Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/23/08

Let’s start at the end of the evening, shall we…with GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT (no relation to this column). I’ll say this for the season two premiere: It packed more soap tropes into its hour than the mothership manages in a week. Last night we saw complicated relationships among family and friends, rivalries, love affairs, frustrated romance, dudes without shirts and babes in bras, old favorites, recasts and new characters — even the death of a recurring character! And there was actual hospital stuff. What NS lacked, I didn’t miss: There were no mobsters, no one was murdered and no children were shot. 

I thought the new characters could have been introduced in a more appealing manner. Claire was introduced stripping down after a failed date and traded barbs with newbie Kyle. It felt like NS wanted to establish Claire and Kyle as businesslike and competent, but they just seemed bitchy. How about trying to make us like characters on first blush? In addition to recasting Dr. Leo Julian (the character is now played by Ethan Raines, the brother of former portrayer Dominic), the character was reimagined from laid-back dude to snippy and somewhat sarcastic and dictatorial. Y’know, the way disgusted attendings usually treat interns on medical shows. And why — why — would the chief of staff remove a shard of glass from his own neck? I’m no doctor, but I know from watching medical shows that you don’t blindly yank the foreign object out of a puncture wound, because it acts like a plug. Sheesh! 

On the plus side: the returns of Billy Dee Williams‘ Toussaint and Antonio Sabato Jr.‘s Jagger. Jagger’s first tenure was waaaay before my time, so I’m intrigued to learn more about Robin’s relationship with her “incredibly dear old friend.” Dr. Scorpio also got a sudden old friend from medical school in the form of Dr. Saira Batra, the first Indian-American doctor in GH history. (It would have been better if she were portrayed by an Indian actress, but…baby steps.) I already know I won’t like her mystical-magical holistic philosophy, but that’s just the way the character is written. How else to strike sparks with hotshot surgeon Leo? (BTW, why is Leo suddenly such a prude? The co-ed locker room has been a fixture for many months; he should be used to the sight of panties by now.) 

I did like the new hospital set, but NS seriously needs to invest in a couple of beds. Or at least one, then keep redressing it so multiple characters can pretend they don’t all sleep and have sex on couches. In fact, instead of kicking off with Robin and Patrick getting dirty in the shower, this season began with the impending parents basking in the afterglow — on her couch. Then they bickered like an old married couple about shopping for a new couch. Excuse me, folks, but how about buying abed

Was the debut perfect? Of course not, but it was promising, and achieved its goal of being intriguing enough to make me tune in next week. I’m hoping for a duet between Toussaint and Dr. Noah Drake, but I’m not holding my breath. 

I finally managed to watch an entire DEADLIEST CATCH on Discovery Channel — just in time for the season finale. I’ve caught bits and pieces of the series (now in its fourth season) and I was instantly hooked. (Sorry…I’ll stop with the fishy puns. I mean…oh, never mind.) This highly addictive series follows the fortunes of a fleet of boats trawling the Bering Sea for king crabs. It’s alarmingly dangerous work, with serious injury almost a certainty amid all the dangerous gear and astonishingly bad weather. One guy shattered his pelvis in a fall from a ladder and the crew repaired him aboard the ship with wires and screws…as if he were some balky piece of equipment. Last night, the guys were chipping ice off the boats with mallets and jackhammers — which was disconcerting to watch while enduring the East Coast’s recent heat wave. The minus-5-degree water looked almost inviting! I couldn’t help wondering why only king crab are captured in the pots (Does anyone out there know the secret?), and it seemed a little suspicious that so many of the crews met their quota on the last day of the season (in one case, their very last pot put them over the top); the drama seemed a little too convenient. In return for four months of wet, frozen hell, each crew member received between $47,000 and $68,000 — depending on the boat’s haul. Almost seems worth it. Almost. But then, a grim coda to the finale noted that a different fishing vessel sank with all hands aboard, and five men actually died. 

The all-too-brief RESCUE ME minisode on FX cast usually dim-witted Mikey as a spelling savant who won bets with the boys by spelling words like plethora andasthma. In a classic psyche-out, though, Lou tripped him up by challenging Mikey to spell his own name. After last week’s harrowing flashback to Sept. 11 with a living, breathing Jimmy, last night’s lark was welcome comic relief. 

After that five-minute interlude, I was flipping channels when I suddenly spotted the incredibly beautiful BATTLESTAR GALACTICA babe Grace Park (Sharon/Boomer/Athena), which reminded me that her new show, THE CLEANER, was on A&E. Her character, Akani, is part of some kind of team that helps detox drug users — think of a sort of a really aggressive intervention. Only Benjamin Bratt‘s William and his team don’t surprise you at your home, they use surveillance techniques to track you down. This “extreme intervention” team is supposed to be based on real people, but William comes across as more smug than world-weary, and he sounds like he’s preaching rather than offering advice. “I’m the role model?” William asks at one point. “That can’t be good.” It’s not. 

