Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 12/9/08

Finally, an episode of HEROES I don’t have to be embarrassed about watching and even enjoying. This week’s installment was a vast improvement over previous weeks’ for two simple reasons: a) stuff happened, and b) human interactions were emphasized.

In an effort to…um, undo a lot of the bad stuff that has been happening lately, Hiro transported Claire 16 years into the past, where they witnessed Kaito Nakamura (George Takei, reprising his role as Hiro’s late father) giving Noah custody of the infant Claire while young Hiro played videogames nearby. adultHiro was shocked to see his late mother in another room and, realizing that she had healing powers, figured she could cure his memory loss. Ishi Nakamura, played by Tamlyn Tomita (Giselle, GENERAL HOSPITAL), was the original vessel for the “catalyst,” the mysterious element that makes superpowers work. Since Ishi was dying, Kaito had her transfer the catalyst into infantClaire. But teenClaire resolved to stop that transfer because…well, because it would change history. For her, at least. Since it’s unclear what the catalyst does or how it’s used, the potential effects of this change were unknowable — a key fault with the episode. After Ishi restored adultHiro’s memories, he asked her to give him the catalyst instead of the baby, so she did. Then she died. But then, so what? Sylar’s comments implied that Claire could not be killed because of the presence of the catalyst, so…is Claire now mortal? Is Hiro now immortal? Since Claire never had the catalyst for Sylar to steal, is Sylar once again mortal?

One of the best parts of the episode was seeing Sylar back to being unabashedly evil. He once again delighted in taking on new powers, reveling in the act of slicing open a victim’s skull. Everyone loves a good bad guy, and this was the Sylar that puts HEROES on the map. His amorality is is fun to watch, and hey, aren’t there days when we’d all like to rip the top of somebody’s head off? (No? Um…never mind.) Sylar seemed cruel when he set fire to Elle’s corpse (Bye, Kristen Bell!), but he was downright cold when he slammed that bullet into Arthur’s forehead. Let’s hope the Petrelli patriarch is dead, but don’t count on it. Sylar was using multiple powers simultaneously in the presence of the Haitian, so Arthur may be playing possum. (And just what was that golden glow that swept over his “corpse”? Was the catalyst activating a power within Arthur?)

Actually, the best part of the episode was the emotional component. Once again we got to see characters, not merely a collection of superpowers. Masi Oka finally got the material to do some real emoting; his scenes with his mother were quite touching. And Tomita gave as good as she got, making Ishi a beautiful and compassionate figure, full of love and honor. She was almost too good to be true, like an idealized version of a mother. I liked that Hiro came right out and told her who he was, and asked her to heal him. Her joy at seeing her time-traveling son was realistic: She just wanted to know what he had done with his life. (He saved the world, twice!) Similarly, Claire had highly emotional scenes with Noah — who could not accurately be called HRG yet, since he lacked his trademark specs. Hayden Panettiere was subtle as she reined in Claire’s conflicting emotions for her father. She assured him the child will be in his life and depend on him to protect her from some nasty customers. (In one of those “only in sci-fi” moments, Claire actually got to change her own diaper and give herself the nickname “Claire Bear.” Think about: She traveled through time to deal with a wet diaper.)

Here’s hoping next week’s winter finale can pick up the baton and bring this chapter to a successful conclusion.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 12/3/08

It’s the holiday season, and on GOSSIP GIRL that means it’s time for the Senior Snowflake Ball, which means everyone’s atwitter over getting a date. When Aaron’s ex, Lexie, disses Serena, the queen bee maneuvers him into escorting her to the Snowflake. Of course Lexie easily finagles Dan into escorting her. A jealous Serena called the arrangement When Harry Met Crazy. S. got off an even better line when Aaron told her that Lexie likes to sleep with a guy on the first date as a political statement against traditional male hegemony: “Can’t she just vote?” There was also plenty of drama surrounding the Vanessa/Jenny sitch — especially after Gossip Girl circulated a snap of V. and Nate sucking face in the street. That set in motion Little J.’s plan to put her mad fashion skillz to work exposing the “real” Vanessa underneath it all. But the real story was the contest between Chuck and Blair to see who could fix up the other with a better date. Blair set Chuck up with Justine, a brunette who looked just like her, while Chuck rustled up a strutting peacock imitation of himself. Could anyone be surprised; it’s so obvious how perfect they are for each other. (I’m thinking the specific problem last night might have been that Chuck wore a more glittery outfit to the Snowflake Ball. Dude, normally, you’re one of my TV idols, but that jacket… I mean, where were your ice skates?) At least B. and Bass copped to their mutual attraction, and he actually asked her to dance. Vanessa never got the chance to dance, but she did get to apologize to Little J. and confess to Nate that she intercepted his letter intended for Jenny. But by then it was too late for Jenny to call off her little prank, because she already gave Vanessa a dress make of sheer material that turned transparent under a spotlight. Vanessa’s…assets were exposed, leaving her humiliated, and Nate’s heart broken by Jenny’s revenge, because he expected Little J. to be bigger than that. At least Dan and Serena were big enough to admit that the first time they made love was the best night of their lives.

