Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 3/16/09

KINGS is NBC’s ambitious new series about a mythical land called Gilboa, the capital of which looks a lot like Manhattan with some extra CGI skyscrapers. Gilboa is ruled by good King Silas. Ian McShane (ex-Al Swearengen, DEADWOOD) is a commanding presence even without a crown, but I kept waiting for him to unleash one of Swearengen’s patented expletive-laced tirades. Silas is the kind of benevolent monarch who doesn’t like to leave crowds of admiring subjects shivering in the cold, waiting for one of his extemporaneous speeches. He’s old-fashioned enough to be embarrassed to the point of homophobia by a gay son, but modern enough to be a puppet of the military-industrial complex — personified by his conniving brother-in-law, William. Silas also has a mistress and (in the best tradition of soaps) a secret son. Susanna Thompson (ex-Karen, ONCE & AGAIN) plays his official consort with quite a bit more humanity than she showed as the Borg Queen on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION. The story turns on young soldier David Shepherd rescuing Prince Jack from the enemy. (He’s like a shepherd rescuing a lost lamb, get it?) He did this by facing down an enemy tank dubbed “Goliath.” And yes, the newspaper headlines read “David vs. Goliath.” Unfortunately, that’s about the level of subtlety in the entire two-hour premiere. The hero was handsome and square-jawed; Princess Michelle was beautiful and worried about health care for her people (especially the children!); and political intrigue oozed from myriad LCD TV screen. I like this sort of thing a lot better when it’s happening on THE TUDORS (but that Showtime series doesn’t return until April 8), because I just can’t wrap my head around a modern monarchy. At least a king that actually functions as head of state instead of serving as a figurehead. I figure I’ll watch again if KINGS is still around after THE AMAZING RACE is over.

Speaking of the 8 o’clock start time, the gloves came off on THE AMAZING RACE 14 after Margie and Luke U-Turned the eliminated duo last week; Luke is now “the sinister deaf kid.” In 2009, everything is political, so I leave it to the deaf community to deal with Luke’s refusal to read lips, but I would suggest it’s a good thing that he could be viewed as a “villain,” just like any other racer. This week, the teams were rushin’ across Russia, and drove a snow plow and ran a mile in their underwear. (Yeah, I didn’t know that was an authentic “Russian” activity, either.) But it was fun to watch. As a thong-clad Christie noted, “I knew it would be bare minimum, but I didn’t know it would be my bare minimum!” She and Jody…er, brough up the rear, but they were not eliminated; instead, next week they will be penalized by runnig a “Speed Bump” — an extra task that might make them finish last again, and get bounced.

BREAKING BAD managed to bump up the paranoia and fear this week, with Walt and Jesse prisoners of the increasingly erratic Tuco. If you’ve been watching, you understand just how frightening the concept of an “increasingly erratic Tuco” is. In the pressure-cooker of Tuco’s safe house, the drug lord prepared to drag his top cookers to Mexico. Meanwhile, the guys tried to figure out how to kill Tuco with the ricin Walt had prepared. Unfortunately, merely touching the poison didn’t kill him fast enough, so what followed a tense series of near-misses in which Tuco nearly ingested the toxin, only to be saved at the last second. But his last seconds still arrived, courtesy of DEA agent Hank, who tracked Tuco down and gunned him down. The interesting revelation here is that Jesse believes Walt is as good as dead from the lung cancer. He believed Walt should have been willing to risk what’s left of his life to take out Tuco. From now on, Walt should regard Jesse with even more suspicion than usual.

