Wednesday, December 16, 2009

NCIS “Faith” The Sappy Christmas Episode

All photos from CBS

Christmas episodes always annoy me as they are often sappy and saccharine. It’s even worse when it is a Christmas episode for a crime show. NCIS (CBS) “Faith” lived up to all my preconceived notions. The combination gets even more odd when the case involves the death of a marine who converted from Christianity to the Muslim faith, the only thing that did not have a Christmas theme.

The murder itself is just a backdrop to all the personal NCIS Christmas issues going on, so let’s get it out of the way. When a murdered marine is discovered by two people stealing a Christmas tree out of the park, the NCIS team arrives to find that the marine was killed while praying, and he was nearly naked. At first, it seems like his father, a colonel turned preacher, had motive; then it seems his cheating wife had motive. In the end, it all pointed to his own brother, who felt his brother, by changing his faith, had humiliated his father. Such a dumb reason to kill someone, and frankly it was a relative boring crime and added nothing to the episode.

The big issue for the show was the arrival of Special Agent Jethro Gibbs’ (Mark Harmon) father, Jackson Gibbs (Ralph Waite). Gibbs is always somewhat of an aloof, cold fish, so it is no surprise when he treats his father with the same demeanor. Things start off badly when his father arrives early, and Gibbs seems not to happy about it, in fact, he seems surprised his dad even showed up. When his father starts a fire in the fireplace but there seem to be problems with the flue, the fire department is called. (By the way, Ralph Waite also played Seely Booth’s father on “Bones” and he started a fire in the kitchen in his appearance on the show. Keep this guy away from matches!) Gibbs also tries to occupy his father by asking him to help make wooden toys to give away for Christmas. But things continue to get more testy with Gibbs and his dad, so Gibbs enlists the help of Dr. “Ducky” Mallard (David McCallum) to have an informal chat with Jackson to find out if there is something wrong with his father. Ducky tells Gibbs that he doesn’t think there is anything physically wrong with Jackson but thinks he may have suffered an emotional trauma. He suggest Gibbs makes some calls home. Gibbs later has a talk with his dad, telling him he knows what happened, and Jackson recounts how he shot and killed someone in his store while they were attempting to rob him and possibly do harm other store patrons. He’s never seen the face of someone that he killed, being in the military, he’s never had to look those he’s shot in the face.

Meanwhile, besides the murder, the rest of the team is more involved in Christmas issues, well, except Ziva (Cote de Pablo) who is Jewish. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo (Michael Weatherly) is worried about finding the perfect gift for his “Secret Santa” gift exchange with Delores Bromstead (Kate Fuglei), who works in HR and seems to be a rather caustic person. But Tony finds out, by looking through her personnel file, that when she was eight all the girls in her neighborhood got a special kind of doll and she didn't. Now exactly what kind of personnel files they have there at NCIS I don’t know, but that seemed to be a strange piece of information to be in one. My only guess is that maybe the information was in some notes from some kind of psychological interview? Anyway, she opens this huge box and sees a huge doll, which to me looks a little bit like Abby Sciuto (Pauley Perrette). It brings a tear and a smile to the usually cranky Delores. I, on the other hand, am groaning.

Special Agent Timothy McGee (Sean Murray) is helping with wish of Abby’s friend Carol’s (Meredith Eaton) nephew to have a satellite video connection so he can talk with his mom who is on a destroyer in the Indian Ocean. Despite all the security issues, it seems that McGee is able to easily make it happen. Another groan from me.

And Abby is just being Abby, dressing up a skeleton in a Santa suit, and baking gingerbread cookies that look like herself. Ziva refuses one, saying she will not "eat Abby." I groan again. Every now and then Abby’s immature behavior annoys me, and for some reason this was on of those times that her goofiness grated on me.

NCIS is one of those shows that I have watched for a long time and I am not always consistent in my opinion about the series. The show continues to grow in popularity, party because the cast is highly engaging. I give Harmon, Weatherly, and Paulette the credit here, that and the fact that American Idol doesn’t start up until January. The good thing is that NCIS has won many more viewers this season, and now with the spin off NCIS Los Angeles immediately following it, CBS may give Idol a run for its money this season. But I must admit that the cases themselves are uninspiring and frequently seem to be more of a backdrop for Gibbs’ crisp and cranky demeanor, Abby’s goofiness, DiNozzo’s wisecracks, McGee’s nerdiness, and Ziva’s continued lack of the grasp of simple colloquialisms. A prefect example of the latter is when Ziva, in a bar with Tony, refers to the patrons as (if I recall correctly) “red throats” and not “rednecks.” Ziva's been in the US long enough that he inability to pick up on these simple slang phrases makes me wonder how good of an agent can she really be?

This episode lived up to every expectation I had about Christmas episodes. It had a dull crime, predictable family issues, and forced Christmas storylines. I’m not being a grinch when I say if you missed it, you didn’t miss much.

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Closer “Make Over” A Surprise For Provenza

Photo from TNT

”The Closer” (TNT) episode titled “Make Over” meant a little more than a simple makeover for one of Detective Lt. Provenza's (G.W. Bailey) old partners, Det. Andrews (Beau Bridges). Provenza was a little more than surprised to see that George Andrews had become Georgette Andrews, and she has now declared herself a lesbian. This not only complicates matters from Provenza, but for an old murder case that has now been reopened because the company who did the tox screen for the case, Oxylabs, had been discredited. Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) isn’t all too happy to hear about this, since it ruins her plans for a skiing weekend with husband, FBI Agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney). Fritz decides to go on without her. Provenza thinks he did the right thing by bringing in his old partner, Andrews, because he was the one who got the confession from the jailed murderer, Doris Osgood (Roxanne Hart), but things go south quickly when Andrews shows up in his new female persona, completely ruining any credibility he may have with a jury re-hearing the case. I have to say that Beau Bridges makes a really awful looking woman, and “she” reminded me a little of Cherry Jones, who plays the current president of the US on the Fox show “24” (no offense to Cherry Jones intended).

The case takes a bit of a back seat while the episode explores Provenza’s – and the rest of the team’s – dealing with working with someone who had a sex change. Detective Julio Sanchez (Raymond Cruz) seems to have a weird fascination with Georgette, asking more questions about Georgette’s change rather than asking about the case. But it is Provenza who just can’t seem to understand where his old partner went and why. Since Andrews refuses to testify as a man - Provenza telling him to "Strap 'em down, lose the dress, cut the hair and man up," the team has to try to find something else which will give them the proof they need to make the original murder charges against Osgood stick. They realize that Doris is using stolen or fake identities, and they put various photos of her in an ad in the paper. This brings forward an old woman who says she believed her father was murdered by the woman in the photo, and her father's Monet stolen, which was later recovered by the security company. As Osgood was caught for a murder while she was trying to fence a Chagall that belonged to the murder victim, this seems to match Osgood’s MO.

Provenza, meanwhile, is in his apartment and is picking up Georgette’s clothes, including her underwear, with a bit of disgust. Georgette is now calling Provenza “Louie.”

They get a break in the case when they exhume the bodies of the patients tied to Osgood (the information they obtained earlier from Osgood’s son Sam). They determine that what seemed to be death from old age or serious illness were really murders. In order to get Doris Osgood for good, Georgette make a sacrifice and dresses as a man in order to question Osgood. When asked why he wouldn’t dress as a man to testify but he would to question Osgood, Georgette says there is no issue with her perjuring herself in an interrogation, saying this is now just undercover work.
Georgette – as George - along with a little help from Provenza using the old “good cop -bad cop” routine, manages to get Doris to implicate her son in helping her to create false identities and fence the items. Since Sam has created a fake security agency, he was able to get Doris the jobs and also determine which clients were wealthy. Sam insists that when he realized what Doris was doing he told her she was on her own, which is why she got caught fencing the Chagall on her own. But it’s too late for Sam as well. As he was aware of Doris’s crimes and while he didn’t kill the people himself, the fencing of the art work, getting her the jobs, etc. makes him just as guilty as Doris in felony murder. Cases closed.

Brenda gets home, hoping to get her stuff and then catch Fritz on the slopes. She is surprised to see that he is already home, the fireplace going, candles lit, and Fritz soaking in the tub. Apparently he got hurt on the slopes early on, and admits that he also missed his wife. He yanks her into the bathtub, in her pink fuzzy parka and all.

