Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe's 5/29/09

With this entry, the title of my blog changes, and the purview expands to include comments on daytime drama…

Everybody knows that soap cops only arrest innocent people for heinous crimes. It’s a truism that the more aggressively they pursue a suspect, the more innocent they are, and thus more likely to stand trial for a crime they didn’t commit.

In the course of investigating the beloved Stuart’s murder, ALL MY CHILDREN’s Jesse set his sights on Kendall, so she probably didn’t do it. Make that, she certainly didn’t do it, since Zach was so quick to take the blame. Zach illustrates another fact: Anyone who steps forward to confess is protecting someone else.

And it’s not just AMC. GUIDING LIGHT also killed off a prominent character, villainous Edmund. After years of causing trouble, the fallen prince turned up face-down in the river. Mallet has been pursuing Reva for the crime so doggedly that it’s obvious she’s not guilty. And he never questions the convenience of motive, means and opportunity being helpfully served up on a silver platter. Heck, even her husband Jeffrey has begun to fear she’s guilty. But worst of all, Mallet suggested that he is trying to make Reva miserable just in case she’s innocent; he thinks the “real” killer will see she’s miserable and save her. That is unforgivable! Mallet is a good guy, but he’s not supposed to be Jack Bauer!

GL’s Bill has been having more false-accusation problems. First he was suspected of Lizzie’s kidnapping, and now a Ponzi scheme. He got locked up — and then Lizzie was tossed in the slammer, too. Luckily, Springfield holds couples in the same cell. (Turns out that was Lizzie’s “first time” — in jail, that is. “I do not make a habit of getting arrested,” she later sniffed in mock indignation as she shuddered to think of “jail slime” still on her body.) Another way-too-convenient feature of the Springfield police station? It has a back door that people can use to sneak in unseen. Marina used it to smuggle baby Colin in to see Reva. Maybe Remy’s return will shape up the local constabulary. Oh, wait, his pockets are full of stolen diamonds…

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Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/27/09

On RESCUE ME last night, Lou characterized Tommy as “a selfish, spiteful hit-the-nail-on-the-head kind of guy.” That’s a harsh assessment, but it sounded like Lou hit the nail on the head. Tommy is the undisputed star of the series, but he is no hero. And that’s why we find Tommy to be so compelling. He’s a firefighter – an unquestionably heroic profession – but Mr. Gavin is a deeply flawed character. In fact, he has a lot of characteristics one might have seen in villains in earlier TV eras: He’s a misogynistic misanthrope who drinks to excess and has sex with any woman who indulges him; he’s petty and vain; he lies and he cheats. But he also has his own code of ethics, a nasty wrist shot, and he is undeniably self-sacrificing on the job. (Whether that makes him a great fireman or just crazy lucky is open to debate on the series itself.) And the exploration of Tommy’s dark side is endlessly fascinating.

Take last night’s episode. Left alone in the Engine 62 bar, Tommy succumbed to temptation and took a drink. What followed were visitations from several ghosts not seen in quite a while: dead cousin Jimmy, dead brother Johnny and their dead daddy, Michael. (I sometimes think I miss the magnificently talented Charles Durning on this show almost as much as Tommy does.) Michael told his son he loves him as a son, father and firefighter. Yeah, he was blowing smoke up his boy’s butt, for sure. Jimmy and Johnny quizzed Tommy about the events of 9/11, and he revealed that he was looking for Jimmy (which is why seeing Jimmy on Genevieve’s DVD hurt him so bad; Tommy wasn’t looking in the right place). Johnny accused his brother of being afraid to go into the towers. Tommy used the opportunity to release some pent-up aggression toward his father, and maintained that he can handle bombs going off (remember that dream a couple of weeks ago?) and buildings tumbling down around his ears, but kids and marriage scare him. He asked one of the central questions of the series: What happens after the heroism of the job when your shift is over? Is facing a family more intimidating then rushing into a burning building? Tommy tried to fight off a punk who wanted to rob the bar (play the hero — get it?), but got shot in the shoulder for his efforts. Tommy got the drop on the junkie and killed him. At that point, it became obvious this whole scenario was (predictably) in his head. But then the surprise: The junkie turned out to be Connor, Tommy’s dead son, all grown-up. Another dream. As the other specters began to ridicule Tommy, he opened fire on them; the hallucinatory substitute for cutting them down with his usual razor wit, I suppose. But typically lurid. The only problem? Tommy was using a real shotgun to shoot his hallucinations! Luckily Lou stopped by and was able to snap him out of his fever dream. Of course, Lou just wanted to rub Tommy’s nose in the fact that Lou had managed to bed Genevieve — and had a note to prove it. What’s not to love about this show?

