Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/28/09

I have to say, the season finale of HEROES felt very slapped together, as if the-powers-that-be decided to cut bait and get out of Volume 4 by any means necessary. Sure, there was a significant death — Nathan — but c’mon, the junior senator from New York has been a constant target throughout the series. Remember when he was apparently assassinated at the end of season two? Or seemingly blown up at the end of the first season? Most importantly, why didn’t Claire simply give him a quick transfusion and bring him back to life? Noah was shot to death back in season two and later revived with an IV of Claire’s blood. So why wouldn’t she save her biological father?

That was just the biggest reason that the finale felt way too rushed and anticlimactic. All the specials who were captured were released, and the government denizens who hunted them had the tables turned, but still. I was left feeling rather … meh.

There were great moments, such as the revelation that Sylar moved the “off switch” from its usual spot in the back of his head. (As I expressed last week, I’m relieved that he’s not immortal — as far as we know.) Parkman is even more powerful than we thought (and for once a painting of the future did not factor in the finale), but can his conditioning of Sylar last? Parkman transferred all of Nathan’s memories into the baddie, but is he “really” Nathan? Peter now has the chameleon power, and Hiro’s power to stop time appears to be killing him. And, in case you were confused, the body burned on the funeral pyre at Coyote Sands belonged to James Martin, the original shape shifter. The Building 26 team was dissolved and replaced by an all-new Company led by Noah. and all was forgiven.

As is customary, the next story began with a brief teaser. Volume 5 is called “Redemption,” and picks up six weeks later, with a water-based character who resembles Tracy drowned a former government agent in his home, calling him “number four.” Meanwhile, in his Senate office, Nathan/Sylar claimed he was not feeling like himself, and was fascinated by a clock. Using his original Sylar power to sense how things work, he realized the clock was running fast and fixed it. Uh-oh… Well, those two teasers are not exactly going to keep me on the edge of my seat until next season…

GOSSIP GIRL took a page out of LAW & ORDER’s playbook by spinning a story out of real-life events. Serena’s new beau, Gabriel, turned out to be a financial swindler, much like Anne Hathaway’s boyfriend was suspected of. Blair thought he was having an affair with Poppy, but no one realized the socialite was actually his partner. Meanwhile, Blair and Nate are a couple again. Nate rented a place in Murray Hill. Chuck scoffed at the neighborhood, but it’s close to the WEEKLY offices, and seems nice enough to me! As if he hasn’t already stirred up enough trouble, Chuck sprung Georgina from juvie. This oughtta be good…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/27/09

Daytime invaded prime time on Friday, when YOUNG AND RESTLESS’s Thad Luckinbill (J.T) and Amelia Heinle (Victoria) and BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL’s Lesli Kay (Felicia) visited GHOST WHISPERER to play…soap opera stars! Okay, so Heinle played a college professor — but she was having a secret, long-distance affair with a soap character, and that’s very…er, soapy! The storyline saw the fictional daytime drama Hope’s Edge (you can guess the genesis of that name) set up shop in Grandview for a location shoot. Delia was over the moon with excitement, as was Jim — and even Eli was “outed” as a fan (a superfan, in fact). Only Melinda was clueless about the appeal of daytime. (Which sadly mirrors the real world, where too many young women are not watching.) Luckinbill played Grant Harper, the actor who portrayed hotshot surgeon Dr. Troy Holdon on Hope’s Edge. Kay was his co-star Suzanne Zale, better known for playing Celeste Barrington, and Heinle was Brook Dennis, a professor at Rockland University, where Eli teaches. It turned out that the soap had its genesis in a stage play at Rockland, after an actor was killed onstage. The ghost of that thespian, Miles Maitland was played by Johnny Pacar (ex-Jimmy, AMERICAN DREAMS), and he appeared to be haunting Cally, (Kellie Martin, ex-Lucy, ER), who wrote that stage play and went on to create the soap. Of course, the haunting was not what it appeared to be. This is the standard GW modus operandi, but the truth this week seemed particularly lame — the ghost was afraid that his old pal Grant would not be able to get out of his contract and chase his dreams? So that’s why he haunted Cally’s TV? The explanation sounded like an afterthought, rather than the reason for the entire story.

