Friday, June 29, 2007

Studio 60: R.I.P.

Last night the lights went out on Studio 60, my most anticipated show of the season (as well as my biggest let-down of the season). Since I've already covered the show's disappointing performance, and don't want to upset Studio 60's diehard fans in their time of mourning, I'll just say that the final episode was very satisfying. Aaron Sorkin tied up all the loose ends, and wrote in plenty of happy endings for the show's characters.

Contrary to my prediction, Jordan came out of the episode a-okay, complete with adoption papers for Danny to sign. Their new daughter, Rebecca Tripp, is pretty dang cute. Unlike every wrinkled, owlish, actually newborn infant I have ever seen. While Jordan was still in danger, Danny and Harriet got to spend some quality time together dissecting the whole Matt/Harriet thing.

After hearing that Matt has been getting high since fighting with her a few months back, Harriet decides that he's the man she wants to be with. Because...I don't know why. At any rate, she and Matt have a lovely "I'm the person you tell about these things" scene at the end of the episode, in which they confess their as-yet-undying love for each other and make out like crazy. Incidentally, both this scene and the above "Danny and Jordan looove each other" scene are schmaltzy sweet enough to remind me that Aaron Sorkin is also the man behind The American President (probably my favorite romantic movie ever).

Meanwhile, Simon and Jack continue to spend quality time together, and Steven Weber pulls out all the stops. Seriously, the dude's awesome. Give him his own show now, please. Jack finishes the story of how Matt and Danny left the show all those many years ago, and really seems to regret the way things were handled. In the end, he quite seriously demands that Simon not apologize, which is enough to get Simon to agree to apologize, of course. But they're interrupted by...

Tom's brother, on the phone from a helicopter containing his rescue team and the two other missing soldiers! So...that ransom thing really went nowhere, huh? Jubilation all around, anyway, and cigars too, as Danny arrives to celebrate his fatherhood. So happy endings for all (except for me, because Cal is barely in this episode), and we're out. It's been fun, Sorkin. I may not have loved this show as much as I wanted to, but I'm sure you learned some valuable lessons about ego projects and will move on to bigger and better things.

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Hey Paula: Welcome to Paula time!

True confessions time: Until I heard the opening credits of Hey Paula, Bravo’s new reality series starring Paula Abdul, I had no idea what Paula’s biggest hit was. I’m pretty sure that back when she was popular I was still listening to my Barbra Streisand and Queen albums, because apparently I was a miniature gay man as a child. Hmm. So obviously, I’m not going into this show with a lot of Paula Knowledge. Thus, allow me to allow her to describe herself. Paula Abdul sees herself as an “everyday girl,” a “businesswoman,” and a “warrior.” I see Paula more as a drunken American Idol judge, whose CD all my friends used to have.

We join Paula on Grammy night, where she’s admiring her millions of dollars worth of loaned jewelry, and play-dressing her tiny dog/rats in the necklaces. Oh, and letting one of them chew on a zillion-dollar ring. Somehow, I doubt the jeweler would find that as funny as Paula does.

Horrifying Paula fact: She’s producing a live-action feature based on the Bratz dolls. She designed all the clothes and jewelry for the dolls, at her own expense. “And now they’ve stopped returning calls.” Oh, man. Is this going to be a sad show? Am I already finding myself sympathetic to Paula? Total disaster! I’m going to take a moment to steel myself. Aaaaand…okay. The Bratz producers are apparently finally returning Paula’s calls now, and want to see her designs immediately. I smell manufactured drama! Paula is hurt that they ignored her for months, and she’s not okay with it. She knows these Bratz dolls better than anyone! And hell, with all this makeup on, she even kind of looks like a Bratz doll. Incidentally, it apparently takes four hours to do Paula’s red carpet makeup. If I put on four hours worth of makeup, I’d probably look like a crazed mannequin, too.

Paula doesn’t understand why she’s always appearing on the worst-dressed lists. She ends up picking an expensive Valentino dress to wear to the Grammy’s, and I don’t really know much about fashion outside of Project Runway, so I’m just gonna say it looks fine to me. One of her dogs, by the way, may or may not be a morbidly obese Chihuahua that’s, like, the size of a basketball.

At the Grammy’s, Paula does the red carpet, and Joan Rivers loves her dress. Victory is Paula’s. After the Grammy’s, Paula has to be whisked off to the airport to get to a QVC taping on the opposite coast. Paula, unfortunately, is wandering around downtown in search of her limo (in a freaking ball gown). After she and her assistants finally connect (one hour before her flight) and she gets in the limo, Paula talks about how much everyone liked her dress…except for that darn Joan Rivers. (As you may recall from earlier in this paragraph, Joan Rivers did like her dress.) Her belated comeback: “I wanted to say to Joan, what doctor is your face wearing?” Amazing! And she totally cracks herself up with it, too. God, I really do kind of love Paula.

However, Paula throws a total hissy fit over the lack of comfy sweats to fly in. Diva, much? She actually starts crying a little because the pants her assistant picked out are so tight. She may be the most bipolar person I’ve ever seen on television. And that’s counting Janice Dickinson. Janice! Dickinson! They roll up half an hour before her flight, and Paula is still being insanely picky about the outfit she’s flying in (“I want my white tennis shoes!”). Cuh-razy. She’s totally going to miss her flight because of her outfit. And she’s all “Can you freakin’ believe this? Kids.” to the camera. Yeah, “kids.” Those crazy assistants, bringing you jeans to wear on the plane, and black tennis shoes.

She makes her flight with virtually no time to spare, still complaining the next morning about her tight jeans and how she couldn’t sleep on the plane. Losing…sympathy… At the QVC, she’s greeted like a big star. The QVC folks lose patience with her fast, though, as she micromanages every detail of her jewelry collection (“No! I didn’t want an indentation there! And that was supposed to be shinier!”). Paula, hilariously, keeps giving the camera Jim Halpern-style shrugs and eye-rolls, like we’re gonna be all, “Oh, those incompetent QVC-ers. If I had a nickel for every time they screwed up the finish on the bracelets I designed…”

Paula’s a bit worried about sale numbers since American Idol isn’t getting her free press that time of year, but she ends up selling out. Yay, Paula! At 5 a.m., after less than 24 hours at QVC, Paula heads back to LA. Wow, you guys. Is it possible that she’s just crazy all the time from exhaustion? This show is blowing my mind.

Bravo goes straight into the second episode, where we find Paula in New York receiving the Fashion Icon Award from the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund. Fashion icon? Really? She’ll also be working on her fragrance line and doing American Idol press. She’s exhausted already. So one week, Paula’s talking about how she’s always the worst-dressed, and now she’s getting a fashion award? She looks at her speech for the first time fifteen minutes before the awards, which may have been a mistake. Oh, and she’s way late to the awards. And starving and tired. This is gonna rock. No, wait, this more than rocks…it ROCKS, ‘cause Tim Gunn is presenting the award! Tim Gunn and Paula Abdul: A perfect storm of class and crazy.

Paula’s speech is…out of order. And upside down. And rather than fix the pages, she chooses to ad lib. It’s awkward. Her biggest laugh is a Simon joke. Reflect upon that, fair readers. I bet it’ll be a familiar refrain with this show. Afterwards, she meets Tim, who claims to adore her and calls her a role model. Losing…respect…for Tim… After hugging a few fashion students, Paula calls the evening magical and poses for the paparazzi. After an addled middle-of-the-night Starbucks run, she heads back to the hotel at 4 a.m. to not sleep, because she apparently has insomnia and sleeps no more than an hour a night. Man, that sucks. No wonder she’s crazy.

The next day at her perfume meeting, Paula smells little pieces of paper and people’s arms and says, “mmm.” It’s pretty funny. Then, she gets to wear a lab coat and play scientist. Which is also a funny image, as you can imagine. The whole time, she’s so tired she acts like a small, oddly affectionate child. Everyone just tries to laugh extra-hard at her jokes, and she’s barely conscious by the time she gets to her hotel. But does she sleep? Not so much. And she’s also sick. So the live satellite interviews for the American Idol press junket the next morning should go really well, right?

And yes. She’s completely insane in the interviews. All over the place, not answering questions well, and increasingly falling apart as the day goes on. And there are, like, 50 interviews. She tries to stay energetic, but as she loses focus her answers just seem totally unhinged. It’s actually pretty hard to watch, because she really does look like she’s on drugs or having a nervous breakdown or something. I’m going to vow right here, right now that I will never, EVER go without sleep for that long. Because it’s an ugly, ugly thing. And the resulting press is also an ugly thing—she’s drunk, high, self-destructing, etc. And she’s about as happy with that press as you’d expect. Sad to say, I think I’m one of those people who watched a clip on The Soup and assumed Paula was hitting the sauce on TV. Have I mentioned that this show is blowing my mind? Here’s hoping it continues to blow my mind all summer!

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Top Chef: Ted! You came back to us!

Praise Ted! Finally, the prodigal judge (can a judge be prodigal if he only appeared in the prelude to the season?) returned to us. Although I notice that he was sitting in Gail's seat, so perhaps he and Gail will be tag-teaming it this season. If the previews for next week can be believed, Ted will be on the panel then, too, and that can only mean good things. No offense to Gail, but Ted is a little more articulate and considered in his food opinions, whereas Gail agrees with other people a lot.

This week's challenge: update classic family-style dishes. I thought this was a pretty cool and creative idea, until I remembered the TGI Friday's challenge from last year, from which this challenge only differed in that the chefs were given a set menu of dishes to recreate, and they were required to make them lower in cholesterol. Also, the dishes were served to Elks, not firefighters.