Another series that I love, GREEK, could not be more different. Due to the plethora of other series airing on Monday nights, I have not had the opportunity to catch GREEK before this week; still, I had absolutely no problem getting right back into the swing of things. The characters are just as vividly delineated and the conflicts as deeply felt as on RESCUE ME, but not nearly as dark. The questions deal with friends and lovers, and unrequited love and lingering feelings for ex-lovers. Evan and Rebecca seem well-matched; just as Cappie and Casey seem destined for each other (whoever this “Max the perfect boyfriend” is, he can hit the bricks! What’s that – Michael Rady, who plays Max, is going to be on the MELROSE PLACE reboot this fall, so he’s probably not long for Cypress-Rhodes? Excellent!) I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Rusty even though I’d never seen Jordan before; the poor guy just cannot catch a break. Or can he? Jordan returned his feelings in a public declaration during class that would not have been out of place in Say Anything. But after he pulled that magical stunt of projecting the image of the Sistine Chapel on the lecture hall ceiling, what girl could resist, right? I have no idea how anyone could resist the appeal of GREEK. Start watching now, before the season ends on June 15.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/1909

So … what just happened on the two-hour season finale of 24? We know what appeared to be about to happen, but did it? Kim was just about to donate stem cells to save Jack’s life. And Renee was about to murder Alan Wilson. Well, the show was officially renewed for another season this week, so I’ll have to say that yes, Jack’s operation was a success, and no, Renee did not pull the trigger. I’d love to see Annie Wersching’s (ex-GENERAL HOSPITAL) character back next season. Day 8 will be filming in New York City this summer. In an atypical move, 24 devoted its final half-hour slowly tying up plot threads — including the political intrigue at the White House — but it did not resolve all of them. It was all rather low-key and, dare I say it, plodding. After yet another day of complicated action whipsawing through a single day, one could look at it as a chance to catch one’s breath and look back at what happened.

Jack’s trouble-magnet daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert) was back, which meant she was in some kind of trouble. The bad guys threatened to kill her unless daddy Jack busted frenemy Tony out of federal custody. In a big change from previous seasons, Kim managed to save her own bacon and then actually contribute to finding her lost dad. Sure, there was chaos and mayhem all around her, but she did think for a change, and saved the assassin’s laptop, which contained valuable information. Tony, meanwhile, kept his cohorts from killing Jack by hatching a plan to use the pathogens in Jack’s contaminated blood to synthesize a new bioweapon. (Paul McGillion, best known as Dr. Beckett on STARGATE: ATLANTIS, played Levinson without the familiar Scottish accent, so it took me a second to recognize him as the doctor who analyzed Jack’s spinal fluid.) I loved that development. Jack himself became the threat! That was an ingenious inversion of the usual formula, in which Jack is our savior. And it also echoed the theme of the Senate hearings that opened the series: Is Jack Bauer more of a threat than the terrorists? Jack’s methods made him a monster, but is he our monster, or simply an uncontrollable force? Are we justified to use criminal techniques against criminals? Can we sink to their level and still call ourselves superior? Do the ends justify the means? This irony could have been explored a little more extensively, but at least it was there, indicating the-powers-that-be were not just paying lip service to the torture question for the early episodes. Recognizing the threat he posed, Jack tried to self-immolate with a flare in a puddle of gasoline, but Tony stopped him. (So why was Tony previously shooting at him?) The Big Bad was finally unmasked this week, and he turned out to be the force behind a lot of bad things that happened over the past few seasons. Alan Wilson (portrayed by Will Patton, known for portraying particularly evil slimeballs), was blamed for ordering the beloved David Palmer assassinated; he was the power behind the crooked President Logan; and he had Tony’s wife, Michelle Dessler, killed. It was that last crime that motivated Tony to spend almost five years trying to get close enough to Wilson to kill him. I must say, Tony really went through a lot to accomplish this goal — so much, in fact, that I kind of doubt this was the ending they originally had in mind. Tony’s involvement with the CIP device and the biological attack on Washington were both pretty unforgivable — even for a man avenging his wife and child (Michelle was revealed to be pregnant when she got blown up). It’s hard to believe 24 would set up Wilson as this tremendous baddie and then kill him offscreen. I’ll bet he shows up again on Day 8. Jack actually used what he believed to be his last minutes on Earth to have a philosophical discussion with Renee about the use of coercion. Jack warned it is a slippery slope. He said he knows in his mind the law in right, but in his heart he cannot accept it. In an even more shocking move, Jack summoned the Imam to seek forgiveness, and the Muslim holy man was beneficent, giving him absolution for all of his sins. What a bold choice by TPTB that was!

