Monday, July 30, 2007

Age of Love: Nobody likes a quitter

Last week on Age of Love, Jayanna was tragically and unfairly eliminated, and Maria was outed as being totally crazy. This week, we begin with a quote from George Bernard Shaw (whom NBC helpfully identifies as a playwright): "We don't stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing." Really? And all this time I thought it was because of the free radicals. Back at the apartment, Jen is pretty broken up that Jayanna's gone. You and me both, Jen. You and me both.

But wait! Jayanna doesn't just live on in Jen's memory--she lives on in a totally harsh video message to the remaining contestants, in which she completely trashes Amanda! Who is watching it along with everyone else! Awesome! Sample quote: "It doesn't matter how down and dirty and nasty and backstabbing she has to be--Amanda is that desperate for a man." Hahahahahaha!!! Sad truth: as pointed out by you guys in the comments, Mark clearly likes Amanda enough to boot anyone she complains to him about, so in the end, I don't think karma's gonna get her as badly as Jen hopes.

Mark picks Maria and Amanda to go salsa dancing with him on the first date of the episode. In an interview clearly filmed prior to the Great Truth or Dare Freakout of '07, Mark says that Maria's great because she's easygoing and doesn't stress about things. Riiight. Mark, it seems, doesn't really know how to salsa. The girls don't have to know how, because they get put in such stripper-licious outfits that no one will be watching them dance anyway. Maria looks like a slutty baby doll, and Amanda looks like a slutty...slut. Magenta and black bra with crazy amounts of fringe, miniskirt, disgusting. Mark picks Maria for the first dance, and Amanda not-so-secretly hopes she'll break a hip. Maria does, in fact, go crazy with the hip action. Between her craziness and his immobility, it looks nothing like salsa.

Amanda is a bit more chill on the dance floor, and has to keep tugging her skirt down to hide her butt cheeks. Mark notes that Maria was way more sweaty and tired by the end of the dance, but I think that has more to do with her spastic dancing style than her age. Maria puts Mark on the spot and asks him if he has anything to say to her or Amanda. It's uncomfortable, and kind of a turn-off for Mark.

The next day, Megan and Mark head off to have high tea. Megan's definition of high tea: "It's a really good...tea." (Megan reading signs in the limousine: "'Par...tition?' What's a 'partition'?") Mark thinks she's really funny, but I don't think he's laughing with her, if you know what I mean. She is also unfamiliar with the concept of sugar cubes (or "spongy things"), and generally uncomfortable with the idea of a tea date. Fair enough, Megan--it looks really fussy to me.

That night, Jen gets summoned to a giant, lit-up, Cinderella-style carriage, where Mark is waiting to whisk her off on a romantic date. Possibly involving a Disneyland parade, from the looks of it. Mark chose her for the "incredible" date, because he wanted to "save the best for last." Suck it, Amanda! The horsedrawn carriage looks seriously goofy rolling along the streets and highway overpasses of LA. For reals. After the carriage ride, Mark and Jen go swimming, and then cuddle and make out next to the pool. Back at Mark's apartment, more making out, plus tasty snacks. At about 2 AM, we switch to the grainy surveillance cam in Mark's bedroom, which goes dark when they turn out the lights (right as she's about to "give him a massage"). However, we still get great audio, which is...gross. Half an hour later, Jen heads back to her apartment, very much into Mark. They both agree that it was an amazing night. I'm guessing her son, who is Mark's age, wouldn't agree. I'm also hoping he didn't watch this on TV. CREEPY.

The next morning, everyone's super-jealous of Jen's date. Megan is jealous of the carriage ride, while Amanda has a hilarious silent freakout at the mutual massage description. Don't massage and tell, Jen--it's unseemly! As Jen talks about how NBC is likely to censor the massages, Amanda is horrified to learn that (shocker) she's not that special, and Mark is hooking up with all the ladies.--young AND decrepit. Next, we're back to the weekly discussion of whether or not Maria's going to quit (she says she is). Megan's onto her false promises. Fool you three times, shame on you?

The girls meet with Mark solo before the elimination. Megan's meeting with Mark is short, and she doesn't get to say everything she wants to. Next, Jen tries not to be too confident, and tells Mark that she's really, really into him now. Mark agrees that he always has a great time when he's with her. Amanda, on the other hand, takes Mark to task for hooking up with Jen, and he doesn't seem pleased that Jen blabbed about it. If Amanda's Reign of Terror is still going strong, Jen will get the boot for sure. But hey, if anyone's going to survive after Amanda complains to Mark about them, it's Jen. He tries to reassure Amanda that he's really into her, and she falls for it hook, line, and sinker. Maria confirms to us that she's going to quit (for real this time!), and gives Mark this meandering speech about slamming doors in her face, and limited time, and whatever. Mark's all, "Um, you're one of just four women left, and I'm contractually obligated to eliminate you one by one at this point, so what more do you want from me short of kicking everyone else off and choosing you right now?" She finally takes the plunge, and tells Mark she's eliminating herself. Mark claims that had she not done so, he would have asked her to stay. Too late!

After an hour-long discussion with Maria, Mark goes down to visit the remaining contestants and deliver the news. They're all fairly shocked that Maria finally followed through. And Maria's gonna be pretty sorry pretty fast, because Mark tells the women that they'll be headed to Australia with him to meet his family! Wow, that's pretty awesome. But not for Megan, who is scared of flying, especially on such a long flight. Come on, Megan--when you think about it, the vast majority of crashes happen during takeoff or landing, so you're probably just as likely to crash no matter how long the flight is. ...Feel better now? Apparently not, as she has a last-minute panic attack when it comes time to board the plane, saying she can't do it. Dude, take some Dramamine and sleep through it. It's a free trip to Australia! Australia! Sadly, Mark has to put her in a cab home, where they finally have their first kiss. So...we went from four to two without Mark eliminating anyone? Seems like the closer they get to realizing they're going to have to be with Mark, the less these ladies want to stay in it.

So...the description for this episode mentioned something about the women's families getting a chance to grill Mark, and I was kind of looking forward to hearing what Jen's son, especially, thinks of this whole thing. Sadly, I guess it was not to be. Ah, well. Next week: this whole crazy whirlwind comes to an end when Mark chooses between Old and Crazy, Fun and Young, Plastic and Plastic. Semi-unfortunately, I'll be on a much-needed vacation at the time, so this is where I leave you. (Don't worry--I'll try and find someone to cover for me next week so you can get your last Kittens vs. Cougars fix). It's been fun, guys!

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The 4400: One nation under Jordan

Alternate, but too long, title for this post: "Take me down to the Promise City, where the river is clean and the garden is pretty."

(Spoilers ahead, of course.)

You know, I should have seen it coming. This entire season of The 4400 seemed to be building toward it. First he just had a following; then he had a city; now Jordan Collier has annexed himself a piece of Seattle and called it Promise City. Of course, that's just a backdrop to the real point of the episode, the question that's been hanging over this season – and possibly over the preceding three as well – is Jordan Collier a good guy or a bad guy?

The fact is, we didn't get a definitive answer. We were invited to make up our minds, as Maia did. On the one hand, Jordan took a toxic corner of Seattle on the Duwamish River delta and cleaned up the river, made all kinds of plants grow, and promised to work miracles everywhere. On the other hand, he caused mini-disasters to happen as a demonstration of his power and essentially carved a sovereign nation out of a major city, which the government wasn't too cool with. So the government sent in enhanced soldiers – remember them? – commanded by Glenn Morshower, Aaron on 24, who can't seem to not play government or military personnel.

Since Maia foresaw that something very bad, possibly the end of the world, was going to happen if the soldiers killed Jordan, she snuck in to Promise City like the teenager she almost is. There she saw enough to decide that Jordan was good, and she warned him about the soldiers. But she still didn't trust him; she lied and told him that she'd had a vision that a war would doom all mankind, hoping to keep Jordan from hurting anyone. It worked, since Jordan's response to getting invaded was not a bloody reprisal, but an expansion of his borders.

As always, the mystery of Jordan continues to be fascinating. He seems to be gentle and reasonable, but there are hidden reserves of ruthlessness, and he's certainly not above allowing his minions to do the really dirty work, so he doesn't have to. And I was glad that there was a lot of Maia in this episode, as she's been lacking recently. I don't remember seeing Maia take this much action before – she doesn't go out on her own much – and it seems like another indication that she's growing up. It's the natural next step for her, and I'm just happy that the writers thought to take it.

Shawn, meanwhile, jumped into the running for Worst Political Candidate Ever. He dated the daughter of a woman he healed, slept with her, and proceeded to be surprised when it got all over the internet. Shawn, you idiot, the internet knows all. But as he didn't have the foresight to spend the entire campaign sitting quietly and doing nothing, he did the next best thing: admitted he had made a mistake. He also, in spite of warnings from his mentor, asserted that he would continue to take the middle road between promicin-positive people and the rest of the world. At least, that's what he keeps saying, but I haven't seen much of this middle road. Now that the divisions are starting up in earnest, I'd love to know what the middle road is and what he proposes to do, especially because Shawn is the only character who's advocating this middle course.

And Tom/Meghan shippers got something to squee over when Marco totally walked in on them almost-but-not-kissing. I like Meghan; certainly the show has gone out of its way to give her a personality, what with the sick dad and the Fellini predilection. But I'm not really feeling this Tom/Meghan love. Oddly enough, the only person Tom seems to have any chemistry with is Diana (see: their cute dinner at the beginning of the episode, in which Diana got all gal pal with Tom and grilled him about Meghan). But, as I actually enjoy the fact that they're the only male-female partnership on TV without any sexual tension between them, I don't want them to get together. Tom is nice; Meghan is nice; I wish I could care about them together.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Flight of the Conchords: MY tears turn into jolly ranchers

Tonight on Flight of the Conchords, the guys learn a valuable lesson about racism, or xenophobia, or Australians, or something, when they cross paths with a Kiwi-hating fruit stand operator. More importantly, tonight marked the Flight of the Conchords debut of my favorite Conchords song that they hadn't performed on the show yet: "Albi the Racist Dragon" (which introduced the adverb "racistly" into my vocabulary). It was amazing. I mean, the animation left out the humor of the guys' expressions when they're performing the song (see here), but the disfigured Albanian boy was better than I ever could have imagined. Best line: "Albi began to cry dragon tears, which, as we all know, turn into jelly beans!" Magical.

