Monday, 20 December 2010

The Creative Wet Blanket that is the Holiday Episode

Am I the only one that thinks holiday episodes of TV shows are TERRIBLE? I hate them. They are often insidious and mind-numbing. Case in point: did anyone see the recent Brothers and Sisters Christmas episode? The whole of the plot was that the Walkers decided to change their Christmas traditions for a while before reverting back to what they had always done. Oh, and there was a stupid dream sequence where Nora experienced a Christmas Carol-type vision of the family without her. Awful. It was one of those things that actors always say they had fun filming, but prove to have the opposite effect for the viewing public. (Anyone remember the black and white episode of Felicity? Barf.) Thanksgiving and Halloween episodes often fall into the same categories of terrible TV, as well. Only a few shows over the years (see below) have truly bucked the trend of consistently making eye-rolling holiday fare.

The qualities that make a holiday episode particularly tedious are usually a mix-n-match combination of the following terrible qualities:
- The episode halts serial action of serial dramas.
- The episode tries too hard to "inspire us" with lame cliches, which typically equate to thematic "Christmas miracles!".
- The episode revolves around family Christmas traditions and the exposition explaining them.
- The episode features stunt casting.
- The episode features songs by cast members who don't normally sing.
- The episode "pays homage" to classic Christmas stories, either through basically reproducing the plot of said Christmas story, or through attempting to "ironically" wink at the audience.

The Christmas episode of Glee recently tried to do make good on the last point I mentioned with recreating How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but to me it seemed like the writers trying too hard to be "clever". I will be skipping that episode in future viewings of Glee DVDs, thank you. It was, as my dear friend Lizzy would say, too self-conscious. (Check out this review of the episode by my favorite TV bloggers.)

Bearing these guidelines in mind, I was trying to think of my five worst holiday episodes of all time, but I was having a hard time. I mean, pick almost any long-running show and you'll find at least one misguided attempt at holiday inspiration. Don't even get me started on Halloween episodes (I'm looking at you, LHOTP episode "Halloween Dream". Just no). Therefore, lest the ten of you (my loverly blog readers) find this particular post too grinchy, here are a few examples of good holiday episodes, along with a short comment about why each distinguishes itself from others. (The rankings of #1 and #2, btw, have to do with my general belief that good drama is better than good comedy, but that's another post for another day.)

1. "Noel", The West Wing, season 2: I mentioned this one in an earlier post about an episode of Private Practice. Simply put, this is one of the finest episodes of an excellent series. Avoiding holiday cliches altogether, the episode uses music, which is increased in frequency at Christmastime, as a trigger for Josh Lyman's PTSD. Josh's psychological breakthrough in the final act is always moving, never cheesy.

2. "The One with the Football", Friends, season 6: Friends always did holiday episodes better than every comedy show ever. They generally steered clear of in your face holiday inspiration, but somehow they also avoided cynicism. Far from interrupting the flow of the series with holiday episodes, I always looked forward to their Thanksgiving and Christmas shenanigans. Honestly, it's hard to pick just one of these episodes, but "The One with the Football" always made me laugh the hardest.

3. "Christmas at Plum Creek", Little House on the Prairie, season 1: Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "One minute you say that too much holiday inspiration is what brings a holiday episode down, but the next minute you're choosing a holiday episode of Little House on the Prairie, arguably one of the most schmaltzy primetime dramas ever produced! What gives?" I hear you on that, but let me remind you that the inspirational/emotional manipulation overtones on Little House carried on throughout the series. The Christmas episodes were no more or less sappy than the rest of the show. In fact, I would argue that Tragedy on the Prairie, as my roommate calls it, was the most tragic and inspirational during two parters, which were never holiday episodes. "Christmas at Plum Creek" is a lovely episode about sacrificial love.

4. "The Strike", Seinfeld, season 9: This episode is fantastic because of how succinctly it makes fun of family holiday traditions. Obviously, Seinfeld was always good at commenting on the absurdity of social trends, but in this case, the show took peoples' self-conscious "disillusionment" with holiday commercialism and created a kind of anti-Christmas holiday with Frank Costanza's "Festivus for the rest of us". Oddly enough, "Festivus" became its own social trend, and according to Wikipedia, Festivus is now unofficially celebrated as a secular holiday.

5. "Tidings of Comfort and Joy" American Dreams, season 3: By this episode, the Pryor family had known about JJ's MIA status in Vietnam for weeks, and the tension was palpable. As they tried to go about their everyday lives, the potential tragedy underneath the surface could have burst at any moment for any one of them. But in the final scene, just after the Roman Catholic Pryors were leaving church, JJ came home. If we're talking here about most shows' failures in trying to thematically recreate "the spirit of Christmas", American Dreams managed to somehow succeed, for underlying the miracle of Christ at Christmas is the tragedy of humanity's need for Christ. When JJ returned to his family, tragedy subsided, and hope reigned supreme.

Honorable mention: "The Best Chrismukkah Ever" (The O.C., season 1); "Christmas Scandal" (Parks and Recreation, season 2)

Have a great Christmas season everyone!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

The Triumphant Return of Claire Danes

In case you hadn't heard in the last few weeks, Showtime announced that Claire Danes is going to be starring in a new series for the network called Homeland, and Mandy Patinkin was just announced as one of her costars. For those of you who haven't watched the short-lived 90s cult hit My So-Called Life, you need to go and do that. Right now. In it, Danes played Angela Chase, a "normal" teenage girl, with all the overly earnest angst and performative apathy that comes with being a teenage girl. Her sensitive, intelligent, (dare I say?) brilliant portrayal of Angela earned her a Golden Globe award and an Emmy nomination for best actress. My So-Called Life's nineteen episodes comprise one of my two favorite series of all time. So imagine my delight at hearing the news that Danes is returning to a TV series after over fifteen years away! Maybe her Emmy-winning role in HBO's Temple Grandin this year whetted her appetite for the kind of character drama that TV is producing so well these days. In any case, I know I'm not the only one to be positively giddy about watching Danes on a series again. How about a slow hand-clap for the influx of movie stars to TV.

One Tree Hill: "Darkness on the Edge of Town"

It might seem like I'm a little obsessed with this show, given how infrequently I blog and of those infrequent blog posts, how frequently I blog about this show. Well, I say nay to that, sir. I find its shenanigans refreshing, as it doesn't take itself too seriously these days, and I enjoy mocking it with love. I realized last night that of the long-running shows still on the air that I'm loyal to, I've been loyal to this one the longest. Now in its eighth season (I know, right?!), One Tree Hill has become a comfy, but tattered pair of sweatpants on my season pass list. Translation: I'm not throwing it out.

