Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/23/08

The Daytime Emmys tend to be a mixed bag of conflicting material: Juxtaposing kiddie programs with lurid talk fests, game shows and soaps is more mismatched than apples and oranges, but THE 35th ANNUAL DAYTIME EMMY AWARDS turned out to be much more coherent this year, and I believe that is because the children’s content was mostly relegated to a taped wrap-up, avoiding mixing Elmo with EJ. Still, “coherent” does not equal “entertaining,” and the show was the usual painful mishmash of clips, strained presenter “banter” and winners complaining about not having enough time to thank their fourth cousins and the guy who mowed their parents’ lawn when they were kids. In other words, it was an awards show, and no one watches an awards show to be entertained; they want to know who won. Here are my impressions…

• Cameron Mathison (Ryan, AMC) certainly is enthusiastic, but perhaps he could dial it back a little; the man has hosted TV shows before. He did a good job with the awkward idea of ambushing actors at their tables and making small talk, and the actors all behaved themselves. 
• Sarah Brown‘s (Claudia, GH) gothic princess dress was very eye-catching. (I know nothing about fashion or designers or designer fashions, as my colleagues can attest!) Supporting Actress winner Gina Tognoni (Dinah, GL) looked like she was wrapped in Christmas ribbon, which I suppose is appropriate. (And she name-checked me! … What? She meant some other “Joe”? Are you sure…?)
• The “Style Lounge” appeared dead; nobody was there unless Cam was talking to them on-camera. (Guess I’m not the only unstylish one…) 
• GL’s Marcy Rylan looked stunning, especially her hair, even if her dress was a bit too shapeless. And she did a great job of delivering her lines: No squinting at the TelePrompTer, or wooden recitation &dmash; she performed her lines. I hate the way actors at awards shows usually appear to have never read lines before. Granted, the material is horsespit, but hey, they’re supposed to be pros. And Marcy was a champ here. 
• The various actress clips contained too much crying — this will prove to be a theme all night long. Makes it look like soaps are all sobbing, all the time. 
• ONE LIFE TO LIVE was the first of the Outstanding Drama Series clips and it established a trend of overlighting and title cards that tended to make all the soaps look the same. All the clips appeared to have been created by the same editing team, so there is no individuality to the shows. Wait, I take that back. The GH clip package was almost all explosions and violence; but then again, that’s what the show is. It doesn’t have nearly as much kissing as the other shows. And something big fell on YOUNG AND RESTLESS’s cast. 
• When OLTL’s Kassie DePaiva comes out to present, she name-checked “the real Marty Haskell,” and I cringe. 
• It looked like Younger Actress winner Jennifer Landon (ex-Gwen, ATWT) raided Madonna’s wardrobe, circa 1985. 
• Regis Philbin was given the Lifetime Achievement award, and I think the audience deserved some kind of award for surviving the hour-by-hour recap of his entire 40+ year career. Reege, trust me, the page years were not as compelling as you think they were. 
• Lead Actress winner Jeanne Cooper (Katherine, Y&R) had the best acceptance speech, and was the highlight of the entire broadcast, hands-down. “I bet you thought I’d died,” she quipped. I almost died laughing. Why can’t all speeches be like this? 
• Of course no one could possibly know better than Susan Lucci (Erica, AMC) that it’s an honor just to be nominated. And few know better than GH’s Anthony Geary(Luke) what it feels like to win — again! Definitely worth interrupting your vacation for, eh, Tony? Congratulations! (Whaddaya want? I am Weekly‘s GH editor!) 
• Any ideas why Barbara Walters was presenting the Outstanding Drama award? Me neither. I mean, it’s not like she’s wearing a sandwich board flogging her book, right? Hey, GH won! That’s No. 10. Executive producer Jill Farren Phelps is dedicating the award to those people suffering from floods in the real world. 
And that was the show… Off the air by 10 p.m. Eastern, which is an accomplishment (and a mercy to viewers). I do wish the broadcast had included an “In Memoriam” tribute as a reminder of the talents we lost this year. I hope the show returns to New York in the future, so maybe I can attend again. Let me tell you from personal experience, if you ever get the chance to walk the red carpet with Eva La Rue (ex-Maria, AMC) and Michelle Trachtenberg (Georgina, GOSSIP GIRL; ex-Lily, AMC), do it!

ABC chose to give its post-Emmys time slot to a rebroadcast (or, more precisely, a repurposing) of SOAPnet’s new nighttime soap, MVP. An import from Canada, MVP follows the men of a fictional professional hockey team and the women who love and loathe them. As an avid hockey fan, I can assure you that there is not a shred of realism to the hockey angle. The very idea of team captain Adam snorting cocaineduring the season is ludicrous. Every player is subject to “no notice” drug testing. And the entry draft is held in June (in fact, it began June 20, the very day this show was broadcast!), not during the season, so showing that the Mustangs — newly flush with insurance cash from Adam’s suspicious death — would then draft Trevor is crazy. Now, perhaps they might be able to sign him after drafting him the previous summer, but not draft him. Of course, one can hardly expect realism from a show that depicts a fancy party at a player’s mansion where the valets beg for autographs and the waitresses hit on the guests. Adam’s funeral is held at center ice of their home area — complete with corpse! That never happens, and never will!

