Soap Opera Weekly: 9/22/09

Can anyone think of a reason why Nathan Fillion is not one of the biggest stars around? His star vehicle, CASTLE, owes its success entirely to his lead character. This is basically, “MURDER, HE WROTE,” but Fillion (ex-Joey, ONE LIFE TO LIVE) is so charming that the premise doesn’t really matter; it’s just an excuse for Fillion (ex-Mal, FIREFLY) to smirk and deliver the show’s best one-liners. Sure, co-star Stana Katic (ex-Hana, HEROES) gets in her licks as Detective Beckett, and the able supporting cast (including GENERAL HOSPITAL’s former Ian Devlin, Seamus Dever)…er, supports ably, but it’s still Nathan’s show. Take this line from last night’s second-season premiere: Upon discovering a corpse with all its internal organs carved out, Castle declared, “Somebody hated his guts.” Okay, so it’s not a gut-buster or even shockingly original, but it’s damn funny and Fillion delivered it with aplomb. The killer turned out to be… ah, nobody really cares. This series isn’t about the hunt for a killer, it’s about the people hunting for a killer. And the chemistry between Fillion and Molly C. Quinn, who plays Castle’s daughter, Alexis, is fantastic (even if Alexis is just a little too perfect to be believed).

Killing and mayhem and fathers and daughters all figured into the fourth-season premiere of HEROES last night, as well. But most of it was far less compelling than on CASTLE. I love watching Hayden Panettiere and Jack Coleman play out the Claire/Noah father/daughter dynamic. And it was funny that Claire’s roommate from hell was played by a fellow soap vet, DAYS OF OUR LIVES’ Rachel Melvin. I know Claire will get along much better with Gretchen, played by Madeline Zima (Mia, CALIFORNICATION). It was a little hard to judge where the season will go from here because the two-hour block was dedicated to setting the stage for what’s to come. But Robert Knepper (ex-T-bag, PRISON BREAK) has the potential to turn Sam Sullivan into a classic villain. I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude with HEROES — as in, I’m waiting to see what the deal is with that freaky tattoo ink…

Originally published on

Heroes 4x: Rejection of the Mundane

I have figured out what’s wrong with HEROES — at least as far as I’m concerned. The characters of HEROES are, with the exception of Hiro, obsessed with leading “normal” lives, lives that do not feature healing factors or mind-control. In other words, they aspire to lives of quiet desperation. Which is exactly the kind of lives most of the viewership is desperate to escape! The show and its fans are ships passing in the night, going in opposite directions. Most HEROES watchers imagine what it would be like to live an extraordinary life, rather than an existence defined by mind-numbing work and scrambling for paychecks. There’s clearly a disconnect when the stories are striving to be low-key. Now, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to tell stories that people can relate to. But how about relating to the best parts of them, the aspirational parts? Spider-Man’s mantra is, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Well, along with great power and responsibility comes the need for great stories, not pedestrian ones. Extraordinary characters call for extraordinary stories. The heroes may want to be “normal,” but the stories should aspire to be more. Sure, Peter Parker is famous for wanting to get on with his life, including attending school and holding down a job, but sooner or later the Scorpion, or Venom shows up and puts Spider-Man through his arachnid-powered paces.

It is possible to tell stories about emotions and feelings people can relate to while using science fiction and fantasy as the conduit. That’s what made BATTLESTAR GALACTICA so compelling: the stories were all about human conflict, but they were dramatized by people and robots and spaceships. BSG did not shy away from its milieu, it embraced it to tell stories in a way no other show could, using what was unique about its premise. Want to explore questions about parenthood? Tell a story about a Cylon that desires to have a baby. For the most part, HEROES is not using what makes it unique to tell compelling stories. “Claire has a nosy new friend” is not a story; it’s a potential complicating factor within a story. “Peter wants to help people” is not a story; it’s a potential motivation for a story.