BTW, how funny is it that Bart’s secretary is named “Mrs. Landingham”? So veryWEST WING. Of course it wasn’t funny that Bart was in a car accident, making him the front-runner in the “Who’s Gonna Die?” pool. But c’mon: The guy was clearly a speedbump for Lily and Rufus. Especially after Rufus admitted that he regretted not stopping her from marrying the blue-blood. And once she admitted she’s dumping her nosy husband, his days were numbered. There really wasn’t anyone else in the cast to target. (Dorota is practically being groomed for a sequel.)

HEROES could do with a little housecleaning itself. Last night picked up the story from last week, with the super-ability-sucking eclipse leaving everyone powerless. Yep, that eclipse sure was something special — unlike a normal eclipse, it could be seen from Haiti to New Jersey to Kansas to California simultaneously, and it lasted quite a while. I looked it up, and “totality,” that period when the sun is completely blocked by the moon, can never exceed 7 minutes and 31 seconds. The blotted-out sun was almost as annoying as the mountains depicted outside Lawrence, Kan.! SMALLVILLE notwithstanding, there are no mountains in Kansas, people — there aren’t even any hills! Last week the producers spent the money to create a background shot of endless flat cornfields, but it was only used once. I think it was Truman Capote who wrote about how the vastness of the flatlands could drive a man insane, but HRG didn’t have that excuse for getting overanxious and blowing his shot at shooting Sylar and Elle. Sylar fought HRG, who indulged his rage and beat up powerless Sylar instead of immediately shooting him the head. Sure, Noah got his act together and slit Sylar’s throat with a box-cutter, but then he turned dumb again and left the villain for dead instead of making sure. In his defense, he was probably worried about Claire, who was in a hospital with her entire abdomen sliced open (evoking her first-season autopsy). The good thing about this plotline: Hayden Panettiere got a chance to do some real acting as the feverish Claire, who was happy to be able to feel pain again, but not so thrilled to be dying.

The bad thing about this plot was the way powerless Peter was out to prove himself. (Doesn’t he remember Ireland?) Pete and the Haitian wanted to make his brother, Baron Samedi, bleed in order to prove he wasn’t a god, but Pete’s brother Nathan ended up proving himself a clod. When Pete sprung big bro from a dungeon, he insisted that since Nathan is a senator he’s more important and thus should flee while Peter covered his escape — and Nathan fled! Dude, never leave your little brother behind! That yellow move made it no surprise when the elder Petrelli decided there was wisdom to big daddy Arthur’s plan to give everyone superpowers.

Eventually Claire died. But then that lingering eclipse cleared up and she got better. So did everyone else, whose powers returned. Which meant Sylar came back to life, too. And he was back to being a pure baddie. Hiro, however, needed help finding himself, so two workers in a comic-book shop helped him figure things out using the9th Wonders! comic book. In fact, when Sam (played by Seth Green) made an inspirational speech that restored Hiro’s faith in the value of heroes as symbols of hope, Sam seemed to be giving a kind of mission statement for rebooting the series heading into the second half of the season. But can they do it? Sylar is once again the clear antagonist, and HRG never stopped being made of awesome (He provoked Sylar by suggesting Arthur and Angela are lying about being Gabriel/Sylar’s parents). But time travel is still prominent, as the episode ended with Hiro spiriting Claire 16 years into the past to witness Kaito entrusting her infant self to HRG. That can’t be good…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 11/18/08

Leave it to GOSSIP GIRL to return to the roots of Thanksgiving, as an exercise in lying and manipulation. Only Blair could utter a line like, “It’s Thanksgiving, and we have nothing to be thankful for!” and make it sound endearing. (Of course, the fact that Blair is played by the preternaturally pretty Leighton Meester makes pretty much everything she says tolerable.)