It was graduation day on GOSSIP GIRL, but the gang was more concerned with uncovering the identity of Gossip Girl herself. She chose now to deliver some of her most devastating gossip bombs ever, prompting Serena to actually fight back by unmasking her. Fingers were pointed, tears were shed, and in the end GG revealed that her motivation for the scorched-earth e-mails was to burn off all her reserves of secrets and give everyone a fresh start in college. The true identity of GG was never explicitly revealed, but the person widely rumored to be GG was clearly seen in the ending bar scene. (If you don’t know, I won’t ruin it for you, since the show seems determined to make it a continuing subplot.)

The key revelations of the night: Chuck learned that Blair slept with his Uncle Jack on New Year’s, and Blair heard about Chuck and Vanessa’s tryst. Chuck’s Beast continued to be powerless before Blair’s Beauty, and by the end of the episode he had to concede defeat and declare his love for her. What’s that, a happy ending for the Upper East Siders?

And the board was set up for next season:
•Jenny was crowned the new queen bee, and her first act was to ban headbands.
•Rufus finally proposed, and Lily accepted.
•Georgina announced her intention to attend NYU with Dan — and become Blair’s roommate.
•And then there was Scott, who’s really… Oh, but you already know who he is, right? If not, then I’ll never tell. XOXO…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/18/09

Surely you’ve noticed what an ordeal is it to … er, survive the season finales of SURVIVOR? Well, SURVIVOR: TOCANTINS — THE BRAZILIAN HIGHLANDS was no different. I love the premiere installments, but I usually just groan and labor through the finales, or even just skip them entirely. (The only thing worse is a BIG BROTHER denouement.) Sure, there’s initial excitement as the extra players are eliminated, but the actual last episode, with its emphasis on reflection and philosophizing at a glacial pace, is always…just…bleh. Occasionally the appeals to the jury are entertaining, but not often. It’s just begging, which can be sad; the last two players explain that they stabbed everyone else in the back out of love and the noble pursuit of $1 million, and hey, they were just “playing the game,” so how can you hold that against ’em? And watching the jury members posture during their “questions” and try to come up with zingers that will be remembered long after their season has ended is often painful. THE AMAZING RACE always has the eliminated teams on hand to cheer for the eventual winners, but SURVIVOR likes to create a sort of “trail of the dead” — symbolic reminders of booted hopefuls — that’s usually kind of morbid. (The voice-overs add to the air of mourning.)

I was surprised that the traditional final endurance challenge was replaced by one testing manual dexterity, with the players competing with one hand literally tied behind their back. J.T. won immunity and chose to take Stephen to the jury instead of the more-polarizing Erinn. It was a risky move, but it paid off in a unanimous win. And whether it would be a rout was really the only mystery left. J.T. was far and away the most popular player, so the decent guy was a lock to win as long he got to the jury phase. J.T. also took home the fan-popularity award, adding another $100,000 to his winnings. I was rooting for Sierra, who was actually a finalist for the award. I never understood why she was so loathed in a season that also featured the odious Coach. And one last bit of good news: this fall’s next installment will have a much briefer title, SURVIVOR: SAMOA.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/15/09

SUPERNATURAL’s season finales always deliver — from the shocking wreck of the Impala at the end of season one (Okay, yeah, the Winchesters were inside…) to Dean being dragged to hell last season — and this week was no different. You could say it was one hell of a finale. Sam messed up big time, and now the ultimate Big Bad, Lucifer himself, has been set free to loose the Apocalypse on Earth. One good thing, tho. If this doesn’t teach Sammy to listen to his big brother, nothing will! I really liked how it was shown that everything since the very first episode was leading up to this point. This is what Azazel, the Yellow-eyed Demon, was building toward… making Sam the instrument of Armageddon. Sam became so powerful that he could torture demons; and so cold-hearted he could drink the blood out of a demon’s human host to build up his powers.

