Melrose (same old) Place

It looks like last night was my last time watching the rebooted MELROSE PLACE, because the clichés are so overwhelming that it feels like I’ve already seen it all before.

Melrose cast

Melrose Place

Let’s start where the show did, with Riley’s fashion shoot. Designer Anton V. supposedly chose Riley as the…er, face of his his jeans because she’s real” and “not a model,” but then he dispatched her to a photo shoot where she was given the standard overblown hair, makeup and wardrobe that transformed her into somebody who was indistinguishable from a “real” model. Instead of a teacher with finger paint on her shabby dress, Riley looked just as plastic and fake and generic as any other jeans model on the planet. Anton completely sabotaged his own campaign. And what about that shoot?  “Photojournalist” Jo Reynolds (the returning Daphne Zuniga) was booked as the photographer, but even as Riley gushed about Jo’s soulful images from Darfur, Jo was shooting bland, windswept pictures of Riley that looked, yes, exactly the same as every other jeans ad ever.  “You’re a real woman!” Jo shouted. Or at least, the kind of real woman who hangs out topless at the beach. When a half-naked Riley bristled at Jo’s facile manipulation and stormed off the set, it proved Riley had really big…principles! We’ve seen it all before, so why bother?
Perhaps Riley’s plot was a cliché for the same reason that her fiancé, Jonah, was dispatched to the famous Paramount Pictures lot to meet a megaproducer Andy, who was talking to “Johnny” (Ooooh! “Johnny Depp”? The Johnny Depp?) on  his  cell, and dropping the name “Leo” (As in “DiCaprio,” maybe?). Of course Andy told Jonah he loves everything about his film — and only wants to completely change everything! Cliché, cliché, cliché. Why, it’s just like ENTOURAGE! Oh, those Hollywood types are all the same!
Which is the problem. Everything about this MP is more of the same.  Apparently the-powers-that-be are banking on the target audience of preteen girls being so young they have no frame of reference for a nighttime soap beyond 90210, GOSSIP GIRL and THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. Well, the legendary newspaperman H.L. Mencken famously noted, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” (He didn’t know from Nielsen ratings, though…)
Finally, I leave you with the laugh line of the night, courtesy of Colin Egglesfield‘s Auggie: “Riley, I don’t know if you know this, but it’s kind of impossible to hate you.” Uh, no, it’s not. It’s actually quite easy to hate Riley. And her little show, too. 

Soap Opera Weekly: Read at Joe’s 8/31/09

The good news about the Daytime Emmys was that the show moved at an entertaining clip. The bad news was the lack of actual clips. In fact, soaps seemed to be pushed to the margins a bit. Sure, the first award went to ALL MY CHILDREN’s Vincent Irizarry as outstanding supporting actor, but after that the broadcast felt like game shows, talk fests and SESAME STREET dominated. Tons of attention was devoted to other programming, as if to prove to casual viewers that daytime has more to offer than “just” soaps. Hence the recurring bits with SESAME STREET’s Elmo and Gordon, and the obsessive cut-aways to JEOPARDY!’s Alex Trebek. The ultimate insult came at the very end, though, when BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL was announced as Outstanding Drama and then the credits rolled. Viewers barely got a glance at the stage as the B&B folks gathered. That was sort of disgraceful, especially in light of all the time wasted by hostess Vanessa Williams. Did she really need two song-and-dance numbers? No, she did not. This is not the Oscars, which needs production numbers to sell the show to overseas markets that demand such spectacle. This is the Daytime Emmys! We don’t need no stinkin’ songs; we got…er, Elmo!

But back to the good stuff. I cover GENERAL HOSPITAL, so I was particularly pleased by Julie Marie Berman’s supporting actress win, and the victory of Robert Guza Jr. and the writing team! Irizarry had the best speech. He hit all the bases — by turns touching without being maudlin, and funny yet respectful. The other great “speech” came from DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ Darin Brooks, whose expletive-laden stream-of-consciousness was mostly bleeped out. And the look of horror on his face when he realized that he’d blown all his time was priceless! The tribute to GUIDING LIGHT was terrific, but over way too soon. Just like the show itself. Probably everyone will agree that Tamara Braun taking the statue for supporting actress was the biggest surprise. That’s no diss on her, it’s just that she wasn’t in Salem very long. But obviously she made an impression.

I am no fashion maven, but even I noticed the amorphous white blob that seemed to be eating the dresses worn by GH’s Kirsten Storms and GL’s Kim Zimmer. My colleague Mala noticed it, too, and we shared theories via IM. (I feared an alien symbiote was lurking backstage and attaching itself to the couture.) Mala also explained that the cravat sported by B&B’s Ronn Moss was unrelated to the poofy white infestation. Sadly, I missed YOUNG AND RESTLESS’ Stacy Haiduk and her “escort/accessory,” Mr. Kitty during the red carpet preshow.

