December 2008

The Wife:

It is well known around these parts that I love clothing. Here’s a list of my favorite pieces of clothing from television this year:

1. Blair Waldorf’s green backless Alexandra Avidal Thanksgiving dress from Gossip Girl 2.10 “The Magnificent Archibalds.”

Blairs Alexandra Avidal dress.

Blair's Alexandra Avidal dress.

2. Robin Scherbatsky’s grey, white and yellow Black Halo cut-out cocktail dress from How I Met Your Mother 4.1 “Do I Know You?” It comes in all sorts of color combinations. Serena Van Der Woodsen had a black and grey version on Gossip Girl’s “New Haven Can Wait.” It also comes in white, teal and black, as well as this “geranium” number.

3. Betty Draper’s polka dot party dress from Mad Men 2.8 “A Night to Remember.”

Betty Drapers amazing cocktail dress.

Betty Draper's amazing cocktail dress.

4. Blair Waldorf’s yellow Phillip Lim from Gossip Girl 2.3 “The Dark Night.”

5. Chuck Charles’ gold and black scalloped evening gown from Pushing Daisies 2.6 “Oh Oh Oh . . . It’s Magic.”

6. Peggy Olson’s black and white buffalo plaid sheath from Mad Men 2.10 “The Inheritance.”

7. Chuck Charles’ pink and silver A-line dress from Pushing Daisies 2.1 “Bzzzzzz!”

8. Nico Reilly’s purple Roksanda Ilincic dress from Lipstick Jungle 2.2 “Chapter 9: Help!”

Trust me, the dress is better on the body than on the hanger.

Trust me, the dress is better on the body than on the hanger.

9. Chuck Charles’ yellow linen coat with Peter Pan collar from Pushing Daisies 2.5 “Dim Sum, Lose Some”

10. Anything at all worn by Mad Men‘s Joan Holloway. It doesn’t matter what it is, because it’s all awesome.

The Wife:

I know we don’t usually foray into books on this blog, tending to focus our pop culture prowess on television and – if we ever get around to writing about them – movies. I often wonder about the question of accessibility and communal experience when it comes to books, and while I would say that they are currently a less accessible medium than movies or television, literature has a great history of influence over popular culture and I would be remiss to leave them out of a blog that claims to be dedicated to pop culture narratives. I spend a lot of time reading on the train, in addition to all the television I watch, and I wanted to share some proof of that with my readers. Here’s my reading list from 2008, complete with page count. (An asterisk indicates that a book is very highly recommended by me.)

    1) Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes* (Edith Grossman translation) (932 pages)
    2) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins (384 pages)
    3) The Pat Hobby Stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (159 pages)
    4) Struwwellpeter by Heinrich Hoffman, Sarita Vendetta and Jack Zipes (124 pages)
    5) This Side of Paradise* by F. Scott Fitzgerald (244 pages)
    6) Ahab’s Wife: Or, the Star-gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund (704 pages)
    7) Slam by Nick Hornby (304 pages)
    8) Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins (422 pages)
    9) Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut (303 pages)
    10) House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (709 pages)
    11) The Life of Language by Sol Steinmetz and Barbara Ann Kipfer (400 pages)
    12) The Grapes of Wrath* by John Steinbeck (455 pages)
    13) Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence (560 pages)
    14) In Defense of Food* by Michael Pollan (244 pages)
    15) I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley (240 pages)
    16) The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (576 pages)
    17) Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (385 pages)
    18) The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao* by Junot Diaz (355 pages)
    19) The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (418 pages)
    20) Um: Slips, Stumbles and Verbal Blunders and What They Mean by Michael Erard (320 pages)
    21) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 1 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (176 pages)
    22) World War Z by Max Brooks (352 pages)
    23) All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen (256 pages)
    24) Paradise Lost by John Milton (442 pages)
    25) A Cook’s Tour* by Anthony Bourdain (288 pages)
    26) Blindness by Jose Saramango (304 pages)
    27) When You Are Engulfed in Flames* by David Sedaris (336 pages)
    28) The Greek Plays* by Ellen McLoughlin (240 pages)
    29) On the Road by Jack Kerouac (320 pages)
    30) Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (544 pages)
    31) My Antonia* by Willa Cather (226 pages)
    32) The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Vol. 2 by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (228 pages)
    33) The History of Love* by Nicole Krauss (272 pages)
    34) The Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill (220 pages)
    35) The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner (326 pages)
    36) Decantations by Frank J. Prail (320 pages)
    37) Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (336 pages)
    38) New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (563 pages)

Total Pages Read in 2008: 13,987

The Husband:

I came into Smallville relatively late, and much like The Shield and Scrubs (which both started during the 2001-2002 television season), it was less due to lack of interest than it was that I didn’t actually have a TV that year. (I know, how horrible. But it was my freshman year, and the decision was made in order to help lessen my entertainment distractions so I could focus on my studies.) But also like those shows, I took the time during my first post-university year to Netflix the bejesus out of every one of their available seasons on DVD, and it was Smallville that I watched the quickest. I think I sped through the first four seasons in about a month, which my calculator tells me is 2.83 episodes a day. (I remember the month being March, so that was over 31 days.) While it took me well into the first season, maybe even the second, to really love the show, I figured out fairly quickly that it had a great deal of potential and ambition to rise above my initial reaction, which was to describe it as “basically just The O.C. with superpowers.”

By the time the fourth season rolled around (I had hated much of the beginning of the third season, what with Jonathan temporarily gaining superpowers to save Clark from wasting his life in Metropolis), I was absolutely hooked. I’m aware that this is not an opinion everyone shares, but s4 of Smallville is without question my favorite season of the show, where we not only are introduced to The Flash and Krypto the dog, but Lana gets possessed by her witch ancestor, Lois finally shows up in town (bye Pete), and Clark searches for those crazy-ass knowledge stones that finally allow him access to the Fortress of Solitude. As a matter of fact, the s4 finale, “Commencement,” is still one of my favorite television episodes of all time, what with its epic scope and probably Smallville’s best ever attempt at juggling multiple plots.

Where did this shows quality go?

Where did this show's quality go?

But let’s be honest – season seven sucked. It sucked hard. Everything that was bright and fresh and nostalgic about the show was lost to navel-gazing both figurative (Lex’s final fall into evil as he murdered his innocent child self in a vision) and literal (Laura Vandervoort as Kara/Supergirl, who I will agree is hot but also useless). It went far too deep into its soapy aspects and tried to sustain the Clark-Lana-Lex love triangle, one that had fizzed out seasons earlier, as well as made very awkward Chloe’s transition into a “meteor freak” and Lionel’s final stand before being murdered by Lex. Even James Marsters was wasted as Brainiac, one of the show’s best villains on previous seasons.