Another hilarious product of the "race war": Dave trying to teach Bret and Jemaine how to flip someone the bird. Jemaine's version involves flapping his hands together in an imitation of an actual bird. Bret just tries to give Dave's "bird" wings. Although they manage to learn the classic bird, I hope that one day they can move on to more advanced bird-flipping techniques, such as the "ah-ah-ah-CHOO!" Sneeze Flip, or the Finger Crank, or the venerable Read Between the Lines. Ah, middle school.

Of course, in the end, the race war ends because the fruit dealer simply confused New Zealanders with Australians. I think we've all learned a valuable lesson here, much like Albi: Australians are smelly and dirty. And you shouldn't be fooled by their hot accents. If you need any more convincing, try watching Age of Love. Trust me and the racist/xenophobic fruit dealer, and stick with Kiwis like Bret, Jemaine, and Phil (I love you, Phil!). Man, I feel like a better person already. You guys?

Moving on, how much do I love that Murray got his own song this week?! I mean, I feel for him losing his leggy blonde from tech support, but the song made his disappointment worthwhile for all of us: "Wish you knew how much I loved your legs and your hair/Leggy blonde, goodbye." I am totally in favor of expanding songs to other characters (especially as they run out of original Conchords songs, and have to write all new material anyway). I'm just sad they didn't do it before Sutton Foster's character left the show.

On the other hand, I'm not sure what to think about the "Mother Uckers" song. Are they trying to make a point about censorship? They've cursed some on this show, but it's no Deadwood, especially since they've said "flippin'" a few times in place of stronger language. Perhaps HBO is trying to make this into a family-friendly show? At any rate, I thought it was really funny that they were actually singing the words "mother uckers." Like, their mouths weren't mouthing the letters that are supposedly getting bleeped out. Not quite funny enough to be worth an entire song, but funny all the same. Because really, are these guys capable of anything less than funny? (Answer: No, no they are not.)

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Top Chef: Hey, I didn't order a reunion show!

It hardly seems possible that we've reached that point of the Top Chef season where a reunion show is warranted, but we apparently have. Actually, we can probably expect a season three reunion later on, but to, I don't know, stretch out the season, we got a reunion show with the first few bootees from s3, a smattering of chefs from s1 and s2, the judges, and some guy to read the questions. Don't worry; to make up for this little casserole of leftovers, they're giving us a supersized episode next week.

There were plenty of inane questions, awkward segues, and montages, including one of Padma's Hotness. It seems that Padma wears revealing clothes on occasion, you see. I know, I was shocked, too. But in the middle of all of this, and completely separate from the blandest host in the land (for real, Andy Cohen makes Ryan Seacrest look edgy), there were some unforgettable moments.

  • Learned quite a bit about Tom: in the first montage, we saw that he's dainty with cutlery and says "finger pointing" a lot. And doesn't that speak volumes about the difference between Top Chef and Project Runway, that Tom is all about "finger pointing" and Tim is all about "making it work" and "caucusing"? Anyway. Perhaps more than we needed to know about Tom, however, was that he's an inexplicable sex symbol and an "icon of the bear community" – that is, gay men who appreciate burly men. Tom showed his appreciation by immediately mentioning his wife.
  • Mike did/does not have herpes. He just wanted to put that out there. Thanks, dude.
  • Seems that on the night of the attempted headshaving in season two, the chefs did a parody of a Quickfire challenge and the judges' table. Elia, cast as Padma, nailed the role, perfectly skewering Padma's habit of stressing random syllables. Hilarious.
  • Marcel was not there, and the excuse was that he was on a "fishing trip." Fishing? Marcel? …Fishing? I mean, it's so strange that it just might be true – which is not to say that it's not still code for "didn't really feel like hanging out with the people who nearly scalped me, thanks."
  • And in the greatest moment of the evening, Tim Gunn asked, "Was Stephen from season one [ridiculously long pause]… real?" The answer, not that it really mattered, seemed to be yes.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Damages sets a good precedent

Damages continues two of the best trends in cable series right now: movie stars taking a chance at headlining a TV show (see Holly Hunter, Minnie Driver), and strong, vibrant female leads (see Brenda Johnson). Glenn Close's character isn't technically the protagonist, but if you've seen any of the bajillion ads for Damages crowding the internet, you've seen that Rose Byrne's photo is sliced down the middle to reveal a picture of Glenn Close. It's a perfect metaphor for the show: Ellen Parsons is on the surface, but Patty Hewes is at its heart – its dark, mysterious heart.

(Potentially damaging spoilers ahead.)

The story: Ellen Parsons is an idealistic young lawyer (are young lawyers ever jaded?) who comes to work for Hewes & Associates despite dire warnings about the evil that is Patty Hewes. The firm is working on a huge case involving Arthur Frobisher, a CEO whose employees lost millions when the company's stock tanked. Conveniently, the sister of Ellen's fiancé may have seen Frobisher meet with his broker just before he sold his stock. Patty knows all about this connection; it was the entire reason she hired Ellen. And somehow, six months from now, Ellen's fiancé ends up dead, while Ellen, covered in blood, is taken to the police station and asks for a lawyer.

But Ellen's whole experience is only a way for us to meet Patty, a slippery character to whom there are two wholly different sides. Her gentle side is the woman who wins an award for public service, loves her husband and her son, and seeks damages for clients easy to sympathize with, like kids made sick by a big, bad corporation or employees defrauded out of their pensions. But the moment you get used to Sweet Patty, Merciless Patty shows up. She considers family a drain on time and energy, manipulates everyone around her, and isn't above having a dog killed to encourage a witness to testify. It's the ease with which she can switch between these two extremes – for instance, when she "fires" her associate – that makes Patty so chilling, She's worse when she's being kind, because you know what it's hiding – the old "iron hand in the velvet glove" idea. The genius is that the two halves aren't totally irreconcilable; she uses sweet talk to get a good settlement, and when offered a choice of motives between helping her clients and destroying the opposition, answers, "Both."

Overall, the show is a tight, stylish thriller. It has excellent performances from Glenn Close, Ted Danson, and Tate Donovan, and there are enough questions to keep me wondering for quite a while. What's Tom up to now? How did the fiancé die? What happens in the intervening six months? And is there anything Patty doesn't know? Damages leaves you with the sense that you're not sure of anything that's happening, and that's exactly where you want to start with a mystery like this.

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Boy Shakira is no more on America's Got Talent

Ah, America's Got Talent. You know, there's nothing else quite like it. There's talent, yes, but the rest of the show is the sort of pure cheese that you can only get by combining David Hasselhoff, Jerry Springer, and gratuitous overuse of O Fortuna from Carmina Burana. And it's not like that piece isn't overexposed as it is. Somehow, though, it never fails to crack me up when the show uses O Fortuna to introduce the judges, as though we have anything to fear from them besides whatever randomness falls from the Hoff's lips this week.

Week two of the semifinals brought us some great acts, a few not-so-great, and Boy Shakira, who is basically in a category of his own at this point. It also brought us the news of which of last week's performers would be moving on, and I'm sure you'll be shocked to know, as I was shocked, that Julienne Irwin and Butterscotch were the first to hear that they were safe. My girls the Glamazons moved on next, followed by Robert Hatcher, the man from the Cincinnati sewers, and Sideswipe, the guys with the abs. All good acts, and I'm glad that at least one non-musical act made it through, at least to break up the monotony as we get closer to the finals.

Who will move forward from this week? Let's check the performances:

Second Story Guys: Their disco-inspired routine to "Turn the Beat Around" was probably the most fun that they've shown so far, and I loved their '70s-style costumes. But the best part was Jerry trying to interview them afterwards. He looked like an eight-year-old trying to interview the Harlem Globetrotters.

Southern Girl: They're your Dreamgirls! Dreamgirls will never leave you! Seriously, though, I don't remember seeing this group before they showed up in the Vegas callbacks, but their performance of "If I Ain't Got You" had a nice throwback quality to R&B groups of the '60s. But there's no Deena Jones, and that's where they got in trouble with the judges, because the judges wanted a lead singer. I thought they did well enough without one, and I've got to give them props for defending themselves to the judges, saying that they all sang lead.

Popovich Comedy Pet Theater: Okay, is it just me, or were they just Popovich Pet Theater before? When did the comedy part come in? Consistency is all I ask! Their act took a long time to get going, because they spent quite a while setting a scene before getting to the pet tricks. It's okay if you're Cirque du Soleil and your audience has paid $100 for the privilege, but these judges are impatient and they hate ferrets. Yes, that was their other mistake: setting ferrets loose on stage. There are probably still some ferrets scampering around backstage.

Cas Haley: I have a confession to make: I can never hear the song he played, "Higher and Higher," without thinking of Ghostbusters II. (What? Lady Liberty striding through the streets of Manhattan – it's memorable!) But Cas' performance, infused with a bit of reggae flavor, almost made me forget. And if you thought there was any chance that Cas might not come back next week, a shot of his 16-month-old son sealed the deal for him. Good singer, cute kid – yeah, he's staying.

Terry Fator: Terry did a duet with his puppet, Winston the Turtle, of "What a Wonderful World," with Winston as Kermit the Frog and Terry as Louis Armstrong. As usual, spot on impersonation. There are three things I love about this guy: 1) his sock puppet fan club, 2) the Muppet-like way he can impart expression and feeling into his puppets, and 3) the fact that he can get David Hasselhoff all emotional.

The Fault Line: I seem to remember this group being marketed as an acapella rock band, but their performance of "The Way You Make Me Feel" was really just acapella. Now, I couldn't walk out of my dorm when I was in college without tripping over three or more acapella groups, so an acapella group really has to have something extra to impress me, and they didn't. I'm with Piers; they should stick with rock.