Whatever, it was a pleasant change to see soaps portrayed relatively normally and accurately. Sure, Jim and Eli’s devotion opened them up to some teasing, but it was more the good-natured, loving kind of ribbing. No fan was portrayed as a psychotic who has lost touch with reality, and there was NO overblown, melodramatic “soap opera” acting (although the line about Troy awaiting Celeste in hell was a bit over-the-top). Instead, the fans were shown to be interested and plugged in to what was happening on their favorite show. One contributor to that: a doppleganger of Weekly appeared: a tabloid magazine called “Soap Opera Daily,” the logo of which resembled Soap Opera Digest very closely. And once Melinda was introduced to the show, she quickly became (tearfully) addicted. I’m sure Jennifer Love Hewitt’s tenure on the prime-time tear-jerker PARTY OF FIVE informed her performance.

Oh, and Melinda found out she’s pregnant with Jim’s baby. Now that’s classic soap opera.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/24/09

I have to hand it to SUPERNATURAL for being such a crafty show. (Is it witchcraft?) Producers used the pathetic cliché of the surprise son to deepen Sam and Dean’s understanding of their late father, John. In an episode cleverly titled “Jump the Shark,” the boys learn that their father had a child in Minnesota that he never told them about. The justification for the sudden reveal was that John wanted to shield young Adam from his dangerous life as a Hunter. While Dean took an instant dislike to the newcomer (because John always remembered Adam’s birthdays and took him to baseball games), Sam immediately took Adam under his wing, explaining the occult world of the Hunters and teaching his new little bro’ how to handle firearms. Sam also parroted the harsh lessons that he himself resented hearing from John just a few years earlier: A hunter can never allow himself to have personal relationships, because they make Hunters weak, and endanger others. Witnessing Sam’s lecture, Dean suddenly realized how like John Sam has become. Dean, the older brother, had to admit that no matter how much he idolized John — dressing like him, copying his habits — Sammy was truly behaving like their father. That was a tough thing for the tightly wound Dean to admit — and for Sam to acknowledge. Sam spent most the first season rebelling from John’s tutelage, but there he was, passing along the same lessons. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki handled the scenes well. The actors are particularly good at expressing the sibling rivalry without ever making it look like the boys truly hate each other. The sense of family always comes through. And hey, it’s always great to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s John again — even if it’s only in brief flashbacks. It’s ironic that Morgan has a deceased character on both SUPERNATURAL and GREY’S ANATOMY, yet it’s Denny who comes back from the grave for a major storyline! Gag of the night: The boys visited a diner called “Cousin Oliver’s,” clearly named after the archetypical jump-the-shark character from THE BRADY BUNCH!

BEING ERICA is all about dredging up the past, dealing as it does with time-traveler Erica Strange. I’m sometimes confused about what Erica is trying to accomplish on any particular journey into her past, and last night was one of those times. She wanted to go back to another social-disaster incident, which meant more 1980s music and dancing. (I’m beginning to think Erica’s real past mistake was being such a social butterfly; most of her problems stem from parties!) It also seems that Erica isn’t grasping the idea that she cannot change her past. Oh, sure, she can rearrange some of the details, but that just makes events go off the rails in a slightly different direction. Then she returns to the present and realizes that she has to look at her past failures in a different light. Presumably, that makes her think her forays into the past are successful. The mission I’d like to see her undertake is going back to the day that Dr. Tom decided to speak almost exclusively in quotations — and brain him! Here’s one of my own:

“I never have found the perfect quote. At best, I have been able to find a string of quotations which merely circle the ineffable idea I seek to express.”
— Caldwell O’Keefe

