Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Closer “Red Tape”: Murder, Politics, RIP Kitty

All photos from TNT

Monday’s episode of The Closer titled “Red Tape” meant trouble for Sgt Gabriel (Corey Reynolds), Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), and for Kitty, not necessarily in that order.

It seems while Sgt. Gabriel was out having a drink with Commander Taylor (Robert Gossett) they hear shots outside. When Sgt. Gabriel goes out to investigate, he too comes under fire, and shoots back. Problems ensue for Sgt. Gabriel when Commander Taylor convinces him to leave the scene – against LAPD policy - and accompany Eric Roth, who Sgt. Gabriel shot and injured while returning fire, in the hopes he can get some answers from him. This puts Gabriel in the crosshairs of Captain Sharon Raydor (Mary McDonnell) of Force Investigations Division, who is later on the scene and who also blocks Brenda’s team from investigating the first shooting.

While the detectives mislead Raydor as to which hospital that the injured – and suspected – shooter was taken, Brenda goes to the right hospital to help Gabriel, and gets him counsel before Raydor can attempt to question him. But Raydor does have grounds to demand a Breathalyzer test from Gabriel. An instant pissing match ensues between Raydor and Brenda which carries through the entire episode. While it is somewhat stereotypical to put two headstrong and powerful woman at odds in this manner whenever territorial issues are involved, I must admit it was very entertaining.

As Raydor tries to exert her influence and control over the case, with hanging Sgt. Gabriel as her top priority, Brenda manages to get her way and get access to the crime scene so she can investigate the initial shooting and murder of the newspaper vendor, which started the whole thing. During her investigation Brenda weasels her way into the hospital room of the man that Gabriel shot, much to the displeasure of his parents. A reporter, Ricardo Ramos (Stephen Martines), who is constantly in Brenda’s face trying to get any story he can, wants to break a story with the case. Brenda convinces him to wait and promises him an exclusive story that is better than the one he has now. (She later delivers on her promise.)

Brenda and her team find the bullets from the gun that shot at Sgt. Gabriel back at the scene. Later, her team finds the same bullets fired from the same gun in the fence of the neighbor of the Eric’s uncle, who had been killed in Afghanistan. Apparently Eric and his cousin were using the fence for target practice and the neighbor filed a complaint. This scenario was a bit of a stretch and a very lucky break for Brenda, who uses the information to browbeat Eric – during which time she actually pointed the (unloaded) gun at him – into confessing his involvement in the shooting with his cousin. They were shooting at the newspaper vendor because he was a Muslim, but the man was really an American citizen who was Jewish.

Bottom line is Sgt. Gabriel is cleared and the murderer(s) of the newspaper vendor were identified. The interesting story here is that Brenda may have a new enemy with Captain Raydor. Mary McDonnell played the territorial, cold, and calculating Raydor with convincing ease. She would make a formidable roadblock for Brenda should Raydor ever have another opportunity to cross Brenda's path again. An amusing sight is Asst. Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons) who had that “get me out of here” look on his face when forced to mediate between the two. While it seems that movies and TV shows like to portray any scenario where two women must interact on a profession level as turning into a bitchfest, Sedgwick and McDonnell’s skills made this particular encounter believably realistic and almost enjoyable.

Despite the fact that Brenda is tough as nails when it comes to dealing with murder and other major crimes and all the politics that go along with it, she is like a bowl of Jell-O when it comes to her Kitty. Again, her husband FBI Special Agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney) has been relegated to contributing his kitty-sitting skills and provides Brenda with the much-needed push to have Kitty put out of her misery. It is a shame that the series seems to waste Tenney in such a manner. It is clear, however, that while Brenda is at the top of her game in her job, that she needs the stabilizing influence of Fritz. His influence, and his clear thinking, helps Brenda to make the decision to have Kitty put to sleep. Brenda goes so far as to have the vet come to her home to perform the procedure, so Kitty will be more comfortable. And as the show closes, Brenda is embracing her cat, with the heartbreaking tears of her final goodbye.