Boy Shakira, uh, I mean, Boy Britney: This week he dressed up in the famous schoolgirl outfit to dance to "Hit Me Baby One More Time," and for the first time, I can kind of see where Piers and Sharon are coming from. He was certainly entertaining, and he caused the Hoff to lose his mind again and accuse everyone but him of being on medication, which is always a plus. But, as with Kashif, I'm just not sure that Boy Shakira/Britney is a good enough dancer to justify his continued existence on the show. I'm interested to see what happens once his fate is in the public's hands.

Jason Pritchett: Jason performed without his guitar this week, which was probably smart: it differentiated him from the other male singer with a guitar, Cas, and it allowed him to work the audience as he was singing "Life is a Highway." The crowd loved it, of course, but the judges weren't as keen, and I'm not sure that his voice was really up to the song. However, there's no denying that he's an excellent performer, and I wouldn't mind seeing him stay on.

Calypso Tumblers: Like Southern Girl, this was an act that we were seeing perform for the first time this week, and I have to say that I was impressed. They gave a high-energy performance with plenty of impressive moves, and you've got to love the fact that one of the guys ran up and high-fived the Hoff in the middle of the routine. Perhaps the most shocking thing was that no one talked about their abs, even though they are just as ripped – and there are more of them – as Sideswipe.

The Duttons: They still performed their usual tricks, like instrument switching, but they moved away from their country roots to play "La Bamba." I didn't object to it as much as did Piers, who was positively gleeful that they had fired their children, but I wasn't blown away by it, either. At this point, I could take them or leave them.

Best of the night: Terry Fator, Cas Haley

Worst of the night: Popovich (Comedy) Pet Theater, The Fault Line

I don't even know anymore: Boy Shakira/Britney

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Eureka: When it rains...

Poor Carter! The dude's just trying to go about his everyman, common sense-having, surprised-at-nothing business, and the universe conspires against him at every turn! Harsh, universe, harsh. You really had to go and pelt the guy with hail? That stuff stings! I gotta say, with a main character as likeable as Carter (and facing so many amusing predicaments), I don't understand why this show isn't more popular. I guess the fact that it's on Sci Fi doesn't help, and it lacks the cult appeal of something like Farscape, but come on, America! Eureka rocks, and is getting (Rockier? Increasingly rocktastic?) every week!

This week, in particular, showcased the dialogue, which has improved by leaps and bounds as the characters have developed. Eureka makes me laugh more than the majority of straight comedies on television, and it's mostly character-based humor, rather than punchline-driven. For example, when trying to find the cause of Eureka's unusual (and deadly) weather, Carter happens upon a giant satellite thingy, and says, "Does this look like a crazy weather machine to you?" On the face of it, that's not a hilarious line. However, Colin Ferguson's deadpan delivery and Carter's perfect blend of being an outsider yet accepting all that goes on in Eureka combined to make me laugh out loud. (Similar example: After Henry translates Eurekaspeak into Carterspeak for him, "Why don't you people just say 'ice funnel of death'?")

Elsewhere on the Carter front, things are getting pretty complicated. With the ex in town trying to steal Zoe (in a sympathetic way, sure, but I still hate her a little), things are going to be a little bumpy with Allison. And what a shame, too, since their chemistry has improved exponentially since last season (yeah, didn't take much). I especially loved their interaction at the beginning of the episode, when she busted him chatting up Zoe's friend: "I’ll remember this when you’re getting arrested on Dateline." Oh, snap! And he actually got a rain check on the coffee date, even after accidentally calling her old! Shame on you, Abbey the Possibly Evil Ex, for making the already-complicated Carter-Allison-Stark love triangle into some sort of love square, trapezoid, or rhombus.

Although Allison, I suppose, has enough to deal with already. You know, what with the autistic savant son who may or may not be channeling a mysterious and deadly artifact that's killed people already. Oh, and the slightly morally compromised ex-husband who, obsessed with the artifact and claiming to be concerned for Kevin's safety, has been studying him, or some kind of crazy business. So yeah, love life? Probably not her biggest concern.

And okay, Beverly? With the cash and the passports and the gun and the mysterious computer chip? Whaaaa? Is she working for SD-6 or something? I love how she's all stealth evil, and Henry's all stealth evil, but they seem to be working to different stealth evil ends. I'm just going to assume they'll balance each other out, and Eureka will come out on top. And let's hope so, since Eureka is probably the awesomest town to ever awesome. And right now, the show has the perfect ratio of overarching plot to standalone episode, so let's hope they keep it that way. It's all about the balance, y'all. The balance, and not underappreciating your weatherman.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Greek: Losing it

I have to say, I'm officially liking this show way more than I probably should, given that it was supposed to be trashy summer fare. This week is all about sex, baby. Rusty's looking to turn in his v-card, Evan's looking to have sex with Casey, Casey's looking to not have sex with Evan, and Calvin's still looking for a few good men (or just the one, I suppose).

First off, I feel the need to ask: Do people actually hook up on pool tables, couches, etc. in the middle of crowded frat houses? Because if so, gross! Second off, do sorority girls actually invite frats to mixers using choreographed dances in their underwear? Because if so, also kind of gross. And finally, would one frat brother actually let another frat brother use his bed for sex? That's true brotherhood, right there.

Seems like the rollercoaster saga of Casey and Evan not having sex, possibly having sex, and then still not having sex has reached its conclusion. I'm kind of (again) grossed out by the idea that Casey has to sleep with Evan for the sake of her sorority (that's unrealistic, right? ...Right?), but I'm still loving her character in general. And after this week, Evan's actually (gasp!) growing on me a little. Although Casey's makeover of Rusty into Evan-lite was, as Cappie pointed out, all kinds of creepy.

Poor Rusty, though! All he's doing is trying to find a date to his frat's event, and Cappie hooks him up with a virgin surgeon? Rusty was clearly not ready for Lisa "the virgin whisperer." So that plot was a bit predictable, if amusing. In particular, I really enjoyed Cappie's sermon on dating, which involved evolution (much to Dale's dismay, I'd imagine), and compared women to "unicorns with breasts." If only, Cappie. If only. Man, Cappie's awesome.

Also awesome is Ashley, Casey's sorority sister and BFF. She's cute, she's funny, she's energetic--she reminds me of Madeline and Louise from Gilmore Girls, but perkier. Her analogies, however, leave something to be desired. Saying that Evan needs to be "McDreamy, not McSteamy," and hold off sleeping with Casey for a while is at best misinformed. Note to Ashley: McDreamy and Meredith slept together in the first episode of Grey's Anatomy. Like, as soon as they met. Ah, well. And rounding out the awesomeness category this week is Dale (Calvin just missed out). Dale's quote of the week: "Sex before marriage is like slapping God in the face." (Closely followed by the Wonder Twins impression by his abstinence club.)

Mad props, incidentally, to Greek for featuring Plain White T’s. I love “Hey There Delilah,” so yay! So what did you guys think? Can this show cross the line from trashy summer fun into semi-worthwhile viewing?

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Age of Love: Don't be cruel

Last week on Age of Love, Mary swam home in a river of her tears. This week, camping! Outside! With nature! This week's inspirational quote to get you started, courtesy of NBC, is less pro-old than usual: "The old believe everything; the middle aged suspect everything; the young know everything." -Oscar Wilde. Let's all take a minute to contemplate that in the context of this show. Right.

We open with a now-familiar discussion of how Maria said she would quit but didn't. Jayanna, in particular, is bothered by it, and decides to call Maria out. Look, I can understand being annoyed, but it's kind of Maria's right to not quit if she doesn't want to. Jayanna is in danger of losing the "Liz's Favorite" spot. Partly because of the Maria thing, and partly because of her way? Of talking? Like everything's a question? It's starting to grate on me. Yeah, I'm fickle. So sue me.

Amanda points out that for the first time, the cougars outnumber the kittens. Jayanna starts to passive-aggressively dig at the two remaining kittens, telling them that when you're mature like she is, you don't just fall in love with a dude in a week, and that Mark isn't giving them anything that he's not giving everyone else. Well, that last part is definitely true. Mark's totally a makeout slut.

Host Mark shows up at the apartment to break the hilarious bad news: For the next two days, they'll be going camping. The contestants act all excited, but I'm not buying it. Host Mark says that this trip will separate the women from the girls, because "one of you...will not be coming back." Jesus Christ, are they camping in grizzly bear country or something?

Maria loves camping, and says the trip could "create a lot of yumminess." Yeah, for grizzly bears. Megan, on the other hand, isn't much of a camper. Jayanna, who is also a camper, makes sure to NOT tell her to bring toilet paper. And you know what? Judge me if you will, but I kind of love her for that. I really hope this trip is like The Parent Trap, with Jayanna filling Megan's bug spray bottle with sugar water, and making her hit sticks together to scare away the cougars (it's grizzlies you need to worry about, Megan!). They all pile into an RV with Mark and head off to the campsite.

Mark runs through all the girls in an interview. He thinks Megan is a sweetheart who says funny (read: dumb) things all the time. Jayanna impressed him from the start, he loves the way Amanda strokes his...ego, and he likes Maria's honesty and passion. He says that everything seems right with Jen, and he knows he's attracted to and likes her. It seems like there's a "but" in there that was cut out of the interview.

At the campsite, Mark uncorks a bottle of wine and they toast to the camping trip. What the heck kind of camping trip has wine glasses? I don't think it counts as camping if you have glassware. The gals set up their tents, and Mark tries to start a fire. Let's just say he lacks the mad outdoorsy skillz which I thought were compulsory for Australians. Mark takes Maria on a walk, and she takes the opportunity to further explain her feelings and the whole almost-quitting thing. Mark's all, "so...we're not going to make out right now?" Maria interviews that she's really glad he "convinced [her] to stay." Um, that's a bit of revisionist history, honey. He barely got your name out before you started your whole "I feel like you ignore me but you just gave me a little hope so I'm not going to quit after all aren't you relieved?" speech. Whatever, Maria. Your strategy of playing hard to get has become a bit too drama queen for me. Mark is all over it, though, and they kiss.