But take away the wacky stuff and you’re left with the clichés — the lady-killer with the collection of videos of his conquests; the team owner who’s secretly bankrupt; the cheating spouses; the wide-eyed young talent from the small town who loves his low-rent girlfriend. I had to laugh when Trevor was blinded by the sun reflecting off the limousine sent by the team — his future’s so bright he has to wear shades!) We know Gabe is Connie’s Prince Charming because he literally returns her lost shoe. C’mon! The storyline anvils were falling fast and furious, folks! Dan has visions of his baby mama and child? Please.

Nothing about this series says “hockey.” The guys could be involved in any high-paying jobs — lawyers, doctors, whatever. The only reason they skate is because the series is produced in Canada, where hockey is a national obsession. So where is the actual game footage, eh? The tagline for this series is “He shoots, she scores!” Well, I’m here to “save” you from making the mistake of watching this. To put it in hockey terms: “Kick save, Diliberto!”

Your precious time is much better spent with DOCTOR WHO. As befits an episode called “Silence in the Library,” the Doctor and Donna visit one the size of an entire planet — and it’s silent. Not a living entity in sight or earshot. This is the Doctor’s annual visit to the 51st century, but this time the writer is not executive producer Russell T Davies (who was just made a knight of the British Empire for his revival of DOCTOR WHO) but incoming EP Steven Moffat, who takes over with series five in 2010. (What do you expect from a series about a time-traveler?) Moffat wrote last season’s “Blink,” the truly scary one about the statues that move only when you aren’t looking at them — or when you blink, which I think stands as one of the most brilliant WHO scripts ever written. In “Blink,” the warning was “Don’t blink,” but for this new episode, the command is “Count the shadows.” Because they move. Moffat’s scripts are so brilliant because he makes the effort to really think about what’s scary and really think about what’s unique and cool about time travel. That’s how he came up with the idea of the Doctor recording messages on DVDs as a way of communicating across the decades in “Blink.” This time Moffat is examining mankind’s primal fear of the dark, positing that microscopic creatures called Vashta Nerada are responsible. “It’s what’s in the dark,” the Doctor intones, warning the others: “If you understand me, look very, very scared.” That, my friends, is writingto send any sci-fi fan to heaven.

The other thing that Moffat does better than anyone else (even Davies) is create characters. Sally Sparrow from “Blink” was one of the best one-off companions ever seen, and Prof. River Song of “Library” is already looking to be another spectacular creation. Song is leader of a band of archeologists who have come to investigate the library, which doesn’t impress the Doctor much (“I’m a time-traveler; I point and laugh at archeologists,” he sniffs.) Song illustrates Moffat’s clever use of time travel. She knows the Doctor from her past, but from his perspective he hasn’t met her yet. Her diary of adventures with the Doctor is a classic Moffat device. (Notice how the Doctor never asks to see it; he knows the perils of foreknowledge.) When Song realizes the Doctor doesn’t know her yet, it breaks her heart. So it’s a good thing the talented Alex Kingston (ex-Elizabeth, ER) was cast as Song. And even such minor characters as “Proper” Dave, “Other” Dave, and Miss Evangelista get their moments to shine.

Ah, poor Miss Evangelista. She was killed by the Vashta Nerada, microscopic swarm creatures that act like air-breathing piranhas. They strip their victims to the bone in seconds. Miss Evangelista was wearing a communication device wired directly into her nervous system, and its program picks up an imprint of the wearer at her moment of death, creating a “data ghost” that speaks the person’s last thoughts. Viewers heard poor Miss Evangelista’s heartbreaking final impressions of being lost and alone, and looking for her friend, Donna. “She’s a footprint on a beach, and the tide’s coming in,” the Doctor mused. “That was the most horrible thing I’ve ever seen,” Donna sobbed. (And she’s seen Ood with their brains mutilated to turn them into slaves.) Miss Evangelista’s end was the saddest thing I’ve ever seen on WHO — and possibly the saddest TV death since BRIAN’S SONG. I think Moffat just won himself another Hugo for that scene.

One thing that bothered me about this story was the Doctor withholding information about the Vashta Nerada. Why leave everyone else in the dark, so to speak? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) He shouldn’t have waited for Miss Evangelista to get eaten to explain.

The episode ended with a Donna cliff-hanger, as a robot doppelgänger with Donna’s face pronounced, “Donna Noble has left the library. Donna Noble has been saved.” What does that mean?

Hopefully, it means you will be back to read the next Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/20/08

Hmmm, it seems SWINGTOWN‘s Susan got religion — literally. She insisted on saying grace before breakfast and attending church. What brought this on? Could be that she saw her husband, Bruce, kissing Sylvia last week and finding a business card with her phone number? Or is it just plain old remorse over dipping her toe into the dating pool of swingers? Yep, that’s it: Furious, she tells her husband “Sex has consequences.” (And this was a decade before AIDS and the “safe sex” crusades.)