While Sam was executing the demons’ game plan to perfection, Dean got a front-row seat for the angels’ counterplan, which was to…let it all happen. Huh? Zachariah told Dean that the heavenly host sees the Apocalypse as just another fight, “and we like our chances.” The angels think that licking Lucifer in a fair fight will pave the way for paradise on Earth. And the human race? Collateral damage. Eggs and omelets, and all that… Oh, and “God has left the building,” so it’s up to Zach and Castiel and…Dean. The angels hit on the bright idea of using Dean as their Holy Warrior instead of anything so prosaic as an archangel. Yes, the same Dean who was, 10 minutes earlier, encouraging Cass to rebel against the plan. The same Dean who unwittingly set the entire Armageddon process in motion. (There was a nice symmetry to Dean starting the process and Sam completing it, doncha think?) Next season will be all about the battle with Lucifer. And since next year is the last for stars Jensen Ackles (Dean) and Jared Padalecki (Sam) as well as creator Eric Kripke, anything can happen to the Winchester boys.

The season finale of BEING ERICA delved into the enigmatic Dr. Tom just a bit. He didn’t haul out a single quotation, which made him much more palatable to me. Erica wanted to tackle her biggest regret: not being able to stop her brother from dying in a fire. It was a classic (or, if you prefer, cliché) time-travel trope: Can you save a life? Should you? Are some people meant to die? Of course Erica broke her non-interference pledge and stopped saved her sibling’s life. This angered and frustrated Dr. Tom. Yes, he displayed elements of an actual personality. Sure, the universe corrected itself by killing Leo farther up the timestream, but the damage was done. Erica learned to accept the inevitable, and Dr. Tom was replaced by Nadia, a new therapist. She is a seemingly cold-hearted bitch in a starkly antiseptic office that was the antithesis of Dr. Tom’s cluttered warmth. Will there be a second season?

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/14/09

One thing I can count on is that stuff will happen in the season finale of LOST. Lives will be…er, lost, and stuff will get blowed up good. And boy, did stuff ever happen! Perhaps the biggest development was the death of Juliet. Is she really dead? I think so. But did she manage to detonate Jughead’s explosive core or did the electromagnetic bubble rupture and unleash yet another “white event” time jump? If the nuke was detonated, what effect will it have? Miles could have been correct: the nuclear detonation itself could have been the Incident. Wouldn’t Juliet’s wrenching, tragic, Shakespearean death (Juliet kills herself in despair over losing her Romeo — get it?) be wasted if she gets resurrected by a reset? From a meta standpoint, consider this: Elizabeth Mitchell, who played Juliet, has the lead role in the new version of V. And dying is no impediment to appearing on this show. But no matter what happened, I think the ultimate result of that whiteout will be to jump all the Losties back to 2007, so everyone can be together. And when I say everyone, I include John Locke’s corpse. The other giant reveal was that Locke is actually still dead. Apparently Jacob’s enemy took on John’s form — he didn’t reanimate the corpse. Which begs the question, was this guy responsible for the sightings on the Island, like Christian and Walt sightings over the years? (For that matter, did he play the horse Kate saw?)

We were introduced to Jacob weaving tapestry and lounging on the beach in the shadow of the statue. A “friend” joined him to look at a sailing ship on the horizon — I’m guessing it’s the Black Rock. The black-shorted man discussed how much he wanted to kill Jacob and vowed to find a “loophole.” Their stalemate sounds suspiciously like Ben’s arrangement with Charles Widmore. Mark Pellegrino (best known as the abusive Paul on DEXTER) played Jacob, and his unnamed frenemy was played by Titus Welliver (Kyle, LIFE; ex-Silas, DEADWOOD). In a series of flashbacks, we learned that Jacob touched the lives of many of the Losties: Jacob paid for the lunchbox Katie shoplifted; Jacob gave little James Ford a pen with which to finish writing his letter to Anthony Cooper, vowing revenge; Jacob distracted Sayid so Nadia could be killed; When John hit the ground after being thrown out the window by Anthony Cooper, he appeared dead until Jacob revived him with a touch; Jacob got Jack’s Apollo candy bar unstuck from the vending machine; Jacob told Hurley that talking to the dead is a blessing, not a curse, and encouraged him to board Akira Flight 316 (and bring that guitar); Jacob was a guest at Jin and Sun’s wedding. We even saw Jacob recruit Ilana when she was bandaged in a hospital — so does that mean Ilana and Bram work for Jacob? Is that what Bram meant when he told Frank, “We’re the good guys”? Good guys who torched the Cabin and lugged Locke’s body around in a box? What is Frank a “Candidate” for? When Ilana asked Richard, “What lies in the shadow of the statue?” Richard replied in Latin. I looked it up, and he said, “He who will protect us all.” So who is it?

Other important stuff:
•Ben said the island’s leader answers to Jacob. “Locke” was certain that Jacob was responsible for Richard never aging.
•Richard told “Locke” he’d never seen anyone brought back from the dead, and in light of “John’s” reveal, Ben may have been right when he previously said, “Dead is dead.”
•Vincent was with Bernard and Rose, living peacefully in the jungle. “It’s always something with you people.” Is anyone more in love than Bernard and Rose?
•Jack’s fistfight with Sawyer was brutal and a long time coming. Okay, so Jack is heartsick over losing Kate. But does that give him the right to alter the very fabric of reality for everyone in order to change that? “I don’t speak destiny,” Sawyer spat. “What’s done is done.”
•Chang’s hand was crushed by debris, accounting for the artificial hand seen in some of the films.
•The struggle to save Juliet was heartbreaking. There can be no doubt that Sawyer really loved her.
•Recognizing his enemy in John’s body, Jacob said, “You found your loophole,” but can Jacob really be killed?
•”They’re coming.” Who’s coming?

So, next spring will bring the final, 16-episode season of LOST. But will folks come back to watch? Was the sight of Locke’s body lying inert on the sand LOST’s official “Jump the Shark” moment?

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/13/09

“People never do that,” gushed a breathless Kara DioGuardi after Kris performed on AMERICAN IDOL. What did he do that was so amazing? He played guitar while singing. Apparently, professional songwriter DioGuardi has never seen that before. Who’da thunk it? But it is kinda fitting for KARAOKE IDOL, after all, since the entire phenomenon seems to exist in its own little insular world where the wedding singer contestants bestride the globe like modern gods. Me, I thought Adam was completely overpowered by his backup singer as he shrieked and squeaked his way through the Aerosmith classic “Cryin’.” It could have been the atrocious sound mix, but I don’t think so. Still, I cannot understand why the judges competed with each other to proclaim Adam greater than every other contestant ever and sliced bread combined. I can only conclude that the sound system in the theater is much different than what we hear at home. Or else Simon and friends exist on another planet.

Speaking of other worlds, FRINGE’s first-season finale hinged on bioterrorist Mr. Jones trying to open a portal to another dimension. No, he wasn’t trying to pull Randy Jackson off the IDOL stage — he was (apparently) trying to contact missing industrialist William Bell. And he wasn’t the only one: Olivia wanted to arrest Bell for financing the Z.F.T. organization. Meanwhile, Walter was compelled by the Observer to unearth one of his old inventions: a device that closes dimensional rifts. It all came together at a lake in upstate New York, where Peter plugged Jones’ interdimensional escape hatch — literally chopping Jones in half in the process. Even though the episode ended with two giant reveals — Leonard Nimoy playing Bell living in a still-standing World Trade Center on an alternate Earth, and Peter’s gravestone — I was still disappointed. The story felt anti-climactic. After building up Jones as the Big Bad all season long, he was dispatched in mere moments. And the great shocking visual of half his body being sucked into another dimension was ruined because viewers already saw an anonymous soccer played suffer the same fate 20 minutes earlier. Way to bankrupt one of your big moments, FRINGE. Another silly moment: Liv collated all the evidence of the Pattern on a single map and in five minutes produced a literal pattern — one that Massive Dynamics’ best minds could not see? Really?

But of course it wasn’t all disappointing. My favorite part was when Peter tracked Walter to the family beach house and recounted one of his few happy memories of childhood: Walter making pancakes. We also learned what exactly Walter and “Belly” had in mind all those years ago: They believed that the things they saw while under the influence of hallucinogens represented a real place, one that children have a natural ability to see. Cortexiphan was an attempt to augment that ability to the point where children could cross over to the alternate reality. Walter created the plug to seal the breach after crossing over.

•Best line honors go to Walter: “We’re trying to plug a hole in the universe. What are you doing here?”

And, finally, there was the truly shocking reveal that Walter was not visiting the grave of his late wife — it was Peter’s! The tombstone read “Peter Bishop 1978-1985.” This means one of two things: Peter is a clone (which is why he has such huge gaps in his memories of childhood), or this Peter was brought over from an alternate dimension. I vote for the latter.

Some major emotional stuff went down on RESCUE ME, including Tommy and Lou having a gigantic knock-down, drag-out fight over Genevieve, the boys of 62 truck getting into a literal brawl with other firefighters over Franco’s crazy 9/11 conspiracy talk, and Tommy finally revealing what he did on 9/11. He admitted that he feels guilty for letting cousin Jimmy die, and sometimes wishes he had died instead. Well, it’s about time! That sad fact was obvious to us viewers back in season one, but it was a relief to finally hear Tommy admit it to himself. Let’s hope this epiphany doesn’t make Tommy any less reckless and self-loathing. I like my antiheroes!