Thursday, August 30, 2007

What has two thumbs and can't wait for The Office season premiere?

This girl!

"What The Office did on their summer vacation":


The awesomeness is almost too much to take. Too much to take! I'd quote my favorite lines from the above promo, but then I'd pretty much be transcribing the entire thing, so you should probably just watch it.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

K-Ville: The Big Not-So-Easy

Today marks two years since Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Louisiana, devastating the city of New Orleans. And in those two years, TV has done its part to acknowledge and remember what happened in the Big Easy and its aftermath, from documentaries, both Spike Lee- and Discovery-helmed, to special episodes of shows like Dirty Jobs and Law & Order: SVU, to Anderson Cooper, Keeping Them Honest as he does, and even plot points on failed shows like Runaway and Studio 60. Now Fox is bringing us K-Ville, an entire show about life in New Orleans post-Katrina, and it's the sort of show that makes you wish that it would last a while, to keep the focus on the rebuilding efforts. That is, the idea makes you wish it would last a while. The execution leaves something to be desired, as I discovered when I watched the pilot on Fox.com.

The writing is often heavy-handed, with one character more or less getting the words "REDEMPTION ARC" tattooed across his forehead, and another character hiding a Dark Secret that seems to primarily exist as an incentive to keep people watching. However, much of the ham-fistedness is focused in the character of Marlin Boulet, played by Anthony Anderson, who in recent years has almost entirely redeemed himself for Kangaroo Jack. Boulet is a dedicated cop fighting to rebuild his city, and particularly his hood, the Ninth Ward. They're admirable sentiments that unfortunately take the form of speechifying, and they don't always work, especially his paean to the cypress tree early on in the episode. (Of course, I freely admit that one of my pet peeves is laymen using the scientific name of something for no reason, as Boulet does.) However, K-Ville does prove that it can successfully marry the activist and cop elements of the show, by showing us how much Boulet knows and loves his hood, and how hard he tries to protect it. That, I think, is the line K-Ville should be walking.

That said, there is promise. The show does well getting across the flavor of New Orleans, as diluted by Katrina as it is. Boulet gets interesting when he drinks on the job and gets into tricky negotiations with his wife about moving back home with their daughter. Boulet's partner, Trevor Cobb (Cole Hauser), is the character who is Not What He Seems, and, perhaps because of that mystery, and contrasted against the fact that Boulet is pretty much an open book, he's the more compelling of the two. While I wasn't particularly impressed with the reveal of the Dark Secret, I won't deny that it makes for a potentially rich backstory.

But it's only the pilot, and I've only ever seen a couple of stellar pilots. The second episode is always the true test of what a show is going to be, and so, because I really want to like this show, I'll wait until I see that before I make any judgment. But that doesn't mean that you can't make your own snap judgment by watching the pilot here.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Eureka: Stupid is as stupid eats

Tonight on Eureka, we learned what the show would be like if it were about a secret town full of morons working on government research. Shockingly enough, it seems that such a town wouldn't last very long. We also learned that Stark is way more fun when he's dumb, and Allison is way less hot.

Apparently (and sensibly), GD has a talent scout who travels the country searching for geniuses to recruit. His current find is a troublemaking young particle physicist who's been arrested for stealing millions of dollars from Border Control. Unfortunately for Carter, the new guy (we'll call him "Jerky Jerkington") is both incredibly obnoxious and incredibly smart, and manages to pimp out his jail cell with items purchased with Carter's credit card. Yep, he can hack a computer from his cell using nothing but a remote control.

Over at GD, Stark and Henry have built a device that will recreate the Big Bang in a contained facility. You know, just another one of those completely harmless little projects. At a GD barbeque, Jerky Jerkington refuses to eat the chicken because he's against the conditions chickens are kept in and killed under...and kind of grossed out by eating the results. Nice! I hereby rechristen him "Awesome Awesomington," although it's a wee bit clunky for a nickname. (In case you couldn't guess, I'm vegan.)

Back at the lab, Henry switches from carefully monitoring the device's containment shield to watching professional wrestling. Hee hee...I love that enjoying wrestling is a metaphor for burgeoning stupidity. I have an ex-boyfriend who would probably take offense at that suggestion. (However, though I appreciate the tongue-in-cheekiness of the reference, I'm not sure Dexter's Lab qualifies as stupidity fodder. It's pretty quality for a cartoon...and his teeny little accent is so cute!) Anyway, Henry's not the only stupid one--most of GD seems to have regressed to elementary school.

Upon being rounded up by Carter and a GD veterinarian who is unaffected, the other still-smart scientists point out that if radiation from the Big Bang device were the cause of the stupidity, only someone with a background in string theory and other fancy-pants molecular physics could have set it to the proper wavelength. Someone like...Jerky Jerkington (yeah, we're clearly back to the original nickname), who has coincidentally hacked his high-tech restraints and escaped. Upon his apprehension, Jerky categorically denies putting such an important scientific advance at risk, and helps shore up the containment field so that GD isn't taken out in the Bang.

Unfortunately, no one is getting any smarter post-Bang, and the veterinarian discovers that it couldn't have caused the stupidity after all. Ruh-roh. After a quick trip to Cafe Diem, Carter realizes that all the affected people ate chicken at the barbeque (there's a message here somewhere), and he heads out to the organic farm that supplied the meat. I start to reconsider my gloating when the farmer boasts about having ended the "avian holocaust" on her farm thanks to her technique of growing chicken meat in a lab. And, of course, the substance she's using to fuel the growth is what's making people dumb. Sigh. So...um...I guess the message is to stick with tofu or with actual meat, instead of trying play some kind of mad scientist middle ground. Or, don't mess with nature. Or chickens. Or something. With the stick of a needle, the dummies are cured of their stupidity, although Stark and Allison seem to have grown closer in the meantime. Hmm.

Jerky Awesomington decides to stick around Eureka when the Big Bang data and Jo's comely, polyester uniform-clad figure prove too tempting to leave. Carter's on board with this decision once he finds out that Jerky stole the money for a charity in the first place, and he even gives the guy tips on how to ask Jo out. Zoe is having less luck with the boys, though, with Carter intimidating the object of her crush into oblivion. Hey, at least he's not forcibly stuffing toxic chicken down the dude's throat...

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Michael Cera: A Brief but Heartfelt Tribute

Having finally gotten around to seeing Superbad (hilarious!), I'd like to formally express my appreciation to Michael Cera for being incredibly awesome, and to Arrested Development for discovering him. Even back when he was a mere 15 or so years old, he was one of the best things about Arrested Development (what a fun, sexy time for all of us). This year, he substantially improved my summer with Clark and Michael, his hysterical internet show with fellow awesomeite Clark Duke. (Watch it. Watch it all.)

Thus, in tribute to Michael Cera's comic genius, I present to you two of my favorite viral videos ever--oldies but goodies. First, "Impossible is the Opposite of Possible," a parody of "Impossible is Nothing," a video resume submitted by a Yale student applying for a job with an investment bank (truly hilarious if you watch the original video, which is pretty damn hilarious in itself):


Second, a video of Michael Cera being "fired" by Judd Apatow on the set of Knocked Up. He's almost his character from Clark and Michael in this one:



So thank you, Michael Cera, for brightening up my summer. May you always have a condom and a tube of spermicidal lube handy.

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Who likes to rock the party?

Okay, okay, I know this is a TV blog. But please excuse me this one lapse, so that I can briefly pimp my friend Heather's band, Old Springs Pike. They're being featured on MTV.com (which technically makes it at least TV-related, I think), and I'm just so damn proud I had to write about it. Plus, MTV has handy embeddable clips!

Anyway, they're kind of like a supercharged folk/indie-type thing with fantastic four-part harmonies, and MTV says they're "a brilliantly distinctive musical force." Whatever that means. (You can see why I'm not a music blogger...) Oh, and also in the band is John Gallagher, who just won a Tony this summer for his performance in the musical Spring Awakening. So if you happen to be a music fan as well as a TV fan, you should check them out on their website (I recommend "The Great Escape," which is one of the songs in the little player on the bottom of the screen), and for the love of God go see them live if you're in New York. Thanks for humoring me, and we'll return to our regularly schedule TV programming later today...

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Monday, August 27, 2007

Greek: Love stinks

This week on Greek, we learn valuable lessons about love, virtue, strip clubs, and IMing one's roommates. Ah, college. I'd have to say, however, that the true theme of tonight's episode was "Clark Duke is Awesome." Man, his brief appearance in Superbad was such a tease!

Before we get to Clark and his awesomeness, we begin with Rusty and his anti-awesomeness. The poor guy decides he wants to drop the L-bomb on his girlfriend, Jen K, after only three weeks of dating. (Kind of her bad too, since she brought up the fact that she hated how she had to initiate everything romantic with her high school boyfriend.) YIKES. As anticipated by anyone with half a brain, his declaration of love is awkward, awkward, awkward, and goes over like a lead balloon. Not the right time, not the right delivery, just Not Right. Poor, humiliated Rusty is ready to give up on girls forever, until Cappy takes him (and the rest of the frat plus Calvin) out to "The Lunch Buffet," which turns out to be a strip club. Eww. And Calvin makes a very fair point about the bills currently being tucked into the strippers' G-strings subsequently going back into circulation. EWW.