This week's episode featured a storm, so we knew some crazy s*** was going down in Tree Hill! Some of the series' best episodes have been storm episodes, and this one was up there with the best offenders. Let's start with the return of Psycho Katie (one of the best OTH psychos since Nanny Carrie!). I was trying to explain this to a friend last night, and realized just how manic it sounded, but here goes: Quinn was home alone on the stormy night, left vulnerable to attack by Clay being out of town, so of course Crazy Katie stalked in. We'd just seen her making crazy eyes to the camera in the last episode, so we knew it was coming. Of course the phones were down because of the storm, and a fallen tree was blocking the driveway, so Quinn had no choice but to dogfight that crazy lady all through the house. Point: Crazy Katie. At one point it looked like Crazy Katie was going to leave, which doesn't make any sense, since a tree was down in the driveway, but whatevs, so instead of letting Crazy Katie free to stalk another day, Quinn football tackled her off a balcony, causing them to fall in the pool. Then, Quinn played dead (just go with it), only to sneak back into the house and put the lone bullet she managed to recover (and keep dry) through the madness in the empty revolver and shoot Crazy Katie in the stomach. Point: Quinn. Then, it looked like Quinn went downstairs to clean stuff up, while Katie lay there bleeding. Eventually we saw some paramedics carting Katie to the hospital, so we know she was still alive, but this brings me to my next topic: where are all the first responders in Tree Hill?

Last week, Quinn contemplated murdering Crazy Katie, and it became clear that Quinn had tracked her down in Crazytown, or wherever Tree Hill psychos reside between bouts of terrorizing. My problem with this: shouldn't police be able to find her pretty easily? Both of Crazy Katie's shooting victims somehow survived to identify her. Tree Hill Police Department: FAIL.

Apparently the paramedics and firefighters in Tree Hill are as bad at their jobs as the cops, because the other major plot this week involved Brooke and co trying for the better part of an hour to get Jamie out of his seat belt after a car wreck (where else?) on a bridge. My favorite part was when the car fell off the bridge into the ravine, and Julian was all, "Don't worry, it's hit the bottom. The car's not sinking." Famous last words before the levy broke. I will admit that while I was watching this, I was pretty sure everyone was going to live, but I wasn't sure how they were going to get out of this pickle. Of course eventually everyone lived, and Jamie was reunited with his parents, who only had a boring flat tire through all this. But, seriously, we didn't even see the arrival of the worst first response team in the USA. Point: storm.

This is probably the last season of One Tree Hill, so we can only venture to guess that this will be its final storm episode. In my opinion, it was a fun one!

Also, has anyone else noticed that James Lafferty (Nathan) is looking more like Superman everyday? Not complaining, just observing.

Monday, 22 November 2010


Alright, confession time: given my propensity toward the teen drama genre of the late 90s/early 2000s, it should come as little shock that at one time in my life I would have considered myself a sincere fan of the New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys (I would have gone to mat for 'N Sync's superiority, though). The two nineties-tastic groups have joined forces for a summer tour that will undoubtedly re-release the suppressed high school hormones of thousands of 26-34 year old women. It should be glorious.

Well, Sunday's American Music Awards featured a fun mash-up of recognizable hits from the two boy bands, performed by nine of the ten original members of both groups (I'm looking at you, Kevin Richardson). I tried, but I couldn't resist posting this. Take a look at it below. So fun.

As a side note, I'd like to express my admiration for Donnie Wahlberg going back to his roots with the New Kids, in spite of a successful TV career. His show Blue Bloods is actually pretty good. Respect to Donnie D.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Private Practice's After School Special

Last night's episode of Private Practice, entitled "Did You Hear What Happened to Charlotte King?", was a doozie. It featured the rape of a main character and her very unsettling reaction to what happened to her. I have a feeling future weeks will focus on the Charlotte's responsibility to admit that she was raped, and head down the "bad guy gets his" route that we would expect from a primetime drama. This episode as a stand-alone, however, was superb. I was particularly affected by the way Charlotte (KaDee Strickland) fought the victim label like a wounded wild animal. That character has always found what she thought was strength in her ability to be domineering and powerful, which is why she and sad puppy man-child Cooper are good together. In this episode, Strickland did a nice job conveying a sense of vulnerability in a character that hates letting people see her be vulnerable. She's still tough as nails, but now she's broken.

A couple of thoughts about the episode:
- The episode was bookened by the "Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major: I. Prélude", which featured prominently in my favorite episode of The West Wing, "Noël" from season 2, when Josh faces the reality of his PTSD. Is there something about this piece and traumatic occurrences on primetime TV shows? Perhaps it's just pop classical enough to illicit a reaction, letting us viewers know that it's "serious time" now. In any case, I thought it complimented the action well.

- The rape scene at the end of the episode was surprisingly explicit. It felt odd to me that they tried to make it a big reveal that Nicholas Brendon's character was the rapist. Wasn't that pretty obvious from the get-go? While the rape scene at the end was harrowing and it gave KaDee Stickland even more to work with, I wonder if it was completely necessary. Wasn't her description of the rape to Addison shocking enough? It's like Gertrude's description of Ophelia's death in Hamlet ("When down her weedy trophies and herself/Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide;/And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up"): we don't need to see it to understand the horror of the situation. I understand that it was all about the "reveal" of the rapist's identity, but it still strikes me as something that might have been gratuitous.

- This show, which at the beginning seemed to be attempting a light, Grey's Anatomy tone, has really hit its stride doing darker plots. I loved getting to watch the aftermath of Violet's attack last season, and I think the show has greatly benefited from letting Addison take a more cynical approach to things in her profession. I know it's crazy to say this, but this show really doesn't suck.

Did any of you watch the episode? Did you find it affective or just another attempt to shock us?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Marion Jones: Press Pause

ESPN's 30 For 30 series is presenting a new documentary on former track and field star Marion Jones by John Singleton, set to air on ESPN Tuesday, November 2 at 8/7c. A preview trailer can be viewed here.

I, for one, will be eagerly tuning in to see Singleton's take on Jones' seemingly amazing career and downfall. During the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, when Jones won her five medals (three gold and two bronze), I was just starting my college track and field career, and, even though she was an explosive athlete and I was a long, slow distance runner, I took a lot of pride as an American track and field athlete in what she was able to accomplish. Five medals for any track and field athlete at any meet is a huge accomplishment, but this was the Olympics! I thought she was super-human. In 2007, however, my admiration and respect for this amazing athlete suddenly gave way to disappointment when she admitted to using performance enhancing drugs during the height of her career. She seemed penitent and broken by her actions as she told the press what she had done. She was shortly stripped of her medals.

As silly as it sounds, I remember feeling sad and personally hurt by Jones' admission. She had been a track and field hero of mine, a super-athlete who supposedly showed us the limitless possibilities of hard work and dedication, which are the virtues of all great track and field athletes. She was a female Jesse Owens. With all the bad press that track stars had been receiving about the use of performance enhancers, I was naive enough to think that Jones would be one of the clean ones. It broke my heart a little bit to find out that her greatest successes were predicated on a lie. It's still a punch in the gut to watch her tearing up as she told everyone what she did.