But what may have seemed catastrophic to some fans – Lex and Lana both leaving the show right after s7, as well as show creators Miles Millar and Alfred Gough – turned out to be what has saved the show from complete boredom and its fall from grace. Now primarily set in Metropolis, the show’s title has unintentionally taken on a new meaning as Clark’s nickname, and somehow losing the show’s creators has revitalized the characters and their personalities. (Besides, Millar and Gough seemed to be barely paying attention, what with their screenwriting career finally taking off.) The show decided to bring back Oliver Queen a.k.a. The Green Arrow, one of the best supporting characters, as well as introduces us to a very strange version of the villain Doomsday, now a paramedic with a blackout problem, a mysterious past and parents of the Zod variety. (While knowing a great deal about comic lore, I am not an avid reader, but I do own The Death Of Superman, which is where Doomsday figures in most heavily in the Superman arc, and I know he is not Zod’s son.)

And god, Lana’s ouster helped the most. I was actually done with Lana right around the middle of s5, and felt that Kristen Kruek’s continued existence on the show was only dragging out every single lame plot bit that didn’t involve her being a French witch. And with Lex gone, we can stop freaking out about the Luthors, as they are all but dead and the crux of the first several seasons – how Clark and Lex went from friends to mortal enemies – had resolved. Now Michael Rosenbaum is free to make Sorority Boys 2: Search For Barry Watson.

This season has finally answered many viewers’ prayers that the show would finally ease its way back into Superman lore, as now Clark and Lois are both working at the Daily Planet and are finally getting us up to speed to the real Supes stories. (Oh, and Chloe’s there too, but she’s too busy getting married to Jimmy Olsen to realize the intense sexual chemistry between Lois and Clark, which is far more potent than it was for several seasons between Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher.) Their cases are more or less interesting, and watching Clark having to struggle more and more with his two personalities is getting to be a real hoot.

Yes, the series has lost much of its seriousness that got me hooked in the first place, its real interest in its own storylines, but I appreciate the goofy quality of this season as opposed to the murky despair of the last 1.5 seasons. My third favorite episode (“Instinct”) of the season so far has also been its silliest, where an outer space queen named Maxima follows the crystal’s beacon to Earth in order to mate with Clark and his superpenis, but ends up kissing many a wrong man and either putting them into comas or killing them outright.

Likewise, my second favorite episode was “Identity,” where Clark and Oliver flip the script from a previous episode where Lois seems to be sure of Green Arrow’s identity only to be tricked when Clark pretends to be the Robin Hood-inspired hero, this time having Oliver pose as Superman so Jimmy, who got a flash of a picture of Superman (or he calls him, the Good Samaritan), doesn’t discover that Clark and Supes are the same person. That episode also had the first instance I can remember of Chloe using her Rogue-like powers (taking/giving health) for somewhat nefarious purposes, as she puts a meddling reporter into a coma.

On the flipside, I really did not like the final fall episode, “Bride,” a Cloverfield-inspired episode where we jump into the past to see how the strengthened Doomsday wreaks major havoc at the Chloe/Jimmy wedding and kidnaps dear Chloe.

But the best episode of the season has without question been “Abyss,” one of the show’s best ones in a very long time, where it gets all Eternal Sunshine as we jump inside Chloe’s brain and watch her memories quickly fade away (Brainiac has taken control of her mind, but not if Jor-El has anything to say about it). That episode is re-airing this Thursday, and it’s the first episode of this season that I will actually consider rewatching.

I hope that the show can continue down this more varied path, as it has recaptured my faith in its continued presence. (This is season 8, don’t forget. One further than Buffy.) The program has definitely had its ups and downs, but we’re on a pretty formidable upswing and I’m excited for the first time in a couple years for the next new episode midway through next month.

The Husband:

Prison Break is an extremely fun show, but sometimes I catch myself getting way more into it than I think the show often deserves. I don’t necessarily know how good of a show it is. The plots make very little sense, the coincidences are too staggering to take seriously, the characters bounce in and out of personalities whenever the story calls for it and even the showrunners and writers seem to constantly write themselves into corners and sometimes fail to ever come out of said corner.

But I dig it. I really, really dig it. I have never had a problem with suspending my disbelief, because I can get into premises quite easily with nary a care. Each movie, each play, each show is allowed to create its own world, even if that world looks a good deal like ours. I’ll never understand Herc over at AICN, who easily accepts the vampires and demons world of Buffy The Vampire Slayer but can’t get over the fact that at the beginning of Prison Break, when Michael Scofield held up a bank just to get sent to prison and thus try to free his brother from death row, he just happens to get sent to the correct prison where his brother is incarcerated instead of the many other prisons in the Chicago area.

Get over it. It’s entertainment. It can do whatever the hell it wants.

Oh, and those of you who have issue with the title of the show itself, how it’s called Prison Break and yet after season 1 they were already broken out of prison, get over that too. It doesn’t matter to me one lick. I don’t get pissed when The Office moves outside of the office set and into other locations, so it really shouldn’t matter that in s2 Michael, Lincoln and the gang are racing across the country to get to a big pile of money, or in s4 that they are working with a Homeland Security agent to recover several missing pieces of a big information hub known as Scylla (which, while a badass name, has seemingly nothing to do with its ancient namesake).

Hell, the show could be called Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops and I wouldn’t really care. (Well, I’d care just a little bit. That’s a sweet-ass name.) In other words, get over it. The show is still the show.

I’m going to be one of the few exceptions to popular opinion, but I thought that s3 of Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops (formerly known as Prison Break) was pretty fucking awesome, and far better than s2. While s2 very slyly worked several disparate storylines as they bounced in and out of each other’s trajectories and upped the stakes, especially in regards to Lincoln’s frame job regarding the death of the Vice President’s brother, as well as Patricia Wettig’s rise to power as the President of the United States, some of the magic of the first season forget to break out with the gang. By the end, though, everything had become so intense that it was almost overwhelming, including the death or capture of at least six major characters.

We aint mopey, okay? You have a full-body tattoo lasered off and you tell me how it feels.

We ain't mopey, okay? You have a full-body tattoo lasered off and you tell me how it feels.

In the highly underrated third season, Michael, T-Bag, Bellick and Mahone end up stuck in a Panamanian prison (why? I was never completely certain), which acted as a sort of tropical Oz (as in that HBO prison show with all the race wars and the buttfucking, not that Judy Garland movie with all the race wars and the buttfucking). In this overheated hellhole, Bellick lost all power he ever had as a prison guard, Mahone nearly lost his soul after unintentionally weaning himself off of his crazy pills, T-Bag nearly became the lord of the prison and Michael…well…Michael has pretty much been the same character for four seasons now. But the political power struggle within the walls of the prison was top-notch thriller television, thanks especially to The Wire’s Robert Wisdom as the villainous Lechero (which sounds like the best villain name ever until you realize it means “milkman”). And the stuff on the outside was just as good, as Lincoln and Sucre battle Susan/Gretchen and her blackmail scheme to get her own man, Whistler, out of the same prison on a very strict deadline. It was a great mini-season, and it further proves the idea that more American television should limit their seasons to 10-13 episodes and then let another show take its spot in their opposite season (i.e. fall/spring and vice versa).