But it would be good for you to come back for the next installment of Joe Diliberto: Night Shift…um, I mean, er, Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/22/08

This week’s episode of THE MIDDLEMAN reminded me a lot of vintage DOCTOR WHO — say, anywhere from season 12 (1974) through 25. (Season 26 had taken a markedly darker and more serious turn by the time of the 1989 hiatus.) What I mean by that is, classic WHO subsisted more on imagination, a sense of fun and the dedication of the creators than lavish budgets. WHO was famous for sets that literally wobbled and actors messing up oncamera. But the entire production was so suffused with love for the material that it didn’t matter if the “monsters” were made from plastic trash bags or the “aliens” wore painted scuba masks. I get a similar vibe from MIDDLEMAN; although the episode budgets are larger than any show from the 1970s, it’s easy to see the cost-cutting in the sparse sets and tiny casts. But the show boasts big ideas, stars that really sell the material and a joie de vivre that would do the Fourth Doctor proud. 

It was the light-hearted zest that caught my attention this week, from the “duck-sucking” warp hole to Lacey and MM’s secret dedication to Varsity Fanclub (which, it turns out, is a real group; I looked ‘em up). Whether it was Lacey mimicking the boy band’s choreography or MM mouthing their lyrics, the show took advantage of is stunt casting to illuminate character. The plot suggested that VFC were alien exiles of some type — and actually skirted parody of that trendy, lawsuit-happy religion that, er, cruises through Hollywood power circles. (I said it skirted parody; don’t sue!) I was actually more interested in Pip’s gallery show of paintings he copied from Wendy, called, “Deus ex Pip.” (How funny is that for an art show name?). The grotesquely smarmy Pip is, of course, played by Drew Tyler Bell (ex-Thomas, THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL), and his envy of Wendy is hilarious. MM was aghast at Pip’s plagiarism. “Art is one of the things that makes the world worth saving,” he intoned. Speaking of art, Lacey earlier called martial arts “the most aggressive of the arts” — and I’m still laughing at that line. Brit Morgan is not only pretty, she can deliver laugh lines like “hellaciously byzantine revenge” with aplomb. 

Have I mentioned how much I love the black “censor bars” that cover a character’s mouth whenever he/she swears? Bleeping the sound is funny enough, but the black bars kill me. MM’s exclamations of the week: “I’m as serious as Mao Zedong’s heart attack!” and “Chocoholics Anonymous!” 

On SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL, Belle was distraught because a bad review of her “services” on a website resulted in a precipitous drop in bookings. “Who listens to the critics?” she asked the camera — and, by extension, this blog — and I can only hope the answer is “Lots of people,” or I’m wasting our time. The remedy for Belle’s problem was obvious, but it took a while to get there. Meanwhile, she had to deal with a creepy client cast off by another girl. He didn’t really do much, but his manner was very off-putting, especially the way he wouldn’t allow her to check in with her service. His blandness reminded me of the banality of evil. 

Anyway, since Hannah had some free time, Ben convinced her to spend some of it seeing how the other half lived, so she went to the park to observe citizens: rushing to work, wrestling with children — talk about banality! I laughed when Hannah gave her sister a call, because she’s named Jackie — which is the name of Billie Piper‘s character’s mother on DOCTOR WHO. Hannah met a regular guy and took him home — but didn’t charge him. She had virtually forgotten how to entertain a non-professional caller. (All she had in her kitchen was champagne and chips.) She couldn’t figure out how to get the guy to leave — until she summoned Ben, who sent him packing. After seeing how unhappy Hannah was, Ben went online and posted a glowing review of Hannah, putting her back to work. And that’s the power of the web.

Why don’t you use the power of the Web to surf back here for the next Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/21/08

This week’s DOCTOR WHO was the true “Doctor Lite” episode — star David Tennant barely appeared (and filmed all his scenes in one day) — as fans got to see Donna live another alternate-reality version of her life. (The last one was just a few weeks ago in the episode “Forest of the Dead.”) But the big news was the full return of Rose.Billie Piper is back, and oh, how I’ve missed her. (It’s not dissing Freema Agyeman‘s Martha or Catherine Tate‘s Donna to love Rose…)

This week, Donna visited a fortune teller played by Chipo Chung (who you may remember as Chanthro, the beetle woman who assisted Prof. Yana in last season’s “Utopia”). While Donna was distracted by the woman’s entreaties to “change the world” by wishing she had made a different choice at a key juncture of her life, a strange, beetle-type creature attached itself to her back and enabled Donna to actually change her personal history. Remember waaaay back in the episode “The Fires of Pompeii,” when Lucius the soothsayer told Donna “There’s something on your back”? This is what he was talking about.

