American Idolatry: Confessions of a Heretic

Our long national nightmare has begun again, with the return of the tyrant’s reign of AMERICAN IDOL. For roughly the next five months, the national religion will be IDOL-ism. Well, call me an apostate.

The biggest impression that this season’s two-part premiere leaves is how utterly unnecessary it is to actually watch the show. The season nine debut was exactly the same as last year’s premiere, which was just a clone of the year before: a parade of lost souls; human oddities hellbent on garnering attention in the most outrageous way possible. One could check off the boxes as the “hopefuls” streamed through the Boston audition room: The rockers, the hipsters, the adorable youngsters, the nerds, the hotties and, of course, the “What the Hell Were They Thinking?” train-wrecks. Cue the sob stories and assorted sympathy ploys, and sprinkle liberally with the all-important “challenge Simon” ploy. Even the episodes themselves are cut and polished to frame a “story”: The judges entertain masses of losers, hinting that a venue city won’t provide any potential winners. Then, boom! Suddenly, they uncover a few nuggets of talent! Wow, what are the odds? How exciting!

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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!

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 4/15/09

“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.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/8/09

I haven’t seen a full episode of RESCUE ME since the fourth season concluded in September 2007. The nine mini-episodes broadcast last summer were fun, but only served to remind me what I was missing: an acid-tongued series packed with witty dialogue, outrageous storylines and thrilling fire sequences. Well, my friends, our wait is over. RESCUE ME has returned for a full-fledged fifth season, and star/co-creator Denis Leary was in top form as fractured firefighter Tommy Gavin. What makes Tommy such an intriguing character is the depths of his emotions. He loves and hates (but especially hates) with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. His burning rage is barely contained at the best of times — and Tommy rarely has good times. It seems like each episode of RESCUE ME brings him a fresh hell (complete with literal flames). What Tommy hates most is himself, but he expresses it as hatred for everything and everyone else. What other TV character could have a fantasy about attacking his own father’s casket with an ax and then setting it afire at the funeral? Not even THE SHIELD’s Vic Mackey could get away with that. But this series has always had a particularly vicious dark side. I was not surprised to see Franco and Sean talk Mikey out of donating his $150,000 inheritance to the cancer society so the boys can open a bar instead. (Franco’s rationalization the the cancer society would only use the dough for postage to beg other people for more cash almost made it sound like a public service! Almost.) As usual, the boys at the 62 were thinking only of themselves. Yet, the search for redemption is a constant theme: Tommy’s love/hate relationship with Alcoholics Anonymous clashes with his romance with booze on a daily basis. Take last night: Tommy has been sober for almost a solid year, but his AA sponsor, cousin Mickey, went on a bender! And not just any bender — he rampaged into a church and told a family that instead of baptizing their baby, they would be better off taking the kid home and drowning it! And he drank booze out of the communion chalice!

Of course there are huge problems in the interpersonal relationships. Tommy met ex-wife Janet’s newest beau, a former “extreme sports” guy portrayed by Michael J. Fox. Ultimate nice guy Fox plays brilliantly against type as the smug Dwight; just wait until Tommy discovers why Dwight didn’t stand up to shake hands with him! As if that wasn’t bad enough, Tommy’s daughter Colleen is sleeping with (but not having sex with) blackSean; wait until Tommy finds out about that! Leary capped the episode with Tommy’s absolutely hilarious rant about how dead people (like his father) are reclassified as saints just because they died — even if they were a—holes in life (like his father).

The first thing I noticed about the first new episode of FRINGE since February was that it wasn’t on! Instead, I had to sit through the end of an extended episode of AMERICAN IDOL. Worse, I heard Adam Lambert mangle “Mad World.” He was attempting to riff on Gary Jules’ version of the Tears for Fears tune recorded for the soundtrack of Donnie Darko, a film I adore. (If you’ve never seen it, rent it!) Simon gave the squealer a standing ovation, which could only mean Simon didn’t like the movie. The phone number montage indicated that every performance last night was wretched. My hatred of “KARAOKE IDOL” now knows no bounds because the runover caused me to miss the end of FRINGE, because my recording stopped when it was supposed to. Is this hate irrational? Sure. But is this my blog? Yup. The second thing I noticed about the return of FRINGE was that the new promos trumpeted “six new episodes in a row.” Sounds good — unless you remember that back in February, Fox promised us seven episodes in a row.

