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!

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/24/09

Okay, I have to say that I lost patience with HEROES last night thanks to the very last scene of the episode: Matt painted a mural Washington, D.C., being destroyed by a nuclear blast. Ugh. Another nuclear blast? And, to make it more familiar, Matt painted himself apparently strapped with explosives, blowing up! Isaac did the very same paintings — including a mural on his floor — in the first season (featuring New York as ground zero)! How many times have we seen a prescient painting of some nuclear explosion that is supposed to herald the end of the world? Every volume? I guess we should be thankful it wasn’t New York. But c’mon, is it in the series bible that every volume has to contain one of these pesky Armageddon paintings? It’s bad enough that Matt has been afflicted with “paint the future” power that I hate, but does it have to be “paint the future as long as you foresee atomic blasts.” The lack of imagination this betrays is staggering. It’s almost like there’s somebody on the writing staff with the power to suck imagination out of the minds of other writers, like some sort of twisted version of the Haitian. So next week the question will be, “How do you stop yet another exploding man?” What made this shockingly non-shocking ending even more maddening for me was that it came at the end of an episode that focused on my favorite character, HRG. Noah was drugged and captured at the end of last week, and last night Matt used his mental powers to interrogate him. And the process hurt. We learned that Nathan approached a jobless Noah with an offer to run his operation to round up people, sequester them, and find a way to deactivate them. But the Hunter, Danko, was placed in charge, apparently at the behest of people above Nathan, and HRG found himself taking orders from a True Believer. “These aren’t terrorists you’re hunting; they’re people,” HRG argued. “They’re targets,” Danko corrected him.

The interrogation raised some of the very same questions that HEROES’ timeslot competition, 24, is examining this season: How far should the good guys go in pursuing the bad guys in order to protect the innocents? If “good guys” stoop to the tactics of the “bad guys,” are they still “good guys”? Do the ends always justify the means? What if it’s really necessary to torture in order to save lives? Who makes that call? That is a conversation worth having, not “How do we stop an exploding man this week?” Of course, since HRG is made of awesome, he is not really rounding up evolved humans and sending them to concentration camps; he’s an undercover agent for Angela Petrelli who ordered him to ingratiate himself with the Nathan/Danko faction by whatever means necessary. “You know me,” he winked. “I’ve always been comfortable with morally gray.”

A couple of random observations about this truly disappointing episode:

•HRG’s lock combination was 7957, which I believe was the same code he told Claire to use to override the security locks in Level 5.
•Since Peter got from Costa Verde, Calif., to Washington D.C. in mere moments, he must have taken a ballistic trajectory, which means instead of flying low over the terrain, he flew straight up to the edge of space, adjusted his angle, and then flew straight down on the East Coast.
•How good is Danko’s security detail if they don’t guard windows, and nobody spotted Angela sitting mere feet away from his final meeting with HRG?

Leaving that behind, Jesse Lee Soffer (ex-Will, AS THE WORLD TURNS) appeared on CSI: MIAMI as Shane Huntington, a spoiled a rich guy who was in therapy because, “I can’t access my feeling.” He was completely amoral, but spoiler alert! not the killer.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/17/09

Time for another big catch-up column, thanks to the holiday and the fact that there’s so much good television on…

I’m reserving judgment on this volume HEROES, which seems pretty uneven so far. The opening chapter rocked, but last week’s episode went downhill fast. This week was a step in the right direction, but went back to the familiar tropes of the series: HRG is secretly capturing powered people again, and he and Claire are lying to her mother about it again, and Claire wants to be independent and oppose him again. So Claire narc’d on Noah, and then Sandra insisted Noah out. The scenes gave Jack Coleman and Hayden Pannetiere a chance to finally emote again, and they really went to town. Meanwhile, Nathan got a visit from Homeland Security in the (sexy) form of Moira Kelly’s Abby Collins, who doubted the existence of superpowered humans and was aghast that prisoners were being held without charge or human-rights protections. Hmmm, I thought Homeland Security was into all that stuff? Anyway, Abby got an order to shut down the operation — but Tracy conveniently chose that moment to break free and callously murder a man right in front of Abby, prompting her to change her mind and fully fund Nathan’s initiative. Meanwhile, Luke told Sylar that his dad sold him for cash. I totally do not like Luke, and absolutely hated Sylar giving him tips on using powers. But I cheered when Sylar left Luke to the tender mercies of the capture team. That was more in character than all that surrogate father crap. But then he returned and rescued Luke. An attack of conscience? No, Sylar just wanted to retrieve a tracking device. Hiro’s enthusiasm remains an endearing positive, and I liked his motto: “When destiny calls, you answer the phone.” There may be hope for HEROES yet.