Because Donna never took her temp job at H.C. Clements, she never met Lance and got tangled up with the Empress of the Racnoss and never became the titular “Runaway Bride.” In this timeline, Donna watched the Racnoss webstar from a distance instead of meeting the Doctor; she wasn’t there to snap him out of his rage when he drained the Thames — so the Doctor died. In another change, Rose appeared — but too late to save the Doctor. So fans got to see other London events unfold from the perspective of the common person, as when Royal Hope Hospital was transported to the moon (in “Smith and Jones”). Without the Doctor, his former companion Sarah Jane Smith saved the day, but at the cost of her own life, as well as those of Luke, Maria and Clyde. (Thus, no SARAH JANE ADVENTURES in this reality.) The Adipose took over America because the Doctor and Donna never became “Partners in Crime.” And the Sontarans’ Atmos stratagem was foiled by “a little band of fighters” — presumably Capt. Jack and TORCHWOOD. Through it all, Rose kept appearing, because without the Doctor, a great force of “Darkness” was gathering and threatening all realities. After the space Titanic crashed into Buckingham Palace and destroyed London in a nuclear holocaust — because the Doctor wasn’t there to avert the “Voyage of the Damned” — Rose revealed, “I’ve been pulled across from a different universe” — only hinting at the enormity of the threat that was actually extinguishing stars! Rose never told Donna her name, even when she was trying to convince mouthy Ms. Noble, “You’re the most important woman in the whole of creation.” Still, one can hardly blame her — Rose also had to break the news that while only Donna could save the multiverse, it would cost her her life. (“Sorry. I’m so sorry,” Rose said, adopting the Doctor’s catchphrase.)

When Donna finally agreed to help, Rose took her to UNIT headquarters, where the TARDIS was cannibalized to create a crude time machine. (Since Rose worked with Torchwood on her version of Earth, I would have expected her to seek out her parallel institute in this world — Torchwood Cardiff or the branch up in Glasgow.) Rose showed Donna the previously invisible beetle, which reminded me ot the giant spider from Metebellis 3 that Sarah Jane had on her back in the Third Doctor story, “Planet of the Spiders.” Tate, who is known mostly as a comedienne in Great Britain, got to really showcase her dramatic acting skills as Donna chose to sacrifice herself to save the multiverse. Rose sent Donna back in time to undo her change and carry a message to the Doctor: “Bad Wolf.”

With the universe back on the right track, the Doctor mused that the Time Beetle was part of “the Trickster’s brigade” — another reference to THE SARAH JANE ADVENTURES. (The Doctor noted that ordinarily Time adapts to the changes wrought by the beetle — presumably the Reapers from “Father’s Day” appear and repair Time — but why were there no Reapers this time?) When Donna relayed the “Bad Wolf” message, the Doctor realized she had been in contact with Rose, and the Bad Wolf was code for the end of the universe. If the Doctor is scared, then you know the situation is dire, but the gloom was reinforced by the tolling of the TARDIS Cloister Bell — last heard last season in “The Sound of Drums,” when evil Time Lord the Master took over the world, and “Time Crash,” when the 10th and Fifth Doctors crossed time streams. It means disaster is coming.

And it would surely be a disaster for you to miss the next installment of Night Shift.

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/18/08

My education in all things espionage-y got under way as soon as BURN NOTICE fired up last night: In the very first scene, ex-spy Michael (Jeffrey Donovan, ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) gave a crash course in stegenography — the art of hiding coded messages in such a way that no one even realizes there is a message. In this case, Michael’s beautiful and mysterious new handler, Carla (Tricia Helfer, Six, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) hid a message in a crossword puzzle — which is apparently a common tactic in the real spy world. Carla set up a meet that demonstrated her unnamed organization is adept at undercover work and has its own personnel and resources.

Carla demanded Michael duplicate a high-tech security badge for some unknown reason, so he went to master forger Nefzi (Erik Avari, ex-Chandra Suresh, HEROES). The mystery deepens: Why does Carla need Michael to do this stuff? Was he burned and planted in Miami specifically to be available to Carla? Clever Michael figured out that Carla speaks Arabic with a Khurdish accent, so she was probably once stationed in the Middle East. And it was cute how Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar) was instantly antagonistic toward Carla — jealous much, Fi?