The CW was totally committed to using the awards broadcast to launch its fall lineup. I’m calling that a good thing. Since the entire network is aimed at young women, this means CW execs saw the awards as a good platform to reach young women. And maybe there will be some cross-pollination from MELROSE PLACE and 90210 and GOSSIP GIRL and VAMPIRE DIARIES to Y&R and DAYS and GH.

When I flipped over to MAD MEN at 10 p.m., I was delighted to see a daytime connection: Peyton List (ex-Lucy, AS THE WORLD TURNS) was back as Roger Sterling’s scandalously young wife. Welcome back, Peyton. Though I have a feeling that scene with John Slattery’s Roger in blackface is going to generate a firestorm! I have to admit the episode was rather boring overall, so why not add a minstrel show to the pot-smoking and pill-popping?

Originally published on

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 5/12/09

GOSSIP GIRL unleashed its “backdoor pilot” for a spin-off that centers on Lily’s adventures as a teen back in the 1980s. It was framed as a flashback in which the current Lily van der Woodsen (Kelly Rutherford) recalled the first time she was arrested, when she was played by Brittany Snow (ex-Daisy, GUIDING LIGHT; ex-Meg, AMERICAN DREAMS). Lily got herself kicked out of boarding school and went to Los Angeles to move in with her father — portrayed by ’80s teen icon Andrew McCarthy (Pretty in Pink) — and ran afoul of her booze-loving mother Cece, played by Cynthia Watros (ex-Annie, GL; ex-Libby, LOST). Of course, straight-arrow Lily had a wild-child sister, Carol (Krysten Ritter; Jane, BREAKING BAD), who wanted to be an actress. Lily was starting to stray from the well-planned, monied path that her parents had mapped out for her.

In other words, the characters are just cardboard clichés (I didn’t tell you that Dad is a workaholic, but did I really have to?), and what passes for a plot is mostly just an excuse to showcase period fashions (one imagines the target audience squealing and rolling their eyes during Lily’s fashion show) and music. Ska band No Doubt appeared onstage as a band called Snowed Out (Get it?) and performed a cover of Adam and the Ants’ “Stand and Deliver.” The dialogue was not better than the plot and characterization, with painfully on-the-nose lines like, “Is this the moment where you fall in love with me?” delivered at precisely the moment that viewers know the “bad boy” (Is there currently any other kind of romantic hero?) has fallen for the “good girl.” Yeesh.

All of this was in service of the age-old theme that we all become our parents once we become parents ourselves. I suppose that can be interpreted as a pro-parent message; anyone who doesn’t understand just hasn’t had a kid yet. But I prefer to think of it as lazy storytelling. The modern storyline was much more interesting, even if it did deal with prom hijinks. Chuck engineered the perfect prom for Blair, based on a scrapbook she’d been keeping since childhood. (I’ve decided that instead of Chuck becoming a wuss-bunny around Blair, it’s more like what happens when Superman is around kryptonite; he can’t help becoming weak as a kitten, no matter how much he doesn’t like it.) How ironic that Blair realized she was growing up in the very same episode that the series went juvenile in the ersatz ’80s.

In the season finale of HOUSE, M.D. (That’s really what it’s called, you know…) House realized that he has secretly been taking Vicodan for months, and he didn’t really sleep with Cuddy. So Wilson brought him to an asylum, where he was committed. How’s that for a bromance move?

Yes, Kim is back on 24, and that means she’s in danger. Worse, it means she’s a danger to others; specifically her father, Jack. I actually feel sorry for Elisha Cuthbert, who gamely keeps returning to this cursed character. It seems there’s literally nothing Kim can do that won’t get her pilloried by fandom. She’s just an odious character who can do nothing right. So once again she’s doing what she does best: causing Jack agita as a pawn of the baddies. Yup, that was Karim Prince (ex-Stan, GENERAL HOSPITAL) as the EMT whom Jack prevented from administering morphine so he could torture the bad guy with the gushing neck wound. You gotta love Jack putting the squeeze on a bleeding man — and using his patented sleeper hold on Tony. Then, when Tony woke up, Jack beat the snot (and blood) out of him! Nobody commits like Jack. (Well, maybe House, now, eh?)

I just wanted to point out that in THE AMAZING RACE 14 finale, siblings Tammy and Victor won the $1 million, just as I predicted/hoped. Jaime and Cara came in second place. What could possibly suck more than finishing second for $1 million? The gals had a great attitude, but c’mon! Luke and Margie completed the top three. It’s always great the way the previously eliminated teams are all there, cheering on the winners. I’ll let Phil sum it up: “You ran an amazing race.”