But most of all, Thanksgiving is a time for family, which for Blair means sharing time with her mother’s new guy. Wallace Shawn continued to delight as Cyrus Rose, here analyzing the cinnamon/nutmeg ratio in Blair’s beloved holiday pie. A father figure of a far different sort also appeared: Howard Archibald, Nate’s dad (who prefers to be called “The Captain”) came back to town with a crazy plan to get back on his feet by holding his family ransom. The series’ designated “cool dad,” Rufus (He loans out box collections from bands like The Pixies, so we know he’s cool), played the “I love you card,” and insisted he would let her emancipate herself — but refused to sign the incorporation papers? Why not let his daughter start a business rather than live on the streets? Can no one parent on this show? Oh, I forgot, it’s teen-oriented, so…No. Hey, at least Blair’s prodigal Daddy, Harold (John Shea), came back. That made B. smile.

I always love it when Chuck has a chance to loom menacingly and spout dastardly lines like, “You have my word — for whatever that’s worth.” I love how he has a maid shave him with a straight razor. (I’m going institute that practice myself, as soon as I get a straight razor. And a maid.) And I love how he opened up Bart’s safe to spill all of bad dad’s secrets. (See? Parents just don’t understand!) It was kind of hard not to notice the wardrobe this week. At one point, Blair was wearing a dress that made her look like a walking leaf pile. And what’s shorter than a microminiskirt? I don’t know, but Serena and Jenny were wearing them. And Vanessa is really making a play for center stage by ditching the nice girl act and manipulating the Nate/J. relationship. Folks, don’t leave your mail on the kitchen counter when company comes ‘round!

There’s one last thing I have to ask: What kind of FBI agent lets three teenagers decide the fate of an international fugitive? Sure, Nate eventually talked the Captain into surrendering himself, but that’s not the kind of crime-solving that gets one assigned to the task force on FRINGE or the BAU on CRIMINAL MINDS.

Speaking of criminal, what was up with HEROES? I have been pretty stubbornly championing this series this fall, even though it has been kinda…well, unsteady. But even I couldn’t really recommend last night’s installment. I thought it was going to be about an eclipse that takes away powers — except it wasn’t. It actually wasn’t really about much of anything. The story seemed to be marking time. If HEROES really were the comic book it aspires to be, we’d call this a “fill-in issue,” meaning a substitute creative team came in told an essentially unrelated tale just to make sure the comic came out that month. The only information of value was the reveal that Claire’s “specialness” probably stems from having the catalyst in her blood — but how that connects to activating powers in other people is a mystery. Oh, and Sylar/Gabriel absorbed Elle’s power without killing her. (He did that once before, with Claire, but she doesn’t count as “surviving” him since she cannot die.) And Hiro is 10 again. Well, at least he’s having fun…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 11/12/08

“The edge is where we live. All of us; all the time.”
—Vic, THE SHIELD

FRINGE wasted no time making the audience cringe with its opening sequence, which featured a graphic depiction of a chest operation, including grotesque views of slicing the chest and spreading the ribs (complete with sound effects). After that display I was almost relieved to see the giant parasitic worm curled around the victim’s heart. And how creepy was it that the creature made a purring sound? I was glad to see Walter did not work on such parasitic entities back in the old days — but he did claim to accidentally fry the deceased Jimmy Hoffa‘s brain by hooking it up to his communicate-with-the-dead contraption. Who says dead men tell no tales? Between Walter quizzing corpses and talking to coma victims, no secret is safe. (As long as the head is still attached to the body.)

Series co-creator and LOST honcho J.J. Abrams penned this script (along with LOST producer Jeff Pinkner), which featured lots of ALIAS-style international intrigue, and yet another old flame/co-worker for Olivia who, it turns out, speaks fluent German. (We viewers weren’t let in on the gag — if any — because there were no subtitles.) When Olivia demanded more information from Broyles, he scowled and told her she always dissatisfied. “You could get a million answers and still have a million-and-one questions.” Was he talking about the Pattern — or LOST?

Over on THE SHIELD, Vic’s plot is so complicated it makes THE WIRE look like a simple paint-by-numbers project. Could his endgame be more daring than double- and triple-crossing blackmailers and drug cartels and government agents? Shane couldn’t possibly make a bigger mess of things than he has already, and yet there are two episodes left.

