Big AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. Tie-In to Movie Universe? Uh, Not So Much…

SifSHIELDRemember all the hype about how Marvel’s AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. would be set in the same universe as the Marvel movies and we could expect events from the big and small screen to at least have an influence on each other? Well, Marvel is now backing away from that idea.

Take last week’s guest appearance on MAoS by the Lady Sif (Jaimie Alexander), a major player in Thor’s movie series. Like most people, I expected this to be a major event, not merely ratings-bait stunt casting — especially since Sif was to go up against Lorelei, the sister of the Enchantress, who is expected to be one of the baddies in the eventual Thor 3 movie.

Perhaps Enchantress might be angry about her little sister’s treatment on the TV show? Don’t hold your breath…
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Thanksgiving Thought Balloons…

Technical difficulties at the office prevented this blog from being posted at the SOAPOPERAWEEKLY.COM site. Figures that a time-sensitive piece would be delayed. Anyway, I figured if it cannnot run there, why not post it here?

Thanksgiving is upon us, and genius that I am, I stumbled upon the shockingly original idea of compiling a list of things for which I am grateful. (Hopefully no one else will copy me!) Being thankful for family and friends almost goes without saying, but we already don’t say it enough, so it’s worth repeating: I am thankful you are all in my life. But now, here are just a few of the TV-related things (in no particular order) which are worth acknowledging:

•Carly is back on AS THE WORLD TURNS, meaning Maura West and Michael Park get to work their wonderful alchemy together again. The CarJack whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
•GUIDING LIGHT went out on a high note that almost compensated for being canceled. (Okay, it didn’t even come close to compensating; it just made the loss more painful. But it’s a holiday and I’m trying to be charitable.)
•THE SHIELD also ended its run on a near-perfect note.
•JON AND KATE PLUS 8 was canceled! Thank you! If only we could erase any record of the show ever existing…
•Fox gave a show as “out there” as GLEE a chance to not only survive, but thrive. I am a confirmed Gleek!
•STARGATE UNIVERSE got to take flight on SyFy, despite the spotty record of STARGATE: ATLANTIS.
•24 returns next month!
Tom Pelphrey is back on a soap (this time ATWT).
•Even though the brilliant David Tennant is leaving DOCTOR WHO, the show — as always — will carry on with a new face (Matt Smith’s) in 2010.
•After this weekend, I won’t have to hear the words “Black Friday” for another year.
•Soaps are slowly (but surely) making the transition to online.
•There are still seven soap operas on the air! Hang in there, folks!

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!

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 10/22/08

Okay, let’s get it out in the open right away: Last week’s episode of GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT was better. But that doesn’t mean last night’s was poor; far from it. I enjoyed the “wrapping up” aspect of the story. (I was one of the people who didn’t mind the…uh, leisurely closing of Return of the King.) This felt like everyone clarifying relationships and saying goodbye after summer camp. I liked the show putting a bow on things and tying off relationships, because while I don’t mind being strung along, I hate being left hanging!

I liked that the show dealt with the explosion quickly and then moved on. The best part was integrating Patrick and Jagger defusing the bomb with Saira flatlining. Let the parent show revel in violence; this series is about emotion. And there was plenty of that on display in all the stories, but especially the Scorpio clan. I knew it was going to be touching when Robin mentioned the clinical trial in Switzerland. (Eric went to a trial in Portland — gee, maybe GH should start hosting clinical trials!) And poor Robin had to go from sitting vigil over her father to worrying about gal pal Saira. Leo took the chance to turn on the waterworks again, as the man of science appealed to faith in the face of death. His prayers were answered — but only sort of. Saira lived, but she chose to go on living without him in her life. (“I forgive you, but I can’t be with you,” she said. Can a line be any soapier?) I was glad Leo’s brother, Kyle, shared a rapproachment. Kyle also made up with Claire, but it seemed like a bit of a cop-out to make her resign and then return. (Are intern programs that easy to drop in and out of?)