Grant Show is great at portraying Tom as smarmy but not threatening. He’s seems like the friendly “perv next door.”

Commercial digression: The first break includes an ad for a pain-reliever (I’m not naming it; buy an ad on this page, Mr. Pharmaceutical Maker!) that mentions Woodstock, and the next features a hair dye for men (boasting Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love,” no less!) and another version of the pain-pill spot. I’m sensing a theme…

One of the themes on the episode was privacy, expressed through a home-movie camera Tom and Trina used to capture “everything” they do (wink-wink). The Deckers even gifted the Millers with a camera of their own. Paul Simon‘s “Kodachrome” (about 35mm film) was also used on the show’s typically unsubtle soundtrack. Meanwhile, the battle for Susan’s attention (or, more figuratively, her soul) between Trina and old pal Janet reached a head when the two women got into a tug-of-war over a platter of Swedish meatballs. The struggle leads to Susan’s simmering sense of unease boiling over, so she rips down some hideous wallpaper she hates (it was put up by the previous owners and thus symbolized the past) and adjusted her dress to bare her shoulders; both acts thus “uncovering” the “new” Susan. She is woman, hear her roar. Samantha, the tough girl next door, continued to hold young B.J. spellbound, and perfectly encapsulated Janet’s feelings: “It sucks when you’re the one left behind.” It doesn’t matter if your own mother doesn’t recognize you or your best friend is becoming unrecognizably herself — it still hurts.

Laurie continued her pursuit of teacher Mr. Stevens. This week she managed to actually kiss him while Bob Dylan‘s “It Ain’t Me Babe” played. (BTW, if you like this song, skip Dylan’s version and go for the 1965 cover by The Turtles, which features, y’know, good singing; Dylan could write, but dude, c’mon his voice is an acquired taste…) CBS makes note several times that a lot of the music from each episode (though not all the tunes) are available at

The episode wrapped with Susan resolving her guilt by opting for a policy of honesty in her marriage with Bruce. She wants “all options on the table,” and for them to be completely open with each other. Honestly, what’s more soapy (and clichéd) than the ol’ “No more secrets/lies” pledge? That never goes well. I give Bruce and Susan until about 20 minutes into the next episode before somebody has a secret.

But it’s no secret that I will be back with the next installment of Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/17/08

With GREEK wrapped up for the semester, ABC Family has introduced THE MIDDLEMAN in the 8 o’clock slot on Mondays. Recognizing the concept in the commercials, I pulled out my The Middle Man comic books — not the trade collection, mind you; I bought the individual issues, which started coming out way back in 2005. I know the series is billed as based on the “graphic novels” by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, but I’m old enough to remember when these things were called comic books, so that’s what they are to me. Grillo-Marxuach, or “Javi,” as he likes to be called, wrote for the first two seasons of LOST, and is an executive producer on MEDIUM. Here, he serves as executive producer and wrote the teleplay based on his Viper Comics series. Or, if you’d like, transliterated his comic books. Aside from a few aesthetic choices (in the comics, Middle Man had beard stubble and Wendy was a redhead with a sexier costume), storyline adjustments (instead of an army of chimpanzees, the TV show went with a couple of gorillas) and making “Middleman” one word for TV, the original four-issue miniseries was virtually a storyboard for the show, with most of the dialogue taken verbatim.

Natalie Morales (CSI: MIAMI) plays Wendy Watson, an artist who is plucked from a life of meaningless temp jobs and thrust into a world where “comic book mad scientists” are real. Matt Keeslar portrays a man known only as “the Middleman,” a mysterious operative who keeps the world safe from hentai tentacle beasts, rogue wrestlers and artificially enhanced gorillas with tommy guns. That latter skill came in handy last night, when just such a simian went on a killing spree, rubbing out mobsters.

Digression: Did you ever wonder about the juxtaposition of commercials? During this break, a commercial flogging 99-cent Dairy Queen hot dogs was immediately followed by a spot promoting a $99 carpet-cleaning special from Stanley Steemer. Two 99s — is that like a LOST thing? (Or a GET SMART reference?)

Back on MIDDLEMAN, we discover that the titular hero is so charmingly square that he says things like “dagnabit” and, “Gosh, don’t you want to fight evil?” when recruiting Wendy to become his assistant. He claims “profanity cheapens the soul and weakens the mind,” and speaks in a rapid-fire monotone that reminded me of the snappy patter of GILMORE GIRLS, and employs big words and bigger concepts.

Apropos of its comic book roots, the dialogue tosses off numerous comic references, but it doesn’t care if you know who Gorilla Grodd is or the difference between the Barry Allen and Wally West versions of Flash. (If you do care, you’ll get a kick out of this.) Movie references include such minutiae as naming a business “The Andolini Social Club” — which any good fan of The Godfather will recognize as the birth name of Vito Corleone — and a gorilla that speaks in movie quotes. This is also the kind of show that, when Wendy accepts the sidekick job, her training montage includes dancing. ,p> Mary Lynn Rajskub guests as Dr. Gibbs, a scientist who conducts experiments on gorillas in order to build a secret army of primates to take over the world! Rajskub has great fun with the part, wearing black gloves and biting into her lines in a manner she never can as 24’s hard-bitten Chloe.