My colleague Mala has been singing the praises of NCIS a lot lately, so I decided to check back in with the show. Gibbs and crew were investigating the case of a gang that robbed a bank in Quantico (home of the FBI Academy) and then burned the money. The case was intriguing, but it was the character bits that really held my interest. The way DiNozzo’s back went up when Ziva noticed hunky new recruit Wilson. Wilson also caused angst for Gibbs, who wondered if he can trust his judgment after messing up the last time a newbie was brought in. Or did he? Evidence surfaced that maybe Langer was not a traitor. Maybe Agent Lee is actually dirty! What is this — introspection and interpersonal relationships (But no Gibbs/Abby moments!) on a CBS procedural? This bears further investigation…

Monday’s HEROES was one of those special episodes that the series does well. This was a retroactive-continuity, or retcon episode that filled in blank spots and explained how newly revealed scenes fit in with previously seen events. So, we learned: (deep breath) Firebugs Meredith and Flint are siblings who were captured/recruited by Thompson; Meredith caused the train fire seen in the series premiere; Elle and partner H.R.G. prodded Gabriel into becoming a merciless killer; Sylar’s “base” power was telekenisis; Linderman caused the accident that crippled Heidi as a warning to Nathan to stop investigating Linderman’s business. (I thought Linderman was originally funding Nathan’s campaign?); and Angela poisoned Arthur. I liked this episode a lot because stuff happened — but I would still like to see the run-of-the-mill installments be more interesting. HEROES could start by killing off some extraneous characters. I have a Hit List if creator Tim Kring is interested. ..

The best parts of GOSSIP GIRL can be summed up in two words: Wallace Shawn. In his best role since The Princess Bride‘s Vizzini, Shawn played Cyrus Rose, the froglike prince of Eleanor’s heart. Of course Blair didn’t like him. Echoing Vizzini’s rule about land wars in Asia, Cyrus noted “getting into a war [with Blair] wouldn’t result in victory.” He eventually won her heart with his wits, and his tale of tragic True Love (or was it “Twu Wuv”?) And, he booked Cyndi Lauper to perform at her 18th birthday party. It was just inconceivable to me that the script didn’t find a way to make Cyrus shout “Inconceivable!” Oh, that reminds me: There was something else good about the episode: Chuck bought his father a luxury box for Ranger games! But Bart actually refused it. What!? Inconceivable!

Apparently Melinda has learned nothing from all her years as a GHOST WHISPERER. There she was, bubbling about being so happy and starting a family with Jim and making all those plans. Was it any wonder the drama gods would slap her down? Now we know who was missing a shadow back in last season’s finale. Bam! Jim got shot by Detective Neely. Bam! An embolism killed him while Melinda slept nearby. But sheis a ghost whisperer, so Jim’s shade tried to comfort her. But I don’t think it will be that easy. And since this is GHOST WHISPERER, Jim isn’t going anywhere soon…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 10/28/08

I’ve been missing GOSSIP GIRL for the past few weeks due to a succession of circumstances beyond my control, so I eagerly settled in for last night’s installment. Either I totally forgot how sexy this series is, or last night was simply an unusual bumper episode of wall-to-wall provocativeness. Events got off to a rousing start with Blair…er, taking matters into her own hands when she became frustrated by a lack of attention from Chuck. The scene shifted to new character Agnes insisting that Nate is “into” Jenny (as if). Serena asked Dan to advise Blair on her conflict with Chuck. Mr. Bass demanded that Blair admit she loves him before they could hook up; but she insisted such an admission would mean Chuck “wins.” (Yes, this pretty gal was cutting off her nose to spite her face!) Dan suggested she simply get underfoot and swamp Chuck with temptation. But Chuck resisted her flaunted charms until her charm became desperation that actually turned him off. Meanwhile, Serena took a shine to a precocious artist named Aaron, and Little J fell into the posse of Agnes, the young model played by cutie Willa Holland (ex-Kaitlin, THE O.C.). Agnes convinced Jenny she could make it on her own as a designer, so Little J took her designs back from Eleanor and walked — make that strutted — out the door. While little sister Jenny was making a friend out of Agnes, Dan was making an enemy out of Chuck by tossing a spanner in the works that spoiled his chances with Blair, leaving the fallen Queen B in tears and Bass fuming. And then Dan himself was left alone when Serena suddenly remembered she knew Aaron when they were kids in Europe. In fact, she “married” him in a play ceremony by Lake Geneva. Well, who saw that one coming?