After calling Jen K from the strip club and hanging up on her (oops), Rusty gets up the courage to basically un-love her, and then somehow sweetly proposition her. Only Rusty could be so awkward and yet so smooth. He gets a happy ending when he and Jen K decide that they "think they might" love each other. Seriously? 3 weeks? These kids are bananas. Adorable, but bananas.

On the unhappier side of the spectrum, Calvin and his "he-friend" are having issues. After a fight about bowling, Calvin's boy cheats on him (can't wait to find out with whom), and suggests to Calvin that it wasn't really cheating because they were in a "loose" relationship. Uncool. Calvin, of course, refuses to discuss it further, and storms off to supposedly play the field. Aww. Poor Calvin. And poor Cappy, who is so broken up over his failed efforts with Casey that he gets totally bombed at the strip club after cleaning the frat house from top to bottom. Double aww.

Casey has her own problems to deal with, because the life of a Sorority Superhero is never an easy one. In charge of her sorority's philanthropy efforts, she organizes a musical performance at a "Bible Bunch" after-school program run by Dale (yes, awesome), who seems to have a bit of a crush on Casey. Unfortunately, Ashleigh isn't in the mood to help her out after TravisGate, going so far as to partner up with Rebecca Logan (whose character they do seem to be working on, finally) instead. Even more unfortunately, we don't get to see the final musical product, which apparently involves a giant sexy bee, Marie Antoinette, and dental hygiene. At least we get to see Dale's "Darwin Lied" band perform in a guitar-shredding avalanche of hilariously religious awesomeness. In the end, Casey finds out that Ashleigh is still seeing Travis, and decides to support her friend instead of remaining in the hypocritical judging brigade. Good move, Casey.

Finally, congratulations to Amber Stevens (Ashleigh) for her appearance on Go Fug Yourself. You've really made it now, Amber! (Even if it was just Random Fug.)

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Frisky Dingo: BOOSH!

If the idea of a supervillain trying to deal with insurance companies, a sulky son, and a hilarious (and sometimes pants-less) archnemesis is funny to you, then perhaps you're already watching Adult Swim's always absurd, always funny Frisky Dingo. If so, I'd like to remind you that the long-awaited (by me, at least) second season premiered this past weekend, and the episode is online here for your viewing pleasure. It's awesome.

If for some reason you aren't watching yet, start! It has far more plot continuity than anything I've ever seen on Adult Swim, and an almost (dare I say it?) Arrested Development-like style of making jokes that reference back to episodes far earlier in the season, thus rewarding repeat viewers. And don't even get me started on Frisky Dingo's quotability--an essential element for any of my favorite comedies. ("And once again, the mall has become my Waterloo.")

But don't take my word for it...here's a clip from the pilot episode in which Killface (our hero villain) is running through publicity options for himself and his world-destroying Annihilatrix invention with a couple film students he's kidnapped:


Okay, are you on board now? If so, you can watch the rest of the pilot here, at least for now. Then, I'd imagine you could probably find most of the first season's episodes by googling "Frisky Dingo" (they're only 15 minutes each, so it's pretty quick viewing). And then you'll be all caught up for the new season! Boosh!

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The 4400: This episode brought to you by Apple

This week's lesson from The 4400: Microsoft is evil. Oh, I'm sorry, I mean "Ubient" is evil. It's run by one of the Marked, it's bankrolling their activities, the economy depends on it, and the fact that most of the computers in the world run on its software meant that everyone was in big trouble when a virus took down its "Enzyme" operating system. Wouldn't you rather have a Mac and avoid all the hassle of the evil global conspiracy?

(Spoilers ahead.)

With Ubient failing and losing millions of dollars that could be used to finance sinister future activities, "Tom" got desperate to save the company. And this was finally when the little hamster wheel in Diana's brain started turning, and she began to suspect that "Tom" wasn't really Tom. When they found their perpetrator, a bed-ridden old man with a grudge against Drew Imroth and promicin in his system, she was sure. You see, someone drove a car into a telephone pole, cutting off power and life support for their suspect and stopping the virus, and that someone happened to have cut his head in the accident in the same way that "Tom" did, and that someone also has similar DNA to "Tom," according to Marco. So now Diana knows, and Meghan knows, too, but they don't think that "Tom" knows that they know, but he might know that they know. Understand? Incidentally, since Meghan expressed reservations about sleeping, or doing anything, with "Tom" now that she knows the truth, I'm more or less counting on her to do something to tip "Tom" off. And with the curse of the NTAC agent in charge hanging over her, she's not going to last much longer anyway.

For a future agent who got his host killed the last time he was given a job, "Tom" certainly has a lot of clout. He's the one running a newly repowered Isabelle. (What? Oh. They gave her something to rid her body of the promicin allergens, and then stuck her with the promicin again. Just go with it.) He's also the one who can kill the newly repowered Isabelle if she fails to follow his orders. (What? Oh. They implanted a kill switch in her. Just go with it.) And when all of Drew Imroth's personal information wound up on the Internet for all to see and draw conclusions from, "Tom" was the one who told him that he had to die. But it was actually a promotion for the future agent, as they're planning on moving him to Jordan Collier. They've got an asset inside Promise City now: Isabelle. Yes, she's back inside the compound, and the first thing she did when she got back was make out with Kyle. You know, they keep saying that Isabelle has changed, and I mostly believe them, but she does still have that predilection for Baldwin/Farrell guys. Does that mean Tom has to watch out in season five?

But before the makeout, at the irritating Cassie's behest, Kyle stormed the 4400 Center and hauled Dr. Kevin away to put a stop to the compatibility test. Kevin's being held hostage until either he or Shawn agree with Jordan. And since Shawn won't compromise and Kevin remained crabby and defiant throughout (which is why I like him), Kev's only hope for getting out of the Promise City compound is whatever plan Shawn is cooking up with Tess. Go, Shawn! Get Dr. Kevin back! I love the doctor's brand of prickly, half-crazy genius, and the happenings at the 4400 Center are a lot less fun without him. Actually, everything is a lot less fun without him. Save Kevin!

In other news, it was Maia's birthday this week, and her old friend Lindsay gave her a present: a park where she can see her dead parents again. She went there a couple of times that we saw, and while it didn't seem to be a problem yet, it's the sort of thing that will turn into one. Oh, and remember how PJ the NTAC geek was promicin-positive and had to be taken away? Remember PJ at all? Well, anyway, Marco got a new nerd to replace him. And it's a blonde, female nerd named Abigail. And halfway through the episode, she had Marco dressing up in a suit. Nerd lust alert! Thank you, The 4400, for still caring enough about Marco to give him a love interest. And also, thank you for the suit. I mean, he looks cute enough usually, but what can I say? The suit worked.

See you back here in two weeks!

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

Flight of the Conchords: Lord of the band managers

Tonight's episode of Flight of the Conchords, in which the guys got an overzealous actor/drycleaner to help cheer Murray up, was much more cringy than usual. Not so much in terms of Office-like awkward pauses, but more that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see something going wrong and know it's going to lead to hurt feelings and a painful confession. Luckily, it was funny enough to get me over my hatred of unfortunate misunderstandings as a plot device, which is just testament to my love of Flight of the Conchords.

Murray needs cheering up after another poorly-attended gig, and the guys' "Cheer Up Murray" song doesn't quite get the job done, despite the really clever photo album-style filming. Murray is just getting sadder and sadder in recent episodes, isn't he? Lost leggy blonde loves, a failed marriage, going broke taking the guys on tour... Poor Murray! The guys agree with me, and decide to enlist Ben, an amateur actor they met at their gig (played by Will Forte), to cheer Murray up by calling him as a record executive who likes the band's music, but feels it isn't right for his label. Unfortunately, at this point in the call Murray starts crying, and Ben offers Conchords a record deal. Whoops. After negotiating an awesome contract involving $2 million, lunchboxes, and a Lord of the Rings-themed music video, Murray's spirits have never been higher.

The guys, on the other hand, are feeling a wee bit guilty, especially when Murray assumes there will be record label money coming and spends all his money on the music video and a big party for the band. Managing the band might actually be a more expensive midlife crisis for Murray than buying a sports car or becoming some hot blonde's sugar daddy would have been. Sad. The "Frodo: Don't Wear the Ring" music video, incidentally, is hilarious. Jemaine makes a shockingly awesome hobbit, and Bret puts his elf portrayal experience to good use. Despite the sweet rapping, however, it could never top the mother of all Lord of the Rings music videos. Sorry, guys, but Leonard Nimoy singing about "the greatest little hobbit of them all" is too much for any mere mortal to take on. Still, check out the second-place hobbit awesomeness:


The guys' confession and Murray's subsequent disappointment is (as expected) pretty hard to take, especially since Murray is now forced to live in the office and use his microwave as a clothesdryer for his underwear. Would that even work? Happily, though, Murray is able to see past his complete humiliation and recount the brilliance with which he handled the (totally fake) contract negotiations. Unhappily, for me at least, next week is the season finale of Conchords, and although it's been renewed for a second season (YAY!), I imagine we'll be Conchords-less for quite some time in between. So be sure and tune in next Sunday!

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

Burn Notice: A little less conversation

Tonight's Burn Notice was all action, baby. No family stuff, not too much relationship drama, no sitting by the pool sipping cocktails (unfortunately for Sam). Just a lot of kicking ass and taking names. Man, I love this show.

Sam provides us with our quasi-charity case of the week, a friend of his "lady friend" who's landed himself in a bit of a pickle. Incidentally, said lady friend has finally provided Sam with his Cadillac! And while I'm sitting here wondering if Cadillacs are cool again as we go to commercial, heeeey...what a coincidence: Burn Notice is sponsored by Cadillac! Who woulda thunk it?! And according to the clearly impartially-written Sam, it's like driving on a cloud, or some junk like that. Sigh. I guess it's better than Alias's "Quick! To the incredibly awesome Ford F-150! [Zoom in on logo]" scenes, but still... Sam manages to win me back by describing their job as "freelance superhero Robin Hood kind of guy," which is pretty much exactly how I describe Burn Notice to people, minus the awesome sarcastic narration, of course.

At any rate, this week Michael is helping out a housesitting surfer dude whose penchant for pretending to be wealthy has gotten his fiancée kidnapped. Oh, and she thinks he's rich. Whoops. According to Michael, "about 40% of kidnapping victims are returned safely," which is a pretty frighteningly low number, if you ask me. Do you think they just make these statistics up? Because if not, yikes. Luckily, though, Michael and gang manage to kidnap one of the kidnappers and force him into working with them. Even so, it takes some crazy stalling techniques, undercover work, and massage-getting (lucky Michael) before they can find out where the girl is being kept. After that, it's a simple matter of throwing together a flash grenade and a lock-melting bomb thing using ingredients easily purchased at your local pharmacy. Gotta love that American ingenuity. Irish in Fiona's case, I guess. So the hostage is rescued and delivered to her worried surfer boy, and which point she (rightfully, I'd say) proceeds to beat the tar out of him.

In the meantime, Michael gets an opportunity to clear his name by meeting with a government paper-pusher and going over his file. Don't ask me how, exactly, since he's not supposed to have the file in the first place. Anyway, before taking advantage of this great opportunity to tell his side of the story, Michael gets the guy arrested to make sure he's not an assassin or whatever, thus completely pissing the dude off. Michael's really a people person. Luckily, the paper-pusher is willing to come to Michael's place and meet with him anyway (which probably should have been a red flag, given all the inconveniences he'd suffered). Unluckily, the dude's totally an assassin after all, and tries to garrote Michael. Bananas! This show is the best! Michael manages to grab his handy "taped under the sink for situations just like this one" gun, and shoots the guy right through his middle. Sadly for Michael, it still seems this one got away, without any clue as to who sent him (the man who burned him being an obvious suspect).

We get a happy ending, too, as Michael gets Fiona a fancy new (or possibly old--I don't know guns) gun for her birthday. God, though, I would hate to date Michael. The constant smiling, difficult to tell between genuine and sarcastic. The obsessive focus on that whole “getting his life back” thing. The ever-present danger of an assassination attempt. The related paranoia. It would drive me crazy. Of course, his charm, hot bod, and general adorableness would prooobably make up for at least a few of the above annoyances. Still, though, I’m feeling a bit bad for Fiona. Although dating a freakishly strong skeleton can't be easy for Michael, either.

Here's hoping that next week will bring on the Richard Schiff!

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Top Chef: Restaurant Wars Episode II: Attack of the Ciccone

Previously on Top Chef: the judges were extremely disappointed in all of the contestants, a blogger and her snippy friend ragged on the chefs' slapdash restaurants, and no one went home, because the judges wanted them all to do it again, but right this time, dammit!

The great Top Chef do-over started out with a mise en place relay Quickfire, in which each team member was assigned a different prep task, and the team that completed all of its tasks first won. Shockingly enough, it was The Garage, or, as Dale called them, "The Bad News Bears," who pulled out a victory, thoroughly trouncing the other team with their lightning-fast knife and whip skills. It only helped The Garage that Casey is a very slow chopper. Comparatively, of course; she'd still smoke me in an onion-chopping contest, but both Sara and Hung were finished with their tasks by the time she finished chopping her four onions. The Bad News Bears were rewarded with extra shopping money and the help of a mystery sommelier.

And who was the Super-Secret Mystery Sommelier? I'll give you one guess, because if you didn't know it was Stephen from season one the minute they first mentioned the word "sommelier," you clearly have not received enough Top Chef conditioning. Stephen only showed up long enough to have one, maybe two, montages of "blah blah blah Stephen won't stop talking," and he also sabred a champagne bottle. Okay! Thanks for coming, Stephen! Bye!

Meanwhile, everyone got the help – whether they wanted it or not – of interior designer Christopher Ciccone, the blogger's snippy friend of the night before and brother of Madonna. Dale called him one of the most annoying people he's ever met – and think about the people he's met on this show. Not naming names, just saying. It was probably wise of the chefs to just let Christopher do whatever he wanted to their restaurants and not argue. After all, they had to worry about the food, and not getting eliminated.

Of course you know that Tom Colicchio keeps telling the contestants that he's not their mentor or their mom. We finally learned what he is this week: their babysitter. He decided he had to stay in the kitchen and keep an eye on the teams during service. I don't really know why, because he's never felt like he had to watch them before, and he didn't really do much tattling - that we saw - to the rest of the judges about what the chefs did in the kitchen. However, staying in the kitchen did mean that Tom had to sample the teams' dishes alone, sitting in a corner. We couldn't hear it, but I'm sure that there was a single violin playing very sadly just for him as he ate.

Just like in every sports movie ever, the misfit band of underdogs – in this case, the chefs of The Garage, now Quatre – won. Sara, the executive chef, was the individual winner, with the judges praising her decisiveness. She did do one thing I've seen executive chefs do on TV before, sending back meat that she considered rare (although without yelling "It's raw! You're going to [bleep]ing kill someone!" as Gordon Ramsay likes to do). Restaurant April, on the other hand, got dinged for not taking enough of the criticism from their soft opening to heart and thereby doing worse the second time around.

Sent home, for poor leadership skills and sub-par dishes (and, I'm sure, especially for a salmon dish that incurred Ted Allen's violent hatred), was Tre. Yes, Tre. I'm serious. It was a huge shock to me, because I had always just assumed that Tre was going to win the whole competition. He was a good chef and a cool competitor, and now who will take his place? Hung? CJ? I think, though, I'll root for Dale as long as I can, because I love his snarky interviews about everything.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Huzzah!!!

Wooo! As you have perhaps already heard, HBO has wisely decided to bring Flight of the Conchords, also known as my new favorite show, back for a second season. Yes!!! Between this and 30 Rock getting renewed, I'm actually starting to think I might, someday, be able to have faith in television executives again (which has been impossible for me since the tragic cancellation of Arrested Development).

In celebration, possibly the most surreal song from Conchords thusfar:

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Damages: All about Tom

He'd been hanging back for a while, content to be part of the ensemble while Glenn Close and Ted Danson stole all the attention. But this week on Damages, it was finally time for Tate Donovan to come into his own, and he didn't disappoint.

(Look out for spoilers.)

Tom Shayes was the man of the hour. Not only did he tell Patty he was leaving without managing to be gruesomely killed on his way out, but he took on the Frobisher case after the employees fired Patty. He even thought of setting up shop on his own for a while. All of this he did with the encouragement of his loud, obnoxious, yet somehow awesome friend, played by Donal Logue. I don't know what it was – Donal Logue's character was the worst kind of self-centered businessman, offering tips on negotiation and using "Power!" as a catchphrase, but I still ended up enjoying his presence on screen.

Anyway, so Donal took Tom out to celebrate, which only ended in Tom passing out and having a vision of Patty telling him he was good enough to make it on his own. Of course, they had to do some nifty camera work to get the point across that it was a hallucination, because showing up randomly in a locked men's room isn't something that I think any of us would put past Patty Hewes. The real Patty Hewes did not think Tom was good enough, and told him to take his clients to Cutler because Tom's only talent was as a subordinate.

In the end, fratty pal Donal helped Tom realize what he really wanted: to stay with Patty. Which would be kind of heartwarming, if Patty hadn't treated Tom so badly up to this point. He just looks like a masochist now. But Tom delivered his clients back to Patty, and Patty now she has what she wants. Again. Am I going to have to say that every week? She's got her clients back, and now she can subpoena Greg legitimately – you see, she was waiting for Ellen to find out to prevent tipping her off. Like a game of telephone (but not exactly like it, because there was none of the inevitable garbling or flat-out messing with the message), Katie told David, David told Ellen, and Ellen told Patty.

Just as I've been pleasantly surprised by Ted Danson's work on Damages, I was impressed with Tate Donovan this week. He delivered in the drunk shouting match with Imaginary Patty, sparred confidently with Ray Fiske, and then went into adorable dad mode for the scenes between Tom and his daughter. Damages has really given all of its actors the chance to step up and shine, and for the most part, they've acquitted themselves well.

Meanwhile, in The Future, there were plenty of flash- um, backs? Forwards? Whatever. Flashes to Ellen struggling with the person who tries to kill her. That person ends up dead in Patty's apartment, and I was all set for a big reveal that it was Tom, but it never came. Come on, you can't have an entire episode about Tom and about the guy who tries to kill Ellen and not expect me to believe they're not one and the same. Just tell us it's Tom already. Honestly, who else would it be?

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This really is the moment on America's Got Talent

Before we start, I just want to assure you guys that Piers Morgan is okay. You may have heard that he cracked some ribs in a Segway crash over the weekend, but he made it to the live finale, albeit in so much pain that he barely moved or spoke. I'm just surprised it was Piers who crashed the Segway. If there's one judge on America's Got Talent you expect to be tooling, GOB-like, around town on a Segway, it's the Hoff. But I'm glad that Piers is okay, because that means it's okay for me to find the whole thing funny.

(By the way, we're talking about the season finale here. If you don't want to know who won, you need to stop reading now.)

Of course, it was a two-hour finale, with really only one point to it – crown a winner – so there was filler everywhere. There were performances from last year's Quick Change and Stomp Out Loud. There were performances from both this year's top ten and the "audition all-stars" (really just the most spectacular rejects of the season), and the rejects, by far, put on a better show. A flaming pogo stick makes everything more interesting, after all.

But the performance I'm sure you were looking breathlessly forward to – I know I was – was from David Hasselhoff, German superstar, the voice that broke down the Berlin Wall. His rendition of "This is the Moment" was everything I had been hoping for: unapologetically over the top and delightfully hammy. The only thing that was missing was that light-up piano scarf. Although I kind of hate the show a little for showing the Hoff's tiny, sweet old parents in the audience and making me feel bad about making fun of him.

And then there were the performances by the contestants, the ones that really counted. America's Got Talent made it a treat for them and for us, giving each of the contestants an appropriate act to sing with.

Julienne and Taylor Swift sang Taylor's "Teardrops on My Pillow." Maybe it's just because I don't follow country, but I had no idea who Taylor Swift was. Because I'd heard of everyone else who showed up, though, I was willing to trust the show that she was famous. Taylor and Julienne's voices meshed perfectly, and when it was done, Martina McBride had some nice words for Julienne in a video greeting.

Cas and UB40 came together to play "Red, Red Wine." It was probably the most obvious choice ever for a singer like Cas, but that's not to say that it wasn't a good choice. He fit right into the band, and when he was done, he was rewarded with a video message from Lionel Richie.

Butterscotch and Sean Kingston performed his "Beautiful Girls." It was a little disappointing, because Butterscotch really only did the beats and backup, instead of actually singing a duet with Sean. Once she was done, Butterscotch got a nice video greeting from her grandma – aww! She was the only contestant who got a message from family, and not from a star. But that made her lucky, as far as I'm concerned, because hers was the only personal message. Martina McBride is cool and all, but she's not Grandma.

Terry and Kermit the Frog – okay. How do I adequately explain the awesomeness of this performance? They duetted on "You've Got a Friend," with Johnny Vegas returning to sing as James Taylor, and Terry even got the opportunity to sing as himself. But did I mention Kermit? And the Muppet shenanigans didn't stop there, as they replaced the judges with Animal (Hoff), Beaker (Sharon), and the Swedish Chef (Piers), and gave Terry a video message from Miss Piggy.

But you want to know the results. I don't blame you; I've put enough filler into this recap. The first contestant to go was Julienne – the correct decision, as talented as she is – and next was my girl Butterscotch. That left Cas and Terry to fight it out for the title. And the winner, defying all of my expectations, was… Terry!

You know, Terry wasn't the one I wanted to win originally, but I actually found myself rooting for him at the end. He would never have been able to win any other show, and he was a delight to watch every week. And what makes me even happier is that America's Got Talent gave Terry what I always wanted for him: a venue in Vegas. He'll be playing at the Jubilee Theater at Bally's. So congratulations, Terry, and I promise, if I ever make a crack about ventriloquists again, I will add, "Except Terry Fator."

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Eureka: Welcome to the world of tomorrow!

I missed the past few episodes when my day job and then vacation intervened, but I had a Eureka marathon earlier today to get caught up, and man, this show just keeps getting better. (Of course I miss the episode when Carter walks around naked...sigh.) And just when you think they're getting into a (still highly enjoyable) rut with the "some crazy invention has gone rogue, possibly combined with another crazy invention, and the whole town is in danger!" plots, they pull out a quality stand-alone episode with a very different focus. Seriously, nothing at all goes awry! Quite possibly a Eureka first.

And aside from the genius townsfolk remaining safe for the night, tonight's episode flexed Eureka's drama muscles, giving comedy a lighter night than usual. There were touching moments and everything! Mad props to the writers in particular for making Fargo more than an accident-prone whipping boy. Much as I love to watch him bumble about, it was sweet to see him trying to get his grandfather, and his family name, the recognition they deserve. As we all learned by watching Futurama, getting involuntarily cryogenically frozen can really mess up your life. Although it can get you cool robot friends too, so it's not all bad. I kind of love that Fargo is Professor Farnsworth in this comparison, by the way.

Carter wasn't his usual jocular self, either, as we finally find out that the reason he's SO nervous about Zoe driving is that his high school sweetheart died in an accident while he was teaching her how to drive. Although with all his haranguing Zoe about giving up caffeine before she could learn to drive, was anyone else expecting his story to end with the girlfriend dying when he spilled hot coffee in her lap while she was driving or something?

Over at GD, I found it surprising that Henry shared with Stark his discovery about Kim's lab being sabotaged. Perhaps he's trying to subtly lead Stark to Beverly, for some reason? Guess he might need help at some point, at any rate, and since he blames Carter for Kim's death and all, he's not likely to turn there for assistance. Intriguing. I'm not sure I'd trust Stark, if I were Henry.

And I'm glad to see that Carter hasn't let Allison off the hook yet for basically causing a giant deadly dream crisis last week--but why isn't he giving Stark the cold shoulder too, seeing as Carter knows he refused to turn the device off? Oh, right, because Allison lied to him and hurt his feelings, while Stark is expected to selfishly put people's lives in danger for his own purposes. Or perhaps because targeting Stark could result in negative attention on Allison's role in the crisis. Or more likely, because Carter's shoulder can't get any colder when it comes to Stark. Hopefully he'll cut Allison a break at some point, though, because I do miss the banter, much as she deserves the silent treatment for now. But way to bring the drama this week, Eureka. A little change of pace never hurt anyone.

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Jekyll: Is there something you'd like to say to us, Britain?

Note: If you've been TiVoing/DVRing Jekyll on BBC America and are still planning on watching it at some point, stop reading now. However, if you've been watching it as it aired, are reading this from Britain, or don't care about spoilers, go right ahead.

For me, one of the happiest surprises of a busy summer has been Jekyll on BBC America. Not just the gory thriller that it's billed as in the commercials, the show is, more than anything, a psychological drama, and much of its success has to do with its star. James Nesbitt, like Alec Guinness and Jim Broadbent, has the happy talent of becoming completely unrecognizable in a role. (Have you ever seen Murphy's Law? Same guy. I rest my case.) An important point of the show is that there's a physical difference between Jackman and Hyde – height and shoulder width, for example. Those we have to take the show's word for it on, but Nesbitt brings enough subtle changes to the characters that I can almost tell at a glance which he's supposed to be at any given time (even without the clue of the sproingy/slicked-back good/evil hair). Jackman's got a crooked tooth, Hyde's Irish accent is broader, and that's just what I can put my finger on. The man is a chameleon.

Good thing that his performance is bolstered by good supporting characters, too. Miranda the private eye is tough and resourceful, but half of her charm comes from her relationship with her exasperating, flighty partner Min. I'm not terribly impressed by upcoming Bionic Woman Michelle Ryan as research assistant Katherine, but as she doesn't have much to do, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. But I've been most pleasantly surprised by Claire, the wife, who has gone from whiny, inauspicious beginnings to a woman who won't be pushed around. It was the "Trapped in the Wine Cellar" episode that turned it around for me, when she slapped Hyde around and refused to let him off the hook for his actions with the "separate personality" excuse, and thereby won both Hyde's and my loyalty.

My biggest beef with the show is the beef that they have with the United States. I get that we're not the most popular country in the world right now, but in Jekyll the anti-U.S. sentiment is so ingrained that it's become a running joke. The evil shadowy corporation behind everything is American, of course, and when a British character who works for them is asked how he likes his employer, he says, as though it says it all, "American." And Hyde's first victim was none other than an American working for the same corporation, all of whose British underlings hated him and rejoiced to see him killed.

The thing that gets me is that it's casual hatred, understood and accepted by everyone. Because in the world of Jekyll, Americans aren't trying to take over the world, they're trying to take over Britain, and that's why the Brits resent them so much. Not that the show comes out and says this. It's a little bit passive-aggressive about it, actually. Ironic for a show about a guy who's all the way aggressive, and crazy to boot.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Greek: Like warm apple pie

Every time I watch Greek, I feel like an anthropologist observing a totally alien culture. Lavaliering? Letters? Candle-passing ceremonies? Complete with songs?! Luckily, Rusty is as clueless as I am, and serves well as Bringer of the Exposition. At any rate, the show and its characters are growing on me every week, especially this week, given Princess Rebecca Logan's total absence. Here's hoping it becomes a permanent one, or that she's in some sort of cartoonish villain rehab program. Another plus? Tons of Cappy! Cappy + Casey 4 evah u guyz!!!1! Man, I wish those two crazy kids could just work it out. Stupid Evan and his pie-hating ways...

But wow, I guess Ashleigh's boyfriend Travis really makes Evan look like an amateur in the obnoxious privileged frat jerk department. Partly because Evan's character is becoming more and more three-dimensional (take note, Rebecca!), but partly because Travis is a complete turd. That said, I'm not sure I'm buying the Latin-speaking throwdown at the bar. I mean, really? With everyone cheering? Even though they weren't saying anything clever, and the crowd probably couldn't understand any of it until Cappy's final "smackdown"? Bananas. I'm also a bit unconvinced with the comparison the writers are apparently trying to draw between secretly being gay and secretly staying with a jerk boyfriend. But whatev--small complaints in the sweet, Cappyful scheme of things.

On the non-Cappy front, I'm really hoping next week isn't a whole "Rusty confesses about the cheating, thus earning the respect of his professor (who probably already knew) and a retake on the test." Because that would be Lame. But I have faith in Greek and its nonlameness, because Greek gave us Cappy. And Dale! Who wasn't in this episode enough, but whose Aura of Awesome lights up the whole show.

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The 4400: Invasion of the considerably more fun body snatchers

On the heels of last week's mega-reunion with Richard, Kevin, and Tess, The 4400 brought us another familiar face this week – Laura Allen as Lily. "But wait," you may say, "she's dead." Ah, but this is The 4400, and it's not like no one's been brought back from the dead before. Or at least back from wherever it was that Jordan went that one time, if it wasn't the dead.

(Hey, I didn't tell you anything you didn't know from the previews. If you don't want to know anything more, stop now.)

There seemed to be only two possible explanations for Lily's return: either Isabelle's reverse growth spurt brought her mother back from old age and death, or it was all a hallucination brought on by a 4400's ability. As it happened, we got first one explanation, then the other. Kyle, for Phase 1 of a plan that the irritating Cassie refused to tell him the rest of, had a guy make Richard hallucinate his dead wife, and the plan worked as it was meant to. Richard realized that what he did was wrong, and he went back to the 4400 he got the youth water from and fixed Isabelle. But not before there were some very sweet domestic scenes between Richard and Lily. Aww. I missed those two. Great to see them together one more time.

Well, it finally happened. Tom became one of the marked. Having had a few bizarre visions/memories of the future and the procedure in which Lily was impregnated, Tom realized what was happening and tried to fight it, but as I think we all learned from The X-Files, you can't fight the future. (Or maybe you can fight the future. I was never really clear on that point.) The body snatcher took over, with some help from the fabulous Penny Johnson Jerald as another one of the marked, director of national intelligence Rebecca Parrish. No one can do charming menace like her. She's just as cold-blooded as she was as Sherry Palmer on 24, and I love her for it.

Anyway, "Tom" wasted no time, once he was in control, in doing things the real Tom would hardly ever do. To psych out Meghan and Diana, "Tom" pretended to control Marco's mind, and that's really where the women should have noticed something was up, because Tom's sense of humor is fleeting, at best. Besides, "Tom" is a much more chipper guy than normal Tom, and – hey, wait a minute. Funny, good-natured… somebody tell me why this "Tom" is a bad thing. Oh, right. The evil plan from the future. That is kind of a deal-breaker. That's not to say I won't enjoy this "Tom" as long as he's around, though.

"Tom" started putting those evil future plans into motion when he and Diana went to round up the Tylers. He shot Richard with tranquilizers and had Richard brought into custody, but claimed that Isabelle went missing. Actually, she's hanging out in Kyle's old bedroom, and "Tom" has just told her that she needs to get her powers back to capture Jordan Collier. Meghan and Diana? Still none the wiser. Ladies, when a person tells you that he's going to turn into a pod person, and then wakes up the next day claiming he's totally fine, how much more do you need in the way of clues? Oh, whatever. I'll give them until next week.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kevin came up with a simple way to determine who will survive the promicin shot – a CAT scan – and Shawn encouraged Jordan to tell people to wait on getting the shot. But Jordan wasn't into that, as his vision for the future doesn't involve promicin-negative people at all, unless it involves them dying. So Shawn took the message to the people. And stupid Cassie reached new heights of annoying, as she maneuvered Richard into jail and Isabelle into "Tom"'s clutches, chewed Kyle out for complaining, and then told him he had to stop Shawn. You know, "stop" him. And I thought I wanted her to shut up before.

And I don't know how it happened, but between the Collier faction, which is actively rooting for the deaths of half the Earth's population, and NTAC, which is controlled by fantastically evil pod people from the future, somehow Shawn became the only sane person on The 4400. His cause seems hopeless, and he's more or less ineffectual at bringing about peace, but he's got the right idea.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Top Chef: Restaurant Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Incense

Finally, it has arrived! One of the most hotly anticipated (by Brian) episodes of the Top Chef season: Restaurant Wars! Convert a garage into a slapdash restaurant, whip up a gourmet meal, and don't forget to serve the judges with a smile, because if you're not happy, they'll complain about that, too! It's a real-world version of Diner Dash, but much less fun. For them. It's still lots of fun for us.

At the Quickfire, Padma dropped a bomb on the unsuspecting chefs: no more immunity for a QF win. Of course, it was bound to happen, but there were still eight chefs left and I thought that immunity was usually taken away later than this. Either the competition is extremely cutthroat or the judges just want to be able to strike the fear of elimination into everyone. Knowing Tom, it's probably the latter. This Quickfire challenged the chefs to create interesting new burgers, which six of the eight chefs interpreted to mean, "burgers with some form of seafood in them." The winner out of this bunch of conforming nonconformists was CJ, who earned the right to choose his own restaurant staff.

CJ, no dummy, chose himself a great team: Tre, Brian, and Casey. They would open up Restaurant April. This left Dale, Hung, Howie, and Sara M. as the operators of The Garage. Poor Dale. Bravo had set me up for all kinds of fireworks between Sara M. (oh, actually, we can just call her Sara now, huh?) and Howie by showing snippets of their dysfunctional work together during the pasta challenge in the previouslies. Not only that, but making Sara the executive chef and Howie her sous chef was sure to be a disaster, I thought. But there was nothing. Way to psych me up for nothing, Bravo editors.

Both teams chose a form of "contemporary American" cuisine for their restaurants, which I assume is the culinary equivalent of "eclectic" interior design. You create the dishes that you want, and then you say, "Eh, I'm an American living in the present day, it's contemporary American." And, standard procedure for Restaurant Wars, the judges grumbled about everything, right down to the dusty bread plates. First you don't get plates. Now your plates are dusty. Will you never be happy, judges?

To assist them in their deliberations, the judges enlisted the services of an "undercover blogger" to give her reviews of both restaurants. Well, of course she's undercover, she's a blogger. If I ran up to you on the street and kicked you in the shins, would you know who I am? No, because I'm a blogger. We are like anonymous, snarky ninjas. But aside from hating the black tablecloths at one of the restaurants because they gave her Billy Idol flashbacks, the blogger made pretty much the same points as the judges.

The judges' myriad complaints boiled down to a few key grievances. The heavy food at The Garage. Howie's bad risotto. Tre's potatoes, left in the smoker too long. The overpowering scented candles, unchecked by Dale and his weak sense of smell. Brian's flustered, sweaty service. Neither team looked like a winner, so when the judges brought out the two servers, Brian and Dale, for the final deliberation, it seemed like both would be asked to leave.

But in the end, this entire episode was useless – useless! – because the judges decided not to send anyone home. Instead, they'd be redoing the challenge the next night, and that will be next week's episode. Useless! Oh, all right, I suppose that we, and the chefs, did learn a few things from this week. Don't use scented candles. Don't oversmoke potatoes. No one likes a sweaty crazy guy. And the most important lesson of all: if everyone sucks together, no one sucks all the way home.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Damages: What's going on?

Curse you, Damages. You just keep sucking me in. There were twists and turns this week that I never saw coming. This entire episode threw me off balance, in a good way, and now I have no idea what's going on. At this point, I can officially declare myself "addicted."

(Stop now if you don't want to know what happened.)

Instead of a flash-forward to the future, after David's murder, things started off this week with a flashback. A flashback to, as the garish, flashing letters indicated, PALM BEACH FLA 2002. Okay, calm down, I get it! If the intention was to make me feel like I was having a bad drug trip, then congratulations, Damages, you succeeded. So we saw Katie slam shots at a club, meet Greg, snort some coke, hear some gunshots, and then see some guy get into Frobisher's limo in the parking lot. All of that, and what she chose to tell, was the substance of her deposition by Fiske, the center of this episode.

After a disastrous trial run, in which Katie allowed herself to get flustered by questions about rehab, cocaine addiction, and her abortion, Katie did almost well in the real deposition. She admitted the sex and drugs up front, hoping to embarrass Fiske, but he caught her in a lie. He proved that the man she claimed to see entering Frobisher's limo, one of Frobisher's broker's assistants, was in Atlantic City at the same time. So where'd she get the name? Blame Greg.