As soon as I saw the previouslies, which were all about Howie, his fight with Joey, and his bottom-feeding in the first couple of challenges, I knew that one of two things would be happening this week: either Howie was going to redeem himself or he was going to go home. The latter was true; Howie won with his pork chops, while Micah went home for disrespecting meatloaf. Seriously. I mean, I'm no meatloaf defender, I could happily spend the rest of my life not eating meatloaf. But even I – like the judges – was a little offended by Micah's attitude toward meatloaf, which she treats like some gross foreign food that those nutty Americans glomp ketchup all over.

By the way, I know Keckler addresses the terrible spelling in Bravo's graphics quite a bit, but as I'm an editor, too, those spelling errors hurt me just as much. This week's offense: "Sloppy Joe's." See, some people just can't spell, and that's okay. But if you don't have a copy editor handy, then Google and the dictionary are your friends. Especially if you're writing something for work, and even more especially if it's going to be shown to a national audience.

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Burn Notice: And you thought being an active spy was hard?

Burn Notice, USA’s latest summer offering, is a clever, well-acted, generally awesome summer drama. You’ve got action, you’ve got comedy, you’ve got sarcastic narration, and you’ve got Bruce Freaking Campbell. What’s not to love, right? We begin with Michael Westen, a contractor for the CIA who is having a Very Bad Day. You see, right in the middle of arranging a big deal with a warlord wannabe in Nigeria, he gets a “burn notice” from the CIA. Blacklisted. Can’t work for them anymore. Ruh roh. Being the super bad-ass spy that he is, he just barely manages to escape with his life. You know, after a fight, a motorcycle chase, and a semi-conscious plane flight back to the States.

We rejoin Michael in Miami (his hometown), where he wakes up to find himself under the reluctant care of his ex-girlfriend Fiona (who used to rob banks for the IRA), and under surveillance by the FBI. After giving the feds the slip, Michael checks into a hotel…or at least tries to, until he discovers that his accounts have been frozen. When the CIA fires a spy, we learn, they remove all avenues by which the spy does his or her job, since the CIA can’t really remove the spy’s skills. Michael tries to contact his case officer by payphone (do those really still exist?), but the CIA operator refuses to connect him. One fake pipe bomb in the mail later (works for me every time), and Dan the case officer gets in touch with Michael, instructing him to lay low and stay in Miami. Dan can’t give him any information on the burn notice, other than to tell him that whoever issued it really wanted to shut him down.

After giving his watchers the slip again, Michael goes to see Lucy, an ex-spy. She doesn’t know why he’s been burned, but calls the awesomely named Sam Axe (BRUCE CAMPBELL!!!), “The Buddy,” to see if he’ll share a job with Michael so’s Michael can get some cash. Sam, apparently, is a drunk womanizer who also used to be a spy.

The job is for a rich businessman’s caretaker, Javier, who seems to be in a spot of trouble. The businessman was robbed of $22 million in jewelry and paintings, and only the caretaker had the security code. The businessman seems pretty sure the caretaker is innocent, and a quick trip to Barry the Money Launderer gets Michael in touch with an art dealer, who puts him on the trail of the real thief. Javier’s boss. Who robbed himself for the insurance money, only to set Javier up as the fall guy. Apparently, the rich guy is something of a crook. With a little bit of blackmail, a jury-rigged listening device, a carjacking, and a foiled kidnapping attempt, Javier is safe.

In the midst of all this, Michael finds an apartment with a Russian expatriate landlord who is well-familiar with Michael’s reputation. The apartment is apparently above some sort of underground club, and in an angry drug dealer’s turf. I smell a prank war! It’s all fun and games until someone’s knees get shot, man. So yeah, not so much with the drug dealer anymore. Michael’s also got a nagging, hypochondriac mother, but I doubt he’ll deal with her in the same way.

So basically, we’ve got a spy who’s not allowed to spy anymore (or know why he’s not allowed to spy anymore), with three true allies in Miami: Fiona, Sam, and Lucy. Oh, and apparently Sam and Lucy are talking to the feds, but hopefully just enough to keep them off Michael’s back. Anyway, seems the feds can be kept happy if Michael keeps his head down and stays out of trouble. Anyone see that as a possibility? No? Okay. Let’s all get psyched for next week’s episode, then, because Jeffrey Donovan is rockin’ this show hardcore. Thursdays at 10 on USA, baby.

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Traveler: Who can you trust?

It's taken a surprisingly long time for such a conspiracy-laden show, but Traveler has finally reached the point where its main characters have run out of people to trust.

(Caution: spoilers.)

Before, Jay had his girlfriend, Kim, and Tyler had his dad, Carlton, to turn to for help. (Although, in the case of Carlton Fogg, it was rather dubious help to begin with.) Now, however, the boys have no one. Kim left New York without even saying goodbye, except in a flashback. And Carlton turned out to be just plain bad. He was the one who sold shares of that fine art insurance company before the bombing, and when Tyler confronted him about this, Carlton pretty much confirmed that his plan was to a) make lots of money on the bombing, and b) get rid of his wastrel son in the process. Now that is a bad dad. And, granted, I've never been much of a Tyler supporter, since I always thought that he was the dumber of the two runners, but he was in his element this week. When Jay and Tyler followed the paper trail of the stock trades, it was Tyler who knew what to do and what to look for, because this was his world, and he came off rather well. So, Carlton, your son really isn't as worthless as you thought he was. (Or as I thought he was. Sorry, Tyler.)

Will, too, had problems trusting his former friends this week, although that could have been because he'd just launched his Summer Revenge Tour and the Conspiracy had orders to take him in. He had to shoot a colleague of his when she tried to take him down, and, thanks to some torture that Jack Bauer himself would have been proud of, learned that he had something they wanted – the painting, presumably. And can I just say what a joy it is to watch Will work? Fighting, pickpocketing, interrogating, amassing a little stockpile of weapons – it's like watching some fresh, new version of 24. Go Will!

As for the FBI, they just get smarter and smarter. And I'm not just talking about Marlow, who I could almost call psychic, except that she knows what Jay and Tyler have done after they've already done it. But those flashes of insight she gets, such as her sudden certainty that Jay and Tyler went back to New York, are just as uncanny. No, I mean that the entire unit learned more about what was really going on, including, finally, getting a glimpse of Will Traveler and realizing that he was still alive. Also, the prints the FBI got back on the escapee – Bleached-Blond Conspiracy Guy – revealed him to be an undercover federal agent.

Now, all this time, I've been calling these guys the Conspiracy, because I was assuming that they had some nefarious anti-government scheme going. This could still be the case, but it's much more unlikely if everyone is actually a government agent. So the question becomes: why does the government want all this stuff to happen? Why pin it on Tyler and Jay? What do they want with the painting? And if the government really does want the painting, why can't they just take it?

Finally, and most importantly, those trust issues affected the relationship between Jay and Tyler too – the boys fought over Carlton's involvement in the bombing, Tyler punched Jay, and they went their separate ways. Will they find each other again? Are they just on a break? Can Tyler outrun the feds, who just spotted him on the corner? Those are questions for another week, but if I had to guess, I'd say the answer to all three is "yes."

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

On the Lot: Okay, that's it.

It is with great pleasure that I announce to you that I am no longer watching On the Lot, mostly because it is a giant turd of a show that I could barely sit through, even when fast-forwarding through every section involving Adrianna "nodding emphatically with each line is what I call good delivery!" Costa. Seriously, the show is a giant piece of crap. How do I hate thee, On the Lot? Let me count the ways (in no particular order).

  1. It's boring. For reals.
  2. The contestant films are largely stupid and unimaginative, and the ones that aren't total garbage aren't that much better than whatever I'd be watching other than On the Lot, anyway.
  3. I can't keep up with all the format changes.
  4. Adrianna Costa.
  5. Adrianna Costa.
  6. Adrianna Costa.
  7. Kenny's crappy movies. And Hilary's, and Jason's, and...
  8. America refuses to get rid of Kenny for making the aforementioned crappy movies.
  9. Gary Marshall is quite possibly going senile before our very eyes.
  10. All the (extremely necessary) fast-forwarding is wearing out my DVR.
  11. The guest judges are always better than the resident judges.
  12. House reruns would get better ratings...and yet I have to watch this crap instead.
  13. There is no mean British judge.
  14. Going over On the Lot in my mind in order to come up with this list is making my brain liquefy and run out of my ears.
  15. Aghlugmrshblachzzzzzzz........

So yeah, I'm putting my foot down before the next episode sends me into a coma. Goodbye, On the Lot. It's been truly horrible.

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'America's Got Talent': If I can make it there…

For the final week of auditions, America's Got Talent came to New York City, the city where America's dreams of the stage begin, and, in many cases, die. But who cares about the ones who fail, unless they're so appallingly bad as to make good TV?

Take, for example, the Pennsylvania Hand Band. They had two guys in tuxes who claimed that they were classically trained. But that was neither here nor there, unless you can be classically trained in making fart noises with your hands. The other member of their group, by the way, was a man in a giant hand costume whose entire job, as near as I could tell, was to stand around in a giant hand costume. Clearly, these guys were never going to make it, but the Big Giant Hand assured their place in the final cut of the episode.

So remember last week's drama over Boy Shakira, the act that the Hoff hated and Sharon and Piers put through anyway? New York brought about exactly the same thing, thanks to Leonid the Magnificent. You may remember him as the guy who auditioned last year wearing a pair of angel wings and some body paint; this time he was dressed as, I think, an Aztec priest wearing body paint. Again, Sharon and Piers said yes, and again, David stormed off. And again, I agree with David Hasselhoff. It was cool that Leonid refused to apologize for who he was to David, but the fact remains that the act was baffling. (What was with the girls with chains?) By the way, it feels strange enough for me to say that I agree with David Hasselhoff, but what's even stranger is that I seem to be making a habit of it.