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 4/1/09

It’s April Fool’s Day once again, but I’m not the type to post outrageous made-up junk and then laugh that I fooled people with a rumor on the Internet. That’s just a waste of time. You’ll get from me what you always get: My honest opinion of what I’ve been watching lately…

After watching THE MENTALIST for quite some time, the show finally included some mental…. er, stuff! Jedi mind tricks at last! Hypnosis was basis of this week’s crime, and although it was easy enough to figure out that a hypnotist had mesmerized someone else into committing a crime, it was not easy to figure out which hypnotist did it, because so many people turned out to be trained. In any event, I enjoyed seeing the mechanics (and myths) of hypnosis worked into the storyline. Poor Rigsby (played by the hulking Owain Yeoman, late of WITHOUT A TRACE, so I have to ask: Does Vanessa Marcil (ex-Brenda, GENERAL HOSPITAL) have more to do than just look sexy as Eric Close’s girlfriend? Because this episode just reminded me of her role in The Rock.

GOSSIP GIRL’s Eric pointed out that the Humphrey breakfast scene — everyone gathered in the kitchen to nosh while talking about their upcoming busy days and then rushing off — smacked of a sitcom. Me, I was reminded of an old teen soap that GG exec producer Josh Schwartz is mighty familiar with. (I won’t mention a name, but its initials are O.C.) Chuck Bass was back on familiar ground, setting up Vanessa to catch Blair leaving Nate’s place. Then he told Blair that Nate was still dating Vanessa. I prefer this trouble-making version of Chuck to the lovesick puppy who brought Blair flowers in previous weeks. This is the Chuck who wanted to post a sex tape with Vanessa on the Internet to get back at B. and Nate. He settled for snogging Vanessa in front of them instead. Well, as far as we know he settled; he did share his bed with V., so it remains to be seen what else he might share with the net. Chuck’s machinations even brought us a glimpse of the wicked old Blair, who reacted to the news that Nate had dumped Vanessa by asking, “Was it awful?” with a hopeful gleam in her eye.

Globe-trotting socialite Poppy Lifton didn’t quite view things so favorably when she blew back into town and pointed out that Serena is in exactly the same place as the last time she visited. Sure, that made it easy for Poppy to catch up, but also made the show sound like it’s standing still. Which it kind of is; there’s been lots of sound and fury, but Serena is still status quo. She’s not quite the same person who broke up and made up with her high school boyfriend and feuded with her frenemy last season, but she’s still doing virtually the same thing. Poppy was once again played by Tamara Feldman (ex-Natalie, DIRTY SEXY MONEY), and she introduced a her (extremely tall) new boyfriend Gabriel, played by Armie Hammer (who can be seen on REAPER this season as Morgan, the son of the devil). Poppy encouraged Serena to break out of her rut by hosting a bash for Jenny’s birthday. The problem was, Little J did not want a fancy, catered Sweet 16 party, like S. and Lily had planned. Too bad. Birthdays are not about what the celebrant wants; birthdays are about the party that others want to throw. So Serena leaped into action — and mortified poor Jenny with a society soiree. “I liked my social grave,” Jenny sighed. “I dug it myself.” But S. was adamant, even when Jenny complained, “I didn’t want this.” Well, Little J may not have started it, but she did her best to finish it by posting it online at Gossip Girl and flooding the joint with so many kids that the cops showed up.

HEROES’ Claire and Nathan were on the run from authorities in Mexico. As part of the night’s theme, Claire spent time with her biological father while Peter came to understand more about his mother in New York. Claire must have gotten a haircut as a disguise, since Hayden Panettiere’s bangs make her look a lot older. Nathan was initially funny as he tried to assure her that he was still in control and win survival money in a drinking game with frat boys. He almost won, but passed out. Then Claire stepped up to challenge the winner — by taking off her shirt and downing 22 consecutive shots of tequila. Needless to say, she drank the party boy under the table in no time. Back in their seedy motel room, Claire told her daddy that her tissue-regeneration power clears her liver — which may be true, but of course is not the reason she doesn’t get drunk; she stays sober because her dead brain cells regenerate. But she can be forgiven for that mistake, since she hasn’t spent much time in school lately. The next morning, Nathan was sober in more ways than one: He admitted he had overreached with this anti-powers campaign and was now in over his head. And that, like many an absentee father, he was trying to win her affection with presents — in her case, a “Get Out of Concentration Camp Free” card. But like an adult, he vowed to take responsibility and clean up his mess. Meanwhile, in New York, Angela seemed to think it might be too late to clean up her mess. Still, she resolved to try — and needed her sister’s help to do it. Sister? How big is this family?

Uncharacteristically, this episode used a couple of old songs, Del Shannon’s “Runaway,” and The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out of This Place,” to nice effect. Usually HEROES just relies on the musical talent of Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman — otherwise known as Wendy and Lisa of Prince’s Revolution fame.