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/22/09

This is definitely one of those seasons on AMERICAN IDOL where just about everyone sitting at home claiming, “I could sing better than that,” is most likely right. I’ll bet even you rabid IDOL fans would admit to yourselves, in secret, that there is no Kelly Clarkson or David Cook in the competition this year. This is just like that season when what’s-his-name won. Yeah, that season. My jaw hit the floor when I heard Randy wax poetic about the top-to-bottom quality of the group of seven. Does he really have such a low opinion of all the previous seasons? The proof was in the karaoke: Take screechy Adam, who followed the old rule “If you can’t be good, be loud.” It was sad to watch Randy trying to convince his “dawg” that he would step right to the top of the charts. At least voice-of-reason Simon was on hand to slap down Anoop and co.

FRINGE actually took advantage of its New York City production location this week. Instead of trying to make the Big Apple look like Boston, the creepy series got to use Grand Central Terminal as Grand Central for a story set there. The story was written and directed by Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind), and it got off to a bit of a rough start. Olivia was remotely viewing murders in her dreams, and when she told her boss, Broyles actually growled, “You know how this sounds?” Dude! What has your office been doing all season? Why does your entire section exist? To investigate stuff that sounds really frakkin’ weird, like the Pattern! Why did you recruit Liv? To look into strange phenomena! In Goldsman’s defense, effective sci-fi writing is an art — but I had hoped he worked out the kinks after his horrible screenplay for the 1998 theatrical version of Lost in Space. Turned out Goldsman just needed a little time to build up momentum. In short order, we got scenes in which Peter gained a little insight into his father’s experience with madness. We also got another piece of the puzzle that is Olivia’s background, when it was revealed that this week’s killer, Nick Jane, was part of the Cortexiphan drug experiments on children in Liv’s hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. In fact, Nick was partnered with little “Olive” for the experiments, so his mind was calling out to her as an adult, allowing her to view his crimes in he dreams. Nick lost control of his abilities to make others feel his emotions — abilities honed by the recruitment training connected to the ZFT Manifesto. Which Walter wrote! See how it’s all coming together? The final rooftop sequence was harrowing, with Nick’s mind-controlled slaves perched limply at the edge, waiting for Nick to mentally push them to their deaths (which he did to one woman!). I like that Olivia actually shot Nick in order to stop him instead of trying to wrestle him into submission. The episode ended with Walter digging out an old videotape of one of the Cortexiphan experiments, in which a frightened young Olive can be seen sitting in the corner of what appears to be a burned-out room. Interestingly, the voice of the legendary Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy, can clearly be heard as William Bell! Nimoy is rumored to appear onscreen in the very last scene of the season finale on May 12. But what I really want to know is, did the Cortexiphan treatments give Liv a power?

RESCUE ME presented another side of Tommy this week. Of course he would have no problem with his daughter sleeping with another member of his fire crew — but Tommy flipped out at the idea that the couple is putting off sex until they get married! Turned out Tommy didn’t want his daughter getting hitched at a young age like her mother, so Tommy was in the unusual position of trying to talk his daughter into having premarital sex in hopes of souring the relationship and forestalling the nuptials. Also controversial: Franco continued to spout his 9/11 conspiracy theories; however, Mike got in his face and told him to stop because his suspicions cast the fallen heroes of 9/11 as dupes. Mike revealed that he became a fireman because he wanted to fight the bad guys and become a real-life superhero, and if Franco is right, Mike’s decision was based on lies. That’s a lot to think about. On a much lighter note, Garrity and Franco went to female doctors to receive hilariously “unorthodox” treatments for back pain that I can’t even hint at in this blog. And Lou mentioned his post-9/11 poetry to Genevieve, the French writer. That was a nice callback to season one.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/21/09

So let me get this straight: HEROES’ big bad, Sylar, can do just about anything (or steal the ability to do it)…and now he’s immortal? Sylar ironically stated, “Dead is dead,” shortly before he proved just the opposite. Which is funny, because the same thing happened on LOST, when Ben referred to Locke. It didn’t take then, either.