Some of my favorite acts of the night:

  • Illmatic Styles: You will be inspired by this dance troupe. From the moment that the tearjerking strains of "I'll Stand by You" assailed your ears in the intro clips, it was pretty obvious that these guys were going to sail through and provide a great story. And they did; one of their members, Luka, aka "Lazy Legz," had a muscular disorder that left him with little mobility in his legs, but he came out and spun and jumped around along with the rest of his crew. They were a good act, but Luka and his crew would have been just as inspirational without the show telling us how inspirational they were.
  • Philadelphia Plowden: A stand-up comic who was brave enough to do an entire set about Hurricane Katrina. I wasn't sure at first, but he got in some pretty good barbs. I'd like to see what other material he's got.
  • Glamazons: They were the plus-size Pussycat Dolls, according to – well, everyone – and their performance of "Lady Marmalade" scored a point for normal-sized women everywhere. Thank you, Glamazons, for giving me the confidence to eat that cookie dough ice cream in my freezer.
  • Three Redneck Tenors: Another one of those unexpected gems. Three guys came out in ridiculous mullet wigs, sang an a capella version of Beethoven's Fifth, and it was actually fabulous.

And while we're on the subject, there were a couple of acts that I appreciated for what I will freely admit are frivolous reasons. One was Rubberboy, a contortionist who inspired the line of the night from David Hasselhoff: "You hurt me, Rubberboy." (I'm going to try to use that in casual conversation.) The other was The Great Throwdini, a "dangerous creepy reverend" (Piers' words) with a knife-throwing act. The act itself was all right, but what I really loved about Throwdini was that he went by the same stage name as Dave's knife-throwing nemesis on NewsRadio. And if you don't know what I'm talking about, you owe it to yourself to find out.

Meet you back here in two weeks for the Vegas callbacks!

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Science of Love: Making love...with science

NBC sure is into the dating experiments these days. In the one-hour special Science of Love: A Modern Dating Experiment, NBC “pose[s] the question: Is finding your soul mate instinct, or can science make you fall in love?” God, science is so pushy sometimes! Repping science are “top experts in the field of love,” there to find one poor fellow’s “perfect match.” (I can already tell this is going to be amazing!)

The subject? Professional football player Adam Johnson, who is currently getting over a cheating girlfriend. Adam is looking for someone he can build something with, and he thinks he’s ready to meet the love of his life. Mark Consuelos is ready to help him out, and is backed by a stable of scientific experts who claim to have found Adam his true love, out of “50 million single women in America” (all of whom tried out for this show, I’m assuming). And not only have the experts chosen the girl, they’ve also engineered the date to maximize its potential for looove.

But that’s not all! Adam will be choosing a second girl himself based on instinct, from fifty potential choices. Mark, with the help of (in the ultimate product placement), is an "expert" on these girls, and helps Adam narrow down the field. Adam nixes the girls with tattoos (18), the girls who can’t cook (10), and the girls who put career over family (17). Wow, I am SO not into Adam right now. Adam meets the remaining five women, and eliminates two immediately. He goes upstairs to spend a little more quality time with the other three women, and is reminded to follow his instincts.

Angelise gets in trouble by virtue of being a dog person. Nikki talks a big singing game, but can’t deliver with “Rock a Bye Baby.” Nina takes charge, and Adam feels immediate chemistry—he chooses her as his instinctive match. Incidentally, if Mark Consuelos mentions “making love” in the context of creating love for Adam one more time, I’m going to die laughing. Let’s everyone “take a look at how science…is trying to make love.”

Adam was put through “extensive scientific testing,” including a personality profile from PerfectMatch, pupil dilation tracking, handwriting analysis, and polygraph tests. These tests indicated that Adam’s subconscious isn’t into the same types of chicks that he typically goes for. (He claims to like short, straightforward extroverts when he really prefers tall, mysterious introverts.) This is the craziest thing I have ever seen. The scientists used to narrow down matches, and found one woman after “weeks of comparative analysis.” I’m totally picturing an Adam Johnson War Room, full of charts, graphs, and drugged women in cages.

Adam’s perfect match, Casey Dee, is pretty cute. Although again, I’m not sure she was chosen “out of 50 million women,” so much as out of the however many desperados registered on PerfectMatch. Nina and Casey Dee both espouse confidence in the methods by which they were selected. Adam looks like he wants to choose Secret Option Three: Threesome City, and take them home right now. Mark informs Adam that he’ll be going on a date with Nina of his choosing, and a date with Casey Dee of science’s choosing. Butt out, science!

Nina likes to go out, stay in, and cook. Wow, I feel like I’ve gotten to know her so well in such a short amount of time. Adam takes her to a football stadium on their date, because football is a big part of his life. Nina isn’t really into it. How amazing would it be if she rejected him? They practice hiking each other the ball, and he takes the opportunity to check out her ass. They do a little giggling and hugging, but she’s ready to move on to the romantic portion of the date. Which is, in this case, a romantic dinner featuring conversation killer after conversation killer—“You should be afraid to meet my mom,” from Adam, and “Have you ever cheated on a girl?” from Nina. Yikes.

Still, they overcome the awkwardness (after Adam admits to being a cheater) with some dancing at a club. They seem to get along pretty well, from the grinding and ass-grabbing and all. After champagne and strawberries in the VIP room, Adam tries to kiss Nina. Unfortunately for Adam, Nina doesn’t kiss on the first date. ...Seriously? She wonders out loud if his “other date is going to be a ho-bag on the first date.” HA! I kind of love Nina. Go, instinct!

24 hours later, we join Adam and Casey Dee on the “Science Date.” We get about as much info on Casey Dee as we did on Nina. The date starts at the beach, where “higher oxygen levels encourage physical bonding.” Are you taking notes, everyone? Casey Dee is feeling the chemistry as they hike around (causing them to sweat and release pheromones, which increase physical attraction). Adam’s pretty into Casey Dee. They hug as they watch a plane fly by with the sign, “Adam and Casey Dee…Take the Leap!” Yes, these two potential lovebirds will be bungee jumping off of a crane. How…romantic? Apparently, high anxiety levels flood your brain with some chemical that increases sexual attraction.

They get strapped in together and raised up on the crane, sharing a kiss before they jump. Aww. Score one for science, and score one for ho-bags. The adrenaline rush apparently increases the emotional bond between the two potential lovebirds. Oh, and Adam "accidentally" straddles her during the jump. Ha. Science has prepared a meal of aphrodisiacs for Adam and Casey Dee, which they share on the beach by firelight. Casey Dee has a tough time talking about her mom, and actually starts to cry a little. They move to the fire, where they feed each other chocolate (another aphrodisiac). God, I’m shocked they aren’t throwing down and having sex right there on the beach. Instead, they have to have a five-minute staring contest, basically (to “imitate the sensation of being in love”). Wow. Five minutes is a looong time. They cuddle on the beach for a while, and the “love making” date seems to have worked well on Casey Dee, at least.

Adam’s really into both women, and isn’t sure how he’ll decide. Nina sees Adam as “boyfriend material,” while it seems that Casey Dee might be in it for a little more. Adam sits down for an awkward rooftop chat with the two ladies and Mark. Mark asks which lady was the better kisser, and Adam dodges the question. Nina at first proudly admits to not kissing on the first date, and then seems unhappy when Casey Dee talks about all the making out she and Adam did. Hilariously, Mark is all, “Nina clearly has values that she didn’t want to compromise, and Casey Dee…um…probably has values too.” Adam is getting more uncomfortable by the minute.

Nina says he should choose her because he…already did. And she also says she’ll kiss him on their second date. Casey Dee touts the PerfectMatch thing, and says she realizes after their date why she was chosen for him. Decision time. Adam chooses science over instinct, and goes with Casey Dee. I give them about four dates. But wait! Mark reminds us that “this is just an experiment,” and gives Casey Dee a choice. Tickets to somewhere really nice for a second date, or she can come back next week for the same experience Adam had, with science choosing her Perfect Match™. She sticks with Adam. Um, duh. That wasn’t a good twist at all! Ah, well. The happy couple is off to Hawaii, secure in their knowledge that “it is possible that science can make love.”

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Age of Love: Meet the Kittens

“The Great Dating Experiment Continues…” We rejoin Mark as a curtain drops, revealing six 20somethings striking their sluttiest fiercest poses. Sadly for Mark, he won’t get to meet them until the next morning. Later, on the 20th floor (thanks for making it easy for me, NBC!), the 20somethings hang out in their underwear, discussing the lack of competition due to the bountiful number of eggs in their ovaries (seriously). Nice to see they still have a team mentality. I wonder how long that’ll last.

Hey, NBC got some intern to look up “age” in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, and we’re treated to this educational gem: “It’s all that the young can do for the old, to shock them and keep them up to date” –George Bernard Shaw. Wow, that quotation replenished about twelve of the fifty IQ points I’ve lost watching this show so far. Thanks again, NBC!

Meanwhile, on the 40th floor, the elderly contestants obsess over Mark and the date he must be planning. Um, yeah, because Mark totally plans all these dates himself. Last week he was all, “Hmm…a picnic in the park? A walk on the beach? No, I think we’ll rappel down a 12-story building.”

The 20somethings head up to the roof in their bikinis, ready to meet Mark. And they’re doing it in broad daylight, not under the cover of darkness like the 40somethings. Feel the shame of your advanced age, 40somethings! You must hide from the sun like the monstrosities that you are! Mark is pretty darn psyched to meet the meat. I mean, meet the intelligent, capable, not at obnoxiously mean 20somethings.

