

I still have lingering questions about Sam’s parents and that page of the contract Sam’s dad destroyed, but as long as the show remains enjoyable, I don’t mind waiting. Just don’t make it a dangling, never-resolved subplot, writers! Still, when they’re giving Ben face time with his hilarious green-card marriage/soulmate-meeting subplot, I can live with dangling plot points.

Robin Hood (BBC America)—Another fine outing, more in the Indiana Jones mold than usual. I know this show is more about beating the trap than the trap itself, but one thing I always wondered that I’ve never read in a history book is: do these insane, booby-trapped rooms really exist? If so, how do they work? This episode didn’t answer those questions, but it was an entertaining look at the same kind of old-timey, trap-laden room. They took bits from more than a few heist movies, with the idea of finding the original designer of the room, doing test-runs to make sure they can pull it off in the allotted time, and the inevitable “here’s how it all goes wrong” twist. I liked the one-time addition of the Bavarian fellow, who actually turned out to be a good guy, but I have a feeling the Sheriff’s “If you don’t do what I say, we’ll kill your father” bit is going to get as old as Robin’s “Why shouldn’t I kill you right now?” line from last season. Turning Marian’s father into a cheap plot device won’t help anything. We’ll see; maybe the Sheriff will never do anything like this again.

The Riches (FX)—Great early finale. I feared they’d leave the whole show cluttered with confusion and half-baked cliffhangers (because they assumed they’d be resolved the following week), but the writers created some cliffhangers that can be resolved next week or next year—they’ll keep. The only disappointment is DiDi’s relationship with the security guard, which didn’t really go anywhere. I’m sure it’s headed in some direction; we just won’t know until next season.

Supernatural (The CW)—A solid episode with the usual balance of laughs and suspense. This one gets bonus points for three reasons: (1) the telephone ghost calling with a 100-year-old number was really creepy, (2) anyone who mentions Edison’s spirit phone automatically gets bonus points, and (3) they turned the typical monster-of-the-week storyline into a story about the brothers’ relationship with their father, which forced Dean to confront his fear of going to Hell. It’s #3 that made this episode work above and beyond Supernatural‘s usual quality. I know it’s not easy to find a way to do this every week, so it’s refreshing that they incorporated it. Well done, Supernatural!

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Killing Your Darlings

I don’t know why, but for the past few days I’ve found myself obsessing over ideas that don’t work. But not the normal “wow, this scene sucks” or “this plot point doesn’t work at all” kind of idea—ideas that work on their own, but for various external reasons fail.

I’ll give an example: in the novel I’m writing, I always thought it’d be funny to incorporate a scene that essentially spoofs the scene in Sling Blade where Karl goes to visit his father (played by Robert Duvall), who’s a barely coherent, almost immobile drunk living in squalor. It would have also spoofed a scene in the VH1 movie about Meat Loaf, where he goes to visit his unsupportive father (early in the movie, Meat Loaf leaves home because his dad comes after him with a butcher knife) and discovers a Meat Loaf shrine. Because I leave no rural social issue unmocked, the joke mainly revolved around the father (of German-farmer heritage) having a shrine to the Nazi Party rather than a shrine to his son.

I’ll tell you why I cut it (ignoring the fact that it’s not terribly funny): it has nothing to do with anything. It has no bearing on the story, doesn’t fundamentally change the character or his conflict with his mother (he blames her for the father’s death, making the big reveal that he’s still alive only function to shift his anger from the death to the hiding)—it’s what I like to call a Family Guy spoof: it’s random, it’s kind of funny, but it means absolutely nothing aside from, “Hey, look! They referenced that movie!”

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MySpace Blog “Customization”

MySpace, a place for friends, is once again the bane of my existence. I’m going to try to stop making every other entry about my other blog, because I’m honestly not trying to pimp it here (if I was, there’d be endless links on the sidebar), but this is where I go to vent, and I need to vent right about now.

I spent most of the evening fighting to the death with MySpace’s “blog customization” panel. Until recently, the profile part of MySpace had no options for customization—it was only through “third-party” hacking that people were able to override MySpace’s bland, unattractive default settings. However, for as long as I’ve used it (since late 2005), the blog has had customization options: a list of options to specify font, size, color, alignment, with a little textarea at the bottom to paste in your own CSS code.