Apparently Sylar really did absorb immortality from Claire in the episode “The Second Coming” last fall. What’s interesting about a villain with no weaknesses at all? The “sweet spot” in the back of the head was the classic Achilles’ heel; the kryptonite of the specials. For all Sylar’s abilities, he had to guard the back of his head. I always had the hope that HRG might get the chance to squeeze off a lucky shot and cap the killer from behind. Now that’s no longer a possibility. Perhaps HRG could cut off Sylar’s head, or remove his brain — could he regenerate from that? Perhaps Sylar could live on as a decapitated head, but how much could he accomplish in that state? Sure, the powerful baddie makes things look grim for the good guys, but where is the hope? Are we supposed to be entertained by watching the heroes nobly step up, one after the other to face Sylar and be destroyed (and thus contribute their powers to his ever-growing arsenal)? That would be boring.

The show tried to depict Sylar struggling not only to control his powers but to come to terms with who he is. The classic mother/son push/pull could have been entertaining, but it was reduced to farce by having Sylar physically morph back and forth between personifying himself and Virginia Grey (again played by Ellen Greene, late of PUSHING DAISIES). Even Psycho’s Norman Bates didn’t have mommy issues like this! Sylar apparently needed his mother to forgive him for murdering her, but since he was roleplaying her, did “she” really bestow absolution? And if that detail doesn’t matter, then what was the point of the episode? There was an interesting (though possibly unintentional) parallel with Ando and Hiro. As Ando grows more comfortable in his heroic role as the “Crimson Arc” (presumably that moniker sounds cooler in Japanese!), Hiro grows more jealous. Personally, I liked Ando much better as a “mere” human. He kept his buddy Hiro grounded by reminding him what it meant to be a real person. But Ando also showed bravery by following Hiro on adventures without powers. I’ve always maintained that HRG is my favorite character, but the old Ando was right up there, too. Now, he’s much less interesting as a special with a chip on his shoulder. Perhaps he will remember the man he used to be. Which brings us back to the erstwhile Gabriel Gray. I suppose HEROES is building to Sylar eventually defeating himself by going mad or simply overloading his own brain, but if that doesn’t happen, where does a show with an omnipotent villain go? Will Sylar simply battle Claire and Peter ceaselessly until the sun goes nova? Enemies who cannot vanquish each other, no matter how hard they try, just as in the pointless The Matrix Revolutions?

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/16/09

I liked this week’s installment of LOST, but I expected … more. Miles was not one of my favorite new(ish) characters, and he has felt like dead weight lately. (Yes, pun intended.) I like him more now that I know him a little better, but I cannot believe that the-powers-that-be could not come up with a more interesting backstory for a guy who can sense the final thoughts of the dead! It started off strongly, with young Miles terrorized by a corpse, but then the story jumped too far ahead. While there’s room to better explain his childhood, with the series wrapping up next season, is there time? I wanted to see more of his career contacting the dead for cash. (Did you recognize Dean Norris, BREAKING BAD’s Hank, as the grieving Howard Gray?) So Miles’ father is Dr. Pierre Chang, a.k.a. “Marvin Candle”? It seemed a little too convenient that Miles was recruited by Naomi to go the very place where his mysterious father was sequestered — until you consider that Charles Widmore was financing the Kahana expedition, and was assembling former Island inhabitants (like Charlotte) to go. I loved the rather unique role Naomi wanted him to play: to ask the people that Ben killed to help find him. No wonder his audition was to interrogate a corpse! As is tradition, the lives of all the Island personnel turn out to be interlaced, and Miles is no different, but how big a surprise was it to see Ilana’s sidekick, Bram, kidnap Miles and try to talk him out of working for Widmore? Since Bram opposes Widmore, is it safe to assume he works for Ben? Did Ben arrange for Bram to be aboard Ajira Airways Flight 316? If he did, that makes Bram an important secret ally among the 316 survivors. And the question came up once again, “What lies in the shadow of the statue?”