I guess it's an important lesson to learn that sometimes heroes aren't as heroic as we think they are. Jones made a series of mistakes at the pinnacle of an already great career, losing the respect of millions of fans (yes, I'm optimistic enough to believe that a track and field athlete can have millions of American fans!), and she's paid dearly for it. She's still an extraordinary athlete, but she's more human now than she used to be. That's got to be a huge burden to carry, and I wish her the best. I'm curious about Singleton's take on my former hero. If any of you tune in, let me know what you think.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

"Big Love" Announces Final Season; Cat Angrily Shakes Fist in Air

According to EW, HBO announced today that the upcoming season of Big Love will be its last. This sucks for me mainly because it has, for about three years now, been one of my top five favorite TV shows currently on air. I think the character development has always been great, the troupe of very talented actors do interesting and subtle things with their respective characters, and the fact that the showrunners could take such an out-there concept like polygamy in the suburbs and turn it into something more compelling than creepy gives this show a fascination quality that a lot of shows (even HBO shows) don't have.

Let me get real with you for a second, though: I am aware that season four was a little rocky. During its run, I defended the sheer madness of Bill running for public office as something that egomaniac Bill would do. I also sucked it up and suffered through the creepy foray into the Mexican polygamist compound. Even the crazy Weekend at Bernie's-style high-jinks with Roman's dead body was painful, but moderately endurable on its own. When taken as a whole, though, I will admit that season four may have jumped the shark a little bit. That said, the show never lost me, and I still love the characters. Chloe Sevigny, in particular, distinguished herself over the last couple of seasons with some seriously great acting. I'm very sad to see this show bow out after five seasons, even though it's probably the best thing for the show creatively.

Its cancellation is hitting me in a sore spot, as this last May marked the end of one of my other favorites LOST, and next spring will signal the end of my favorite show on TV bar none Friday Night Lights. Dude, three out of five favorites leaving with no legitimate contenders for a new favorite on the horizon? That totally sucks! My other two favorites, Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, are brilliant comedies, but I need a drama to anchor my TV schedule in something serious. The only one I can think of is NBC's Parenthood, but it's still no Friday Night Lights. What's a gal to do? I'll keep you updated on my search. In the meantime, at least we've got one more season each of both Big Love and FNL to enjoy!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Project Runway Parodies!

Here's a hilarious parody of Project Runway, as reenacted by little kids. I'm loving the Heidi kid's air kisses to the ousted designer, and the Michael Kors slam of that designer's piece!

While we're on the subject, I think Mondo's going to win this season. Although it seemed in the beginning that his designs were slightly erratic and ridiculous, he's settled a bit, and now I really like what he's doing. We'll see, though. Anything can happen at Fashion Week...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Hopefully Good News for Chuck!

Chuck, which has rapidly become one of my very favorite shows on TV right now, is apparently very close to getting a full season order! Season 4 had only been renewed by NBC for 13 episodes this season, which isn't too much of a surprise, given its struggle with ratings and near-cancellation every season since it debuted. It's exciting, therefore, to see one of the most fun and creative shows on network TV possibly getting a little love with a full, 22 episode order!

NBC has made some serious mistakes with their programming of late (has anyone forgotten about the Jay Leno 10/9c fiasco of 2009? Never forget.), but it should be commended for standing by some of its lower-rated, critically acclaimed fare. After all, the Peacock has kept Chuck, Friday Night Lights (my vote for the best show on TV), 30 Rock, and Parks and Recreation on the air for multiple seasons, in spite of ratings struggles. Now that I really think about it, I probably shouldn't bash NBC too much. They're doing alright over there.

Fingers crossed for Chuck, y'all! We all need more Colonel John Casey in our lives!

UPDATE: Chuck got picked for a full season of not 22, but 24 episodes! Big points for the Peacock!

Friday, 15 October 2010

"Life Unexpected" is cool and deserves to be saved

That headline really says all I want to say here. Life Unexpected is a show that debuted mid-season last year with an excellent pilot, and has continued, despite a couple of rocky producer decisions, to be a lovable addition/addiction to my ever-tightening TV schedule. Well, since I like it and think it's got a lot of good things going for it, it's in ratings trouble. The cast have been working hard to try to get the word out about their show. They suggest telling one person about the show this week to try and increase viewership even a little bit. So, I hope you'll watch it if you don't. It's cool. In the meantime, check out their facebook campaign to spread the word.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Return of Paranormal State

Y'all may not know this about me, but one of my guiltiest of pleasures on TV is a ghost hunter-type reality show on A&E called Paranormal State. It follows a student-founded club from Penn State, the Paranormal Research Society, as they investigate claims of hauntings and other crazy, unexplained phenomena. It's fun and creepy in all the right places, and, take it from me, you don't have to believe it's all real to be scared, or at least thoroughly creeped out, from time to time. At the very least, it's interesting to see how this group of people deals with and understands spiritual manifestations. The group leader is a devout Catholic, and I enjoy watching to see how he responds as a Catholic to the cases the group investigates. As a Christian, I can't deny that there's a spirit world coexisting with our own, even if I know I can't fully comprehend it in my current state. I find it fascinating to see how the investigators on this show reconcile what they find with sometimes Christian notions of how the spirit world operates in conjunction with the one we can see. Anyway, the surprisingly addictive Paranormal State is returning with a new season on Sunday, and I thought it was at least worth a shout out.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Movie Stars Transitioning to TV

Entertainment Weekly, my personal entertainment news addiction site, came up with a wish list of movie stars that they'd like to see starring in a TV show next fall/winter/summer (cable does it all!). You have to admit, cable and premium networks having been pulling more than their own weight creatively in the last few years, and the move to TV is looking much less stigmatized than it did in the 90s. HBO seems to hire its own cavalcade of movie stars every season, with actors like Anna Paquin, Steve Buschemi, and Bill Paxton committing to star in multiple seasons on their respective shows.

I've said many times that I think TV is experiencing a bit of a creative golden age right now. There are many quality shows on cable right now that have been given a chance to thrive because they're not competing for one of the twenty-one coveted hours (it's really only eighteen hours because Saturday programming is still a joke) of primetime that any of the Big Four networks have available any given season. I love that the current TV climate allows shows like In Plain Sight to have already guaranteed fourth and fifth seasons after they've only wrapped three seasons. I also love that NBC could cancel a show as heart-stopping and gut-wrenching (in a good way) as Southland, only for TNT to come to its rescue in the eleventh hour. Suddenly being rejected by the Peacock isn't an automatic funeral for a good show. (Where were you when My So-Called Life and Once and Again needed you, cable?)

Since cable networks are now spending more money producing scripted original programming, the shows have shorter seasons, often running somewhere between eight and thirteen episode. While I'm a fan of TV seasons lasting as long as possible so I can enjoy them longer, I'd be silly not to admit that there are some wonderful advantages to shorter seasons. The best, in my opinion, is that because the shows are only in production for six months or so out of the year, the actors have time to pursue other projects for part of the year. They don't have to give up starring in movies or theatre altogether. They can play interesting roles on TV, playing characters that take several seasons to develop, but they can still pursue other things.