Later that evening, as they're all hanging around the campfire drinking wine, Jen asks Mark to come talk to her in her tent. She tells him how wonderful she thinks he is, and he just tells her that he's definitely attracted to her. Um, I'm sure that's nice and reassuring since she's so horribly, horribly old, Mark, but you could probably say something about her personality, too. Now that they're on the same page, they make out.

Back at the campfire, they move on to hard alcohol and party games. Jayanna gets dared to run around with her pants down, and revels in the opportunity to show off her ass. Fair enough, Jayanna. Fair enough. Especially when she dares Mark to do the same thing. Maria says that Mark's ass is at least a nine, but she'd have to touch it to rule it a ten. Ha! Maria picks "truth," and Mark asks her if she's turned on by him. So...does Mark have the tiniest ego in all of professional sports, or does he just get off on forcing women to fawn over him? Okay, same thing, but seriously!

Maria takes the opportunity to, like, make some kind of hippie love pretzel of turned-on-ness involving touching hearts and straddling each other. It's weird. The other women all feel awkward. Mark silently vows not to ask "truth" anymore. Then, Maria freaks out at everyone giggling at her, and says something about how everyone claims to want to empower women (not on this show, sweetheart), but then they laugh at women, which doesn't empower her. "Truth is truth! Stop laughing at women, JEN." Oh my god! She's a crazy drunk! Jen tries to explain that she wasn't laughing at women (subtext: she was laughing at Maria specifically), and that it's just a game, but Maria's all "This is not a game! This is truth!" Um, "truth or dare." Which IS a game, you crazy. Mark doesn't think all the arguing is exactly a turn-on, but Maria continues to freak out about the sanctity of truth, and how she takes life seriously.

Jen realizes that you can't reason with crazy, and chooses instead to walk off crying, thus attracting Mark's attention. Well-played, Jen! He follows her into the woods and tries to calm her down, and then possibly tries to bring about a threesome by convincing her to go back and give Maria a hug. Jen gives Maria the greatest non-apology of all time, all, "I'm sorry you thought I was laughing at you." Maria over-seriously accepts Jen's apology, and Mark starts to realize that Maria might be a bit much for him.

Mark invites Megan on a semi-drunken walk, and she hilariously asks him if he's supposed to pick a girl to sleep in his tent at the end of the night. He hilariously responds, "No...not that I know of," and I think I detect a hint of hope in his voice. Megan, more than tipsy, tells Mark that she's not sure how she feels about him, which is pretty much the opposite of the ego-stroking we know Mark loves so much. True to form, he's not so sure about her anymore, although he frames it in a "it wouldn't be fair to the girls who love me so very dearly" way. Jayanna sees Megan's drunken antics, and thinks they make her seem too young for Mark. Um, I think we've established through examination of Mark's dating history that there's no such thing as "too young" for Mark.

He invites Jayanna on a walk, and Amanda starts to cry and second-guess his feelings toward her. Oh, Amanda. You were never special. He was making out with everyone! Are you crying because you're jealous, or because you probably have about five different strains of mouth herpes by now? She interviews that she feels silly, and says she doesn't want to do this anymore. Yeah, right. I'll believe that when I see it, stalker.

Mark brings Jayanna to a cool little area all romantically set up with lights and a hammock, and Jayanna is as impressed as if he planned or put it together himself. They dance and kiss and lie in the hammock while Amanda stews at her lack of one-on-one time with Mark. Pissed that the "walk" was taking forever, she actually wanders into the woods and hunts them down, like the psycho stalker that she is. Jesus Christ, dude, have a little patience! Last week he saved the best for last with Jen and her solo date! Jayanna, for her part, starts to trash the other girls to Mark a bit, cleverly never naming names, but saying that some of them have been infatuated with him since day one, which can't be real. Which, fair enough, but I don't think Mark of the Needy Ego is going to see your point.

Amanda returns to camp after failing to find them, and decides to wait in his tent for Mark. Because, again, psycho! I mean seriously, is she really drunk or something? This is crazy! Jayanna and Mark return, and discover that everyone is asleep. Jayanna tries to get Mark to stay up with her (or take her back to his tent...), but he feigns exhaustion and says goodnight. Jayanna sees that Amanda was waiting for Mark in his tent, and calls it "cheeky" and "presumptuous." I'd go with "crazy" and "stalker-esque," but okay.

Amanda's all, "Where were you? I tried to find you guys!" Mark actually lies down with her and listens to her crazy "I feel naive trusting you like this" blather. She must be a lot hotter in person than she seems on TV. Or, Mark must be a boob man. Because daaaang, I'd be kicking her out of my tent SO FAST her head would be spinning Exorcist-style. Amanda tattles on Jayanna for basically telling her that she's not special to Mark, and they kiss and talk. Wow, I kind of feel for Mark. It would be way awkward to kick her out of his tent, but she's such a psycho at this point that she could kill him in a fit of jealousy while he sleeps! Rough. So yeah, she stays in there all night.

The next morning, Mark makes pancakes as the women discuss the night prior. Jealousy, passive-aggression, etc., the usual. Mark and Amanda get busted for sharing a tent, and Jayanna's all, "I don't care! He chose me for a walk in the woods!" I get that he didn't choose Amanda to sleep in his tent, but yeah, Jayanna, you totally care. Maria won't let Mark change the subject, but he suggests they start breaking down camp rather than discuss the sleepover.

Jen thinks she's in pretty good shape, Maria regrets her truth or dare breakdown, Megan thinks she may have had a bit too wild a night, Amanda thinks Jayanna may be going home after Amanda's chat with Mark, and Jayanna thinks Amanda was a too aggressive for Mark last night. I, having taken's compatibility quiz, can now say that I "seem like a great gal, but [I] and Mark are not meant to be." Aww. Was it the veggie delight pizza choice?

Back at the campground, it's elimination time. Mark asks Jen to go on a walk with him, and asks her to stay. He tells Amanda that it felt really natural and comfortable staying in a tent with her last night, even though she was basically breaking, entering, and lying in wait. She's still in. Sigh. Mark admires Maria for being who she is (a little crazy, it seems), and thinks he "gets" her. He asks her to stay (and with her, it's actually a question). He asks for Megan next, and Jayanna gets nervous. I have to wonder, at this point, whether Jayanna is a goner simply due to NBC's desire to keep the old-young numbers even. Mark calls Megan out for drinking too much the night before, but says he'd still like to see more of her.

No! Jayanna! I mean, I know she was totally mean and passive-aggressive this week, but come on! It was funny because she was being mean to Amanda! Boo, Mark, boo! Stupid Amanda and her tattling ways. This is all her fault! Mark basically tells Jayanna that he's booting her because of what Amanda told him. Jayanna tries to defend herself (and rewrite history a bit), but he's not having it, and he kicks her out for playing games. Which, yeah, she was totally doing. But it was so funny! Nuts to you, Mark, and your anti-Mean Girls attitude. Jayanna, for her part, is a bit in denial about her passive-aggressive actions. Own up to it, babe. Love yourself. Next week: Amanda is probably crazier.

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The 4400: Mystery Science Theater 4400

This week's episode of The 4400 was more fun than we've seen in a long while. How could it not be, when it started out with a B-movie festival with Marco and his geeky pals? From there, it went into cheesy horror-movie schlock, worldwide conspiracies, snarky Tom and Diana, and so much of my favorite nerd Marco, you'd think they were trying to butter me up. Well, it worked.

(Beware… of the spoiler!)

The 3P (promicin-positive person) of the week was an original recipe, Curtis Peck, who made movies about famous unsolved mysteries – Jimmy Hoffa, the Roanoke colony, the JFK assassination, etc. (If you're curious, he pinned JFK's death on an ex-Marine, Robert Shaftoe, and if that is not a nod to Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, I will be hugely disappointed.) Curtis went missing just after coming up with the idea for his latest movie, The Marked, concerning ten agents from the future who have come back to stop the 4400, and have taken over the bodies of prominent living people to do it. Sounds crazy, right? But the government was awfully interested in what Curtis had to say, and one of his producers did end up dead, so the theory bears looking at. Especially since one of the supposed "Marked" was Matthew Ross – you remember him, Jordan's assistant, killed by Isabelle? There always was something odd about him. So I'm buying the idea for now.

Although Diana and Tom began by cracking wise about the whole situation – and very well, too, they can get some good banter going when they want to – things got tense quickly, with Tom carted off to the mental institution for evaluation, and Diana forced to hide Curtis in Marco's shockingly spacious and awesome apartment. I mean, not shocking that it was awesome, shocking that it was spacious – Marco gets a government paycheck, after all. But Curtis sold out before he could finish the script and tell them who else is Marked, and Tom got injected with something behind his ear, giving him a similar mark to those agents from the future and making him worry that they put the agent that was in Matthew Ross inside him.

And he was right to be worried. One of the other Marked, Bill Gatesalike Drew Imroth, showed up at the end of the episode to more or less confess his Marked status to Tom and Diana and claim that the Marked are their allies before heading back to his office and purring to his co-conspirators that "when we need [Tom], he'll be there for us." So, was it the consciousness of the dead agent from the future that they shot him with? Was it a mind-control chip? It couldn't have been that promicin shot they've been threatening him with, because it's the Jordanians who want him to have that… right? Strange how many plots recently have revolved around the need to inject Tom with something. You don't suppose that he needs the promicin to save him from whatever he's got now?

In the B-plot, Shawn met with Jordan and told him that he couldn't join him, he had to beat Gabriel Hewitt. Interestingly, Hewitt then had a massive stroke, causing brain damage, and Jordan had to swear up and down that it wasn't on his orders. It's hard to believe him, but Billy Campbell is such a cool customer and brings such beatific placidity to the role that you really, really want to believe him. In fact, if Billy Campbell had a cult, I'd probably join up. Anyway, Shawn ended up healing Hewitt and asked only that Hewitt change his ways in return. I'd be shocked if that really was all there was to the Gabriel Hewitt story, because it seems very early to drop his antagonism and that vision Maia saw of the internment camps. I'm not going to assume that Hewitt has changed just yet.