Part One of the three-part series finale of BATTLESTAR GALACTICA began the endgame by taking viewers back to the beginning — actually, before the beginning — for a glimpse life on Caprica before the Fall. (Not everyone lived on Caprica, which is why we only saw stories involving Laura, Bill, Kara, Lee and Baltar/Six. Tyrol and Sharon were on Picon, for example.) The peek was devoted to showing what our friends were doing before their civilization was destroyed. In a way, Laura’s world ended when her father and sisters were killed by a drunken driver (different planet; same problems). Contrast that with Gaius Baltar’s alcohol-fueled encounter with Six in the back of a limousine. Clearly, he had just met her, and was so manic and distracted (by, among other things, his father, Julius, who was suffering from dementia) that it was understandable how she would be able to manipulate him. We also got to see Lee introduced to Kara by her boyfriend, his brother Zak (a character played in the original series by a young Rick Springfield, who is now GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Dr. Noah Drake).

Aboard Galactica in the present:
•An imprisoned Tyrol (He unwittingly helped Boomer kidnap Hera.) told Karl that all the Sharons are alike because, “We made them the same.” But Karl insisted Athena was different. Well, Cavil was certainly convinced that Karl and Athena’s child, Hera, was different. At the Colony, Cavil coldly resolved to dissect the child and determine what made the “half-human, half-Cylon curiosity” tick. A Simon was eager to start the operation, and a Doral seemed to be in agreement, but Boomer was (of course) against destroying the miracle child.
•Kara told Bill she found her body on Earth and burned it, and as a consequence, “I don’t know what I am.” He looked at her and said, “I know what you are. You’re my daughter. Don’t forget it.” Then he had her plug in Anders so he could ask the makeshift Hybrid how to find the Colony. Later, Bill resolved to lead the decaying Galactica on one last (one-way) mission against the Colony. Ironically, we saw Lee Adama ram the Battlestar Pegasus into a basestar back in Season 3’s Exodus, Part II. When the Old Man asked for volunteers to crew the suicide mission, Galactica’s command staff, Bill and Tigh, as well as civilian leaders President Roslin and Vice President Lee, join the mission; Ellen claimed the Five would go on the mission. So who will be in charge of the fleet/rebel Cylons? Can the Quorum govern without a strong leader? Perhaps Baltar believes he can fill the power vacuum. Paulla claimed that Baltar’s followers control more than 50 percent of the ships in the fleet. Earlier, Virtual-Six had told Baltar, “The End Times are approaching. Humanity’s final chapters are about to be written, and you will be its author.” Sounds like a mandate from the Gods, right? Also earlier, Lee accused Baltar never having acted in an altruistic manner — of never having done anything that didn’t benefit him directly. Then, just a couple of hours later, Gaius got a chance to sacrifice himself for the survival of humanity and… he slinked into the shadows, letting others step up. Oh, Baltar… At the opposite end of the spectrum, Bill had to bar Doc Cottle from volunteering, because the fleet could not afford to lose a doctor. Based on info from Anders, Racetrack and Skulls were aent to locate the Colony: it was hidden in an asteroid field, and perched on the accretion disc of a black hole. An “accretion disc” is otherwise known as an “event horizon,” and is the visible matter being sucked into a black hole (which is invisible). Think of it like water spiraling down a drain. The Colony’s clever placement allows for only one possible approach, which will be heavily guarded. Good thing master strategists/tacticians Kara and Lee are on the case! If anyone can get Galactica close, those two can. Next time: a special two-hour block wraps up the series.

Will there be a “next time” for DOLLHOUSE ? This is still a show that I want to like more than I do — not just because I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku, but because I see a lot of potential in the premise of agents who minds and abilities are programmable based on their missions. The possibilities really are limitless, but I fear the conventions of TV will demand a lot of “shoot ’em up” adventures that will all blend together. Take this week’s installment, in which Echo was programmed to be blind in order to infiltrate a reclusive religious cult with a charismatic leader. (How ironic that in this, Echo’s least-sexy assignment, Dushku has never looked prettier.) I found that plot highly intriguing, yet by the end of the episode, the ATF had predictably invaded and the compound was on fire. I wonder if the show will be allowed enough time to find its feet or, to put it another way… find its identity.

Oh, yeah? Sez you!

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