THE AMAZING RACE 14 took off from southern California with a couple of interesting teams, including mother and son team Margie and Luke (who is deaf and doesn’t read lips); a pair of stuntmen who double for children; and screenwriter Mike White and his gay father. I love the new graphics that seem to use satellite imagery. Margie and Luke were the first to arrive (Phil welcomed them in sign language); despite the final clue requiring they follow the sound of yodelers to find the pit stop. Preston and Jennifer were eliminated, which was good, because we didn’t need to watch another couple argue for weeks while we wonder why they’re together. They were at each others’ throats right from departure, when they missed a train. Good riddance.

The entire second season of SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL has been heading in this direction, but Hannah still didn’t see it coming. She was determined to tell Alex about Belle, but when she wiggled out of one last opportunity to make the painful reveal, the inevitable happened: Alex walked in on her with a client, Blake. Naturally Alex lost it, but he lashed out at Ben instead of Hannah. “There’s Hannah, and there’s Belle,” Ben offered by way of explanation. There was a nice bit where Blake remarked about Belle’s gentleness, noting she’s almost like a real girl. “I am a real girl,” she replied. “My name is Hannah.” I noticed that she gave up her real name without hesitation, a violation of one of her strictest rules. Speaking of being “a real girl,” at this point in the series, hiding Billie’s pregnancy (she gave birth to a son in October 2008) has become quite a problem. Belle is forced to wear ridiculously shapeless bubble dresses that no escort would be caught dead in, and both she and Hannah are forced to stand behind furniture and the directors frequently shoot her from behind. Her stand—ins are frequently shot from the neck down, while another angle captures Billie’s face.

This is the episode I have been waiting for ever since the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA miniseries: What the frak is up with the Cylons. It revealed almost everything I wanted to know except the exact nature of the skinjobs. What are they? They obviously do not have metal endoskeletons, but there is circuitry of some sort, and something makes their spines light up during sex. Still, the story was informative and lots of fun, starting with a taste of resurrection from the Cylon’s point of view as we saw Ellen Tigh reborn some 18 months ago (story time), after Saul Tigh poisoned her on New Caprica. She called Cavil “John,” and noted she made him in the image of her father. Meanwhile, on Galactica, the bullet in Sam’s brain (Did you notice John Hodgman, from the computer commercials, playing the brain surgeon?) allowed him to access buried memories of his history. Sam’s oral history was complemented by cross-cutting with Ellen’s story on the Cylon base star. The short version of Cylon history: Humans on Kobol created the so-called “Five” humanoid Cylons. Cavil was first, the 1. The Centurions believed in one merciful god, and the Five decided that if the skinjobs embraced love, they could avoid the errors of Earth. But Cavil rejected mercy and killed the Five. When they downloaded, he cut them off from their knowledge and implanted fake memories. Then he boxed them, and reintroduced them after the first Cylon war — except for No. 7, Daniel. Cavil intended for the Five to suffer and learn how horrible the humans really were; to teach the Five humility so they would embrace him. Ellen said he’s driven by jealousy and rage, and she knows what he did to Daniel, the sensitive artist. Cavil contaminated the amniotic fluid of the Daniels and corrupted the programming. Sharon rescued Ellen from Cavil’s machinations and they jumped away, but where did they go? In piecing together the history of the Cylons, it occurred to me that Cavil is the “Lucifer” character — created first, the best and the brightest, he refused to accept a subservient position and rebelled against his creator. I looked it up, and the definition of the verb “cavil” is to raise trivial and frivolous objections. From the Latin cavillari to jest and calvi, to deceive. (Hats off to the BSG powers-that-be for coming up with an English word I actually had to look up!) So that fits with his obstructionist, rabble-rousing ways.