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More Thoughts on Grand Theft Auto IV

Slightly more positive this time around!

Last time, I mentioned unhappiness that they removed some of my favorite minigames. Actually, my all-time favorite was the time-wasting, mind-numbing cab game—I couldn’t tell you why, but the idea of hustling to get all those people around town was a lot of fun for me. I also enjoyed rooting around town for the lists of desirable cars. Especially in GTA3, those crazy easter egg cars like the ice cream truck made finishing those lists an epic quest. Replacing them with Roman’s laaaame taxi missions and Brucie/Steve’s car-hunting expeditions just isn’t working for me.

However, I found myself quite enjoying the police submissions. So far, the only enjoyable missions in the game are the firefights, so I just login to the police computer until I find something along the lines of “gang activity,” then go have an enjoyable shootout. It’s even interesting because your running around shooting people gets you a police rating of your own, so there’s dual danger. That’s kind of fun. I’ve noticed several fire stations around but haven’t really bothered seeking out whether or not they have a game attached to them. I thought the firefighter missions were a waste of time before, but I’d imagine this game has much cooler fire effects than GTA3. (They were such a waste of time that I never bothered to find out if they had them in Vice City or San Andreas.)

I’m also finding the story a little more tolerable. It’s not great by any means, but it’s moved from “awful” to “almost serviceable.” Niko still doesn’t come close to being a compelling, unique character, but the farther along I get, the more interesting the missions become as a result of the story. So I guess it’s not so much the story getting better as it’s just allowing for better mission opportunities. To that end, another big complete—the near-total lack of challenge—is gone. One or two missions have required multiple attempts, and multiple approaches, before I could beat them. Even the ones I beat on the first try have some interesting challenges. The shootout when Roman gets kidnapped was a lot of fun, even though it was comically easy. I also haven’t fallen victim to quite so many annoying glitches, so that’s cool.

Finally, a friend of mine pointed out something jaw-droppingly obvious: I now have enough money to both take cabs everywhere and skip the endless ride. Since I started doing that, it’s made the game assloads more fun. I still hate the driving (except, ironically, when I’m driving the cab; even then, so much of the time it takes forfuckingever to get anywhere). I’m not exactly happy—I shouldn’t have to find alternate methods to workaround shitty game design—but I’m enjoying the experience a teensy bit more.

The cutscenes are still endless, though. Oh, and Packie just seems like a warmed-over version of Ziggy from The Wire (and since I’ve already compared this game unfavorably to that great television series, the reminder doesn’t exactly help GTA4’s case). And I’m noticing more Britishisms in this game than usual. The only one I can remember off the top of my head is the use of the extremely British “advert” (as opposed to “commercial” or just “ad”), and for those ready to cut me because Niko’s European, it was spoken by an American on one of the radio ads (the one for the electrolyte energy drink, itself a much shittier version of a great running gag from Idiocracy). Is this because they’re hiring unknowns so happy to have a voice-acting gig on a high-profile project, they don’t have the balls to say, “No American would ever talk like this”? Whatever the explanation, it’s not exactly bringing me over to the side that this is brilliant writing for any medium—it’s the little nitpicks that reveal how lazy and/or sloppy a piece of writing is. Trust me: I’m both lazy and sloppy.

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Movies That Haven’t Aged Well: American Beauty (1999)

I’m going to start off the bat by saying many of the elements that contributed to American Beauty‘s commercial and (limited) creative success still hold up: Kevin Spacey’s fantastic performance as Lester Burnham, Conrad Hall’s breathtaking cinematography, even Sam Mendes’s direction (though he has yet to repeat this with as much success). Really, the thing that sinks it when I recently plucked it off my DVD shelf to watch—for the first time since probably 2000—is its Oscar-winning screenplay.

Granted, Alan Ball is no Diablo Cody, but there’s something so…I guess the politest way to put it is “obvious” about the characters, the satire, and each characters’ storyline. I really enjoyed this movie when it first hit theatres, so I can’t know if the problem is me getting older and more worldly (making me realize that the cardboard-cutout characters are more stereotype than archetype) or if it’s the prism of time reflecting a big brown blob of shit rather than a pretty rainbow.