Patrick found it easy enough to leave the chief of staff job behind (He hated it anyway), because it meant more time with Robin. Jagger will be spending less time with Robin or Saira, since he moved back to San Francisco to fight for custody of Stone. (The child’s mother never was named, but at least we know she isn’t Brenda, because Jagger told Robin she doesn’t know the mother. Unless he was lying….) He promised to make good on their vow to raise their children together. Toussaint decided to reconnect with his secret son, and Epiphany encouraged Jagger to reconnect with her.

The real emotional stinger of the episode came courtesy of Robert and Anna. They had their grand scene in which Tristan Rogers delivered the perfect line, “Oh, I dolove you,” and she replied, “I love you, too.” Like Frosty the Snowman, he promised Robin that he would be back again someday “for a nice, long visit.” But he decided to go to Switzerland alone. He left her a terse note, and she understood not to follow. As Robin embraced her tearful mother, it encapsulated all the pent-up emotion of the storyline. And ending the series with Robin and Patrick getting busy on his desk was the perfect bookend to the series, which began with them canoodling on a couch. Well done, NIGHT SHIFT. I hope to see you again next year.

THE SHIELD is really gaining momentum now. With Shane outed for putting a hit on Ronnie (in a high-tension sequence that had me on the edge of my seat), and Vic resigning so he can hunt down his old friend himself, anyone who doesn’t think this is all going to end very badly over the course of the final five episodes has not been paying attention.

I am envisioning an end for Vic and company that will be even bloodier than the Holly’s Diner massacre that opened last night’s episode of FRINGE. (I wasn’t the only one who was reminded of Dr. Destiny’s rampage in issue No. 6 of Neil Gaiman‘s “Sandman” comic book, was I?) After Emily Kramer mentally microwaved the eatery patrons and then went all Scanners and her head blew up, the task force arrived. Walter was in fine form from his first scene, brutally jamming a common meat thermometer into one corpse’s ear (nice sound effect!), then requesting a bowl of the same french onion soup that sat uneaten on the lunch counter. Ah, to be an eccentric genius…

FRINGE upped the gore factor by showing Emily’s corpse sans head from the neck up (take thatCSI!), but the harshest scene had to be the execution of Mr. Papaya. In order to demonstrate how Emily used radiation to boil her victims from the inside out, Walter dressed up a papaya with Mr. Potatohead features like a face, then zapped him, resulting in Mr. Papaya exploding. To be fair, Walter did feel bad about blasting “the friendliest of the fruits,” but his “goo-ification” proved his theory that an implanted capsule of Strontium 90 had turned Emily into a weapon.

The person responsible — though his intentions remained somewhat murky — was the wealthy David Esterbrook, played by the excellent Chris Eigemann. (Allow me to digress here to recommend watching Eigeman’s work in director Whit Stillman‘s under-appreciated “Urban Haute Bourgeoisie” trilogy, MetropolitanBarcelona andThe Last Days of Disco.) Did you notice the Observer in the background the first time Olivia met Esterbrook? I would love to see Esterbrook return (with cute-but-twisted Dr. Sarnoff once more by his side) to menace Liv and the task force again. (Hey, can Broyles give this task force a name, please?)

While the plot was a big improvement over last week’s, the real value of the episode was the insight into Olivia’s character. This case occurred on her birthday, when she dreaded the pending arrival of a card from her stepfather because, as she explained to Peter, when she was 9 years old she shot her drunken stepfather for abusing her mother — but didn’t kill him. Now she views that as a mistake, and her stepfather as the symbol of evil in the world — a role he delights in, as evidenced by the annual cards. Later, when Broyles questioned Liv’s public grandstanding, she vociferously (well, for her) defended her “emotional” approach to her work, claiming it makes her a better FBI agent because she empathizes with victims. She challenged Broyles to fire her, but he warned it wouldn’t be that easy.