Lauren, a 27-year-old lighting designer, isn’t very worried about the competition. Start worrying, Lauren—even you are a bit older than Mark’s average girlfriend. Mark thinks she’s hot. Next up is Adelaide, a 26-year-old photojournalist who claims to have been born in Australia. Mark thinks she’s beautiful. Then we have Amanda, a 25-year-old “hockey team dancer.” Mark’s all, “I love Amanda’s enormous, round, perky, silicon…um…smile. She’s got a great smile.” Amanda wants a man who’s really “ready to get into this,” and do more than “just play a game.” Um…you’re on a dating show, Amanda. The whole thing’s a game. Did they siphon off some gray matter to fill those saline bags you’ve got hanging off of your chest?

Next, we have Mary, a 24-year-old dialysis technician who’s a bit of an awkward talker. Tessa, a 23-year-old in surgical sales, thinks she brings “a sense of humor,” “great morals,” and “great thoughts” to the table. I assume that’s along with her enormous pair of fake breasts. Mark readily admits his difficulty maintaining eye contact. Next is the comparatively flat-chested 21-year-old student, Megan. Don’t worry, Megan! You’re still young…you’ve got plenty of time ahead of you for ginormous implants. Mark loves her blue eyes, and takes her over to join the rest of the girls poolside. He interviews that he’s hanging out with six beautiful young women in bikinis, and thinks he’s up for the challenge. Is that some sort of double entendre? ‘Cause I bet he’s up for the challenge.

Mark picks Tess and her enormous ta-ta’s for a one-on-one chat. Tess…doesn’t come across as the sharpest scalpel on the plastic surgeon’s tray. Props, by the way, to the NBC editors who included a shot of two enormous beach balls bouncing side-by-side past Mark and Tess as they’re talking. Hee hee. Lauren and Mary, impatient with sharing Mark, lure him and Tess into the pool. Mark is pretty much living out his wildest fantasy. However, once the crazy rock music stops playing, it’s actually pretty quiet and awkward. If only there were some worldly 40somethings to liven up the conversation!

The 40somethings, as it happens, are partying back on the 40th floor. You know, doing what all 40somethings do—shrieking as they lick whipped cream off one another, bouncing around, stripper dancing… Bust out some bikinis and hula hoops, and they’d be doing it up 20th floor-style. Definitely a livelier scene than up on the roof, where conversation is still nonexistent. As Mark he talks to all the women separately, he realizes that they are all still figuring out their career paths and lives, and don’t really know who they are yet (other than hot young babes). Mark isn’t finding the conversations hot at all. Not like those successful, barren 40somethings. Oh, the dilemma! He manages to make a connection with Adelaide, flirtress extraordinaire. Mary is disappointed with her performance.

Host Mark shows up to tear Mark away from the hotties, and tells the ladies that some of them have a date coming up, but others won’t see Mark again until elimination. Mark isn’t pleased with the 20somethings’ performance, and claims he misses the older women. Okay, Mark. Whatever you say. It looked like you were enjoying Tessa’s chest quite a bit from where I was sitting.

Mark looks forward to his date with the 40somethings, which is… roller skating? To remind Mark that the 40somethings grew up in an era when roller disco was actually cool, instead of retro? They have to put on humiliating 70’s costumes, which they sort of seem to enjoy. Whatever, desperados. They skate their old lady asses off, putting Mark to shame. It’s all fun and games until someone breaks a hip, guys.

Meanwhile, on the 20th floor, Mary is sobbing inconsolably due to her lack of alone time and awkward interactions with Mark. Apparently, “[She] had the power within [her] to prevent all of this!” Um, yeah, by not being a fame whore and coming on this show. Or is that not what you meant? The house is “somber.” No bikini hula-hooping today, y’all.

Back at the roller disco, the 40somethings have a limbo contest to win alone time with Mark. Incidentally, Lynn’s entire ass is hanging out of her costume. These chicks are very good sports. Angela wins, ish. During couples’ skate, she expresses her surprise to Mark that he thought she was shy. Jen, the oldest contestant at 48, interrupts Angela’s alone time with Mark. After he complements her youthful looks, she claims “good genetics.” Sure, if by “genetics” you mean “plastic surgeons.” Mark freaks out a bit at the thought that Jen’s old enough to be his mom.

Mark picks Amanda, Adelaide, and Megan for his date with the 20somethings. Mary’s a bit too dumb to work the fancy cell phone the girls have been provided, incidentally. Amanda, cleverly but incorrectly, wonders if maybe Mark picked the girls he was considering eliminating instead of the girls he’s interested in. The chosen few head over to his place for an evening of Dance Dance Revolution, ‘cause that’s what the kids are into these days.

Mark “had a chance to see a side of Megan that [he] never saw before.” Before, as in during the one previous interaction you had with her? Riiight. He finds her fun to be around, anyway. Mark feels that the girls in general did a good job representing the 20somethings. Before they leave, though, Adelaide asks for a minute alone with Mark. Dun dun DUUUUN! The other girls aren’t really on board with it, but can’t do anything about it. So…Amanda tries to hold a glass (or a conch shell?) to the door to listen in. Adelaide basically tells Mark that she’s into him, and wants to break out of her shell when she’s around him. Mark’s happy to hear it. Well-played, Adelaide! Amanda doesn’t necessarily feel the group date went as well for her.

The 40somethings discuss the upcoming elimination while the 20somethings drink to the 40somethings, “with their crow’s feet and saggy boobs.” Ah, Tessa. Your boobs are certainly anything but saggy. They could save small children from drowning. Mary jokes about menopause, thereby karmically ensuring herself a future filled with hot flashes and a waning sex drive.

Apparently, tonight Mark has to send one woman from each age group home. So…not so much choosing between the two yet, eh, NBC? The 40something women congregate on the rooftop, and Mark fears invoking their mighty wrath, subdued with Botox though it may be. And then, the bombshell: the 20somethings descend from a slut-evator, wrecking the 40somethings’ hopes of happiness and hot tennis star sex forever and ever. Mark looks like he wants to throw up. Poor guy. Come by my place and I’ll comfort you, Mark! I won’t even judge you for doing this show (much), I promise!

The 20somethings stand next to the 40somethings, who despair at first, but quickly rally back with nervous laughter. The 20somethings take offense, assuming they are being laughed at. It only lasts for about 10 seconds, but trust me, it’s hilarious (especially the quick shot of Mary trying to look dignified in the face of what she sees as open ridicule). God, this show is amazing. It’s the little moments, you guys.

After Host Mark explains the premise of the show, Mark has to make his decisions (made much less suspenseful by the fact that he won’t have to choose which age he prefers at all). He restates that age is but a number, and calls Tessa to the front of the class. Making a valiant effort at eye contact, Mark asks her and her knockers to stay. Maria’s up next, and also gets asked to stay. Mary, Jayanna, Megan, Lynn, Amanda, and Kelli are all still in as well.

That leaves Lauren and Adelaide on the 20something side, and things don’t work out so well for Lauren. He just doesn’t see himself attracted to her (‘cause she’s all of 27 years old, I bet). Adelaide, of course, is still in. On the 40something side, we have Jen and Angela. Mark tells Jen that he feels like there could be something there, and asks her to stay. Seriously? Well, okay… That sucks for Angela—I really liked her! Mark just didn’t feel the connection with her, and tearfully says he doesn’t see it working out. Tears all around. Next week, the competition gets ugly. Well, uglier.

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TV on DVD: Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential is one of those shows, like Andy Richter Controls the Universe and Undeclared, that I always intended to watch until Fox's itchy trigger finger got in the way and I never got a chance. Admittedly, Kitchen Confidential doesn't have quite the reputation of those other two shows. Still, it was supposed to be solid, quirky fun, and it had a better-than-solid cast. Plus, I had heard great things about the book on which it was based, a tell-all about gourmet restaurant kitchens by Anthony Bourdain.

Happily, two years later, the entire series has been released on DVD, including 9 unaired episodes. Even more happily (and in the interest of full disclosure), Fox provided me with said DVDs to review. Thanks, Fox! I've finally watched all 13 episodes, and I have to say, I'm pretty favorably impressed. The show stars Bradley Cooper as "Jack" Bourdain, a recovering drug/alcohol/women addict who's given a fresh start in the form of Nolita, a fancy restaurant in immediate need of a head chef. He assembles the usual team of misfits and rascals, including Buffy's Nicholas Brendan and Harold and Kumar's John Cho, and the show pretty much goes from there. Yay, wacky kitchen hijinks!

Watching the DVDs, it becomes clear that Kitchen Confidential was really just starting to get off the ground when it was cancelled. The sixth episode in particular, "Rabbit Test," explored the characters more deeply, giving the writers access to greater comedic potential in that episode and future episodes (none of which aired in the US). Although a few of the episodes seem out of order (characters appear and disappear somewhat randomly), the story arcs are engaging, as is Cooper's portrayal of Bourdain. (However, having seen the real Bourdain on Top Chef, it seems to me that Cooper is way too adorable to truly embody the man his character is based on--a man who, let's face it, would probably make a pretty unsympathetic main character)

The show's ratings trouble may have been partly due to the fact that it straddles the line between traditional multi-camera sitcoms and newfangled critical favorites like Scrubs and The Office. It doesn't have a laugh track, and has jokes more complex than the usual sitcom fare, but fails take the format somewhere different like most of the new school of sitcoms. This may have made it more difficult for Kitchen Confidential to carve out a niche, although it is far from a weak point (lack of a laugh track is never a weak point in my book).

Kitchen Confidential's strong point was definitely its cast, although the writing provides helpful support. The actors really seem to enjoy doing scenes together, and the comedic chemistry between the lead group of characters is fantastic. My only complain is that John Cho wasn't in enough episodes--his character Teddy's scenes almost always made me laugh.