The Closer is more than just a crime show. It is probably one of the best dramas on television, which successfully blends in crime, workplace politics, work and family relationships, and pets, all into an interesting hour that seems to fly by. Kyra Sedgwick is one of tiny number of actresses whose performances I feel are Emmy-worthy, and this makes the show all the more enjoyable to watch. It’s truly a shame we get such a small number of episodes each season, maybe that Emmy would be the perfect incentive for more episodes next season?

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Monday, June 22, 2009

“The Listener”: Don’t Be A Watcher

In my desperate attempt to fill the void as many of my favorite shows are off for the summer, I’ve been watching a lot of new shows that are airing as summer replacements. There have been a few good shows like ”Raising the Bar” on TNT and ”Royal Pains” on USA, but there have also been a few shows worth missing. One of the latter is ”The Listener”, currently airing Thursday at 10:00 PM ET on NBC.

The series is an export of Canada, having already aired on CTV earlier in the year. It is a drama about a paramedic, Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik), who has the ability to listen to people's most intimate thoughts. Toby did not know his father and spent much of his young life in foster homes. He has kept his special skill a secret, but an old friend and counselor Dr. Ray Mercer (Colm Feore) knows about it, and he later confides about it to his ambulance partner Osman "Oz" Bey (Enis Esmer). The show is set in the streets of Toronto, and I actually find that very enjoyable, as Toronto is a city I used to visit quite often and always enjoyed myself there.

But, the show gets dull and repetitive when Toby’s skill becomes a one trick pony. The supporting cast also doesn’t inspire interest. Toby frequently provides tips for solving a crime to the attractive Detective Marks (Lisa Marcos), with Toby often later telling her "she’s" wrong about the person or the lead he’s given her only after he has read or re-read the suspects’ minds. Personally, I wouldn’t listen to the guy after being jerked around so many times, but Marks continues to do so, being somewhat intrigued, yet the same time suspicious about Toby. It has already gotten old. Likewise with the “dance” he is doing with his former girlfriend Olivia (Mylène Dinh-Robic), who is an E.R doctor. His friend “Oz” wants to use Toby’s gift to pick up girls, now that Toby has confided his secret skill to him.

Toby wants to help others with his skill, but so far, the scenarios seem repetitive and there is nothing that is creating any real interest with Toby’s past. Craig Olejnik does an adequate job in his role, but I have to say that somehow I an distracted by how “pretty” he is and how his hair looks almost too perfectly coiffed. There is also a CSI Miami-like warm orange light that seems to be shining on everyone, as if the color saturation is turned up a little too high. Of course, they take the color in the other direction when Toby reads someone’s mind, with the colors seemingly looking cooler and washed out. I guess Toby’s brain can’t see in full color when he “listens.”

This show is probably OK for you if you are looking for something to just fill the void and you just can’t find anything else better to watch. In my opinion, it is a notch better than watching reality TV, but that is not saying much, seeing that I consider reality TV the lowest on the totem pole, just above paid infomercials. I would love to see a crime show based in Canada, but “The Listener” just isn’t the one I was hoping for.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

“Raising The Bar” Takes It Up A Notch

All photos from TNT

Last September, I wrote a review of ”Raising The Bar” (TNT) that was less than flattering. Now, several episodes and a new season later, I’d like to set the record straight – I think I now like the show.

When ”Raising The Bar” (TNT) started its first season, I felt the show was too forced and too much like every other legal drama out there. I also felt it was very similar to Dick Wolf’s show “Conviction” which was a Law & Order-like show with young lawyers and their young lawyer lives (in other words, shallow).

After not watching “Raising the Bar” and then picking it up later in the year in reruns, something happened. The show grew on me. The characters grew on me. The stories, which were still slightly repetitive in theme, seemed to become a little more complex, along with the characters. It seemed that a show about the selfless public defenders as they battle the nasty prosecutors may have promise.

Now, with the start of the new season last week, the characters are better established, allowing them a little more latitude in where they can take them. Last week, public defender Jerry Kellerman (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) got a much needed haircut, making him look much more professional. It had a marked affect on his case, giving him instant credibility with the jury. It also seemed to have helped Jerry to grow up a bit, while still keeping his desire and passion to fight for the little guy.

This week’s episode, “Rules of Engagement” involves Jerry and prosecutor Michelle Ernhardt (Melissa Sagemiller) having to go before a new judge, Judge Farnsworth (John Michael Higgins). This new judge has a rulebook of his own, including carrying a gun into the courtroom, which he does not hesitate to point at a defendant wielding a chair at him. The judge isn’t willing to bend many rules but they do manage to get some time before the trial actually begins to firm up the case. But Michelle takes to a detective who seems to be using his good looks and likely a few lies to possibly cover up what was a bad arrest, and to win Michelle over and help win the case. Jerry, on the other hand, plays by the rules, and finds himself painted into a corner because of it.

Defender Richard Patrick Woolsley (Teddy Sears) gets to defend two old men – fraternal twins – who were accused of forging a signature on their dead roommate’s welfare check. The two men seem to joke their way through the process, and eventually one of them seems to play dead in court to gain sympathy and negotiate a better deal.

With the prosecutor’s office, Marcus McGrath (J. August Richards ) gets a hot date with a juror (played by Megalyn Echikunwoke) from a losing case he had in the previous week. She also happens to be the borough president’s chief of staff, a nice business connection for Marcus to have. This seems to make head of the prosecutors and resident jerk Nick Balco (Currie Graham) almost a little envious. Where Balco has an excess amount of smarminess, his counterpart in the public defenders office, Rosalind Whitman (Gloria Reuben) is the polar opposite, being almost too saccharine.

After watching Law & Order and its spawn for so many years, it is actually a little refreshing to see a show which covers the average, everyday criminals, and their defenders and prosecutors. While cases seems to move by with the speed of light on most crime shows - with crimes seemingly solved and trials occurring in no time flat - it’s a little alarming with “Raising The Bar” when it seems that the norm is having people sit in jail for months and months on end just waiting for their trial to commence. It’s also different in the fact that the show seems to portray most of the prosecutors as people who will do anything, including fight dirty, in order to win a case and make themselves look good. But don’t expect the public defenders to win every case, either.

So where last year I though that ”Raising The Bar” actually lowered it, I’ve now come to the conclusion that maybe it has actually has raised it a little. So if you’re looking for something to fill in the summer void of legal shows, this show may be just the answer.

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

“The Closer” Returns with “Products of Discovery”

Photo from TNT

“The Closer” returned for its fifth season in TNT with tragic case for Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) and her Major Crimes team. It involved the execution style killing of a family, who apparently were doing nothing but having breakfast at the time. While the members of Brenda’s team examine the crime scene, Brenda gets annoyed when Detective Andy Flynn (Anthony John Denison) makes the assumption that it was the family’s father that killed them, and she makes them start all over in videotaping the crime scene, as she doesn’t want any potential for accusations that they made a judgment too soon.

But it seemed a little to obvious early on that the murder was a case of mistaken identity when both the coroner and Detective Lt. Provenza (G.W. Bailey) arrive late to the scene as they went to the wrong address. Maybe I am watching too many crime shows, but with two people commenting about the address mix-up, it seemed a red flag to me.

After Brenda unsuccessfully tries to get a confession out of the husband and father, she has an epiphany that maybe thrse was something to the address mix-up. While she and Sgt. David Gabriel (Corey Reynolds) are out driving, she tells him to drive to the “wrong” address, and when a man answers, he is suddenly whisked away by the FBI. It appears the man at the “wrong” address is being protected as he is a witness for another crime being pursued by the Feds, and Brenda may have just jeopardized that case. Now, she has something more solid to go on, but she can’t get her hands on that witness.

Of course, Brenda mulls this over with her husband, FBI Agent Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), who as usual has been relegated to taking care of matters around the house. In this case, it happens to be Brenda’s cat, which refuses to eat. Fritz gives her the usual solid advice on how to proceed with her case – which Brenda takes – but she doesn’t take his advice on wanting to take “kitty” to the vet because he/she is not eating. Brenda instead finds something that the cat will eat, and we find later that Fritz had to clean up the mess later when poor kitty threw it all up.