Anyway, FRINGE was eventually allowed on the air, and concerned the case of a mysterious boy discovered alone in a locked underground chamber. Only he might not be a “young” boy. For one thing, he seemed to be an empath of low-level telepath, which allowed him to plug into Olivia’s mind and help her with a serial killer case. And for another, he looked like the Observer’s Mini-Me: pale and hairless. (How funny was it that they dressed the boy in a “Northwestern” sweatshirt and took him to the Harvard campus?) Erik Palladino (late of the late ER) was introduced as Elliot Michaels, who claimed to be from the Department of Social Services, but was really from the Department of Creepiness. After seeing the boy, made a mysterious call and told someone, “We may have found another one.” Is there some organization out there monitoring/collecting Observers?

•Line of the week honors go to Walter: “Unless you have an IQ higher than mine, I’m not interested in what you think.”

HEROES is still managing to hold my interest, thanks to giving HRG stuff to do. I like that the-powers-that-be continue to write him as intelligent. He was the only one who was skeptical that Danko really bagged Sylar, and even used the shapeshifter’s powers against him by pretending to be Sylar pretending to be him. Of course Sylar really is alive, and has set out to destroy Noah’s life. The baddie morphed into the likeness of Sandra and served Noah with divorce papers, then pretended to be a field commander and let HRG “kill” him to make Noah a fugitive. I know I just complained about Fox’s promos, but NBC did something even more unsavory: After a week of teasing/promising to reveal the origins of the Petrelli family, HEROES waited until literally the last minutes to set the stage for big revelations about something called Project: Icarus at a place called Coyote Sands. Next week. D’oh!

CASTLE was another agreeable story, but nothing extraordinary. And nothing really set it apart from last week’s chapter, either, which actually is not a good thing. Is it settling into a rut already?

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/4/09

On FRINGE last night, Vertis Air Flight 718 passenger Marshal Bowman started literally going to pieces in the lavatory — then he transformed into a slavering monster. Haven’t we all been on flights like this? I loved the smash-edit of the scene in which the creature broke out, because it had a Cloverfield-like sense of verity. The government cover story for the crash in Scarsdale, N.Y., was engine failure, which eerily echoed the recent ditching of a plane in New York’s Hudson River. When the corpse of the monster was recovered, Olivia experienced one of the memories she retained from John Scott: She saw Bowman and co-conspirator Strickland. Turned out the men were facilitating the sale of a designer virus as a biological weapon. I love how Olivia continues to develop a personality; she has become so stone cold now that she withheld medical treatment until Strickland gave up the name of a suspect. What is this, 24? Olivia realized that the key to the case resided in John’s memories, so she re-entered the isolation tank to access the knowledge she inherited from her former partner (played by Mark Valley, ex-Jack, DAYS OF OUR LIVES). With the active help of the MemoryJohn, Liv was able to solve the case, stop the sale of the chemical weapon and — most importantly for her — release her anger that her former lover was a traitor to his country. (He was just pretending while working black ops.) Oh, and MemoryJohn proposed to her. Talk about a dream fiancé! Olivia said goodbye to John’s memories on the dock of a frozen lake, where he slipped the ring on her finger before fading from her consciousness. Who says FRINGE isn’t romantic? Still, the whole episode was suffused with tension and the series’ trademark grotesque gore. And Walter introduced us to the “One-half Nipple Rule,” which states that a mammal species’ typical number of offspring equals half the number of the mother’s nipples. (Sadly, no “reverse mutator” is gonna erase that fact from your brain.)

The caterwauling continued as AMERICAN IDOL “whittled” the field down to…er, 104 contestants. (This is gonna take a while….) Watching the throwdown between newbie judge Kara and erstwhile “Bikini Girl” Katrina, I noticed that while delivering her criticism, Kara tried to keep her eyes focused on the table; she could barely stand to look at Katrina. That told me she has a problem with Katrina’s appearance. Even Paula admitted she could sing, so it wasn’t just a male thing. There’s a lot of talk that this whole “Bikini Girl” kerfuffle is setting a bad example for young girls; I think the “wrong” message that’s being sent by Kara vs. Katrina is that women are somehow supposed to be catty. Not true. You’re there to judge the singing, Kara, not the wardrobe. There are other reality shows for that.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 1/14/09

The moment the nation has been awaiting with bated breath is finally here. No, not the inauguration of President Barack Obama — the return of AMERICAN IDOL! Yes, the cultural and ratings phenomenon that I just don’t get is back for an eighth go-round. The show opened with an ostensibly tear-jerking retrospective that traced the series from its premiere to last May’s David vs. David finale, but instead of weeping I was scratching my head, asking, “Did they really decide it was worth paying a residual just to show the guy who threw water at Simon?” Oh, and I looked it up (so you don’t have to)…those two unfamiliar faces were Fantasia and Jordin Sparks, who apparently did real well a few seasons back.