HEROES has been plagued by routine: Either the powered folks are trying to stop someone from blowing up New York/the world, or struggling with vaguely-motivated “villains,” or they’re trying to deny their powers. It should not be hard to tell an involving story about Hayden Panettiere‘s Claire, the indestructible teenager. She cannot be killed, but she has myriad other vulnerabilities. And there are fates worse than death! The British series TORCHWOOD also features a character who cannot die, Capt. Jack Harkness. But TORCHWOOD is never boring, because Jack gets put through the wringer by problems that test his humanity as well as his immortality. (For example, he was buried underground for 2,000 years; constantly suffocating and reviving in an endless cycle. Who wouldn’t prefer true death?) What does being unable to die do to the mindset of a young woman? The parallels for teenage alienation practically write themselves. And, until the-powers-that-be at HEROES apply their brainpower, they may have to…

Heroes 4.1: Getting Oriented…

Okay, let’s get the bad news out in the open right away: The season premiere of HEROES was…kinda dull. Not bad, not great; mostly dull. It’s season four now; as viewers we’re long past the point of being surprised/impressed when someone demonstrates a superpower. Right away we were introduced to Samuel Sullivan, whose power is not long-windedness, but rather the ability to move the earth (and no, that’s not sex thing); an ability that goes by the fancy name “terrakinesis.” Then we had to sit through a lot of mysterious stuff at the Sullivan Bros. Carnival, like trying to puzzle out what was going on with the tattoo ink. And while all that stuff was mildly intriguing, it wasn’t especially interesting. In fact, of all the story seeds that were planted for this season, the only one I found really compelling involved Claire and HRG. Sylar reasserting his personality was predictable; Hiro’s thread dragged too much; I can’t care about Tracy because the show doesn’t even seem interested in giving her a personality.

I was very interested in what was going on with Claire. Hayden Panettiere is developing into a fine young actress – a fact that the-powers-that-be apparently recognize because she has been getting the bulk of the scenes that require actual acting. Claire is starting college with the new season, and her nightmare of a roommate, Annie, turned out to be played by Rachel Melvin (Chelsea, DAYS OF OUR LIVES). I know she was supposed to be insufferable, so congratulations, Rachel, mission accomplished. Much more entertaining is Madeline Zima‘s Gretchen. She has an actual personality – and a quirky one, no less — as opposed to a being a “type.” The problem with Claire’s relationships in the past (I’m looking at you, West) is that the dudes have been dead boring. Every time he appeared onscreen I was distracted by wondering how a guy who can fly could be boring. But in just a few short scenes, Zima imbued her line readings with so much personality that she fairly leapt off the screen (in a good way). I loved the way her eyes shined when she proposed proving that Annie’s death was a murder. This is a pairing to watch. Claire using herself as a crash-test dummy was predictable yet funny. However, by now she should be more discreet in the use of her power. (What was she planning to do with that huge pool of blood from her head?) Claire’s father, HRG – Noah, played by Jack Coleman – remains the other most interesting character on the show. Every week I’m relieved that he remains 100 percent human (generating great chemistry with Hayden doesn’t count as a power) and 100 percent ass-kicker! He’s smart and resourceful; I have no idea how he knew to look in Danko’s gut for that key. If he thought Danko’s killer had paid unusual attention to slicing up his abdomen, why didn’t the assailant find the key?

Robert Knepper (ex-T-bag, PRISON BREAK) is a great fit as the sinister Sam. He exudes confidence and intelligence – two things a really effective antagonist needs. It was fun to actually see Ray Park‘s face as knife-wielding speedster Edgar. The martial artist usually plays characters that require his face to be obscured – Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace, and Snake Eyes in this summer’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Edgar’s big fight with Peter was marred by some really ineffective editing, and I was distracted because Peter appeared to have replicated not only Edgar’s power, but his skill with blades. I don’t think I knew he could do that.

What did I really dislike? Matt’s hallucinations of Sylar. I know TPTB had to get the wildly popular Zachary Quinto back onscreen, but this plot makes Matt look stupid. He knows “Sylar” is an illusion, yet he continues to argue with the specter? C’mon, Matt, you’re smarter than that. You’ve got mental powers, you know all about mind games; especially the ones you play on yourself.

