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!

Posted by D. B. Bates on May 4, 2008 12:00 AM