The premiere is always about the auditions, and AI wasted little time getting the freak show up and running. Events kicked off with the (now) quartet of judges giving the thumbs-down to a guy in a giant wig. He claimed to be genuinely surprised that his tap-dancing Michael Jackson tribute didn’t thrill the judges. What a way for newbie Kara DioGuardi to get her feet wet! Tattooed Emily got a videotaped home visit — a sure tip-off that she would be moving on and, yep, she’s going to Hollywood. In contrast to her, we saw the self-styled “Rocker in a Box” Randy, a bandanna-sporting self-taught rocker whom Simon called “wimpy.” That made Randy cry. But he really betrayed his motives by emphasizing that he wanted people to hear his “story”— not his “singing” — which means he was trying to get by on sympathy. That sort of begging and appealing to emotion would become a theme.

Paula and Simon made a show of feuding right off, but they united when a really nervous Michael stepped up to do his impression of The Lord of the Rings’ Golem as an AI contestant. That signaled the opening of the floodgates opened for the deliberate attention-seekers. I’ve had an AI producer (who shall remain nameless) tell me directly that he truly believes the überhorrible people honestly believe they have a chance to win. Well, I honestly do not agree. I think a certain sort of person goes to auditions and deliberately performs badly just to get on TV and get attention. Think about it: the middling people are never on; it’s only the really good ones and the really bad ones. In fact, a truly horrible performance will get seen over and over and over. Why, it’s better than YouTube!

In stark contrast to the desperate were people like Stevie Wright (named after Stevie Nicks), who had the right stuff, and Arianna. Katrina Darrell, dubbed “Bikini Girl,” got Simon and Randy’s attention, and then got Kara’s dander up, by engaging in a vocal catfight. The hopeful knockout actually had pretty good…er, lungs, and her appearance split the panel along gender lines. After a tussle in which Katrina hurled attitude while Paula held Kara back, the bathing beauty was ticketed to Hollywood. Katrina vowed to “make out” with Ryan if she qualified, and the poor guy couldn’t have acted more horrified if she’d threatened to hit him across the face with an iron. While Bikini Girl’s appearance was constantly teased and withheld until 9:15 in a transparent bid to keep certain segments of the audience watching, would AI cynically hype and hold the appearance of “Vision-Impaired Guy” until last just so they could…uh, blindside him in the final moments? No. Luckily, Scott had big talent to go along with his story of courage. And, apparently, he has a sense of humor, since he assessed his chances by saying, “We’ll see how it goes.” Ryan then cluelessly responded, “We’ll see you in Hollywood.” Really, Ryan? Well, as long as we’re being non-PC here, allow me to vote: “Go, Bikini Girl!”

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/22/08

So, David Cook pulled out a victory on AMERICAN IDOL by a healthy 12 million-vote margin. Good for you, “Cookie.” When I heard the results show was going to last two hours, I had only one question: How in the world are they going to fill one hour and 58 minutes? I had to ask…

The Davids are unveiled in white tonight, with nary a boxing glove in sight. Ryan crows that 97.5 million votes were cast, with the winning David garnering a 56 percent majority. (The loser got 44 percent, with nobody undecided.)

The top 10 team up to perform The Temptations‘ “Get Ready,” which I interpret as some kind of threat, but that’s just me.

Speaking of threats, IDOL must have done something to get the Davids to pimp The Love Guru, the new “comedy” from Mike Myers, in which he insults over a billion people by playing Indian culture for laughs. Seriously, it’s 2008 — aren’t we past making fun of foreign customs and accents? Aren’t we all cringing in fear that “Guru Pitka” will be slinging Slushies with that silly accent and inane grin? Archie looks terrified, but Cook does his level best to play along when ordered to visit Pitka at Paramount Studios so Myers can crack some lame jokes — including, but not limited to, “predicting” that the winner will be named “David.” I predict the movie will bomb.