So, yeah, a lot happened in this episode. I've never been big on straight-up mythology, but this was the most entertaining way that any show has ever served it up for me. When the Marked come back – and I'm sure they will – I won't have forgotten a thing about them, thanks to this little gem of an episode.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Flight of the Conchords: ...But why draw lightning?

You know what I love about this show, other than its general awesomeness? It's fun. Not just funny, but fun. The guys don't take themselves at all seriously, and don't mind doing stuff like dressing like robots, or David Bowie, or in skintight silver jumpsuits. And they actually seem like they're having a blast doing it (see: the end of tonight's episode, when they dance around in suits singing the "Bowie's in Space" song). Incidentally, I also love the talent they manage to recruit--was that John Hodgman playing the greeting card guy? Quality!

This episode, although it focused on Bret and his body-consciousness/alleged bulimia, was really all Jemaine. His "Bret, You Got it Goin' On" song to cheer Bret up, which Jemaine worries might be too "gay," is hysterical. And it gets progressively less heterosexual as the song goes on, moving from lyrics like "Don't let anybody tell you you're not hump-able / Because you're bump-able / Well I hope this doesn't make you feel uncomfortable," to "No doubt about it we'd be getting crazy / If one of us was lucky enough to be born a lady," to a story about that one night Jemaine was feeling lonely, put a wig on Bret, and spooned him while he was sleeping. Ha! And I love Jemaine's response when questioned about it: "How could that be gay, if you're pretending they're a woman? ...Not that I did that." Perhaps understandably, that night Bret chooses to sleep on a couch in the other room rather than in his bed in the room he shares with Jemaine.

I loved, loved, loved Jemaine as David Bowie Through the Ages (Ziggy Stardust, 1980, Labyrinth...) in Bret's dreams. Amazing. Although he kind of gives bad advice. An eyepatch? Please. And if you're going to advise someone to do "something outrageous," you should probably try a little more direction, so they don't end up exposing themselves to greeting card company guys after drawing lightning on their "wanker." For shame, Dream 1980 Bowie! And that brings us to possibly the weirdest song to hit Conchords yet: "Bowie's in Space." In which they conjecture that it's cold in space--cold enough to make Bowie in space's nipples pointy. Thus, he probably uses them as antennae to send transmissions back to Earth. Because why wouldn't he? (Seriously, what crazy genius thinks of these things?)

I keep worrying that Mel's shtick will get old, but it's pretty much still funny every time for me, and this episode was no exception. "You have a refined bone structure, while Jemaine's features are too deep-set to be classically handsome" isn't an innately funny phrase, but Kristen Schaal's perfect delivery made me laugh out loud (also, she may have the best IMDB photo ever). If you guys haven't yet, you should check out Mel's video blog on the HBO website--it's pretty great, especially the July 9th entry about waiting for the guys. And I'm all for any extra bit of Conchords to help dull the pain of waiting an entire week for a new episode. Man, this show is awesome.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Top Chef: You gotta have friends

After their rocky start, it's truly heartwarming to see how quickly Howie and Joey have become friends. Heartwarming, that is, unless you're Casey, whose incompetence last week created that bond between them. But the guys are now big fans of each other's food (Howie couldn't stop eating Joey's dish during the elimination challenge), and when they were chosen as the top two, the judges' panel turned into one big lovefest. Howie won, and earned what was arguably the lamest prize in Top Chef history: a bottle of Argentinean wine. That was all. Other chefs won books or knives or invitations to go somewhere and cook – Howie won a bottle of wine that the guest judge might easily have picked up at Trader Joe's on the way there. And he immediately gave it to Joey anyway, so you can tell how much he appreciated it. That's okay, though. Howie won a much better prize this week: Joey's friendship. Awww.

The challenge was to cater a Latin meal for the cast and crew of Dame Chocolate, as well as a few other Telemundo personalities. But while the chefs were feeling pretty good about the three hours they had to cook, suddenly Tom appeared and told them that they'd "gotten a call" from the set and the chefs' time was now cut in half. Suuuuure you did, Tom. Since the judges wouldn't stop talking about the time crunch and how the chefs' plans changed, I'm sure that the challenge was really meant to test how well the chefs responded to pressure and were able to adapt. For the most part, though, I think it ended up being a non-issue. Howie, who got sneered at by Tom for still choosing to braise his pork instead of roast it, was the winner, and Sara N., who had a backup plan of store-bought tortillas, was chosen in the bottom four. Just like every week, it all came down to the flavors.

Meanwhile, I've been trying to train myself to predict the winner and loser from the first few minutes of the episode, based on who gets the first interviews and what they interview about. Joey interviewed about stepping up and being the grey horse that no one sees coming, so when he won the Quickfire, it wasn't a surprise. Lia got the very first interview of the episode, about Camille leaving, and she was the one who left at the end. So here's the deal, I think – interview about proving yourself, and you will. Interview about your "grace, finesse, style, and elegance," and you will fall flat on your face, like Hung. Interview about something anyone could have talked about, at the very beginning of the episode, and the editors are looking for a way to squeeze you in, because you're going home. See, I'm on to you, editors. I know your game.

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Traveler goes out with another bang

Traveler started with a bang: the explosion of the Drexler museum. Its finale closed with a bang, but only after cramming in a shootout, a break-in, a foot chase, a betrayal, a kidnapping, and a death.

(Spoilers, obviously.)

It was great to see Will, Tyler, and Jay together again, this time without pretense. Naturally, the boys spent half the episode asking if they could trust each other, but there were hints of the friendship that was still there between them – especially when, as they often did, they confidently asserted that one of the other guys wouldn't shoot them. (And what do you know? They were right!) After fending off Marlow, at which point Will got shot (but don't worry about him; after the first fifteen minutes, he was totally fine), the guys went to retrieve the painting from the back of Tyler's car. Since the car was in the police impound lot, this meant that Jay had to break into the impound lot, slip into the car, and then fall from the car when it was on a moving flatbed truck, in a very tense and creative action sequence. Nicely done, Traveler.

Marlow, meanwhile, was suspended, but the minute she was, it became clear that she was going to crack the case. It's an undisputed law in any crime drama: the lead investigator must be taken off the case in order to solve it. And, in fact, Marlow made astonishing progress once she wasn't actually allowed to work on the case. She called an NSA buddy to get Joseph's name, and went to Joseph's house just in time for someone to call ordering her death. After their shootout, though, it was Joseph who ended up dead, and it was at that point that I realized that I haven't been giving Marlow the respect that she deserves. She's smart and tough, and it wasn't her fault that the plot kept requiring her to hit dead ends.

The corollary to the rule of suspension, of course, is that no investigator who plays by the rules can be trusted. And no FBI agent was more by-the-book than Chambers – unless it was Borjes. See, I knew one of the two had to be a bad guy. So when Whaley shot at Carlton Fog (Is he dead? I don't know. Will we ever find out? Probably not.) and Borjes cornered him, closely followed by Chambers, I was prepared for something very bad to happen. Or, at least, I thought I was prepared; it was still a shock to see Borjes murdered by Chambers. Poor Borjes. I'm sorry I suspected you. But you have to admit, you were kind of too good, you know?

Once Will and his pals had the painting, they set up an exchange with Freed – the painting for Tyler and Jay's lives back. But here was where you were supposed to think that Will was double-crossing his friends, because Freed really just wanted Tyler and Jay. But – surprise! – Will wasn't about to give up his friends, especially after he saved their lives, so it was all just a fake-out. Their real purpose was to record Freed's confession, including the part about how the Drexler was just for "fear and control" and "just the beginning," as if that whole conspiracy wasn't scary enough. By the way, have I mentioned how great Neal McDonough is? If I haven't, it's only because I thought it was implied.

Even though there's no word on a second season and nothing yet that makes me believe that there might be one, Traveler couldn't resist going out with some cliffhangers. Kim was in the clutches of Operation Hometown, Marlow discovered that Chambers ordered Joseph to kill her, Freed dropped some tantalizing hints about something called a "Fourth Branch," and then the limo Freed was apparently in exploded before the boys could deliver him to the press and start the process of clearing their names.

To be honest, I was expecting closure from Traveler. I thought that, when its episode order got pared down and it was forced to wrap up the story early, that the show would take that opportunity to come to a satisfying conclusion, in case it didn't come back. And although the episode did raise new questions, like the "Fourth Branch," and left Jay and Tyler on the run, I still found it satisfying. It was full of action and suspense, like the rest of the series, and it was the best episode so far. If Traveler has bowed out for good, then it went out on a high note, and there aren't very many shows which can say the same.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

America's Got Talent: Filling the Idol void

Even though it's the middle of summer, America's Got Talent would like you to sit back and pretend you're watching American Idol. It's appropriated all the conventions of that powerhouse – hordes of screaming fans waving posters, sympathetic interviews with the host after performing, and shameless mugging for the camera as the dial-in numbers are announced. Without the giant red X's, with which the judges were apparently unable to part, you might be able to fool yourself that it's still March, and that Boy Shakira is really Sanjaya with a blond wig. Hey, it's a smart strategy. Why not steal as much as you can from the biggest hit on TV?

It's now the semifinals of America's Got Talent, and, as Jerry did not fail to remind us every time he drew breath, the fate of the contestants is in our hands. Good thing, too, because this whole Boy Shakira business pretty much discredits any other votes from Sharon and Piers. Thank goodness, though, there was no Boy Shakira to fuel the madness of Sharon and Piers this week. Only half of the remaining acts got a slot on this week's show in the hope of earning our votes. Five of those will go home, but we won't find out which ones until next Tuesday.

This week's performances were:

Johnny Lonestar: He delivered a high-energy performance, for sure, galloping all around the stage and throwing his lasso around, but there wasn't much more to it than that. In fact, he seemed more interested in lip-synching to "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy" than performing his rope tricks.