And let’s not forget the developments for Peter: Nina Sharp revealed that she and Walter were “quite close” when Peter was young. (Cue the “Nina is Peter’s mother!!!” hysteria.) I liked that Peter has started to notice a pattern to the Pattern (namely, repeated instances of human guinea pigs) and wondering if mankind is being “prepared” for something. Hmmm….

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 10/1/08

It’s tough not to get spoiled with my job, but every once in a while it happens, and when it does, it’s good. Exhibit A: Last night’s installment of THE SHIELD. Imagine my surprise to see GENERAL HOSPITAL‘s Robin, Kimberly McCullough, wielding a shotgun in a garage as she reprised her role as car thief Deena. Without Robin’s pregnancy padding, she looked sleek and bad-ass while coming close to accidentally blowing away Vic and the boys. The last time I had Kimberly on the phone I actually intended to mention her previous appearances on THE SHIELD, but the conversation went in another direction, and as we were pressed for time, I never got the chance to circle back and talk about the FX series. I missed out on doing a story, but it worked out for Joe the fan in the end, because her appearance was a welcome surprise. 

Kimberly was back in the next hour on GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT without the gat, but the emotional fusillade was even more powerful. Robin had to bring in her daddy after he collapsed. She was devastated by his prognosis and as he fought for his life in surgery she called her mother and finally told her Robert was in town. And he was not doing so well. The wonderful Finola Hughes made her NIGHT SHIFT debut with a powerfully emotional scene as Anna tried to comfort her daughter. The sequence when she visited Robert’s room was intense: Anna Devane, international action woman, powerless to do anything more than reach out and tenderly brush Robert’s cheek. The salad days of Robert and Anna were before my time, so I don’t have golden memories of the duo. However, even I was moved by these scenes; the affection these characters share and the talent of portrayers Hughes and Tristan Rogers was amazing. “You’ve died plenty of times and we still can’t get rid of you,” she sighed. I felt like a lot of history was packed into wisecrack and meaningful look. “I’m scared,” he confessed. 

Never fear, the rest of the cast of was not neglected. Kyle and Claire had it out over her sleeping with his brother, and he resolved to move out. Kyle also finallyconfronted his brother about sleeping with his best friend. (How funny was it that Kyle was positioned a couple of steps below Leo on that staircase?) Leo admitted that he’s falling in love with Saira, and afraid about ruining their relationship. Heavy stuff. But it wasn’t all downer material: Eric flirted up a storm and pressed Kyle to confront being so involved with the lives of others. “Don’t you think you deserve to be the star of your own drama?” he asked. Kyle admitted he still worries about being accepted by his parents (and the rest of the world). Emotional stuff. After Patrick brought Robert out of surgery, he told a tearful Robin and Anna, “I wish I could say it went better.” It’s hard to imagine how this episode could have gone better. 

(P.S. Did you notice the commercials for the mothership, GENERAL HOSPITAL, stressed romance and kissing instead of gunplay and violence?) 

The evening kicked off with 90210, which featured a big fashion show. Fashion shows on back-to-back nights — I wonder who the target audience for 90210 and GOSSIP GIRL is? There was also much talk and angsting about Kelly’s baby-daddy, Dylan. She and Brenda bared the claws over the globe-trotting guy but didn’t mix it in earnest. (Please tell me a proper catfight is on the way!) At least Dixon got off a solid punch when he defended Kelly’s sister Silver’s honor but cost her a modeling career. With Kelly obsessing over Dylan again, Brenda sank her claws into Ryan. (Did I mention a good, old-fashioned catfight would be nice?) Kelly decided to take a leave and pursue Dylan. She allowed Silver to stay at the house on her own. We don’t need previews to predict the word “Party!” will pass through Silver’s lips soon enough. 