At the end of this inaugural two-parter, I had to stop and think about actually happened, and I came to the conclusion it was not a heck of a lot. Everything seemed dedicated to positioning the pieces on the chessboard. And while a lot of potential was apparent, not a lot of it was realized onscreen. I was left taking the Easter eggs where I could find them: Kimiko referring to Hiro and Ando as “Heroes for Hire” was a shout-out to a Marvel Comics series, while boys dubbing themselves “Dial a Hero” is an obvious homage to an old DC comics series called Dial H for Hero.

HEROES doesn’t quite have to dial H for Help just yet – and let’s hope the show doesn’t have to.

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 4/21/09

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

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

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

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 4/14/09

I came away from this week’s HEROES shaking my head in confusion because the way I saw it, the-powers-that-be completely retconned Chandra Suresh. And not for the better. In Chapter One, “Genesis,” Chandra was already dead, killed in a taxi crash. He was referred to as Mohinder’s father, the author of Activating Evolution, a controversial book that tried to explain why people were “suddenly” manifesting super powers. As Mohinder looked into his father’s work, he discovered that Chandra identified Sylar as “Patient Zero,” the original source of powered humans! Yet, now we learn that Chandra Suresh was involved with Project: Icarus at Coyote Sands in 1961 — in which he experimented on humans with super abilities. So why would he write that book some 40 years later? He knew humans had been evolving for decades, not “suddenly,” and he knew Sylar had nothing to do with it. So the question becomes, Why did Chandra want to reopen the issue of superhumans years later? Surely he must have been ashamed of his role in the concentration camp and the mass deaths? If he was not ashamed, then that makes his character a monster! (Ironic how Mohinder quickly noted that he had become his father by experimenting on human guinea pigs.) But leave all that aside: Why publish a book about “theories” of evolution? Perhaps he was trying to disguise his knowledge; instead of building on what he knew and could prove, he was trying to make his research look like conjecture in order to stimulate debate. But, again, to what end? It is somewhat believable that the government would want to seal all records of the Coyote Sands camp and the massacre. (Hmmm, didn’t we see a mass grave following a “purge” on LOST?), and I suppose the documents could be buried so deep that they could be forgotten. And it would help if the Company was doggedly stamping out all mention of evolved humans. In contrast to all the muddying of the waters of the past, when Angela told Alice how she obsesses over socks, she actually cleared up a little mystery from Angela’s very first appearance, waaaaay back in the premiere episode, when she was arrested for shoplifting socks. (However, even more ludicrous was the idea that Alice spent 45 years at the abandoned camp because her older sister told her it would be a safe place.)

In 1961, the young Angela met a trio of men who would help create the Company: telepath Charles Deveaux, who would eventually be Simone’s father and the old man Peter was caring for at the beginning of the series, was played by Edwin Hodge (ex-Brett, INVASION) in 1961, and Richard Roundtree in the future; Bob Bishop (who turned objects into gold) would grow up to be electrical Elle’s father, and be portrayed by Stephen Tobolowski); Casey Kringlen, who played the young healer Linderman, actually resembled his character’s future incarnation, Malcolm McDowell. The young Chandra was essayed by Ravi Kapoor, best-known as “Bug” from CROSSING JORDAN. Coyote Sands served as the springboard for the Company. In May 1961, Angela dreamed about founding the Company to protect people like them; an organization willing to do whatever was necessary to keep the secret of metahumans safe. “A necessary evil,” she called it. In the present, Mohinder believed a new Company could be done right. Peter hit upon the idea of organizing it around the extended Petrelli family, because families can forgive each other. But everyone agreed the organization must once again be kept a secret. It remains to be seen whether those good intentions will once again become corrupted.