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Lucy: Source of Unending Disappointment

So Lucy texted me yesterday to tell me she’d be coming into town for Mother’s Day weekend, so I was to clear some time to hang out. Fair enough.

Then she called me this morning—actually, she frantically sought me out by IM, text, and VoiceMail, although I was wandering around town and didn’t take my phone with me, so technically I called her (back)—to let me know she wouldn’t be coming into town. She does this often—any time there’s a light rain or something, she’ll cancel the trip because she doesn’t want to drive in it. I can relate, so it’s not a big deal, but it does get a little old.

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Where Do Babies Come From?

The genesis from idea to full-fledged screenplay (or novel, or short story) is nearly impossible to describe. It happens differently for every person—or, at least, people fall into different groupings in terms of what they do to take an idea from vague concept to finished work. My classic, unmarketable satire about a high school student who joins a Satanic cult when he can’t get a date for the prom came from remarkably simple circumstances: when I was in high school, I had no interest whatsoever in going to the prom, so I waited for the absolute last minute to ask a girl.

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Gossip Girl, 90210

Via an article in the print TV Guide, the CW has announced its intention to turn themselves into the all-Gossip-Girl-and-America’s-Next-Top-Model network. Not too long ago, I mentioned that the network gave early pickups to every one of their shows except freshmen shows Reaper and Aliens in America, both of which have shaped up to place among the funniest shows on TV, and by far the best the CW has to offer (I like Everybody Hates Chris and Supernatural, but they don’t compare). At the time, I wasn’t worried about their future prospects. Neither show had come back from its long strike hiatus, so it made sense that the CW would want to see how they performed this spring.

Well, now I’m worried. The network has dismantled its comedy development department, while Dawn Ostroff runs around telling everyone they want to saturate the teen-girl demographic. First on the agenda: a suspiciously promising remake of Beverly Hills, 90210, which will be helmed by two former Freaks & Geeks writers and star Jessica Stroup (Reaper), Tristan Wilds (The Wire), and Jessica Walter (Arrested development). Jeff Judah and Gabe Sachs also teamed up for the short-lived Life as We Know It, a show I never took the time to watch but have since heard developed from focus-grouped teen-angst to something a little more interesting and substantial—approaching the quality found in my all-time favorite Freaks & Geeks episode, “The Garage Door,” which the team wrote.

I want to be outraged and offended that the CW dares to cancel its best shows in favor of a remake of a show that kinda sucked in the first place. It’s among the small group of shows that put fledgling Fox on the map, generating a great deal of buzz in its first season. After that wore off, Beverly Hills, 90210 coasted on its camp value more than anything else. Yet, I can’t get too outraged because it looks like the CW…kinda wants it to be good. Before hiring Judah and Sachs, they hired Rob Thomas (of the late, lamented Veronica Mars) to write the pilot and develop the show. Though he stepped down, it’s not like they replaced him with a couple of hacks. They’re trying.

Like everything else the CW does, they manage to do “half-assed” exceedingly well. Why take people (both cast and crew) affiliated with some of the best television in the past decade…to remake something that isn’t worth remaking? Worse than that, they’re remaking something that isn’t worth remaking as an identical twin to a moderately successful show already on their network. Usually knockoffs come from competing networks, and they’re almost never successful. Banking on the 90210 brand-name recognition might sound like a smart move—it worked when adapting the popular Gossip Girl teen novels to television—it will end in tears, or possibly with Dylan McKay’s criminal dad getting blown up in his car in the school parking lot.

Aliens in America (The CW)—“We thought about burning them but thought that was too Nazi.” To me, there’s really nothing funnier than pearl-clutching parents trying to get literature banned in schools. Recently, a school district where a friend of mine teaches had a mother who tried to have a variety of classic books removed from the curriculum. Many of them had been on district-approved lesson plans for decades, but this parent wanted them banned because of context-free excerpts she read on the Internet. She was literally laughed out of the school board’s office. Aliens in America riffs on this familiar (and, it seems, increasingly common) idea, but the real meat of the story is in Justin’s rabid obsession with drawing women. Especially women with gargantuan breasts. Especially when they’re nude. Inspired by an assignment to read Madame Bovary, a disgusted/terrified Franny decides to join up with the book-banning cause.