After a break, Syesha comes out singing — and she looks relaxed and sings great. I guess now that the pressure is off she can just have fun singing with Seal. ThenJason Castro uncorks another rendition of Leonard Cohen‘s “Hallelujah.” (Might I suggest you be a rebel: Instead of downloading Jeff Buckley‘s admittedly great cover like everyone else, get Cohen’s original, available on his album Various Positions, which also contains the great song “Dance Me to the End of Love.”) After the Davids do a product placement for Ford, the motor company returns the solid by giving them both Escape Hybrids. Next, the women collaborate on a Donna Summermedley, and then the disco diva herself joins in. And was that host Ryan himself taking a (literal) spin on the dance floor/stage?

Bootees Carly and Michael collaborate on “The Letter,” or so Ryan claims; I couldn’t really tell. Was Carly always so shrill? She sounds like she’s trying to deafen Mariah Carey. Next, self-identified IDOL fan Jimmy Kimmel comes out to riff on the show and contestants. He’s slightly irreverent, so naturally that was my favorite part of the whole night. Then the top guys perform a Bryan Adams medley, including a version of “Summer of ’69” that was so bad Adams himself had to come out to defend his songbook. Jordin Sparks is the daughter of former N.Y. Giants defensive backPhillipi Sparks, but you probably know her as the reigning American Idol. She says she’s living the Idol dream, which she demonstrates means shilling for an Idol theme park at… nah, let them buy an ad if they want to be mentioned here.

Cook gets to perform “Sharp-Dressed Man with ZZ Top, and the song really suits him. (Get it? LOL.) Seriously, Cook should cover that on his forthcoming album. Then Cook’s old music teacher is “interviewed” via satellite from Kansas City, and she makes a crack about how the flowers he gave her during his “journey home” video have died. (You’re welcome, lady.) Brooke White gets to perform with Graham Nash, which must confuse the heck out the Archuleta fans who didn’t know her grandpa could sing. But the generation gap is closed when tween sensations Jonas Brothers perform and set the gals a’screamin’.

Following a montage of the worst auditions — the party line at IDOL is that folks like these are sincere in their hopes of winning, but I insist they are deliberate pranksters just trying to do whatever they can to get on TV. And it works, big-time, as someone called Renaldo, gets to…um, “sing” onstage, accompanied by the USC Trojans band and dancing cheerleaders. Way to encourage them, IDOL…

Thankfully, the pros take over as One Republic joins Archie for a rendition of “Apologize” that works really well. Reigning Idol Sparks comes back to confidently perform a winning number. Another winner: Ben StillerJack Black and Robert(Iron ManDowney Jr. performing as faux-Pips melded into a classic clip of Gladys Knight. Even better: Ryan doesn’t mention that the jokesters are promoting their upcoming comedy, Tropic Thunder.

And then 2004 winner Carrie Underwood starts strutting around the stage. I think she might have been singing or something, but I can’t really be sure, because I was having difficulty focusing on what was coming put of her mouth. The final group sing-along covered the George Michael oeuvre, capped by an appearance from the man himself. (I don’t know about you, but I cannot hear that name anymore without thinking about ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT. Sorry, ELI STONE.) Hey, whattaya know — Michael coincidentally just happens to have a tour coming up. What are the odds?

And then the Earth shifted on its axis: Simon apologized to Cook for being so harsh on his performances the previous night. In fact, the contrite Brit admitted his behavior bordered on disrespect. (Well, Simon did “award” all rounds of the competition to Archie….)

Now it’s time for the moment of truth. In a classy move, Ryan doesn’t pointlessly drag out the drama of the moment. He gets right to the announcement. By a margin of 12 million votes, “David…Cook!” is the winner. Cookie becomes emotional as his mother and brother join him onstage. Then he performs the contest-winning song, which wasn’t half-bad.

Which brings us to the end of our “journey” with IDOL. And I, for one, am glad it’s over. I know most people out there are acolytes of the cult of IDOL, so consider me the Devil’s advocate. But I was not merely taking a position just to appear negative; I really am negative. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, “Don’t think it hasn’t been nice — because it hasn’t!”

I’m hoping there’s something else to entertain me on the next Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/21/08

Our long national nightmare is almost over; it’s time for the finale of AMERICAN IDOL. Okay, so it’s my nightmare. I have been looking forward to this denouement for the entire month I’ve been watching.

The evening kicked off with an über-macho boxing theme: “Big David vs. Little David,” complete with boxing gloves and robes. Right from the start, the dichotomy between the contestants is obvious. David Cook has stage presence; he acts like he’s been in front of an audience before. David Archuleta looks like one of those puppies you see in PETA films that’s terrified of being beaten again; clearly he is unafraid to milk the audience for sympathy votes. He later dons a jacket with an anchor embroidered on it, making him look 10 years old instead of the usual 12.