Ah, Greg. At first he looked like just your average, garden-variety jerk. He gave Katie the name of the guy he said they saw in Palm Beach so that she could use it in her deposition. But he still wasn't willing to testify, lest his wife find out or – this is true – he turn into another Kato Kaelin. Really? I'd think the fact that people still know who Kato Kaelin is means that things have turned out pretty well for Kato. Whatever, it doesn't matter, because Greg is actually a lying jerk. He's not married, and he fed Katie the name on purpose to make her perjure herself. I should have known, but it was still a surprise. How naïve I was, thinking Greg was just an ordinary jerk. There are no ordinary jerks on this show – only lying, cheating, manipulating jerks.

Apparently, Greg's been acting on the orders of some guy pushing around a baby in a stroller, who was there at the house in Palm Beach with them. Yeah, I don't know what's going on with this yet. Probably stroller guy is a Frobisher employee, because Greg owned Frobisher stock before the collapse. Otherwise, no idea, although I do kind of fear for the baby.

Interestingly, everything's going according to plan for Patty, who always wanted to embarrass Katie under oath. Fiske won't think they have anything, and they'll pull the settlement offer, which is good news somehow. Okay, I didn't see that coming either. I don't know why I didn't expect that Patty's plan was much more intricate and devious than simply hiring Ellen to get at her friend. Makes me wonder what else she's got planned, and what she'll do when someone refuses to act according to plan.

Like Tom, who's taking a job with another firm. There's no denying that Patty is very good at manipulating people to get what she wants, but occasionally you have to recommend someone's daughter for a private school and not make him look like an unemployed loser to get what you want. I'm just saying. I'm actually looking forward to the scene in which Tom breaks it to Patty that he's taken another job, because I think Patty might actually defenestrate him – if it wasn't her idea that he take it in the first place. Hmm.

Also, I really didn't think last week's revelation that Ellen and David had broken off the engagement at the time of the murder was much of a DUN! moment, but now that it turns out that David will probably be having an affair? That changes things. This week, David got chatted up by the granddaughter of one of his patients at the hospital. There was some mild flirting over Cassavetes and Jack Benny, and Lila got him tickets to the Cassavetes retrospective, and then there was a nighttime tryst. I'd been waiting and waiting for some flicker of interest to appear around David, and it's finally happened. The good doctor – okay, really, the bland doctor – is starting to go bad. Maybe now I'll actually care that he ends up dead.

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It's the best of the best on America's Got Talent

It's the America's Got Talent finale! (Disclaimer: it's not actually the finale. Just the final performances.)

For some, this was the end of the road! (Yeah, but all this national exposure must be good for their careers.) But one lucky act will win one million dollars! (Okay, yeah, a million is good.) And the prestigious title of America's best new act! (Good for an interview on the Today show and a Trivial Pursuit question ten years from now.) It's the biggest title in America! (Except for that other one, the one on the other channel with the other trio of loopy judges. Also President, that's a bigger title.) We, the voters, can change someone's life forever! (Well, sure, how else would they find their way onto a Trivial Pursuit card?)

But before we could actually get to the business of voting, thereby changing the contestants' lives forever, as Jerry repeatedly promised we would, we had to determine whose dreams would die this week. It was time to say goodbye to Robert Hatcher, Jason Pritchett, the Glamazons, and Sideswipe. Everyone was very gracious, of course, and none more so than smiley Robert Hatcher, who insisted that he was waiting for a record deal. You heard the man, somebody sign him! Honestly, how did the Cincinnati sewers produce a man so happy, shiny and positive? Whatever the reason, keep smiling, Robert, as I'm sure you will.

That leaves as our final four: Cas Haley, Butterscotch, Terry Fator, and Julienne Irwin. Exactly the finalists I had predicted last week. I'd like to think that it was my endorsement of those acts that inspired my army of loyal readers to vote for them, but the fact is that they were obviously the best acts, and had been the best for weeks, if not for the entire run of the show. As final fours go, it was a no-brainer. And as clout goes, I have none.

Each finalist got two chances to impress us before we decided their fates – one, a piece chosen by the judges, and the other, a piece chosen by the contestant. Let's see how they did:

Cas Haley

Judges' Choice: "Can't Help Falling in Love With You." Of course Cas played it closer to the UB40 version than the Elvis version, because that's his style. In fact, his style is so close to what UB40 did to the song that I was concerned that he wouldn't be able to personalize it. But he came through, and delivered a heartfelt performance infused with his own touches. Piers was so enamored with it that he said that Cas "could be the King." Piers, don't tempt the wrath of angry Elvis fans. Just don't.

Cas' Choice: "Sir Duke." Cas called it one of his "all-time favorite songs," and it was easy to tell. He delivered a fun, enthusiastic performance that was better than his first song, and probably the best out of all the songs he's played so far. Incidentally, America, Cas said that if he were to win, he'd be forever in our debt. So that leaky tap you've got? It's got Cas' name all over it.

Butterscotch

Judges' Choice: "What's Going On." She started off with a soft, jazzy intro at the piano, which I loved, before she got up and picked up the tempo. But then – no beatboxing! Of course she didn't need it – she can hold her own as a singer without her vocal tricks – but it still caused a bit of consternation among the judges. Particularly Piers, who claimed he'd almost worn some of his "beatbox gear." I wish he had, because I really want to know what he considers "beatbox gear."

Butterscotch's Choice: "Dance to the Music." Where'd all the beatboxing go from her first performance? Into this one. It was pure beatbox – instruments, record scratching, even going backwards at one point. Splitting up the singing from the beatboxing was a great choice on her part, because it allowed her to go to both extremes, when before now she'd been mixing the two styles. It proved to us, if we didn't know before, how versatile she can be. Love her.

Terry Fator

Judges' Choice: "Friends in Low Places." Their reasoning: Terry's got to know country music before he can win. So Terry brought out "Walter T. Airedale," a sort of cowboy Howdy Doody, to sing as Garth Brooks. He really dug into the song, relishing all the warbling and the swooping notes involved. A country fan might have found it borderline cheesy, but I'm firmly in Piers' camp: country music all sounds the same to me, and when you can do something to grab my attention in a country song, it's all to the good.

Terry's Choice: "Crying." The song marked the triumphant return of Winston the Turtle, who put on a black wig and glasses to channel Roy Orbison. The result was well sung, funny, and, overall, fantastic. Terry actually got a standing ovation from Piers. A standing ovation! From Piers! Not the overly excitable David Hasselhoff, not America's British mom Sharon Osbourne, but Piers "Itchy Buzzer Finger" Morgan! No matter what happens, Terry needs to put that on his resume.

Julienne Irwin

Judges' Choice: "What Hurts the Most." The judges wanted to challenge her with a contemporary song, and she really did quite as well with it as she's done with the classic country songs in week's past. However, I still think she has problems with the lower notes. I'd be interested to hear her in a few years, when her voice has really had a chance to mature – I think she'll be a knockout.

Julienne's Choice: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Boy, did she save the best for last. This was by far her best performance, a soulful, compelling version of the song that we've all heard a thousand times before, in a thousand different ways. I loved the song, but not the crescent moon she rode across the stage. There are only a couple of singers crazy and divalicious enough to get away with that: Celine Dion and Cher.

Who will win: You mean, aside from we, the viewers, when we are treated to a David Hasselhoff performance during next week's results show? Either Cas Haley or Butterscotch. Julienne is sweet, but not quite mature enough, and Terry doesn't need the title as much as he needs a steady gig either touring or playing at a Vegas casino. Cas and Butterscotch both have unique sounds and humble attitudes, and I would be thrilled if either of them won. But if forced to choose a favorite, I would go with Butterscotch.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Hell's Kitchen: The kitchen coronation

The biggest lie of the Hell's Kitchen season finale wasn't "we ran out of wallpaper" or any of those other issues blown out of proportion to ratchet up the drama of the final showdown. It was three simple words at the beginning of the show: "Viewer discretion advised." Normally, you see, when I see those words, I expect some body parts, like a thumb or an arm, to get chopped off or something like that. But bleeped-out swear words? Kind of a letdown, actually.

Stop now if you don't want to know who won.

You know, I was pretty sure already that Bonnie wasn't going to win, but the moment that confirmed it was when she came out with her too-big master chef's jacket on, like a kid playing dress-up. Rock's, of course, fit perfectly, because he was the chosen one, foretold by bodog.com.

Look, everyone knew Rock was going to win. The instapoll voters knew, the internet gamblers knew, Rock's wife knew, even Bonnie knew. She wasn't all that upset when the winner was announced, she interviewed that she thought Chef Ramsay made the right decision, and when Rock said that he thought she was going to win, Bonnie, along with the entire viewing audience, answered, "Whatever."

And although the ending was a foregone conclusion, there was enough drama during the dinner service. More than enough, actually, to send this season of Hell's Kitchen out with a bang, or at least with a ****. There were problems of all kinds – food problems (Bonnie ran out of both fettuccini and prawns for her prawn fettuccini entrée), communication problems (Bonnie and her team couldn't hear one another over the roar of their own bootless efforts), and chef problems. Of course, for Bonnie's team, the problem chef was Julia – lethargic, grumpy, Rock-supporting Julia. Bonnie and Julia got into a major tussle over wrapping up goat cheese, of all things. So sad to see Julia in such a bad mood over not making it when Ramsay clearly has nothing but respect and admiration for her. You're good enough, Julia! Over on Rock's side, the problem was Josh, who learned absolutely nothing from his unceremonious defrocking a few weeks back, and still insisted on cooking orders in advance. It was fixed soon enough, when Rock switched Josh's and Vinnie's stations, but still – honestly, Josh, did you not remember being fired in the middle of service a few weeks back for doing that exact thing? Why? Just… why?

So everything fit for Rock - his dishes, his leadership skills, and his jacket - and everyone rejoiced at his victory. A satisfying season-ender, even if I never learned to root for Rock.

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Monday, August 13, 2007

The 4400: Do-over!

You've seen the previews for a week, promising the return of Richard Tyler. And boy, did he return. But his wasn't the only welcome return this week on The 4400: we also got back Dr. Kevin and schizophrenic mind controller Tess (the excellent Summer Glau).

(Warning: spoilers)

The theme for this episode: trying again. You see, Richard's whole motivation for seeing his daughter again was to knock her out, drag her away from Promise City, and feed her this 4400-enhanced water that made her younger. Because Isabelle grew up so fast, and so evil, that he wanted to have another chance to raise her. Richard, let's be real here: she was evil even when she was a baby. She was killing people then, too. Twenty years of solid parenting might not have helped as much as that good swift injection to the neck did. Besides, she's good now. Mostly. Naturally, Isabelle wasn't into getting any younger, but she was soon too young to do anything about it. And even though Kyle and NTAC tried to rescue her, nobody gets in the way of a telekinetic. (Literally, you can't, because he'll just move you out of the way.) So Richard and Young Isabelle went into hiding, and Isabelle – willingly – drank the rest of the Water of Youth. And now she's a toddler.

Huh. No putting things back to the way they were, show? No hitting the reset button? Am I to assume you'll do it next week? I mean, I know I saw Megalyn Echikunwoke sticking her head into the previews for next week, and of course something's bound to happen between Isabelle – the adult one – and Kyle. (Girl really likes her cousins.) I guess I've surprised myself by getting a little worried about her. I'm actually starting to like this new, harmless Isabelle. She's certainly much more human than the childlike killbot of last season.

In the B-plot, Tess tried once again to have the sweet sixteen party she never got to have, and that involved forcing an entire 50's diner full of people to dance for days. Never has rocking around the clock been less fun. She was waiting for her crush, Bobby, to show up, but instead she got Shawn, who convinced her that Kevin was her Bobby, because he loves her. Aww. Incidentally, how much older is Kevin than Tess? No, wait, don't tell me, it'll just ruin everything. Aww. Anyway, after Shawn healed her schizophrenia (hey, if he can heal autism…), Tess and Kevin revealed that Kevin's been researching a way to predict who can take the promicin shot and live. Yay! I hope this means that we'll see them again soon, because Summer Glau and Jeffrey Combs are always welcome around here.

Meanwhile, the weeks of simmering bureaucratic tension came to a boiling point when Tom and Meghan first made out, thanks to Tom's skillful employment of the old "look behind my ear while I turn my head into your mouth" trick, and then spent the night together. But their chance for a repeat performance was kind of ruined by the return of the mark behind Tom's ear. And like I told you before, I like Meghan. But her spending so much time with Tom, and listening to his problems when she wasn't kissing him, meant that there was very little room for Diana, and certainly no fun Tom/Diana banter. Not cool, you guys. There's always room for more Diana.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Top Chef: This isn't 'Top Clubber'

I wonder if the contestants of a reality show have ever mutinied against the producers? There must be some sort of anti-mutiny clause in the contract that they all have to sign, because I'm sure if the contestants of any show were to do it, it would have been the ones from Top Chef Miami, and it would have been this week, due to all of the jerking around that the show subjected them to. After softening up the chefs with an ice cream-based Quickfire – which demonstrated that a couple of chefs didn't learn from Marcel's avocado and bacon ice cream of yore – Padma told them nothing about the Elimination Challenge, just that they would be going clubbing that night. But guess who was there at the club, with the guest judge and a couple of catering vans, when the Hummer limo pulled up? Buzzkill Padma.

The chefs – particularly the primped-out women – were all upset by this development, and a few of them interviewed their surprise about getting a challenge instead of a night out. Surprise? Really? Remember the party for the designers of season two of Project Runway, when they were forced to cut up their own clothes, and Andrae lost it all over the runway? Yeah, Bravo apparently thinks it's fun to ruin parties. So, already grumpy from being denied their clubbing time, the chefs are split into two teams and told to come up with bar food for a crowd of drunken revelers (all the while thinking, "Man! Those drunken idiots could be US!"). This while they were staying up all night, becoming more sleep-deprived by the moment, and while they watched Dale, the Quickfire winner, do nothing but go out to dinner. Sounds like fun, right? Why has Top Chef become, this season, a string of unpleasant surprises? Is it any wonder that the chefs were demoralized?

So, no surprise: the lack of sleep only augmented the existing crabbiness of the chefs, and the judging became extremely emotional. I think I've figured something out, and if Bravo has realized this too, then we'll be seeing it happen a lot more, because: drama! My hypothesis: when Bravo ruins a party, there will be crying at judging. It happened to Andrae, and it happened to Sara N., too. While she and her losing team were defending themselves to the judges, Howie called Sara "the baby of the house," which doesn't sound so bad, until you factor in the sleep deprivation, stress, and the fact of being slammed to your face. Luckily, she managed to mostly hold it in in front of the judges, because I guarantee you that Tom, for one, would not have been sympathetic, and probably would have informed her that the show wasn't Top Crier. And although crying in the pantry really didn't do anything to disprove Howie's accusation, the other chefs were mostly on her side, glaring at Howie like – well, like a big jerk who just made a nice girl cry – while Howie trotted out the old standby, "I'm not here to…, I'm here to win." He chose to put "hurt anybody's feelings" in the blank, an interesting choice. In the end, though, it was Sara who went home for her listless cooking. I'll miss her; she was a good, kind of snarky interviewer, and it was always fun to hear her take on things.

And while we're talking about this week's episode, a question: is Brian ever off? He was running around all episode, playing with the catering truck and screaming at the customers, and he never seemed to wind down. Is it his natural energy or does he take performance-enhancing stimulants like coffee?

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Damages: Drop the bomb

Damages this week was all about Patty – her work, her family, and her past – and that's just the way I like it.

(Watch out for spoilers.)

The big story was that someone mailed a grenade to Patty at her office. Oh, all right, it was Frobisher, trying to derail her brief. Even Fiske, Frobisher's lawyer, seemed to disapprove of this tactic. You know, I think I might like Fiske if it weren't for his triple-thick, chicken-fried accent – it's just a teensy bit distracting. Anyway, the grenade did succeed in rattling Patty, specifically because Patty was attacked ten years ago by another disgraced CEO. It was great to finally see some real vulnerabilities and fears from Patty, and I'm assuming that they were real because the story of the attack was corroborated by the cops. (Think about it: how many shows have you ever had to watch where you needed a corroborating witness in order to believe something? This is a very easy show to get obsessive about, not that I'm complaining. At all.)

With the bomb threat forcing work on the brief into Patty's apartment, there was more to see of Patty's relationship with her husband and son than ever before. We saw Patty in family therapy and Patty in a vulnerable moment, confessing her worries to her husband Phil. Then there was a subplot involving Patty's son Michael, who was having trouble at school and seemed to be proof that the manipulating apple doesn't fall far from the tree. To wit: he gained control of the school's computer system, passed off one of Patty's dreams as his own, and claimed to be controlling his mother. So, with her son making a run at her "Most Manipulative Person in New York City" title, Patty did the only thing she could do: staged a kidnapping and carted her son off to reform school. I had been waiting for a payoff to the Michael subplot all episode, and that was it – yes, Patty would really do that to her son. You would think I would stop being shocked by the nasty things Patty does at this point, but apparently not.

One of the things I really loved this week – not anything huge, just a little touch that added something special – was the awkward question of boss etiquette that Ellen had to wrestle with. Did she invite Patty to the engagement party or not? It's a tricky question even in the best of situations, but when your boss is Patty Hewes, it's impossible. Sure, Patty seemed to be angling for an invite, but then she did everything in her power to keep Ellen from making the party herself. Is it all a ploy to sever Ellen from her loved ones? In any case, Ellen's tentative invitation was a deliciously awkward moment, and proof that this chess match between Ellen and Patty isn't all about briefs and witnesses. Truly, Patty's power to make Ellen twist in the wind so completely, with just a word or a look, is awesome to behold.

In non-Patty related developments (yes, some things happened that didn't involve Patty, but no, they weren't as fascinating), Katie's old flame, Greg, is both her current flame and married, and Ellen of the Future claimed that someone tried to kill her before she found David dead. The question is who, and is it too obvious to say "one of Patty's minions"? There are two people on Damages who may be capable of such a thing – Patty and Frobisher – but, it must be pointed out, neither of them has reached the point of actually having a person killed. Patty has only had a dog killed, and Frobisher called off his hit. Technicalities, I know, but so far important – neither of them has passed the point of no return.