Oh, and did I mention that Sylar gained shape-shifting powers and people think he’s dead? I should mention that. (But I don’t think HRG was fooled; he is The Man, after all…)

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 3/17/09

The occasion of the senior play was an excuse for GOSSIP GIRL to pile on references to classic novels (yes, books) like The Age of Innocence, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Great Gatsby, and films like The Graduate and Eyes Wide Shut. (Don’t laugh. Stanley Kubrick himself reportedly considered EWS, completed just four days before his death in 1999, to be his greatest film.) So watching the episode was almost like taking a class. A class for models. The plot had the kids staging a performance of The Age of Innocence, with events at Constance Billard School for Girls paralleling the characters/situations in the Edith Wharton book. Toss in Rachel serving as Dan’s “Mrs. Robinson” (even though her portrayer, Laura Breckenridge, looks about 5 years younger than Penn Badgley) and Chuck pursuing Elle, and the episode was practically a pop-culture quiz. Rachel was forbidden from seeing Dan and ostracized by the other teachers, just like in the 19th century New York society of Wharton’s book. Dan was reduced to passing Rachel notes (Really? He couldn’t text her? Oh, I forgot, they didn’t have Twitter in the 1870s.) Meanwhile, Blair’s fall from grace with Yale allowed her to relate to her character, Countess Olenska. Nate conveniently played Beaufort, the dashing gentleman whose family lost its fortune. (Typecast much, Julian?) Even GOSSIP GIRL’s usual weekly romantic misunderstanding was classed up by having Nate jump to the wrong conclusion after seeing Vanessa’s Cyrano act. (BTW, Marty Scorsese’s adaptation of Innocence really is, as Nate observed, heartbreaking. Rent it.)

I decided to check in on 24 this week and, no surprise, Jack was running around, growling about killing people and and generally trying to convince someone that there are traitors in the government (again). Why, oh why, will no one in power believe Jack? He’s been battling terrorists and exposing traitors in the White House one day at a time for years. You cannot even argue that Jack’s previous missions might have been classified; people like the president’s chief of staff would have access to that intelligence. To me, that general lack of faith in Jack requires the biggest suspension of disbelief. That people would willingly convince themselves that this time Jack has gone off the rails and is lying…that is infinitely more silly than believing in private armies armed with WMD and doomsday gadgets on U.S. soil. How cool was it that Sebastian Roché’s (Jerry, GENERAL HOSPITAL) character, Quinn, got to fight Jack Bauer? The next time I talk to Sebastian the first thing I’m going to say is, “Dude, you got killed by Jack frakkin’ Bauer! How cool was shooting that?” Kiefer Sutherland got another one of those scenes he demands every season, where Jack gets to take a breath and emote. Here, Jack expressed regrets about wife Teri, about his daughter Kim, “and that the world even needs people like me.” Well, we certainly need Jack (and Kiefer) on TV.

This was only the second episode of CASTLE to air, yet the show already feels like it has settled into a groove — for better or worse. Kate seems a little too familiar with Rick so soon in their relationship; it’s almost as if this episode was filmed later in the production schedule, after Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic have had more time to get accustomed to each other. In fact, the relationship between the characters reminded me of BONES more than MOONLIGHTING last night, perhaps because Katic bears a slight resemblance to Emily Deschanel. (Well, from a distance, at least.) and that same sort of winking attitude. This particular episode also reminded me a lot of soaps, since YOUNG AND RESTLESS’s Michael Graziadei guested as Brent, the suspicious ex-boyfriend of a nanny who was found murdered and stuffed into a dryer. Sarah Drew (Kitty, MAD MEN; ex-Hannah, EVERWOOD) appeared as Chloe, a fellow nanny. There was also another daytime shout-out: After complaining that his own nanny spent her time drinking and watching soaps instead of raising him, Castle acknowledged that he got the plot for his first novel from watching ONE LIFE TO LIVE. (Nudge-nudge, wink-wink!) I like how Rick “investigates” cases by thinking about what would make a “good story” — thus leading the police to consider someone other than the obvious, lazy suspects. Fillion’s Rick also got off the best line of the entire night, while suggesting that Kate should get married: “You’d be good at it. You’re both controlling and disapproving.”

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 1/20/09

Well, the holiday means we have a lot to catch up on, and, since we’ve inaugurated a new president today on a “change” platform, I will try to change and be uncharacteristically brief. Well, with each show, at least.

GOSSIP GIRL opened with a GILMORE GIRLS shout-out from Blair (who scoffed that she was more suited for Yale than Rory), then segued into Bass Boys, as Chuck and Uncle Jack faced off in final battle. Chuck enlisted Lily, who found an unorthodox way to help him: adopt him, thereby cutting Jack out of the equation. But my favorite moment of the night came when Blair was justifying pulling a dirty trick on a teacher: “I can’t not act out against people,” she lamented.