The evening’s first songs are chosen by Clive Davis, chief creative officer of Sony BMG Worldwide. Not so coincidentally, he will be the Davids’ new boss, since the IDOL winner and runner-up must sign with his label. He assigns Cook U2‘s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” while Archuleta gets Elton John‘s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” I personally don’t care for the way Cook elongates some lyrics, but he plays to the crowd wonderfully, wading into the adoring throng and putting on ashow. Unfortunately, I don’t sense any yearning in his voice, no pain of unrequited desire. It all sounded a little rote. Still, Simon called him “phenomenal.” Archuleta is much more low-key, and aims his singing directly at the home viewers, virtually ignoring the live audience — in other words, his usual schtick. Sounds very karaoke to me, as always. When the judges sound off, Archie looks like he’s about to burst into tears — even though they are complimenting him.

The advantage of using unknown tunes from the songwriters competition is that we (the audience) don’t know what the songs are supposed to sound like, so the singers can get away with anything. This makes song choice even more important that usual. Cook’s song suits his voice very well, and he actually manages to carry off the last big note of the song for the first time since I’ve been watching him. The song is pretty good, too. Sadly, Simon doesn’t agree. (I wonder whose fan club he’s planning to join?) Archuleta’s song also works with his voice, but the tune is so pedestrian it would easily melt into the blah Michael Bolton-style white noise of any adult-contemporary radio station. In other words, it’s completely horrible. Inexplicably, the judges are rapturous, falling all over themselves to declare Archie the Second Coming. Simon awards this round (as well as the first) to Archuleta. After two rounds, I see no change in the contestants’ demeanor: Cook is loose and having fun; Archuleta is frightened. (Perhaps this is an argument in favor of raising the minimum age.)

Wondering what the other channels came up with to try to lure viewers away from the AI juggernaut? ABC offers the season finale of DANCING WITH THE STARS; CBS has the season finale of NCIS; and NBC is airing something called TV’S MOST OUTRAGEOUS MOMENTS — in other words, the Peacock has ceded the hour. DANCING actually makes IDOL seem interesting to me, so I stay on Fox. (BTW, ifKristi Yamaguchi, who won an Olympic gold medal for essentially dancing on ice, does not win, the fix is in!)

I flip back just in time for the contestant’s choice round. Cook selects “The World I Know” by Collective Soul — which he notes he has never performed before. (Is this a good time to experiment?) Archuleta chooses to reprise John Lennon‘s “Imagine.” Cook’s performance is…nice. Bland and lackadaisical, but…nice. I think it was a mistake to go with something so low-key for his last impression, but Cook claims he wanted to do something different, and there is value to that. Simon feels the same way I do: not the best song for the finale. How ironic that Randy‘s “song selection, song selection, song selection” mantra may contribute to Cook’s goose getting cooked. (Hey, I think I showed remarkable restraint by not using that line before now!) But, hark! There’s hope! When Archuleta starts singing, I think he’s forgotten the words and started making stuff up — but no. He’s not ad-libbing lyrics, he’s ad-libbing the melody. Now I remember: We saw him butcher this song in the “journey home” video. Once again, he has rendered a very familiar song almost unrecognizable. He made the classic his own, but not in a good way. Not that it matters: The judges gush like Archie’s sad eyes and small-scale voice have just cured cancer, solved the Iraq quagmire and fixed the economy. Maybe something else is fixed? A colleague of mine was dialing furiously to support Cook, so we shall see.

For me, the winner clearly should be Cook. He is a much more rounded, professional performer. He’s much better at connecting with the audience and putting on a show. Archuleta is clearly too young for this. His voice is stronger than Cook’s, but Archie has no presence. He needs a lot of time to polish his stagecraft. If someone is buying a concert ticket, they want to see someone who is able to at least pretend he wants to be there. It’s a stage, not the gallows. But, hey, the “kick-me” act has so far motivated multitudes of little girls to dial in, so more power to him. Simon, Randy and Paula have done all they could to deliver the crown to “Little David” on a silver platter. Was it enough?

This just in: Kristi did win DANCING WITH THE STARS. Hooray for her!

