June 2009

Better Off Ted: Bioshuffle

When it first aired in the Spring, I talked about the two sides of Better Off Ted. One is a standard office comedy, the other is a much rarer variety of comic science fiction. Veridian Dynamics is a super corporation that seems to have made its stock and trade the weirdest technology imaginable. Though this is undeniably cartoony, it also makes a strange kind of sense. Is it scientifically possible to make a machine that can direct soundwaves with such accuracy that only one person can hear them? Probably not, but if such a thing existed there would definitely be a huge market for it. The fact that the machine can, if misused, cause people to vomit is just a fun side effect.

Kings: Pilgrimage

At the heart of Kings is a question of just how good our ostensible protagonist actually is. David Shepherd, like his biblical counterpart, doesn't quite fall on one side of the good/evil continuum. Though he's earnest and holds nobility in high regard, at least intellectually, the connection between his heart and mind is a tenuous one at best. Burdened with his reputation as a giant-killer, the truth behind David is that his supposed moments of courage are actually just attempts to avoid something he fears more deeply.

I Love True Blood and I don't know Why

Two weeks ago, 3.7 million people watched the premiere of HBO’s "True Blood," making the second most watched program on HBO since "the Sopranos" finale.  I was one of those people.  The thing is, however, I don’t know why. It's way too soap opera-y for the straight male that I am, the main vampire character Bill is kind of a drip, and the "mystery" part that made up last season's arc was neither compelling nor well done.  See Veronica Mars’s first season to see how it should be done.  Even more damning is that there’s no there there-- its got nothing, no allegorical goodness that's half the point of Vampire stuff.  Just compare it to Buffy, the Alpha and Omega Vampireness which started off as an allegory about adolescence and overtime also became one about love, sex, death, free will, and the dangers of musical demons, all wrapped in a sly feminist "Girl Power" manifesto.  Or, hell, even "Twilight" which has more depth to it despite its yucky purity proselytizing thirteen year-old girl mentality.  But I do swear that nothing brings the smiles more than hearing people in bad accents say the word “Sookie.”

So why, oh why the "True Blood" love?

Because it’s fun. 

Catching Up: Arrested Development (episodes 10-12)

Michael Bluth is my favorite straightman character, period. Mitchell Hurwitz took all of the put-upon exasperation of the classic model and infused it with an acidic wit. This not only makes for some quick, almost imperceptible jokes, it also adds a dimension of believability to Michael as a character. If the entire Bluth family is somehow dysfunctional, it only stands to reason that Michael wouldn't be able to grow up with them entirely untouched by negativity and general malice. As I've noted in previous columns, Michael's basically stuck getting raw deals no matter what he does. When he's good, people take advantage of him. When he's bad, his misdeeds come back to haunt him.

The Dana Carvey Show Didn't Stink Completely

The broadening deference afforded to the slew of one shot, dead in the water shows from the ‘90s continues to expand as the variety show that Dana Carvey hosted over just eight episodes has recently seen not just a DVD release replete with outtakes and commentary, but a number of features over at the Onion’s “A/V Club.” Despite Carvey’s slight and renewed notoriety, he remains a laid back, off the cuff, public figure commenting on everything from his kids being naturally comedic to the family’s move back from Marin County to the creepy confines of Hollywoodland.

Better Off Ted: You're The Boss of Me

Oh, it does feel good to be back. After inexplicably labeling episode 7 a "season finale", ABC decided to air the remaining six episodes of Better Off Ted this Summer in preparation for the improbable but somehow real second season, slated to air midseason 2010. Presumably the show wasn't getting good enough ratings to keep it around in its original slot but it wasn't such a flop that ABC axed it outright. I'd like to think that the roundly positive critical response had something to do with this. So, Better Off Ted is back for six more episodes in the hot months. Let's dive in.

Hollywood Icon, Ed McMahon Dies at the Age of 86

Ed McMahon died this morning at the age of 86 from what is thought to have been medical reasons; he had been having health problems for the last few months.  Ed McMahon was well known for his sidekick spot on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson from 1962 till the early 90’s.  He was also known for the syndicated series, “Star Search” which first aired in 1983 and helped launched the careers of several actors, singers, choreographers and comedians, the show ended in 1995.

Emergency Update About "Better Off Ted"

In a very weird surprise, ABC has decided to air new episodes of Better Off Ted this Summer, starting tonight at 9:30 Eastern Time. I was a big fan of this series when it aired in the Spring and I was among the fans who cried foul when ABC took it off the air without cancelling it outright. The show is slated to come back as a midseason comedy next year, while the six as-yet-unaired episodes will run this Summer. I'll be picking up coverage again. So, hooray?

Nurse Jackie: Chicken Soup

Some shows allow humor and drama to balance each other out, lest the story becomes too heavy or the tone too light. Three episodes into Showtime's Nurse Jackie and it's fairly apparent that this is less of a balancing act and more of a tug-of-war. "Chicken Soup" spent all of its time on the wrong things, even if the intent was noble.

Just how good is Royal Pains?

So, three episodes into its first series, the question on America’s lips is this:

Is Royal Pains any good?

It’s certainly popular, getting the USA Network around five and a half million viewers in its 10pm slot on Thursday nights. It follows the ever popular Burn Notice (which is definitely brilliant – I shall brook no opposition to this), so at least part of this audience is inherited.
It features Mark Feuerstein (West Wing, The Hustler) as Doctor Hank Lawson, Paulo Constanzo (who was in, er, Joey) as his brother Evan, Reshma Shetty in her first major role as the sharp talking physicians’ assistant  Divya, and Jill Flint (Six Degrees, Gossip Girl) as Jill Casey, the head administrator of the local hospital.

Kings: The Sabbath Queen

Among the myriad tragedies of the cancellation of NBC's Kings is the loss of an expanding cast's ability to shine publicly. While the world is well-acquainted with the singular gravitas of Ian McShane and I don't think we have to worry about Dylan Baker getting more work, there are a few standouts that may not get the chance they deserve. For one, Sebastian Stan has never had a role so meaty, not that he hasn't deserved one. Hopefully, he won't be going back to bit parts in indie flicks now. Beyond the principle cast, there are some guests and supporting players that either never got the chance to do anything interesting, or never hit the air before the show got carted to its current Summer weekend slot. This episode features two such actors.

David Letterman + Willow Palin = Bad Joke

David Letterman had made a joke about Sarah Palin and her daughter (who he thought was Bristol) at the Yankees game, but it happened to be her 14 year old daughter Willow instead.  His joke, “One awkward moment with Sarah Palin at the Yankees game, during the 7th inning her daughter was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez.”  He was referring to Bristol, the 17 year old daughter who is now a mother, not realizing she was at the game with her 14 year old daughter Willow.

Catching Up: Legend of the Seeker- Brennidon

Adventure shows are rarely blessed with gifted actors, though it only stands to reason. The real stars of programs like Legend of the Seeker are the magic McGuffins and TV-quality effects. The only requirements for most of our heroes are a smirk, some muscles and the ability to pull off a decent reaction shot. To that end, Seeker doesn't really stand out among all the other sword-and-sorcery shows in TV history, except when it comes to Bruce Spence. It doesn't take a lot of digging to see that Zedd is a favorite character for a lot of Terry Goodkind's readers, so it's nice that Sam Raimi and company sprung for a strong character actor to fill the role. Still, it isn't until "Brennidon" that Bruce Spence really gets to do more than give sage quips and pretend to shoot fire out of his hand.

Catching Up: Arrested Development (episodes 7-9)

Getting into the middle of the first season. Let's sally forth.

In God We Trust

One of the most curious developments in television history is the strange evolution of Henry Winkler. The man who got famous for playing the epitome of cool has made a much longer-lasting career out of going against type. In a deeply ironic turn, Henry Winkler's bread and butter is being typecast as odd, ineffectual twerps who are past their prime. In essence, the anti-Fonz. Characters like his troubled lawyer Barry Zuckerkorn on Arrested Development are so much more interesting to watch than motorcycle-riding hipsters.

Nurse Jackie: Sweet-N-All


I don't know if they're gonna keep this up, but the Nurse Jackie team has made it a point to depict the title character's drug abuse as being almost charming. Jackie starts the day by crushing up three doses of high-powered pain meds and smuggling them into her workplace in empty coffee sweetener packages. But for that first cup of coffee plus, Jackie ends up inadvertently doling out the rest over the course of a difficult day.