There’s no middle ground with THE MIDDLEMAN: I really enjoyed this fun lark of show. Sure, the budget is bit threadbare (which accounted for the sets looking small and cheesy), but hey, I was weaned on classic, wobbly-set DOCTOR WHO, so I’m attuned to a production that thrives more on dedication and love of the material than big bucks. THE MIDDLEMAN is more fun than a barrel of Thompson-toting monkeys, so I will be back next week.

DeAnna’s dates on THE BACHELORETTE included a helicopter ride that gave Twilley motion sickness, and DeAnna and one of the interchangeable-looking boys got to murder Frank Sinatra songs in Frank’s old studio. Tragic. And the night’s “surprise” — no cocktail party? Sorta. Actually, in an uncommon display of reality-show mercy, DeAnna decided not to torture the boys; instead, she put the losers out of their misery without going through the motions of the party. Yay, Dee! Can you imagine? An uncscripted series that doesn’t exploit someone’s embarrassment and pain? (BTW, how embarrassing is it that misspelled “DeAnna” as “Deanna” in its promos for the night’s episode?!)

Okay, it’s 10 p.m. and time for the kids to stop reading, as I flip over to premium cable…. I have been looking forward to SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL, starring Billie Piper — whom I absolutely adore as Rose from DOCTOR WHO (Rose is coming back in just a few short weeks!) — ever since I heard Showtime had bought the British series. It starts out on a good note (literally) with Amy Winehouse‘s “You Know I’m No Good” as a theme song, and gets right down to business. Which is only fitting for a series about a working girl. Piper plays Belle as no-nonsense professional who addresses the camera directly as she explains her life. “The first thing you should know about me is that I’m a whore,” she says. Cherie Lunghi plays Stephanie, Belle’s “agent.” If you followed my advice of June 9 and rented Excalibur, you would recognize Lunghi as Guinevere.

Belle is all about being cold and hard-core, but she is mortified that her parents might find out what she does, and she also keeps her life a secret from her boyfriend. (Who wants to bet on how many episodes it take for him to stumble upon the truth?) And she makes the classic mistake of starting to have feelings for one of her customers (ironically one who at first seems not to enjoy her services).

One of Belle’s guidelines is, “Be fabulous but forgettable.” After one episode, this series is neither fabulous nor forgettable, but it is fun. It’s coasting a bit on its naughty premise and the casting of Piper who, thanks to her tenure on DOCTOR WHO, is currently one of the best-known actresses in Britain. Still, it holds out the prospect of being a fun tease.

Come back for some more fun the next time I work the Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/16/08

On DOCTOR WHO, the Doctor and Donna land in 1926, and crash a crash a society party at Eddison Manor attended by noted mystery writer Agatha Christie. Soon enough, someone is offing party guests in a manner reminiscent of Christie’s novels. Yes, the Doctor is involved in a Whodunit? This story immediately reminded me of “Black Orchid,” a story in which the Fifth Doctor landed in 1925 and got invited to a masquerade ball at Cranleigh Hall, where someone was murdering guests in a manner not unlike a Christie story. No doubt you all recognized the Clue references (Prof. Peach, in the library, with a lead pipe, for example.) 

Comic Catherine Tate got to stretch her comedy muscles in this story, as when Donna essayed the period lingo, much to the Doctor’s horror, and he scolded her, “No, no, no, don’t do that. Don’t,” just as he did Rose in “Tooth and Claw” and Martha in “The Shakespeare Code.” Donna also tossed out plot and character ideas (“Copyright Donna Noble”) left and right, and everyone’s dialogue was full of the titles of Christie stories, such as “Appointment With Death” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” How funny was it when Donna incredulously suggested that Agatha Christie getting involved with a whodunit was about as believable as “Charles Dickens surrounded by ghosts on Christmas”? She must have missed “The Unquiet Dead.” The Doctor got in on the humor as well, describing an unseen adventure in which he tracked Charlemagne through the Ardennes after he was kidnapped by an insane computer (Check out the BBC Web site for that story.) 

The Doctor’s exuberance affects everything, and he reveled in assembling the guests in the drawing room to identify the murderer. He even made being poisoned seem fun: Someone tries to off him with cyanide, but the Doctor employed a variety of household products and a kiss from Donna to purge his body of the poison. (Shades of the way he dispelled the radiation from his body back in “Smith and Jones.”) This gave the Doctor the idea to “poison” the guests’ soup with pepper — the insecticidal effects of which revealed the wasp-like Vespiform, which had taken human shape. 