To go back to my entry point for this post, I'm nuts about the idea of movie actors starring in TV shows! In a lot of cases, TV is the beneficiary. The medium of TV is developing in fascinating ways right now, and I for one am excited to see the blurring of the lines between film and television.

What do you think? Are you a fan of "filmic TV", or annoyed with it? Are there any film actors you'd like to see become regulars on a TV show? The comments section is your friend!

Monday, 11 October 2010

"Life Unexpected" Acting Wholesome

Check out this video from Entertainment Weekly featuring the cast of Life Unexpected behind the scenes. You've gotta love a show that doesn't take itself too seriously!

While we're on the subject, what do you people think of Life Unexpected so far this season? In my humble opinion, the series hasn't been as great as last season, which was still admittedly rocky, but there are some very interesting character developments abounding this year. For instance, I love seeing Lux finally warming up to being a regular teenager. I don't like storylines where students pursue teachers and vice versa (I'm looking at you, Pretty Little Liars), but I think it's consistent with the character that she would take something that's a normal high school experience for a lot of people (e.g., having a crush on an older guy/teacher), and turn it into a viable possibility in her mind. She's sort of stuck between trying to be a regular high school student and trying to be older than she is. It's fascinating!

The show isn't amazing at the moment, but it's still imminently watchable and I really enjoy the old-school WB feel. That's my two cents.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

This week's "Grey's Anatomy"

If any of you are reading this blog and haven't yet watched this week's episode of Gray's Anatomy entitled "Superfreak", please, for your own sakes, just read an online recap instead. It was the threat level red of most disgusting things I've ever seen on TV (on the same disturbance level as the X-Files episode from season four called "Home"). Seriously, I feel like hurling just telling you to avoid it. You have all been warned.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"One Tree Hill" Psychos

Here's a hilarious gallery of former (and some present) psychos on One Tree Hill. This made me feel nostalgic for the days of a good, ole fashioned resident crazy in Tree Hill. My top 5 favorite OTH psychos are:

5. Sensitive Singer/Songwriter Psycho

4. Good Girls Go Psycho

3. Gimme a P-S-Y-C-H-O

2. Psyco Nanny Carrie

1. Psycho Derek

Psycho Derek wins because I've never been able to resist a good stalker subplot on a teen show.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

My Top Ten TV Pilots of All Time

On a pleasant run the other day, I started thinking about which TV pilots I would put in my top ten of all time list in case anybody ever asked (I know, nobody ever would ask, but in my fantasy scenarios, people always want to talk about TV, running, and Renaissance court drama with me. We have great conversations in my head. I promise I'm not crazy). Two points of clarification going into this: 1) Obviously, the choices on this list are late-nineties/2000s-centric, but that's more a reflection on my age than the actual quality of TV shows produced before that. I'm sure the pilot to MASH was just as brilliant as everyone says, but I never watched that show. 2) Just because a show turned into one of my favorites, doesn't mean its pilot episode was brilliant. Gilmore Girls springs to mind: the series is one of my 5 favs of all time, but the first season was largely spent trying to get to the lightning-fast pace of later seasons. The pilot is not one of my favs.

Got it? Great. Here they are:

Honorable Mention: 30 Rock, ER, Life Unexpected, Modern Family, Once & Again, Party of Five, Southland, and V.

10. Glee: I know it's a young show, but its pilot is one of the most fun in recent memory. Pilots can often get so bogged down in trying to introduce the characters and their situations, that they can forget to tell the story effectively. This pilot immediately brought us into its world with hilarious quick cuts and a voice-over that provided just enough info. By the end of the episode, you can't help but to care about New Directions. Plus, it introduced those of us that aren't Broadway geeks to the vocal power of Lea Michele singing "On My Own", for which I will forever be grateful. Pop culture has yet to show how extensive the ripple effects of this show will be, but the closing number to the episode, "Don't Stop Believin'", set a lot in motion.

9. Millennium: I admit that I was late coming to this show. A friend introduced me to it on DVD when I was old enough to really appreciate it. I had been an off and on X-Files fan, so the Chris Carter element initially drew me in. What the episode does especially well is to establish the good vs evil fight that the series would explore in its best episodes. Throughout the series, Frank Black (Lance Henricksen) constantly found himself standing on the side of good, but venturing into the evil to ward it off, and this episode took us there from minute one. This episode proved to be the perfect precursor to the depths Millennium would take us.

8. The West Wing: I think this is an example of a show that got better as its first season progressed, but its pilot was still amazing! It was written by my favorite screenwriter Aaron Sorkin in top form, giving us the intelligence and wit for which the series would come to be known. My favorite thing about Sorkin is that he's a good, old-fashioned idealist, and from the very beginning, The West Wing showed us that it was about the ideals that American government aspires to. In Sorkin's West Wing, President Bartlett is just a man, yes, but he's a presence, a truly great man in the flesh. Hey, I'm a Republican but this still sucked me in!

7. Felicity: I've probably watched this pilot about a dozen times, and each time I get something new out of it. I always find the characters to be so honest and beautifully constructed. The last time I watched this series (about two years ago), I was struck by all of the terrible decisions Felicity (the ever brilliant Keri Russell) made throughout, but as we were going through them with her the first time, they seemed like the decisions she would make. That she followed Ben (Scott Speedman) to New York City because he wrote something nice in her yearbook makes her sound crazy, but it turns out transferring to New York wasn't about Ben at all. It was always about her. In this pilot, you can't help but to care about Felicity as she naively follows her heart without restraint. She's awkward, but well-meaning. When she tells Ben, "You made me fall in love with you!", you can't help cringing, but you care that her feelings are hurt by his totally normal response. You're watching her at the cusp of beginning to become an adult, and its mesmerizing.

6. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: Aaron Sorkin's idealism again took center stage in this genius two-part pilot. When the Lorne Michaels-type figure on an SNL-type show impulsively uses the live show to air his grievances about network TV in a Network (the movie, that is)-style rant, we're really hearing a Sorkinized soapbox about the problems with TV. Using this incident as a catalyst, Sorkin is able to construct a brilliant, idealized version of a TV network responding to the rant. Say what you will about the show not working as it went on, but I maintain that this pilot is near perfect.

5. Alias: The compelling opening sequence to JJ Abrams' sophomore series juxtaposes our heroine Sydney Bristow (Jennifer Garner) in some kind of Chinese torture chamber with her finishing a test for grad school in Los Angeles. Welcome to Sydney's world! The flashback of Sydney's short-lived engagement to nice-guy civilian Danny Hecht immediately showed us the human side of this girl with fiery red hair that we deduce we'll understand all about later on. As Sydney's world unravels, we see the emotional difficulties she's going to face as she makes the decision to take down SD-6, and she's immediately compelling for it. JJ Abrams said that the idea for Alias came out of a writers' meeting during Felicity, where he half-jokingly suggested that they write an episode explaining that Felicity had actually been a spy the whole time. In many ways, this explains why Sydney was such a convincing character: she was written as a human being (i.e., Felicity) before she was a spy.