24 viewers no doubt recognized Tonya Pinkins (ex-Livia, ALL MY CHILDREN) as Alama Matobo, and spotted Mark Derwin (ex-Ben, ONE LIFE TO LIVE) as Secretary of State Stevens. But the real story was Walker’s continued descent into Jack’s world. She wanted to keep doing whatever was necessary and worry about the consequences later. Walker appears to be the-powers-that-be’s way of commenting on the previous six seasons of the series. Jack was an inveterate rule-breaker who was tolerated because he got results. But torture looks different when Walker is doing it, because she’s a (relative) stranger. She’s not out pal the way Jack is. We the viewers turn a blind eye to the inhumanity because we know Jack is the hero of a TV show. We don’t feel the same way about Walker. However, lest one fear 24 has gone all soft and liberal, the Attorney General’s office, which wants Walker to answer for torturing Tanner, is depicted as wanting to stand on ceremony and follow abstract rules at the expense of American lives and national security. So take that, President Obama, they seem to be saying. However, Walker appeared to be facing a terrible fate as Jack – after avoiding shooting Walker in the head — and Tony were forced to bury her. It was creepy to watch the guys toss dirt on her bleeding, plastic-covered “body.” That final point-of-view shot was the capper.

After all that heavy thinking and philosophizing, it was time for some mindless garbage. And nothing is more mindlessly trashy than MOMMA’S BOYS. Mercifully, last night was the season finale, which saw the boys going on their final dates with the hopefuls their momma’s selected for them. Except for Jojo, who ended up on a “date” with Khalood. The only date that was even remotely interesting was Michael taking Erica on the yacht, because she was weighed down by her “horrible” secret. Finally, she could take it no more and tearfully confessed, “I am the current Penthouse Pet of the Year. I’m sorry.” He reacted with an angry glare, and then said, “Oh, my God. I need a drink,” and went off on her, going so far as to curse at the poor girl! “I feel completely lied to,” he fumed, leaving her alone and sobbing. Back at port, Erica took Lorraine to the beach for “privacy” (on a TV show). Shockingly, Lorraine was very understanding, and refused to turn her back on Erica. Then it was time for the boys to make their final selections. Rob listened to his mother (“Mommy knows best,” Esther reminded) and picked Lauren, but Camilla was sure he would be calling her someday. Michael picked Amanda, ultimately choosing his connection with her over his mother’s connection with Erica (who lamented her Penthouse past was a factor). In the last selection, Mindy spoke up and told Jojo to go home with his mother until he’s ready for a real relationship. That struck a chord with him, and compelled him to stand up for himself and ask Mindy to “give it a shot.” Momma Khalood (who insisted “none of these girls are good enough for you”) was so angry that she didn’t want to talk to the camera crew.

One of my favorite British imports, SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL, is back with its second season, and Billie Piper’s Belle greeted fans with a fun “Welcome back, I’ve missed you,” addressing the viewers directly, as she so often does. This season, our favorite strong women was back on her heels, reacting instead of acting: She was cornered by a tabloid “journalist” who wanted to pay her for her story of a tryst with a politician running for prime minister, and she mistook an innocent stranger for a client. Both of these cases illustrated her professional life infringing on her carefully constructed professional life. The journo had photos of Belle attending the christening of Hannah’s nephew; and Hannah gave Alex her personal mobile (cell phone) number, even though she met him as “Belle.” The christening was a fun riff on the climax of The Godfather, with Hannah’s flashbacks to Belle’s experience with the politician substituting for Michael Corleone settling all family business, LOL. Just to complicate matters, a young woman named Ashley seems to have attached herself to Belle, forcing her to act as a sort of de facto mentor. That cannot be good…

The final batch of new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA episodes debuted with jaw-dropping revelations and surprises, the chief being the identity of the enigmatic last member of the Final Five: Ellen Tigh. Oops! If only Saul hadn’t killed her back in season three! Now what? The other shockers: The burned-out, radioactive husk of Earth was, indeed, once populated by the lost 13th tribe of Kobol – but it was a tribe of Cylons (and the Final Five lived there)! Kara apparently discovered her own corpse on Earth! And, finally, Dualla abruptly killed herself in a truly shocking twist.

When last seen in the summer finale, the rag-tag fleet of human survivors and their renegade Cylon allies were left standing on the radioactive sands of a blasted planet called Earth, which had been nuked about 2,000 years ago. This return was equally devastating. What are we viewers to make of the Kara Thrace situation? As she herself asked an incredulous Leoben, “What am I?” Well, we’re starting to believe she really is the harbinger of death, as the Hybrid prophesied. It’s possible that Roslin and Adama feel like they have led the human race to its doom. Roslin almost went catatonic (“I was wrong about everything,” she groaned.), and Bill crawled back into a bottle, emerging only to once again cry over the corpse of one of his female officers (remember his grief over Sharon?) And, since everyone thinks Cally killed herself (when she was actually flushed out a launch tube by Tory); he must wonder what’s up with all the suicides? “I let you down,” the admiral sobbed. “I let everybody down.” Then Saul let Bill down by refusing to be provoked into killing his friend.