In identifying the Vespiform, the Doctor said there are several giant insectoid lifeforms native to other galaxies (these buggers are from the Silfrax galaxy), but would it have killed him to mention the Wirrn by name? The Wirrn were a race of giant, wasp-like insects from the Andromeda galaxy the Fourth Doctor foiled circa the 40th century or so. (He also could have mentioned the Zarbi and Menoptera, whom he met when his first incarnation visited “The Web Planet.”) And Donna referred to the Racnoss (spiders are not insects, but still…). 

I liked how the Doctor was starstruck to meet Christie, just like he was when encountering Shakespeare and Dickens. Our Doctor is a reader! And he turns up a copy of a Christie novel, “Death in the Clouds,” (with a cover featuring a giant wasp) published in the year 5 billion, proving she will go on to be the most popular novelist of all time. 

Well, here’s the “summer finale” of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, and it left us with a real jaw-dropping game-changer of a cliff-hanger. But we’ll get to that… 

The newly revived D’Anna held President Roslin, Baltar and most of Galactica‘s pilots hostage in exchange for the four Cylon “skin jobs” hiding in the fleet. Seems she needs the Final Five to locate Earth. Colonel Tigh gave in to his guilt and identified himself, Tyrol and Anders. President Adama, realizing that D’Anna would head off to Earth alone if she got the Cylons, threatened to kill them. 

Before Tigh revealed his identity, he, Tyrol and Anders were drawn to Starbuck’s Viper by strange music. Then, Tigh went to Admiral Adama to confess that he is secretly a Cylon. This revelation quite simply destroys Adama’s worldview: He has known Tigh for over 30 years (and points out how he used to have hair). After ordering Tigh taken to the airlock, Adama lets loose a howl of anguish and trashes his desk, then starts drinking and literally breaks down crying as he was forced to question everything about his life. Luckily, Lee was there to support his father. Kara was similarly stunned by the arrest of her husband, but kept her pain internalized. She took Tyrol’s and Anders’ advice and investigated her Viper, which she discovered was receiving a strange signal. 

Kara stopped Tigh’s execution because she was convinced the signal was related to Earth. (Had she forgotten the prophecy that she will lead mankind to its doom?) Lee identifies the signal as a Colonial Emergency Locator beacon, which no other wireless is receiving, so Kara argues it’s coming from Earth. Lee shares the info with the Cylons, and they ultimately agree to go to Earth together. When they arrive, they land in a ruined city, apparently destroyed by a nuclear holocaust. (Was that supposed to be the wreckage of the Brooklyn Bridge in that final shot?) So the Earth is a radioactive husk. In the words of President Adama: “Where do we go from here?” 

I would not lose heart yet, because I do not think the rag-tag fleet landed on ourEarth. Kara brought them to the wrong planet — which might be enough to doom the human race if it they didn’t have Admiral Adama and President Roslin at the helm. Speaking of which, wasn’t there a prophecy that the “dying leader” would not see the promised land? Roslin was right there in that landing party. Anyway, we will have plenty of time to discuss all these questions and more, since the final 10 episodes of the season have not yet been scheduled. Rumor has it they will not be seen before January — that’s right, 2009. At least we should have CAPRICA to keep us warm this fall/winter… 

USA Network has a new drama on Sunday nights called IN PLAIN SIGHT, which centers on a U.S. Marshall who deals with people entering the Witness Protection program. Mary McCormack (THE WEST WINGER) stars as Mary Shannon, and the series is set in Albuquerque, N.M., which are both good things. Mary tends to go undercover while taking care of her charges, which lends a charmingly retro feel to the proceedings, but so far the stories seem to hinge on witnesses who refuse to maintain the required low profile, and Mary has to protect them. Of course, few people would tune in to a series about a former mobster who leads a quiet life as an accountant in a picturesque desert community, so I guess that’s to be expected. 

And I expect you’ll be back for the next installment of Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/13/08

While I have always been a fan of time-travel stories, the 1970s was never even close to being my favorite era to visit. It still isn’t, but I must admit that SWINGTOWN is actually making me hate the ’70s less! 

Although set in the “Me Decade,” SWINGTOWN makes free use of modern storytelling tropes — for good and ill. First the good: The “opening dream sequence,” in which viewers think they’re seeing something shocking only to have it revealed as a dream. In this case, the episode opens with Janet baking a pie and then succumbing to the shirtless charms of swinger Tom (Grant Show, ex-Jake, MELROSE PLACE). Yes, I agree that it’s shocking: Janet is so wholesome and square, that she dreams of apple pie! Well, at least it wasn’t baked with rotten apples or anything symbolic like that. Janet’s pie does reappear at the end of the episode, symbolizing Janet’s bid to pull Susan back from the brink of depravity, but we’ll come back to that…. Janet might not need to fear, since Susan insisted to hubby Bruce, “We’re not swingers.” It doesn’t matter if the soundtrack was playing Blue Suede‘s “Hooked on a Feeling” — the Millers have vowed not to get hooked on swinging with the Deckers. 