I see the potential in DOLLHOUSE, but the series has to show us a little more. Eliza Dushku stars as Echo, a mysterious woman who works for an even more mysterious organization nicknamed the “Dollhouse.” The idea is that a mysterious company provides whatever personnel a client wants to hire — whether that’s a date for a night, an omelet chef or an assassin. The Dollhouse does this by imprinting a personality on its agents, known as “Actives,” whose original personalities have been erased. After each mission, the Active’s mind is erased, leaving him or her a child-like blank slate, ready to be imprinted with the next personality. The interesting point is, the personalities are created from templates that use real people — and incorporate the original person’s flaws — thus, one of Echo’s new personalities suffered from near-sightedness and asthma, even though Echo was a perfect physical specimen. This premise can go in a lot of directions, and I really hope they don’t concentrate on action every week. The premiere episode suffered from being too plot-driven, and turned on an utterly ludicrous plot contrivance: That Echo’s imprinted persona just happened to run into the man who kidnapped and molested her as a child. Out of everybody in the world these two found each other? That silliness took me right out of the story. Viewers are vastly more forgiving of coincidence in the real world; a writer who relies on coincidence to tell a story is just being lazy. Then again, creator Joss Whedon (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) was forced to rewrite the pilot on the fly, much like he had to do with FIREFLY (and we all know how that turned out…) But more than that, the episode was not a good introduction because it does not clearly set out the premise and establish the rules for programming the Actives before tossing in the plot complication of programming gone wrong.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/10/09

HEROES picked up the action after the plane crash, with our friends on the run from Nathan’s capture teams, led by the Hunter and HRG. Once again, Claire found herself accusing her father of shady dealings and he was once again insisting, “It’s much more complicated than you know.” (I want to know when Noah learned to fly cargo planes.) HRG is giving the impression that he has drunk Nathan’s Kool-Aid and wants to control people with powers. He has consistently wanted to protect Claire from other freaks, so that part makes sense. It has been kind of laughable the way characters keep telling her to “go home” and putting her in cars. (I guess she got fed up, because that’s exactly what she did.) HRG raised a very good point with Nathan: What would the Hunter do if he knew “Sen. Sky Boy” had powers? Implicit was the threat that Noah might use that information. Tracy ended the episode screaming “You’re one of us!” at Nathan, who is trusting a lot of people not to bust him while he’s destroying their lives. HRG proved trustworthy when he opted not to kill Peter, but was that a favor to Nathan or to Claire, who dearly loves her biological uncle? Speaking of killing, soldiers shot Daphne dead. It was an ignomious end for a character with unrealized potential, but her death prompted a revenge-seeking Matt to push one if the soldiers to kill his fellows, which makes Matt a mass murderer; perhaps a good story will come out of that. Peter told Tracy that while he still absorbs powers, he can only possess one at time. Sylar clearly does not have that limitation. When he wanted to get information out the captured Agent Simmons, he decided to torture some random innocents. What were the chances that Sylar would pick somebody who just happens to have powers? On this show, pretty good. Which is bad. Colossal “coincidences” like that jolt the viewer right out of a story and remind us that we’re watching TV, not real people. Sylar himself noted, “If that’s a coincidence, God’s improved his sense of humor.” So Sylar hit the road with a disciple in tow once again, dredging up painful memories of the hated Wonder Twins, Maya and Alejandro.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 2/3/09

Now that was an entertaining episode of HEROES! It has been way too long since I have been able to write a sentence like that, but “A Clear and Present Danger,” Chapter One of the new volume, “Fugitives,” was truly exciting. What made it a great episode was that things happened; it was not all status quo. We learned that Nathan is now head of Homeland Security, with the power to implement his plan to round up people with special abilities without charges and put them in internment camps. The parallels to the real world’s Guantanamo Bay are obvious, and the depiction of captured heroes trussed up in hooded orange jumpsuits echoes reports we’ve all seen on the news of people being shipped to Gitmo. It was scary to see our friends Peter, Claire, Hiro, Matt, Mohinder and Tracy bound and kept drugged so they couldn’t use their abilities. The Hunter in charge of the capture teams is known as Danko, and played by Zeljko Ivanek, most recently seen winning the supporting actor Emmy for playing Ray Fiske on DAMAGES. The Hunter erred by letting someone else lead the assault on Sylar, so know the baddie knows he’s being hunted. I know HRG appears to be working with the Hunter, but I’m withholding judgment; as my favorite character, Noah Bennet deserves the benefit of the doubt. It is notable that the Haitian is not seen working with Noah and the capture teams, nor is any metahuman seen. It’s possible the Haitian refused to participate, but surely some of the more unsavory powered people out would be willing to help round up their fellow evolved humans in exchange for preferential treatment. Nathan certainly seemed willing to accept Peter’s participation. “You’re a self-loathing hypocrite,” Peter said. Note that Nathan does not know what Peter’s current abilities are. (Neither do we, but we later saw him absorb powers through direct touch, like their father.)

Hiro’s attempts to turn Ando into a superhero — complete with a lair and “Ando-Cycle” — were charming, and marked a welcome return to the buddy-buddy relationship between the boys. I like the way Hiro wants to use powers, because characters like Peter and Matt wanting to be “normal” is dull. (What does Peter do when back at his “normal” EMT job? Complain that he should have been “faster” to save an accident victim.) And Matt? He was working as a security guard and trying to convince Daphne to slow down and live life as a normal. But then a vision of Usutu (killed by Arthur in the last volume) appeared and gave Matt the ability to draw the future. I’m all for keeping comic book artist Tim Sale on staff, but it’s becoming a burden for the story to keep digging up people to paint the future. Just please don’t draw New York exploding yet again! I am interested in Sylar’s hunt for his true parents, but it was pretty dull — until the government thugs showed up. At first I thought Sylar’s healing power helped him shake off the taser, and I wondered why Claire couldn’t do the same thing, but then I figured maybe it was Sylar’s electrical powers that helped him recover so quickly. Still, Danko should have known better than to try to capture Sylar alive. Nathan warned him to put a bullet in Sylar’s brain. Claire being Nathan’s daughter saved her from a similar fate, and although she made her move on the transport plane too soon, her heart was in the right place. The chaos of the crashing plane made for one helluva cliff-hanger. We know unkillable Claire will get through it, but who else?

The season premiere of MEDIUM featured a guest turn by James Urbaniak (Gary, THE STARTER WIFE) as an art teacher. I know Urbaniak better as the voice of Dr. Venture on the brilliant animated series THE VENTURE BROS. from Cartoon Network.

I’ll say this for last night’s GOSSIP GIRL. It was all about the destructive power of gossip posted on that Web site, and it sort of trivialized things by illustrating just how flimsy the premise is. The character Rachel even ridiculed the idea that people would live for rumors posted anonymously. I was happily surprised to see Blair appeal to Daddy Waldorf, who just happens to be played by John Shea, who was Lex Luthor on LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, so you can bet he got results. Thank goodness Chuck pointed out the obvious Eyes Wide Shut vibe to his whole plotline with Elle. Overall, not an episode to write home about — or, rather, post online about!

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 12/16/08

HEROES wrapped the first half of its season last night, with Sylar in control of the Primatech complex and determined to show HRG, Claire, Meredith and Angela who the real villains are. But the good guys were determined not to go down easy; Claire revealed that her healing power could be negated by sticking something into the back of her brain, and suggested Sylar should have the same vulnerability. HRG/Noah set other bad guys (including the Puppeteer) free from Level 5 to act as chum for Sylar, but ended up trapped in a cell himself alongside Meredith, who was losing control of her fire power (thanks to an adrenaline injection from, of course, Sylar). Meanwhile, Sylar confronted his “mother” Angela, and in an inversion of the classic Marlon Brando line from On the Waterfront, lamented, “I coulda been a nobody, instead of the monster I became.” 

Ando also was not happy with his current state. Wanting to save his friend Hiro, who was trapped 16 years in the past, Ando injected himself with Mohinder’s power serum, hoping that desire would influence the power he would get. My problem was, Ando getting powers completely ruined what was cool about him — namely, that he was “just” human. He was the sidekick who kept the self-styled “master of time and space” Hiro grounded. Ando was the real person, who served as counterweight to the flashy powered people. Ando ended up with the power to supercharge other abilities, but to me he simply got the ability to negate his own uniqueness. “Yatta!” he crowed, while I cringed. One of the reasons HRG is my favorite character is that he knows he’s human but doesn’t let that slow him down. He’s still awesome. He knows what a literal monster Sylar is, yet he doesn’t hesitate to go after him with just his wits and handgun. (At least Claire’s tip gave him something to work with; though I find it remarkable that Noah didn’t know about the “sweet spot” in the back of the brain!) Claire’s Daddy complex was dramatized by her bid to save HRG from the cell, even though she knew it was a trap. (She also wanted to save her biological mother, Meredith, too, just not really as much). And Noah is no dummy, which is why he realized the glass of the cell was bulletproof but not heatproof. (Luckily, they were not locked in Flint’s old cell, which did have heatproof glass). Will Noah’s 29297 code become a cult number, like the ones from LOST