When Kara was determined to search the ruins of Earth for answers, Leoben cautioned her, “You might not like what you find,” which reminded me of Dr. Zaius’ warning to Taylor in when he wanted to search the Forbidden Zone for answers in Planet of the Apes. Well, I for one want her to follow the trail wherever it leads. There was a creepy, nervous energy to the episode that keeps it moving at a great clip and feeling momentous. Katee Sackhoff (Kara) was quoted as saying that this episode would have been the series finale if the writers’ strike had gone on longer. Luckily it didn’t, because there are a frak-load of questions to be answered.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 1/13/09

Another day, another apocalypse. Same as it ever was for 24’s Jack Bauer. Kicking off with the usual two-night, four-hour block, Day 7 began with all the action and excitement of a Senate hearing. Well, we’ve never seen Jack like this before. We also get to see Tony Almeida as a bad guy — for a while at least. His holding a grudge against the government for the death of his wife Michelle under President Logan made for a convincing cover story. In contrast to the pusillanimous Logan, President Allison Taylor is all grit and steel, and seemed totally determined to take the country to war even before taking office. Her husband Roger’s quest to investigate their son’s death was merely a tension-sapping distraction for the first three hours, and that it ultimately tied in to a traitor in the White House was both way too convenient and way too familiar. Another mole in the White House? And leaks in the FBI? Who vets these people? Strangely, the FBI has that same culture of paranoia we saw at CTU: the same sidelong glances, suspicion, backbiting, whining, jealousy, etc. Of course Tony ultimately turned out to not be evil, but rather working undercover for Bill with Chloe’s help. Bill and Chloe appear to be working without government sanction, but who’s funding their operation? “We like to think of it as CTU,” Bill quipped. He’s still a tough guy, making the tough choice to let Sengala Prime Minister Matobo be kidnapped, tortured and maybe even killed in order to get to the bottom of the conspiracy.

As great as it was to see Bill and Chloe again, my favorite new character by far is Annie Wersching’s (ex-Amelia, GENERAL HOSPITAL) Renee Walker, who quickly learns that black-and-white is not always so black-and-white. And she’s smart: Unlike so many other characters, she quickly realizes she should listen to Jack and trust him. The corruption of Walker is interesting to watch — especially since the tone of the show is to slap Jack’s wrist for his excesses. We see how it’s a slippery slope, and she sees herself slipping. Walker literally put the squeeze on the hospitalized Tanner and delays his legal team. Of course only maverick agents can get the job done, and even though there are “thousands of lives on the line,” she practically cries after bending her own rules. If Walker survives the day, she could take over the 24 franchise should Keifer ever want to step away. My second favorite new character is Janeane Garafalo’s Janice. Apparently really…um, colorful… people go into IT (well, Chloe is one of the more vivid characters on the show). I liked the way Janice got all farklempt at the thought of what Tony might do with the CIP device to control the nation’s transportation infrastructure. Speaking of Tony’s plot, I found his infiltration of the infrastructure system short on tension because the government knew what Tony is doing, and practically followed along as got into the air-traffic system. Wouldn’t it have been better for viewers to worry when/if the government would discover what he was up to? Still, the CIP something new — it is a technological threat, but not another nuclear bomb or germ warfare. And it’s totally believable in today’s Internet age.

Kiefer Sutherland has repeatedly said he wanted to do more “acting” and add depth to Jack. Well, this story shows us a Jack who realizes what he’s become — basically a useful monster — and further that there’s no turning back. His confrontation with old friend Tony, whom he thought died in his arms, was quite fraught, and the interrogation was intense, invoking show history by mentioning Terri, Audrey and Kim. Jack also shows human vulnerability when he moans, “This is gonna hurt,” before crashing a car through a wall in one of his trademark daring escapes. It may be the end of the world as we know it (again), but with Jack on the case, I feel fine.