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America's Got Talent: They can be your heroes, baby

Tuesday was Heroes Night on America's Got Talent. Sadly, not Heroes Night, which would have been awesome – Greg Grunberg could have performed with his super-sweet band – but, literally, recognition of those people who inspired the contestants. Which was great, because we actually learned more about the contestants by listening to them talk about their heroes than we have by hearing them recite, one more time, how much this competition means to them.

And, America? You're my heroes. You put through the right eight acts. (Yes, I will even give you Sideswipe, because they did rather well this week.) The time had definitely come for the Duttons, who were being eclipsed by the other, fantastic musical acts. The Calypso Tumblers, though, were a lot of fun, and I was hoping they'd come back for this week. But it was clear that they weren't going to make it much further, and even if they had performed this week, I wouldn't have picked them for next week's finale, because fun wouldn't have been enough.

The interesting thing about this week's episode was how they revealed the top eight. In an effort to keep people watching, perhaps to bolster the ratings of The Singing Bee, the show didn't actually reveal who was going home until the very end, choosing instead to announce each act that was staying as it was time for each to perform. Much preferable to the alternative, a filler-packed results show. If American Idol did this, we wouldn't have to sit through those Wednesday night shows, but Fox would also lose a guaranteed top-ten show every week, so I don't think they'll be taking any cues from AGT. Anyway, my only issue with how America's Got Talent did this: Butterscotch. She was kept waiting until almost the very end, despite the complete non-suspense surrounding her. Honestly, Jerry, just say her name first and be done with it. We all know she's coming back.

Next week is the finale (already?), and out of the final eight, four will continue and battle it out next Tuesday. So let's check and see how they did this week:

Robert Hatcher: His performance of "Let's Stay Together" was probably my favorite that he's ever turned in. It was soulful, perfectly suited to him, and he worked the crowd better than he ever has before. However, he might have lost a few points by being the only contestant not to pick a friend or family member as his hero – instead, he chose Al Green. Robert, seriously: mom. Your default answer to "Who is your hero?" should always be your mom.

Julienne Irwin: She dedicated her song, "Crazy," to her friends back home, while sitting on what appeared to be a dense fog. Got enough mist on that stage there, AGT? Naturally, it was the sort of song that's perfect for her, and she managed to nail some of Patsy Cline's signature swooping notes, but I thought she struggled with the low notes. Piers, ironically, all but assured her a place in the final by saying that he thought she wouldn't make it to the final; I'll bet a ton of people picked up the phone and called just to prove the mean British guy wrong about the cute teenage girl.

Terry Fator: Terry had one of the most touching stories of the night about his hero: his sister Debbie, a big supporter of his who has rheumatoid arthritis. For her, he brought out "Johnny Vegas," easily his creepiest puppet yet, to sing "That's Amore" as Dean Martin and "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" as Tony Bennett. And I can't explain why this puppet bothered me so much, except to say: imagine that Dean Martin was turned into a Muppet, and then imagine that the resulting Muppet was watching you while you slept. It freaked me out, is what I'm saying. Anyway, Terry continues to amaze me, as I sit and wonder how he can sing so well with his mouth mostly closed. He revealed after his performance that he'd like to headline in Vegas, and I say he's perfectly suited for it, and any casino would be lucky to have him.

Cas Haley: He played "Easy" by Lionel Richie, for his parents and a late friend of his, and infused it with his signature quasi-reggae sound for a phenomenal performance. The judges loved it, I loved it, and there will have to be some massive voter fraud to keep him from coming back next week.

Jason Pritchett: He sang "If Tomorrow Never Comes" and dedicated it to his grandfather. It was a nice performance, one that inspired a lot of swaying and arm-waving from the audience members, but not a great one. For the first time, I think Robert Hatcher outsung him. But Piers buzzed him, and, as with Julienne, probably encouraged a lot of sympathy and/or "shut up, Piers" votes for Jason.

The Glamazons: They turned out their greatest show this week for a song that truly deserves a huge, over-the-top spectacle: the inimitable "It's Raining Men." They had buff shirtless guys and pyrotechnics galore, but it couldn't mask the fact that a couple members of the group are much, much weaker singers than the others. Ah, well. It was a truly great performance, true to their cabaret soul, and the story about their hero, the mother of one of the singers, was very sweet. I still love them.

Butterscotch: She sang "My Funny Valentine," dedicated to her jazz-loving grandparents, and accompanied herself on the piano. You know, we saw her play the piano in the Las Vegas callbacks, but I'd forgotten how good a pianist she really is. Is there anything she can't do? She blew the lid off the song, she's great, and if you didn't vote for her, it's okay – you just suck.

Sideswipe: They came out with something really different this week: an elaborately choreographed martial-arts pirate fight, dedicated to their old sensei. At first I wasn't sure about it – I thought that they were going to get into the same trouble that Popovich Comedy Pet Theater got into, for trying to tell a story with their act – but they turned me around. That was one spectacular pirate fight, and probably their best performance to date. Even Piers liked it, and he didn't even get a pirate wench on his lap, like the Hoff did.

Who should make it to the final: Cas Haley, Butterscotch, Julienne Irwin, Terry Fator

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Hell's Kitchen: History repeating

I'm having the strangest feeling of déjà vu. And it's all Gordon Ramsay's fault.

Both last season and this season on Hell's Kitchen, the competition has boiled down to a final two consisting of a confident, assertive, capable chef, and a less experienced chef who owes her rise to the top to a palate that won't quit and, quite possibly, Chef Ramsay's hots for her. I mean, it may be just a coincidence that Bonnie and Virginia were the cutest chefs of their respective seasons, or it may be what sustained them through several eliminations. But there's no denying that Rock and Heather were both the frontrunners of their respective seasons, and I'm not just saying that because so many bets came in on Rock at the beginning of the season that betting was suspended on bodog.com.

Last season, though, the choice was clear. I'd been a fan of Heather for a while, and I was so happy to see her in the finale because she was the best of her season. This season, I don't know. I've never really felt like Bonnie was ready – she needed to spend a little more time in a restaurant kitchen – and Rock – what's the opposite of "grow on"? "Grow off"? If it is, then Rock has grown off me. As the season progressed, he became more of a bully, and his temper flared up more, often disproportionately to whatever the little annoyance was that pissed him off.

So who's going to win next week? If history is any indication, it'll be Rock. And who do I want to win? Rock again. I'm not a fan of his, but he is the better chef, he knows his way around a kitchen, and he knows what he's doing. Besides, it's not like there's anyone else from the ranks of the flame-outs that I want to see come back from elimination and win this thing, except maybe for Brad or Julia. Man, how awesome would it be if Brad and Julia were fighting it out?

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Monday, August 06, 2007

'The 4400': WarGames

I'm sure I posited this to you guys a couple of weeks ago, but here's my theorem of The 4400: you can't go wrong with any episode with Marco and his geeky sidekicks. I don't know if they make the episodes good, or they just happen to be in good episodes, I just know that it's true. And, unsurprisingly, based on how important the nerds were to this week's episode, it was extremely entertaining.

(Spoilers ahead.)

This week, representatives from both sides – essentially everyone from the opening credits, plus Marco and his nerdly buddies P.J. and Brady – woke up inside a locked-down NTAC, with no memory of how they got there. At first the two sides only cared about attacking or defending themselves from the other side, but then the building started trying to kill all of them, and succeeded, in the cases of Meghan and Shawn. Turns out the entire situation was really just a war game concocted by extra crispy nerd P.J., who wanted to try and heal the rift between NTAC and Jordan's group, and the only way for them to get out was for the two sides to work together. Of course, "the two sides" really just meant "Tom and Jordan," the figureheads and men of action for each faction, so it's the two of them who not only had to create a power surge to kill the building, but used themselves to complete the circuit. So Tom and Jordan went out in a blaze of symbolism, clasping hands and sacrificing themselves for everyone.

The only problem was – it didn't really accomplish anything. Okay, yes, everyone woke up, and was fine, and the people who died weren't dead anymore, but the positives and negatives are still at odds, and Jordan even called Tom specifically to underline this fact. ("Hi, Tom. We may have sacrificed ourselves together for the greater good, but we're still not friends.") The only thing that's different is that there's a certain amount of respect between them now, as Tom called Collier "Jordan." Yeah, I'm sure Meghan and Shawn will be pleased to know that they didn't die in the simulation in vain. I understand the need to hit the reset button on a series and put everything back to normal, but – there couldn't be a little bit more cooperation? The beginnings of a deal, perhaps? A détente?

Ah, well. There were other détentes that the war game brought about, most notably an end to the weirdness between Diana and Marco, as Marco got an invitation to dinner. Yay! (Steal her back, Marco! Prove Maia wrong about that future husband guy!) Truces were also declared between Isabelle and Diana and Isabelle and Shawn – hmm, I'd almost forgotten how many people were mad at her. Granted, they were just momentary cease-fires, because you can't take all of the conflict out of the show, but Maia, at least, does seem to be cool with Isabelle now, for whatever reason. Maybe that apology last week really worked.

In all, this was probably my favorite episode of the season so far. Good story, great character development and interaction, and a couple of shocking moments when recurring characters were killed off. It was obvious that they were going to come back, but still, you don't see main characters die very often. And, of course, I've already mentioned the Marco and friends quotient. So maybe peace wasn't declared, but I had fun anyway.

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