In summation, Kitchen Confidential was never going to be the next Arrested Development, but it certainly deserved more of a chance than Fox gave it. It was often smart, usually funny, and improving with every episode as the writers refined their voice and the characters became three-dimensional. While the DVDs don't have a lot to offer in terms of extras (cast interviews and commentary, mostly), they're worth checking out solely to see the remaining nine episodes of a show that should have made more. Especially if you liked what you saw when it originally aired.

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'The 4400': Together again, naturally

Finally, things are back to normal on The 4400.

(Spoilers, of course.)

Whatever normal is, anyway. The extra crispies are still running rampant, and Shawn's brother wants to take promicin, and Tom may be giving up on Alana, and Isabelle is being transferred, after some shadowy men first determined that she can't get her abilities back ever, and weird old cults are cropping up, but at least Tom and Diana are back together. Hey, we always knew she'd come back, right?

We also know that Diana's staying, despite her protests that she only wants to find April. Tom and Diana are the foundation of this show, after all; they can't break up for long. Tom, in fact, illustrated precisely why he needs Diana around this week when he suggested nearly killing himself again to get the future to listen to him. Great idea, Diana pointed out – unless the future decides to ignore you. Tom and Diana like the MythBusters in that way – one is impetuous and apt to do something stupid, and the other is more level-headed and careful, and can talk the other one down. And, just like the MythBusters, that's why they make a great team.

This week's extra crispy: an autistic boy whose ability made people see their worst fears. The show tried to make you guess about who had the ability, but, if you were like me, I'm sure you were yelling, "Don't pick up the train!" as soon as you saw the autistic kid, because that's how he got Garrity. Why introduce an autistic kid if not to have him go off, er, spread his ability around later? Since his father only gave the kid promicin to try to help him, the story ended up with a very touching scene in which Shawn healed the kid's autism and he recognized his dad for the first time. Aww.

And hey, remember Cassie, the faux art school girl? She introduced Kyle to an old cult called White Light, which believed in a messiah who looked suspiciously like Jordan Collier. So Jordan might be a messiah? Yeah, and water is wet, so what else is new? Well, the fact that the White Lighters also predicted a shaman who could see visions – who Cassie thought was Kyle. Why haven't we seen any of these visions yet, you ask? Oh, but we have – because his visions are of Cassie! Yes, Kyle's developed the ability to see a spunky redhead who tells him what to do. Unfortunately, like Ed Asner, I hate spunk, so I'm not real sold on this ability yet. But I'm interested to see what's going to happen, because I do like the idea.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Flight of the Conchords: Are you watching yet?

Although the only other new summer shows that I've watched with any regularity have been On the Lot and Hidden Palms, which aren't exactly daunting competition, I'm ready to call Flight of the Conchords the best new show of the summer. Tonight's episode of Conchords was just as funny as last week's, and made clear that the show has the potential to soar to even greater comedic heights. (Get it? Concords?? Soar??? Hahahacough.)

One of the hallmarks of a great comedy is the depth of the supporting cast. Although Bret and Jemaine are certainly the best thing about Conchords, and have incredible chemistry and timing due to their years working together, they aren't the only characters that will keep me tuning in. Murray the band manager, in particular, stepped up in the second episode. I loved him at the expo pimping the toothbrush fence, I loved him when he was figuring out the pros and cons of replacing Bret, and I loved him when he was auditioning new Brets. Just hysterical. Melanie the super-fan is also a great character, and the show has done a really good job so far of allowing her to push the crazy envelope without being too over-the-top.

I'm pretty excited to see what they do with Eugene the landlord, too, now that I've figured out where I know him from. It's Eugene Mirman, the comedian! Eugene Mirman, other than being a generally well-respected comedian, is the creator of The Marvelous Crooning Child, which I used to find hilarious. And, looking at the site again for the first time in years, it seems I still find it hilarious. Awesome. So yeah, there's definite potential for the landlord character.

Tonight's episode of Flight of the Conchords -- in which Jemaine and Bret realize that being poor sucks, Bret gets a job holding signs, and Bret gets fired from the band because of job conflicts (and then rejoins the band) -- confirmed several things I have long suspected, but never known for certain.

#1: Aussies and Kiwis hate each other. And if you're going to be exhibiting in an expo, you should totally have "Wet 'n Wild Welcome Girls," because alliteration is awfully attractive.

#2: Sign-holding is actually a pretty sweet job. As the sign-holding boss said, "People who hold signs go hold many things." I think my arms would probably get tired after a while, though.

#3: Already hilarious songs can be made even better with colorful animation. Although I kind of already knew that from Homestar Runner.

Speaking of hilarious songs, my favorite lyrics of the night were in "Boom Boom," which finds Bret singing about his hot sign-holding colleague: "She’s so flippin’ hot, she’s like a curry / I want to tell her how hot she is, but she’ll think I’m sexist / She’s so hot she’s making me sexist...bitch." My only complaint is that at times it was tough to hear the lyrics over the music, which is a shame, because these guys' lyrics seem to be uniformly hysterical.

Did you hear that, world? Hysterical. Seriously, start watching this show now. NOW!!!

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Top Chef: Have you seen Ted?

Oh, Bravo. What the hell? You promised me Ted Allen. I distinctly remember being promised Ted Allen this season. He showed up in the season one vs. season two challenge, but since then, where's he gone? Instead of my favorite Queer Eye guy, instead I get the same old: chirpy Gail, "I'm not your mommy" Tom, Lady Padma, and the guest judge, who I believe this week was a young Dick Van Patten.

This week's barbecue challenge was pretty cool. I like that the show has managed to come up with unique challenges so far; now that Top Chef is in its third season, there is every danger that it'll start to repeat itself. But with some smart challenges, it's managed to avoid that, and I like to think that it's because of Lee Anne's influence behind the camera. Nice job, Lee Anne! The editors will also be getting props from me this week, because of their giant fake-out concerning Sara N. For the entire episode, they showed nothing but what made Sara look incompetent: her stumbling introduction of her Quickfire dish, her fuzzy math at the meat counter, and her problems getting the grill started. And then she turns out to be in the top three! You win this round, editors.

By the way, I thought I had a handle on who all the chefs were, and then suddenly in the Elimination Challenge, they cut to this brunette who started interviewing like she was a contestant. Camille? Who's Camille? How long has she been here? Check her credentials!

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Studio 60: Just a little bit of history repeating...

Sigh. I just- sigh. You guys had better appreciate this recap, because I ended a perfectly good (very good, in fact) date early so I could get home in time to watch this episode in which, again, nothing happened. I've reached a point where I don't even know what to say about Studio 60 anymore. The good characters are wasted while we spend time focusing on bad relationships and crazy plots (which may or may not be dropped from one week to the next, coughMatt'sdrugaddictioncough). The show's perfectly good original premise has been all but abandoned in order to make it into another West Wing. What used to be fun, with a good political edge, has become absurdly overdramatic. Every week Aaron Sorkin uses Studio 60 as his own personal soapbox, sacrificing art for ego. The list goes on and on.

All of that said, it's certainly far from the worst show on television. In fact, it's pretty good. How could it not be? Amazing cast, great dialogue most of the time, the best set on television, good directing... It's just that, given all that, how could it not be better? How could it not be great? I'm not mad, Sorkin, I'm just disappointed. And even though I know a lot of you out there disagree with me, in my opinion NBC wasn't wrong to cancel Studio 60. They gave it a first chance and a second chance, and the show just failed to reach its enormous potential. And, let's face it, was pretty freaking expensive to make. Ah, well. Some of us will just have to agree to disagree. On to the episode...

This week was part three of three episodes, although it might as well have ended with a "To be continued." Jordan's still hovering between life and death, Tom's brother is still being held hostage in Afghanistan, Simon is still in trouble with the press, and we're still flashing back to yesteryear, where Matt and Danny are still, to paraphrase The West Wing, allowing their demons to shout down their better angels.

While this show may not have plots that can advance even one night over a period of four episodes, it does have an incredible depth of characters to work with. Tonight, for example, I gained a greater appreciation for Jack Rudolph, and the incredible burden it is to have to be the bad guy, even when you know that the people you're chewing out (and apparently firing) are in the right. More of this, Sorkin! More character-driven action, and not action-driven action, if that makes sense. Not every episode has to be a sweeps episode. You're not ER, and John Wells isn't in charge of this show. Oh, well. Guess it's too late for advice. I'll just continue wailing about wasted potential.

The episode left us with Jordan still in critical condition, leaving Danny's paternal rights uncertain; Tom ready to pay the terrorists a huge ransom in order to retrieve his brother; Simon still refusing to apologize for telling the press he wants to blow them up; and Matt and Danny on the verge of being fired for refusing to apologize for airing a political sketch that bothered advertisers. Which we pretty much already knew would happen, since it's in the past.

Next week on Studio 60: Hopefully some of these plots actually get resolved, since it's the last episode and all.

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On the Lot: Yawn.

What the hell, America? You had your chance to get rid of Kenny and his completely insane, student film quality movie-making, and you passed it up? I mean, sure, Marty was an obnoxious, derivative, style-over-substance, egotistical jackhole, but- hmm...okay, America. I can live with this choice. But get rid of Kenny the next chance you get, okay? Okay.

This week, we had two terrible films, one mediocre film, one pretty good film, and one really good film. Respectively, those films' makers were Jessica (formerly of the nonsensical lightbulb movie), Jason (formerly of the movie making fun of the developmentally disabled), Mateen, Will, and Zach (formerly of one of my favorites so far). So...yeah. I guess this episode was pretty predictable. The guest judge was Wes Craven, though, so that's pretty cool.

Let's start with Jason. BloodBorn attempted some sort of quasi-X-Files, quasi-religious plot, in which a drug addict goes to give blood, finds out his blood is a magical panacea that cures all disease, and then gets a gun aimed at him in a drive by. (Dramatically cut to black.) It was weird. And not just because there were these bizarre heavy breathing sound effects, so you thought his breath turned back time or something (since we knew it was supernatural). You have not redeemed yourself, Jason. Better luck next time...if there is a next time.