When s4 rolled around this year, however, I really wasn’t into it. The show had listened to the fans more than they listened to their brains and brought back Dr. Sara Tancredi as a love interest for Michael, even though she got her head cut off midway through s3. (The show’s explanation? Kind of lame.) It also decided, after some spectacular and out-of-the-ordinary location shooting for the first three seasons (the majority of the first three seasons were shot in the Chicago and Dallas areas as well as some extra Florida shooting), to finally film the show in and around Los Angeles, thus rendering the show a little bit less special.

I’ll be honest. For about five episodes I was surprised to find myself not having any interest in the team nor their task. While I like Michael Rapaport and still do, I found his Homeland Security agent Donald Self to exist completely outside of the PB universe and felt the actor wasn’t taking it seriously. I also, after years of defending the show’s out-there plot contrivances (as you have seen in this post), was not really accepting T-Bag’s personality shift as he takes on a false identity and begins working for a mysterious company that seems to have actually very little purpose. (How did he get this new identity? He followed the clues in Whistler’s bird book, which I also cannot entirely explain.) And no, I was not feeling the Michael/Sara romance.

But as the season progressed, and Gretchen was basically resurrected from the dead, I found myself once again a victim to the ticking clock thrills of this show, the inane plot twists, the remarkable amount of violence and the completely unbelievable amount of technological knowledge Michael seems to possess. Suddenly I didn’t care that Mahone had gone from a completely fucked-in-the-brain FBI agent and murderer to righteous mercenary, that Bellick had become a good guy, that Lincoln had suddenly grown a brain, and that T-Bag really was ready to become a better person. Frankly, it didn’t matter, because really cool shit was happening onscreen.

I think that’s how I can honestly describe most great episodes of PB – really cool shit happening onscreen. Self’s sudden shift from Homeland Security agent to traitorous dickbag? Cool shit happening onscreen. The team’s final break-in to retrieve the Scylla hub? Cool shit happening onscreen. Michael’s sudden brain disease that went unmentioned until this season? Well…not so cool.

Now that the fall season is done, what will happen next? I know the show is suffering in its ratings, and I feel that it can definitely and organically finish itself off this season, but I damn well want to know what’s going to happen to Michael and his recently-under-surgery brain, his thought-dead mother’s involvement with the mysterious Company, and if Lincoln is ever going to see his son again.

Dingy Ring A Dong Bong Sloops, you make me giggle with your absurdity. Why can’t people understand my love for you? I know Stephen King does as evidenced in an Entertainment Weekly column this year, and he too has a great deal of trouble explaining the show at times. Whatever. A thrill is a thrill, and if some logic is going to be lost to reach that thrill, then I’m all for it.

But please, make Michael just slightly less mopey. Please?

The Wife:

Happy Holidays, ya’ll! As I sit at home enjoying my well-preserved end-of-year vacation (watching A Muppet Christmas Carol), I started to look back on the year in TV. Even though the writer’s strike stalled a lot of shows, I think we still got a pretty good year of television in. Sure, there weren’t many pilots appearing this fall and, certainly, a number of good shows fell victim to low-post strike ratings and will soon be leaving us for good, but I’d like to take this time to praise some of my favorite moments of scripted television from 2008.

1. Mad Men 2.7: “The Gold Violin”

The other best of ’08 lists I’ve been reading have been heaping their praise on “Flight 1” and “Meditations on an Emergency,” season two’s opening and closing episodes, respectively, but “The Gold Violin” is definitely my favorite episode from season two. This episode was the most magical, literary hour of television all year, utilizing the surprisingly talented Ken Cosgrove’s unpublished short story “The Gold Violin” as a framing device for all of the characters. The violin itself is “perfect in every way, except it can’t make music,” and I think that’s an apt metaphor for many of the things that happen in this episode. Kitty and Sal’s marriage is perfect in every way. They’re best friends. They get along grand, but Sal doesn’t love her romantically and he never will. (Because he is a gay man with a beard, in case you were confused.) Don Draper’s marriage appears perfect in every way, only it is absolutely not working. And every symbol of power and status he achieves somehow becomes imperfect, like the brand new Caddy Betty Draper throws up in when she finds out that Don had been cheating on her with Bobby Barrett. There’s Joan, who is beautiful, curvy, smart and powerful – the perfect woman for a rapidly changing world, except she doesn’t have love and sees the new model of the secretary as a threat to her power and status, especially when that girl endears herself to Joan’s ex.

This is one of Dyna Moes Mad Men illustrations, spawned from a Christmas card she created for cast member Rich Somner. Click through this to visit her Flicker page where you can buy this and other nifty Mad Men prints.

This is one of Dyna Moe's Mad Men illustrations, spawned from a Christmas card she created for cast member Rich Somner. Click through this to visit her Flicker page where you can buy this and other nifty Mad Men prints.

Ken Cosgrove, to me, seems to be the opposite of this. He’s so imperfect. So unthinking, and yet, he’s the only person at Sterling Cooper who’s actually accepted for his artistic endeavors outside of S-C. (Sal’s not making any money as an artist. Paul Kinsey can’t get published and he’s actually a real writer, constantly being shown up by the office sales buffoon whose main job seems to be to get women for clients.) Ken gets what he wants by not actually wanting anything or being powerful at all. I love this episode; it’s about shattering the image of the American dream, and it shows us those shattered dreams beautifully. The writing here reminds me a bit of O. Henry and Fitzgerald, and I could watch it for its subtlety and intellect more than any other Mad Men episode. Watch it again and I think you’ll start to appreciate the perfection that is this episode.

2. Lost 4.5: “The Constant”

Best episode of Lost. Ever. Further playing off the show’s intense mythology built upon pre-existing literary and philosophical texts, this episode takes Desmond David Hume and turns him into Billy Pilgrim, making him unstuck in time. And what’s the only thing we have to hold onto when we come unstuck in time? Love. There is no greater Lost moment than when Des makes his call to Penny at the end of this episode, realizing that it is she who is his constant, the one thing that kept him alive on his Odyssean journey to find her that got him trapped on Lost island with the other castaways. That moment is revelatory, breathtaking and heartbreaking all at once.

3. How I Met Your Mother 4.7: “Not a Father’s Day”

Drunk Baby Lily. That’s all I have to say. This is Alyson Hannigan’s finest comedic work on this show to date in an episode that proves the almighty power of a tiny baby sock.

4. Gossip Girl 2.3: “The Dark Night”

I had to pick this one, because it’s the episode that turned me into a Gossip Girl fan. It’s rare to see a teen soap have such beautiful production design and so many well composed shots, but I have to give complete artistic props to the Gossip Girl team for creating the gorgeous lighting in Blair’s bedroom for the scene in which Chuck seduces her in the dark. The image of him kissing her neck in her yellow Phillip Lim dress reminds me of early 19th century portraiture, but I’ve never seen anything more beautiful than the way it’s achieved on GG. Blair and Chuck forevah.

To quote Paris Hilton, thats hot.

To quote Paris Hilton, that's hot.

5. Pushing Daisies 2.3: “Bad Habits”

This episode certainly doesn’t have the whimsy and color and fun that so many episodes have. And Chuck was in a nun’s outfit the whole time, so there weren’t any fun costumes. But, this was the first episode where Olive got to be a part of the mystery and the location of the mystery forced alive again Chuck to have a small existential crisis about her post-existence. When she sits in the church next to Ned and quietly utters, “I am a person with no past and no future because of what I am,” my heart broke a little bit. Sometimes, Pushing Daisies makes me cry for sweetness, like how I can’t get through the popcorn tossing scene in Tim Burton’s Big Fish (or even think about it) without welling up in tears, but this episode, Pushing Daises made me cry because I realized how sad life must be to be alive again just at the moment Chuck did. This was a beautiful, thematic episode that belongs right next to the better episodes of Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me in the Bryan Fuller canon.

6. Lipstick Jungle 2.8: “Chapter 15: Sisterhood of the Traveling Prada”

Unlike Sex & the City, the ladies of LJ are best when they’re taken out of their element. At Christine Ebersole’s health spa in upstate New York, Wendy takes time to contemplate her recent devastating firing from Parador Pictures and figure out just how to get back in the movie-making saddle, Victory finds out the hard way about Joe’s almost-proposal and finally stands up to her friends about their overprotective nature before deciding that she needs to make amends with Joe and Nico wonders what it would be like to buy the spa and retire from big city publishing altogether. Being outside the city allows each of the ladies to realize something about themselves: Wendy finds her drive again; Victory realizes that she loves Joe, exclaiming to the stars the rallying cry that she would have said yes; and Nico realizes that she and Kirby really are at different places in their lives. For all the joy and self-discovery and female friendship, there is no better moment on this episode or the series as a whole as when Victory, hoping to make amends with Joe and ride home with him to Manhattan, gets handed an envelope with the papers to return her business to her and is left on the side of the road to watch Joe’s limo pull away without her. Thank God, Nico and Wendy stole Joe’s scotch. Free, expensive scotch is necessary after a moment like that.

7. Fringe 1.8: “The Equation”

This was the first in a string of truly great episodes leading up to the winter break, and I chose it for this list because I found it to be not only important story-wise, but also very atmospheric in its storytelling. I loved everything with Joanne Ostler and her underground music lair full of VR equipment, all of which lent a very X-Filesish atmosphere to the episode. But the best part of this episode, hands down, is Walter’s voluntary trip back to the loony bin to get information out of Dashell Kim. Walter risks his life and his mental health to help the cause, and you can see him die a little bit inside, radiating fear, when he enters the doors of St. Claire’s. John Noble’s best performance to date is this episode, showing that the odd root-beer loving mad scientist is all too human inside.

8. House 4.14/4.15: “House’s Head/Wilson’s Heart”

Not only were these episode’s cool from an aesthetic point of view, they were also a great two-part arc in which an amnesia-stricken House must try to figure out the missing person he was riding the bus with when it crashed. When that person turns out to be Amber, Wilson’s girlfriend, the new team races to save her, only to find that she had been taking too many painkillers and cold medications prior to the crash which weakened her to the point where she couldn’t be saved. For a minor character, Amber a.k.a. Cutthroat Bitch was a major force on house. Anne Dudek imbued this role with so much power that the loss of her from the House universe was devastating. I cried, and House is not a show that demands any emotional attention from me. (Damn your puppy dog face, Bobby Sean, for forcing tears out of me!)

9. 30 Rock 2.14: “Sandwich Day”

This episode set up Jack Donaghey’s downfall, establishing a great character arc of him in the coming episodes, as well as lots of Will Arnett. Also, nobody cheats Liz Lemon out of a teamster sandwich. Nobody.

10. Chuck 2.7: “Chuck vs. the Fat Lady”

Lots of fun puzzles, lots of fun bonding between Chuck and Jill and lots of disappointment at the episode’s end when we realize that Jill has been playing Chuck all along and that the poor dude will never get to be happy. Chuck’s such a likable guy, and it’s a shame that he will seemingly never be able to have a normal life again. Also, Casey can hit a high C. That’s just a good fact to know.

The Wife:

Continuing my day of posts spent writing about shows that are canceled and shouldn’t be, here it is, folks, the last episode of Lipstick Jungle for this year. Unlike the ABC shows, however, NBC promised us at the end of this episode that LJ would return “in the new year” with “new episodes,” which I can only assume to mean the final two episodes of the series. There’s been a lot of talk around the interwebs about whether or not LJ is technically canceled (it isn’t), but the show’s fate lies in how the final three episodes do (so sayeth the New York Post). Given that the final two episodes will air next year on unspecified dates and times, I don’t expect that the show will survive its turn at the sophomore show guillotine. But it should. We know it should. And we know that Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money and Pushing Daises (over on ABC) should all have been spared the blade. But before I begin my final defense of Lipstick Jungle, let me recap this episode:

Shane and Wendy continue to see their marriage in crisis, with Shane upset that Wendy wants to go back to work, feeling, perhaps, a never-expressed belief that one parent should be home to raise the children, as well as feeling like Wendy doesn’t care for his opinions or desires after she shot down his proposal to have another child based on her need to get back into the work force. Their rift grows further when Josie, Shane’s manager, baits him with the prospect of a job touring as a keyboardist for Natasha Bedingfield. The job would take Shane away from his family for four months, a prospect which Wendy finds preposterous, despite Maddie’s urgings that her father should take the job so she can meet Natasha Bedingfield.

Shane and Wendy have a very real fight about the subject, which their son Taylor overhears. Shane accuses Wendy of not respecting his needs and desires by asking him not to go on tour, when she would be perfectly allowed to pack up to go to a movie shoot the first chance she got. Wendy counters that her shoots would never take as much as four months and that she was only ever gone from her family for two weeks at a time. They further discuss their roles and responsibilities in the relationship, leading Shane to turn down the tour at Wendy’s urging.

Feeling this is a mistake for his career, Josie comes to talk to Wendy, trying to shed some light on what it’s like to date a touring musician. Josie tells Wendy that you just have to make the best of it. You spend a lot of time on the phone, and you relish the times when that person comes home. But Wendy refuses to hear Josie’s side of the story, shutting her down and telling her that while she may have Shane’s best interests as an artist at heart, Wendy has Shane’s total best interest at heart.

Witnessing his parents fighting causes Taylor to act out at school, starting a fight with his best friend whose parents are also divorcing. (You know, the kid whose dad tried to hit on Wendy.) At the parent-teacher conference, Wendy and Shane resume their fight again, which prompts Wendy to ask if the two of them can see a marriage counselor. Instead of taking Wendy’s offer to work on the relationship, Shane decides to take the Natasha Bedingfield tour behind her back.

Meanwhile, Victory continues to work on her Baron Brothers campaign. She and her friends all approve an ad where a woman is lying naked on a bed in Victory Ford linens, and Victory is excited by the choice, until she finds out that the Baron Brothers intended her to be featured in the ad. (Frankly, I thought that was pretty clear since the drawing of the girl in the picture looked exactly like Victory.) Another rattling part of her meeting with Baron Brothers was spotting Joe Bennett across the room. While her Baron Brothers rep heads off to take a phone call, Victory excuses herself to talk to Joe, but she finds she can’t say her peace there because Joe only wants to talk business with her.

Victory tells her friends about appearing nude in the Baron Brothers ad, and they both assure her that doing the ad herself is the best move for her career. Nico assures Victory that the nude ad links her image with the brand. It shows people that if they buy her sheets, they can be like Victory Ford because she uses them herself. (Why Nico isn’t in marketing, I don’t know. She’s clearly good at it.) Wendy and Nico call Victory out on her fear of nudity and convince her to do the ad, hoping it will help her get over her fear of being seen as vulnerable. Nico even recommends Kirby for the job, hoping that a photographer Victory knows will be more comfortable for her to work with.

Victory takes it all off and comes out of her shell.

Victory takes it all off and comes out of her shell.

After losing Charlie, Nico decides to freeze some of her eggs, just in case she should want a child in the future. Wendy helps her prepare her hormone treatments and assures her that she’s doing the right thing, even though the excess of hormones make Nico have hot flashes at inopportune times. Kirby drops by her office to thank her for the recommendation to shoot Victory’s Baron Brothers ads, and also to ask her permission to show them the nudes he took of her as part of his portfolio. Nico assures Kirby that she’s fine having people see those pictures, just as her alarm goes off to tell her to take more hormones. She tells Kirby that she’s decided to freeze some of her eggs, just in case. Kirby doesn’t know quite how to take the news, surprised that Nico is rushing into the idea of parenthood so quickly after having Charlie for only a few days. He tells her she’d be a great mom, after seeing how good she was with Charlie. Awkwardly, she reminds him that he was great with the baby, too.

After taking her next hormone shot, Nico passes out in her office and Griffin rushes to take care of her. He accompanies her to the hospital, and to her home, where he refuses to let her lift a finger, instructing her to lie down while he prepares some tea for her. Ever since their Halloween meeting with Hang Time, Nico and Griffin have been growing friendlier, and the show has certainly been humanizing him more. During their afternoon together at Nico’s house, Griffin tells her that he overheard her at the hospital talking about her fertility treatments. He is barely fazed by the news, telling her that he had friends who went through the treatments a couple of years ago and now have a darling baby girl. Griffin goes on to encourage Nico’s desire to have a child and orders dinner for her, during which they discuss their failed marriages, their commitment to their jobs and the eerily similar fact that their former spouses both left them to start families with other people. Realizing that they’re more similar than she thought, Nico starts to rethink her relationship with Griffin, wondering if perhaps the two of them have a chance to have something together, as they both understand what its like to love a job more than a family.

After freaking out a bit at the Baron Brothers shoot, Victory finally becomes comfortable in her own skin, ready to keep shooting even after Kirby announces that he’s gotten more than enough great material from her already. Newly confident, Victory heads over to Joe’s house to surprise him and say her peace about their breakup. She tells him that she finally understands why she thanked Rodrigo instead of Joe at the fashion show, feeling that if she had thanked Joe, she would have felt too exposed. She then thanks Joe for all that he’s done for her and, most importantly, she tells him that she would have said yes to his marriage proposal. Joe immediately takes her in his arms and they spend the night together, reemerging the next morning as that same happily confused couple we know them to be, only this time, with a Victory that’s got just a little more spunk and fire in her, a Victory that knows exactly what she wants. After telling her friends about spending the night with Joe, she announces to them that this time, she’s going to ask Joe to marry her.

Victory, finally living up to her name.

Victory, finally living up to her name.

I’m so happy to see Victory finally come out of her nervous, self-conscious, self-doubting shell. Those things were preventing me from liking her. She’s still got those qualities, of course, because those things make her human, but I’m proud of her for learning to put those things on the back burner when it really matters. Finally, she’s learned to take control of her life, and that’s totally commendable, especially because I think she’s finally become the right partner for Joe Bennett, the kind of girl who can stand up to him, who can put a ring on his finger and who can command his respect. Before she really found herself, it was too easy for Victory to lose her footing with Joe, too easy to be treated just as arm candy, but now, I see her as a much more formidable partner. All I can say is that I hope Joe Bennett says yes to her proposal and that this season/series finale features a quickly put together but fabulous Ford-Bennett wedding.

Now, as to why this show is actually great, I point you towards Shane and Wendy’s fight. I’m told that a lot of people (women specifically) don’t like this show because the ladies of Lipstick Jungle don’t talk like real people. Really? Because I’m pretty sure that Shane and Wendy’s fight was one of the most real things I’ve heard on television in a long time. It is absolutely like the kind of fight you have about balancing your work life and your home life, which is a really important balance to find when you’re married with children. And the best part about this argument is that both parties are right, but neither seems to be willing to find a compromise that will make them both happy. It’s dramatic, without being melodramatic, which is more than I can say for most relationship fights I see in movies and on television.

Shane deserves to value his career just as much as Wendy does, but Wendy also deserves to be able to continue the career she loves. I don’t know where Shane got the idea that Wendy would want to stay home for good, considering he married her knowing that she was a career-minded lady, but it seems like he’s decided that now that she’s given up the office, it makes up for the first fifteen years of their marriage where he stayed home, working freelance, while she was the breadwinner. That said, Wendy also deserves to have a partner in the relationship that can help them care for their children together, which Shane can’t quite do from the road. But then again, its only four months. Four months that he’d be gone in their fifteen years together. For all the two week stints that Wendy was gone, I think its safe to assume that, over the years, they’ve added up to more than four months.

Personally, I can see that being on tour for four months would be hard on their marriage at this time. They know they’re not doing well. And Shane should know that, with Wendy starting a new project, this is not the best time for him to leave her with full responsibility for the children. I don’t think it was ever said that he couldn’t take a touring gig in the future, simply that it isn’t a great idea right now. Especially since their son thinks they’re getting a divorce. But at the same time, Maddie is fifteen and is certainly old enough to babysit her brother and see that he gets home safely from school. Should Shane head out on the road, surely someone could convince Maddie to help out more around the house for a little while, especially if she were rewarded for it with a private meet-and-greet with Natasha Bedingfield.

I like that fight because it’s very real, very nuanced and very delicately crafted. It’s more real than anything I’ve ever seen on Sex & the City, which, compared to this show, is extremely melodramatic. I also find Nico, Wendy and Victory to be better role models. Know why? Because we actually see them working. Sure, we saw Carrie write, but I think we all know she’s a not a great writer who probably shouldn’t have even had that column in the first place. We’ve never seen Miranda lobby for anything or talk about her cases. Once Charlotte gave up the gallery, there was no need for her to work anymore because she achieved her WASPy dream of finding a rich man that she could have a perfect home with. And then there’s Samantha, who did PR, but never seemed to have any clients other than Smith Jarrod, whom she was also fucking. Their world on SATC was fun, certainly, but unrealistic and unattainable. The ladies on LJ make much more sense for a world in which women do have to balance their work lives and their home lives. These ladies have worked hard to get where they’re at, and they deserve to be recognized in their fields. The truth is, everyone has a job and your job impacts your social life. And yes, the ladies of LJ lunch together as often as the ladies of SATC do, but you know that these girls are returning to the office when they finish their lunch.

I also find their problems to be all that much more real than those of SATC. Granted, SATC is a comedy and the situations are usually quite exaggerated, but SATC had its dramas, too. I was crushed when Joe left Victory on the roadside in “Sisterhood of the Traveling Prada.” I was never that crushed from anything on SATC. This show takes the time to fully craft the relationships between its characters, and they explore real issues that people face in relationships when they strive to balance their work lives and their personal lives. SATC never gave us a working life for the girls to contend with. And because their problems with their relationships were seated in their own neuroses, I cared less. (Except about Miranda and Steve. I love Steve and I still believe that he would have never cheated on Miranda, no matter how little sex she had with him. He would just watch porn and masturbate, like everyone else does.)

Lipstick Jungle is one of the only shows on television with female leads, and it’s good. It’s really good. Wendy, Nico and Victory think and act like real women do. Their problems are real. And they deal with those problems the way actual women would. I relate to these women, and it’s so refreshing to have something so relatable on television. But I guess not enough television viewers know actual women who act like this, who think through situations rationally before responding with histrionics, women who got somewhere by using their brains and pride themselves on that fact. Or not enough viewers actually want to see women-driven programming that’s smart, stylish and actually good. And that’s really sad. Really, really sad. I thought we were at an age where women like Wendy, Nico and Victory would have as much power on the television as they do in their Manhattan, but I guess I was wrong.

I’ll be sad to see this show go. Truly. It’s much smarter than SATC ever was, and much more honest. And I’d rather see that than see Carrie overspend on shoes anyday.

The Husband:

I’ve always been very curious about shows that, according to the Nielsen Ratings, nearly nobody watches, and yet they live year-after-year-after-year. Smallville is one of these, and despite my fluctuating appreciation for the show (I used to love it, now it’s just kind of a habit), I recognize that much of its survival (it’s in its eighth season now) is based off of Warner Brothers wanting to protect its property, as well attain as a guaranteed couple hundred episodes prime for syndication. (Those DVD sales aren’t too shabby, either.) One whose continued existence I really don’t understand, though, is Everybody Hates Chris.

Now, let’s not get off on the wrong foot. I think EHC is a great family sitcom, funny and surreal without being too wild, sweet but not without a sense of bitter life experience, subversive and yet written for the whole family. And I think Rochelle (Tichina Arnold) and Julius (former pro football player Terry Crews) may just be the best parents on television, despite all their shortcomings.

But nobody watches EHC, and it has shifted around at least four times in four seasons, first on UPN and now on the confusing grid that is the CW. Maybe the company just wants to hold onto narrator/producer/inspiration Chris Rock as long as they can, and maybe it’s one of the highest scoring African-American shows out there (a ratings list to which I have no access), but whichever way you swing it, the show is not a ratings success.

Truly, everyone does hate me.

Truly, everyone does hate me.

This season, the show is finally starting to show its seams. Now that Chris (Tyler James Williams) has graduated middle school, he has been thrust only mildly into high school. So far, the writers haven’t really known what to do with the new setting other than make him the manager of the football team, which in itself hasn’t really paid off in any big way, either. Best friend Greg (Vincent Martella, a.k.a. Phineas on Phineas & Ferb) has pretty much been shafted as far as any kind of story is concerned, and so have most of his classmates (save for that one episode where Chris becomes friends with a very effeminate man named Angel). Even Caruso the bully and Ms. Morello the unintentionally racist teacher-turned-principal have barely had any screen time.

This leaves us with the family itself to be the main catalyst for everything, and while Rochlle and Julius have had some great focus in several of the episodes here in s4, especially when they begin to butt heads over gambling for opposite New York football teams, or when Julius begins working for Mr. Omar and his happiness begins to rub Rochelle in the wrong way. But younger brother Drew (Tequan Richmond) and younger sister Tanya (Imani Hakim) have become almost completely irrelevant, either because the actors have other things to do, or that their defining features (his ability to draw in any woman into his orbit, her brattiness) have simply worn out their welcome.

There’s really nothing wrong, per se, with the season, but some of the episodes have seemed to just exist instead of breathing life into the dying form of the sitcom, which is something I felt the show always excelled at. One middling episode was taken apart piece-by-piece in Entertainment Weekly (that one being “Everybody Hates Big Bird,” in which Chris cruelly ignores a pretty cute girl at school because others make fun of her), but I save my disappointment for the very unfunny “Everybody Hates Doc’s,” where Chris goes into a battle of wits with his employer’s needy girlfriend.

There has been one absolute gem of an episode, though, called “Everybody Hates Homecoming,” when Chris finds a very worthy date for the titular dance, but first has to meet her parents. In a combination of homage and mockery, her family turns out to be the Huxtables, with Orlando Jones as Bill Cosby, complete with accent and sweater, spewing lame quips and puns in front of a live television audience. (If you haven’t seen the show yet, EHC is a one-camera non-laugh track show, so the change is especially jarring.) While looking back on a seminal 1980s African-American sitcom with reverence, it nonetheless showed that times have changed and that the rose-colored-glasses world of the Huxtables simply doesn’t fit in the new millennium.

I hope for the best with EHC, because it can continue to be this little cult hit that could someday be seen as a small classic. I just wish that they’d return to the more original tone of the first two seasons and stop relying so much on sitcom clichés. I know you’re better than that, Chris Rock, and that you care enough about the show based on your own life to do something about it.

The Wife:

We finally got around to watching this episode this weekend, after a good chunk of last week’s TV time was taken up by either Bruce Campbell or assorted holiday parties, and I have to agree with all the buzz I’d been hearing about this episode. It was amazing. It fully utilized all of our main characters (finally giving the fabulous Ellen Greene a chance to shine on this show), added a team of foils for our detectives, complete with a seemingly double-crossing Olive Snook and, in addition to fully illuminating some of the somewhat muddled Dwight Dixon plot points, also handed us a heavy dose of the show’s mytharc. I don’t think this episode will be appearing on my Ten Best TV Episodes of the Season list (coming soon!), but that’s only because I’ve already chosen a better Daisies episode, and I’d rather not submit two episodes from a series to the list.

Olive, after having been inducted as a potential business partner for Emerson at the end of the last episode, is fed up with the Pie Holers keeping secrets from her. They debate telling her everything, not wanting to push Itty Bitty away, but ultimately decide that their secrets might be best for her not to know. Meanwhile, Emerson Cod is presented with a very heavy case when Vivian comes to his office, asking him to look into the disappearance of one Dwight Dixon, complete with a hand-drawn charcoal portrait of the man rivaling Leo DiCaprio’s of Kate Winslet in Titanic. (Has Stephen Root ever looked so serene as in that drawing? Well, maybe when he’s creepily enraptured with Lafayette drawing his blood over on True Blood.) Not wanting to do research on a case he very well knew the answer to, but also not wanting to break Vivian’s heart or implicate himself in Dixon’s murder, Emerson tries to get Vivian to drop the case by telling her that Dwight, like all men, is a dog. If he stopped calling, it’s because he found another woman to romance.

“He’s not missing. He’s just barking up somebody else’s tree.” – Emerson Cod

Emerson tells the Pie Holers that he successfully diffuses Vivian’s search for Dwight, admitting that he does feel terrible for Vivian, the party unwittingly harmed by this whole Dwight business.

Chuck: Poor Vivian. She’s carry a torch for a flame I extinguished.

Ned: With my finger.

But no sooner have the Pie Holers begun to feel badly for Vivian and who should enter the establishment but a team of Norwegian detectives who look suspiciously like their Pie Hole counterparts. Orlando Jones plays the Norwegian equivalent of Emerson Cod, complete with hat, suit and loud shirt, while Hedda, Chuck’s Norwegian equivalent, shows up in a red wool coat and matching fabulous hat and the Norwegian Ned is pared down to a dark suit and a tie. These Norwegians, while they may look like the Pie Holers, are actually bitter rivals with Emerson Cod, whose PI business seems to somehow always trump their superior technical skills in forensics, aided by their traveling RV, whom they’ve dubbed Mother. It irks the Norwegians to no end that Emerson is more successful than they are when they consider him an inferior detective. The Norwegians infer that if Emerson snubbed Vivian’s case, which has now fallen into their laps, that Emerson and crew must somehow be involved. This rattles everyone at the Pie Hole, with Ned ultimately kicking the Norwegians out.

Ve vill not be denied pies!

Ve vill not be denied pies!

“No clues, no dirt, no service.” – Ned

Seeing how her friends react to the presence of the Norwegians (especially Chuck hiding in the kitchen because if they saw her the Norwegians would know that she “faked her own death”), Olive wants in on the action. Emerson decides that she can be useful to the operation, especially if she heads over to try and talk her good friend Vivian into dropping the case.

“I don’t need protection. That’s what I have several long-standing restraining orders for.” – Olive

Olive only agrees to talk to Vivian if she can have full-fledged membership into the detective clique in return, no more secrets. When talking to Vivian, Olive notices the intense pressure Lily is placing on her sister to drop the case, admitting further that there are things about Dwight that she simply can’t tell Vivian. Olive realizes that Vivian is the only person more on the outside of the truth than she is and so she convinces Vivian to continue to case. Spurred into action, the Norwegians find Lily’s note to Dwight in his hotel room and Vivian, for once, decides to take action and confront her sister with it. Lily tells her sister all about what happened: how she found out that Dwight had stolen Charles Charles’ watch from Chuck’s grave and that she, in turn, stole Charles’ watch and Dwight’s watch and asked Dwight to meet her in the graveyard so that she could put Charles’ watch back where it belonged. But Dwight never showed. Vivian is crushed by this news. She starts to realize that maybe everyone around her was right in their claims that Dwight was a bad man.

Meanwhile. Chuck and Ned go looking for Charles Charles. Chuck hopes to find him through a series of big brass buttons that she’s seen around town, displayed prominently in places, she believes, her father would have wanted her to see them, like he was leaving a breadcrumb trail of buttons. During their search, they come across the Norwegians’ roving investigative van and uncover something they hoped they never see: Olive, donning the Norwegian colors, turning turncoat. He also overhears that the Norwegians have an exhumation order for the bodies of Charles and Charlotte Charles. Ned reports this news to Emerson, who realizes that Olive can out them, even with her limited knowledge of the situation. She knows Emerson’s investigative methods. She knows Chuck faked her death. And she knows about Dwight’s relationship with both of the aunts. Furthermore, the whole team knows that when they go to the graves, the Norwegians will find only one body.

Seeing the potential for disaster, Emerson agrees to take the fall, but Ned convinces him to tell the Norwegians everything, as a diversion for Ned to steal Mother, the very thing which would render the Norwegians completely unthreatening and unable to discover the truth. Olive nearly foils Ned’s plan by popping up in the van, but then she tells him that she would never turn traitor at all and that she simply took it into her hands to go deep deep undercover in order to prove herself to the gang. So she hands him the keys and helps him drive away with Mother. In exchange for her help, Olive asks Ned to answer some of her questions. He refuses outright, but agrees to answer yes or no, so that Olive comes to the conclusions on her own. Eventually, Mother crashes in a ravine, but Olive and Ned escape, clinging to a limb for dear life. As they are about to die, Ned admits that he once had feelings for Olive, which renews Itty Bitty’s hope that her pining hasn’t been in vain. They two are then pulled from the limb by a mysterious masked man.

Emerson calls in Vivian to clear the air, apologizing for turning her off the case so cruelly. He tells her that he was only trying to protect her, and that the Norwegians weren’t going to spare her feelings. Fundamentally, Emerson believes that detective work is not about the facts, but about the people involved. The Norwegians, on the other hand, don’t give a damn about the people as long as the empirical evidence adds up. Vivian agrees, owing this preference to their Viking ancestry in what I thought was the funniest line of the night:

“It would be difficult to rape and pillage with the subtlety of a humanist.” – Vivian Charles

Emerson tells Vivian that both Chuck and Charles Charles’ graves were empty (the additional empty grave being a surprise to him and everyone else, as that means there’s one dead Dwight Dixon out in the world somewhere instead of in the ground where he’s supposed to be). This fact convinces her that everyone was right all along: that Dwight was a bad man, nothing more than a common grave robber who was using her heart to get to her dead ex-fiancé’s dead body, as well as that of her beloved niece, Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles.

After being saved by the mystery man, Ned tells Olive all about how Charles Charles, like his daughter, faked his own death. She then thinks that the mystery man who saved them must be Chuck’s dad. Meanwhile, the Norwegians are furious about their stolen van, feeling that their investigation is halted in its tracks now. Olive tells them that Swedes stole it, hoping to incense their inflated sense of nationalism, but then they get a hit on Dwight’s credit card.

Everyone races to Dwight’s hotel room, where they find him dead, slurpee in hand, surrounded by his various guns and grave robbing tools. As the Norwegians inspect the body, they discover only what their limited scientific equipment would discover: that Dwight Dixon was a thief and a dangerous man. He acted and died alone.

After this brush with near-exposure, Ned decides to quit dead people and dead things cold turkey (refusing even to use rotten fruit in his pies) and the masked man shows up in the Pie Hole, revealing himself to be not Chuck’s father, but Ned’s own! (Husband Note: George Hamilton alert!)

This episode marks the last we’ll see of Daisies this year, with the remaining three episodes to be burned off on ABC sometime next year, probably all three at once on a Sunday night when the network can’t think of anything else to put there. If ABC doesn’t find a chunk of time to air those episodes, we will have to accept this as our finale (until the DVD release, that is). In which case, I’d like to look at this, briefly, as though it were a finale. If it were, how satisfying would we find this episode as an end to a series?