Some random observations:
•Daphne’s quip, “Back in a flash!” was an obvious shout-out to DC Comics’ Flash, the “fastest man alive,” who routinely used his superspeed to travel in time (albeit usually with a “cosmic treadmill”).
•It was great to see the wonderful George Takei back as Kaito, and to learn how the formula got torn to begin with.
•Ando (and Daphne) rescued Hiro, thus bookending the volume – which began with Hiro fearing that Ando would kill him in the future, but ended with Ando saving him in the past.
•Loved Tracy calling Hiro “Pickachu,” and then him punching her out. hated Tracy picking up Mohinder by the side of the road at the end.
•Recognizing that Nathan is in trouble and for some reason not flying away, Peter injected himself with the formula to restore his powers. Like how Nathan pointed out that went against everything Peter was arguing.
•At least we know Sylar is not a Petrelli after all. The house was getting crowded with sudden offspring. 
•Claire should know that removing the glass from the sweet spot will revive Sylar, so she should make sure it stays there. (Unless the exploding Meredith jarred it loose.) 

So what was the final body count?
•Arthur Petrelli (still dead, but is it permanent?).
•Meredith (Death by fire? Really?).
•Knox.
•Puppetmaster.
•Supersoldier.
•Doyle (metal man).
•Echo De Mille (played by GENERAL HOSPITAL vet Kiko Ellsworth).
•Sylar. For now. Until the glass shard is pulled out of his brain.
•Primatech Paper. 

Volume 4: “Fugitives” kicked off right away. Jumping ahead three weeks, Nathan went to the president (played by STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION‘s Michael Dorn), to get government authorization to round up people with abilities and put them in camps. And President Worf actually went for it! The previews of the “new season,” which starts Feb. 2, shows abnormals trussed up in orange jump suits and hoods like prisoners at Gitmo! From “heroes” to dehumanized sheep…. 

Loss of humanity — or, perhaps more accurately, lack of humanity – was a theme on the winter finale to TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES. T:SCC is supposed to be about saving humanity from extinction, but I perceive precious little humanity on the show. Perhaps I don’t watch regularly enough to pick up on the nuances. For instance, Riley’s story is mitigated by Jesse’s cruelty — is Jesse supposed to be an example of becoming what you hate so much? Losing her humanity to protect mankind? Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen (ex-Kendra, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) returned as Jesse, who revealed she brought Riley back from the future in order to lure John away from “her.” But is that Cameron or Sarah? Jesse slapped Riley around, which further makes her a monster. When Riley slit her wrists, she was trying to take away her own humanity. See the theme? Ellison was contracted by Catherine to teach the terminator now known as John Henry right from wrong. Ellison knows the toaster is a pitiless killing machine, yet he still engages it? We also got a bit of backstory as Ellison revealed his wife had secretly…er, terminated a pregnancy. 

Sarah pursued a woman with her own secret: Eileen was a woman using the online identity “Abraham” — or was she? Actually, “she” was a man living as a woman to hide from the mysterious forces that wanted to silence her blog. I suppose there could be another message about humanity there, but I think it was just overly complicated. What was important was Eileen’s observation that Sarah cannot feel the fear of almost dying anymore. She’s she mother of the future of mankind, but is she losing her humanity? That’s a question worth pursuing. Sarah followed Eileen’s clues to a warehouse in the desert, where she kills a guy pretending to be an air-conditioning installer, but not before getting herself shot in the leg. (Can I just point out how much I hate the cliché of having two characters wrestle for a gun that then goes off between them, so viewers are supposed to wonder who got shot. Hint: It ain’t the hero!) Anyway, Sarah dragged herself out the front door and looked into the sky to see what appeared to be a prototype of the Hunter-Seekers we see in the nightmare future. The show ended with a poorly edited sequence of Sarah wincing under bright lights for several moments before passing out. Was that supposed to make me want to turn in again come January? It was a disappointing wrap. 

SURVIVOR: GABON — EARTH’S LAST EDEN wrapped Sunday night with Bob, the physics teacher from Portland, Maine, winning the $1 million over Sugar and Susie. This was the first time three finalists pleaded their cases to the jury. Corinne carved a place for herself in SURVIVOR history with a self-consciously mean-spirited, spiteful screed for Sugar, calling into question Sugar’s sincerity about grieving for her late father. Despite Bob’s dominance of the late-game challenges, his win turned out to be a real… well, survivor’s story, because he literally survived an ouster vote. He tied with Matty and so they had a one-on-one fire-making challenge, which Bob won. He then went on to triumph before the particularly venomous jury this season. Not a bad season, but nothing to really set it apart as particularly memorable. Except that it was light-years ahead of SURVIVOR: AFRICA, which was terminally dull.