Julienne Irwin: She clearly got a makeover between Vegas and now, because her hair is all styled up and she looks much more grown-up than she did before. But she didn't really need the makeover, because her performance of "Bless the Broken Road" was fantastic by itself. Her voice has a lot of character for someone so young, and I'm constantly impressed by her.

Kevin James: After two very strong acts in the auditions and the callbacks, this week's performance was just disappointing. The trick involved reanimating a severed hand, making it wave at the audience… and that was it. This was the act that he called "gory" in his pre-performance interview? Last time we saw him, he cut a man in half with a chainsaw and stapled him back together! If Kevin comes back, he will desperately need to step up his game.

Robert Hatcher: His performance of "Run to You" wasn't lacking in emotion, but the judges weren't keen on the hand movements and expressions he used to sell the song. As far as I'm concerned, though, it set him apart from the other singers, which he badly needed to do, because there are roughly forty-seven singers left in the competition. And the story of Robert's rise from the sewers of Cincinnati may be compelling enough to earn him some strong support, so I wouldn't be surprised if he returned next week.

Jonny Come Lately: I really like these guys (even though I've been misspelling their name for weeks, oops), but I haven't been as impressed by their other performances, like this week's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love," as I was by their first one in the auditions. And that's exactly what the Hoff told them: get that "raw energy" back. Piers, meanwhile, in a piece of criticism that I still don't get, wanted them to play something more contemporary. How much contemporary rockabilly have you heard, Piers?

Kashif: His performance of "Say Shava Shava" from Khabi Khushi Khabie Gham (according to Jerry and the closed captioning, and I'll take their words for it) didn't look so much like the nerdy guy at a party now that he's got the snappy threads and the backup dancers, but it was still as unpolished as ever. However, Kashif did inspire some of the best lines of the night from the judges: Piers said that he had the personality of "a flat pancake," while the Hoff compared the performance to "Baywatch on acid." I don't really know why; maybe David felt that he hadn't mentioned Baywatch in a while.

Butterscotch: You know how the American Idol judges are always talking about "making a song your own"? That's exactly what Butterscotch did with "Summertime": it was mellow, groovy, and, of course, full of beatbox. The best part was that she's just as good a singer as she is a beatboxer, so it's hard not to think, as David did, that she's going to win the whole competition.

Sideswipe: They were perfectly coordinated, impressively acrobatic, and extremely entertaining, but all anyone wanted to talk about was their abs. And, I mean, they've got nice abs, sure. But can we mention some other aspect of their performance, and maybe refrain from offering to rub oil all over them, Sharon? Oh, who am I kidding? If Sideswipe makes it through to next week at all, it'll be because they ripped off their shirts halfway through their routine.

Manuel Romero: I was all set to call his performance of "Have You Ever Loved a Woman" nothing special, but then Manuel proved me wrong by busting out a few lines in Spanish. Vale, aside from the lines in Spanish, it wasn't anything special. And I don't think that the Spanish and his cuteness are enough to differentiate him from the other eighty-four male singers still in the competition.

The Glamazons: They performed "Hot Stuff," the sort of song that's right up their alley. And even though the vocals were a little shaky, they turned in their best, most exciting performance so far. Honestly, if they could get Piers to offer himself up as the hot stuff they were looking for, they must have been doing something right. Go, girls!

Best of the night: Julienne Irwin, Butterscotch

Worst of the night: Kashif, Johnny Lonestar

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Eureka: Meet the new boss

Ah, Eureka. Force fields, crowd control goo, reclusive geniuses fishing with stun guns...I couldn't be happier that this show is back for the summer. Tonight, as is often the case, Fargo gets in a spot of trouble. An ever-expanding, potentially Eureka-destroying, force field of doom-shaped spot of trouble. Oops.

And now that Allison is the most powerful person in Eureka as head of Global Dynamics, it's her job to hold off the military brass who want to nuke Fargo and his force field to high heaven. You know, until Carter can step in and save the day with his everyman logic and rugged good looks. But he can't do it without help! Come in, Team Troubled Genius! We have Stark, the troubled ex-boss who just wants to get away from GD and Eureka. Henry, the troubled mechanic who is supposedly honoring Kim's memory by continuing her research at GD. And special guest Dr. Todd, the troubled scientist who left GD after he basically had to blow up one of his colleagues before the very same problematic invention became The Force Field That Ate Eureka. Goooo Team!

How amazing were Fargo's last words about the women he's got crushes on, incidentally? Hilarious! And SO Fargo. And I love Larry, his new nemesis. He's straight out of Ugly Betty, right? His stealing Fargo's desk was totally like something Amanda or Mark would do! I can't wait to see where they go with him. Assistant fight!

Meanwhile, way for Allison, the boss they're fighting over, to show it to the Department of Defense guy! Especially when he was clearly being sexist when he accused her of using emotions over logic. Like Stark would've been all "Yeah, totally, go ahead and drop Fargo down a miles-deep pit and nuke him." Okay, maybe he would have. But Stark's kind of unpredictable that way. In fact, I can see why Fargo and Larry are so into having Allison as a boss. I loved Stark's exchange with Carter after they revived Fargo:
Stark: Good job, Carter. ...Wow, that didn't even leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Carter: Give it a second.
Stark: [pauses] ...Yep, there it is.

And so far, I don't mind the way the show is handling the Stark-Carter-Allison love triangle. Keep it subtle, keep it simple--not too many longing looks, not too many Significant Conversations. Allison wants Stark to stay largely for his expertise, Stark obviously latches on to any hint she gives about caring for him on a personal level. It's not overwrought or overexamined, it just is. Also, props for whoever wrote the last scene between the two of them. When Stark says that Allison handled the situation better than he would have, and she says, "Not better, just differently," it makes me love the show even more. Because really, how many other shows would have said, "Not better, just different," instead? Grammar, people. It's all about the grammar.

Oh, and in other Allison news, was that her taking something from Kim's desk on the surveillance video Henry was watching? A computer chip, or some electronic part? Crazy! And also worrisome for Allison, given that Henry is now secretly a vengeful maniac (all evidence to the contrary in this episode). Will we find out more about Henry's secret plot for revenge? Will Carter ever understand all that scientific jargon? Will Sci Fi stop covering Eureka up with "Who Wants to be a Superhero?" graphics that take up a fourth of my screen? Tune in next week to find out!

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Greek: Room to grow

Tonight on Greek, we learned how hard it is to try and be two things at once. We also learned that nerds can rock at beer pong, that hazing kind of sucks (but not that much, apparently), and that the best characters on the show are the most complex (really my moral more than the show's moral, I suppose). 'Cause is anyone else feeling like Rebecca Logan, the Senator's daughter, is a bit unrealistically horrible? I mean, come on--it's verging on laughable. On the other hand, I'm really loving Casey and Rusty, and their evolving relationship. Although I gotta say, as a big sister myself, I think Casey is being unrealistically cool about Rusty honing in on her Greek territory after only having a week or so to get used to it. Although it's possible my brother and I are slightly more competitive than Casey and Rusty, I guess.

I was pretty unimpressed with the hazing, or at least surprised by how tame it was compared to all the stories you hear. I mean, I know hazing is generally illegal, but I still thought it was all about drinking until you almost pass out and then going out and puncturing people's tires, or something. No? Not so much? Well, I at least thought it was more than a scavenger hunt, melting some ice, or doing laundry. To be fair, though, the scavenger hunt alone would probably be more than I could live through.

And ah, beer pong. Drinking game of champions. Pretty predictable choice for a frat-to-frat challenge, but I liked the twist that Rusty rocked at it because he was an Eagle Scouts ping pong champ. Poor Calvin, though! I actually had to get awesome at quarters in college just because I hated beer so much, and didn't want to lose and have to drink any. Disgust is a valuable motivator.

Clark Duke, unsurprisingly, continues to awesome it up. Even though this episode, with its predictable plots and cartoonish villains, didn't quite live up to the pilot, Clark Duke redeemed it and then some, managing to make Dale a funny fundamentalist without making the joke solely on fundamentalists. Another redeemer: Scott Foster (Cappie), whom I find completely adorable and who also manages to create complexity out of his seemingly stereotypical party guy role (take note, Dilshad Vadsaria).

Here's hoping the show continues to develop its characters and base the plot off of them, rather than turning into an Eighties Movie-style rivalry between fraternities, with Casey as the prize. At the very least, I think we're seeing some pretty solid talent being cultivated. At most, Greek will find its voice and live up to its potential, much like Rusty did in the beer pong competition. Okay, not at all like that. But you see what I'm saying. Right. So I give you a B, Greek, but if you go do your homework and work on your problem areas, you could turn that around to an A- in no time.

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Age of Love: Good gravy!

Last week on Age of Love, Mary cried. For pretty much the entire episode. Like a big, collagen-stuffed baby. Tonight, it's down to six women, and apparently we've got a lot more making out to look forward to. We join Mark in the bachelor suite, where we are greeted by a quote projected on the coffee table: "You're only as old as you let your heart make you." - Anonymous. Which gets exactly one hit if you google it, by the way. Not that I'd accuse NBC of practically making up cheesy, "Age is but a number"-type quotes, or anything.

Host Mark lets Mark know that Mark will be taking the women to do his favorite things over the next few days. First up: He picks Megan, Maria, and Mary to go surfing with him, because there's nothing he loves more than an alliterative foursome. They meet Mark outside, where he shows them his awesome woody. The car, guys, the car. Geez. Although Mark and the girls also have some fun with the word "woody." Because, really, how couldn't you?

The surfing doesn't go so well, although Maria manages to stay up on the board for about a second. Which is actually kind of an achievement. Megan gets popped in the head by her surfboard a few times, and although you can't hear it over the waves, I picture it sounding like knocking two hollow cartoon coconuts together. Meanwhile, back at the Apartment of Desperate Loneliness, stalker Amanda tries to distract herself from the thought of the object of her obsession being out on a date with three other women. Women whose names wouldn't force Mark to get all his towels re-monogrammed, in the event of their marriage. Jen and Jayanna, in the meantime, make fun of Amanda's mentally unbalanced ways.