I have also fallen woefully behind on HEROES (due to those same extenuating circumstances). Joining our story already in progress, I discovered that Claire can no longer feel pain; Elle can no longer control her electrical powers; and the Petrelli patriarch (Arthur) is no longer dead and wants to take over the world. A friend of mine has been strolling around the Weekly offices quoting Han Solo, and it seems appropriate here: “I’m out of it for a little while, and everyone gets delusions of grandeur.”

But it wasn’t hard for me to get up to speed and then hang on — because stuff happened this week! Arthur killed Matt’s dad, Morrie, between bouts of sucking the powers out of people (can Maya please go far away now?); Claire and Elle set off for Pinehurst, where Arthur is located, to see if they could have their powers “tweaked”; Sylar/Gabriel set out to rescue Peter from their father; HRG and Meredith set out to rescue Nathan and Tracy from Mohinder’s experiments; and Knox set out to kill Daphne and Matt. We saw Matt and Daphne die — except we didn’t. Matt used his “brain mojo thing” to fake the scene. Whew! The sequence with Claire and Elle on the airplane was pretty harrowing, but I kept yelling at my TV for Claire to punch out Elle rather than waste time talking her down. Elle had the night’s best line: “It’s nice to know you’re as messed up as I am.” Robert Forster is magnificently slimy as Arthur Petrelli. It’s hard to know when he’s lying. Did Angela really try to drown the infant Gabriel? And which parent is really the bad parent?

Speaking of bad, MY OWN WORST ENEMY is a difficult show to like. The premise — Edward is a superspy with a computer chip in his head that transforms him into a clueless family man named Henry because…well, never mind why — is kind of interesting but limiting. I can think of, oh, about six or seven good ideas for this situation, and then it becomes repetitive. I’ve always liked Christian Slater as an actor (though for me, he’ll never top his high-water mark in Heathers), and Madchen Amick (TWIN PEAKS‘s erstwhile Shelly) is coming off a nice turn as GOSSIP GIRL’s Catherine, so the cast is fine. But the premise is such a high concept that it makes virtually no sense. It’s bad enough that the assassin personality is paired with Mr. Mom (Why — for laughs?), but the chip that flips them is faulty, leading to the kind of goofy hijinks you only see on TV when the boys swap places at the darndest times! I enjoy the device of Henry/Edward leaving each other video messages via cell phone, but I hate the way the choppy editing skips around the story. Take last night’s episode: Edward is set up to take Henry’s daughter dress shopping, but a mission comes up so he tells the little girl they have to do some errands first. Then…nothing — no mission, no protecting the kid and hiding his secret. Heck, not even any shopping! Later, the Henry personality manifests just as Edward is about to parachute into a hot zone on a mission — but Henry doesn’t know how to skydive (cue audience guffaws!) Cut to: Henry safely on the ground. Huh? This kind of elliptical editing may mimic the way Edward/Henry experience life, but it’s not good storytelling.

I’ll tell you which life is good storytelling — LIFE. Looking back a few days to another NBC show, I was stunned at the turn LIFE took in its “Did You Feel That?” episode. Tidwell kissed Reese! Reese kissed Tidwell! Talk about the Earth moving! KnockoutSarah Shahi locking lips with…uh, regular guy Donal Logue — it’s enough to give hope to…uh, regular guys everywhere…

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 10/7/08

So I decided it’s time to check in with TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES (time…get it? Ah, never mind.) If I didn’t know better I would think this show was taking cues from Sunday night’s MAD MEN, with its mother fixation. Sarah had to act as substitute mom for Marty, a child she rescued from a terminator. Unfortunately, once you get past her specialties — making stacks of peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and pumping shotguns one-handed — Sarah doesn’t really have much to offer. As Marty himself noted, “You kinda suck at it.” Still, the frightened little boy inspired her enough that by the end of the episode she’d uncovered enough hidden reserves of maternal instinct to comfort Marty as he read scary passages from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (even if she was uncomfortable with his hug). John also is growing more confident; in his case, he’s marching toward becoming the savior of mankind. I like this season’s less-sniveling version of John. He’s taking charge and making decisions, and his mom is deferring to him. Cameron had nothing to do this week, as the emphasis was on John and Uncle Derek, who “introduced” John to Martin Bedell, whom Derek remembered will be an important ally of John’s in the future. (I love writing about time travel because it often calls for such strange sentences!) Derek’s flashbacks also gave us more glimpses of the future, including John’s Daddy, Kyle, once again played by former GENERAL HOSPITAL LuckyJonathan Jackson. Not only does Jackson sort of resemble Michael Biehn, who played him in the movie, I noticed for the first time that Jackson actually kind of sounds like him, too.