FRINGE offered a bit of a substandard episode this time out, but Walter Bishop was still fun to watch. This week’s manifestation of the Pattern involved some kind of subterranean projectile and a bald guy with no eyebrows who watches the bullet-shaped device. But he’s not called the Watcher — that character belongs to Marvel Comics – he’s called the Observer. Totally different. In fact, unlike the Watcher, who is forbidden to interfere, the Observer is allowed to intervene in the affairs of a planet, as opposed to just…well, observing. As luck would have it, Walter just happened to have worked on Project: Thor, which tried to develop — wait for it! — an underground torpedo. (Is there anything he didn’t research?) And there’s more! Walter was also secretly acquainted with the Observer. In fact, in a moment of precious father/son bonding, Walter revealed that the mystery man had saved him and young Peter from drowning. 

Walter gets more and more like the Doctor every week. His skewed disconnect from the world the rest of us perceive, as well as his perspective toward other people, is decidedly alien. Can somebody check him for two hearts, to make sure he isn’t a Time Lord? No matter what secrets his father may be hiding, this was the episode in which Peter drank the Kool-Aid. “There are things happening that I can’t begin to explain,” he lamented. Then he was presented with his shiny new credentials identifying him as a “civilian consultant to the Department of Homeland Security.” Maybe it will get him out of a few speeding tickets…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/10/08

It’s only the second episode and 90210 is already showing signs of pandering to its young-adult demo: Parents Harry and Debbie insisted on declaring Friday night Family Night — and worse, they expected the kids to enjoy it! Good/bad parenting was the theme of the episode: Dixon and Annie did not appreciate their intensely involved parents; Silver was hiding out from her drunken mother and envied the Wilson family; Naomi was horrified to discover that her mother knows her husband has been carrying on an affair but doesn’t want to sacrifice her lifestyle to divorce him.

When Naomi’s dad bailed on their father/daughter trip to Las Vegas, I spent the ensuing commercial break wondering how many girls in the viewing audience were saying this exact sentence: “I wish my father would give me a car every time he disappointed me.” I’m going to go out on a limb and say…most.

Anyway, the Wilsons pretended they were back in Wichita, Kan., and went bowling on Family Night. Too bad their kids plotted to have friends meet them at the bowling alley: Annie wanted rich boy Ty to spirit her away to a concert, while Dixon arranged for buddies to hijack him for a screening of the new James Bond movie, A Quantum of Solace. An extra high-five to Dixon for improving and inviting hottie Silver (played by Jessica Stroup, the newest member of the Legion of Jessicas, who joins Alba,Biel and Simpson), but points off for dad ‘blocking him at the alley. Silver’s story led to Ann Gillespie reprising the role of Jackie from her BEVERLY HILLS, 90210 days. Former co-star Jennie Garth got to act with her again as Kelly confronted mom about her drinking and being clueless about where Silver even was! When Dixon learned Silver’s “terrible” secret and moaned about how he didn’t grow up in the Cosby family the show veered dangerously close to AFTERSCHOOL SPECIAL territory. Something else to avoid: imitating THE O.C.’s trope of beginning every episode at breakfast in the Cohen household. Last night’s 90210 began and ended at the breakfast table; perhaps next time we can do lunch?

In the end Harry and Debbie chortled over how they “knew” the kids had invited their friends to join them. So why go through the whole rigmarole of Family Night at all, except to torture the kids? Instead of clueless, they now look petty and spiteful. But either way, parents just don’t understand.

Some viewers may have had trouble understanding the 90-minute series premiere of FRINGE, the new series from LOST creator J.J. Abrams. Part of the problem is, the new show is not so steeped in mythology as LOST — not everything means something important. (Although some stuff does: Abrams noted that those symbols and animals and blips in the commercial bumpers mean…something, but aren’t necessary to enjoy the show.) I sort of enjoyed it myself (and would have liked it more with about 30 minutes trimmed out), but it was nothing particularly special, and did not strike me as an effective set-up for a weekly series. It felt like a one-off instead of a pilot. The show did not make the case for “the Pattern” being any kind of a real threat — why does Broyles think such disparate cases as missing children and flesh-destroying pathogens are related? Especially since missing kids are not at all unusual? By trying too hard to be mysterious, FRINGE left me unintrigued by its central mystery.