What made this episode great is that it would have been out of character if Franny just deciding, at random, to help a group of parents get books banned. Reenforcing the show’s strangely positive family values, she only does this out of concern for her son. Then, the writers wisely but subtly undermined the mob-mentality belief that banning books with sexual content and profanities will prevent their kids from having sex or using profanities. Franny actually dares to read the books—rather than a few out-of-context quotes—and realizes they aren’t harmful. How’s a kid going to learn to make a choice if they don’t know anything about the world in which they live?

As they have done a few times, the show wrapped with a nice bonding moment between man’s-man Gary and artistic weirdo Justin. It’s great that they’re able to find common ground, even though neither full understands where the other comes from. Don’t cancel this show, CW. Turning your entire schedule into Gossip Girl clones won’t save you.

Bones (Fox)—Hands down, the series’ best episode. Coming back to a long-term arc involving Brennan’s father (played by Ryan O’Neal in probably the best role he’s had in 20 years) standing trial for the murder of the Deputy Director of the FBI, it tears the Bones universe apart—Booth and Brennan can’t work together, they have to drop Sweets as their shrink, everyone at the Jeffersonian is working for the prosecution (while Bones recuses herself), and Angela stands up by refusing to testify against O’Neal. It amazed me that they took a murder that occurred at least a season ago and made the audience question it—did he really do it? They leave it as kind of a gray area; obviously, the verdict is “not guilty,” but it wasn’t so much proving he didn’t do it as proving someone else could have done it. Well, did they?

Patricia Belcher, Loren Dean, and the underrated and underused (in a general sense—people need to hire him!) Ernie Hudson reappeared, each offering top-notch performances despite fairly small roles, enhancing the solid writing in this episode. Bones may not be the best show on television, but this was a great hour of a good show. Well done, guys! The vastly more popular House could learn a thing or 30 from you.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)—Just when I thought Chris would have a happy ending…

Aside from a wide variety of “here’s how black people are disenfranchised by whites” jokes, they haven’t dealt with any real race conflict in ages. As a result, I found myself impressed that they tackled race issues with an even but not heavy hand. It actually sort of painted Chris as the bad guy, or at least as the tricky-gray-area guy. He made a bad decision to protect his prospective date, which was nice. The problem was discussing his dilemma with everyone except his date. Of course, he gets in one good dance before she goes back to treating him like dirt.

House (Fox)—A massive improvement over last week, this episode still had one of the lamest sitcom plots of all time: how will the hospital pass the inspection with House being wacky and felonious?! Are they kidding with this shit? I’m just glad they redeemed themselves with an interesting mystery and a surprisingly decent Wilson-Amber subplot. I still see them struggle to integrate Cameron and Chase into the plot in an organic way, so I’ll reiterate an old complaint: either fire them or fire the new team. You can’t have it both ways.

King of the Hill (Fox)—Last week’s episode provided a textbook example of how to add new twists to long-running series. This episode, while hilarious, gave us a different spin on the long-running series: an episode with three far-fetched subplots colliding in the weirdest but funniest ways possible. Remember in the final few seasons of shows like Married… with Children and Frasier where they strained for new ideas and, as a result, concocted episodes that were just zany and weird. It happens with nearly every long-running show, comedy or drama, and King of the Hill has had some strange episodes over the past few seasons. Remember the one where Hank enters a dance contest with Ladybird (his dog, for non-viewers)? Or the one where John Redcorn founds an Indian casino because he can’t book his band anywhere in Arlen? Still funny, but just…kinda out there.

Hank accidentally mugs a nebbishy man, prompting the victim to become obsessive and violent, in a Taxi Driver kind of way. Bobby gets assigned to follow around the school police officer (Fred Willard, reprising his occasional role). Dale decides to scam a Hooters-like restaurant so he can sue them for discrimination, then is horrified when they hire him to avoid said lawsuit. All three of these strange stories converge at the Bazooms restaurant, each having both weird and satisfying payoffs. While I enjoyed the episode, it didn’t have the usual emotional resonance, but then, it’s still a comedy—not every week has to feature the death of a loved one or a deep, unspoken understanding between two adversarial characters.

Lost (ABC)—Although it’s rare, Lost has had episodes that work on their own merits without having much to do with the overall mythology (season one’s “Walkabout” is a prime example). They sometimes have episodes that are brilliant despite being a total mindfuck, dependent on the mythology without us knowing how or why (this season’s “The Constant”). And then there are episodes like this—packed with new revelations and insights that satisfy us, despite the fact that nearly every answer raises a dozen or more questions. It wouldn’t be Lost if it didn’t.

Among the insane answers:

  • Locke, the self-described “man of faith,” was once a reluctant “man of science.” It’s hinted that, whatever he did at the science fair, his teacher thinks it was good enough for a research lab to want to indenture Locke for the summer. Of course, we learned last season that the company in question, Mittelos Bioscience, is a front for The Others—it’s the company Richard and Ethan used to lure Juliet to the island. Considering Richard’s interest in Locke here, it doesn’t surprise me that “Mittelos” would seek him out. What does surprise me is the science teacher’s lack of surprise about Mittelos and his encouragement of Locke pursuing science in favor of less nerdy activites. Locke responds with his catchphrase: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do.”
  • While we’re on the subject of Richard Alpert, we found out last season that he is, apparently, ageless (when Ben saw him as a lad, Alpert appeared to be the same age he is now and, for unexplained reasons, wore old-timey sailing clothes), but here’s what I didn’t know: he could leave the island at will long before The Purge. I have a perception of The Others taking over the Dharma Initiative to, among other things, take advantage of the resources the dead Dharmas left behind—the submarine, for instance. Syncing up the flashbacks, Richard appeared to Ben sometime in the 1970s (and The Purge didn’t happen until years later). Locke was born in the ’50s, so how’d he get off the island? Does Ben’s meeting with Richard go back to the idea that “The Hostiles” wore costumes to make themselves look like savages? I had the belief that this was a time when they were savages, so I’d like to know what’s going on there.
  • Emily’s mother (Locke’s grandmother) seemed to know Richard. If you have it on tape or TiVo and didn’t notice this, check it out again—she recognizes him and delivers the “I don’t know who that is” line in a forced, unbelievable way.
  • Possibly the best—if craziest—scene in the episode: Richard visiting boy Locke, laying out a variety of objects (including a comic book or pulp magazine, a baseball glove, an old compass, a knife, a corked vial of something that looked like ground cinnamon, and a battered copy of The Book of Laws), and asking him to choose the ones he “already owns.” For some reason, when Locke examined the compass and the cinnamon, Richard looked a little excited. When Locke ultimately chooses the knife, Richard pitches a fit and leaves in a huff. Also of note in this scene: Locke playing backgammon at the start, and Richard noticing a drawing of a smoke-monster attack. I understood literally nothing that happened in this scene, yet it was wall-to-wall awesome.
  • I got the weird vibe that the “Jacob’s cabin” Horace helped Locke find…wasn’t actually Jacob’s cabin. It could have been the darker-than-usual interior lighting, but even the outside looked sort of wrong to me. Granted, the weirdest easter egg of the fourth-season premiere was Christian Shephard sitting inside Jacob’s cabin, so it stands to reason that I’m just wrong. I’m tossing it out there in case I’m right. Also, loved Claire just hanging around there, with her creepy knowing look when Locke asked how to save the island. Give her more to do, writers. Also, don’t kill her off.
  • Just a theory: Christian’s alive. Not some kind of weird ghost or hallucination or “magic-box” wish from either Claire or Jack—the dude dropped on the “healing island” and came back to life. Remember the long-ago plot point that his coffin was found in the wreckage, intact and largely unharmed but still unlocked and bodiless? Much like Locke regaining the use of his legs, Christian found himself able to regain the use of his, um…life. That’s my theory, anyway. Just as the island “wants” Locke, Christian’s regaining life seems plausible, because the island seems to want him, too—after all, he’s hanging out in Jacob’s cabin or a nice facsimile of it.
  • Lance Reddick from The Wire is really bringing the creepy as Matthew Abaddon (most likely not his real name), the fake-lawyer/fake-orderly/crazy-Dharma-freighter-mission-creator. The strange thing is, if Mittelos and Widmore are at odds, but Abaddon is with Widmore and Locke is being tracked by Mittelos…why is Abaddon the one trying to nudge Locke in the direction of taking the Australian walkabout that would result in him getting on 815?
  • In a similar vein, I don’t know if this answers the question of how all these seemingly connected-yet-random people ended up on the same flight. Was it Abaddon nudging all of these people’s lives into directions that led them to 815? This gives him incredible power, knowledge, and insight—making him even creepier.