Catherine was back again. Shirley Manson‘s Scottish accent kept creeping into her dialogue, but I guess one could argue that a cyborg could be forgiven for having trouble mastering dialect. (Then again, it’s supposed to have a computer for a brain, right?) When the liquid menace changed shape to kill off employees of the nuclear power plant, Bobbi Sue Luther played that version of the T-1001. She was actually credited as “Bar Skank” for her trouble! (But that may not be her most unusual credit: If you imagine her with green skin, you might recognize her as the Orion Slave Girl from STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE.) Juxtaposing the final battle against a non-Cromartie T-888 with Marty reading from Oz really worked, because the passage was pretty creepy (dealing with the eye-plucking crows and flying monkeys). Did you catch that John used “Baum” — as in L. Frank Baum, creator of “Oz,” — for his fake identity? Guess that book really was his favorite.

Which brings me to one of my favorite shows, HEROES. This episode was pretty dense with plot, meaning a lot happened. Future Peter showed “our” Peter the world of tomorrow, overrun by super-powered beings thanks to a formula created by someone in the present day. Was it Mohinder or the person who had the formula stolen? In the present, Dr. Suresh was re-enacting The Fly for us, his body mutating as a result of experimenting on himself. In the future, Mohinder hides behind a big hoodie, so presumably the mutation really messes him up.

In that future, Claire capped Peter (with the Hatitian’s help). “Our” Peter absorbed Sylar’s power, which led to the major revelation of the season, as far as I’m concerned: an explanation of Sylar’s power! He has the ability to “know how things work.” Which explains why he was rooting around in Claire’s brain — he was figuring out how it worked. Remember how happy he was when he appeared to find something, and then absorbed her power? He was figuring her out. I’m not sure what fixing the watch really had to do with Peter’s assuming the power (especially since it was a matter of repairing two gears), but perhaps it was simply a way to focus. And it was revealed that Sylar’s power comes with an all-consuming hunger to learn how things work — meaning Sylar kills because he is driven to it by his ability. And now Peter has that compulsion, as brother Nathan learned, the hard way! Speaking of Nathan, once again he was president in the future. I’m getting the feeling this guy isdestined to be prez!

Other revelations from the future: Knox gets his strength from absorbing fear. Future Sylar insists on being called Gabriel and has a son called Noah. (Who’s the mommy?) Matt and Daphne are married and have a daughter(!). And Gabriel will blow up Costa Verde, Calif., apparently killing Knox and causing Daphne to die in Matt’s arms, like the painting indicates. Claire and Peter survived because they cannot die, but did Gabriel make it? The explosion came right at a break, and I confess the ensuing Lexus commercial thoroughly confused me, because it depicted a salvage operation at a disaster site that could have been Costa Verde. I wonder if that was fortuitous or planned. The boys at MAD MEN would know… In the present, we learned that Tracy has identical sisters named Nikki and Barbara, and Dr. Zimmerman claimed he manipulated their DNA to give them powers. Elsewhere, Angela manipulated Hiro and Ando into unearthing Adam — who was not happy. Well, who would be, after being buried alive for who knows how long?

LIFE opened with the discovery of a scientist who had been frozen solid by liquid nitrogen. The big visual moment — Crews accidentally shatters the poor guy — was sort of anticlimactic, because we just saw the exact same thing during the HEROES recap. But a frozen corpse is just the sort of quirky crime MacGuffin I’ve come to expect from LIFE, which started the season with a series of bodies stuffed into trunks. This week’s colorful characters included animal-rights activists who wore leather shoes made from human skin (“Jim shoes”). Last night was Reese’s turn for some important stuff — she finally asked her father directly if he sent an innocent man (meaning Charlie) to jail. When he threw her out without denying it, she faced a devastating realization. Sarah Shahi did a nice job demonstrating anger, disappointment and consternation, and when a distraught Reese somehow managed to snag her hair in the car door, I think I fell in love a little. From my perspective, LIFE will now be about tougher-than-nails, sultry Det. Dani Reese and her trusty redheaded sidekick. That’s life.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/30/08

The theme of last night’s GOSSIP GIRL was secrets — from the cool (Lily revealed she once modeled for photographer Richard Mapplethorpe, prompting Serena to declare, “You just became the coolest mom on the Upper East Side”) to the destructive (Rufus found out that Jenny has been skipping school). Anger and revenge were also central tenets of the episode. Wearing his best scowl, Chuck manipulated Dan — who secretly (there’s that theme again) mined Chuck’s life for material for short stories — just because he was bored without Blair. (Line of the night: Dan to Chuck: “How do you know so many twins?”) Dan’s latest writing mentor encouraged him to learn the secret of Chuck, the “young Mephistopheles,” and Dan thought he uncovered it; Chuck claimed his mother died giving birth to him, but later recanted.