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 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 3/10/09

Watching CASTLE, the new mystery/romance on ABC, the first mystery that sprang to mind was, “Why isn’t this show called MURDER, HE WROTE?” I mean a mystery writer who solves deadly real-life mysteries? At one point, Castle laments that the reason he killed off the star of his successful string of best-sellers was because he saw no more surprises in the stories; he knew every scene that was coming up. Ironically, that’s also the problem here: CASTLE is a by-the-numbers MOONLIGHTING riff crossed with a standard sleuth storyline, ladled with standard-issue family “complications.” Rick has a hot-to-trot mother (See? Senior citizens have pep!) who behaves like she just escaped from a road production of GOLDEN GIRLS, and a snarky 15-year-old daughter with an old soul who parents her Daddy — who is nothing more than a giant child himself. Rick is paired up with a sassy lady detective who is tougher-than-nails and would look like a model if she wore lipstick and got a decent haircut. Of course they are the “Will they/won’t they?” couple, and she’s the competent authority figure who dismisses him as “a 9-year-old on a sugar rush.” CASTLE relies entirely — and I mean entirely — on Nathan Fillion’s boundless charm. Luckily, Fillion oozes charisma and cannot help commanding every scene he’s in with a personal magnetism that makes you forget he’s basically playing Jessica Fletcher. Of course, I’m sure he likes to think he’s a playing a better-behaved version of Capt. Mal Reynolds, the space rogue from FIREFLY/Serenity. Stana Katic (ex-Hanna, HEROES) is just playing a stereotype so far, so she is, by definition, “no fun,” and it will take longer to warm up to her. Does CASTLE have the time? I hope so, because Fillion should be on TV more than stopping by ONE LIFE TO LIVE every few years.

I would have thought that DANCING WITH THE STARS would have an easier time signing…y’know, stars, but the show seems content to settle for niche celebrities. Perhaps the biggest name they had, Jewel, dropped out due to injury, leaving NFL legend Lawrence Taylor as the big cheese — although the show’s target audience is unlikely to recognize the greatest linebacker who ever played the game. No, most viewers will no doubt be buzzing about emergency-replacement Melissa Rycroft, risking life, limb and self-respect fresh off her national humiliation on THE BACHELOR.

HEROES turned in another uneven episode last night — but I think that was a good thing, because the end was better than the beginning. The reappearance of Doyle at the end of last week turned out to be a false alarm, as “Rebel” had sent Doyle to Claire to be protected. Appealing to an old enemy for protection is a hoary soap cliché, but riffing on prepackaged ideas is sort of HEROES’ thing. Its narrow worldview is reflected in the way the show keeps repeating itself with visions of nuclear holocaust, time travel, obnoxious new characters, and beating to death the “How do you stop an exploding man?” trope. The latter was a key element of the show, as Matt was wired with explosives — like he had painted — and had to be saved by Nathan, who always seems to draw the short straw when an exploding man needs to be stopped.

The other key element of the night was Sylar’s search for his biological father, Samson Gray, was played by John Glover — SMALLVILLE’s bad daddy, Lionel Luthor himself. Samson the taxidermist was the kind of cancer patient who smokes and doesn’t fear the Reaper. And, naturally, Daddy has a power: He can take abilities, too. When he saw that Sylar/Gabriel possessed Claire’s healing power, he decided to steal it and cure his lung cancer. I thought it was intriguing the way Samson appeared to focus his powers by whistling. Sylar was able to turn the tables on Daddy and walked out on the man who had walked out on him all those years ago. Want to know what surprised me about the whole sequence? Sylar slaughtering the rabbit to be stuffed. When he killed that bunny, I’ll bet a lot of fangirls who were willing to forgive Sylar for cracking open the skulls of any number of people were mortified. It was a brave story choice, and perhaps the only way to restore Sylar to the bad old days when he was a faceless killer, not matinee idol Zachary Quinto. Speaking of killers, Danko made his move against Nathan, who pushed back by going directly to the president. After being fired, Danko decided the easiest way to learn whether Nathan can fly would be to just throw him out a window. (Gotta love the direct approach.) So now Danko knows Nathan has an ability. What will happen? I predict that HRG will counterpunch by discovering that Danko himself has a power, forcing the Hunter to go away while Noah takes over the Hero-hunting program.