Meanwhile, Sam (Bruce Campbell, Ash from the Evil Dead flicks) was approached by a comely damsel-in-distress who wanted to enlist Michael’s help. Sophia (Jacqueline Piñol, ex-Rikki, CSI: NY; ex-Sherry, GENERAL HOSPITAL) turned out to be a DEA agent who got in over her head with gangsta boyfriend Raul (Kevin Alejandro; ex-Santos, UGLY BETTY; ex-Dominic, YOUNG AND RESTLESS) while working undercover in a drug operation. Helping her interfered with Michael’s gig for Carla — which made his handler unhappy. And when she’s unhappy she kills people — and threatens Michael’s mama, Madeline (CAGNEY & LACEY’s Sharon Gless).

Until this episode, I had no idea how easy it is for counterfeiters to “wash” a check: All you need is some checks, nail-polish remover and a pen. Oh, and another secret ingredient. See, series creator Matt Nix always leaves out a vital step or two when detailing secret/dangerous/illegal activities, so no misguided kids can actually try this stuff at home! However (without leaving anything out), Michael also explained how to get skeptical strangers to trust you: Let them think they have discovered some dirty little secret of yours, because trusting a stranger is all about perceived leverage. And never volunteer a lie; let the bad guy drag it out of you (by force if necessary), so he thinks it’s his idea. Another handy tip: An obnoxious guy is a better distraction for thugs than a pretty girl, because the thugs will want the babe to stick around, but the jerk gets sent packing as soon as he has served his purpose. Oh, and Carla demonstrated a sneaky way to kill a man without leaving any traces: Pump in nitrogen to displace all the oxygen from a room. (I hope there’s more to it than just slipping in a hose; after all, how does the oxygen get replaced rather than the native nitrogen, which naturally makes up 70 percent of our atmosphere?)

There was another fun bit with Madeline’s coffee-maker — which could make for a nice running gag, perhaps replacing last year’s yogurt jokes. However, I was concerned that Sophia mentioned hearing “rumors” about Michael helping people. That means he’s becoming known — which is not a good thing for a secret agent (James Bond notwithstanding).

But it would be good if you return for the next installment of Night Shift, in which we will discuss the return of Billie Piper‘s Rose to DOCTOR WHO!

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/15/08

The new MIDDLEMAN devoted some time to filling in lovely Lacey’s backstory — she has issues with her mother, “Dr. Barbara Thornfield, M.D., Ph.D.,” who would rather chat with Henry Kissinger than attend her daughter’s spoken-word performance.

Then again, her BFF Wendy also had trouble making the scene, since this week’s “pesky temp emergency” involved trout-eating zombies. Yes, you read that right: zombies obsessed with eating trout. Which is more than a little strange, since the outbreak was blamed on the venomous bite of the “Peruvian Flying Pike.” (Which isexactly what is sounds like.) The venom turned humans into zombies, so Middle Man and Dub-dub had to find a cure before the disease could make the victims’ “heart explode like a sausage casing full of weasels!” That MM sure knows how to turn a phrase (Exclamation of the week: “Flowers for Algernon!”)

There were two soap shout-outs: Drew Tyler Bell (ex-Thomas, BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL) popped in to play Pip, a snotty painter/monologist. And Noser was asked if he could play Rick Springfield‘s “Jesse’s Girl.” (He knew it, but didn’t play it.) And the pop-culture references did not stop there. The first victim of a zombie attack was named “Rod Argent” — a clear homage to Italian horror filmmaker Dario Argento, producer of the zombie masterpiece Dawn of the Dead. And MM invoked Japanese martial-arts master Sonny Chiba.

In end, the zombies were defeated, Lacey and Wendy made up, and Lacey’s “No Animal Testing” T-shirt made me a believer.

And I believe this week’s SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL was my favorite episode yet. After exposing her secret to best bud Ben last week, Belle managed to draw him into conversation about her line of work. “Would you believe me if I said I enjoyed it?” she asked. While they talked, Billie Piper fixed Ben with pained expression of sympathy that almost looked like she was feeling sorry for him for having to deal with the reveal. Piper’s capacity to project compassion could be the best thing about her portrayal. Even when she’s shooting the camera a snarky glance, I never get the sense that Belle is judging her clients. We learned the “secret origin” of Belle: When a particularly good one-night stand handed Hannah a lot more than cab fare the next morning, she realized she had been paid for sex. And she liked it.

Alas, the heart-to-heart was interrupted when duty called… literally. “Do you do girls?” Belle’s agent asked. “I’m hardly a girl’s girl,” Belle’s voice-over told us, “but I will go gay for pay.” Turned out Belle’s regular Wednesday client, Ashok, wanted a threesome. So Belle teamed up with a new girl, Naomi. And after a fun session (“The pleasure was half mine,” Belle japed), Belle and Naomi became girlfriends. No, notthat sort of girlfriends — gal pals. But when Ashok requested Naomi instead of Belle the next Wednesday, Belle was devastated. Sobbing, she summoned good ol’ Ben to share her pain. Then Ben asked her, “Will you be my best man?”

Will you come back for the next installment of Night Shift?

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/14/08

Well, it was bound to happen, and this was the week DOCTOR WHO delivered a major clunker. “Midnight” was easily the weakest episode of the season — and perhaps David Tennant‘s entire run.

“A space truck full of strangers traveling across a diamond planet called Midnight — what could go wrong?” the Doctor asked. Plenty, as it turned out. A large part of the problem stemmed from this being the 10th episode, the traditional money-saving installment often called the “Doctor-Lite” story (See “Love and Monsters”and last season’s “Blink.”), in which the Doctor barely appears. But this season the idea was to save cash by using basically one set and virtually no visual effects (rumor has it the effects budget was eaten up by the impending season-ending trilogy). Executive producer Russell T Davies was obviously shooting for a sense of claustrophobia, but the brightly-lit Crusader vehicle just didn’t work.

What did work? The Doctor, of course. Tennant was given a chance to showcase his Doctor’s personality, and his love of travel, adventure and people were all front and center. As he tried to convince Donna to come on the tour, his excitement was palpable. After the tour bus got stuck, the Doctor’s gregarious nature was completely infectious; in no time he was engaging the other passengers in conversation, turning strangers into… well, acquaintances, at least. He entered the cockpit and convinced Joe to open the windows, showing the driver and mechanic a vista no other person had ever before laid eyes on. The Doctor’s eyes were sparkling brighter than the diamond-encrusted landscape they surveyed. And there was that few seconds of Billie Piper‘s Rose, on the monitor behind the Doctor, where he missed her, as usual.

But the story went downhill when the monster made its “entrance.” The sequence leading up to the entity breaching the hull was nicely tense and the screaming really jangled my nerves. But when the creature possessed the woman and began mimicking everyone’s voices, it quickly grew grating. Befitting his experience, the Doctor diagnosed the situation and was intent on communicating with a new lifeform. (A species even he was unfamiliar with! No wonder he was excited.)

The study of group dynamics and herd mentality was somewhat interesting, but I generally watch DOCTOR WHO to be thrilled and filled with wonder, and this story just didn’t fill the bill. I spent some time pondering how this story reminded me of the Fourth Doctor adventure “The Leisure Hive,” another tale about trouble on a resort planet that also disappointed.

The ending was unsatisfactory as well, with the nameless hostess dragging the creature back out into the extonic sunshine — but it lives out there, so while its human host was toasted, it was surely not killed. I presume the Doctor alerted the Midnight authorities to avoid Winter Witch Canyon in the future.

I also presume that “Midnight” was merely a palate-cleanser before next week’s “Left Turn,” which I understand takes the season in an entirely unexpected direction — with guest stars, including the long-awaited full return on Rose! I cannot wait!

And I presume you will return for the next installment of Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/11/08

I have been waiting for the second season of BURN NOTICE the way my nephews look forward to a new Pokémon release: It cannot premiere fast enough! And last night was the night. The teases suggested that ex-spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan, ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) might learn who burned him, but I didn’t think that was really going to happen — and it didn’t. Not really.

The mysterious semi dropped Michael into a war zone, complete with a burning plane and dead bodies. The mysterious female voice commanded him to return a bound-and-gagged man to Miami so he could steal some computer data. But that plotline was the MacGuffin to get Michael involved with his mysterious handler. The mystery voice belonged to Carla, who appears to be the face of the people who burned Michael — but honestly we don’t know if she is connected to that organization. (People rarely are who they appear to be on this show). Carla was played by BATTLESTAR GALACTICA‘s sultry Cylon Number Six, Tricia Helfer, but in a switch, it was her voice that was emphasized. She didn’t appear in the flesh until the final scene, in which she flirted with Sam (Bruce Campbell) and left Michael a teasing note. I know this is TV, but I have to wonder about the organization using Carla as a (literal) mouthpiece. Helfer is so statuesque that I think she would make a lousysecret agent — she’s too eye-catching. (BTW, Helfer is even taller and more beautiful in person, if you can believe it!) People notice her — and the last thing a spy wants is to be noticed. Then again, this is TV, so everyone is attractive. And if your cast already includes Gabrielle Anwar, then it takes a someone special not to get overshadowed.

I like to think of BURN NOTICE as educational TV, and the second-season premiere taught me a lot! I learned how to: evade high-speed pursuit through a forest without triggering my car’s airbags; surveil a security firm; make an accurate security floor plan from memory; cut through a concrete-and-steel floor; beat heat sensors and motion detectors; and which ammunition is best for destroying a computer hard drive (quadrangle buckshot) and shattering bulletproof glass (frag 12). Far warning to my office mates: Watch your backs!

But aside from the “This Old Spy” technical lessons, I enjoyed catching up with Michael’s friends and family. His mom, Madeline (Sharon Gless), is a paranoid mess — which is why he kept her in the dark about his spy career to begin with — but Sam seemed to have settled comfortably into Michael’s loft. (Raise your hands if you expected a product placement from Wonder Bread.) He even borrowed Michael’s clothes! Aside from Madeline, Fiona (Anwar) seemed most affected by Michael’s trip to confront his enemies. She dealt with her mixture of relief and anger with wisecracks and a succession of increasingly short miniskirts. When she finally pinned him down for “the talk,” she acknowledged that while they can work together, “We can’t be together.” Michael agreed, but as Fi left his vocie-over sadly noted that in the spy game it’s too easy to think of people as “assets” instead of human beings. “But you don’t miss the scent of an asset when she leaves the room,” he mused. Nice reference to Anwar’s most famous role, as the titular Donna in 1992’s Scent of a Woman.

I laughed when I recognized “Jimmy the Client” was played by Patrick Fishler, because earlier this week I happened to be discussing MIDDLEMAN with one of my colleagues, and I pointed how the dude who played Dr. Newleaf — Fishler — was one of those actors I call “That Guy”; someone whose face you recognize from a thousand small roles, but whose name is a mystery, so when you see him you go, “Oh, that guy!” (Look for him next in the third episode of the new season of MAD MEN.)

And look for the next Night Shift soon..

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/9/08

I’m liking the short RESCUE ME minisodes, but they are just too short — too short for fans and too short to indoctrinate new viewers. Take last night’s discussion of the perfect bar: As long as you’re familiar with Tommy’s long and twisted war with sobriety, his paean to drinking in “a cave” makes perfect sense. But if you’ve never met the troubled Mr. Gavin before, Lou’s line about Tommy spending more time in bars than the rest of the FDNY combined could be taken as reference to alcoholism or him being an uninhibited party guy. I realize there can be no perfect mini-episode when they are just five minutes long, but I guess I’m suggesting they might be a bit too insider-y. Then again, curious folks willing to invest 360 seconds just might find something worth investigating — something that will definitely rescue them from the usual doctor/lawyer/cop dramas.

THE MIDDLEMAN features a guy who is neither doctor nor lawyer, but could be considered a kind of cop. This week it was time for MM to administer pop quizzes to Wendy, which furthered her Middle Man training. We also learned that MM likes to affix “Middle” to his gadgets and gear, like the “Middlemobile,” and his headquarters features hundreds of rooms, including a “Middledojo” for martial-arts training. Oh, and that scanner-thing MM is always using is technically called the BTRS, which stands for Beyond The Realm of Science — how can you not love this show?!?!

I also love how the series is very pop-culture aware, from MM using the alias “Dr. Emmit Brown” to a Superbad shout-out. Even Italian zombie cinema gets name-checked, as Dub-Dub’s lovely roommate Lacy is a fan of Lucio Fulci’s 1979 classic,Zombie Island (a.k.a. Zombi 2). Of course this means the show may not age well, but chances are lines like “Don’t get on my case for Jack Bauer-ing the thing” will still be meaningful — after all, you still get references to MACGYVER, right? And who doesn’t want to hear more about previous Middle Men and adventures like “the Great Steam Laser of 1917” — are you kidding me? I hope Wendy’s swearing — complete with bleeps and black censor bars over her mouth — becomes a running bit, because it’s a fun counterpoint to MM’s colorful if innocuous curses.

The plot concerned a TV psychiatrist (one “Dr. Gil” — hmmm, who could that be a parody of?) who was using a salvaged alien teleporter to take murderous revenge against the extraterrestrials he blamed for his father’s death. Sounds like a case for TORCHWOOD, but hey, this ain’t Great Britain, and that’s another universe.

SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL is a universe away from MIDDLEMAN, and definitely another non-conforming series. The latest installment began with Belle noting that she spends some 50 percent of her time toning and perfecting her body — which makes it oddly appropriate that I watch while pedaling an exercise bike. She adds a bit about how “sometimes, pain can be pleasure” — but this ain’t one of those times. Well, not for me, at least, but apparently for her. Belle was referring to her tax preparer, who expressed a wish that she not be nice to him. In his line of work such a request would have triggered an audit, but in her line of work that meant dominance and submission, or what we Yanks know as S&M. Belle went to Serena, a Domme, to learn the ropes — quite literally. Unlike Belle’s usual gigs, S&M involves no sex, it’s just taking control from the client (usually a powerful man who desires to rid himself of the responsibilities of command). But what it did involve was Billie Piper in a skintight rubber dress…. Va-va-voom!

While Belle was turning her apartment into a dungeon, Hannah found herself locked out of her friendship with Ben, who revealed that he had proposed to his girlfriend almost two months earlier but had not informed his alleged BFF. Belle got so angry with the Hannah half of her life that she took out her frustration on her S&M client, ignoring the “safety word” to cruelly whip the poor man beyond their agreed-upon boundaries. The pain in her real life led her to inflict pain in her fantasy life; Belle/Hannah had crossed both physical and metaphorical lines.

Ben eventually revealed that he didn’t share his engagement with Hannah because she stopped sharing details of her life (specifically her secret identity as “Belle”) with him. “Hurting people is a very special talent,” Hannah noted, and she cannot be a Domme in a friendship. So she e-mailed Ben a link to the Web site where her professional services are advertised. I cannot wait to see what happens next…

Unless you watch it yourself, you will have to wait until the next installment of Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 7/1/08

I was shocked — shocked — to discover that ABC Family’s THE MIDDLEMAN was moved up for a showing of the theatrical Mean Girls. The nice guy comic-book hero had been banished to 10 o’clock — unknown to your humble blogger, so I will have to catch up with MM and Dub-dub online (which is kind of fitting, actually).

With no MIDDLEMAN, I decided to leap over to ABC Family’s parent network, ABC, and check out THE BACHELORETTE. I flipped over and saw DeAnna on dates in the Bahamas with JeremyJess and Jason. This meant lots of beach scenes, including horseback riding in the surf. By the end of the hour she was down to two bachelors: Jesse and Jason. Jeremy was banished to the next hour. Then it was on to THE BACHELORETTE: THE MEN TELL ALL. And I’ll bet he was sorry to be there, because DeAnna was really mean to all the guys. It was almost like she was blaming them for not being good enough for her. I totally expected her to have more compassion — after all, she was humiliated on national television last fall when Brad Womackrejected her in the finale of THE BACHELOR. She came on this series looking for love…but she couldn’t have a heart? Of course the men were perfectly willing to eat their own; there was a huge dogpile on Jeremy. But it was totally evil of him to interrupt other guys’ dates, so perhaps he got what he deserved. I have to suggest that it was a mistake for everyone to participate in this reunion special, because everyone came off as shallow and petty — in other words, just the sort of venal people one would expect to find on a TV dating series. It changed my impression of DeAnna completely.

Tools of the trade: Every professional has them, and last night’s SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL began with Belle assembling hers — including fancy knickers, condoms and red pumps. She was preparing to work “the night shift.” (Does that count as a shout-out to this blog? No?) Anyway, Belle introduced viewers to “The Girlfriend Experience” — the fastest-growing segment of the personal escort market. It is what it sounds like: Belle serves as the perfect girlfriend, simulating the “intimacy and exclusivity” of a real relationship with none of the…uh, witchiness. For one night the client gets a beautiful companion who will listen to him without arguing. She gets 1,500 pounds — which, at today’s exchange rate, is $2,985.40 here in the Colonies. (Well, she is Billie Piper, and her deadpan “See, I told you so” glare is pretty much priceless). Belle also shared the Three Rules of Escort Conversation: 1. Keep it light; 2. No politics; and 3. No inflammatory topics. So, in other words, it’s the complete opposite of blogging.

Belle revealed, “I never actually sleep with a client” — as in “catch forty winks” — so she is left with nothing to do but putter around the luxurious hotel suite while her client slept (he paid for an all-nighter). As Belle frittered around, I couldn’t help but notice the iconic St. Paul’s Cathedral visible on the skyline through the giant window, and that edifice made me think of Piper’s last regular TV gig, as Rose, the Doctor’s assistant on DOCTOR WHO. One of the most famous images from the 30-season history of that show is a horde of Cybermen descending St. Peter’s Steps in front of St. Paul’s in the 1968 Second Doctor serial “The Invasion.” I laughed as I imagined Belle/Rose wishing for a Cyberman invasion right about then. Belle eventually sneaked out and engaged a freelance client, so there was some suspense in wondering if her new man would…er, finish before her official client awakened.

Of course, Belle returned in time and her absence went unnoticed, so all was well in the end. Belle wrapped it up thusly: “You do what everyone else does on the night shift: You think about the money.” Don’t we all?

Join me for the next Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 6/30/08

DOCTOR WHO asks, what’s in a name? Well, when you’re known throughout time and space only as “the Doctor,” your true name holds power. If you are Prof. River Song, the Doctor’s name holds the power to convince him that you are who you say you are — a person he can trust totally. I find it mind-boggling that Song knew the Doctor’s name! The Doctor’s sonic screwdriver was a key piece of evidence that he would one day know her — but this! When Lux condemned the Doctor and Song for bickering like an old married couple it could have been a variation on this year’s lark about the Doctor and Donna being married, but the look of shock on her face — it was a little too uncomfortable. In fact, it prompted her to use a “spoiler” and whisper his name.

The reason this constituted a “spoiler” to viewers is because the Doctor’s true name has never been revealed on air. The Seventh Doctor admitted his nickname at university was “Theta Sigma” — a moniker first mentioned (by fellow Time Lord Drax) during the Fourth Doctor adventure known as “The Armageddon Factor.” A number of characters have made erroneous assumptions about the Doctor’s last name, going back as far as the very first story, in 1963: In “An Unearthly Child,” Ian called the crotchety first persona “Doctor Foreman.” The alien computer WOTAN referred to the Second Doctor as “Doctor Who” during “The War Machines.” (Incidentally, that was the only time the character was ever explicitly referred to by that name.) The Second Doctor called himself “Dr. Wer” [Who in German] in “The Highlanders” and signed a note “Dr. W” in “The Underwater Menace.” And in the story “The Daemons,” the Third Doctor was called “Quiquaequod” (which is a combination of the three Latin forms of “who”). And then there was the names the Daleks gave him: “Ka Faraq Gatri,” which translates as “Bringer of Darkness” or “Destroyer of Worlds” (because the Seventh Doctor destroyed their home planet of Skaro in the Season 25 story “Revelation of the Daleks”). And the Ninth Doctor claimed the title “The Oncoming Storm” (a name by which he was also known among the Draconian race.)

Anyway, as far as the story went: Song used a sonic blaster just like the one Jack used in Moffat’s “The Doctor Dances” to blast an escape route for the gang. Meanwhile, in virtual reality inside the Library’s computer core, Donna was living an edited life that moved at the speed of thought. In only a few seconds she met Lee, married and started a family. She was none too happy to learn it was all make-believe. “I’ve been dieting!” she wailed. On the serious side, Donna’s pain when her “children” disappeared was palpable. Speaking of children disappearing, when Cal got frightened and covered her eyes, it would have been a nice touch if she had hidden behind the couch. In Britain, there’s a long tradition of frightened children doing just that, going all the way back to the 1960s.

This was one of the stories I love best — when the Doctor himself saves the day through careful observation and even more careful thought (although it didn’t dawn on him that the Vashta Nerada might have hatched from the wood pulp of “a million million” books until it was too late). “Oh, I’m very good!” he exulted when he realized that that he would eventually give Song the screwdriver to “save” her by storing her personality in the psychic buffer of her communications device. It may only be half a life, but it made for a happy ending after all. Well, except for poor Donna — stuttering Lee couldn’t call out her name before he was teleported away. That’s two husbands down for her!

Interestingly, this is not the first time the Doctor has teamed up with a future companion before officially “meeting” her. In the story “Terror of the Vervoids,” the Sixth version of the Doctor was on trial for meddling with the natural course of the universe. As part of his defense, the Doctor presented video of an adventure from his own future, in which he and a companion named Melanie saved a spaceship full of people. Mel was then physically brought into the courtroom and teamed up with the Doctor to sort out the baddies in the “present.” The Doctor then returned Mel to her proper place in the timeline so he could eventually “meet” her. (Don’t you just lovetime travel?)

Now for he nitpicking: Strackman Lux got the Doctor’s anger up by not telling him that a child’s consciousness was linked to the central computer. “Why didn’t you tell me this?” the Doctor railed. “I needed to know this!” Well, pardon me, Doctor, but you and Song withheld a lot of information yourselves (such as the fact that Song could have gotten them to the computer core any time she wanted). However, this harkens back to his Seventh persona, who often coldly manipulated events without letting his companion, Ace, in on the plan until after the fact! (The Seventh Doctor also encountered a child’s mind wired into a computer in “Revelation of the Daleks.”)

For the second time this season, someone took the Doctor’s place on a suicide mission to save everyone, as Rattigan did in “The Poison Sky.” Yes, Jenny protected the Doctor from a hail of bullets in “The Doctor’s Daughter,” and Agatha Christie snatched the potentially fatal Vespiform amulet from him in “The Unicorn and the Wasp,” but those instances weren’t quite the same thing. Factoring in the Doctor’s self-immolation gambit at Vesuvius in “The Fires of Pompeii,” our Time Lord is working on one heck of a death wish this season!

And I wish you here for the next installment of Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera