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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