The freighter:

  • How the hell did Keamy and all of his team but one guy survive the smoke-monster attack? Seeing them in the jungle was a huge surprise last week, and it’s even more surprising knowing one—and only one—got injured. We’ve seen at least two characters stare down the smoke-monster and survive (Eko and Locke, although it later killed Eko), but who knows how it works? My theory has been that the smoke-monster is affiliated with the creepy, clue-laden dreams and possibly the people-from-the-past hallucinations; when it met up with Eko, it absorbed his memories, and then he started to have prophetic dreams about his dead brother. (When it killed him, the monster also first manifested itself as Yemi.)
  • I can appreciate Desmond’s utter fear of returning to the island, but I have the sad feeling it won’t end well for him. He’s not one of the Oceanic Six. (I don’t think the majority of the non-Sixers are dead, but the one guy who obstinately refuses to return to the island isn’t one of the Six—it stands to reason there’s a bad moon rising on him. I hate to say that, too, because Desmond has turned into one of the show’s most interesting creations.
  • So now, both the captain and the doctor are dead. Add in Minkowski, Regina, Naomi, and Michael getting chained up—Keamy was afraid to kill Lapidus because nobody else can fly a helicopter. I sure hope his men can run a freighter. Otherwise, he’s screwed. I also have to wonder why Keamy’s so murderously hellbent on killing Ben. He could just be a sociopath, but Lost is usually a little more balanced than that. It feels like a personal grudge, but why?
  • Okay, here’s a theory on that: we’ve seen legit Dharma people coming from military backgrounds (Desmond’s hatchmate, Kelvin, and his former hatchmate and current ceiling-stain, Radzinsky), so it’s possible that Keamy comes from a military family and lost someone in The Purge.
  • I’m really loving the character of Lapidus. I haven’t seen much of him since his…let’s be nice and call it “weird” turn in The Lawnmower Man, but his IMDb resume shows him appearing in the kinds of movies you see late at night on Cinemax. (More recently, one assumes in accordance with his age, he’s done a lot more action/sci-fi stuff.) I don’t know what I expected, but he’s probably the least ethically challenged character in the history of the show. Granted, he’s a burned-out drunk, but that doesn’t really hurt anyone but himself (possibly his passengers). My love for the character was solidified when he snuck the beach dwellers the sat phone. My love for Jack diminished when he uttered his most boneheaded line yet: “I think they want us to follow them.” Good call, Jack!

I haven’t nerded out over Lost in awhile, so I apologize for the length and I swear I will avoid trying to get this swept up in it. Then again, this week was prelude to the two-part, three-hour season finale that starts next week, so chances are more big answers (and big questions) will show up in those episodes.

Medium (NBC)—Last week, I noticed they appended a TO BE CONTINUED… title at the end of the episode. I didn’t mention it in this column because, frankly, between the time the episode ended and the time I wrote about it (roughly 12 hours), I had already forgotten. It felt like a complete episode and, really, it was. Though this week continued the intrigue between Joe and Special Guest Star Kelly Preston, it’s as much of a standalone as one could expect. (Besides which, the issues with Preston still aren’t resolved, yet I didn’t exactly see TO BE CONTINUED… this week.)

This episode featured a stellar guest spot by Miguel Ferrer, ably redeeming himself for costarring in the dreadful Bionic Woman remake earlier this season. Apparently, he’s still indentured to NBC, which is quite a coup for Medium. In this episode, he played identical twins—one’s impaired after getting shot in the head because the other was a criminal—and gave Allison quite a moral dilemma. One of the many reasons Medium stands out among other procedurals is its willingness to tackle the gray area. Of course, they do it in a typically strange way—the “evil” Ferrer was killed in the same incident that caused his brother’s bullet to the head, and he’s possessing his brother to get revenge.

Sound hokey or, at least, like a major violation of the show’s set rules? Well, they explain away the possession thing by reminding the audience of the close bond identical twins share and also imply some of the living twin’s newfound mental weakness might have something to do with it. In the end, Allison has to make a big choice—whether to rat out the innocent twin, because he did physically commit the crimes, or to allow the ghost to kill the man who put the hit out on the brother in the first place. It’s reasonably weighty territory for a show that’s basically a police procedural with a sci-fi/horror veneer, and they handled it well. Not as well as treading similar territory during the Cynthia Keener two-parter, but the fact that the writers continue to raise these big-dilemma questions gives me a lot of faith in its continued high quality.

The domestic subplot this week, as I mentioned, continues the angst between Allison and Joe, and Joe and Kelly Preston. Last week, Allison had a dream of Preston flirting and kissing, which conveniently cut off just before Joe shoved Preston away and ran out, then treated her like shit for days. Joe opted not to mention any of this to Allison, with the reasonable but still sneaky explanation that he didn’t want her worrying about something that meant nothing, when the family’s future is tied up in this company’s success. Then Preston sends him a gift—a $2200 silk robe. Joe, appropriately, freaks out, then chooses that moment to tell Allison what he doesn’t know. It doesn’t end well.

Allison and Joe have had their marital issues in the past—although nothing in the realm of spousal cheating—and they always bounce back. I hope this is no exception, although Joe’s decision to totally pull out of the partnership left things both bittersweet and, most likely, heading toward a clusterfuck considering the legality of the situation. Like many shows, next week is Medium‘s finale, and I have to say that with the exception of Lost, I look forward to this one the most.

The Office (NBC)—I complained last week that Darryl hasn’t been around enough, so they toss him into the A story, and he manages to not really do anything. He had a couple of good lines, but if I had my way they’d retitle this show The Warehouse and have Craig Robinson just do his thing with all the other Office actors and some new warehouse cronies. NBC has talked about spinning this show off for some time—this is the way to do it.

Despite the underuse of Darryl, this episode featured some great moments from other supporting players: Oscar’s shocked “Why wouldn’t you say that to her face?” after Michael mentions Pam is a talented artist and a wonderful person, Dwight and Angela stuck alone in the office, Andy and Kevin nearly ruining everything for Jim—but, best of all, Jim getting some more interesting moments trying to woo a prospective customer. It’s interesting to see Jim, as he puts it, “try for the first time,” after the cabal of Ryan (who’s pissed because Jim went over his head to complain about the website) and Toby (who’s pissed because he’s in love with Pam) threatened his job last week. His success will create an interesting contrast to Ryan’s imminent failure. (That isn’t a spoiler, just a guess based on the frequent references to the shoddiness of the Dunder-Mifflin website and Ryan’s obvious affinity for the New York “lifestyle” rather than doing his job well.)

The scene with Pam and the design guy at the end was typically nice and heartbreaking, but I can’t help thinking this scene has already happened. Didn’t Pam already attempt to get some kind of graphic-design job, only to get shut down because she doesn’t know all the cutting-edge software. Whether it’s happened before or not, it’s a little hard to believe someone her age isn’t aware that you need more than an art background to get a graphic-design job; like every other industry, it’s all computer-based. Even if she doesn’t know the software, she shouldn’t act dejected or surprised when she gets shot down. I hate to sound hard on Pam, because this just feels like something that will lead us to season-finale conflict (Pam wanting to go to New York or Philadelphia for the summer to take some courses), and they just didn’t plan it out all that well. Surprising, considering the writing’s usual high quality.

Reaper (The CW)—Well, that was about the best episode the show’s done (so far). They did a great job with the Buffy-style task of having something Satan-related affect a secondary character (which, in turn, affects the primary characters), and Colby Johannson (playing Greg, Andi’s ex-boyfriend) did a great job as a guy who’s seriously in love but…maybe not that bright. The writers added more depth to the Hell-on-Earth underworld by introducing some new ideas—first adding a new Hell portal (a mini-storage facility), then introducing the idea that hell has folks like Everybody Hates Chris‘s Risky. Sam convinces Gladys from the DMV to help them find a black-market vessel when Sam and the gang are repeatedly attacked by a demon without having a vessel to send him back to hell.

Early in the season, I gave Reaper a moderate amount of shit for being as slackerific as its characters, but I guess they spent the strike either examining the flaws in what they’ve done so far or reading the viewer feedback, and they’ve clearly made adjustments. Reaper has gone from funny-but-forgettable to one of the best sci-fi/supernatural shows on television. That’s no small accomplishment.

Robin Hood (BBC America)—This episode didn’t quite have the slickness of last week’s or the depth of the premiere two weeks ago, but it did shed some light on one thing: how the people of Locksley and the surrounding villages feel about Robin Hood. You’d think, on a practical level, that ordinary citizens wouldn’t be fans. Sure, he steals taxes and repays the villagers, but he and his men invariably destroy half a village during their battles. Wouldn’t they end up paying more for repairs than they get from Robin? I don’t know, maybe he pays for the repairs, as well.

Nonetheless, it’s kind of a moot point. This week, we’re introduced to a group of children, who let us know how well-regarded Robin and his men are. They’re first seen playing as Robin in the men, and when one of them actually ends up in their Sherwood Forest camp, he knows them all by name and defining trait (except Much, in a funny joke at his expense). Other than this, we’re treated to a fairly simplistic plot about the Sheriff trying to get some impenetrable armor made for his secret take-down-King-Richard army. The kids witness a test of this armor, and when Gisborne notices, he decides to enslave them in mines. The Sheriff, however, wants them dead. It’s up to Robin and his crew to stop both the slaughter of innocent children and the production of this armor. I don’t think you’ll be surprised to learn that they do.

This episode also left Marian’s character in a strange place. Future episodes will tell whether this will be a good move, a bad move, or a forgotten move. During a trade that goes bad, she attempts to save Robin’s life by threatening to kill the African man who knows the secret to making the special armor. Gisborne realizes this must mean she has some kind of feelings for Robin, and I’m not convinced he bought her denial. (I hope he didn’t, because Gisborne’s one-note character in the first season has become vastly more interesting since Marian’s betrayal in last year’s finale. Having him that easily duped brings him right back to that one note.) Meanwhile, the Sheriff finally decides to imprison Marian’s ailing father in a dungeon. All of this, I’m sure, will pay off in episodes down the road.

Supernatural (The CW)—Well done, Supernatural. You’ve successfully introduced the creepiest villains in the history of the show, and you used great makeup effects to pull it off (he looked great in HD, even). Yes, this week’s Supernatural focused on a man who found the secret to immortality without realizing the problem of bodily maintenance and upkeep—even though he can’t die, his organs can fail, his skin can wither away to nothing, he has to periodically kidnap people to steal whatever he needs to live comfortably.

The writers took this crazy villain and turned it into a great conflict for Sam and Dean: Sam thinks they can use the same spell to keep Dean from fulfilling his contract, while Dean obviously thinks that’s the worst idea ever. (A minor flaw in their disagreement: Dean seems to “win” the argument by saying if he reneges on the deal by living, Sam will die. Couldn’t they solve the problem by doing the spell on Sam, as well?) All of this was pretty excellent, but…

The episode also featured the return of Bela, who I think has only been in two other episodes, despite her status as a series regular. I’ve read a lot of…let’s say “impolite” things about Bela. I’m not saying I love the character, but I won’t spew vitriol as if she is single-handedly destroying the show; honestly, the biggest problem with her character is that she’s underused. We’re given her M.O.—a mysterious thief who knows about the demon world but uses it to make money rather than save the world—without much depth or dimension. When they finally decided to give us some shades of gray to make her a little more interesting, it’s too little, too late. I won’t exactly miss her, but I also don’t think this is some kind of show-saving act of brilliance on the part of the writers. They botched her from day one and are just cleaning up the mess.

Another, minor nitpick: I know midnight makes everything awesome, but if Bela did her deal in England, and they’re so strict about the 10-year deal that they start chasing her at 12:00 exactly…shouldn’t the deal have actually expired at midnight GMT, meaning they’d come around seven o’clock, since she’s in Pennsylvania?

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