We get another glimpse of airline pilot Tom Decker at work when his boss summons him to headquarters and scolds him for swinging with some of the stewardesses — because that might offend “women’s libbers.” Wow, I didn’t think they had political correctness and corporate sexual-harassment policies back in 1976! Turns out they didn’t. Bossman was just pranking Tom. In fact, Capt. Tom is getting a promotion to the Tokyo run! This sequence was an entertaining way to teach/remind viewers that social mores were very different back then, without lecturing. 

When the camera returned to the neighborhood, I noticed that the lighting was very flat and the color scheme consisted of a lot of muted browns. In fact, it all looked a lot like reruns of vintage sitcoms, or sort of like a faded Polaroid instant photograph (Kids, ask your grandparents!). All this made the images damned ugly (especially factoring in the hideous hair and fashions — ugh!) but really effective in conjuring a sense of time and place. 

Second episodes are an opportunity for the-powers-that-be to start fleshing out characters, but what I saw was more of the same from Trina: Is she always going to be on the prowl? Her face lit up when Susan introduced her to daughter Laurie. (Nowadays, Trina would be called a predator and introduced to TO CATCH A PREDATOR‘s Chris Hanson. Come to think of it, so would Laurie’s teacher, Mr. Stephens, who invites her to a feminist production of Waiting for Godot.) The Millers’ sympathetic son B.J. has already fallen for troubled neighbor Samantha, so he spends his allowance to buy her camping gear when she runs away from home. The saddest moment of the night came when B.J. told her that her mother hasn’t even noticed she’s gone. 

The evening’s action quickly moved to the Playboy Club, where Bruce’s boorish boss celebrated Bruce’s success trading Standard Oil on the commodities exchange (sothat’s what he does…). Luckily Tom has a key, so he, Trina and Susan can get into the club, where — as The Emotions‘s “Best of My Love” played — the Deckers ran into some old swinging partners: Sylvia and Brad, played by THE L WORD‘s Erin Daniels (Dana) and Mark Valley (ex-Jack, DAYS OF OUR LIVES). Is it a coincidence that Valley’s old character on BOSTON LEGAL was also named Brad? 

There was a funny bit when Laurie’s thick-headed boyfriend, Logan (Was that a male name in common usage way back then?), gave her an Aerosmith album (“Rocks”). I wonder how many viewers watched that and asked their parents what that “giant thing” was. It was an “LP,” which stood for Long-Playing album. One had to get up, walk over to the “record player,” and flip it over when the music stopped. Silly, I know, but hey — jogging was in vogue, and there were only three TV channels, so people had to do something with their time other than taking the Bee Gees’ advice — “You Should be Dancing” — and boogeying at the local disco.… 

Attorney Sylvia is a “women’s lib” character — as a former Playboy bunny herself, she unionized the local hutch and put herself through law school, so she didn’t see the cocktail waitress job as exploitive. Of course she stopped short of the 21st-century view of sexuality that holds women are empowered by wielding their sex appeal in occupations such as stripper or porn star, but, hey, the sexual revolution had to start somewhere. The Playboy Clubs have since been replaced by strip clubs full of “empowered women” shaking their…er, cotton tails. 

Keeping the open-minded theme going, Trina makes a point to tell Susan that she and Tom are not trying to force Susan and Bruce into the swinging lifestyle; it’s all about free will. Susan’s old pal Janet, however, is trying to keep Susan in her old, familiar rut. She baked Susan an apple pie (I promised that pie would be back…) and left it on the stoop, but came to the realization that Susan had left her behind. Not even playing “Love Will Find a Way” could convince her Susan would find her way back to the old neighborhood. 

Remember when I suggested that SWINGTOWN uses modern storytelling techniques for good and ill? The “ill” comes at the end, when the show succumbs to the de rigueur closing musical montage (Damn you, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES! Damn you all to hell!), but at least SWINGTOWN resists using a closing narration. The last thing this show needs is the overwrought, middle-school-girl’s-diary philosophizing of DESPERATE or the overly glossy patina of nostalgia like THE WONDER YEARS

And with that, I close this edition of Night Shift and wonder what, er, wonders tonight’s summer finale of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA will bring. Will D’Anna keeps her promise to reveal the identities of the Final Five models? In case she does, my prediction for the 12th model (and it is only a guess based on my careful viewing) is: Kara “Starbuck” Thrace.

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/10/08

Last night was the season finale of GREEK, and the theme was Spring Break. Hey, I’m easy; all the show had to do to win a favorable review was show me Spencer Grammer (Casey) in a bikini. And the show took care of that requirement before the opening credits. Passing grade.