Casting was another problem: I apologize for typecasting, but did anyone out there not wonder what Pacey was doing so far from the Creek? Even with chin scruff, Joshua Jackson still looks like a kid, and constantly calling Agent Dunham “sweetheart” did not make him seem hardboiled. Nor did it make Dunham seem interesting as the focus of the show. Anna Torv is certainly pretty, but in the pilot did not exude the magnetism I wanted to see from a lead character on a kooky quest. I suppose Dunham was trying to subsume her personal feelings for Agent Scott, but combined with the severe ponytail, her clenched jaw made her seem cold. Think about Mulder in THE X-FILES (the series this new show closely apes, despite protestations by the-powers-that-be): The intensely charismatic David Duchovny famously limited Mulder’s facial expressions, but his dedication to the cause bordered on mania, and that enthusiasm infected the audience, sweeping us up right alongside the skeptical Scully.

I credit the show for daring to be intellectual to the point where the two action sequences — the rooftop pursuit and the later car chase — seemed wildly out of place. And while the storyline effectively integrated so-called “fringe science” in a totally organic way, it had its dramatic failings: Dunham went through all that just so Scott could die in a car crash? The best sequence came when Dunham agreed to enter the isolation tank to contact the comatose Scott. Not only did Torv look good, but the swirling camera gave a sense of the way the experiment was being rushed and the discombobulation Dunham must have been feeling at the bizarre concept of being pumped full of drugs, wired into a computer and told to sync her brain with another person’s mind. And then it worked!

But that was just about the only thing that did. I will watch again next week if nothing better is on, but J.J. and crew need to establish a Pattern of good episodes to win me over.

Nobody seems to be winning the artificial gang war Vic stirred up on THE SHIELD. Just a week into it events were spiralling out of control, forcing him to improvise desperately to keep his family alive. The most astonishing aspect of the story was the idea that Homeland Security suspects Al-Qeda of supplying drugs and weapons to L.A. street gangs to finance terror operations. In this case, the perpetrators of some truly heinous crimes were a different sort of home-grown “terrorists” — children trying to act like their elders by committing murders. This episode really made the most of its TV-MA rating for Language: The “previously on” segment was a virtual recap of all the variations of s–t used on last week’s show, and last night’s installment featured a furious round of insults by African-American characters hurling the N-word at one another.

If I had to use one word to describe GENERAL HOSPITAL: NIGHT SHIFT, it would be predictable. As in, this script was the most predictable of the season. When Claire and Ryan got all blissed out and cutesy before his operation, I knew he was dead meat. When Robin told Julian that Saira thinks he’s the One, I knew he would rush out and hit on another woman. And when Claire arrived at Jake’s I knew it would be her, since they both needed “comforting.” I was (slightly) surprised that Epiphany and Lando…er, Toussaint reconciled so quickly, but I always expected them to get back together. I particularly enjoyed the scenes of Toussaint and Robert wondering where the years disappeared to so quickly, and why their bodies were breaking down. I might add that I knew Robert was going to act all macho and defiant, but I credit that to the character being so clearly defined that anyone who “knows” him knew how he would react. And his physical struggle contrasted effectively with Toussaint’s emotional battle with Epiphany. Of course, Claire had the biggest emotional ride, going from the blush of first attraction to the bliss of making out with her patient to the emptiness of having him die. She should have run in the other direction the moment she saw the grim-faced Patrick and Epiphany. Perhaps one day Claire will realize she’s on a soap opera, and learn how to recognize dead-meat characters on sight.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/3/08

90210, the self-described most-anticipated premiere of the fall, proved to be meandering and somewhat diverting if ultimately pointless. After it was over I tried to recall what it was about and failed, so I settled for (sorta) remembering what happened: Some pretty people moved from the Midwest to Beverly Hills, where they met some other pretty people, and some stuff happened at a high school where everyone was too old to actually be a student. No, wait — that was BEVERLY HILLS, 90210. Oh, yeah…it was also 90210, so we’re cool.