Meanwhile, Noah’s daughter, Claire, took a job at Sam’s comic book shop in what can only be a bid to reconnect with the lapsed fanboy market. What comics geek doesn’t dream of walking into his local shop for the new Wednesday comics and seeing Hayden Panettiere behind the counter? But Claire must have another job — one that would help her get a new identity for Doyle. Where did all those false documents come from? True, Sandra showed her how to make a fake driver’s license last week; maybe the lesson also included other documentation. Or maybe Claire ordered them from the ads in the back of a comic book…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 3/5/09

Last night’s episode of LOST saw the end of uncontrolled time travel, but marked the return of a mistake from the past: concentrating way too much on new characters viewers don’t care about. The show was devoted to watching Sawyer, Jin, Juliet, Miles and Faraday integrate into the DHARMA Initiative. And it was certainly less than compelling; I’m hard-pressed to recall much of what went on (which is why I take notes). The storyline oscillated (in a very controlled manner) between 1974 and 1977 (I guess the-powers-that-be wanted to leave 1973 to their lead-out, LIFE ON MARS), and revealed how our friends ingratiated themselves to Horace and the DHARMA peeps. The most significant development saw Sawyer settling down with Juliet (who even looks good with hideous ’70s hair; Sawyer looked wimpy) — just in time for Kate to show up! How soapy! Sawyer adopted the identity of “James LaFleur,” but using a fake name is nothing new for our slippery pal James Ford, right?

The highlight for me was probably the glimpse of an enormous statue that most likely only had four toes. (C’mon, like there was another colossal statue on the island?) Oh, and Sawyer made a crack about Richard Alpert’s eyeliner (Seriously, the guy appears to be bordering on Capt. Jack Sparrow territory!) Sure, it was nice to see Reiko Aylesworth (ex-Rebecca, ONE LIFE TO LIVE; ex-Michelle, 24) get a job, and Doug Hutchison’s (ex-Sebastian, GUIDING LIGHT) hair as Horace made him look almost as scary as when he played the mutant Eugene Victor Tooms on THE X-FILES. This is the third time Horace has appeared: He was there when Ben was born by the side of the road in Oregon (and later brought Ben and his father, Roger, to the Island) but ironically missed the birth of his own son. Horace also appeared to Locke in a dream, acting out the building of Jacob’s cabin. You know how I like to point out in these blogs whenever Patrick Fischler (Jimmy Barrett, MAD MEN; ex-Jimmy, PUSHING DAISIES) makes an appearance on any show? Well, here he played DHARMA security guard Phil alongside Kevin Rankin’s (Herc, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS) Jerry. Phil and Jerry were supposed to be watching polar bears, heh-heh. I assume they were tethered to the Frozen Donkey Wheel. Aylesworth’s Amy was able to give birth in the camp, which seemed to indicate that whatever was keeping women from delivering on the island in the 21st century hadn’t happened yet. In 1974, Faraday saw a little red-haired girl that he believed to be Charlotte, but Ben previously had claimed that Charlotte was born in 1979, so was that really her? Finally, the episode synced up with the end of “316” by wrapping with Jin delivering Jack, Hurley and Kate to Sawyer. Worst. Episode. This. Season.

Now that I think about it, disappointment was a recurring theme this week, because Monday’s HEROES was also severely weakened by repeating an unpopular old trope: namely, Claire gets a boring boyfriend. Yes, the episode was consumed by Claire trying to keep Danko from holding a fish-fry with Aqualad Alex. It would have been easier to send him to Albuquerque, like she wanted. However, I have to admit it was nice to see Sandra stand up for herself. She’s sick of being lied to by her black-ops-loving husband and heroine-wannabe daughter? It’s about time she showed off some skills. Granted, cobbling together a fake ID doesn’t compare to regenerating from knife wounds or hunting psycho-killers, but it was Sandra’s determination that counted. Among the character insight gleaned: She married Noah because he was dangerous and handsome, and she bought into his bad-boy act. But it’s different to actually be married to an international man of mystery.

•Does anyone else think “Rebel” is really Nathan? (I think questioning his mother was just a red herring.)
•The best part of Sylar’s story: hearing Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” played over those flashbacks.
•How oblivious is Danko, that he still doesn’t know Nathan can fly? Or that Rachel — whom he assigned to watch Noah’s house! — can teleport? Perhaps he’s just blinded by his hatred. I wonder when we will get his backstory; I’m guessing a powered person was responsible for the death of someone he loved, and now he wants revenge. Or else he has a power himself and is consumed by self-loathing. Yeah, that’s it!