Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 5/13/09

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 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 3/6/09

The season finale of BURN NOTICE really went out with a bang. Several of them, in fact. Y’know how everybody dies in the climactic final moments of the Godfather movies? Well, this was a little like that, only with more boats, helicopters and bikinis.

As we got closer to the truth, thing got more and more confusing as it was revealed that Carla (Tricia Helfer) and Victor (Michael Shanks) were both burned spies themselves; Carla went into business for herself and forcibly recruited Vic by killing his family. His quest for revenge brought him into alignment with Michael (Jeffrey Donovan). Mike and Vic gathered enough intel and dirt on Carla to go to her boss, code-named Management (and played by John Mahoney), who explained to Michael that he had been protecting him from all his old enemies. When Michael demanded to be released from the life, Management withdrew his protection, and Michael made a literal leap of faith — about 100 feet from a helicopter — into the open ocean. So we last see Michael literally at sea, struggling to keep his head above water. I love that kind of metaphorical stuff. It was a baptism of sorts into a new life. The status quo for season three will be the same, yet completely different! Michael is, if anything, even more burned — if Management is to be believed.

This episode featured many more stunts and car chases than usual, leading to my favorite spy tip of the night: If you get in a firefight during a car chase, aim to ricochet your bullets off the pavement and up through the floorboards of the pursuing vehicle. (How can you not love a show that dispenses advice like that?!) Also, nondairy creamer mixed with gunpowder will generate a really explosive (and dangerous) distraction! Sam (Bruce Campbell) and Madeline (Sharon Gless) really got a chance to shine as he protected her from thugs. Madeline showed not only a backbone, but genuine concern for her son’s safety over her own. Plus, she keeps a shotgun in the house.

I was sorry to say goodbye to the amorally fun Carla and Victor, who were shot dead by Fiona and Michael, respectively. (Well, Michael sort of just finished off Vic.) No more Carla means Helfer has to find another job, what with her tenure as BATTLESTAR GALACTICA’s Six also wrapped. Coincidentally, Shanks’ decade-long gig with the STARGATE franchise is also…uh, in transition.

The new season of BURN NOTICE ignites in June.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 11/26/08

On the day before Thanksgiving, I’d like to give thanks that the series finale of THE SHIELD totally lived up to not only my expectations, but my hopes. I came away from the harrowing last installment of the adventures of Vic Mackey feeling exhausted, disgusted, saddened and revolted. In other words, it couldn’t have been more perfect. I spent weeks (months, even!) trying to guess Vic’s ultimate fate, but I never in a million years would have expected him to end up a hopeless cubicle drone. Of course Vic had to lose everything — his family, his friends, his career — but I didn’t expect it all to be so…satisfyingly cruel. Vic was always a creature of power — he wielded his detective shield like a club to beat down and extort criminals, then used it to shield himself from reprisals — so putting him into a position where he was completely powerless and forced to pee into a cup was simply brilliant. My hat is off to Shawn Ryan for remaining completely true the characters and situations he created so long ago. Vic started out season one by killing Strike Team member Terry, and ended up selling out (and figuratively killing) Strike Team member Ronnie last night. Poor Ronnie; he was loyal as a puppy right up until he was dragged, screaming, into hell…er, jail by Dutch. The series made sly reference to Dutch’s long-gestating potential to become a serial killer by having him accused of murdering a woman by her sociopath son.

The real payoff was in the resolution of the Vic/Shane strife. Finally at the end of his rope, Shane killed his pregnant wife and son, then blew his own brains out. The sight of murdered Mara and Jackson posed peacefully on the bed was shocking, even for THE SHIELD. In fact, photos of the scene even made Vic gasp! I knew there could be no happy ending for Shane and Mara, but I did not expect that. I did expect Aceveda, perhaps the most blatantly political animal in the history of TV, to be elected mayor after turning Vic’s massive drug bust to his own advantage.

If I can make a shocking confession myself, I sort of, kind of, was hoping (just a little bit) that Vic would get away with everything. Is that bad? (Yeah, it is, but is it thatbad?) And the final image, of Vic returning to type and going rogue once again, even though it means a death sentence, kind of fulfilled that for me. THE SHIELD will be remembered as one of the great dramas.

FRINGE is on its way to becoming a great fantasy series. Finally, a show that captures the essence of THE X-FILES — it’s damn spooky to watch a lone FBI agent creep through an abandoned cellar with a flashlight while strange things go bump in the dark. This week’s episode actually succeeded in making me flinch when the butterfly suddenly attacked that guy. Who would expect an evil monarch? I mean, this ain’t THE VENTURE BROS.

My favorite moment of this week’s NCIS? After pumping the traitor Lee full of holes, Gibbs stood over her as she lay dying and didn’t tell her that her young sister was safe. And he pulled her badge off her belt. Stone cold! Vic Mackey would be proud.

I was almost proud of Jack Bauer in 24: REDEMPTION. I wanted to be proud of him, but something about the two-hour movie just didn’t quite click with me. Perhaps it was the fact that the fate of the entire world was not hanging in the balance. Or maybe the fact that Kiefer Sutherland played Jack as practically somnambulant. His harsh, growling whisper was an odd choice. Apparently there’s no tea with honey in Africa? I suppose he was supposed to be so world-weary and burned out that he could barely force himself to speak. This movie was designed to serve as a bridge between Day 6 and January’s Day 7. The links to the past came courtesy of Peter MacNichol‘s Tom Lennox and Powers Boothe‘s prickly President Noah Daniels. The future was seen in Cherry Jones incoming president Allison Taylor. Once again, the White House was infiltrated by shady operators and riddled with crooked agents. Who does the WH vetting — John McCain‘s office? (Too soon?) Anyhoo, Sebastian Roché (ex-Jerry, GENERAL HOSPITAL) has a small part as a thug that allows him use an odd skill he honed on GH — injecting unwilling, struggling subjects with nasty syringe. And burying a guy in cement.

Hey, that’s all for now. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!