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Attention, Readers: Watch The Middleman

I’m not kidding. It’s hilarious. ABC Family, Mondays, 10PM Eastern.

Burn Notice (USA) — They’re just toying with me now. My long-desired body-slam of the crime-of-the-week and overarching “who burned me?” storylines might be right around the corner, but now they’re teasing me. They brought in Stargate SG-1’s Michael Shanks (because apparently Tricia Helfer was busy and they sent out a casting call for another cult sci-fi star?) to give Michael another one of these nefarious submissions, but because Michael Westen decided to make his crime-of-the-week priority, Shanks wandered in and almost blew the whole deal. We haven’t come closer to a full-blown intermingling of stories, but it’s not there yet. I still wait for the day Michael’s brain explodes when he discovers his weekly “client” is actually working for the Helfer/Shanks deathsquad, and he has inadvertently helped their cause. It’ll happen, I’m sure.

I don’t know what I’m bitching about, though, because this was a solid, fun episode in which Method Man (most recently seen as Cheese on The Wire) guest stars a hip-hop mogul who suspects one of his entourage is embezzling — but he suspects the wrong person. Aside from the moderately Scooby-Doo ending, in which the real culprit is kept talking while Method Man listens from another room, the story functioned pretty well.

Eureka (Sci-Fi) — I like Alan Ruck, but seeing him as a slightly eccentric goofball of a seismologist made me wonder what the hell happened to Matt Frewer. Ruck played basically the same character, albeit with a slightly different scientific specialty, and if Frewer decided to bail, I don’t mind the replacement. Just seems odd to introduce him without any acknowledgment of what happened to Jim Taggart.

Here’s where I get hostile, though: I do not like the Carter-Allison-Stark triangle. Never bought it, probably never will. This episode, with its wedding-dress shenanigans and Carter’s sad-sack facial expressions, has solidified my intense dislike of both the triangle and of the writers’ insistence on ramming it down the audience’s throats. This feeling does not stem from the fact that the whole “will-they-or-won’t-they-keep-them-apart-before-bringing-them-together” storyline is played out on TV and just needs a rest. The problem lies in chemistry.

I don’t want this to sound like a criticism of Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who is a fine actress, but she has no visible chemistry with either Colin Ferguson or Ed Quinn. Ironically, the men have really great “we can’t stand each other” chemistry — I just wish they gave us a better reason for this than “we’re both in love with this woman.” I just don’t buy it, and no amount of robot dogs, diamond microprocessors or any other awesome plot stuff can distract me from the colossal failure of this TV triangle.

Flashpoint (CBS) — I want to know something: do gangs of angry, gun-toting, Avril Lavigne-looking girls really stalk the streets of Toronto? Does that happen in the States? Anyway, this week’s episode continues the sad trend of getting to know our wacky criminals, though they took a different tack with this scenario. Rather than continue with the hostage-taker-of-the-week format, they’ve utilized the SRU in a different capacity. I like that — it keeps the formula from getting stale.

I have one “if they could do it over” wish: develop the gangster girls a little more. The notion that the leader of this pack refused to believe Tasha’s rape story piqued my interest, but they didn’t do much to explore that. She’s out for revenge, but I wanted them to fill in a few more details about her refusal to believe the truth. More to the point, I’d like to believe one reason for her homicidal tendency is that she did believe the truth, and it enraged her — making this less an overreactive avenging than a very personal jealousy. They hinted at this but didn’t explore it with the level of depth Flashpoint often gives to its “villains.”

Lastly, I know I’m a little slow on the uptake, but I didn’t realize until this episode that each show so far has concentrated on a different member of the SRU. This week, it’s Amy Jo Johnson’s Jules lending an understanding ear to suicidal Tasha Redford. All’s well that ends well, but another mild wish was that they show the “girl“‘s strength in a non-girly situation. I guess you can’t have everything, though. At the very least, she showed a combination of femininity and brass balls that isn’t often portrayed well on television. Writers usually either take it in a “total shrew” direction or instill the character with bizarre, male-fantasy notions of a strong woman.