Also in the "better luck next time" category is Jessica, whom I think will be spared because she's cute. But you never know--America could surprise me. Her movie The Orchard was, in theory, a horror movie from the perspective of a tree. In practice, it was a movie of a guy pruning a tree, combined with shrieky sound effects and weird green "tree vision." Yeah.

Moving up the crap-o-meter, we have Mateen, who has presented a soap opera in five minutes with Lost. Boring, pointless, melodramatic, and bland. Poor Mateen. I really thought he had potential! However, while it wasn't good by any means, it also wasn't actively bad, like the previous two. So at least there's that.

Will's Glass Eye was actually pretty good, if somewhat gross. It's a clever idea about a guy who discovers, when his glass eye pops out, that he can see out of it if he covers up the empty socket. Yeah, gross, but pretty cleverly executed, like a cute little silent movie. As the judges point out, though, this is the second of his movies in a row with no dialogue.

The best of the night, as the judges unanimously agree, was Zach's Sunshine Girl, a quirky fantasy about a girl who's scared of the dark and plucks the sun out of the sky to hold, plunging the world into darkness. The effects are subtle but fantastic, and it's pretty much just a great little story. Way to go, Zach!

As that was the last group of five to go, next week will probably be an entirely different format, knowing this show. Can't say I'm excited to see what's next. Can we start kicking off three people per episode or something, guys? Let's wrap this business up and move on to House reruns, which I'm pretty sure we'll all enjoy much, MUCH more.

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'Traveler': Where there's a Will…

After weeks of only appearing for a few minutes at a time, in mysterious cameos or in flashbacks to his undercover days, Will Traveler finally came into his own this week, and I don't think it's a coincidence that Traveler picked up speed at the same time. Questions were answered about the Drexler bombing, the Conspiracy started to coalesce, and Will, I assume, has only just begun to kick some butt.

Last week, Will was kidnapped by the Conspiracy, and this week, we discover the reason: Will deviated from the plan when he refused to kill his buddies, and they want to know why. At first, I was ready to call this the world's softest interrogation, what with the tea and the cushy hotel room and the pleasant female questioner, but then Kate the interrogator pulled out a Taser, and I shut up. Things didn't really heat up, however, until Kate began asking about the painting – you know, the one Will tried to sell a couple of episodes back. She threatened to kill Maya unless he told the truth, and from that point on, it was shocking twist after shocking twist. They killed Maya! But it was a recording and Maya was already dead! Will broke free and killed Kate! The hotel was a stage! The car Will claimed the painting was in was a bomb! And somewhere in the middle of all this, Will became a fascinating character. He's smart, he's got his own agenda and now he's got a grudge against the Conspiracy. I can't wait to see what he does next.

Speaking of fascinating characters, the Porter made another brief appearance and made the most of his time. He calmly fessed up to planting trackers on Will and Tyler and explained to the guys that if the Conspiracy wanted Will dead, they would have just shot him and not bothered with the kidnapping. With just his few minutes on screen, the Porter managed to impart useful information, provide a cool counterpoint to Jay's and Tyler's squawks of consternation, save their lives and get them on their way to Boston in Will's car. Truly, his ruthless efficiency is a wonder to behold. Don't be a stranger, Porter. Once in Boston, Maya's key led the guys to a research locker containing the usual spy stuff – money, gun, fake passports – and the trail of breadcrumbs eventually pointed back in the direction of New York City.

Meanwhile, the FBI just started to catch on to the fact that they were dealing with a capital-C Conspiracy here. A DNA match on the body from the Drexler tipped them off that Will wasn't dead and led them to the bleached-blond Conspiracy guy who stole Kim's photos a couple of weeks ago. It's a struggle to keep the FBI scenes relevant when the whole point is that the agents are two or three steps behind the audience, but a combusting mattress ought to do it; that was how the Bleached-Blond Conspiracy Guy managed to escape from custody. I hope this means that the FBI starts to look into the Conspiracy and leaves Jay and Tyler alone for a while, because I've never had much patience with that line of inquiry. After all, we already knew they didn't do it.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

A weird and wonderful night on 'America's Got Talent'

It was a night for strange acts on America's Got Talent.

Of course the Chicago auditions had its share of the usual dancers and singers, but there are other shows for those talents. To see the truly weird, you've got to come here, and if you did, you didn't come away disappointed. There were plenty of acts that sounded, at first blush, like they would be awful, and some of them were: the banjo-playing Tuvan throat singer and the guy who broke stuff with his butt were prime examples. I do have to admit that I didn't hate the woman whose music combined – this is true – Gregorian chant, gospel, and blues. From a purely academic standpoint, it was fascinating, but this is not America's Got Esoteric Talent. Besides, it wasn't really good music, for all its inventiveness.

But there were a few acts that were much better than they sounded. The Fault Line, an acapella rock group, and the 2nd Story Guys, a dance troupe on stilts, easily exceeded expectations and turned in some great performances. They were the kind of acts that America's Got Talent was made for – fun, original, and totally incapable of fitting in anywhere else. They're the ones I watch this show to see, because where else are you going to see a suprisingly cool act on stilts?

As for controversy, well, there was a little of that, too. Perhaps taking his cue from Sharon's and Piers' walkout of a couple of weeks ago, the Hoff left the stage in a huff to protest the other judges giving a pass to Boy Shakira. Since Boy Shakira was not one of those acts that was better than it sounded (it was exactly the way it sounded), I'm on David Hasselhoff's side on this. I honestly don't know what Sharon and Piers were thinking. Look, Boy Shakira was a sweet kid, and charmingly delusional as opposed to sadly delusional, which, in itself, is refreshing. But he had no business getting through. And I don't feel bad about saying no to him, because his mom is proud of him, and that makes him really lucky. Really, really lucky.

My favorite acts of the night:

  • Butterscotch, a beatboxer. She was lucky enough to audition in the Year of the Beatboxer, but even without Blake Lewis to blaze the trail, Butterscotch would be through, no problem. She had perfect timing and good vocals. Will the Blake Effect carry her through to the finals?
  • Cas, a singer who performed "Walking on the Moon" better, according to Piers, than Sting. Since singers always have an edge, he'll be one to watch.
  • Sideswipe, a martial arts/acrobatics group. They performed some amazing stunts, and it certainly didn't hurt matters that the group was composed entirely of buff young guys.
  • Terry, a ventriloquist, who complained in his pre-audition interview that, after all his years of hard work, America still didn't know his name. At home, I was starting to think that there was a reason for that, possibly tied to the fact that no one likes ventriloquists. But his act, in which his puppet belted out "At Last" in true Etta James fashion, actually wasn't bad. In fact, it was – dare I say it – good. And he even got in a nice Ashlee Simpson lip-synching joke. Congratulations, Terry, for breaking down my prejudices concerning ventriloquists.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

'Britain's Got Talent'? Rather!

You might not have realized this, but Britain does occasionally steal show ideas from the U.S. It's rare, but it happens. Case in point: Britain's Got Talent, the spinoff which did in nine days what America's Got Talent stretches out over three months. (I have to say, I like the way the British do things.) Anyway, the British version had its finale this past Sunday night, and the winner was, of all things, an amateur opera singer. Sounds suspect, I know, but Paul Potts brought the house down when he auditioned with Nessun Dorma. Just watch.

So, between watching that video and watching this season of America's Got Talent, I'm wondering: where's our Paul? Cat circuses and acrobats and dance troupes are all very well, and there have been a few good singers, but nothing quite so inspiring and surprising. I suppose last year's winner, the young, big-voiced Bianca Ryan, was a comparable surprise, but we have yet to see anything like that this season. Not to say that we won't; we're not out of the audition phase yet, after all, and Hasselhoff isn't done sniffing out talent. But I'm ready for our own Paul Potts, that one act that will show up and set these auditions on fire.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Age of Love: Why, Mark? Why?

Age of Love, NBC's "great social experiment," is essentially a giant forum which perpetuates stereotypes of older and younger women under the guise of shattering those stereotypes. It is complete and total trash, and my heart goes out to every 40something contestant involved in this humiliating exercise. Okay, now that I've been a responsible feminist and gotten that out of the way, we can get to the dirt.

The show features Mark Philippoussis, an Australian tennis player and total hottie. (Yeah, FYI, I'm an enormous tennis fan and have had a crush on Mark Philippoussis since, like, forever. He's even cuter in person, in case you were wondering.) His tennis career peaked in the late 90's before being hampered by injury. He made a comeback back in 2003, but hasn't really been in the picture in the past couple seasons aside from a couple wildcard entries and early losses, contrary to the show's claim that he's "at the prime of his career." NBC has it right that he's a playah with the ladies, though--he supposedly cheated on his girlfriend with Paris Hilton! All of that said, I'd still claw any of these chicks' eyes out for a chance with Mark. The accent! The body! The great seats at tennis tournaments! Sure, people might mock our 1-foot-plus height difference, but Mark and I would just laugh it off. ...Ahem. Anyway. According to NBC, Mark "has everything...except someone to share his life with." (And two working knees and an active tennis career.) Apparently, Mark is looking for his future wife--the mother of his children. Riiight.

And now, we meet the contestants in their 40's. Ranging from 39 (heeey, waitaminute!) to 48, and with varying levels of plastic surgery, the ladies are all relieved that there are no "teenyboppers" present. The interviews are somewhat horrifying. Every single one is like, "I'm successful, happy, awesome in every way, and I love my life, but...OH MY GOD I'M GOING TO DIE CHILDLESS AND ALONE! MY OVARIES ARE DRYING UP AS WE SPEAK! HEEELP MEEE!!!" The stench of desperation, it is pungent.