After surfing, Mark and the M Squad have a picnic on the beach, and the girls all laugh uncomfortably loudly at his dumb joke about sand in his swimsuit. Mark invites Megan to go on a walk and they really hit it off, while Mary whines and Maria consoles her. But then- awkwardness! Betrayal! Potential crybabyness! Mary decides to join them on their romantic walk, all "Hey, guys! Just happened to be walkin' down this stretch of beach!" Weird. Maria sticks with her strategy of playing hard-to-get (the opposite of the Amanda Approach) while Mary uncomfortably plays third wheel, like she couldn'tve seen that coming.

Back at the apartment, everyone's jealous of Megan--especially Amanda. But Mark quickly texts over that he wants to see her and Jayanna next. Amanda isn't happy to be sharing her time. Jayanna isn't worried, though. Um, word to the wise, Jayanna: You may not be worried about the competition from Amanda, but you should probably be careful lest she stab you in the back. Literally. Chick is cuh-razy. And ready and willing to cut anyone who comes between her and Mark.

Their date is a movie night, and Mark asks Jayanna to share a drink with him outside first. Amanda sits in the shadows, plotting. Jayanna and Mark talk about relationships, and I have to point out--she looks HOT. Seriously. Not hot for 39, but just hot. And not creepy hot, like some of the other women. Do you guys think she's had work done? She looks almost too good not to have, but if so, it's really quality. Like, "I want the name of her doctor just in case I don't age well" quality.

Aaanyway, after their drink, Mark and Jayanna rejoin Amanda, and the three of them snuggle up to watch the movie. I say "snuggle up," because instead of the normal chairs or a couch, NBC has chosen to make the three of them watch the movie lying on down, with Mark in the middle. I don't want to know what's going on under those blankets, yo. According to Jayanna, Mark was paying the most attention to her because he was turned in her direction. According to Amanda, he likes her the best because they were holding hands the whole time. Mark walks Jayanna down to the car, they kiss a couple times, and he heads back up for some solo time with Amanda. He and the Stalker lie down under the blankets and discuss whether or not they talk in their sleep. Amanda, upon learning that he sleeps with his dog, plots Kia's untimely demise. She and Mark make out as the camera zooms in to an uncomfortable degree, and she interviews, yet again, that she loooves him. Mark says something about how seeing Amanda's boobs makes him smile.

The next day, Jen's feeling a bit left out. Not to worry, Jen! You're going to get the best date of all! Hint: It involves black leather. Mary spends some time crying while Jen gets ready to ride Mark's crotch rocket, because she wants a coo-oo-oo-ool rider. She and Mark speed off into the hills, and park at a scenic overlook. As they look into the murky stew of pollution that is Los Angeles (seriously--never look at that city from above), Mark and Jen share a romantic moment, and Mark hopes she'll be an easy rider. (Okay, okay, that was the last motorcycle joke...promise!) Back at the apartment, the twenties moan about missing out on the date. Megan, like a little kid hoping Christmas will come faster, suggests that they all go to sleep so that the date will be over sooner. In a scene that would reduce Mary to weeping and Amanda to murder, Mark and Jen play some serious tonsil hockey. It actually squicks me out a little, although that may not be the age thing so much as the sucking sound effects and Mark's "very soft lips" comment. Urgh.

Mary, however, is doing a perfectly good job of weeping on her own, this time about how she and Mark aren't connecting. Megan's response in an interview: "Good gravy!" Well, I think I know my favorite 20something (as if that wasn't already decided by process of elimination). "Good gravy" is now my new favorite expression. Awesome. Mary whines some about how she doesn't want to stick it out if she's not happy. Jen, in the process of "showing Mark what a 48-year-old is all about," makes out with him while beating him at flirty pool. He feels really comfortable with her, until she asks him where else those lips have been. If you have to ask, Jen, you probably don't want to know the answer. She returns to the house and somewhat meanly and obviously gloats about her fabulous date to the kittens (whatever, they deserve it). Amanda can barely contain her rage. Mary can barely contain her sobbing. Megan is bummed to a far more reasonable degree.

And it's elimination time already! Maria once again claims she'll quit, but the women are onto her empty promises. Mary also intimates that she doesn't know if her overused tear ducts can handle any more of this emotional turmoil. We're back up on the rooftop, and Amanda's dress can barely contain her silicon-filled funbags. (Crazybags? Stalkerbags? Could-be-used-to-suffocate-the-competitionbags?) Mark tells Jen that he had a great time with her, and asks her to stay. He says the same to Megan, as well as Jayanna (yay!). Amanda, who actually looks older than Jayanna with all the makeup she has caked on, watches on tensely. She's up next, and right as Mark is trying to ask her to stay, tearfully tells him about her frighteningly strong feelings for him. I'd tell you to run away fast, Mark, but I know you have a bum knee. Hobble away, dude, hobble away! He asks her to stay, leaving Maria and Mary, the almost-quitters, as the last two women standing.

Maria gives Mary a nice pep talk about carrying on in her absence before stepping up and, once again, failing to quit. Ha! He asks her to stay, and the women smile through their disappointment. Mary, of course, is out. Shockingly enough, she manages to get through her talk with him without crying, and actually gives a great little speech. There is, naturally, much sobbing both when she gets the group hug and in her final interview. Fair enough, Age of Love, although I'd hoped for something a bit more interesting involving Amanda being booted, going crazy, and shoving the remaining women off the roof. Ah, well. There's always next week!

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I'm trying not to get too excited...

...but there may be a second X-Files movie after all!

According to David Duchovny:

I really am expecting to see a script next week. And Chris has written it with Frank Spotnitz, and Chris will direct it. And Gillian's on board and I'm on board, and that's all I can tell you. I mean, I'm looking forward -- I'm looking forward to seeing what he did.

Realistically, I don't really think this movie is going to happen. But at least now there's more hope! (And yes, this news has caused my inner X-Files nerd to re-emerge with a vengeance. Try not to be too alarmed--I'll be back to detached sarcasm within a day or two.)

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The 4400: What a town with abilities can do

There was no shortage of symbolism on The 4400 this week. There was Maia's dream, fraught with Holocaust echoes, of promicin-positive people being forced to wear armbands and carted off to prison camps. There was Jordan Collier bathing, baptism-style, in a lake. And that was just in the first five minutes.

(Spoilers follow.)

What we also got this week was utopia: a little taste of the heaven on earth that the White Light book predicted. This was Evanston, a town in which everyone, in addition to being creepily, overpoweringly nice, had an ability. Tom followed Kyle there and was quickly welcomed/held hostage by the locals, who all the while told Tom how great their town was, how perfect it was, and how he should really try the pie. This pie, to which Tom eventually succumbed, allowed everyone to share a collective consciousness, communicate telepathically and frolic inside each other's memories. Tom seemed to like it, but having total strangers wander around my mind strikes me as overly familiar, to say the very least, and it made me want to learn Occlumency just watching it.

I guess that was the tough part of the episode – I wasn't sure how to feel about Evanston. It was presented as utopia, a town in which extra crispies could live without fear of persecution. But we were also invited to see it as too perfect, like one of those towns that were always on The X-Files, the ones that hid terrible secrets like vampires or garbage monsters. I suppose the show had a mixed verdict about the town as well, with Tom liking the people but not what the town stood for: producing more promicin and converting people to the cause. (I was never keen on the townspeople; to me, they were cult-like and entirely too willing to foist apple pie on everyone.)

But a mixed position, like the one on Evanston, is also what the show has taken on Kyle and Jordan's mission from the beginning of the season – it takes sympathetic characters, with sympathetic motives, and allows you to decide if what they're doing is right. I'm not sold on the idea of utopia yet, of course, but I appreciated Kyle and Jordan's decision not to force promicin on anyone, not even Tom (meaning that the shot Tom got was a sedative and not promicin). It was a principled decision, and it helped keep sympathy with them for the time being.

The episode ended with paradise lost: with NTAC onto the existence of Evanston, the townspeople had to leave, and make their new home in a new land, Seattle. Yes, Jordan's going to hide them right under NTAC's noses. If it were any other character, I'd say that the plan could end up being either stupid or brilliant. But it's Jordan, so it must be brilliant.

In pretty much the only other plot that counted, Maia finally got something to do and to say this week. She had dreams about people with abilities being arrested and imprisoned en masse, and Shawn's political rival is apparently the very leader whose rise will make this happen. More than that, though, we saw the beginnings of Maia's teenage sulkiness, as she complained about being taken back to Seattle, Ben's absence, and her mom calling her "sweetie" like she's still a little kid. It was definitely due, and I hope we'll see more of Maia growing up, because she's been a static character for a long time. Sad and prophetic half the time; cute and bubbly the other half. If nothing else, teenage tantrums, dating, and rebelliousness will give Maia something to do.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Flight of the Conchords: I invest all my money in collectable coins

Ah, Flight of the Conchords. Only the thought of the brilliant hilarity of this show (and, of course, the thought of you, my possibly loyal readers) managed to tear me away from my re-reading of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince this fine evening. But tear myself away I did, and I was amply rewarded by yet another hilarious episode of Conchords.

The first song, "Business Time," was a hysterical reminder of why I kind of never want to get married: "You turn to me and say something sexy like, ‘Is that it?’ I know what you’re trying to say, girl--you’re trying to say 'Aww, yeeeah, that’s it.' Then you tell me you want some more. Well, uh, I’m not surprised…but I am quite sleepy." Terrifyingly funny, right? The part about doing it in socks, especially, just seems so frighteningly plausible. I don't care how cold it is wherever you live--once you do it in socks, the magic is over. Aaanyway, the thought of settling down and doing it in socks doesn't scare Jemaine so much, I guess, 'cause he's falling over himself to move out and get a new apartment so Sally will date him again (she's baaack).