After a tussle with the FBI in the presence of Asst. Police Chief Will Pope (J.K. Simmons), Brenda gets the information that she needs to pursue that case to see how it connects with hers. Using that information, plus a box of fundraiser chocolate bars at the crime scene, Brenda and her team determine that the killer was the girlfriend of the man who the FBI witness was going to testify against – and she happened to go to the wrong address. Brenda and her team can’t quite figure out how the incarcerated felon communicated his instructions to his pregnant girlfriend for the hit, since their meetings were recorded. The only thing was that the pair moved in close to the window, and the team assumes she was showing her “assets” to him, outside the view of the camera. But Brenda has another epiphany when getting out of her steamy shower, wiping off the steamed up bathroom mirror. It seems the incarcerated man communicated the location and the instructions to his girlfriend by breathing onto the glass in the prison visitation room, and writing in the “steam” left by his breath. While Brenda interrogates the woman when she comes for her usual visitation for her boyfriend, Brenda shows her that the address is still there when Brenda breathes on it again. It seems this woman used the candy sale for a family member – and an excuse that a pregnant woman needed to use the bathroom - in order to gain entrance to the home. Sadly, she never gave any thought as to why her boyfriend would want a family with children killed, never realizing the address was wrong.

Despite the heinous nature of the crime, Brenda breaks down only when she gets home, and when Fritz tells her that “kitty” may be very ill and may not be coming back.

All in all, despite the early tip off that this was a case of mistaken identity, this was a gripping case that was compelling to watch. “The Closer” is probably one of the best crime shows on television and Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson one of the cagiest investigators – male or female – out there. The supporting cast is also very likeable, which makes the team seem very cohesive. Provenza seemed to be in a bit of a funk, though, seemingly being cranky over some issue that never came to the forefront. Something may have gone wrong in his personal life, because he was a bit more vocal than usual about his opinions of things. I also continue to feel badly for Fritz, who deserves to be more for the show than just Brenda’s houseboy. In fact, I find myself wishing that they could create a spin off series just for Fritz. He can still stay with Brenda, of course, but it would be nice to see him working cases for the FBI.

With the usual shows on summer hiatus, it’s good to know that viewers still have high quality programming like ‘The Closer” to fall back on.

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Friday, June 5, 2009

"Royal Pains” Fun, Cotton-Candy TV

Photo from USA Network

USA Network may have a summer hit on their hands with their new series ”Royal Pains”(USA). The show is fun, it’s fresh, it’s sweet and fluffy, and it’s light entertainment, which is perfect fare for the summer viewing season.

The series is about Dr. Hank Lawson (Mark Feuerstein), who loses his job as a doctor working in the ER when a high profile patient dies after Hank has treated him. That patient had stabilized, so Hank went back to working with a patient that he brought into the ER and who needed more critical care. But the rich patient with ties to the hospital dies. The hospital doesn’t take kindly to Hank’s error and cuts him loose.

Hank’s fiancé, who seemed more in love with the image of marrying a doctor more than marrying Hank himself, decides to postpone the wedding as she doesn’t think Hank is doing enough to get back to work as a doctor. But when Hank sees her postponement and raises her, the marriage is off and she moves out, taking her things with her. Since her things mean most of the contents of the apartment, Hank is left with a chair and a TV and just his moping about not having a job.

Hank’s brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo), who is a CPA, talks Hank into going to the Hamptons with him for the weekend, implying he has a nice hotel to stay at and that they were invited to a posh party. The hotel turns out to be a dive and Evan winds up using a fake identity to get them access to the party at a mansion. While Hank isn’t thrilled with all of this, he at least breaks a smile when he sees all the beautiful women at the party.

Hank gets to use his skills as a doctor when one of the partygoers collapses, and the concierge doctor at the party wrongly assumes she had overdosed on drugs. Hank stops him from making a fatal error, correctly diagnosing it as exposure to insecticide, and stabilizes her, much to the shock of the doctor and to the pleasure of the party’s host, Boris (Campbell Scott). Boris offers Hank money and the chance to stay at his guesthouse for the summer, but Hank declines. Boris is not one to take no for an answer, leaving a gold bar in Hank’s car to thank him for his work.

But as Hank left the party, he meets a woman (Jill Flint) who drives his same make and model of a car, and they seem to have some chemistry.