4. Friday Night Lights: How could I not include this pilot? Its emotional highs and lows usually take a season to accomplish. When we first meet Jason Street (Scott Porter), we are immediately left with the sense that something bad is going to happen to this golden boy. When it does, although we saw it coming, it's still heartbreaking. I don't know about you, but I loved every minute of watching Matt's (Zach Gilford's) conflicted emotions as he is awkwardly thrust into the team's de facto leadership role. This show is not about football as much as it's about the people who care about football, and the pilot was our first, hypnotizing glimpse into their world.

3. LOST: That opening sequence, right?! We see an eyeball coming into focus, then a jungle. Next we see a man in a suit waking up in the jungle, a yellow Labrador, and soon enough the screams coming from the beach as the man finds his way out of the jungle. This opening sequence, including the mayhem on the beach, is enough to make this pilot one of the best ever, but it's only improved upon by the seasons that followed it. The image of a man in a suit, lying in a jungle is a good microcosm for the whole series, as well as a precursor for Jack's (Matthew Fox's) journey [FOR THE LOVE OF TIVO, I CRY SPOILER ALERT!!!]: in the finale, he would find himself lying in the same place, only not as an outsider (signified by the suit) this time, but as a person who had found his home. Forgive my placing CS Lewis out of context here, but there's no other way: as Jack's eye opens in the pilot, he starts riding the bus to the High Places, and when it closes in the finale, he's finally able to move beyond his supposed desire to return to the Gray Town and into the Light. It's a beautiful journey that begins within the first :15 of the pilot.

2. Little House on the Prairie: "Little H on the P", as it is affectionately known in my house, began as a two-hour TV movie/pilot that aired on NBC in the spring of 1974 before the new fall season began. After watching it, it's not hard to see why the network was keen to pick it up as a series. Dramatizing the Ingalls' move from The Little House in the Big Woods (of Wisconsin) to the apparently dangerous flat lands of Kansas to, finally, the house in Plumb Creek, the movie pilot focuses in on the family at the center of the series and the hardships they endured. During one scene, Charles (Michael Landon, otherwise known as TV's greatest dad) has to leave the family alone in their depressing little homemade cabin in Kansas (it didn't even have a door, for crying out loud!) while he goes hunting, leaving Caroline (Karen Grassle) alone with the sound of distant but too close for comfort Native American war drums. As she sits up at night with a ready shot-gun, we get a glimpse of the real fear this family must have faced in the barely settled Midwest. The series (book and TV) tells the stories through Laura's (Melissa Gilbert's) eyes. It's not gritty realism because it's filtered through a child's lens. This particular episode shows both sides of the situation: Laura remembers the drums and her mother sitting up at night afraid for her family, but in the same breath, she remembers the Christmas where they each received a shiny new penny and candy from Mr Edwards. This pilot perfectly set up the perspective of the series: whenever it was dark, it was also coupled with a child's hope that everything would be okay.

1. My So-Called Life: I actually wrote a paper in college about this pilot. I've chosen it as my favorite of all time because I think it is one of the very few perfect episodes of TV that I've ever seen. At the beginning of the episode, Angela Chase (played with brilliant teenage conviction by Claire Danes) tells us in voice-over narration, "So I started hanging out with Rayanne Graff. Just for fun. Just 'cause it seemed like if I didn't I would die or something. Things were getting to me. Just how people are. How they always expect you to be a certain way, even your best friend." The dialogue is perfect in its imperfections, here: Angela's imperfect high school English is the kind of dialogue a teenager trying really hard to not seem like she's trying too hard would use. Phrases with "like" and "or something" flow tripping off the tongue as she attempts to explain to us her world in her own terms. She almost always uses first and last names to describe people in her high school, as if saying both of their names makes her know them better. "Rayanne Graff" (A.J. Langer) is Angela's grungy hero, and she loves that Rayanne likes her. She's "hanging out" with Rayanne because Rayanne is Angela's idea of cool, but in choosing to hang out with Rayanne at the beginning of her sophomore year in high school, she has passive aggressively abandons her old best friend Sharon Cherski (Devon Odessa). Angela doesn't see it this way, though. She's chasing after approval just as desperately as poor Sharon is. The pilot is told from Angela's skewed, self-involved perspective, but what could be more true about being a teenager than that? The thing that I love about this episode is that in spite of the mistakes Angela is making and the ways she tries to mask how she really feels, we can see how vulnerable she is, and we love her for it. She's me and everyone else at that age.

So there you have it. In case you're concerned about the state of my PhD dissertation, this post was written at small procrastination intervals throughout the week. Do you have any favorite or memorable pilot episodes? Feel free to comment below!

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Martyrdom of "Lone Star"

So the show I just lauded as the best of the new season, a little gem on FOX called Lone Star is the first of the year to get the premature axe. Sound the sad trombone, kids, because we've just lost a good one. I maintain that this show had the most compelling new characters and the most potential to prove that network TV is not a place where excellent TV shows go to die, but I have once again been proven wrong (on the latter point, that is). A little fatalist perhaps, but this show was too good for network TV, and would have found a much more nurturing home on HBO or even the USA network. Southland is another show that was too quality for network TV, and it was prematurely canceled, only to be saved at the last minute by TNT, a better fit for its gritty, character-driven style than NBC could have ever been. Lone Star really could have been a great show, too. It's a shame to see it go so quickly. I'm going to pout about this one for a little while.

New Fall Shows

Okay, what new shows are you guys picking up this season? Here's my list of newbies that I've decided to allow into my life for at least a couple of months (some shows need time to grow). The only one I watched that I just hated was My Generation. If anyone ends up watching that one, tell me if it gets any better b/c I thought that one was *lame*. It never met a cliche it didn't like. Here are ones I'm going to keep watching for a while, though:

- Lone Star: This is my favorite of the new bunch. I expected to hate it, but I loved it instead. The main character looks like he could be related to Kyle Chandler, which frankly is always a selling point, and in spite of the fact that he's a criminal and a bigamist, he's likable. He's an anti-hero that I found myself rooting for. I'm really interested to see where this show goes -- if it doesn't get canceled. Seriously, watch this show!

- Boardwalk Empire: I'm almost always a fan of good (read: not The Tudors) period dramas, and HBO actually has the budget to do it right. Prohibition was a crazy time in our history, when the cultural/moral divide was even greater than it is now, in other words, good TV show fodder. Steve Buscemi somehow manages to pull off the gangster thing pretty believably. I thought the pilot was excellent.