Bret, understandably, wonders why Jemaine is moving out. He asks if it's because of his mold farm, and as an aside, I had something of a mold farm in my closet back when I was in middle school. I thought it would be cool to see if mold on different kinds of food (all in ziplock bags, of course) turned different colors. It does, and it was cool. Brets glass jar version looks way fancier, though. Jemaine’s actually somewhat more chill about the mold farm than my mom was. And sure, it seems like Jemaine lands on “It’s because you eat too loudly” because he’s sick of Bret’s incessant questioning, but as someone who hates to hear people chewing their food, I would absolutely at least take loud eating (or a roommate's predilection for grape nuts) into consideration when deciding whether or not to move out. It’s just gross, you guys.

At any rate, while it’s definitely not cool to twice date your best friend and bandmate’s ex-girlfriend who broke his heart, Jemaine, it’s substantially less cool to crush on and write happy birthday songs to and make creepy arts and crafts for said ex-girlfriend when you’re dating someone else. Bret. Although Sally’s not really in the clear either, what with this suddenly being engaged to an Australian dude business. Although I can understand how the rock-hard abs would be alluring. Sadly, Bret's Sally obsession led to Coco breaking up with him. Aww...goodbye for now, Sutton Foster! Sorry you didn't get to sing on the show.

In other news, where are these "band funds" that Murry used to invest in intergalactic real estate coming from? Are the mousepads finally selling, or are the guys getting gigs that we aren't seeing? At any rate, I'm not so sure about this whole "buying stars" business when there's so much cheap real estate to be had on the moon. And the moon is far less likely (I hope) to "supernova," leaving nothing but a gaseous cloud and Jemaine's shattered hopes and dreams. Best exchange of the episode:
Jemaine: When did this happen?
Murray: About four million years ago. Sorry.

Finally, I'd like to discuss the fact that Dave seems to think the sight of a puppy being born is at all awesome. It leads me to suspect that Dave has never seen anything born. Ever. Because for reals, birth is disgusting. No matter what species we're talking about. And freshly birthed puppies are not as cute as one might think.

Although I wasn't 100% in love with the final song about Sally (although I was absolutely in love with the fake cheesy music video-ness of it all), this episode was definitely another Conchords classic. I love this show!

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Hey Paula: Straight-up boring

Another crazy week for Paula…and I’m not sure she means “crazy” in the same way that I mean “crazy.” First up, an In Defense of Animals event that Paula’s hosting. Now, keeping in mind that this is an animal rights event, here’s what Paula has to say when they’re running late but she wants to stop to eat: “We haven’t eaten anything, and, uh, [shifty eyes] I could probably eat a dog.” I’m going to assume she meant that to be extra-inappropriate, but I’d run, run, run if I were one of her basketball-shaped Chihuahuas, just in case.

Animals, apparently, are very important to her. And according to Paula, “you have to make time in your schedule.” Cut to Paula trying to find a Panda Express when she’s already really late for the event. Oh, the editors are not kind to Paula. Let me guess: They’ve already used exhaustion, so this week the excuse for Paula being crazy is hunger. On the way to this event, benefiting an animal rights organization (again, I feel the need to point this out), Paula suggests stopping at several fast food places that are definitely not animal-friendly. And you might say, “But Liz, this event is to benefit stray former companion animals in New Orleans, not chickens!” And to that I would reply, chick suggested eating a dog not five minutes ago, so no animal is safe from her ravenous insanity! Although not at the IDA event, since all the food is plant-based, much to Paula’s dismay. (Seriously, though, she’s pretty great with the animals, and god knows it’s not the most popular cause, so good on you, Paula.)

And now, at a staff/Paula meeting the next morning, we’re back to the exhaustion theme. I have to say, I feel like 99% of this series so far is “Paula’s tired, Paula’s hungry, Paula’s overscheduled, Paula’s running late, Paula’s begging people who make far less than she does for cash…” And does that sound like an interesting show to you? Because it’s really, really not. At all. It’s actually making me a little tired. And I don’t have any uppers to pick me back up, unlike some people. CoughPaulacough.

Paula’s off to QVC, and complaining about her assistants. Because assistants messing up is another thing that can be added to the long, looong list of things that make Paula crazy. On QVC, Paula comes across as extremely loopy. You know, some people just aren’t made for live television. Or are made for live television, depending on how you look at it. In between her early morning and late-night shows selling her jewelry line, Paula decides to shop at the QVC store rather than nap. Even though she’s supposedly ridiculously tired.

And…manufactured drama! Will Paula have enough of her jewelry line left over to bring back as gifts for the male American Idol contestants? Does anyone in the entire world care, including the contestants? No. No one cares except Paula, including the merchandising representative she chews out. But we’ve got a few minutes of drama about it anyway. This show is the freaking stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. And I recap Age of Love, guys. AGE OF LOVE.

Now Paula is supposedly feeling sick, but they have to drive up to New York from Philly so she can do Letterman. But no! There’s a blizzard! Can’t drive, no flights! PANIC! She’s exhausted, she’s angry, and I really couldn’t care less. Which is lucky, since my DVR cut out the last minute or two of the episode. If something monumental happened, feel free to fill me in. Somehow, though, I doubt it.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Top Chef: Hello, goodbye

Ah, trios. I hadn't even seen a culinary trio before I started watching Top Chef, and now they're old friends. Seems like someone does a trio of something every week, and that must have been the inspiration for this week's challenge: the chefs split into teams of three to create trios. I really, really hope that the show came up with this challenge to poke fun at the chefs for their penchant for trios. That would make my week. Anyway, it was Lia, who I originally thought was getting the loser edit, who walked away with the victory. On the losing side, the judges put a "guilt blanket" (her words) over on Casey, who had immunity but made the worst dish, thereby putting her teammates, Joey and Howie, in danger. But Casey needn't have been smothered under the guilt blanket, because the judges sent Camille home. Wait, who?

Poor Camille. I still don't know who she is. At least now I know why they never showed any interviews with her before: because she delivered them in an expressionless monotone that was just painful to sit through. Honestly, I probably could have guessed from the editing that Camille was going home, because she had more interviews in this episode than every other episode combined. However, I didn't listen to her interviews, because they bored me senseless. She's probably just one of those people who doesn't do well on camera. Or else she's a robot. Either way, Camille: we didn't know ye. At all.

One thing I'm really loving about this season of Top Chef (and far more than I should, I know): the guest judges. A few weeks ago, there was Dick Van Patten lookalike Norm Van Aken, and this week, for the Quickfire, there was Jamie Walker, mixologist for Bombay Sapphire, who looked like Dave Foley playing season one's Stephen in Sommelier: The Movie. It didn't hurt at all that Jamie was pretty funny, too. The first thing he said to CJ was "You're very tall," both a remarkably astute observation and probably the first thing I would say to CJ too, if I were ever confronted with him.

Meanwhile, I'm getting really annoyed by Hung. Every time he doesn't win something or his dish gets criticized, he has to tell us about how the judge "didn't get it" or was "confused." Partly I'm annoyed with the show, which has to show these complainterviews with him all the time, even though I've reached the point where I can pretty much assume that if something is happening, Hung doesn't like it. (Dessert? Who needs it! Hard alcohol? Doesn't like it! He's like Mikey!) Didn't he learn anything from his pal Marcel's experience last season? Marcel was positively cute compared to Hung, certainly much more excitable and happy to be there, and the other contestants still hated him. Perhaps Hung only saves his bitching for the audience and is otherwise pleasant. I feel so privileged.

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Burn Notice: The softer side of spies

It's the rare summer show (or regular season show, as a matter of fact) that actually provides characters with depth, backstory, and the ability to grow, while still qualifying as light viewing. Sure, you get the quality dramas (The Closer, Rescue Me), and the quality comedies (Monk, Psych), but rarely do you get those shows that combine the best attributes of both into the perfect, summer-appropriate package. Burn Notice provides all that and more (BRUCE CAMPBELL! And his "guns of steel!"), and we're only three episodes in! Let's all consider ourselves very lucky, and not question how a show this great landed on cable in the most ratings-starved season of the year.

Although I was skeptical at first, I'm kind of loving the Fiona/Michael relationship, at least for now. (Although why would you need a key to someone's place if you could break in whenever you wanted?) She pushes him, he pushes back but eventually caves, she throws Molotov cocktails at scumbags trying to kill his's pretty effing sweet, and manages to humanize Michael a bit. I'm a little more suspicious, however, of the other major Michael-humanizing effort being undertaken by the show's writers: the whole "daddy issues" backstory. It just really, really has the potential to get clichéd in a hurry, if you ask me. As long as they remember that a little goes a long way, though, I'll be fine. And his new/old Charger is pretty tight, so that's something.

Our case of the week also served to soften Michael up a little. In helping Carol and her daughter escape the drug cartel, he not only got to show off his mad spy skillz (cell phone-linked motion detector, the old "torch to the metal doorknob" trick, walking into a secure area with confidence and then running away quickly...), but also had to deal with something illogical--something that couldn't be fixed by smashing in a door, or tapping someone's phone. The laws of reason didn't apply, and Michael was forced to dig way deep down and use empathy and humanity to deal with the situation. Yes, horror upon horrors, Michael had to deal with a teenage girl. A teenage girl faced with picking up in the middle of the night and fleeing to Buffalo...on the night of the spring formal! Terrible.

But whaddya know, Michael is able to bust out a story about how he met Fiona when she was in the IRA, and they found each other again, and fate, blah blah blah the daughter totally understands and everything is fixed. Can I tell you guys how much I love the fact that all of Michael's stories begin with something like, "This one time, when I was imprisoned and tortured in Kiev..." or, "So I was stuck in the middle of the Afghani desert with nothing but a bottle opener, four pennies, and a bunch of guys trying to kill me..." It somehow makes his attempts at empathizing both laughable and overly sincere at the same time.

On the burn notice front, I'm kind of wondering if they're going to start moving that plot along more quickly. I mean, Michael actually now has the homeland security directive that led to his dismissal, and all it gave him were a couple of codes? For real? When's he going to start kicking ass and taking names on his own behalf, instead of his clients'? Ah, well...I, for one, am certainly enjoying the ride.

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