The show opened cool and efficiently: Annie and adopted brother Dixon (Shenae Grimes and Tristan Wilds) are open-minded and cool enough to joke with each other about sex and share one of those improbable parent/child relationships seen only on TV. No sooner had their dirt-caked minivan pulled into a posh Beverly Hills driveway than everyone started expositioning all over each other, and by 8:03 the kids were rockin’ a bikini and swim trunks.

And that’s really what this show is all about, right — how everyone looks and what they’re wearing (and listening to). I’m sure all the fashions were trendy labels, and I recognized the music (which probably means it was hip, like, months ago, and thus is now over). And everyone looked good. Really good. When AnnaLynne McCord‘s Naomi strutted into class late, I thought she was a teacher who was early for the next class because she looked so much older than the actual teacher, Ryan (Ryan Eggold). Turns out she Naomi was just late because she was stressing over her sweet 16 party. Now, we all understand the show cannot hire real 15-year-olds because child-labor laws do not permit them to work enough hours to star in an hour-long network drama, but that doesn’t mean the actors they hire can’t look a little more age-appropriate. The only person who looked older than her was Navid, who looked every month of portrayer Michael Steger‘s 28 years. But forget about the ersatz teens — the show should be centered on Jessica Walter‘s boozy Tabitha! With her sloshed stories about Al Pacino and Ricardo Montalban, she’s 10 times more entertaining than any of the kids.

I have to give the premiere props for squeezing so much highschool backstabbing and double-crossing into two hours. (Apparently this is the sort of thing I missed out on by not being in the popular clique. Who knew?) One thing that really surprised — no, shocked — me was that when Harry (MELROSE PLACE vet Rob Estes) discovered that he had a sudden son (how soapy is that cliche?) he actually told his wife, Debbie (Lori Loughlin, who actually resembles Grimes enough to be believable as her mother), instead of lying about it. (90210 ain’t gonna get very far as a nighttime soap with that kind of honesty.)

I know, I know: You wanna know what I thought about the returns of Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth as Brenda and Kelly, respectively. Well, they had tiny parts, but it was fun to see them again. Surprisingly, very little was made of them being legacy characters. In fact, if Kelly and Brenda mentioned being former students at West Beverly then I missed the references. When the two reputed real-life rivals reunited, their characters talked about life being too short to waste time on petty feuds, which I thought was a good way to get past the elephant in the room. Kelly has a baby — is the show setting up a “Who’s the daddy?” mystery by not identifying the father on the phone? — and a baby sister, in the svelte form of Erin, (or simply “Silver”), played by the breath-taking Jessica Stroup. Tart-tongued Silver has a video blog called “The Vicious Circle” that will date 90210 as badly as the Flock of Seagulls haircuts skewers the original; when this series is released on data crystals in the year 2038, kids will point an laugh at Silver’s quaint, vintage “laptop.”

No matter the century, no one will ever consider THE SHIELD “quaint.” Shifting gears from the puffery of ersatz high-school angst to the jungle of police corruption is not for the faint of heart, and should probably only be attempted by professional TV viewers who can handle the shift in pressure without getting the bends.

THE SHIELD kicked off its final season with a brutal, gory episode that saw Vic and Ronnie fomenting a three-way gang war between the Armenians, Mexican and Salvadorans in order to save their own skins. Ronnie committed another of the series trademark murders even as Vic tried to figure out if he has to kill former buddy Shane once and for all. In the end he decided the deed will have to be done. The blackmail, backstabbing and revenge in Farmington make the dust-ups in 90210 look like…well, child’s play. Dixon and the lacrosse team may have released pigs at a rival high school, but never dragged their enemies underneath a car to literally paint territorial lines in blood. And both series are better for it.