Word gets around that Hank is a lifesaver, and this brings Hank a few more impromptu cases: a boy who wrecked his dad’s Ferrari and injured his girlfriend then later he bled internally from his own injury (compounded by the fact he is a hemophiliac); and a woman who gets a “flat tire” – one of her breast implants deflated. While Hank works these medical “emergencies”, his brother eggs him on to jump in to being a concierge doctor, and he picks up a physician’s assistant Divya (Reshma Shetty), who has her car already stocked for work. He also finds out that the woman he met leaving the party is Jill Casey, who works at the local hospital known by the rich locals for its horrific care, maybe good for the “citiots” but not for the spoiled wealthy. Of course, by the end of the show, and after I yelled at the TV a few times telling Hand not to be such an idiot and take the money and run, Hank decides to take Boris up on his offer and move in to Boris’ guest house, causing the original concierge doctor there to be booted out.

Hank Lawson is part MacGyver, using whatever tools he has at hand to fix a problem. OK, some of his ideas here are questionable. I admit I raised my eyebrows right at the beginning of the show when Hank declines to wait for an ambulance and instead jury-rigged a way to get his patient to the ER. It seemed to me that by the time he actually got his patient in the car the ambulance would have already been there, but that’s just me. That was the only thing in the show that gave me pause.

This show does not require a lot of thinking or brainpower to watch. It's cotton candy for the brain. In fact, it may be a little like the Hamptons version of CSI Miami, without the orange glow, the crime, and Horatio Caine. But the writing is better, and the scenarios far more enjoyable. If the pilot episode is anything like how the season will progress, male viewers will get plenty of chances to see scantily clad woman. Will viewers tire of seeing the uber-rich flaunt their wealth and act spoiled, wanting to have better medical care than all the plebes? Will they tire of seeing all the big fancy houses crammed with all the expensive toys and “stuff?” Viewers might. But the show is perfect summer fare, and I highly recommend watching, if not for sheer fun and some escapism.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Fox’s ‘Mental” Watch At Your Own Risk

All photos from Fox
Tuesday night, Fox premiered its new show, ”Mental”. I actually fell asleep about halfway through, not a good sign. But, I did manage to record it on my DVR so I could at least do a proper postmortem.

Fox describes “Mental” as “a medical mystery drama featuring Dr. Jack Gallagher, a radically unorthodox psychiatrist who becomes Director of Mental Health Services at a Los Angeles hospital where he takes on patients battling unknown, misunderstood and often misdiagnosed psychiatric conditions. Gallagher delves inside their minds to gain a true understanding of who his patients are, allowing him to uncover what might be the key to their long-term recovery.”

It does sound rather interesting on paper, but I think they should call the show “Sleep Clinic” as it could certainly make viewers drowsy, as it did me. Granted, pilot episodes for most shows are always a bit disjointed as they try to establish the premise and the characters. In this case, ‘Mental” did neither. While I could tell this is some sort of psychiatric facility, I really never got a feel for who exactly Dr. Gallagher (Chris Vance) was and what made him so special. I also still have no clue as to who exactly Dr. Carl Belle (Derek Webster) was supposed to be or what his role is with the hospital. At one point he seemed to work for Dr. Gallagher, at another, he seemed to be in a higher position than Nora Skoff (Annabelle Sciorra), who I think is some sort of Dr. Cuddy-like administrator but without the sexy clothes. In fact, the whole show seemed to be an attempt to clone Fox’s show House, but was doing it poorly. Unlike House, Dr. Gallagher doesn’t seem to have anything special going for him that would compel viewers to want to watch the show on a continuing basis.

Also at the hospital is a Dr. Veronica Hayden-Jones (Jacqueline McKenzie), who seems to be the facility's resident adulterer. She is having a fling with Dr. Rylan Moore (Warren Kole) who I think is the Dr. Chase clone. Her story line seemed very clichéd and uninteresting. Even when Dr. Moore closed the blinds and locked the door to what looked like the doctor’s lounge to get cozy with Veronica, the scene was laughable, as neither of them were able to convey any sense of passion or even the hint of chemistry between the two of them. I've seen better kisses in a Disney movie. McKenzie is as cold as a cucumber, and a little too icy and distant.

The medical case was about an apparent pregnant woman who came in to the hospital complaining of contractions. When they discover she is not pregnant despite the fact she looks very pregnant, they move her to the psych ward under the guise that all the other “normal” rooms were full. Rather than just explain to her that she is not pregnant, they decide to wait for her husband to arrive. He happens to be an MD and has also deluded himself into believing she is pregnant. Well, really, he started the delusion and since he told her she was pregnant, she believed it and her body just sort of played along. Of course, eventually they tell her that she isn’t pregnant and get her to take part in a fake surgery (with real surgical instruments) in order to show her husband that he is deluded. They get the scalpel into his hands and suddenly he can’t make the incision for the cesarean. Magically he is cured of his delusion! And I am laughing at how bad this all is.

Another shame is the choice of wardrobe for Annabelle Sciorra. She looked absolutely frumpy in her red puffy dress with a belt, which made her look absolutely huge. While I would never dress her like Dr. Cuddy, I think I would have found something else much more flattering for Annabelle. She did not deserve to be dressed so poorly.

My diagnosis on "Mental" is that it would be okay to watch if there is nothing else on and you’re desperate, or maybe you need to be bored to sleep. With summer reruns in full swing, you may be compelled to check it out for those reasons. For me to say that I liked it, well, that would be just a bit “mental” on my part.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Conan O’Brien Tonight Show Debut Off to a Running Start

Photo NBC

I’ve always been a fan of Conan O’Brien on his “Late Night” show, but I haven't been able to watch the show for a while (no time!). After watching his debut last night on the Tonight Show, I’m very pleased with what I see as a re-energizing of a tired Tonight Show.
Conan's debut show opened with Conan preparing a checklist of all the things he had to do for his move to Los Angeles, the home of the Tonight Show. The problem is, he forgot to do one important thing on his checklist – actually move to LA. We then see Conan running across the streets of New York, and other locations across the country such as Amish country, St. Louis, Chicago (including a stop running onto Wrigley Field being chased by security), the Grand Tetons, Las Vegas, etc. He also runs past a Victorian Doll Museum, and then backtracks and runs in, where he admires the corn silk hair on one of the dolls. He finally arrives in LA. The problem is, the door to the studio is locked and he left his keys back on his desk in New York. Conan decides to take matters into his own hands and gets a bulldozer to knock the door down.

This was a great beginning to a high-energy show. After the crown quieted down, Conan went into his monologue, which included the following: a welcome from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (a clip of her saying “hello” from some other televised appearance); Conan – or shall I now call him Conando – speaking a line in Spanish; and Conan attending a Lakers game with other famous people, the famous sitting court side, and Conan in the last row on the upper level, eating popcorn and stroking his hair. He also included a tour of Universal studios. Conan put his own spin on the tour – literally – by having the multi-car tram drive in a circle. He then had the tram drive off the Universal lot, getting “lost” in a neighborhood and then going to the 99 cents store to buy everyone on the tram something to remember him by (including toilet paper and lettuce).

As part of his monologue, Conan does what he does best, which is poking fun of himself. He said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a huge night for me. I remember watching Johnny Carson when I was a kid and thinking, ‘That’s what I wanna be when I grow up…I’m sure right now, somewhere in America, there’s a little kid watching me thinking — What is wrong with that man’s hair? Is that even a man? Why is she crying?”

In order to show the size of his new studio, he brought on the letter “D” (a facsimile of course) from the famous Hollywood sign, which the stagehands proceeded to lop off the top on the doorway as they exited the stage.

Guest stars included Will Ferrell, who made his entrance on a throne carried by four muscled men. Ferrell, who also plugged his upcoming movie “Land of the Lost,” gave Conan some advice on what to do now that he is in LA. Some of his (joking) suggestion included visiting a Burger King in South Pasadena, driving on to the airport tarmac accessed through a hole in the airport fence, and borrowing a gun from any LAPD officer, because they let you borrow them for a day. Pearl Jam was the musical guest – I’ve never been much of a fan of theirs so I just tolerated the performance.

All in all, the show seemed to retain those things that I liked about Conan, the offbeat humor and the high energy. Even though I’m 54, I find Conan’s style much fresher and much more in tune with not only those much younger than me, but for those my age as well who try to stay young. This may be the best thing that has happened to the Today Show in years. The show has won me back with Conan.

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