Blair, meanwhile, was resenting Serena for not only usurping her throne with the girls at school, but daring to meet a new friend, socialite Poppy. Blair was so angry that she was willing to ruin her mother’s fashion show just to spite Serena. And Jenny; Blair hates Little J as well. Over and over, Blair sabotaged the gala in an effort to show up her enemies, but things continued to work out for the best, culminating in Serena strutting down the catwalk in a dress designed by Jenny. (May I just halt the blog here for moment to point out how heart-stoppingly gorgeous Blake Lively looked in that green dress? Amazing!) I don’t think we’ve ever seen Blair this evil — it was great!

“There are bad people out there. I feel like I should help.”
— Claire

My favorite character on HEROES is H.R.G., hands-down. He is flat-out made of awesome, as the kids say nowadays. How brave do you have to be to walk, unarmed, into a den of super-powered villains who want your blood? Noah did it without hesitation. His motivation was partly to protect the world from the baddies, but also to bide his time and exact revenge on Sylar for threatening his daughter, Claire. Speaking of parents and offspring, do we believe Angela is really Sylar’s mother? We know he had to have “special” parents, but it’s all just too…well, incestuous to make everyone related to everyone else. Not to mention lame to keep making a secret-parent reveal over and over and over. (When will Parkman be revealed as Claire’s crazy Uncle Matt?) Claire herself is currently motivated by a desire for revenge against the brain-sucker, as her birth mother, Meredith, forced her to admit. (“You have to save yourself before you can save the world,” she advised.) Claire took off with her dad’s files on the villains — but why didn’t he take those with him to Poughkeepsie, N.Y.? BTW, Poughkeepsie is a real place in upstate New York. It used to be part of the vaudeville circuit back in the day. I thought the setting was interesting, juxtaposed against the revival movie house in Berlin, which was showing Buster Keaton movies. Hiro and Ando encounter our old friend the Haitian there; he was retrieving the other half of the formula that allegedly will destroy the world. And did you notice whom he got it from? It was dark, but that was definitely Olga Sosnovska, ex-Lena from ALL MY CHILDREN. (Funny how Bianca’s old lover resurfaces just as word filters out that Binks herself is returning to Pine Valley.) And that was another AMC veteran, Ronald Guttman (ex-Alexander Cambias) as Dr. Zimmerman, the pediatrician who boasted that he “created” Tracy. It was nice to check in on Micah, but I’m glad to take him in small doses.

Did you notice how the Haitian did not seem at all upset about losing the formula to speedster Daphne? My personal theory is that the formula is not what is appears to be — Mr. Nakamura clearly wanted Hiro to remove his half from the safe, or he never would have tempted his son. Perhaps it is something harmless — or even some kind of cure for something, disguised as something dangerous?

My colleague Mala took time out of her life to proselytize about LIFE, so I figured I’d give it a shot. I watched one episode last season, and beyond being impressed with the integration of music into the storyline, I thought it was just a pedestrian procedural that relied on self-conscious eccentricity. Well, the eccentricity was still there last night, but the show seemed more self-assured than self-conscious. Clearly, the-powers-that-be had found their groove. The actual case was still just a MacGuffin that gave star Damian Lewis an excuse to act…unusually. This show relies totally on its stars to rope in viewers, so LIFE is lucky that Lewis and co-star/foil Sarah Shahi (ex-Carmen, THE L WORD) have charisma to burn. While Lewis is impressive as the oddball Det. Charlie Crews, I’ve seen the ol’ Englishman-as-wacky-American bit from Hugh Laurie on HOUSE. The real revelation for me was Shahi, who is much more than just another pretty face; she can really act. No doubt this quality works equally well for her character, Det. Dani Reese. Donal Logue (ex-Chuck, ER) has been added to the cast as a transplanted New Yorker, and he works well. There’s something slightly sleazy about Capt. Tidwell in general — and the way he dotes on Reese in particular. How long until the sexual-harrassment suit? Then again, Reese seems more likely to punch him in the throat than than file suit. LIFE moves to its regular time slot, Fridays at 10 p.m., this week.

Soap Opera Weekly: Night Shift 9/23/08

On GOSSIP GIRL, it was the first day of school at West Beverly — er, I mean, the Constance Billard School for Girls and St. Jude’s School for Boys — and Blair Waldorf was deciding who would live and who would die — er, I mean, who would be accepted into her ruling social clique. Hopeful candidates submitted application packages and submitted to personal interviews. More importantly to viewers, Dan and Serena had to decide how to behave when seeing each other at school. The answer: not well. Dan quickly fell in with transfer student Amanda, whom Blair dubbed “Dan with boobs.” She was a seemingly perfect match for Dan. Too perfect. Turned out Chuck hired Amanda to seduce (at least socially — but this was Chuck) Dan in order to rattle stepsister Serena and shake up Blair’s delicate social hierarchy. Chuck loves it when a plan comes together — and this one sure did — but I’m not exactly sure how he knew that not only would Serena step in and claim Blair’s Queen B crown, but Isabel and Katy would follow her — leaving Blair on the outside looking in.

Poor Blair. She had it rough last night, what with learning that her royal boyfriend, Marcus, was sleeping with his stepmother, the duchess (who was also sleeping with Nate and, apparently, everyone except her husband), thanks to a prying Vanessa’s photographic evidence. Blair icily assured Vanessa that she’d take care of it — and to stay out of it. But when Vanessa spotted Blair with Marcus and assumed they were still canoodling, she spilled the beans to the duke, ruining it for everyone, especially any chance she might have had with Nate.

HEROES kicked off its third season with back-to-back episodes. Sylar resumed his quest to amass as many cool powers as possible, so he set his sights on Claire. The fiend sliced off the top of her head and rooted around in her brain until he absorbed her power. At last, we know precisely what Sylar does with the brains of his victims; he doesn’t eat them, he literally pokes around inside them with his fingers. Then he allowed Claire to heal, noting that she cannot die and is so “special” that he could not kill her if her tried! That skull session sent Claire into a tailspin, as it took away her ability to feel pain — the only thing she believed made her feel halfway human. She resumed trying to kill herself on video to see whether she could feel anything…but was rescued from an oncoming train by FuturePeter.

FuturePeter traveled to the present from a dystopian world four years from now. He planned to avert the events that led to his reality by stopping his brother, Nate, from revealing the exist of Heroes. But the best-laid plans of mice and scarred, brooding would-be superheroes often go awry. Peter’s mucking around in the timestream created a new, uncertain future. Not that the present is any picnic, either. When the season resumed, Nikki/Jessica is calling herself “Tracy” and has freezing powers; Nate decides to accept an appointment to the Senate and is taking advice from Linderman’s ghost; Mohinder is experimenting with his blood (and Maya); Parkman is lost in Africa; Hiro is battling a super-fast young woman for possession of a formula that Kaito insists could end the world. And, the most immediate problem, a dozen superpowered bad guys escaped from Level 5 at the Company, and are in the real world, eager to cause chaos. Oh, well, at least Sylar was caught. Emphasis on was, until futurecasting Rose got involved.

Things I loved:
•Elle returned. Hands-down, the best character from last season was Elle, the electrically charged Daddy’s girl who lived for her father’s approval. The charming Kirsten Bell (ex-Veronica, VERONICA MARS) keeps Elle from appearing cloying and annoying. And she finally got to take down Sylar.

•HRG kicks ass. He doesn’t have any powers — unless you count being fearless as a power. That’s just how he rolls.

Things I didn’t like:
•Mohinder gets powers. It’s vitally important to have human characters not only to keep the stories relatable to us regular folks, but to keep the superpowered characters grounded. What’s cool about Ando is that he’s Hiro’s human sidekick, not his crime-busting equal, and their interplay was fun in the first season. Separating Hiro and Ando was one of the biggest mistakes of season two.

•Powers for all: The idea that everybody has a specific innate power waiting to be activated is interesting on paper; unlocking them is not. Powers are something special that should not be cheapened. If everybody is special, then nobody is.

•Rose is Sylar’s mother. Why does everyone have to be related? It wastes that most precious commodity in a fantasy series: the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief. I’ll accept people with strange abilities far beyond those of mortal men, but not only is Claire secretly Nate’s daughter, Nate has a secret brother? Who’s the distillation of evil?

Don’t. Just…don’t.