While Provenza and Lieutenant Andy Flynn (Tony Denison) are seeing Georgette off, it seems clear that Provenza has learned to accept Georgette. In fact, Provenza seems a little enthralled with Georgette’s “assets” and encourages Flynn to touch – to which Flynn thankfully takes a pass. After Georgette walks away and says goodbye to “Louie,” Flynn asks, "So, you ready to go, Louie?" Provenza retorts "Call me that once more and Georgette won't be my only ex-partner without a penis.”

This was a highly entertaining episode, giving G.W. Bailey center stage. I only wish they would have picked a man to play Andrews that at least looked more believable as a woman. I found myself horribly distracted by Beau Bridges while he was dressed as a woman, although that may have been the point, his unattractiveness only adding to Provenza’s discomfort. Again, Jon Tenney’s Fritz was underutilized, which is maybe why they threw in that bathtub scene at the end.

Also weirdly enjoyable were the teaser ads for The Closer and the show that follows it, “Men Of A Certain Age” that aired during the episode. It’s not often that I admit that I enjoy commercials, but those were perfect. By the way, “Men Of A Certain Age” seems to be a decent show so far and worth a look if you want something to fill in the void left by holiday reruns!

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Fringe “Grey Matters” The Truth Is In There

Photos from Fox

Fringe (Fox) “Grey Matters” provided a key piece of information about Dr. Walter Bishop (John Noble), offering an explanation for his apparent mental instability. Fringe continues to amaze me in its ability to offer complex and very deep storylines that are actually easy to follow. It also offers plenty of new information to keep the story going while teasing viewers with more questions. John Noble again proves his excellence as an actor, when, in one scene his face completely transforms and becomes the Walter Bishop that existed before his mental problems surfaced - someone who looked more evil, cold, and calculating than the childlike Walter of the present.

The Fringe team is called to investigate when a paranoid schizophrenic man has unscheduled and un-requested brain surgery. His surgeons abruptly fled, leaving his brain exposed and his mental illness cured. The man had been fixated on a girl in a red dress across the street – although there is no girl in a red dress across the street. After the surgery, his fixation is gone and he is completely normal. Walter, however, while watching the video of the man while in his abnormal state, seems to get a little worried upon hearing of the girl in the red dress across the street. Things take a weird turn when, while watching the security camera video of the strange men entering the room, Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) recognizes the face of one of them. Well, actually she recognizes the head - it’s Thomas Jerome Newton (Sebastian Roché), whose head she last saw in a frozen, dead state. Olivia later tells Agent Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick) that William Bell told her about someone trying to use Newton to open the doors between worlds, which could have cataclysmic results.

Things get weirder when Astrid (Jasika Nicole) makes a connection with a Dr. Paris which leads them to two more reports of mental patients being cured suddenly. Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) finds a scar on the head of a female patient fixated on the number 28 who was suddenly cured, and later he and Olivia find a man, fixated on the actor Sydney Greenstreet, who was similarly cured. When Walter finds that all three patients had been given a drug used only for organ transplants, he realizes that Newton had stored someone else’s human brain tissue in these patients’ brains, and had just removed them, which also removed each patient’s mental problems.

Things get even twistier when Peter realizes that the brain parts in question belong to Walter, when he finds similar scarring on Walter’s brain, and has it confirmed by an MRI. Walter asks for a high dose of valium while he undergoes the MRI, making him more than mellow. When Astrid takes him home, he says he is going to be sick, and sends her off to get some music from his lab which always calms him. It is at this point that Peter and Olivia realize that Newton wants to put the brain parts back in Walter in order to restore Walter’s memories of how to create this door between worlds. But by the time they alert Astrid, it is too late, Newton already has him. Making matters worse, the GPS tracker that Walter put in himself so Peter could always find him leads the team on a wild goose chase when they find the tracker has been removed and left in public restroom.

Meanwhile, Newton and his team have the brain pieces stored and hooked up to Walter in a manner that they hope to re-connect it to Walter’s brain and recover the memories. Showing the great skill of John Noble, when these brain parts reconnect, Walter’s face completely changes and suddenly he looks almost evil and calculating and completely sane – not the innocent and almost childlike Walter that with which we are most familiar. It was a creepy look. Every picture they show him to trigger his memories remind him of Peter, including a coffin. They continue to give him more drugs. Newton asks Walter how he built the door, saying he knows why Walter did it and what he lost. He asks if he's willing to lose it again – “it” likely being Peter. He presses Walter again about the door.

When Peter realizes the fixations of the other patients are from Walter's memories - a girl in a red dress named Sydney lived across the street from him at 2828 Green Street. He also concludes they took Walter to a place which would help jog his memories. But they get there too late – Newton and his team have fled. The current owners of the home who have been bound and their mouths taped shut tell Olivia she just missed them and they fled out back. Olivia makes chase, and catches up with the van, shooting two of the men. One of the men looks like he is bleeding a silvery, shiny blood. Newton is still in the van, and when Olivia gets him to step out at gunpoint, he tells her that she must make a choice – it’s either him or Walter. It seems he gave Walter a drug that will kill him in minutes unless Newton gives her the instructions on how to use the antidote, which was his way to gain his escape. Meanwhile, Peter is freaking because Walter suddenly seems to be dying. Lucky for Walter, Olivia chooses Walter and runs back in time to give Peter the antidote instructions, and Walter is saved, saying he has a headache and craves chicken wings. Newton, of course, is long gone, after telling Olivia that she just confirmed how weak she is.

Olivia tells Broyles that Newton was right about her, she made an emotional choice – a friend over her responsibly - and now they have nothing. The brain tissue they extracted from Walter is now dead, and they have no idea if Walter gave them the plans for the door. But Broyles disagrees, saying she did the right thing and that putting a name and face on the enemy is important, saying there is only one Walter Bishop. "And we're going to need him before this is over" adding "Don't be so hard on yourself, we're going to be needing you, too."

Back at the hospital, Walter is readying for another MRI, just to make sure he is fine. Peter tells him he should have visited him when Walter was hospitalized, but Walter says it's OK, if he had, he probably wouldn't have remembered anyway.

While in the MRI, Walter has a memory. William Bell (Leonard Nimoy) is leaning over Walter as he is being prepped for a procedure. Bell tells Walter he wishes there was another way, but what Walter has accomplished is too dangerous, and promises Walter he'll put his memory in a place only he can find. Bell then tells him to listen as he tells Walter to think about the door he designed, and they begin the procedure.

Interesting that while Olivia talks with Broyles, they seem to recap for the fans what are the new questions we should be asking: Who is Dr. Paris? How did Newton know about Walter’s memories? Why did they let Walter live? Broyles sums it up, saying “I suspect that’s the way this is going to be. The more answers we get the more questions they’ll lead to.” I guess that sums up the whole series, doesn’t it?

But I have some burning questions of my own in my mind. Did Walter’s opening up this door cause the “blight” that exists on the other side? The fact that Walter’s brain tissue was reconnected and the memories apparently restored, couldn’t that possibly have created a new memory of this current event in his brain in some other location? Despite the fact that the old brain tissue with the old memories is dead, the memories could very well be alive and well in Walter’s current brain. I suspect this is not the last we will hear of these memories.

Fringe is a fantastic TV show and I find it bothersome that Fox has it in such a horrific time slot against quite a few powerhouse TV shows. I fully realize that Fringe is a niche show that wouldn’t appeal to the same viewers such as the networks biggest drama, “House,” but I certainly hope that Fox will keep Fringe going, and give it another season on a more reasonable day.

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Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Closer “The Life” A Complex Case, a New Kitty

Photo from TNT

”The Closer” (TNT) returns in December with a few new episodes, a nice Christmas present for all of us who are already being bombarded with reruns. Last night’s episode “The Life” involved the killing of a 12 year old boy, a case where the killings rack up quickly and the case gets more complex as it progresses.

The only problem that I found with this episode was that the case seemed to get a little too complicated. Maybe my feeble brain at 9:00 PM can only handle a limited number of names of characters. I had a hard time following who was who and who did what at some point. But typical for Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), she cuts through all the details to get to the bottom of the case. What they initially think may be the beginnings of a gang war turns out to be a killing by a victim of rape, and later, revenge killings by the father of that murder victim cause the other deaths.

But I find that I am less interested in the murder than I am about other things happening in the background. Brenda’s husband Fritz (the woefully underutilized Jon Tenney) surprises Brenda with a kitten to replace her beloved and deceased “Kitty,” and Brenda does not react well to Fritz’s gesture. Fritz’s first error is he calls the cat “Joel,” probably the weirdest name for a cat, and something that clearly does not help Brenda bond with the adorable kitten. She doesn’t seem to think any new cat can replace Kitty.