- The Event: It wants to be this year's LOST, but it's not there. It may turn into this year's Flash Forward (may it rest in peace), but hopefully with better results. However, I did find myself sucked into it, and I like seeing Laura Innes in a different kind of role than Kerry Weaver. Good actress. It was weird, though, to see Luke Danes [SPOILER ALERT!!!!!] using a plane as a weapon. What would Lorelai say to that?

- Chase: I wanted to like this more than I did, but I'm willing to keep it on the Tivo list for the season. It seems like it's trying really hard to not be In Plain Sight, but the reality is that it's a regional drama about a female US marshal, so in its attempt to overcompensate, it's falling into cop show cliches that are dumb (seriously, the over-eager rookie cop learning from "the best"? Don't patronize me). I want it to be good, though, and I like seeing Cole Hauser playing a good guy.

- Undercovers: I like JJ Abrams doing another spy show. It's cool, and the stars are REALLY attractive. Honestly, I don't have a lot of deep thoughts about this one, but I enjoyed the pilot.

- Hellcats: This is the cheerleader one on the CW, and although it's terrible, it's kind of a blast. Ashley Tisdale is surprisingly likable, even when she's copping to TV Christian cliches that we've all seen. Plus, they do flippies all the time!

- Nikita: Apparently, TV executives saw a gaping hole in the television spy genre, so they simultaneously greenlit this one, Undercovers, and Covert Affairs (of the three, Covert Affairs is totally my favorite). This one seems to have more of an overarching narrative going through it than Covert Affairs, and I like the relationship between Nikita and Alex. I was surprised that this didn't totally suck. Maybe that's what I'm responding to.

- The Whole Truth: I like both of the leads in this one. Maura Tierney was supposed to play Lauren Graham's role on Parenthood until she was diagnosed with cancer, so it's great to see her returning to TV healthy. This show kind of reminds me of The Practice, sans the David E. Kelley quirky factor, which is definitely a good thing. I'm not jumping out of my seat with excitement about it, but it's an entertaining enough episodic procedural.

- Blue Bloods: I think this one has real potential. I like seeing Tom Selleck in this police officer patriarch role, and, of course, I welcome the return of former crush Will Estes (JJ from American Dreams!) back to TV. This show has such a great cast, also including Donnie Wahlberg and Bridget Moynahan, that it can only get better -- and it was already darn good. I don't like a lot of shows on CBS, mostly because they're out of my age bracket (BURN), but this was ABC-worthy. I loved how they played that scene with Donnie Wahlberg's character and the scumbag in the hotel room: both characters were awful and unsympathetic, and the violence was truly grotesque. It reminded me of the violent scenes in Witness. How great to see so many layers in a pilot episode. I'll definitely be tuning into this one some more!

- Running Wilde: I don't usually get too excited about pilot episodes of half-hour comedies, mainly because good comedy shows usually end up emphasizing the strengths of the ensemble cast and it usually takes about 6 months to a year to find a good rhythm. There are plenty of exceptions to this, but it's a good rule of thumb to give comedy shows at least a couple of months leeway before deleting your season pass. Running Wilde is from some of the creators of the greatest comedy show of the last decade Arrested Development, so it's got potential. It's fun to see Keri Russell doing straight comedy on a TV series, and Will Arnett is always funny when he allows other people around him to be funny as well. This one's got potential.

- Better With You: Honestly, I'm only watching this show because I think ABC's Wednesday night comedy line-up is stellar, and I want to trust that they've picked another good one. The pilot was funny enough for a pilot, and the two sisters at the heart of it (Joanna Garcia from Reba and Jennifer Finnegan from Close to Home) have good chemistry. It can only get better, I think.

- Sister Wives: DO NOT judge me for this. It's the only TLC show I watch, and it stems out of pure, morbid fascination. I'm also a huge fan of Big Love, so I'm hoping this will hold me over until January. In case you haven't heard of it, it's about a Mormon guy with three wives and twelve children, shacking up, Big Love-style in a pretty nice, two-story complex in Utah. The thing that's fascinating about this family is seeing how they organize their lives. In the pilot, we learned that Kody, the husband, is attempting to bring another wife into the family, so as viewers, we are meeting this family on the cusp of big change (it's almost like the producers planned it that way. Crazy.). I was riveted by the pilot, strangely enough. I also find it fascinating that a show like this is now considered acceptable fare for a family network like TLC.

Your turn. What new shows are you liking this season? Anything you hated? Don't fear the comment section!

Monday, 27 September 2010

Not Happy with "Brothers and Sisters"

I'm sounding the SPOILERS bell, so if you haven't yet watched the season premiere of Brothers and Sisters, stop reading!

Still here? Okay, is it just me or is this show now a total bummer? When did Nora and Justin become the only likable people on the show? I'm seriously at a level of annoyance with the show that I don't remember from recent years. At least they had a Walker dinner party to lighten the mood a little bit. Here are all the things that annoyed me about it. Are you ready for this?

1) Flash forwarding a year on a show is ALWAYS an attempt to make up for laziness. Lame.
2) Robert should have died in the car crash. We all knew that Rob Lowe was going to exit the show. I hated them dragging it out for another episode. It felt clumpy and awkward.
3) Justin and Rebecca breaking up now? Really? After that whole long, painful dragged out engagement last season? I feel like they've wasted my time.
4) Sarah thinking about moving to France is annoying. What's wrong with America?
5) Saul is HIV Positive. Unnecessary.
6) Suddenly I like Luc better than four out of five Walker siblings. That's annoying.
7) Scottie and Kevin are fighting. I like it when they are harmonious, or at least unified in their annoyance with the rest of the family. Not sure how I feel about the bleeding heart version of Kevin.
8) The implication that the Walkers are all poor because they've had a hard year is annoying. I like it when the Walkers are rich.
9) Holly is now crazy-pants. It's not like that makes her relevant to the show now or something.

Here are some things that weren't annoying:
1) Justin is such a sweetie! (And he looks hot in his uniform.)
2) Tommy is still not on the show.
3) Nora was acting like a normal person, not crazy-pants like usual.
4) Luc starring in an underwear ad is funny.

Ugh, can this show get over itself, please? I looked forward to it all last season, but now it's seriously bumming me out. Emily Van Camp is leaving the show for good sometime this season, and Calista Flockhart has asked for a reduced schedule. With so many actors jumping ship, I don't think this show is sustainable. They seem to be running out of ideas. I don't like it when shows that I like end, but it might be time for Brothers and Sisters to fish or cut bait.

Here's an awesome recap/review of the episode from a blogger that shares my sentiments about the suckiness of this particular episode:

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

In the past, people have asked me which shows I watch, as if I'm only allowed to be dedicated to about 2-3 per week. Clearly these people don't know me very well. When a new TV season begins in September, I fully commit to it, complete with a list of shows with their premiere dates, a meticulously organized Tivo season past list (it only records the first two in each time slot after all!), an unspoken desire to clear the Tivo of summer baggage (my term for shows that you record during the summer, but don't really care very much about), and a resolve to at least try a couple of new shows for the sake of being in the loop. Truthfully, I don't know how I get to all of them, but somehow I still get actual work done amidst all the TV watching. Granted, after a couple of months, something's gotta give, and several shows typically get the old "I'll catch up with it on DVD" boot, but that's generally how it goes for me at the hopeful beginning of a new season.