Ah, the time-honored dramatic device of reading a nasty-tempered old rich guy’s will. Hilarity always ensues, and GOSSIP GIRL did not disappoint. Bart Bass left bad seed Chuck a controlling interest in Bass Industries, which Chuck naturally did not want — and Uncle Jack did covet. Still, Blair talked Chuck into giving the boardroom a shot, and P.O.’d Uncle Jack declared war, luring Chuck away from B. with cocktails and coquettes in a setup that was so obvious it could be seen from space. Still, Jack wasn’t satisfied to expose Chuck before Blair — he also arranged for board members to catch Chuck…being Chuck. Chuck, being Chuck, suspected B. had set it all up, and blasted her for “trying to play the wife.” Chuck soon realized Uncle Jack was behind it all, and he was out due to a morality clause that Bart inserted in the inheritance. So now that Chuck was totally out in the cold, I figured he’d go nuts. Unfortunately, he went soft. He went to Blair flowers and an apology. Where was the candy and teddy bear, you lovesick drone? That was not the Chuck that I know and admire. Stung by the way Chuck made “wife” sound like the ugliest word in the world, Blair hurled the flowers back at him and spat, “I’m done.”Hopefully that will send Chuck over the edge and we’ll see some decadence worthy of ancient Rome!

Meanwhile, the Serena/Dan debacle came to a head when Penelope and the Mean Girls decided that overheard half-truths were good enough to post (or “blast”) on the Gossip Girl site. And before you can say “Nelly is a spiteful little witch,” the secret of the shared sibling was out. SPOILER-ISH ASIDE TO THOSE WHO KNOW THE IDENTITY OF “GOSSIP GIRL” FROM THE BOOKS: If the show is going to use the same person, why would that person post the Dan/Serena info, and then react the way they reacted? Doesn’t this seem to indicate the show has a different person in mind as the secret GG? Getting even more soapy, Rufus and Lily totally reconnected in Boston, and then learned the adopted son they were searching for drowned in a boating accident. But I said “soapy,” so it turned out the boy didn’t die after all — will Rufus/Lily ever find out?

I don’t plan to waste much time with THE BACHELOR this season, since I…heck, we all know how it’s going to end: Jason will pick somebody, propose, swear it’s love, and then be broken up a week after the final press conference. It’s what happens almost every time. I swear the only reason Trista and Ryan are still married is because they fear being torn to shreds by hordes of fans desperate to cling to the hope they represent. That being said, I have to admit that, as usual, there are a couple of real hotties (Natalie and Kerry, I’m looking at you) vying for Jason’s attention.When Lisa left to be with her sick mother, the other girls practically threw a party to celebrate cutting the trimming the competition. Erica was called out by Megan, as the claws really came out. Sharon has stalkerish knowledge of Jason. Still, he let her stick around, preferring to boot Raquel, the aggressive Brazilian, and Sharon, who said she quit her job as a teacher to be on the show.

Hmm, ABC promos indicate that both GREY’S ANATOMY and PRIVATE PRACTICE will have storylines involving children in peril on the same night. How stupid is that?

I heard that MOMMA’s BOYS might be setting some new standard in trashiness for major network TV. The idea is simplicity itself: Send mom out to vet the gals for the bachelor. Surprisingly, there sure seemed to be a lot more kissing here than on THE BACHELOR. I wonder what the selection process was like here, as Michael’s harem of dates included included Meghan Allen, a Playboy model (in fact, she was Cyber Girl of the Month for January), and Erica Ellison, 2008 Penthouse Pet of the Year. His mom, Lorraine, scolded Meghan in front of several other girls, claiming the human body is not made to be “exploited.” (Note to Lorraine: It would appear the sum total of art in human history contradicts you.) Ironically, Lorraine thinks Erica is a “nice girl,” whom she called a perfect match for her son and herself. (Wait until she finds out what Erica does for a living!) Still, Michael decided to take mom’s advice and sent Meghan packing. JoJo’s mom Khalood didn’t think Julie or Mindy was right for him, but he admitted, “I’ve fallen for Mindy.” Esther couched all her comments in euphemisms about “culture” and heritage to avoid explicitly saying she wants Rob to marry a Jewish girl, and dismissed African-American Camilla as “too tall.” She praised Lauren as fitting in with her “culture and history,” but Rob still chose to keep Camilla around, leaving Esther in tears. And I think I might have been bleeding from the eyes after watching the entire hour…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 1/6/09

GOSSIP GIRL came back for the new year and pruned back a few storylines. The biggest shock was that Jenny is now actually interested in school again. Eric asked her about this, and she basically just said she had a change of heart. Whatever. Little J immediately threw herself into battling Penelope and her mean girls, who were treating Nelly like a virtual slave. Are girls really like that in high school or was this just heightened reality? But when it turned out to be a good deed, and not about the collegiate party, it was all for naught.

Serena conveniently dumped Aaron over the hiatus and made up with Dan again, for like, the third (or was it 3,000th) time. But, of course, it was doomed by outside forces again. This time, it’s the revelation that Rufus and Lily had a secret baby, which means Serena and Dan each share a half-sibling (but still aren’t related themselves). Still, Rufus didn’t want them together, because…well, this isn’t BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL. “I wanna know where my child is,” Rufus spat, then pointed out that he gave up his dreams of being a rock star to be a father, so he wants the chance to play daddy to his “new” kid. And then he convinced Lily to go search for the kid. In a limousine. Can I just say how much I hate the secret-child cliché? Because I really, really do! Chuck’s sudden Uncle Jack doesn’t thrill me, either, but it’s not such a stretch, ya know? Besides, this Uncle Jack seems to have had an influence on Chuck’s hedonistic proclivities – he knew to look for his nephew in Bangkok, and actually handed Eric (who looks 10 years old) a drink.

Chuck was smoking hash on school grounds and almost walked (B. tried her best to help, but her efforts went up in…more smoke). Chuck was so disinterested that he bought back the Victrola to drown his sorrows in booze and dancing girls. When Blair confronted him and asked why he bothered to come back, she forgot that he didn’t — Uncle Jack dragged him back. Unable to cope with Chuck, Blair angled for membership in a society group called the Colony Club, only to discover that the old biddies are really just gossipy mean girls in sweater sets. She rushed to the burlesque club in time to literally talk Chuck off a ledge. She somehow managed to make his suicide bid seem to be about her, and him not killing himself seemed altruistic. Oh, Chuck!

Oh, ONE TREE HILL! Where did you go wrong? While I was off dallying with HEROES, you jumped the shark! From Peyton’s tearful announcement that she’s pregnant to Millie’s impulsive one-night stand to Brooke’s induction into the Power Rangers, nothing worked for me. Where once your directly-on-the-nose scripting seemed quaint and endearing, now it just feels lame and labored. I don’t care about Brooke playing foster mother to Sam, and Lucas’ plotline crossed the line into ludicrousness long ago.

The most realistic moment was when Andre took two extra cookies for his trip with Jamie to the cemetery to visit his slain brother Quentin. Then he left Q the cookies. What wasn’t realistic? Let’s start with Nate landing a job with the minor-league Charleston Chiefs. Okay, that could happen — however, professional players get to choose their own numbers, so Nate would have known going in that No. 23 was not available. And (anvil alert!) Devon Fox not only has Nate’s number, he has Nate’s job: point guard. And if either one of them wants to make it to the NBA, they need to learn that the point guard runs the offense and looks to pass the rock instead of trying to take it to the hole on every possession. The fake that Devon was a cocky carbon copy of the dead Quentin was…well, boring. Elsewhere, Mia was suffering writer’s block, but luckily Haley was available with sage advice — and Mia’s magic hoodie. Owen, the alcoholic bartender, started drinking again after getting hooked on painkillers following the slamball finals. Gregory Harrison guested as a Hollywood studio suit who was (are you sitting down?) interested in the opinion of a tyro screenwriter! (Where do they get this stuff?) Finally, Brooke tracked Sam to the guy who kidnapped her. Who turned out to be the guy who robbed her store and beat her up. And killed Quentin. And was on the grassy knoll in Dallas back in 1963. Good thing she totally kick-boxed him senseless. And this show has finally beaten me into submission; I’m done.

I had to admit I was curious about the new “reality” series TRUE BEAUTY, but only because I was astonished at how coldly calculated it seemed, and I had to see if it was as manipulative as is appeared to be. Yup. Every minute of it. This unscripted series was obviously designed to appeal to us “common folks” who want an excuse to openly mock the “beautiful people” we hate. The 10 hand-picked contestants were supremely self-centered and led to believe they were participating in a beauty contest, which they were — but they were not told that it’s actually an “inner beauty” contest. And the two-faced nature of the contestants is the appeal. As Chelsea crowed, “I’m conceited, and I admit it.” The show is judged/hosted by Vanessa Minnillo, whom soap fans may recall from a brief stint as Amanda on BOLD AND BEAUTIFUL. Vanessa herself would appear to know a little about…uh, showing different facets of one’s personality: She went out of her way to diss soap operas during an appearance on THE LATE SHOW WITH CONAN O’BRIEN, and she doesn’t even list B&B among her TV credits on her official Web site.

Anyway, the contestants were vying for $100,000 in cash and to get a photo in People’s Most Beautiful People issue. The initial episode concentrated on everyone as preening peacocks who dismissed everyone else as…well, preening peacocks. The “challenges” consisted of giving the players opportunities to not be cruel to clumsy waiters and production assistants toting coffee. The two lowest-scoring players were Chelsea and Hadiyyah-lah, who suggested she just may be the most attractive person on the planet (yes, she said, “planet”). She was particularly funny as she completely freaked out over getting the low score in a “scientific” beauty assessment — all the while insisting that she wasn’t concerned about the score. Yeah, right! Judge Nole Marin got it exactly right when he suggested Chelsea use less eye makeup. After Hadiyyah-lah was eliminated, two janitor characters dumped her portrait in the trash. Which is exactly where this supremely trashy show belongs. Obviously, it’s going to be a hit.