It also seems that Detective Lt. Provenza (G.W. Bailey) has broken up with his fiancée, and finally admits it to Lieutenant Andy Flynn (Tony Denison). Flynn helps Provenza to realize he can discard that stuffy pocket square, and Provenza proceeds to cut up his tie and throw away his fruit.

When Brenda takes over the subsequent murder cases from Detective Ranski (Josh Cooke), she doesn’t realize that Ranski seems a little smitten with her. Later, he shows up at her office to thank her for taking the case, and presents her a box of chocolates, which of course makes Brenda very happy. But when Ranski also asks her out to dinner, she realizes what is going on and tells Ranski she is married. He already knows that, and says it is just dinner. Brenda didn’t get to be the Deputy Chief by not being able to read people, so she knows that “just dinner” isn’t what Ranski likely has in mind.

Interspersed throughout Brenda’s work on this case are comments from Fritz that he considers the cat his, and if she could have a pet of her own, so can he. Of course, after the horrific day Brenda just had, when she gets home, she realizes that she can, in fact, accept “Joel.” (Let’s hope they give the cat a proper name, though.) The best moment of the episode is when Brenda presents Fritz with a present of a box of chocolates - the same ones she got from Ranski. I admit I was worried that when Fritz opened the box he would find a note from Ranski in there, but instead he opens the box to find that Brenda seems to have eaten most of the chocolate.

“The Closer” continues to be one of those shows to which I always look forward, not just for an interesting case, but for the great characters on the show and their back stories. While we always get a little bit of personal drama in each episode, it is not to the point that it overpowers the main case, and it only serves to make the characters more realistic. I know I say about almost every episode of The Closer that the character of Fritz is not used in quite the way that I would like. Maybe I should just realize that Fritz will always just be a footnote in Brenda’s day, a human version of “Kitty” who is there to provide stability and comfort. I hope that one day they can give Jon Tenney an episode or two where he can actually contribute more to a case.

Two more episodes are scheduled to air this December, “Make Over” on December 14th, and “Dead Man's Hand” on December 21st. It’s a great holiday present for Closer fans!

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

House “Wilson”: A Day In Wilson’s Life

Photos from Fox

Monday night’s episode of House(Fox) was titled “Wilson” and it was all about Dr. James “don’t call me Jim” Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard). It was a great change of pace for the show, which is usually all about Dr. Greg House (Hugh Laurie). It provided an interesting look into House’s best buddy, roommate, and conscience. The focus on Wilson allowed fans to see a day in the life from the eyes of Wilson, with his own staff, his own patients, and a friend that isn't House. It’s this friend who provides the lesson for Wilson, and in this case, it’s House who is providing the guidance. House’s patients take a back seat, and this is a welcome respite, since I am getting a little tired of House’s patients and his somewhat dysfunctional staff.

In this episode, Wilson and his friend Tucker (Joshua Molina) go on a hunting trip to celebrate Tucker’s several years of being cancer free after being treated by Wilson. After Wilson sticks a chemo bag on a tree and Tucker shoots it to smithereens, Tucker collapses soon afterwards and wonders if he is having a stroke. But when they get Tucker to Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, Wilson thinks he has an easy diagnosis. When the treatment doesn’t work, House insists that Tucker’s cancer has returned, but Wilson refuses to believe it, making other diagnoses and continuing to treat Tucker unsuccessfully.

Tucker’s very young girlfriend Ashley (Marnette Patterson ) seems to be having a hard time dealing with his illness, and Tucker gets Wilson to interceded to get his daughter Emily to his bedside, and she brings his ex wife, Melissa (Katherine LaNasa). Melissa acts as the calm head in the room, and quickly takes control in his treatment decisions, with Tucker giving it to her, much to Ashley’s dismay.

During his say, Wilson also treats other patients, and we get a snapshot of his true care and concern for his patients. But he is not clear headed when it comes to his friend, likely because he does not want to face the obvious – that Tucker’s cancer is back. Meanwhile, Dr. Lisa Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) tries to interject her own problems in finding a new place so she and Lucas can move in together. I realized a long time ago that I don’t care for Cuddy and the fact that she is so self absorbed while the hospital staff is working to heal people and to save lives. So I found it rather sickening that she feels that she has to get Wilson involved so House would eventually find out that she and Lucas are going to live together. I feel happy, however, when this comes back to bite her in the ass later on.

Things get very complicated for Wilson when he manages to double the dose of chemo for Tucker and his cancer is cured, but it destroys Tucker’s liver in the process. Making matters worse, when a suitable donor is not going to present itself in time, Tucker demands that Wilson donate some of his own liver. House tries to talk him out of it, and when Wilson decides he is going to do it anyway, House refuses to watch the operation. He says if Wilson dies, he will be all alone. But House seems to change his mind, and while Wilson begins the anesthesia for surgery, he spots House watching from the gallery.

Wilson’s rude awakening comes when Tucker decides that his old family served their purpose, and now that he’s been cured again, he’s going back to his young girlfriend, Ashley. It was clear that Tucker was a major heel and he used Wilson, just like he used his family. Wilson indicates he is disappointed, but House says Wilson should allow himself to be angry. Wilson then takes it out on Cuddy by outbidding her on the loft that she really wanted for her and Lucas, using the fact that Cuddy hurt his friend (House) as an excuse. Personally, the loft is a much better place for House and Wilson than Cuddy – why would she want to give up a nice house with likely a small yard for a loft, especially with a kid in her life? I swear that Lisa Cuddy is a head case.

I enjoyed this episode quite a bit because it provided a look into life at PPTH with someone else’s eyes. We get to see not only what kind of doctor that James Wilson is, but what kind of friend he is, willing to give literally of himself to save a friend. He has done that so many times, not with body parts of course, but with his heart and soul, to House many times. I think that House has come to the full realization of what kind of friend that Wilson has been to him – one that would literally give him anything in order to help his friend. Will this prevent House from using Wilson as his own doormat? Maybe only a little bit. Will this experience with Tucker change Wilson’s view of his friends? I’d say that is likely, not because Wilson can’t keep donating body parts. I think that Wilson will start putting himself first in some cases, and that is a good thing, because he really can be too much of a doormat. But one thing we learned from this episode – Cuddy only cares about Cuddy, and she is obsessed with House. It’s the one constant that the show can’t seem to shake. In a way, it is another cheapening of the character of Dr. Cuddy, just like putting her in provocative attire which is inappropriate for her job. She’s becoming a rather toxic character. It is the only disappointment that I continue to have with this series, and I suspect she isn’t going away any time soon.

All in all, a day in the life of Wilson seemed to solidify that the two people who really belong together are House and Wilson. They are both damaged in their own way, and yet they can both heal each other in their own way. Like yin and yang, House and Wilson are two opposites who move together to form a balance in their lives. Now, if Cuddy would just move out of the way…

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Fringe “August” An Observer “Going Rogue”

Photos from Fox

Fringe (Fox) continues to amaze, as it did with last night’s episode, “August.” It seems that not only have the Observers been observing things for a long, long time, there are more than one of them. But in this case, we get an Observer named August who “goes rogue” and decides to interfere in the life of one woman, preventing her from dying in an airplane crash. We find later it is more than that – this Observer apparently has feelings for this woman, who he has observed for years. When August says, “"She crossed my mind and somehow she never left,” it was clear that the Observers likely don’t feel emotion as we do, their detached nature very fitting for what they do, which seems to be a “look but don’t touch” method of operation. The Observers may not be aware of the Heisenberg Principle, which states that just by the act of observing something, an event is changed. No matter, really, because it was made evident that they already interfered in Peter’s life, without Peter really being aware of it.

When Observer #2 – August (Peter Woodward) – kidnaps a woman, magically dodging bullets in the process, viewers were left to wonder at first if he was doing it for good or for bad reasons. Agent Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) has to break her plans for a day of fun with her niece Ella as the Fringe team gets involved. They find that the victim, Christine (Jennifer Missoni), 27 years old, is just a grad student with nothing special going on. August left a book at the scene with weird symbols, and while Astrid (Jasika Nicole) struggles to decode it, it is evident that Walter (John Noble) is already figuring it out. She later finds that someone at Massive Dynamic is also inquiring on some of those same code symbols. When Olivia and Peter (Joshua Jackson) talk with the guy at Massive Dynamic who was also checking on the symbols, they find that he doesn’t know exactly what they mean either. But, he has found evidence in art objects relating to big historical events over the years where images of an Observer has been recorded, and it seems they have some ability to move through time. But the Observes usually appear rarely, and since they’ve had 25 sightings in just the past few months, it makes them wonder what big thing is about to happen.

Meanwhile, August has Christine tied up in a motel room, and later, shows her via a TV news story that he saved her from an airplane crash, and she begins to trust him. August, however, is in deep trouble with the other Observers who are in the area mulling over what to do next. They are in a restaurant eating food with tons of hot sauce and pepper. This information is also important because apparently August got a drop of this unique King Cobra hot sauce on the book he left at the scene, and this is later used to track the Observers to possible locations where this particular hot sauce can be found. But the other Observers, including the first Observer (Michael Cerveris)with whom we are so familiar, tell August they are already working to correct the matter – meaning to kill Christine. August doesn’t understand, because he knows they interfered before in other events, but Observer #1 said it was to correct a problem of their own making.

While Peter and Olivia visit Christine’s friend who is subletting her place, they find Christine was supposed to be on an airplane trip. Peter also notices a photo of a young Christine, holding a teddy bear, with her parents, and an Observer in the background. As Christine’s parents were killed in a brigde collapse during the 1989 earthquake, they wonder why she is on the Observers' radar.

The Observers have apparently sent out a hit man – Donald Long (Paul Rae) – to kill Christine. August now knows this, so he plans a ruse to protect Christine. Donald has broken in to August's apartment, and unfortunately, it’s right before Olivia and Peter arrive at the same place, having tracked a shipment of the unusual hot sauce which was shipped to that address. Peter gets held at gunpoint by Donald and manages to deflect his gun when Olivia approaches. Donald runs off and Olivia loses him. Peter and Olivia scan August’s room, finding photos of Christine throughout her life, along with many old newspaper clippings.

Unbeknownst to Olivia and Peter, Walter has decoded the message and finds August in one of the restaurants, and August was glad he got his message. Walter first asks August not to take his son, but August says it is not about that, he need’s Walter’s help. He tells Walter about the Observers being determined to kill Christine, and thinks Walter can help because he saw beyond the limitations of his problems before. But Walter says he just missed his son. When Walter questions what is so important about Christine, August can't explain it, but it sure there is something, he’s seen it. Walter tells him to make her important and be prepared to face the consequences.

Olivia and Peter get the news that someone matching the Observer was spotted at a motel, and as they race there, Donald is already there. As he enters the room and opens the closet, August is there, and zaps Donald with his special kind of “stun gun blaster.” August runs off to draw Donald away, yet allows him to catch up. While Donald has him at gunpoint, he asks August if he is crazy, and then August lets Donald shoot him. When Peter and Olivia arrive at the motel, Olivia follows Donald back to the motel and Peter tends to August. August puts the “blaster” into Peter’s hands. This comes in handy when Donald has Olivia at a disadvantage, and Peter manages to fire the blaster to knock Donald over the railing, with Olivia shooting a nanosecond later. Needless to say, Donald looks very dead on laying on the ground. Olivia finds Christine tucked literally behind the bed in the motel room.

Meanwhile, Observer #1 is driving August away, and August explains first seeing Christine when her parents were killed in the earthquake. He says “"She crossed my mind and somehow she never left” adding he think this is what they call feelings – he thinks he loved her. It is clear that the Observers are detached in more ways that one. As he dies, a tear runs down his face, and Observer #1 tells August that she will be safe now, because August made her important because "she was responsible for the death of one of us."

Back in Christine’s apartment trying to understand it all, Walter shocks Peter when he gives Christine a teddy bear that he said August said to give to her. She identifies it as the teddy bear she was holding when her parents died in the bridge collapse in the earthquake. Afterwards, Peter is upset with Walter for holding back that he met with an Observer, saying they are very close to getting the answers, something I am sure Walter would rather that Peter not get.

Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick) tells Olivia that Donald was an assassin, and that it seems that August made the tip off call himself. He also says they can’t make the Observer’s gun fire again, thinking Peter fired the last round. Olivia manages to get the rest of the day off to spend it at the amusement part with Ella. What they don’t know is while they are on the roller coaster, Observers are watching, with one saying, "Look how happy she is," he says, "it's a shame things are about to get so hard for her."

The episode closes with the huge question – what exactly will happen in Olivia’s life that will make thing so hard for her? My first concern was for Ella, who Olivia was so concerned about giving her a happy day. Will something tragic occur with Ella that makes this day even more important for Olivia? Or, was it just an accidental reference, not relating to Ella at all, but just some other bad times for Olivia?

I believe Peter is starting to really suspect that Walter knows a lot more than what he lets on. When Walter recalls the frozen lake car crash story from when Peter was a boy and says the Observer saved them, Peter looked at him with a suspicious and questioning glance. Its is if Walter had said something that meant more than Walter’s simple words. Since we are on the subject of Peter, let’s go over his use of that special stun gun blaster. It is possible that August gave Peter the blaster because he knew it would work for Peter, because Peter is really not from this current time? Is that the same reason why no one can get the gun to fire again, because it will only work for people not of this time? I almost wish they would find an excuse to get the gun back in Peter’s hands to test that theory.

The fact that there is more than one Observer wasn’t too much of a surprise, although the fact that they do not experience feelings was an interesting bit of knowledge. When August delivers the line "She crossed my mind and somehow she never left" it was a beautiful way to describe something he had never felt before – love. For a moment, I felt very bad for the Observers, whose purpose seem to go through the past – through history – with detachment. When we heard that they only interfered to correct a mistake of their own, it makes me wonder if bringing Peter from the other timeline was to correct that error, and what exactly was the error that they had made that prompted their correction?

One of the reasons why I love Fringe is that with each episode, it seems we get to learn a little more, but at the same time, the resulting questions become deeper and more complex. Like the Observers, viewers have no choice but to watch and not interfere. But unlike the Observers, we have the ability to feel and to love. This means now I am very afraid for Olivia and what will happen to rock her world. I am concerned that Peter will dig into things and dig a little too far and that Walter’s big secret will be revealed. Who knows, maybe this will be one of the things that make life so hard for Olivia. All we can do is observe - by staying tuned.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

The CSI Franchise: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

All Photos CBS

I haven’t had too much time lately to be able to recap or review any of the CSI franchise shows, but I still watch all of them faithfully. Over the last few years, however, I found that my opinions of the respective shows – CSI (Las Vegas), CSI NY, and CSI Miami – have changed. The differences between the three series became most obvious for me with last week’s “trilogy” of episodes that crossed over the cities of Miami, New York, and Las Vegas. While the word “crossover” was used to describe this TV event, it really served as just a way to feature the newer kid on the CSI block, Laurence Fishburne. Many fans complained that they felt mislead about the trilogy, and I was disappointed that Fishburne was the only one to cross over. I do understand that crossovers can get expensive due to the actors’ salaries, so I guess I can’t fault CBS for trying to create a TV event without spending a fortune.

Here are my opinions on the shows of the CSI franchise, classified as the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good: I find myself now looking forward to episodes of CSI NY for many reasons. The cast has grown on me. With complex story lines for some of the key characters, I find myself becoming more interested in what happens to them. For example, Detective Danny Messer (Carmine Giovinazzo), after becoming paralyzed when shot in a drive by shooting, fought his way back to regain his ability to walk and is now walking without assistance. Detective Don Flack (Eddie Cahill), still reeling over the shooting death of Detective Jessica Angell (Emmanuelle Vaugier), drowns himself in drinking and bad behavior. In last night’s episode, “Cuckoo’s Nest” Flack gets mugged in the subway, and coupled with some tough love by Detective Mac Taylor (Gary Sinise), Flack decides to clean up his act. And while I’m on the subject of “Cuckoo’s Nest,” I should note that CSI NY is probably the best in the franchise in creating story lines that can span multiple episodes, as this one, which involved the second appearance of the “compass killer.”

CSI NY also does an excellent job of showcasing the city of New York, with frequent shots of the skyline and key landmarks. Again, last night’s “Cuckoo’s Nest” had some great scenes with the skyline as a backdrop The shots of the Unisphere at night with the fountains running full blast was also visually enjoyable.

CSI NY, which used to be the series that I had a hard time enjoying, has now become my favorite of the three

The Bad: CSI, once the king of all CSIs, has become a shadow of its former self, after loosing many of the key members of the cast – William Petersen, Jorja Fox, and Gary Dourdan. Unlike the Law & Order franchise, which is accustomed to a revolving door of actors, CSI’s success can be attributed in part to the stability of the cast. With so many cast changes over what seemed like a short period, the show seemed to be rattled a bit. The addition of Laurence Fishburne last season made the show a little more interesting for a while, but the show also seemed to become very dreary and gloomy with its story lines at the same time. The lighting also seems very dark and heavy, making the show feel almost depressing to watch. Sure, murder is never a happy subject, but it seems that the show spends too much time making everything look so heavy and oppressive that I can’t even enjoy the mystery of the crime itself. Fishburne is a fine addition to the show, but after the novelty of his character going through the ropes of becoming a CSI, he needs a new “hook” to keep fans intrigued.

I may be too harsh in calling the show “bad”, but I can’t say that it is good anymore, or that I enjoy watching it like I used to.

The Ugly: OK, you knew CSI Miami would be at the bottom of my list, didn’t you? It’s bad enough that we have to contend with the wooden yet scenery-chewing acting of David Caruso. But with the departure of Adam Rodriguez, a few more actors have been thrown in to the mix, and they are not necessarily adding much to the show. Eddie Cibrian was introduced to the series in a flashback when his character Jesse Cardoza was with the CSI Miami team before they got all glitzy and orange. Cibrian’s acting is as wooden as Caruso’s, and I suppose that they were hoping that with Cibrian’s good looks that no one would notice. (I did.) They’ve also added another CSI Walter Simmons (Omar Miller) who is hard to miss because he is so tall. He is also hard to miss because he is always spouting off every little detail about what he sees and what he knows, not only annoying his colleagues, but me as well. Calleigh Duquesne (Emily Proctor) is also getting very tiresome, with her sanctimonious attitude and her stiff, board-like posture, she is just plain grating.

The story lines are overly simplistic, the crimes so filled with ridiculous events and scenarios, the dialog so awful, and the acting so bad, that the show has become well known as the highest rated cheese-fest on television. (Don’t mistake this for meaning it is the highest rated TV show, I'm only talking cheese-fests.) The fact that they continue to over-saturate the colors – especially the orange Velveeta glow of Miami which makes it looks like the city is constantly on fire or worse yet, in a giant fondue – doesn’t help matters any. CSI Miami is so bad you almost HAVE to watch. And yes, I still do, but for the life of me I have no idea why. I could be an illness. Or maybe it’s because I don’t watch sitcoms and I need some comedy in my life? Regardless of my reasons, the show is virtually unwatchable at times, and if I missed an episode I wouldn’t be crying over it.

Don’t get me wrong, the CSI franchise is still good television, just some of it is better than others. And I am sure there are many out there who don’t agree with my assessment of each show. But the fact that CSI NY has only improved with age and grown on me may mean that CSI can recover from all the cast changes and be back on the top of my list. But CSI Miami? Sorry, I don’t see any hope that show will every make it out of the bottom for me.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

AMC’s “The Prisoner”: Heavy, Cerebral Psychological Drama

Photos from AMC

AMC’s “The Prisoner,” a remake of the 1960’s cult classic of the same name, began airing last night with two episodes. I had only vague recall of the original series, so went into this with a relatively open mind. What I didn’t realize that the episodes were going to air in two-hour clumps over a period of a few days. With the series being a little heavier and far more cerebral than the original, I found that it was just too much watching two episodes in a row, much less watching two episodes in a row for several days in a row. Needless to say, I’m going to DVR the series and watch at my leisure.

The premise of the show is simple enough – if one remembers the old series or looked up some information about it beforehand. But for those unfamiliar with the series may find themselves confused after the first 10 minutes. It seems that a man – who we will only know as Number Six (James Caviezel) finds himself in an isolated, desert area with an old man running for his life. After the man dies and tells Six to get a message to 554 that he got out, the troubles really begin.
Six finds himself in a place called “The Village’ from which there seems to be no escape. The Village is the only place many of the residents seem to know. He manages to find 554 (Jessica Haines) working at a diner, and after he delivers the old man’s message, she is later killed in an explosion. Six also meets who seems like the man in charge – or shall I say the second man in charge, because he is named Number Two (Sir Ian McKellen). Number Two seems to like to threaten people with a grenade, which is likely what killed 554 in the diner explosion. It appears that the old man – and some others – have what they think are dreams or memories of places not in The Village – the old man drew a picture of Big Ben and 554, before her untimely death, drew the Statue of Liberty.

Number Six also remembers life from before he came to The Village; it seems he just resigned from a job, and that evening, meets a mysterious woman and they end up in his apartment. While he is in The Village, though, Six seems to be unable to remember the details clearly, or his name for that matter. It is clear, though, that Number Two wants the information that he thinks Six is hiding from that life. And Six will spend his time trying to escape The Village, the only beacon visible are the two large, shiny towers in the distance that he just can’t seem to reach.

Six also finds that he has a brother, who Six doesn’t believe is his real brother, then he does believe it is his brother, who then tells him he really isn’t his brother, who winds up getting killed in the same manner as his real brother. (!) Now you may see what I mean when I say the show is very cerebral. Viewers will be drawn in trying to figure out what is real, what isn't real, and wonder if The Village is real or just a figment of a crazy - or drugged - mind.

Before I had started watching the show, I had assumed that they were going to be showing two hours on Sunday night and then an hour each Sunday night afterwards. I was surprised to see that they are running the series for two hours every night early this week. Either I wasn’t quite paying attention, or the show was promoted badly or not clearly, but the show is far too heavy and requires too much concentration on my part to handle it so many days, and so many hours, in a row. Don’t misunderstand my hesitance to watch it live as meaning that I did not like the show. On the contrary, I found it very interesting and something that I would not want to miss. But be sure that if/when you watch, that your brain is fully engaged, because you may need all of your faculties to comprehend what is going on. Otherwise, you will feel just confused in your brain as “The Prisoner” himself.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Fringe “Of Human Action” Pushes Peter Into Trouble

Photos from Fox

Fringe (Fox) “Of Human Action” had a character somewhat reminiscent of an X-Files episode “The Pusher” where Robert P. Modell was able to “push” people into doing things they didn’t want to do, like kill themselves. But this episode of Fringe had a slight twist: in this case, it was a teenage kid, Tyler Carson (Cameron Monaghan ) who had the ability to control the minds of others, and we find later the story is much more complex. In addition, Walter’s world gets rocked when Peter is sucked into a dangerous situation and Walter fears he will lose him. This was an excellent episode that not only featured a good case for the Fringe team, it also shows how desperately that Walter needs Peter in his life. Sadly, Peter does not know that, like Tyler’s father, his own father has been lying to him for almost his whole life.

When the episode begins, it seems Tyler has been kidnapped and that his abductors are causing others to kill themselves and others. The Fringe team - Agents Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv) and Phillip Broyles (Lance Reddick), along with Walter (John Noble) and Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) - visit Massive Dynamic. They confer with Nina Sharp (Blair Brown), and find that Tyler’s father Dr. Carson (Andrew Airlie) also works there in the aerospace division. They are told that Tyler’s mother is dead. By the way, when Walter arrives at Massive Dynamic, he is amazed at how massive it really is, seemingly envious of his former colleague William Bell’s company and accomplishments. He tells Peter that Bell introduced him to Peter’s mother.

The Fringe team works to disrupt and block the controlling brain waves from whom they think are Tyler’s captors by using the sound from an old teddy bear of Peter’s that emits a white noise. But when they think they have the men cornered, they find that it’s not the men who can control minds, it’s Tyler. And Peter finds out that the white noise doesn’t block his ability to control minds when Tyler is able to take control of Peter.

While Peter is forced to drive away with Tyler, the rest of the Fringe team works to track them down. Meanwhile, Tyler continues to force Peter to drive, having Peter speed up and drive dangerously, and then getting stopped by police. When Tyler “pushes” Peter to kill the police officer, Peter uses everything in his power to put down the gun and just knock the officer down instead.

Nina admits that Dr. Carson has been working with the pharmaceutical division on an aerospace guidance system, which allows a pilot to fly a plane by thought. The pilots are given a drug to help in this matter, and she adds that an employee's families are not allowed to be test subjects. Dr. Carson admits he took some samples home and Tyler could have gotten his hands on them. But, Carson doesn't understand how Tyler could use drugs meant to work with computers to control people. Upon hearing this, Walter gets very testy and explains that the brain is a computer and guesses that Tyler was on other medication. Carson admits Tyler was being medicated for ADD. Walter is livid, indicating this is the perfect cocktail for mind control drugs. I wonder, does Walter know this from experience?

But Olivia is not happy when Broyles tells her that Fringe is off the case because Tyler is now classified as national security threat. She is very concerned because she thinks this will mean Peter is in danger as he will be considered collateral damage. The real story here is Walter, who seems suddenly frozen with fear for Peter, and comments that he can’t lose him "again." Of course, we know what he means by that comment, as it’s been made clear in previous episodes that the real Peter is dead and the Peter we now see is a “replacement” from an alternate timeline. John Noble shows his mastery of acting as his worry seems very real. Both Olivia and Nina try to get Walter to come up with a solution without having Peter there to guide him.

Astrid (Jasika Nicole) is able to find searches on Tyler’s computer about women who died in car accidents in their 20s, and his most recent search was of a Renee Davis. Carson says that is his ex-wife and Tyler’s mom, and admits she is not dead, he just told Tyler that because Renee was an addict who used to disappear all the time and he didn’t want Tyler to know she abandoned him. But Tyler, now in a strip club with Peter, knows that his father lied to him and is heading off to get this mother and be a family again.

Meanwhile, Astrid and Walter, both wearing foil “tin hats” to protect themselves from Massive Dynamic reading their thoughts, believe that an electromagnetic pulse should be able to disorient Tyler long enough for them to get control. This scene gives credibility to "tinhats" everywhere, I am sure.

Tyler and Peter arrive at Renee’s (Jacqueline Ann Steuart) house, and she is shocked and somewhat uncomfortable upon seeing Tyler. Inside the house, when Tyler tells his mother he wants her to leave with him, her husband walks in and Tyler is not happy at this development. Broyles and Dunham are already outside the house, and when it looks like Walter and Astrid won’t get there right away, Broyles goes into the home. Peter, who was forced to hold a gun on Renee’s husband, now puts the gun on Broyles and shoots him in the arm, and then Peter and Tyler flee. When Walter and Astrid arrive, Olivia heads off to make chase, once Broyles tells her to go, despite his injury.

They manage to catch up to Peter and Tyler, and activate the pulse, disorienting Tyler and giving Peter the chance to run the car into a telephone pole, knocking Tyler out. Walter is happy that Peter is OK, and Tyler is OK but sedated, and being taken to a hospital.

Back at home, Walter wants to pamper Peter by making crepes, and says that Peter used to call them “creeps.” But a look on Peter’s face gave me the feeling that he doesn’t have any recall of that fact.

But the big secret is revealed when Nina types a note, on what looks like an old computer terminal, to William Bell, and indicates that “one of the Tylers” did show the ability for mind control, but there were unintended consequences in that he tried to reunite with his surrogate mother. We also see Dr. Carson flipping though a file folder which shows a few more Tylers with what look like different fathers. We also see what looks like the Tyler we knew being wheeled on a gurney into a room, unconscious, likely being put in for storage with what looks like many others. Nina writes that despite he unfortunate circumstances, they can consider the project a success.

While “Fringe” can be accused of using similar themes as the X-Files, they seem to take these stories and work them in very well to the Fringe team’s ongoing work with “the pattern.” It also keeps the connections to Walter’s past with Massive Dynamic, and William Bell. I feel badly for the show, though, that it is not in the best time slot for the series to succeed in the ratings, its Thursday time slot bumping up against ratings powerhouses CSI and Grey’s Anatomy. Hopefully, Fox will move the show to a better time slot that will allow it to grab more viewers. If it helps matters any, this is one show that I watch live, which should make advertisers happy. I can only hope that Fox will stick with this series, because it is really the best of its kind on television right now.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

“V: There Is No Normal Anymore" Means Trust No One

Photo from ABC

The second installment of ”V” “There Is No Normal Anymore” continues the story right where we left off in last week's “V” pilot episode. This is a refreshing change from shows that lately feel the need to go backwards or forwards in time in order to advance their story. At least for now, the present in “V” is all that is important. The main characters seemed well developed in the first episode, so it is actually very easy to jump right back into the story without being confused as to what is going on. But the show quickly establishes that mistrust and paranoia are going to be the order of things down the road.

This episode emphasizes for Agent Erica Evans (Elizabeth Mitchell) and Father Jack Landry (Joel Gretsch) that they may not be able to trust anyone. When Erica decides to make an anonymous call to police to report the massacre in the warehouse, she finds that even a public telephone can’t be trusted when a flying object – the same kind that disrupted their meeting and killed many, hones and in them and chases them down. Erica manages to bat it down. She comes to the conclusion that since her work partner of 7 years - Dale - was one of them and operating right under her nose, she knows no one can be trusted. She tells Jack to go home and act as if nothing happened. (By the way, I was amused at the address number of the warehouse – 4400 – which seems like a tip of the hat to both Scott Peters, “V” writer, and Joel Gretsch, both who were involved in the series The 4400.)

Erica comes home and begs her son Tyler (Logan Huffman) not to get involved with the Vs. He promises her that he won't, but it’s actually too late, he’s already signed up to be one of their peace ambassadors. Later, though, V Lisa (Laura Vandervoort) tells him he’s now out because he and his friend Brandon (Jesse Wheeler) got into a fight with some people giving them a hard time, and Tyler punches one of them. But it seems that Tyler still has feelings for Lisa, which could be his undoing. I find Tyler's storyline the least compelling right now.

Ryan Nichols (Morris Chestnut) is still trying to figure out what to do since his girlfriend Valerie Holt (Lourdes Benedicto) found the engagement ring in the last episode. He also has to figure out how to fix that horrible gash he got at the warehouse which shows his lizard body underneath. He gives Val a line that he cut it on a file cabinet, and then hunts down someone at Al's Garage named Angelo Russo. The mechanic who is under a car says he's never heard of him, but Ryan knows it's him and yanks him out from under the car. Angelo is not happy to see Ryan, but he heard about the warehouse incident and brings out the equipment to fix him up. As he does so, he lectures Ryan and then seems to have drugged him, saying he can’t trust Ryan. Later, with Ryan coming to and running home, he finds Val is not there. Angelo calls him and tells him if he really loves her, he will stay away from her, and if he can find out about her, so can the Vs. When Val gets home later, she checks out Ryan’s wound which now just looks like a very long scratch. She notices a photo on the mantle is upside down, and underneath is a card with the name Cyrus and the address 51509 Gibbs Ave. He says it was some guy he used to know, and she seemed to buy it. Of course, since I am not sure who can be trusted, I find myself wondering if she already knows who that is.

While all this is going on, Erica and Jack find themselves being separately questioned by the FBI. Erica is questioned on her missing work partner Dale, and Jack about the dead man in the church (from the previous episode). When Jack cooperates and gives the pictures that the now dead man gave him, he is shocked to find that Erica works at the FBI. She is shocked to find out he is a priest. They argue over trust, and Jack thought that since Erica told him to pretend things didn’t happen that he was on his own. Bottom line is that Erica convinces her boss that Dale was involved with “terrorists” but doesn’t let on that he is a V. Erica later approaches Jack saying he is the only one she can trust, but he wants no involvement, saying he’s just a priest. But when he later hears the announcement that the US has agreed on diplomatic relations with the Vs, he says this made him sick, and now he seems to be back in. Erica, likely with the same feelings, tells him she stole a list of every person that has contacted the FBI about aliens. It’s a huge list, and they hope that they have some people on that list they can recruit to fight the Vs.

News anchor Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) decides that he isn’t going to play Anna’s (Morena Baccarin), the leader of the Vs, game. He has a television interview that seems to encourage opposing views to the Vs, but later, when confronted by Anna on the issue, he says that he actually helped her cause as more people are now on the side of the Vs and he thinks that they will now get the diplomatic recognition they want. And they do, likely giving Chad a feeling of a little more power in their relationship, but he’s just a little too self assured. I find myself wondering if he is just playing right into her hands, seeing that she thinks she understands human being so well.

Something about Jack’s pastor is creeping me out a bit, and I suspect he’s working for the other team, likely one of the Vs who has been on earth for years. He seems too supportive of the Vs and seems to be cautioning Jack a little too much.

Back on the V ship, Dale’s body is laying on a slab – and then comes back to life. No surprise here.

The “trust no one” theme is certainly not new, the phase being the centerpiece of The X-Files and linked with that series' main character, Fox Mulder. But with V, the audience may find themselves taking that philosophy to new heights, as, unless they cut into someone, it will be hard to tell if they are a V or human. Even then, as with the case of Ryan, some of the Vs are working on the side of humanity. It will be a guessing game for the viewers on who to trust, and right now, maybe with the exception of Jack, Erica, and her son Tyler, everyone is fair game. The main weakness for V is that it is a remake, and that they revealed fact that they have lizard bodies underneath their human skin, both which takes a lot of the mystery out of the series. The issue will be if they can make paranoia and trusting no one into a sustainable series. So far they are off to a good start. They will need a new twist in order to keep viewers intrigued and coming back, seeing that after the show’s 4 episode run, the series won’t be returning until after the 2010 Winter Olympics. Let’s hope they have enough of a cliffhanger to encourage fans to wait.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

House “Known Unknowns” A Weird Episode

Photo from Fox

After an absence due to the World Series, House (Fox) finally returns with an episode that can best be described as weird. The pacing was off, the storyline was off, the dialog was off, and the whole thing was just a mess.

The patient of the week was a young girl who becomes ill after managing to get into an after concert party with her friend. The day after the concert, she tells her other friends that she managed to hang out with one of the bad members, and when they notice her feet and hands swelling, she collapses. She finds herself in Princeton Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, where, as usual, they poke, prod, test and treat her to find out what is wrong. Coming up with the correct diagnosis is hard as her condition causes her to lie about everything. It’s a rather dull case that House will solve – later, of course, because that's the formula for this show. It’s a given that the patient is always just a backdrop for House’s own storylines and I am OK with that, but for some reason this patient didn’t seem to enhance the story at all.

Dr. James Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) has plans for House (Hugh Laurie) to accompany him to a medical conference. House doesn’t want to go. When House gets to the hospital, he goes to see Dr. Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) who is in an unusually low cut top, and we get various shots of her cleavage, and her backside that is outfitted with a skintight skirt. We get the usual sexually demeaning comments from House, something that doesn’t seem to rattle Cuddy. The problem is, it should. This is one matter where I continue to voice my disappointment with the show, and their need to paint Cuddy as strictly a sexual object. They repeatedly do not show her the respect she should have for her role as the hospital’s head administrator. I would have less problem with it if they made Cuddy into a character who was a little stronger in presenting a positive image as a woman as a professional, not make her into someone whose main goal is to find a man , and who dresses not for work, but for a night of clubbing.

When House and Wilson go to leave, House finds out that Cuddy is also going to the conference, and he decides that he’ll attend after all. Of course, while agreeing to do so has to throw in another comment about her being some sort of trollop. I can’t recall if that was his exact word, but if not, you get the idea. Cuddy has to being her baby to the conference too, which I also thought was a little unrealistic but we will later find it is just a plot device. When House gets to the conference, he takes the ID of some other doctor. This will come in handy later.

Making matters worse, this medical conference – the complete contents outlined in a tiny 3-page pamphlet, very unrealistic for a real medical conference – has some sort of 1980’s themed party. House arrived dressed up for the 1780s. I guess it must be very easy for someone to get a costume like this on a moment’s notice, seeing that House wasn’t even planning to go to the conference to begin with. His appearance in costume would have been better had he actually dressed for the 1980s. Cuddy, of course, is dressed in provocative attire and she and House dance. We are then assaulted with horribly written dialog about their early times together, and I find that my mind is tuning out. These are two adult talking like they are teenagers at a high school dance, and it seemed rather forced. I found the whole scene silly.

Meanwhile, Drs. Chase (Jesse Spencer) and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) are having marital problems. She thinks he’s cheating, we all know it’s because he killed Dibala a few episodes back. This actually could have been the more interesting story line of the episode but it only received very clichéd treatment of a couple having marital problems.

When Cuddy has babysitter problems, Wilson convinces House to help Cuddy baby sit her daughter. When he goes there to offer his services, she lies to him and tells him the baby is in day care. But, when cries from the baby come from inside Cuddy’s room, House enters and sees that Lucas (Michael Weston), the weird private investigator House previously hired, is there taking care of the baby. She needs someone who she can depend on, and Lucas seems to be that guy. I am unimpressed because I didn’t like the character of Lucas when he first showed up on this series, and think that Cuddy must really have issues if this is the best man she can get.

House, however, is very worried about Wilson when he finds out that Wilson is going to address the medical conference to talk about euthanasia – in favor of it and even admitting that he’s done it. Of course, House’s answer to this is to drug Wilson so Wilson can’t give the speech. Where did House get the drugs I wonder? Shouldn’t that be of some concern that an addict like him can still get his hands on something that can knock out Wilson?

House then gives Wilson’s speech under the name of the stolen doctor's ID. Wilson comes in at the tail end of it, finally waking up in time. Wilson is upset but House says he got Wilson’s ideas out there without Wilson actually having to risk his job and career to do so. What I find strange is that Wilson’s opinion about euthanasia seemed to just drop out of the sky. He’s always been someone who seems to be very open about his feeling about treating his patients, and it was odd that his feelings on this issue seemed to go unnoticed by his closest friends.

While House and Wilson argue about what House did, Wilson says a trigger word – there has to be a trigger word in every episode – that gives House the diagnosis for the patient of the week. She is, of course, diagnosed with vibrio vulnificus and hemochromatosis and then cured. I find that I could care less.

Afterwards, House and Wilson have lunch with Cuddy and Lucas, and Cuddy admits that she hired Lucas to investigate an accounting problem and one thing led to another. She says she kept the relationship secret, as she doesn't like to advertise her personal life. I am thinking that she sure loves to advertise her body, though, so what would be the big deal in talking about a relationship? I have come to the conclusion that Cuddy is messed up in the head. Lucas then starts running at the mouth, and for someone who is a PI he sure seems to be a little too chatty about personal things. It seems clear to me that the Cuddy is a poor judge of people and appears to have some self esteem problems. In her position in the hospital, one would think she would have professional contacts in her field that would make better candidates for a relationship than Lucas. With every passing episode, I feel like Cuddy is becoming more and more of a mess of a character and more insulting to women everywhere.

At the end of the episode, the only evidence of drama is when Chase admits to Cameron that he killed Dibala.

“Known Unknowns” was a bit of a train wreck, being a collision of a bad medical case, an “out of the blue” revelation about Wilson and euthanasia, Cuddy’s continued morphing into a bimbo, and House just being up to his old tricks. It was a shame that after having to wait so long for a new episode, that viewers had to sit through this episode, which seemed poorly conceived and poorly written. Viewers deserved better.

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Mad Men “Shut the Door, Have a Seat” A Smashing Finale

All photos from AMC

Mad Men (AMC) proves itself yet again as the best drama on television these days in the season finale, “Shut the Door, Have a Seat.” Everything this season has been building to this final episode, and it means big changes for the people at Sterling Cooper. It also means big changes in the lives of Don Draper (Jon Hamm) and his wife Betty (January Jones). Not only is Don’s marriage on the rocks, but he finds that Sterling Cooper is also on the rocks as well.

This episode not only means the reinvention of Sterling Cooper, but also a reinvention of Don and Betty’s lives. I laughed, however, when Don had the nerve to call Betty a whore, seeing that Don is probably the biggest whore in the history of television drama. It is clear that Don is a chauvinist and thinks that it’s OK for men to cheat and sleep around, but not women. Betty also knows of his past, and even with a divorce, she can wield a lot of power over him.

The episode also seems to be setting the stage for women having a stronger influence. Peggy doesn’t back down with Don when he seems to demand she join his cause, and one can only hope that his respect for what she does is genuine. It’s hard to tell with a salesman such as Don when he means something and when he is just saying it to get what he wants. I was amused when Roger asked her to get her coffee and she refused, much to his surprise.

It is also great to see Joan back, and it is clear that she’s probably the one who is really running the company. Sure, Lane knows the ins and outs of cash management, but Joan knows where all the proverbial bodies are buried. I hope that her value to the company eventually translates to a nice title with some real power.

In case you missed the episode, here’s what happened:

When the episode begins, it’s a few weeks before Christmas, 1963. Don is at home, waking up in Gene’s room. He arrives late to an appointment with Conrad Hilton (Chelcie Ross), who drops the bomb on Don that not only is Sterling Cooper being sold, but so is their parent company, Putnam, Powell, & Lowe. The company buying them is McCann-Erikson, and Don does not want to work at what he called a “sausage factory." Don is miffed that Hilton also seems to be cutting him loose because of that same fact, and thinks Hilton has been messing with him all along, especially by referring to Don as “son.” Hilton tells Don he was a self-made man, not a crybaby, and he though Don was the same. They shake hands and Hilton tells Don some other time they'll try again.

When Don walks into the Sterling Cooper offices, he sees a secretary crumpling up some paper, and has a flash back to when he was a boy and his father was complaining to his co-op about low crop prices. His father tells the co-op that he’s out.

Don tells Bert Cooper (Robert Morse) what he’s found out about the sale of PP&L, and even though Bert seems to have no desire to risk what he has, Don convinces him that the should buy Sterling Cooper themselves. They approach Roger Sterling (John Slattery) and tell him what’s going on. At first, Roger doesn’t seem to care, and Bert tells Roger that sold his birthright to marry that trollop. Needless to say, Roger is not impressed with their sales pitch, but Don admits he was wrong and that he does see the importance of account men, and he does value his relationship with Roger. Bert implies that when people leave their jobs because they’ve lost the appetite for it, they're dead shortly thereafter. Roger asks if this means join or die? Needless to say, he’s in.

But when Don gets back at home, Betty sends the kids to bed, and then tells Don she wants a divorce. He patronizes her, and she knows it. She says she isn’t the one who broke up the family.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Bert, Don, and Roger meet with Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) and they tell him what they know about McCann buying PP&L. They offer Lane the original purchase price plus 12%. But Lane basically laughs off their offer.

Meanwhile, Betty has taken Henry Francis (Christopher Stanley) to her meeting with her divorce lawyer, who tells her that New York doesn’t want people divorcing, that’s why everyone goes to Reno to do it. She has to go there and establish residency for 6 weeks, and after that it is a snap, Don only has to consent, he doesn’t have to go. When he asks what she wants as a settlement, she says to whatever she's entitled. But Henry says she doesn't need what Don can provide, but she reminds him of her children. Henry promises to take care of her and them and doesn't want her to owe Don anything.

Lane calls Lane calls St. John and tells him that people know about McCann buying Sterling Cooper, but is shocked with St. John confirms that McCann is buying PP&L. He also gets a jolt when St. John basically has included Lane with that deal. Lane thanks him in a controlled voice but then slams down the phone.

When Don gets home, he sees Sally sleeping in bed, and has a flashback to his childhood. His father is drunk and wants to go to Chicago to sell his crops. It’s raining with lightning, and young Dick Whitman takes a swig of booze from his father’s jug, making a face. But a horse is startled by the lighting, and kicks his father in the face, knocking him to the ground. He looks dead. Back in the present, Don looks back at Sally and climbs into her bed and puts his arm around her.

Back at Sterling Cooper, Don meets with Bert, Roger, and Lane. Lane doesn’t want to be involved in a conspiracy and says he should just fire them all. Don tells him to go ahead since that's all he did well here anyway, but Lane objects, saying he did a great many things at Sterling Cooper. Don has an idea; as Lane has absolute authority to fire anyone, he tells Lane to fire the three of them and vacate their contracts. Lane asks why would he do that, and Don reminds him that when Lane gets to McCann he'll get be thrown overboard like a corpse knocking against the hull. Lane comments that nothing good comes from seeking revenge, and Bert says they will make him a partner. Lane thinks he’s worth more than that, and Don is happy that Lane is showing he can negotiate and then says they will put his name on the door. When Roger seems to balk at that, Don asks if he knows how to do what Lane does? Bert says he doesn't know either, and with the look on Roger’s face it seems like Lane is in.

They outline their plan of attack. Lane says they will need accounts, and then says if he sends a telex to PP&L after noon New York time saying he’s sacked them all, it will be after the offices close in London and they won’t see it until Monday. Then can spend the weekend getting (stealing) accounts and all the other necessary support material. They raise their hands in agreement, and in doing so, Lane says they are now fired. Roger adds, "it's official, Friday Dec. 13, 1963, four guys shot their own legs off." They exit the office in a rush, Don telling his secretary that the office will be closed over the weekend for carpet cleaning, and yells for Peggy (Elisabeth Moss) to come into his office.

She comes in, thinking it’s about Western Union, but when Don clues her in to what is really going on, she’s a little miffed that he seems to think she will do whatever he says. She doesn’t bite, seemingly wanting Don to ask in a better fashion. He says he won’t beg, and she says she doesn’t want to make a career for being there just so he can kick her when he fails. She walks out.

Roger and Don head to Pete’s (Vincent Kartheiser) who wasn’t at work, he faked being sick. Roger and Don tell Pete what is going on and Pete wants to hear Don say why he wants him to come with them. Don says Pete is able to see what is coming better than they can. They say they will make him a partner, but when he asks for his name in the lobby, Don says there won’t be a lobby. Pete has files for about $8 million in accounts, and say Pete will be in if he can deliver all of them by Sunday. Pete is in.

Don and Roger share a drink at the bar, and when Don tells him he and Betty are divorcing, Roger mentions Henry Francis. Don has no idea who that is, and Roger tells him that Margaret is friends with Henry’s daughter and they know something is going on between Betty and Henry. Roger thought Don knew, and is apologizes to Don.

Don comes home, drunk, and asks a sleeping Betty who is Henry Francis. She plays dumb, but then they begin to fight loudly over it. She asks why he cares and he says it is because she's so good and everyone else is so bad. He accuses her that all the while she's been building a life raft. When she tells him to get out, Don says she got everything she ever wanted, she loved it and now he's not good enough for her, adding Betty won't get a nickel and he'll take the kids and they'll be better off. She counters that she's going to Reno and he's going to consent and to not threaten her, and adds she knows all about him. He grabs her and calls her a whore. When the baby starts to cry, Betty picks him up and says she wants Don out of the house.

The next day, Pete is in the elevator heading to the office and Harry (Rich Sommer) rushes in. Pete almost let on to Harry what is going on, assuming that Harry knew. But he didn’t, and when Harry arrives, he finds that unless he takes the offer to join them, they will have to lock him in the storage room until morning. When they realize that they don’t know where all the things are that they need to take with them, Roger says he’ll make a phone call. It seems he knows the perfect person to help.

Don, however, isn’t there, he is at home while he and Betty break the news of their father moving out. Sally take it very hard and runs off, Bobby grabs on to his dad for dear life. Betty is clearly rocked by the kids’ reactions. He then goes to Peggy’s place and uses his best sales skills to make Peggy feel valuable, and asks if she will help him. She smiles but seems upset, saying what if she says no, he'll never speak to her again. He hardens and says he won't spend the rest of his life trying to hire her. Needless to say, she is in.

Back at the office, it is controlled chaos when Joan (Christina Hendricks) arrives and whips everybody in to shape, as she knows where everything is and what needs to be gathered. Don has to kick in the door to the art department because no one has the key. While Roger is working, he asks Peggy to get him some coffee and she says no. As movers haul everything out, Don asks Joan to find him a furnished apartment. She is sorry, as she can deduce what is going on there. When Don and Roger look back at the office Roger asks him how long he thinks it will take them to work in a place like this again. Don responds that he never saw himself working in a place like this. When they leave, Don moves to lock the door and Roger tells him not to bother.

The next morning Allison (Alexa Alemanni) walks in to Don's office and seeing it look emptied and in disarray, screams they were robbed. Meanwhile, St. John calls Lane, who is in a happy mood, but St. John is having a complete meltdown for how much Lane has cost them, and fires him. Lane could care less.

The new company is set up in a hotel room, and Joan is reading out a set of operating rules. When the phone rings. Joan answers “Sterling, Cooper, Draper, Pryce.” But it’s only Harry, looking for their room number.

Back at the Sterling Cooper office, Allison is crying that Don left without saying goodbye, and Ken (Aaron Staton) adds that Pete tried to poach John Deere. He realizes he must have gone with Draper. Kinsey (Michael Gladis) gets a worried look and opens Peggy's office door and sees she's cleared out.

At the hotel, everyone is hard at work. Pete’s wife Trudy arrives with lunch and a cake and she seems pumped. When Don goes into the bedroom where Harry is working and tells him there is food, Harry races out, leaving Don alone in the room to call Betty. He tells her he is not sure where he will be staying but will be working out of the Pierre. He says he won’t fight her and hopes she gets what she always wanted. She says he will always be their father. They say their goodbyes and he walks back in to their new “office” where there is a lot of activity, and Lane has arrived.

We close as Betty is on a plane with the baby, and with Henry Francis, likely to Reno. Carla, meanwhile, is at the Draper home with Sally, Bobby, and the dog as they are glued to the TV. Don is walking up the steps to his new apartment in the city as the screen fades to black.

This was an excellent close to the season, all the storylines neatly wrapped up. Yet it left viewers with their interest piqued on when the show will pick up next season. Will Betty and Don already be divorced and Betty remarried? Will Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Price been on solid ground and will they be working out of a real office? Will Joan have duped that loser husband of hers, and will Roger still be happy with Jane? There are so many directions where this show can go, and I’m just sorry that viewers have to wait so long to find out!

Video Recap “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”

Behind Mad Men “Shut the Door, Have a Seat”

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