Hurley writing the The Empire Strikes Back is a hilarious conceit that actually made my brother laugh out loud, so kudos there, LOST. And Hugo mentioned adding “improvements”? How does one improve on ESB? Given his avowed hatred of Ewoks, Hurley probably inserted a scene in which Endor is destroyed, preempting Return of the Jedi’s setting. BTW, did you notice the name tag “Hurley” on his jumpsuit? I thought Hugo was not overly fond of that nickname.

The next all-new episode airs on April 29, and will focus on Daniel Faraday — who actually is my favorite new(ish) character.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/15/09

“Monsters aren’t real, right?”
— Ella, FRINGE

Tuesday night means horror on a nearly unprecedented scale. And then, after AMERICAN IDOL is over, I can relax with a nice, comforting monster on FRINGE. This old-fashioned “bug hunt” was one of the more overt X-FILES homages, with our friendly feds called in to investigate a “monster of the week” that turns out to be…a monster. The creature (freed by animal-rights activists from a research lab) was described as having the body of a lion, claws of an eagle, fangs of a viper, skin of a rhinoceros and tail of a rattlesnake, but of course, budget constraints meant the monster was only revealed at the very end. Mostly we just saw the menacing tail rattle. And while the reveal proved to be even briefer than I’d hoped, it looked pretty good. For a dead griffin. Once again, Walter suspected that his old research was the springboard for this threat, but I enjoyed seeing his newly matured reactions. Earlier in the season he was so divorced from society (and reality) that he paid no mind to the repercussions of his research. However, this week he was shown to have some recognizably human emotions and appropriate responses. Not everything he said was about food and using the facilities (although those themes continued — and will you ever look at an omelet the same way again?); he seemed genuinely anguished. Before he could bring himself to confess his guilt, he warned Olivia to be careful. Walter learned a lesson about consequences: He’s never thought of them before, and while he doesn’t think he can start now, at least he knows that about himself. I like seeing that growth in the character. It makes the mad scientist more relatable. Then again, he also drank a bottle of poison to kill the monster just in case he got eaten in one-on-one combat. Speaking of which, what’s up with “Walter, the action hero”?! The scientist with the blazing 50-caliber incendiary rounds! Walter was motivated to self-sacrifice when the creature attacked Charlie, but this gave us the opportunity for a glimpse at Charlie’s personal life. Turns out he has a wife, and when he lay dying, he called her and told her he loves her (giving Kirk Acevedo a chance to do some subtle acting). Olivia could barely hide being non-plussed when Peter called her place looking for Rachel, who in turn got all flirty on the phone. Liv definitely is feeling some rivalry with her sister. In the end, Olivia was bothered by the howling wind (which sounds a little like the monster), so she slept with the light on. Because monsters really do exist.

RESCUE ME was capped by a great special-effects moment, when a propane bottle exploded under a car, shattering plate-glass windows and throwing Tommy for a loop. Just seconds earlier the off-duty fireman dragged the driver from the out-of-control car that ran over the tank. That heroism was the capper on an episode that saw Tommy continue to lash out at those closest to him. He visited ex-wife Janet again, and awkwardly discovered that Dwight uses a wheelchair — but that didn’t slow down Tommy. He laced into Dwight with a very un-PC rant. Then he went to the new bar Sean, Mike and Franco were opening, and laid into the boys searing personalized insults. The firehouse crew met Genevieve (Karina Lombard), the French journalist writing a book on 9/11, and the show didn’t back away from controversy when Franco told her that he believes 9/11 was an “inside job” pulled off by neoconservatives. Lou told an emotional story about how even fragments of body parts retrieved from Ground Zero were treated with honor. He tearfully confessed about using up all his emotions in those days, leaving him nothing left to feel. Tommy was cynical about Genevieve’s motives for doing a “comprehensive” book — how can it help those left behind? Fans of this series know how deeply the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001 has affected these characters, so expect the horror to be revisited for the rest of the season.