“Have fun perpetuating stereotypes of reckless youth, Rusty!” Dale shouted to his roommate as he headed for Myrtle Beach. But he could have been talking about GREEK itself. One thing I really enjoy about this show is that it doesn’t shy away from the realities of college life, like fake IDs, drinking and sex — all of which are normally on copious display at Spring Break. It makes the show feel real and modern. The idea of doing a show about the Greek system without confronting sex and drinking would be ludicrous. However, GREEK also is not shy about embracing the…shall we say, “conventions” of soap storytelling. Therefore, on this Spring Break trip, the Zeta Beta girls ran into that old chestnut, trouble with their hotel reservations. The sisters were not allotted the correct number of rooms, so they had to share. (The hospitality industry really should consider a class-action suit against the entire entertainment industry for making it look like no hotel anywhere can ever hold a reservation!) I was relieved that this nod to expected clichés did not figure prominently in the storyline. Instead, GREEK went with another cliché, having Casey run into Evan out of all the tens of thousands of spring breakers crammed into bars. She also ran into her otherex, Cappie, quite a bit on her quest to complete her list of activities (Best line of the night: “A drinking game — with your gag reflex?” — Cappie to Casey. Just typing that made me smile again.)

It was great to see Casey relax and unwind a bit. Fresh off trashing her life plan by sabotaging law school last week, I expected her to be a wreck, but she seemed liberated. (And her late-night discussion with Cappie about the boundless future confirmed that.) Cappie noted that she seemed like the old Casey. When the episode began, Casey was marshalling her sisters like a general; she’s such a control freak that even playtime is tightly regulated. By the end, she was bounding into the surf naked. Speaking of which, the only thing better than seeing Casey unwind was seeing her unwind in a bikini. BFF Ashleigh also put on a bathing suit, but hers was “for display purposes only” — not to get wet or anything. Besides, she was hunting for a mysterious hottie who left her with nothing but a bottle-opening sandal to hint at his identity. (Can you say “reverse Cinderella”?) Something was really bothering Rebecca — and not just seeing Cappie hanging with Casey every place she looked. She was so upset that she entered a wet T-shirt contest to get attention. No, ABC Family has not loosened up enough to actually show that, so Cappie was able to talk her out of going through with it. An irate admirer reacted by dropping Cappie with one punch. Granted, it was a sucker punch, but still — just one sucker punch. And it didn’t end entirely badly for him: Casey took him for a walk on the beach, where they worked out their issues and kissed.

Calvin and Rusty didn’t kiss — though Calvin did share a very public kiss with current boyfriend, Michael, a few weeks ago —but they did work out (and hug out) their issues, after a series of travel misadventures that landed them in the hands of amateur counselor Dale. When I first started watching GREEK, I assumed that Rusty and Calvin were either a couple on the outs, or on their way toward each other. But Rusty is still (technically) straight. Next season could be very soapy indeed. Evan and Frannie acknowledged that they both have personal agendas (he wanted to hurt Casey; she wanted to bag a rich boy), but hooked up anyway. And we ultimately learned that Rebecca was acting out because her Senator father had been implicated in a call-girl scandal and she learned about it from a reporter. Luckily, Cappie had the sense and sensitivity to go to her and offer his support when he saw the story on the news. So does that mean his kiss with Casey meant nothing? I guess we will have to wait until season 2.

Viewers take note: Season 1 is over, but the school year still is not, so there’s a lot of life left in GREEK yet. This fun series will be back for Season 2 in September. The next installment of Night Shift will be here much sooner than that…

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/9/08

As I expected, DOCTOR WHO kicked off with a bit of chicanery, as “The Doctor’s Daughter” was not exactly what she seemed to be. (But she was also more — see my note at the very end of this section.) To the show’s credit, it didn’t try to pretend “Jenny” was anything other than a sort of clone grown from the Doctor’s genetic material.

What happened was, the TARDIS delivered the crew to the planet Messaline, where a group of humans was locked in a generations-long war with the fish-like Hath. Both sides create instant soldiers via genetic manipulation. Martha gets separated and falls in with the Hath, while the Doctor and Donna are brought before General Cobb, the human leader with a curiously regal voice (which I quickly recognized as belonging to Nigel Terry, the man who played King Arthur in director John Boorman‘s magnificent Excalibur, the best-ever screen adaptation of the Arthur legend. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and add this grim, violent, majestic yarn to your Netflix queue). Cobb is determined to wipe out all the Hath, and if there’s one thing that gets the Doctor’s back up, it’s genocide.

Complicating things, the Doctor accidentally provides both sides with the location of the Source, which both sides of the war believe will give them ultimate victory. The race to the Source is on, and along the way the Doctor and Donna figure out that the humans are not living in deserted ruins, they are living in a new building that hasn’t been occupied yet because it’s too new. The genetic machines produced up to 20 generations and thousands of soldiers a day, so the “generations-long war” has been going on for only a week. The Doctor recognizes that the Source is a terraforming machine designed to make the harsh planet habitable, and unleashes its power so human and Hath can live together in peace. That really fraks off Cobb, who tries to shoot the Doctor, but Jenny takes the bullet for him. Despite having two hearts like a proper Gallifreyan, Jenny shows no signs of regenerating, and the Doctor leaves her for dead. After he leaves, however, Jenny does regenerate — though her appearance does not change, and she blasts off in a shuttle to adventure among the stars.