Mad Men (AMC) — Patrick Fischler pops up on yet another show, playing a truly unpleasant Jerry Lewis surrogate. All hell breaks loose at Sterling Cooper when he insults the owner of a company during a commercial shoot for their product. As much as you can be a fan of a guy who only pops up in bit parts and guest appearances, I’ve admired Fischler ever since his insane Winky’s monologue in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive — a scene that almost single-handedly makes the movie worth watching. He can add another terrific role to his long, weird resume, and I hope we see more of him in this role.

Harry’s subplot involving The Defenders — a story that actually happened — had a poignant conclusion, in that Harry gets exactly what he wants in the most demeaning possible way. One of my mild complaints about the first season was that it didn’t emphasize these “smaller” roles enough. Since Harry will now spearhead a totally new branch of Sterling Cooper, I assume this will give him some more interesting work. Now, I just hope we see more from Ken, Paul and Salvatore.

That said, this might be the first episode in which Don wasn’t the most interesting character. He still had a central role in terms of screen time, but he didn’t carry the heavy load this time around. Could this indicate that, in a sea of Sterling Cooper power struggles and uncomfortable Betty teasing, the tide has shifted?

The Middleman (ABC Family) — Sorbo! Need I say more?

All right, I suppose I ought to say a little more. This episode came about as close to perfect as any show can expect in its first season. A great guest star, interesting personal conflicts tied into the central plot, a poignant ending — and more jokes per frame than a glory-years episode of The Simpsons. I’ve gone from enjoying this show’s humor to raving about it as a well-rounded, high-quality hour to pretty much everyone who makes the mistake of asking me about television. I hope that, despite its flagging ratings, ABC Family continues to support it.

Monk (USA) — I had an expectation that this episode, which takes place almost entirely on a Navy sub, would turn Monk into the butt of the macho-man naval officers’ jokes. To the credit of the writers — or maybe the actors or director Paris Barclay — they eschewed such cheap stereotypes in favor of…well, general annoyance from most people, but surprising sensitivity from prominent guest star Casper Van Dien. Much like Natalie, he treated Monk’s foibles and phobias with some respect and helped him to make the best of a bad situation. It was also a great idea to have Monk “solve” this crisis by hallucinating the presence of Dr. Bell, made even better by adding an amusing running joke where Monk lets Bell do the talking for him.

And, of course, I have to mention the presence of William Atherton as the murderous commander. Atherton has had a bit of an under-the-radar career since his Ghostbusters/Die Hard heyday, playing mostly bit parts or sleazy variations on his most prominent characters. He often brings an interesting quality to these characters, so it was nice to see him here even if it made the mystery a tad more predictable than usual. The law of economy of characters dictates that it was either him or Van Dien, and Van Dien just seemed too nice. Of course, that would have made it a big surprise, but the “too-nice killer” isn’t the type of guy to kill somebody, wait for the Navy to rule it a clear-cut suicide, then bring in the world’s best detective (according to the universe of the show) to “solve” the case.

I hope that didn’t sound like a complaint — I think both Van Dien and Atherton should be regulars. The former’s chemistry with Natalie, and the latter’s pure awesomeness, would make both valued additions.

Psych (USA) — Has Psych decided to dedicated an entire season to movie/genre/era spoofs? First we have haunted houses, then John Hughes movies, then Evel Knievel, then treasure-hunting adventures and now ’70s cop-shows. I’m not sure if I should complain or applaud the sheer hilarity of the convoluted ways the writers get us to the spoof (turning an old boat of a Pontiac into a major clue, having Shawn, Gus and Henry buy “disguises” from a thrift store, etc.). Also, I can’t complain about any show that includes Ted “Isaac the Bartender” Lange as a washed-up informant. Aside from the parodies, I continue to enjoy the way they’re developing the Shawn-Henry dynamic and integrating him into the stories more.

Posted by D. B. Bates on August 17, 2008 12:00 AM  |   | Print-Friendly  | Reviews, Idiot Boxing

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