Mark says he's always dated younger women. In fact, the last woman he dated was ten years younger than he is. So if he's thirty, and didn't just break up with her...the last woman he dated was a teenager? Right. Moving on. As the show repeatedly emphasizes, Mark would prefer "younger women in their 20's." I smell trouble! Or is that just the stench of desperation still lingering in the air?

One-by-one, on a romantic...rooftop at night...the women introduce themselves to Mark. Lynn, a 40-year-old makeup artist, is pretty cute. Mark seems a little thrown when she tells him she's 40. God, this is going to be painful. Kelli, a legal assistant, is also 40, and at least brings up the term "biological clock" in an interview in the context of hating it. Still, somehow I don't think that's the last we're going to hear of biological clocks. Jayanna, a 39-year-old mortgage officer, seems very nice. Jodie, a 46-year-old VP, looks way younger than her age, and Mark is very gracious and sweet about it. However, he's beginning to see a pattern.

Maria, a 42-year-old photographer, points out the stigma of an older woman dating a younger guy, and says "if the men can do it, I'm gonna do it." Right on, Maria. Angela's up next, a 40-year-old property manager. She married young, and is now divorced. She looks really young and sweet—more natural than some of the others. Mark is totally sweating. Jennifer, an assistant to the Lakers’ owner, asks Mark to guess her age. DANGER! DANGER!!! After an uncomfortable few moments of hemming and hawing, Mark guesses 37…too young, Mark! Keep it believable. Jennifer is 48. And has been under the knife a little, I’d imagine. She asks if he’d like to date an older woman, and he reflexively says yes as his eyes widen, his eyebrows raise, and beads of sweat practically drip down his forehead. Poor guy. This is how god punishes playahs and Paris Hilton-doers.

Mark sits down with the girls next to a fire…on the roof…and admits to them that they weren’t quite what he was expecting. He looks incredibly uncomfortable as they unsuccessfully try to put him at ease. He sits down for one-on-ones (and sometimes one-on-twos) with some of the women. Some have been married, some have kids—Angela has been married twice, and has a 21-year-old son. Kelli is pretty sure that she’s got the upper hand here, and repeats the bit about Angela’s grown child in the guise of a compliment ("She SO doesn't look young enough to have a 21-year-old!"), just to rub it in. Yeah, now that hottie’s in sight, there’s a little less camaraderie. Funny how that works. Kelli isn’t happy to be sharing “the guy [she’s] supposed to be dating.” Um, yeah...does she not understand how these dating shows work? Because she may be in for a bit of a disappointment if she thinks it supposed to be all "Kelli and Mark going on a picnic!" "Kelli and Mark taking a walk on the beach!" "Kelli and Mark eating dinner by candlelight!"

Mark says he's starting to think seriously about dating an older woman (albeit one that looks like a plastic version of a younger woman, if these are the choices) as he gets to know the contestants. He specifically mentions clicking with Maria. By the end of the interview, he calls age “a number,” and is looking forward to getting to know the women better. But then, um, other Mark (Could we not find a host with a different name from the contestant, NBC?) comes in and spoils the fun—apparently not all the women will get to go on a date with Mark before the first elimination. Gasp! Horrified faces all around! Well, they would be horrified if they weren’t all so botoxed, anyway.

Mark and Mark sit down for a one-on-one. Host Mark tells Mark that he’ll find out on the first date which women can keep up with him, before having to eliminate one of them. Mark calls for Jayanna, and invites she, Lynn, and Maria out on a date. He throws out a bunch of phony reasons why he picked each of them in his interview, but they’re clearly the youngest-looking of the bunch. Mark is looking for someone adventurous, and what better way to determine that than a date in which they…rappel down the side of a building? O...kay. I though they were going to be sky diving or something. However, this is going to be particularly rough on Jayanna, who is afraid of heights.

Meanwhile, the slut-copter is making its way to the house, and is filled with shrieking, egotistical, mean, scantily-clad 20-somethings. As a fellow 20-something female, I feel my kind is not being well-represented.

Back to the rappelling. The 40-somethings seem pretty nervous. It actually looks like mad fun to me, but I guess that’s why I’m a 20-something, right? Maria has a good time with it while Jayanna watches on, looking like she’s about to puke. Lynn is a bit of a scaredy cat about it, but nothing like Jayanna, who is panicking. You know, if she doesn’t take it too far, this could work in her favor—the whole “brave but vulnerable angle,” overcoming obstacles because she wants him sooo bad. She ends up having a good time with it, and (as predicted) Mark is impressed. In the end, he’s impressed with all of them, and he’s learned “not to judge a book by its cover.” He says that age has been “thrown out the window.” Cut to…

The 20somethings hula-hooping in bikinis at their new digs. Well, no one can say this show doesn’t accurately represent the two age groups. I was just doing some bikini hula-hooping this very evening, right before my naked trampolining. And cut to… The 40somethings cleaning and doing needlepoint. Jesus H. Christ. As an added detail, the 20something apartment is trendy and colorful, while the 40something apartment is pretty much entirely white and pale blue. Subtlety, thy name is NBC.

Mark and the women prepare for the first elimination. Mark calls the 40something digs, and asks to see Angela, Lynn, Jodie, and Jayanna. He’s really nice about the age thing when they all get up on the roof, admitting that it threw him for a loop, but saying they made him feel so comfortable that it’s “completely out of [his] mind.” He talks to Angela first (who is wearing a dress that’s shorter than I would feel comfortable in, by the way, which I feel only emphasizes that she's a 40-year-old trying to look 18), saying that she seemed a bit shy the night before. However, he asks her to stay. Lynn’s on the chopping block next, and Mark asks about a heart necklace she was wearing during the date. O..kay. He also asks her to stay. He talks to Jodie next, and says that while he really enjoyed their one-on-one conversation, he’s feeling more of a friend vibe with her. Ouch. She gets the cut. Now her dress, I love. He still calls Jayanna up in order to tell her that she blew him away on their date, and asks her to stay. Jayanna may be an evil master of dating show strategy. I picture her in the basement, feverishly watching The Bachelor on DVD while bathing in collagen-firming cream and stem cells.

Mark repeats that he doesn’t care anymore that the contestants are in their forties, and have ovaries that are desiccating by the minute. Thanks, NBC! The twist would have really lost its impact without that last anvil. Then, just before the end of the episode, Host Mark shows up to break the news that (Dun dun DUUUUNNN) …there are young, hot babes in the house! Next week: The 40somethings react to their young, hot competition.

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Season four is extra crispy on 'The 4400'

Previously on The 4400: Season one was excellent. Season two was good, too.

Season three was… well, season three was kind of like a test paper on which the writers kept changing their answers. The future second-guessed itself and started messing with the returnees. Alana went on the run and came back unobtrusively a few weeks later. Diana broke up with Marco because she wasn't ready to commit, but put up only token resistance when her precog daughter pointed out her future husband. (Poor Marco. His only crime was being cute and dorky. Of course, ask Greg Sanders and George O'Malley what that'll get you on a drama.) But it's another summer and another season, and I'm ready to see what season four brings.

Interestingly, it seems that season four is coming back around to season one. Once again, we had the cousin in a coma, but this time it was Shawn, and Kyle brought him out with a shot of promicin. And, with promicin now available to the public, the show is introducing us once more to people just discovering their abilities – people Marco dubbed "extra crispies," as in, "not original recipe." This week's extra crispy was Graham, a high school kid who turned his school, and then the city, into his own personal cult. Since this was what got me into the show in the first place – people discovering abilities, adjusting to them, and changing the lives of people around them – I'm glad to see the show go back to basics, or, at least, a tweaking of its original recipe.

As for Jordan Collier, he just gets more intriguing. His guilt over all the deaths caused by promicin was perfectly in character, but also a departure from the confident, almost mystical Jordan that we usually see. And, at long last, he showed an ability: he can neutralize the promicin in extra crispies, as he did with Graham. It only makes sense; like Jordan said, "I gave you promicin, I can take it away." Kind of puts a damper on his promise that everyone can have it, if he can strip anyone of their new powers, but it keeps him powerful and relevant, and I'm all for keeping Jordan in the game.

There were also a couple of new characters to contend with, like NTAC's new head, Meghan Doyle, a woman with a taste for Fellini and, like Tom, a certain disregard for protocol. I think she'll be fun. Then there's Cathy, who knows an awful lot about Kyle and the 4400 story, and who suggested that Kyle use promicin on Shawn. Naturally, she wasn't the art student she pretended to be, and I'm sure she'll turn up again soon.

All in all, it was a promising start to the new season. I'm intrigued, I have questions (like what Alana is doing in a painting from 1885), and the promise of more extra crispies has only whetted my appetite.

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Flight of the Conchords: Check it out. Now.

If you find the following lyrics funny, you will probably enjoy HBO's newest comedy, Flight of the Conchords. The scene: a guy trying to hook up with a girl at a party.

You're so beautiful
Like a dream
Or a high-class prostitute
You're so beautiful
You could be a part-time model
But you'd probably still have to keep a normal job

Amused? Then read on. Flight of the Conchords centers around Bret and Jemaine, two New Zealanders who make up the "digi-folk" duo Flight of the Conchords (both in real life and on this show). The show is fictional, and follows Bret and Jemaine around as they try to make it big in New York. So far, they have a needy band manager whose full-time job is at the New Zealand Consulate, and one married super-fan who walks around with Bret's picture on her t-shirt.