This episode continues the season-long theme addressing offspring/generational conflict, and asks important questions about family and what it means to be human (or, half-Gallifreyan, in the case of the Doctor/Jenny). Donna suggested Jenny wasn’t a “real” person, and the Doctor was slow to accept Jenny as a Time Lady, because being being a Time Lord represented “a shared code,” a “sum of knowledge” and “a shared suffering.” But all of that was “gone forever,” because “there was a war.” Cobb’s genocidal aspirations touched a nerve in the Doctor because of what he did in the Last Great Time War to destroy the Daleks and his own people. Jenny touched a nerve because she reminded him of the pain of losing his “real” family. “I’ve been a father before,” the Doctor confessed, admitting that Jenny reminds him of “the hole [his family] left and the pain that filled it. When they died, that part of me died with them.” Nevertheless, Donna egged the Doctor into accepting Jenny, only to have her die in his arms, just like the Master, who suppressed his own regeneration.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss Jenny’s regeneration crisis. The Doctor, perhaps unique among Time Lords, has consistently demonstrated no control over his regenerations, so Jenny apparently inherited his faulty proclivity. Last season, the Master refused to regenerate. During the Fourth Doctor’s tenure, Romana voluntarily regenerated and even chose her new appearance on a whim. And waaaaay back in the day, the High Council of Time Lords forced the Second Doctor to regenerate into his Third persona, so clearly some Time Lords have some control over the process. When the Seventh Doctor was shot, he was taken to a hospital in San Francisco, where physicians gave him an anesthetic that accidentally delayed his regeneration until after he had been sent to the morgue. His Eighth persona noted that the process had been delayed almost “too long.”

The design of the Hath was terrific; the execution, less so. I loved the little jar of fluid, but the limited movement of the mask made it look a little too fake. And I assume the producers avoided giving them translators because such devices figured prominently in the Ood story.

Yay, the Doctor is back to carrying toys in his pockets! The Fourth Doctor was partial to yo-yos, while the Fifth carried a cricket ball and the Seventh had jacks to pass the time.

Finally, Georgia Moffett, who portrayed Jenny, is the daughter of Peter Davison, who played the Fifth Doctor — which means she truly is the Doctor’s daughter!

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA did a little time-traveling of its own, showing us what happened to the rebel Cylon basestar while we viewers were with the fleet last week. It turned out that the hybrid did not kidnap Roslin, Baltar, et. al — she was pursuing the resurrection hub, according to plan.

During the various jumps, Roslin had visions of joining the late priestess Elosha on a deserted Galactica, where Roslin glimpses the future and sees herself dying with the devoted Bill Adama at her bedside. Elosha accuses Roslin of lacking empathy — and she’s not even around in the waking world, where a bloodthirsty Roslin plans to take out the resurrection hub and orders Helo to bring D’Anna directly to her, cutting out their Cylon allies. “I cannot afford to be sentimental,” she growled. Helo, meanwhile, ran into an Eight that had accessed Athena’s memories, and thus learned he likes back rubs. That freaked out Karl.

At the boxing facility, Cavil and Boomer awakened D’Anna and filled her in on the civil war she started. D’Anna commented on the fickle nature of Eights — the majority of whom are aligned against Cavil’s Ones. On cue, the rebel basestar appears, and when D’Anna realizes the rebels want to destroy the hub, she kills Cavil. Helo and Athena board the hub and capture D’Anna, so the rest of the combined Colonial/Cylon fleet nuke the hub in a spectacular battle. During the battle, Baltar received a nasty wound to his side. Roslin finds him and patches his wound with a medkit. Delirious, Baltar confesses, “I gave the access codes to the Cylons.” Horrified, Roslin removes the bandages and lets Baltar bleed while he begs for help. When the basestar jumps again, Elosha admonishes Roslin not to decide humanity’s fate on a case-by-case basis, so back in the real world Roslin tries to save the dying Baltar. Helo brings the hijacked D’Anna to Roslin, and we see the scene teased in the promos: D’Anna tells Roslin that she is one of the Final Five Cylons. Then D’Anna claimed to be frakking with Roslin’s head; she realizes that knowledge is the only thing keeping her alive, and it would be foolhardy to show her cards too soon — especially now that the resurrection hub has been destroyed (along with the boxing facility) and she is the last Model Three in the universe. She will name the Final Five only when they are back with the fleet. After the basestar returned to the rendezvous point, Adama came aboard and embraced Roslin, who told him she loves him. “About time,” he growled.

This episode carried on the theme of identity and dying that began earlier in the evening on DOCTOR WHO. Athena was heartbroken that Helo broke the bargain with the Cylons, especially after she made a stirring speech about trust and unity to the combined Colonial/Cylon fighting force: A sea of Sixes and Eights stood in flight suits, shoulder-to-shoulder with Colonial Viper pilots, as Athena pledged the Cylons would sacrifice their immortality both for the humans, and to give their lives meaning.

Was Boomer killed, or did she make it out of the boxing facility? She disappeared when D’Anna killed Cavil, and could have made it to a ship in time, but did she? I hope so.

And I hope you’ll be back for the next installment of Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera