Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/23/08

On GOSSIP GIRL, it was the first day of school at West Beverly — er, I mean, the Constance Billard School for Girls and St. Jude’s School for Boys — and Blair Waldorf was deciding who would live and who would die — er, I mean, who would be accepted into her ruling social clique. Hopeful candidates submitted application packages and submitted to personal interviews. More importantly to viewers, Dan and Serena had to decide how to behave when seeing each other at school. The answer: not well. Dan quickly fell in with transfer student Amanda, whom Blair dubbed “Dan with boobs.” She was a seemingly perfect match for Dan. Too perfect. Turned out Chuck hired Amanda to seduce (at least socially — but this was Chuck) Dan in order to rattle stepsister Serena and shake up Blair’s delicate social hierarchy. Chuck loves it when a plan comes together — and this one sure did — but I’m not exactly sure how he knew that not only would Serena step in and claim Blair’s Queen B crown, but Isabel and Katy would follow her — leaving Blair on the outside looking in.

Poor Blair. She had it rough last night, what with learning that her royal boyfriend, Marcus, was sleeping with his stepmother, the duchess (who was also sleeping with Nate and, apparently, everyone except her husband), thanks to a prying Vanessa’s photographic evidence. Blair icily assured Vanessa that she’d take care of it — and to stay out of it. But when Vanessa spotted Blair with Marcus and assumed they were still canoodling, she spilled the beans to the duke, ruining it for everyone, especially any chance she might have had with Nate.

HEROES kicked off its third season with back-to-back episodes. Sylar resumed his quest to amass as many cool powers as possible, so he set his sights on Claire. The fiend sliced off the top of her head and rooted around in her brain until he absorbed her power. At last, we know precisely what Sylar does with the brains of his victims; he doesn’t eat them, he literally pokes around inside them with his fingers. Then he allowed Claire to heal, noting that she cannot die and is so “special” that he could not kill her if her tried! That skull session sent Claire into a tailspin, as it took away her ability to feel pain — the only thing she believed made her feel halfway human. She resumed trying to kill herself on video to see whether she could feel anything…but was rescued from an oncoming train by FuturePeter.

FuturePeter traveled to the present from a dystopian world four years from now. He planned to avert the events that led to his reality by stopping his brother, Nate, from revealing the exist of Heroes. But the best-laid plans of mice and scarred, brooding would-be superheroes often go awry. Peter’s mucking around in the timestream created a new, uncertain future. Not that the present is any picnic, either. When the season resumed, Nikki/Jessica is calling herself “Tracy” and has freezing powers; Nate decides to accept an appointment to the Senate and is taking advice from Linderman’s ghost; Mohinder is experimenting with his blood (and Maya); Parkman is lost in Africa; Hiro is battling a super-fast young woman for possession of a formula that Kaito insists could end the world. And, the most immediate problem, a dozen superpowered bad guys escaped from Level 5 at the Company, and are in the real world, eager to cause chaos. Oh, well, at least Sylar was caught. Emphasis on was, until futurecasting Rose got involved.

Things I loved:
•Elle returned. Hands-down, the best character from last season was Elle, the electrically charged Daddy’s girl who lived for her father’s approval. The charming Kirsten Bell (ex-Veronica, VERONICA MARS) keeps Elle from appearing cloying and annoying. And she finally got to take down Sylar.

•HRG kicks ass. He doesn’t have any powers — unless you count being fearless as a power. That’s just how he rolls.

Things I didn’t like:
•Mohinder gets powers. It’s vitally important to have human characters not only to keep the stories relatable to us regular folks, but to keep the superpowered characters grounded. What’s cool about Ando is that he’s Hiro’s human sidekick, not his crime-busting equal, and their interplay was fun in the first season. Separating Hiro and Ando was one of the biggest mistakes of season two.

•Powers for all: The idea that everybody has a specific innate power waiting to be activated is interesting on paper; unlocking them is not. Powers are something special that should not be cheapened. If everybody is special, then nobody is.

•Rose is Sylar’s mother. Why does everyone have to be related? It wastes that most precious commodity in a fantasy series: the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief. I’ll accept people with strange abilities far beyond those of mortal men, but not only is Claire secretly Nate’s daughter, Nate has a secret brother? Who’s the distillation of evil?

Don’t. Just…don’t.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/22/08

EMMY AWARDS SPECIAL…

Well, we knew THE 60TH ANNUAL EMMY AWARDS was an awards show going in, so we can hardly be surprised that it dragged shamefully. The telecast was buoyed by more deserving winners than usual (see below) but the lack of a strong host (five weaklings don’t equal one Conan O’Brien) meant there was no energy driving events forward.

My favorite win, hands-down, was Bryan Cranston of BREAKING BAD taking lead actor over MAD MEN‘s Jon Hamm and HOUSE‘s Hugh Laurie — both talented gents. But Cranston’s portrayal of a terminally ill high-school science teacher who turns to manufacturing crystal meth to amass a nest egg to leave his family strikes just the right notes of ingenuity and inspiration amid the despair and hopelessness of his diagnosis and the brutality of the drug trade. The humor is blacker than black, which is what makes the program so enjoyable. Hamm has honed his retro cool to diamond hardness, but it’s easier to relate to the dumpy guy in the dead-end job than the coldly competent master of the Madison Avenue universe. Besides, fellow AMC freshman MAD MEN deserved to scoop up best drama for overall excellence; this is not a one-horse show, as evidenced by creator Matthew Weiner scooping up the writing award for the pilot.

Speaking of dark cable series, FX’s DAMAGES did more than a little damage to the acting categories, with Glenn Close claiming lead actress honors in the closest thing to a lock going into the night. Her co-star Zeljko Ivanek, in contrast, bested the better-known Michael Emerson, who helped revitalize LOST on ABC.

The Emmy ceremony itself could have used a good villain to swoop in and revitalize it. The night started with warm-up act Oprah and her half-hearted Grouchoimpression introducing the five nominees for best reality show host: TomHeidi,Howie Jeff and Ryan. The gang of five trotted onstage and proceeded to do nothing. Literally. They tried to make a joke out of not having any prepared material, but the stony silence of the audience highlighted the unintentional irony that the hosts of unscripted series were utterly helpless without scripted material!

When Tina Fey and Amy Poehler came out, they at least raised things to the level of standard lame TelePromTer banter until ENTOURAGE’Jeremy Piven won his third straight supporting Emmy and unleashed a broadside at the time-wasting opening.Ricky Gervais was actually funny while needling Steve Carell, who stars in the American remake of Gervais’ THE OFFICE. I voted Hayden Panettiere (Claire,HEROES) and Jennifer Love Hewitt (Melinda, GHOST WHISPERER) my own award for best pair of presenters. (When I later rewound the tape to listen to them, it turned out they presented a writing award.)

Whoever thought it was a good idea to drag out the reality host conversation over the whole night needs to be voted off the island. Jimmy Kimmel did his best to sell the imitation elimination ceremony. And, okay, it was funny (for about 12 seconds) when he held the reveal for a commercial break. But the award itself was anti-climactic. Much like the show.

Random observations:
•How powerful is the director’s guild? Its winner accepted on-camera, while the best guest supporting actor/actress in a comedy (y’know, people viewers recognize) were relegated to a separate ceremony a week ago. 

THE AMAZING RACE wins best reality series every year because it is the best. No other series has the scope and depth of this chase, in which teams go spanning the globe to find themselves. 

•Veteran funnyman Don Rickles got off the best lines, making me laugh out loud. 

•The “In Memoriam” segment was especially moving, set as it was to Procol Harem‘s “A Whiter Shade of Pale.”

So, kudos to BREAKING BAD, MAD MEN, DAMAGES and 30 ROCK, as well as Cranston and Fey (the latter won writing and acting awards). Better luck next year to Hamm — and us viewers.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/19/08

I want to start off with last night’s standout show: the fourth-season premiere of SUPERNATURAL. Last season ended with Dean getting dragged down to hell, and last night he awoke in his coffin and clawed his way out of his own grave. That certainly was special. (The opening flashes of Dean in the box would have made Italian giallo maestro Dario Argento proud with its lurid reds and blacks). As befits such a series, Bobby assumed the resurrected Dean was a disguised demon and tried to kill him. Even Sam had the same reaction — before the inevitable joyful reunion. Viewers got a real sense of universe from the way word of Dean’s escape from Hades had spread through the preternatural community, with everyone (including Dean) asking: How the hell did he get out of hell? The answer was entirely logical — and stunningly unexpected. Dean was rescued by Castiel — “an angel of the Lord.” Yep, SUPERNATURAL went there. 

There’s an understanding in occult comic books, TV and most movies: It’s okay to depict demons, monsters, hell and assorted manifestations of hell, but you don’t depict God or angels, because that might “offend” people. Nobody cares if a writer disses a devil, but hands off the divine. Well, SUPERNATURAL crossed that line, and I’m damned happy it did. Why shouldn’t angels be fair game? Especially when someone as talented as series creator Eric Kripke is doing the writing. The angel was depicted as massively powerful — too powerful for lower beings like humans and demons to comprehend. And he came with a bombshell: Dean was pulled out of hell “because God commanded it. We have work for you.” It’s going to be one hell of a season! 

Although it wasn’t up to the level of SUPERNATURAL, the premiere of SMALLVILLE really felt different from the previous seven seasons. Most folks are probably unaware that Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, the executive producers who translated the Superman comics to the small screen for SMALLVILLE, left the series over the summer, but I noticed. I had the pleasure of interviewing both gentlemen a number of times over the years, and they are both talented guys who were dedicated to putting out the best show possible; they really believed in the material and held true to their vision. In my very first interview with Al, the summer before SMALLVILLE debuted, he laid out their “no flights, no tights” policy, and except for a few storyline-dictated temporary deviations, Clark remained earth-bound, and we have yet to see the red-and-blue longjohns. I salute their seven fun seasons. But I’m here to assure fans the show is in good hands. New exec producers Todd Slavkin and Darren Swimmer have been with the show for a long time, and they know what works. 

But the new regime also took the opportunity to tinker a bit — the most obvious change was Clark suddenly growing a sense of humor. (Even Lois was shocked!) The disappearance of Lex was expected, since Michael Rosenbaum has left the show (He might be convinced to return for a guest spot, but don’t bet on it), and Lana is not expected back until much later in the season. I did enjoy the return of Green Arrow, Aquaman and Black Canary, played by the same actors: (Justin Hartley, Alan Ritchson and Alaina Huffman). Hartley (ex-Fox, PASSIONS) is now a series regular, and while he won’t be in every episode (next week’s, for example) Oliver Queen will be a major player, which I welcome. I did hate one idea, however: the idea that LuthorCorp suddenly has some kind of magic serum (synthesized from the spinal fluid of Chloe’s mother, no less!) that can control people’s minds. Huh? What’d I miss? 

The best (and most important) development last night was character development — specifically Clark’s. Although Jor-El stripped Clark of his powers, he still acted like a hero. He relentlessly tried to escape from the Russian work camp and later fearlessly risked his life to help his friends. Clark was determined to help, no matter what. In fact, he got himself killed, only to be saved by the timely self-sacrifice of the Martian Manhunter. With the villain Doomsday on the way this season, I wonder if Clark dying is going to be a theme. (Doomsday was the baddie who killed Superman in the comics back in 1992.) Clark finally realized he has a Destiny (Yes, one with a capital D), and resolved to pursue it. And, oh, yeah — he took that job at the Daily Planet. I won’t mind if the Last Son of Krypton takes to the skies this season — just don’t put on the tights… 

Sure, last night’s BURN NOTICE was billed as the “season finale,” but it was just the “summer” wrap — the show will be back with five more new episodes in January. But that didn’t make the episode any less important. I have to admit that I have been a little disappointed in the apparent aimlessness of this season’s stories — there just has not been enough “mythology” for me. I regard the slowly unfolding story of Michael’s burning as the real point of the show; the client of the week is just window-dressing and an excuse to keep Michael doing something. After the first two episodes, Michael’s tale was shunted to the far back burner while he took on (admittedly) entertaining cases that were quickly forgotten. But last night put Michael’s burning squarely on the…er, front burner. And that meant the return of bombshell Tricia Helfer as Michael’s handler, the mysterious Carla. Apparently the producers suddenly remembered that they had hired Tricia Helfer — and put Carla in a variety of bathing suits and other clingy attire while Sam and Michael ogled…um, I mean, surveilled her to get to the bottom of why she’s manipulating Michael. (In the words of sage Sam, “You gotta love it when you tail somebody to a place that serves a good mojito.”) The operative realized he had been forced to secure a sniper rifle and passkey, obviously tools for an assassination — but who was the target? 

This episode, “Good Soldier,” also marked a return to teaching viewers cool real-life spy stuff, like the best way to hide items in your home (using easy-to-access, yet hard-to-find spots called “slicks”); how to beat facial-recognition security software with a photocopy of a guy’s face; and how to drink a lot without getting drunk (better left unsaid here). Star Jeffrey Donovan (ex-Dwayne, ANOTHER WORLD) also got his only chance so far this season to really cut loose with some emoting. Michael had to spin a lie to dissuade a client, so he made a speech about recognizing his own faults and seeing what’s been in front of him all along — but from Donovan’s emotion-clogged delivery and red-rimmed eyes, we knew he was talking directly to Fiona about letting her get away. But did Michael get away from the bomb Carla planted at his loft? I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Michael got singed but survives to finish out the season.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/17/08

The biggest reveal of 90210 was the confirmation that Dylan is Kelly’s baby-daddy. Guess Luke Perry now has a pretty strong negotiating position if he ever changes his mind (he’s reportedly not interested in reprising Dylan) and decides to pop by and play father to little Sammy. How funny was it that the reveal came during a moment of tension between Kelly and Brenda? Who says you can’t go home again? But thebest part of the show for me was when Tabitha agreed to direct the school production of Spring Awakening, giving the amazing Jessica Walter a chance to really cut loose by “singing” and “dancing.” She also got to strut around the stage and bark ridiculous “direction” to the kids. Hilarious. 

Can I just say that no guidance counselor at my high school ever dressed like Kelly? (And, considering my counselor was a dude, perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing.) But maybe Kelly also doubles as a sex-ed teacher. Or she’s just trying to keep up with these kids these days. 

And there’s a lot to keep up with: Naomi confronted her father’s mistress and then destroyed her mother’s carefully cultivated bubble-reality. Annie opted for Ethan over Ty, then fretted when the handsome rich guy with his own private jet didn’t go all emo and anguish over her corn-fed country smile. So she baked him snickerdoodles (did we mention she’s from Kansas?) and wooed him back with a kiss. Meanwhile, I think we’re all waiting for Silver to end up in a clinch with Dixon. BTW, that was Drew Tyler Bell — THE MIDDLEMAN‘s Pip (and ex-Thomas, THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL) — as the guy with the car Dixon smashed into. Harry is still way too “Mike Brady” for me — the ever-understanding, ever-compassionate father who’s always ready with the appropriate advice for the moment…or a spare $500. He and Debbie need their own episode to put some meat on their characters’ skeletons. 

There were no skeletons (transparent or otherwise) in this week’s episode of J.J. Abrams’ FRINGE, but there was a murdering genetic freak straight out of THE X-FILES — a serial killer dubbed “the Brain Surgeon.” He removes the pituitary gland from his victims because he needs to synthesize an anti-aging serum to keep himself from growing old in a matter of minutes. Turned out the killer was an off-shoot of a government experiment overseen by Walter Bishop that saw all its test subjects age and live an entire life in mere hours. Lucky for us, Olivia just happened to have worked the Brain Surgeon case several years ago. 

I like the way Walter is being fleshed out by periods of lucidity in which he is basically boorish, emotionally detached and borderline unlikable, yet quirky and almost fun. I could imagine him being similar to how the first incarnation of the Doctor from DOCTOR WHO might have turned out without the mellowing influence on his companions. The absent-minded genius schtick has been done before, but I liked the idea that Walter has secret “info dumps” full of files hidden throughout the city (last night we saw a car packed with experimental records). And if you ever wanted to see a human eyeball scooped out of a corpse’s skull, well last night was your moment. I couldn’t figure out how Peter improvised a defibrillator using phone books. 

This episode was more cohesive than the pilot; the-powers-that-be obviously benefited from having more time to craft the story. But Olivia faded into the background even more than last week. If she doesn’t have a lot of lines she gets easily overshadowed. That’s a problem for a central character. I’ll check out next week’s installment because I want to know more about Peter’s “medical history.” Will Dr. Claus Penrose will become a recurring villain — those clones of the Brain Surgeon seem to indicate he will be back. What’s up with Massive Dynamic — and what is Ms. Sharp’s deal? Is she down with Broyles’ team or a spy/double agent? 

GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT began with Claire and Leo being all weird after their hookup and agreeing to never tell anyone about it — or ever do it again. Then he lied to Saira and Claire lied to Kyle. Yep, that’s a soap-opera relationship, all right. (Good to see some old-fashioned romantic intrigue in Port Charles again. ) Claire freaked when she realized that she had become “the other woman.” 

Robert and Robin continued to redefine their relationship. “When did I become the kid?” he mused. Well, it happens when you get old, Agent Scorpio. I like how the aging issue is being worked week after week. There’s no way a man of action like Robert would take his frail medical condition…er, lying down. Robin, meanwhile, got closer — almost too close! — to Jagger as they commiserated over single parenthood. 

Call me unromantic, but my favorite part of the episode was Jagger fretting over how to pay Stone’s medical bills with his crappy health insurance. Where is he going to get $50,000? This is the kind of realism I think NIGHT SHIFT could use. Rather than using lack of insurance as an excuse to make an administrator look heartless, how about taking a heartfelt look at the issue? Many people have to choose between medication and food — there is a lot of drama in that. And we don’t see nearly enough people stacked up in the waiting room, moaning in pain, while the doctors and nurses get on with angsting about their love lives. It’s not easy to secure medical treatment in this country -—and not everyone has a good friend who can cut a convenient check in the blink of an eye. 

In contrast, I didn’t care for the use of hand-held camera for the sequence when Saira and Kyle were walking down the hall. The bouncy, urgent visuals did not lend themselves to discussing the breast milk project. Robin and Patrick’s sleeper sofa was a nice touch; it felt like the natural evolution of every other character in town sleeping on couches. At least this was a sleeper! And where did Robin get off scolding Patrick for going to the hospital after receiving two pages? He’s supposed to be one of the best surgeons in the world, yet he had to be paged twice before he responded? She should have berated him for that! Hopefully no one died waiting for Patrick. Finally, Toussaint is supposed to be the singer, but we heard Epiphany warble “Amazing Grace”? Amazing.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/16/08

How many of you are waiting for a member of the royal family to sweep you off your feet? It looked like GOSSIP GIRL‘s Blair was going to get that chance, but all was not right in romance department. It appeared that Marcus was more interested in taking on the mantle of lord of the manor than assuming the position with his girlfriend — and we already know Blair is not interested in being “queen of her castle.” It was interesting that Vanessa is getting romantic advice from a 14-year-old. But I guess that’s better than Nate getting money from Sugar Mommy Catherine. As for what she’s getting from Nate…well, this is a family blog…. But I can mention the agita she got from seeing her boy toy embracing Vanessa on the street. The streetside embrace between Serena and Dan was also witnessed — by a little spy (sorry, contributor) to the Gossip Girl web site, who flashed a cell-phone snap of LonelyBoy smooching S. all over the “interwebs.” Blair was not happy because, in a moment of clarity, she pointed out that Dan and Serena’s issues were not settled. (In fact, they hadn’t even been discussed!) 

Speaking of things that cannot be discussed, the infamous Chuck Bass was having a little problem with the ol’ internal plumbing, and tried calling in a “contractor” from Japan, but she was unable to get him…er, unclogged. Serena diagnosed the problem as fallout from his emotional attachment to Blair, but Chuck wasn’t buying it. “I don’t have a romantic bone in my body,” he sneered, as he plotted to hook up with Blair one last time. “You are not using Blair as sexual Drano,” Serena shouted. But who says no to Chuck Bass? Certainly not Nate, who returned to his newly-minted BFF, cap-in-hand, to beg for the cash infusion he had earlier spurned. Nate obviously was not the suitor Chuck had wanted to come crawling back, but the whole unsavory incident was worth it to see Chuck puffing on…something…while literally wearing a smoking jacket. 

Another hilarious scene came when three tween girls confronted Dan after reading about his reunion with S. on GG. They were a microcosm of fandom — and a good-natured tweak from the show. It’s nice to know the-powers-that-be don’t take themselves too seriously. One thing I take seriously is cliché abuse, and while I was extremely disappointed to see the ol’ stuck-in-the-elevator gambit, I was heartened that the show didn’t wait until someone was pregnant to cut the power to the lift. And extra credit for Serena insisting that Dan drop her name with building security to get them sprung faster. What’s in a name? Apparently, rescue squads. 

A name also has power in the fashion world — at least when that name is Eleanor Waldorf (welcome back, Margaret Colin, ex-Margo, AS THE WORLD TURNS). Little J learned that the hard way. She also learned that while she has spunk, Eleanor hates spunk! At least she did, at first. Later, in the dark with Jenny holding a flashlight, the fashion mogul admitted she fears going out of style, and even took Little J’s suggestions to heart. (Eleanor must be a fan of the movie Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension, in which Dr. Lizardo says, “Character is what you are in the dark!”). 

One character who is really growing on me is Jessica Szohr‘s Vanessa. For the second week in a row I felt really bad for her; she’s the loyal friend who’s there to backstop her pals, but overlooked when nobody needs to be picked up and dusted off. She patiently listened to Nate’s tale of prostituting himself for the sake of his family, but didn’t judge him. She went on to concede him to Catherine so that the naughty Duchess would not send Nate’s father to jail out of spite. Vanessa obviously does not have a spiteful bone in her body. 

Vengeance was also in short supply on ONE TREE HILL, where the characters dealt with last week’s shocking murder of Quentin. The most important/difficult part was telling little Jamie that his buddy was gone forever. Haley and Nathan told him that Q went to heaven, but Jamie did not understand — meaning he was not being treated like a standard precocious TV kid. (Plenty of other shows would have had the 5-year-old cracking wise.) Instead, Jamie was sad, but still seemed a bit uncomprehending of the full magnitude of the situation. (How could he understand?) His scenes with Dre were touching and age-appropriate — and the bit where Jamie gave him his brother’s jersey was oh-so-OTH: anvils away! 

The rest of the show was your standard death episode, with various characters feeling guilty about not being there to help, good times deferred and things left unsaid. Brooke, in the throes of an existential crisis of her own, held the “life sucks and then you die” position. Are we supposed to believe that the gang is still buying sullen Brooke’s story about falling down the stairs? She gets her face caved in, turns into a virtual hermit who wants to trash her store’s inventory and spouts reams of crime data — but she fell down the stairs? She refuses to wear makeup to cover her disfigurement — one might expect her to want to hide an embarrassing reminder of her clumsiness, whereas Brooke flaunts her scars like a badge of (dis)honor. That freaky mirror makes her seem even more like the Joker! But it was no laughing matter when she stood with Jamie while he draped his homemade cape over Quentin’s coffin. I predicted last week that Q would be buried with the cape that Jamie was making, so that’s a win for me, if not OTH. 

I despise the fact that Q was killed, but from a storytelling standpoint it was textbook: Let the audience gradually get to know a character, then take him away after we learn to care about him. Conversely, the only thing I care about in the Grandpa Dan/Nanny Carrie debacle is that they somehow manage to kill each other. I don’t care about Carrie’s dead son (if that is indeed the secret in that grave) and her loss is no excuse for stealing another mother’s child. I also didn’t care about the new girl, Samantha Walker a.k.a. the Shoplifter. The anarchy seal prominently displayed on her backpack is too in-your-face, but oh, so OTH. Could her raw talent for writing mark her as the spiritual successor to Q — another lost bird, this one to be nurtured more by Haley? 

And, finally, how ironic was it that a technical snafu prevented me from taping/viewing TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES? Very. I missed the debut of Leven Rambin (ex-Lily, ALL MY CHILDREN) as Riley, John’s new love interest. Can she possibly compete with Cameron for his affection? Will my VCR reveal itself to be a disguised liquid-metal T-1001 bent on driving me insane? Tune in next week…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/15/08

To be blunt, this week’s installment of TRUE BLOOD kinda sucked (pun intended). Jason did not kill Maudette, but I really don’t care who did because I never knew who Maudette was, beyond being a “fang-banger.” Bill saved Sookie from her life-threatening injuries by allowing her to drink his blood (or “V juice”), but when she awoke he was licking blood from her head wound. I thought about that, and to a vampire, wouldn’t taking blood without permission be something like rape? Anyway, the V juice in Sookie’s system gave her enhanced sense and linked her to…yadda, yadda, yadda. Tara remains the scariest thing on this series (her animosity toward everyone except Jason is frightening), although she did express an actual human emotion. I’m figuring the show is setting her up as such a monster in order to eventually contrast her with the inhuman vampires who will then appear more “human.” (Though the vamps have presumably killed three people in just one episode.) Next week promises more vamp action (and more of GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Graham Shiels (Cody) as the “Tattooed Vampire,” so maybe Sookie is worth one more look-see.

Vince spent this week’s ENTOURAGE in “movie jail,” meaning nobody wanted to hire him because, in Ari’s words, Medellin was bad and Vince was bad in it. But, true to form, Vince did manage to find a comely cellmate to pass some time: pop tart Justine Chapin (played by the sublime Leighton Meester, who has became a star in her own right as GOSSIP GIRL’s Blair Waldorf since last appearing in 2004). Executive producer Mark Wahlberg (the original inspiration for ENTOURAGE) made a cameo as himself, while Giovanni Ribisi and Lukas Haas played novice screenwriters/gun nuts and Carla Gugino returned as Vince’s old agent, Amanda Daniels. What will Ari think of E bringing her a script Ari rejected? I was surprised that Ari was honest enough to not lie to Vince about being a good actor. He said Vince’s talent “remains to be seen.” But to Vince’s credit, he realized he has to play the Hollywood game if he wants to work. And he realized he wants to make a go of it with Justine. And I realized I might get to see Leighton twice a week for a while. Nothing wrong with that.

But there was plenty wrong with MAD MEN — in the storyline, I mean; the show itself is in excellent shape. Colin Hanks returned as Father Gill, and oh, lordy, he was still trying to get Peggy to confess to having a child out of wedlock. She almost did —Elizabeth Moss looked so pained as her eyes filled with tears, but Peggy held it together. Christina Hendricks‘ Joan had a very similar scene, when Harry informed her that the job she had been helping him with (vetting TV scripts for advertisers) was being filled — by a man. Hendricks had to convey Joan’s pain and disappointment while simultaneously hiding her feelings from Harry and the new guy. It was a fascinating example of grace under pressure. The same could not be said for Betty, who tried to work out her rage with a furious horse ride and smashing a dining-room chair to bits. But she finally unraveled completely after she thought Don further made a fool out of her in front of his buddies at a dinner party she arranged. She refused to remove her party dress, and spent the entire next day looking for proof of Don’s infidelity. To her chagrin, all she found were cocktail napkins with “stupid” advertising slogans on them — but aren’t they the “truth”? There is no “Don Draper” — he’s just smoke and mirrors, as fake as any product jingle. Only Betty doesn’t realize it. I like that she noted his reputation is that he’s supposed to be able to talk her into anything. She’s brushing up against the truth without realizing it. She thinks she’s on to him, but she really has no idea.

No doubt you chuckled at the multiple mentions of LOVE OF LIFE and AS THE WORLD TURNS thanks to Joan’s storyline. She asked her fiancé about a “special summer storyline,” and if someone could awaken from a coma with no memories of the past. This really intrigued her, because she told an advertiser ATWT “is about to become unmissable.”

One last question: How come the episode was called “A Night to Remember” instead of “When Duck Met Crab…”? I mean, you have all these animal nicknames…

Speaking of animals, anyone who tuned in to Cartoon Network’s ROBOT CHICKEN at 11:30 capped off the evening with a quick HEROES parody that saw Sylar accidentally absorb a guy’s “power” of “explosive diarrhea.” That oughta teach him not to go around impulsively eating brains…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/10/08

It’s only the second episode and 90210 is already showing signs of pandering to its young-adult demo: Parents Harry and Debbie insisted on declaring Friday night Family Night — and worse, they expected the kids to enjoy it! Good/bad parenting was the theme of the episode: Dixon and Annie did not appreciate their intensely involved parents; Silver was hiding out from her drunken mother and envied the Wilson family; Naomi was horrified to discover that her mother knows her husband has been carrying on an affair but doesn’t want to sacrifice her lifestyle to divorce him.

When Naomi’s dad bailed on their father/daughter trip to Las Vegas, I spent the ensuing commercial break wondering how many girls in the viewing audience were saying this exact sentence: “I wish my father would give me a car every time he disappointed me.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say…most.

Anyway, the Wilsons pretended they were back in Wichita, Kan., and went bowling on Family Night. Too bad their kids plotted to have friends meet them at the bowling alley: Annie wanted rich boy Ty to spirit her away to a concert, while Dixon arranged for buddies to hijack him for a screening of the new James Bond movie, A Quantum of Solace. An extra high-five to Dixon for improving and inviting hottie Silver (played by Jessica Stroup, the newest member of the Legion of Jessicas, who joins Alba,Biel and Simpson), but points off for dad ‘blocking him at the alley. Silver’s story led to Ann Gillespie reprising the role of Jackie from her BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 days. Former co-star Jennie Garth got to act with her again as Kelly confronted mom about her drinking and being clueless about where Silver even was! When Dixon learned Silver’s “terrible” secret and moaned about how he didn’t grow up in the Cosby family the show veered dangerously close to AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL territory. Something else to avoid: imitating THE O.C.’s trope of beginning every episode at breakfast in the Cohen household. Last night’s 90210 began and ended at the breakfast table; perhaps next time we can do lunch?

In the end Harry and Debbie chortled over how they “knew” the kids had invited their friends to join them. So why go through the whole rigmarole of Family Night at all, except to torture the kids? Instead of clueless, they now look petty and spiteful. But either way, parents just don’t understand.

Some viewers may have had trouble understanding the 90-minute series premiere of FRINGE, the new series from LOST creator J.J. Abrams. Part of the problem is, the new show is not so steeped in mythology as LOST — not everything means something important. (Although some stuff does: Abrams noted that those symbols and animals and blips in the commercial bumpers mean…something, but aren’t necessary to enjoy the show.) I sort of enjoyed it myself (and would have liked it more with about 30 minutes trimmed out), but it was nothing particularly special, and did not strike me as an effective set-up for a weekly series. It felt like a one-off instead of a pilot. The show did not make the case for “the Pattern” being any kind of a real threat — why does Broyles think such disparate cases as missing children and flesh-destroying pathogens are related? Especially since missing kids are not at all unusual? By trying too hard to be mysterious, FRINGE left me unintrigued by its central mystery.

Casting was another problem: I apologize for typecasting, but did anyone out there not wonder what Pacey was doing so far from the Creek? Even with chin scruff, Joshua Jackson still looks like a kid, and constantly calling Agent Dunham “sweetheart” did not make him seem hardboiled. Nor did it make Dunham seem interesting as the focus of the show. Anna Torv is certainly pretty, but in the pilot did not exude the magnetism I wanted to see from a lead character on a kooky quest. I suppose Dunham was trying to subsume her personal feelings for Agent Scott, but combined with the severe ponytail, her clenched jaw made her seem cold. Think about Mulder in THE X-FILES (the series this new show closely apes, despite protestations by the-powers-that-be): The intensely charismatic David Duchovny famously limited Mulder’s facial expressions, but his dedication to the cause bordered on mania, and that enthusiasm infected the audience, sweeping us up right alongside the skeptical Scully.

I credit the show for daring to be intellectual to the point where the two action sequences — the rooftop pursuit and the later car chase — seemed wildly out of place. And while the storyline effectively integrated so-called “fringe science” in a totally organic way, it had its dramatic failings: Dunham went through all that just so Scott could die in a car crash? The best sequence came when Dunham agreed to enter the isolation tank to contact the comatose Scott. Not only did Torv look good, but the swirling camera gave a sense of the way the experiment was being rushed and the discombobulation Dunham must have been feeling at the bizarre concept of being pumped full of drugs, wired into a computer and told to sync her brain with another person’s mind. And then it worked!

But that was just about the only thing that did. I will watch again next week if nothing better is on, but J.J. and crew need to establish a Pattern of good episodes to win me over.

Nobody seems to be winning the artificial gang war Vic stirred up on THE SHIELD. Just a week into it events were spiralling out of control, forcing him to improvise desperately to keep his family alive. The most astonishing aspect of the story was the idea that Homeland Security suspects Al-Qeda of supplying drugs and weapons to L.A. street gangs to finance terror operations. In this case, the perpetrators of some truly heinous crimes were a different sort of home-grown “terrorists” — children trying to act like their elders by committing murders. This episode really made the most of its TV-MA rating for Language: The “previously on” segment was a virtual recap of all the variations of s–t used on last week’s show, and last night’s installment featured a furious round of insults by African-American characters hurling the N-word at one another.

If I had to use one word to describe GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT, it would be predictable. As in, this script was the most predictable of the season. When Claire and Ryan got all blissed out and cutesy before his operation, I knew he was dead meat. When Robin told Julian that Saira thinks he’s the One, I knew he would rush out and hit on another woman. And when Claire arrived at Jake’s I knew it would be her, since they both needed “comforting.” I was (slightly) surprised that Epiphany and Lando…er, Toussaint reconciled so quickly, but I always expected them to get back together. I particularly enjoyed the scenes of Toussaint and Robert wondering where the years disappeared to so quickly, and why their bodies were breaking down. I might add that I knew Robert was going to act all macho and defiant, but I credit that to the character being so clearly defined that anyone who “knows” him knew how he would react. And his physical struggle contrasted effectively with Toussaint’s emotional battle with Epiphany. Of course, Claire had the biggest emotional ride, going from the blush of first attraction to the bliss of making out with her patient to the emptiness of having him die. She should have run in the other direction the moment she saw the grim-faced Patrick and Epiphany. Perhaps one day Claire will realize she’s on a soap opera, and learn how to recognize dead-meat characters on sight.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/9/08

“Dan and the mother are in a book club? Now there’s a novel twist.” — Gossip Girl

This was a funny episode of GOSSIP GIRL, thanks to lines like the above, and the show’s willingness to take Blair down a peg or two. While she went to great lengths in her quest to become the “consort” to Lord Marcus, she remained unwilling (or unable) to surrender in her battle with Chuck. So fans got to see obsequious Blair and Queen B Blair. Chuck and Blair plotting and manipulating at cross-purposes? That’s how true villains make love — none of this “I’ll bring her pretty flowers” sensitive nonsense. Chuck pulling the rug out from under buddy Nate by offering the family money —that’s the Chuck we love to hate. Chuck banked on Blair not knowing Marcus’ mother (a.k.a. the Duchess). And, thanks to clever plotting (actually, storytelling born of miraculous coincidence…we’d never been told about his parents, so they could have been anyone) he introduced her to the Duchess, providing Blair the chance to put her expensively-shod foot in her mouth — twice. Turned out Catherine (the well-preserved Madchen Amick, once TWIN PEAKS’ battered Shelly) is Marcus’ stepmom — and the older woman Nate is…er, servicing. And Catherine has a sharp tongue, as when she told Blair Marcus would never end up with “a lowly Waldorf.” The look of utter shock on Leighton Meester‘s face was worth the price of admission. And when she spotted Nate and Catherine rolling around on the library floor, Blair’s crying of “Oh, my Effing God!” actually sounded believable. And believe that Blair the Queen B — as in Bitch — is back. Her eyes bore holes in Chuck as she hissed “You lose,” after turning the tables on his plan. Finally, can Dan please get Serena a box of chocolate-covered strawberries every week?

The thing to remember about the second-season premiere of TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES is, it was never the plan for this episode to be a season-opener — that’s just the slot where things got jammed up by the writers’ strike. Rather than return with just a couple of episodes, the-powers-that-be decided to hold the leftovers and add them to the new fall season. But since the last-aired episode ended on a cliff-hanger, they had to use the follow-up episode.

Now, no one expected a chintzy little car bomb to take out Cameron, but it did have the effect of rebooting her programming to its original mission, namely, terminating John Connor. This was bound to happen sooner or later, and on one level I’m glad the producers got the story out of the way. On the other hand, the tale did feel more than a little rushed. Essentially one long chase, the episode ironically opened with too much slow-motion and confusing editing. Eventually, Sarah and John managed to trap Cameron, and in the only scene of real acting in the story, Cam (Summer Glau) begged John not to deactivate her, pleading, “I don’t want to go,” and, “I love you.” She almost had him convinced until she miscalculated with the “love” line. (How ironic for a computer to miscalculate!) John looked like he wanted to believe her, and, yeah, she’s hot, but she is, y’know, a robot. (Naturally, one wonders why SkyNet was churning out terminators that look like cute girls, but apparently even in the future sex sells.) John resisted her ploy and de-chipped her — only to plug her back in instead of destroying her. Apparently, John is the “Terminator Whisperer,” because his puppy-dog eyes (plus a little timely tinkering with a screwdriver) convinced Cam to override her Terminatrix imperative and go back to protecting him. So, will this be the technique that FutureJohn uses to reprogram all the terminators he sends back to protect himself?

The most significant development was the introduction of a new Big Bad, in the form of Shirley Manson, lead singer for the band Garbage. At first she appeared to be a mysterious, hot-tempered Irish woman. Then she revealed herself to be a urinal — that is, a liquid-metal terminator disguised as a urinal. She’s probably a T-1000, but we’ll have to wait to see if she’s a more-advanced T-X. Though it was a surprise to see the upgraded model unveiled in this episode, I knew it was only a matter of time before SkyNet stopped trusting the job to clunky old T-800s and stepped up to the newer models.

ONE TREE HILL took a step backward this week with a dark, sad episode that featured the ugly story of Brooke getting beaten in her store and Grandpa Dan battling Nanny Carrie in the battle of “Why Won’t You Both Just Die?” villains. And then there was the shockingly unnecessarily death… <[p> But let’s start with the best part of the episode: Jamie. I’ve said it before: I loathe precocious child actors, but Jackson Brundage can really bring it. Whether it’s riding in a car seat, measuring his ears or trading rhymes and bustin’ a move with Quentin, Jamie is too cool for school.

Now for the uncool stuff: Brooke was savagely beaten (but was she raped?) by the intruder from last episode. However, as she told Deb, “I’m not gonna cry.” I am sure that was supposed to be some kind of “strong woman” statement, but it was undercut by her lament that she didn’t want to let the press get involved. That comment made her sound petty — almost as if what was really worrying her was the potential for unflattering photographs. She asked Deb to teach her how to use a gun, implying viewers can expect a revenge storyline (in which, I predict, she will stop herself from killing her attacker because he’s “not worth it.”) Peyton had one doozy of a blonde moment when she believed Brooke’s ludicrous story about falling down the stairs on her face. (Seeing this story, I’m inclined to believe the writers fell down the stairs — on their brains!)

In contrast, this was Q’s Best Day Ever: He was finally having fun playing basketball again; Jamie decided to make him a superhero cape; he got an A+ from his tutor, Haley, and told her he wants to have children someday (even a little girl!)…. As the evidence started to mount, I realized there was no way this was going to end well. As soon as he pulled into that lonely gas station, I said, “They are not seriously going to kill Quentin in a random robbery, are they?” They did. And he died. What a terrible waste of a character. It’s true the writers had pretty much derailed his hoop dreams with the hand injury, but there was an opportunity to demonstrate that there is more to life than sports — Nathan cannot let go of his NBA quest, and he and Lucas and Skills not only coach basketball, they constantly hark back to their halcyon days as state champs. Everyone either plays basketball or wishes they did (or cheered for someone who did). Why couldn’t Q have gone to college? From the previews for next episode it appears the rationale was to set up an emotional story about Jamie dealing with death. But there should have been another way (how about letting Grandpa Dan succumb to his alleged heart condition?) I’m also going to predict Q will be buried in his new cape.

My colleague, Mala, called this OTH’s “Jump the Shark” episode, and even though I have only been watching since last season, I’m inclined to agree….

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/8/08

I am willing to admit that a huge part of my problem with TRUE BLOOD is that, just like heroine Sookie, I cannot get past the lead vampire being named “Bill.” Now, I have nothing against guys named Bill, it’s just not a very vampirish name (which could actually be a compliment, depending on your disposition toward undead blood-suckers).”William” would be much more suitable, I believe. Besides an imposing moniker, the other thing it would be nice for the lead in a drama to have is…a personality. Bill was sadly lacking in the premiere — a sneer is no substitute. (If I were being mean, I could suggest that Stephen Moyer add another facial expression to his repertoire, but Bill was supposed to be unapproachable, and then mad that somebody tried to drain his blood, so he was probably directed to emphasize that attitude.) I have to admit that draining the vampire’s blood was a nice twist on the idea of vamps draining the blood of their victims, but the show needed something more.

What it could have used a lot less of was the heavy-headed rights-for-minority-of-your-choice motif. There is such a thing as not crushing your story under the weight of metaphor. Creator Alan Ball‘s SIX FEET UNDER was not always subtle, but I don’t recall the anvils falling this fast and furiously. Trying to distract viewers with nudity and an intriguing opening-credit sequence (okay, and great music) wasn’t enough. And could Tara be any more nasty and off-putting? I am willing to check out next week’s episode to see if things get any better — but somehow I don’t think that attitude is what HBO had in mind for its trademark Sunday-at-9 slot.

HBO’s current signature series, ENTOURAGE, took the summer off, and it turned out Vince spent it living a life of wine-women-and-song decadence for”$79 a day” on a beach in Mexico. While I can understand his reluctance to return to Hollywood after the unholy bomb that was Medellin, isn’t the entire point of this series the idea that Vince can score all the fabulous babes he wants and live like a Roman emperor in Los Angeles (or anywhere)? Why get so hung up on these particular beach bunnies, unless the actual point is that he’s hiding? Besides, nobody can live without a weekly dose of Ari Gold. The priceless Jeremy Piven was in volcanic midseason form just moments into the premiere. Vince was back in circulation by the end of the episode, which was good thing, because I was not going to tune in to any series called BEACH COMBER. (Beside, NBC has something called CRUSOE that should cover that demographic.)

MAD MEN covers the”people who want cool shows” demo, and last night was no exception. Ken got a slice of the spotlight due to his fledgling writing career, which attracted a lot of attention from Salvatore and his wife Kitty (played by Sarah Drew, whom it took me a while to place as Hannah from the late, lamented EVERWOOD).

Another soap veteran, AS THE WORLD TURNS’ former Lucy, Peyton List, got a chance to flesh out Jane as a little more just a hottie vacuum-packed into form-fitting outfits. Turns out she has moxie and a no-nonsense attitude. She dismissed the Rothko painting as”smudgy squares” — which it is. (The artwork may make a viewer think, but there’s no denying its simplistic composition.) It was clever of her to sashay by Roger’s office to enlist his help saving her job from Joan’s jealousy. And that job is working for Don, who recalled another job he once held: used-car salesman. While pondering buying a new Cadillac, Don flashed back to a mystery woman confronting a not-so-Brylcreemed version of himself on the car lot where he worked and accusing him on not being”Don Draper.” Hmmm, obviously she knew DD, so what are the chances of that woman showing up again?

Speaking of things that come back to haunt us, we now know whom to blame for the odious practice of product placement: Bobbie Barrett (at least according to this universe). Bobbie allegedly came up with the scheme for her obnoxious hubby Jimmy’s show. One last bit of”repeating”: Betty puking in the car! After Don obsessed so much over keeping it immaculate (to the point of refusing sex and then later inspecting the kids’ hands), Jimmy’s accusations made Betty sick to her stomach. You can bet that will also come back to haunt Don.

I hope you come back for the next installment of Night Shift

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/3/08

90210, the self-described most-anticipated premiere of the fall, proved to be meandering and somewhat diverting if ultimately pointless. After it was over I tried to recall what it was about and failed, so I settled for (sorta) remembering what happened: Some pretty people moved from the Midwest to Beverly Hills, where they met some other pretty people, and some stuff happened at a high school where everyone was too old to actually be a student. No, wait — that was BEVERLY HILLS, 90210. Oh, yeah…it was also 90210, so we’re cool.

The show opened cool and efficiently: Annie and adopted brother Dixon (Shenae Grimes and Tristan Wilds) are open-minded and cool enough to joke with each other about sex and share one of those improbable parent/child relationships seen only on TV. No sooner had their dirt-caked minivan pulled into a posh Beverly Hills driveway than everyone started expositioning all over each other, and by 8:03 the kids were rockin’ a bikini and swim trunks.

And that’s really what this show is all about, right — how everyone looks and what they’re wearing (and listening to). I’m sure all the fashions were trendy labels, and I recognized the music (which probably means it was hip, like, months ago, and thus is now over). And everyone looked good. Really good. When AnnaLynne McCord‘s Naomi strutted into class late, I thought she was a teacher who was early for the next class because she looked so much older than the actual teacher, Ryan (Ryan Eggold). Turns out she Naomi was just late because she was stressing over her sweet 16 party. Now, we all understand the show cannot hire real 15-year-olds because child-labor laws do not permit them to work enough hours to star in an hour-long network drama, but that doesn’t mean the actors they hire can’t look a little more age-appropriate. The only person who looked older than her was Navid, who looked every month of portrayer Michael Steger‘s 28 years. But forget about the ersatz teens — the show should be centered on Jessica Walter‘s boozy Tabitha! With her sloshed stories about Al Pacino and Ricardo Montalban, she’s 10 times more entertaining than any of the kids.

I have to give the premiere props for squeezing so much highschool backstabbing and double-crossing into two hours. (Apparently this is the sort of thing I missed out on by not being in the popular clique. Who knew?) One thing that really surprised — no, shocked — me was that when Harry (MELROSE PLACE vet Rob Estes) discovered that he had a sudden son (how soapy is that cliche?) he actually told his wife, Debbie (Lori Loughlin, who actually resembles Grimes enough to be believable as her mother), instead of lying about it. (90210 ain’t gonna get very far as a nighttime soap with that kind of honesty.)

I know, I know: You wanna know what I thought about the returns of Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth as Brenda and Kelly, respectively. Well, they had tiny parts, but it was fun to see them again. Surprisingly, very little was made of them being legacy characters. In fact, if Kelly and Brenda mentioned being former students at West Beverly then I missed the references. When the two reputed real-life rivals reunited, their characters talked about life being too short to waste time on petty feuds, which I thought was a good way to get past the elephant in the room. Kelly has a baby — is the show setting up a “Who’s the daddy?” mystery by not identifying the father on the phone? — and a baby sister, in the svelte form of Erin, (or simply “Silver”), played by the breath-taking Jessica Stroup. Tart-tongued Silver has a video blog called “The Vicious Circle” that will date 90210 as badly as the Flock of Seagulls haircuts skewers the original; when this series is released on data crystals in the year 2038, kids will point an laugh at Silver’s quaint, vintage “laptop.”

No matter the century, no one will ever consider THE SHIELD “quaint.” Shifting gears from the puffery of ersatz high-school angst to the jungle of police corruption is not for the faint of heart, and should probably only be attempted by professional TV viewers who can handle the shift in pressure without getting the bends.

THE SHIELD kicked off its final season with a brutal, gory episode that saw Vic and Ronnie fomenting a three-way gang war between the Armenians, Mexican and Salvadorans in order to save their own skins. Ronnie committed another of the series trademark murders even as Vic tried to figure out if he has to kill former buddy Shane once and for all. In the end he decided the deed will have to be done. The blackmail, backstabbing and revenge in Farmington make the dust-ups in 90210 look like…well, child’s play. Dixon and the lacrosse team may have released pigs at a rival high school, but never dragged their enemies underneath a car to literally paint territorial lines in blood. And both series are better for it.