Well, folks, the new TV season is upon us. And although the cable networks have been doing a wonderful job of late at keeping the summers less boring, pretty soon we're all going to remember why we naturally lower our TV viewing standards in the summer to get us through.

And football season starts, too!

So, for the sake of those who have always wondered, but have been afraid to ask, here is my intended TV show list for the Fall of 2010, with their networks and premiere dates in parentheses. Some of these shows admittedly suck, but have at some point hooked me in and refused to let me go, so reserve your judgments for another blog. On this the eve of season premiere week, I wish you a happy TV season!

Sunday -- Desperate Housewives (ABC 9/26); Brothers and Sisters (ABC 9/26); Boardwalk Empire (HBO 9/19)

Monday -- Chuck (NBC 9/20), How I Met Your Mother (CBS 9/20), House (FOX 9/20), Lone Star (FOX 9/20), Gossip Girl (The CW 9/13), The Event (NBC 9/20), Chase (NBC 9/20), The Big C (Showtime)

Tuesday -- Glee (FOX 9/21), One Tree Hill (The CW 9/14), Life Unexpected (The CW 9/14), Running Wilde (FOX 9/21), Parenthood (NBC 9/14), The Good Wife (CBS 9/28)

Wednesday -- The Middle (ABC 9/22), Undercovers (NBC 9/22), Lie To Me (FOX), America's Next Top Model (The CW 9/8), Better With You (ABC 9/22), Modern Family (ABC 9/22), Hellcats (The CW 9/8), Cougar Town (ABC 9/22), Law and Order: SVU (NBC 9/22)

Thursday -- The Vampire Diaries (The CW 9/9), My Generation (ABC 9/23), 30 Rock (NBC 9/23), Gray's Anatomy (ABC 9/23), Fringe (FOX 9/23), The Office (NBC 9/23), Nikita (The CW 9/8), Private Practice (ABC 9/23), Project Runway (Lifetime)

Friday -- Blue Bloods (CBS 9/24)

Saturday -- SNL (9/25)

Monday, 31 May 2010

Things I Love about NBC's "Parenthood" and One Tiny Thing I Don't

I haven't written about this show yet, but I've been raving about it since its premiere. I finally watched the finale this afternoon (Only six days after it aired, but give a girl a break. I'm writing a PhD thesis, after all), and, not surprisingly, was happy with the way it left things for the summer. Before I dive in to the things I love about it and all of it's boundless potential, can I just ask, what is going on with Craig T. Nelson's hair?? I was so distracted by his comb-over/curl-under look that I couldn't really quite get into Zeke's scenes this week. Has the hair gotten worse? I think the hair's gotten worse.

Moving on. Some of the biggest surprises for me during this first season have been the acting chops of both Dax Shepard (who knew? Kristen Bell, that's who) and Monica Potter. During these first thirteen episodes, we've had the opportunity to see both of their characters grow a little bit and in very different ways. Potter has a way of making her character Kristina understated but effective, and I loved the way Kristina got all suburban housewife passive aggressive with Sarah last week in defense of her daughter. In her scenes, there's a sense that she's keeping everyone together whether they realize it or not. I doubt that she'll get award recognition this year, but I think her performance is one of the best on a show of really good performances.

I think Dax Shepard, however, might get an Emmy nomination this year. Who didn't get a little misty when Jabar (who is officially the most adorable child actor on TV, displacing the increasingly awkward kid who plays Jamie on One Tree Hill) asked if he could call Crosby "Daddy"? Yeah, I know, it's a little emotionally manipulative, but in this case I'm okay with that. Shepherd has done a great job with a character that might not work as well in the hands of a less capable actor (that right, I just used Dax Shepard, who started his career on MTV's Punk'd, and "capable actor" in the same sentence. Seriously, Kristen Bell has good instincts). I'm looking forward to seeing how his character develops in the future.

There's so much more to rave about: there's the overlapping dialogue, the actors' chemistry, the fantastically moody teenagers, Peter Krause not playing a total d-bag, but the last thing I want to mention is the relationship between Lauren Graham's Sarah and Mae Whitman's Amber. I'm pretty sure that in the last 10 years (anyone else miss Gilmore Girls as deeply as I do?), Graham has solidified herself TV's best single mom with an edge. She's said in interviews that she was nervous about playing another single mom on a TV show because of the inevitable comparisons, but that she liked the idea of playing someone who makes a lot of mistakes as a mom. During the scene when Sarah told Amber that Amber "brings everyone down", it was heartbreaking and entirely authentic. My impression of the character is that she's been burned a lot, she's totally broken, and she really makes a lot of mistakes, but that she's trying to be better just like anyone who sees how her mistakes effect others. I love that Sarah is imperfect and that we get to see her mistakes! But the forgiveness at the core of her relationship with Amber is beautiful, because even when she royally messes up like in that scene, Amber knows that she's one of the few people that believes in her, despite her mistakes. Constant grace and forgiveness is what makes that relationship beautiful.

My theory for why this show works so well is because it respects its actors. Its executive producer Jason Katims has a history of being on shows that respect their actors' talents (My So-Called Life and Relativity, among others), and he's currently the head writer of the best show on network TV Friday Night Lights. NBC gets hard-core redemption points for keeping this show on the air. Don't know about you, but I'm loving Parenthood, and hoping we get to see it for years to come.

Friday, 28 May 2010

Revelation about the 'LOST' Finale

My big revelation about the extremely good LOST finale comes via a great assessment of the finale on The Rabbit Room website: Sideways world is like a postmodern Graytown from CS Lewis' The Great Divorce, where people don't leave until they're ready. Lewis wrote about God's love like this: "God cannot ravish; He can only woo." Such seems to be the experience of the characters not just in sideways Los Angeles, but throughout the series, as well. During the years that we followed them, they weren't ready to know everything about the island, themselves, each other, etc. They needed the journey. Some weren't ready to leave the Graytown hell (Ana Lucia, Michael, Ben), perhaps because of a refusal to peer past the filth of their sins. The ones that were ready, though, experienced true, eternal love and light, the light that Jack glimpsed just before he died on the island. The show pointed to the beauty of free will, what GK Chesteron called "the valour and dignity of the soul."

Say what you will about the show failing to wrap up lose ends or answer all the questions, but ultimately the show was about characters, not mysteries. It asked the big, humanistic questions, and avoided cynicism. The finale was about the triumph of love -- not merely romantic love, but agape love. It was the perfect ending.

We are just pilgrims
Of the great divorce;
I am witness to the light
And I am captive to my own remorse.

And the weight of glory, if you held it in your hand
It would pass right through you, so now's your chance
Would you fall to the high countries?

Out on the green plains
I am but a ghost
Bound up with all that I call mine
Still the light grows.

- "The High Countries" by Sandra McCracken

Thursday, 27 May 2010

I Love/Hate American Idol Voters

Okay, I have a little bone to pick with the American Idol voters. For years, yes years, I have defended the voters of my favorite singing competition. It's true, we've had our ups and downs, but it was the voters who gave Ms Kelly Clarkson the win over that curly-haired fellow in season one, bestowed on Reuben the rightful talent victory over the lovable underdog in season 2, rewarded Fantasia for the best single performance in Idol history ("Summertime", duh!), showed us that country music singers deserve a shot at Idol stardom, too, and gave David Cook the ultimate points for originality with his victory over the pin-up worthy little teddy bear with the heart of gold. Sure Idol voters have royally missed the mark, too. The premature eliminations of a long list of talent from Elliot Yamin to Melinda Doolittle to Michael Johns and Carly Smithson (during dream season 7!) to Lilly Scott from this season show that voters are capable of both underestimating the staying power of talented front-runners, and totally ignoring said talent because they don't fit into the image of the winner that they want. And Taylor Hicks' victory was just wrong.

The voters really let me down this season. Don't get me wrong: it's not that I don't like the dreamy paint salesman from Chi-town. On the contrary, I think that he deserved to be in the final two this season bar none. He has a pleasant tone to his voice, a nice-guy kind of personality, and an ability to make songs "his own" (to borrow an overused term from the Idol dictionary). He also showed oodles of growth and an occasional tear in his puppy-dog eyes. But let's be honest here: Crystal won the season from the very beginning. She still showed growth, but not as much as Lee. She didn't need as much growth as Lee.

Case in point: remember Lee's cover of "Chasing Cars" during the semi-finals? I didn't either until I looked it up. But that same week, Crystal busted out the Bob Dylan harmonica on her well-rounded cover of Alanis' "Hand in My Pocket", followed by CCR's "Long As I Can See the Light" the next week. It's hard to show a lot of "growth" when you're already pretty good from the beginning and you have a strong sense of who you are as an artist. Crystal Bowersox goes into the Adam Lambert/Melinda Doolittle file of contestants who won based on talent, but lost in the final vote to contestants that showed more "growth" and, let's be honest, physical attractiveness. (Not that I'm ragging on Kris Allen. He's more my type of singer than the Glambert, but he's boy-next door cute and straight up not as technically good as Adam Lambert. Just keeping it real.)

I don't want to dwell in the negative, though. It's pretty exciting that a folky, singer-songwriter like Crystal Bowersox could make it to the top 2 on a show as "poppy" as Idol! She gave us a mini concert every week and never lost who she was in the Idol machine (I'm so talking to you, Siobhan). Doubtless, I'll be one of many buying her future records and making arrangements to see her in concert. She also (to my knowledge) introduced both Melissa Etheridge and Alanis Morrissette to the Idol stage and actually performed a Patty Griffin song during a voting night. All very good things! This was a fledgling, lackluster season at best, but Crystal, and quite often Lee, as well, were bright spots. Lee shouldn't have won, but it was not the worst possible outcome for this season!

Hopefully, the voters and I will be friends again after So You Think You Can Dance this summer, or after next year's Idol. It's starting to seem like a streak to elect a "cute boy" the winner three years in a row, so here's to hoping that the most talented will win again in the near future. If Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have proved anything with their post-Idol careers, it's that voters are more than capable of recognizing talent when they see it. Oh well, maybe next year.

Some things about the finale episodes worth noting:
- "Up To the Mountain" has been my dream Bowersox song all season, and I thought the final product was her best performance of a season of very good Mamasox performances. Could not have been better!

- Why did they make Lee sing a song that U2 actually charted pretty high?? The by the book arrangement did him no favors. It seemed like he was drowning in a sea of sound. I'd much rather buy a cheesy original song written by Kara than a recycled U2 mess!

- Remembered just how mediocre the other contestants were this season during that atrocity of a group number. It felt like it took a long time to get to the finals this year!

- I've never been a fan of "roasting" Simon during results shows. Glad that tradition is ending.

- Did Paula make things a little awkward with the judges not named Simon, or was that just me?

- When Mamasox introduced Alanis onto the stage for a duet during her magical cover of "Ironic", I actually squealed with delight. I may have jumped a little bit, too.

- Carrie Underwood ALWAYS brings it.

- There was an audible inhale by my Idol buddy and me when Kelly Clarkson appeared onstage for the reunion number. We love her so.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Renewal of "Life Unexpected" and "One Tree Hill"

Good news: both Life Unexpected (or Life Unleashed, as my Mom has renamed it) and One Tree Hill have been renewed for next season!

I have to admit that I'm pretty excited about both, which I find myself a little surprised to say. Life Unexpected is a creative no-brainer, I think. The characters are interesting, fairly consistent, and sometimes they even make good decisions for their lives (I'm looking at you, Cate Cassidy!). The broken family at the center of the drama trying to figure out how to fix itself is compelling and occasionally heartbreaking (that is, the two elements necessary for good characters to thrive in a TV family drama). They've barely begun to scratch at the surface of Lux's foster baggage, but we see glimpses of how that experience shaped her. I'm excited to see more of those moments. Plus, they've managed to pull off the difficult task of making both men in the principle love triangle sympathetic. Nice.

My self-knowledge surprise for the day was how happy I was that One Tree Hill was actually renewed for yet another season (the next one will be its 8th). Financially, it's a network no-brainer, since the show sells its soul to product placement in EVERY episode. Creatively, though, the show has been running on fumes for quite sometime (let us never forget Millie's cocaine addiction and the fact that Brooke's mom experienced character amnesia this last season). Did you watch this week's episode? Can't remember? Let me rephrase: did you watch the episode where the whole gang (including Chase for some reason) went to Utah and NOTHING HAPPENED until the final 150 seconds of the episode? Now, don't get me wrong: I love a good cliffhanger shooting by a crazy stalker at the end of a season. It's what keeps TV drama fun and ridiculous. But couldn't they have built it up like they meant it?

In spite of a pretty terrible episode, though, there's something about the show that won't quite free me yet. Could it be the fun in watching of a group of very successful 24 year-olds ridiculously living in the random east coast town in which they all grew up? Maybe. Could it be that in spite of all the silliness, Sophia Bush and Bethany Joy Lenz somehow grew into pretty credible actors? Possibly. Is it that I found out there was a parkside location near one of the palaces I'm studying called "One Tree Hill"? Most likely. I guess all this is to say that somehow, after seven years of pretty mediocre television (with more than its fair share of bright spots through the years, in all fairness), I'm still engaged with this show. And, yes, I would be a little sad to not have it on TV anymore. There, I said it.