My sad prediction for tonight: David will win. Archuleta, that is. I hope I’m wrong, but we’ll find out tonight, just in time for the next Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/15/08

See, this is why I make a lousy AMERICAN IDOL fan: I really, truly dislike every one of the final three contestants. Choosing among them is definitely a “lesser evil” situation for me. Last night’s results show opened with an utterly bland rendition of “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.” (Well, not quite; one of them was about to be stopped in her tracks…) David Archuleta — hereafter referred to as “David A.” — appeared nervous and so out of his element during his solos that he actually looked pained;David Cook and Syesha fared a little better, but the poor song was just brutalized. The entire performance was just bad elevator music — a freight elevator at that. Not losing the…er, momentum, IDOL returned from a commercial break so the kids could murder “How Far Is Heaven” as part of an in-house Ford commercial. Seriously — these are the final three?! 

What’s this? Season 3 IDOL winner Fantasia has come on to screech some blaring, up-tempo number. Turns out the song was called “Bore Me,” and she must have feared the audience would take the title seriously, because she ran around the stage like her hair was on fire. Well, it was dyed neon red. I think Simon was wearing the same horrified expression I was. 

Time to check in on CRIMINAL MINDS…. Oh, how fitting. The CW just announced90210, a sequel to BEVERLY HILLS 90210, and the here’s the original Mr. Walsh (i.e., James Eckhouse), looking upset about something. Brandon wants to borrow the car and visit the Peach Pit? I see: he’s playing Mr. Corbett, whose daughter was murdered by a serial killer. Corbett has a revolver in his glove box. I wonder if he’s going to perforate the killer who’s on trial. No…Reed stops him. Get thee back to Beverly Hills, dude… 

And we’re back to IDOL. Ryan summons David A. to the stage, and there’s so much squealing that I wonder if GENERAL HOSPITAL’s Maurice Benard had accidentally wandered onto the stage. (You haven’t heard screaming until you’ve heard the balcony go berserk for Mo at the Daytime Emmys; it’s as loud as an NHL playoff game — but higher-pitched.) Now it’s time for a taped piece chronicling David’s trip home to Utah. Is he crying? There’s no crying in AMERICAN IDOL! Wait, that’s baseball. Okay, there is crying in IDOL. And apparently David wants the audience to cry because now he’s butchering John Lennon‘s “Imagine.” Yep — lots of 12-year-old girls are weeping. That David is so mean… 

Speaking of mean, the producers want Ryan to stretch the show to an entire hour, so I actually feel sorry for the desperate way he’s forced to vamp. All nine of the previous night’s performances have already been recapped via videotape, but now Ryan reads summations of the judges’ comments about all nine of the previous night’s performances…. And then it’s time for a clip package reviewing David A.’s “journey.” Hey, that’s strange: No mention of him winning $100,000 on STAR SEARCH. Why not? 

Next up is Syesha, who went home to Florida to cry with the hometown crowds. 

Hey, there’s Andrew, the Cook brother who was supposed to be on IDOL, before a producer bullied David into auditioning. Ryan invites him onstage for a minute. Yep, that makes everything all right; thanks, Ry-dog. The Cooks are from Missouri, so of course IDOL takes the state’s “Show Me” motto seriously by starting David’s clips. Healmost manages to hold back the tears. Coolest bit: He got to throw out the first pitch at a Kansas City Royals baseball game. (I’m a Yankee fan, but I still see the appeal.) 

For about the 56th time, Ryan mentions that 56 million votes were cast for the final three. (A colleague of mine — who shall remain nameless — was among them. Since there was no “None of the Above” choice, I refrained.) And the final will pit… David vs. David! Goodbye, Syesha. She gets to sing one last song, during which she is remarkable composed. Then the camera zooms in for a final shot as she holds the last note — and she’s smiling! She must be counting the money already. 

On BOSTON LEGALGeorge Segal wants Denny Crane (William Shatner) to run for president of the United States! Yes, the Denny Crane. The one whose crazy antics are a matter of public record. The Denny Crane with the hooker fetish. (Why not just askEliot Spitzer, for frak’s sake?) Even for BOSTON LEGAL this is wacky. So I check what’s going on over at CSI:NY. Oh, yeah, continuing that “Cabbie Killer” plotline. We’re supposed to believe that not a single one of the 16 million people crammed onto the island of Manhattan each day will hail a cab until the killer is caught? Have the show’s writers ever been to New York? I know people who would sit next to a corpse in a taxi if it stopped for them during rush hour. 

And now it’s time to stop this edition of Night Shift

Originally posted on Soap Opera