Every so often, Bret or Jemaine will start expressing their hilarious, hilarious thoughts in song. Some of you may find it off-putting for characters to sing randomly on the street, but trust me--the fact that the guys are in a band and the songs are hysterical makes it work. (Although full disclosure: I'm a huge musical theatre fan, so I may have a higher "bursting into song" tolerance than most of the world.) In the first episode, Jemaine tries to date Bret's ex-girlfriend, Bret makes a hair helmet (exactly what it sounds like), and the band makes a music video:

Most comedies take a few episodes before they can really crack me up, because I need to have a better feel for the characters and for the type of humor than I can get within 30 minutes (plus, most comedies take a few episodes to really hit their stride). Flight of the Conchords is not most comedies. I was laughing out loud as soon as Jemaine started singing his first song, and pretty much kept laughing until the end credits. If you love Scrubs and hate Two and a Half Men, Flight of the Conchords may be the show for you. Find out Sunday at 10:30 on HBO, or watch it online now.

(And if you want to see more of Jemaine, check out Eagle vs. Shark, which is apparently New Zealand's answer to Napoleon Dynamite.)

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Top Chef: Bite-sized thoughts

Just a few random thoughts about the Top Chef season premiere:

  • Sandee Birdsong? Any relation to Mary Birdsong?

  • My favorite chef right now: CJ. He's funny, he's competent, and he's very tall. I think he could easily turn the tables on Tom Colicchio during one of his walkthroughs and intimidate him, because CJ's probably got a foot on him, and Tom's got it coming.

  • Loved the first challenge, the exotic surf and turf. Loved even more that they had geoduck. Thanks to Mike Rowe, I have a healthy appreciation for the mollusk, and I know how to pronounce it.

  • Tre's prize for winning the first challenge: an invitation to get "savage drunk" with Anthony Bourdain. That in itself is a little alarming, but then Bourdain hauls out a stack of his collected works, all signed, and suddenly I'm powerfully reminded of Gilderoy Lockhart. Not that I'm saying that Anthony Bourdain is skilled at memory charms and is taking credit for other people's food experiences.

  • Where was Ted? Ted makes everything better. Sure, Bourdain is entertaining, claiming, as he does at one point, that he would have to be drunk to enjoy a chef's dish. (I'm sensing a theme to Bourdain.) But… I was promised Ted Allen, dammit.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Studio 60: "Fast" is a relative term

Tonight on Studio 60, exactly two things happened: Jordan's baby was delivered by c-section, and Simon ranted at the press. Now, seeing as those things happened in the first five minutes and last five minutes of the episode, respectively, you probably could have safely gone for take-out in the middle without missing anything. Despite Danny's grammatically suspect claim that "things are moving fast tonight." Oh, Sorkin. You fill me with hope only to dash it cruelly with flashbacks and, well, longer flashbacks.

However, I will concede that this week's episode was slightly less West Wing-wannabe than last week's sad installment. You know, aside from all the stuff about Afghanistan, censorship, and the meaning of patriotism. Methinks Sorkin is still a little raw from The West Wing being criticized for being anti-American after the war started. Which, fair enough, but work out your issues on your own time, Sorkin--I came here to watch a dramatic version of 30 Rock!

So yes, part two of three episodes (don't get me started) found Tom's brother still captive in Afghanistan, and Mike from Las Vegas acting as Chief Army Comforter/Stonewaller. Matt's still working with the hot lawyer on a cockamamie ransom scheme. That is, when he's not having acid flashbacks about his first, failed experiment as Studio 60's showrunner. Way back in the day, you see, back when we were only at war with one Middle Eastern country, Matt and Danny went up against NBS and Jack Rudolph in an attempt to get political on Studio 60 about the war in Afghanistan. And (spoiler alert!) I don't think it's going to end well for Matt and Danny's jobs. You know, in the past. Where we already know what happens. Can't you at least try and keep it interesting, Sorkin? Sigh.

Things are somewhat more involving at the hospital, where an unconscious Jordan is having clotting issues after her c-section. I actually enjoyed some of the scenes between Danny and Jordan's doctor, which is probably more a testament to Bradley Whitford's mad acting skillz than anything else. But seriously, are they going to kill off Jordan? I mean, I know the show's cancelled and all, so it's a moot point, but Jordan is part of this show's Tremendous Trifecta (the three great characters that make up for any number of evils elsewhere in the show--Harriet and Cal are the other two). Don't make it a Tremendous Pair, Sorkin! I wouldn't worry, but the whole "Don't let Danny get attached to his baby, since Jordan's totally going to die and he'll never see that baby again" thing has me concerned, given this show's track record for subtlety and surprise.

Will Mark Jeter survive Afghanistan? Will Jordan survive childbirth? Will Simon survive the angry paparazzi? Will Liz survive another episode? Tune in next week for the exciting conclusion of this three-parter.

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Hidden Palms: Alcoholic girls just wanna have fun

Last night on Hidden Palms, we finally got some answers. Sort of. It seems Johnny's mysterious online stalker is none other than his mysterious real life stalker, Liza! Liza, by the way, is all kinds of awesome. And is apparently trying to get Johnny to stay away from Greta and Cliff by warning him about what happened to Eddie. And what did happen to Eddie, you ask? He was (pause for effect) MURDERED!!!1! OMG 4realz. (Yeah, the big reveal isn't quite as dramatic on IM.)

We still don't know what Greta and Cliff did last summer--just that whatever happened was terrible enough that she wants it to stay secret. Wants it badly enough to break up with Johnny to protect him from it. Or something. I'm actually guessing she realized that he's a nosy twerp, but whatever. So...they're never going to have sex? I'm just sayin', Falcon Beach does a way better job of hooking its characters up, and it's on ABC Family. This is the CW, for godsakes! I demand trashy summer fare! Anyway, Greta keeps watching this video of Eddie in which he is clearly troubled by some sort of deep dark secret. Oh, and Eddie and Cliff were pranksters to the extreme. Hmm.

Cliff's character is becoming more fleshed-out, if by "more fleshed-out," you mean, "more and more like a gay sociopath." He's moved on from puppy-kicking to alcoholic-enabling, completely ignoring Johnny's wishes that he stay away from Nikki. He also gets into it with his mom's young football-playing stud of a boyfriend. Which, fair enough, the dude's clearly a gold-digging asshole. But yeah, Cliff? Clearly a troubled young fellow.

Nikki, for her part, goes out in a blaze of drunken glory, hosting a crazy party at Johnny's house and then sorrowfully hiking out of Palm Springs to parts unknown. Why is it that on these types of shows you can throw together an out-of-control kegger in the space of an hour, with random attractive partygoers arriving from all over the county? (The county that is full of nothing but old people waiting to die and windmills, if the pilot episode and opening credits are to be believed.) Is there some sort of hot teen phone tree? A Bat-Signal shaped like a cheerleader doing a keg stand, shining from the party's location? A Palm Springs Paul Revere, riding around on a golf cart shouting, "A party is coming! A party is coming!"?

So, will Leslie Jordan be back next week? Will Greta be even blonder and thinner? Will the show become any less crappy? Will any of this matter, since the show is being cancelled, anyway? Tune in and find out, since the CW is burning off two episodes per week until the Independence Day finale!

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Traveler: Making great time

Already we've reached the fourth episode of Traveler, and somehow it has only been 44 hours since the museum explosion. Jay and Tyler must be covering ground in New England as fast as Jack Bauer does in L.A., and they don't even have a helicopter. They've gone from New York City to upstate New York to New Haven, and now, they're in Maine, searching for Will in his hometown. Or is it?

Well, it would make sense if it was, because the town, from what I saw, was entirely populated by shady characters. There was Maya, the owner of the bookshop "Have Books – Will Travel" (Get it? Huh?), Will's sometime girlfriend and co-conspirator, who confided a mysterious key into Jay and Tyler's safekeeping before getting captured by the Conspiracy. There was a man calling himself Daniel Taft, who tried to blow the boys up. Naturally, this involved the guys escaping at the last moment and running away from the big explosion behind them. I mean, come on. The show couldn't call itself a thriller if nobody ran away from an explosion, right?

And finally, there was the Porter, making his triumphant return. For me, this guy is the most interesting character on the show, because, as far as we know, he's playing on his own side. He's not part of the Conspiracy, he's not in league with the feds, and he's not officially allied with Jay and Tyler. The show has been very smart to keep the Porter's appearances to a minimum, except that it's made me care less about "Who is Will Traveler?" and more about "Who is the Porter?" There have been so many conspiracies, on so many shows, that it's refreshing to see a shadowy character who's not involved in one.

Since we're halfway through Traveler's run already, it's time for the show to start giving us some answers. Although in the case of one of them, I had forgotten that a question existed in the first place. The big mistake in Agent Marlow's past: she "got soft on a suspect" and another agent died. I can see where this is bad, but if it really bothered her – or if the experience had really changed the way she treated suspects – she wouldn't be the only one at the FBI expressing misgivings about all the mounting "evidence" against Jay and Tyler. Even when the FBI was confronted with an internet video that was supposed to show Tyler, in a variety of places and at clearly different times, delivering a single manifesto, Marlow was the only one who had any concerns about it. And while I appreciate the fact that not everyone at the FBI is blindly accepting the evidence that the Big Frame-Up is putting in front of them, these Marlow/Chambers "with all due respect, sir, you're wrong" scenes are getting old. In fact, it may be the same scene each week. I'll have to check on that.

In the final moments of the episode, Jay and Tyler finally got a glimpse of Will, very much not dead, and, it appears, having done a subtle something to his hair, at a train station. But a train went by just then, of course, blocking Jay and Tyler's view (curse you, trains, for always hiding important things from view!) and allowed the Conspiracy time to hustle Will into a sinister white van.

From the previews, it looks as though we'll finally start to hear from Will himself, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. Yes, the show is all about discovering the truth about Will, but I think Will is effective as a mostly unseen presence, the few flashbacks colored by his later betrayal, and his motives unclear.

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