It is satisfying in tying up the Dwight Dixon storyline and resolving the conflict between the aunts, although still leaving their secrets in tact. However, it sets us up for a Ned’s Dad arc that, if it were the finale, would never, ever be resolved. (Except maybe in that comic book we keep hearing so much about.) Were this the finale, it would be a pretty shoddy one, an episode that takes us out on a good, big mystery, and serves the characters well, but ultimately leaves the show’s larger themes untouched, as well as certain other story threads. Olive needs to find out more about these characters. Lily and Vivian need to be honest with each other. Chuck and Ned need to make a big decision about the nature of their relationship. (Can they sustain a life where she, like a vampire, doesn’t age because she’s already dead and made alive again, a life where they can never touch, where Ned grows old and eventually dies?) And they need to find Charles Charles.

So, please, ABC, make sure you air these episodes. Don’t leave the fans hanging, having to accept this as a plausible finale, which it isn’t. And when you do burn off these episodes, please do it respectfully. Give this show a tasteful funeral, like it deserves. It’s the least you can do for killing something so incredible. Look forward to hearing similar gripes from me about Eli Stone, if I ever get around to writing about it.

Clothing I Loved from This Episode: The All About Hats Edition

  1. Hedda’s red hat with the black beaded filigree at the front? I would want that if I only had an occasion to wear it, and a matching red coat.
  2. Same goes for Chuck’s adorable fuchsia hat and coat get-up. It’s cold. I want hats and coats.

The Husband:

To alleviate any worry, the remaining three episodes are going to be aired, and there is no word that they’re shifting them to anywhere other than the Wednesday at 8 p.m. spot. It’s not like competing NBC has anything worthy to put over there (since Knight Rider is bombing hard). ABC has not said anything about any changes, only that these are the final episodes. I’m not sure where my wife got this information.

Again, the final three episodes will air and will, until somebody official says otherwise, air in a normal way at a normal time.

The Wife:

As my husband already mentioned, we gave up some TV time last night to go support Bruce Campbell, the greatest actor of his generation, and his new film, My Name is Bruce. Let me tell you, in the words of my good friend Sarah, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Bruce Campbell being interviewed by a zombie drag queen. This is the truth, in the name of Peaches Christ. Amen. We did make it home in time to squeeze in a super-sized holiday-themed episode of Top Chef, but I have to say that this episode was a giant culinary letdown compared to my evening up until this point. I understand that these chefs get tired, cooking so intensely for shifts longer than their restaurant shifts for a straight month or so of filming. I do understand that it is very difficult to compete in a profession-based reality competition program. It’s less stressful, say, to try to win the love of one Brett Michaels when all you have to do is drink booze and get in slutty cat fights for a month. That’s so much easier than making a runway-ready dress in 48 hours or catering an entire holiday party in 24 hours. But, really, Top Cheftestants? Really? You all dropped the ball in these challenges, and I will discuss why as we go along with this recap.

Now that we have slightly fewer cheftestants, the editors decided that this would be a good episode to waste 5 minutes on a pre-challenge “getting to know you” segment. Here’s some stuff I learned about the contestants:

  • Eugene has no formal training and has worked his way up from a dishwasher. I really respect this, and I know Tony Bourdain would, too.
  • Stefan and Fabio are the most adorable European Dynamic Duo I’ve ever seen, and my family has had a lot of adorable exchange students over the years.
  • Sadly, Hosea’s father has cancer. It must be really tough to be away from your dad at the holidays . . . you know . . . those holidays in July . . . when you were filming this episode.
  • Someone at Bravo has a deal with T-Mobile. That shot of Hosea’s T-Mobile Sidekick LX was actually longer than the blatant Sidekick shot on 90210, but here its okay, because its reality TV, where shows have copious obvious sponsorship and product tie-ins from Calphalon and the Glad family of products. Still, it’s just a little sad to have your personal family tragedy exploited to sell a phone, no?

For the Quickfire Challenge, guest judge/scariest person on the face of the earth Martha Stewart asked the cheftestants to prepare a one-pot wonder meal for the holidays. Ariane was thrilled to see Martha because she just loves her and loves that she’s from Jersey. Uh, Ariane? Martha may be from Jersey, but she certainly doesn’t rep that like it’s a good thing. That robot lady reps it like she’s from Connecticut. Don’t be proud that she’s from Jersey. She’s certainly not. That is the difference between the two of you.

Padma, did she really say that Im from New Jersey? You must have her killed.

Padma, did she really say that I'm from New Jersey? You must have her killed.

Possibly missing out entirely on the word “holiday” that Martha and Padma for some reason included in this challenge, the chefs created the following close-to-one-pot wonders:

  • Jamie: sea scallops with a kale and potato stew
  • Hosea: paella with chorizo, shrimp and some other meat
  • Jeff: a potato risotto that I found extremely intriguing
  • Ariane: filet mignon with cauliflower puree, which she makes for her kids a lot to trick them into eating vegetables, thinking they’re eating mashed potatoes (Uh, Ariane? Potatoes are a vegetable.)
  • Fabio: mushroom polenta with duck breast
  • Eugene: Korean chili pepper pork stew
  • Stefan: a Celtic goulash with veal, potatoes and chanterelles
  • Melissa: pork tenderloin with oranges, apples and fennel
  • Carla: brined turkey with apple-cherry stuffing

I got a little distracted during this challenge, especially because I realized that the editors just decided NOT TO SHOW SERVICE FOR LEAH AND RADHIKA! What the hell did these women make? I have no idea. Did I blink and miss the presentation of their dishes? I don’t know. But, frankly, you’d think they’d be able to show two more dishes in a freaking super-sized episode. Also, Martha wouldn’t stop yammering about how she hates cornstarch as a thickening agent (personally, Eugene, I would have gone with a roux instead) and how every year she goes diving for sea scallops up in Maine. So I blame her for the time missing from this episode. I blame the chefs, however, for stretching the “one-pot” concept a little further than most home cooks would make in one pot.

Martha decided that her least favorite dishes of the challenge were Jeff’s potato risotto, Eugene’s pork stew and Fabio’s polenta. She found Jeff’s potato risotto to be too heavy, not light, like she thinks risotti are. Granted, a potato risotto, created using a technique that must be similar to making spaetzle, would be heavier than one made from rice, but I really don’t think Martha knows anything about Italian cooking. You can make a risotto as heavy or as light as you want it to be. It all depends on the ingredients you put in. In the summer, I make light risotti with tomatoes and eggplants. In the winter, when most people eat risotto, I make them with mushrooms, barley, squash – you know, heavy wintery things. I’m sure Jeff’s dish did end up being too heavy, but Martha is totally wrong in her assumption that risotti are inherently light in nature. As for Eugene’s dish, Martha hated the cornstarch thickener. And then for Fabio’s, she seemed to think that the polenta dish he presented didn’t look like polenta at all. She has displeased with the way in which he cooked the small diced mushrooms into the polenta, stating that she would have preferred to see large mushroom chunks. And here’s where I became decidedly certain that Martha knows nothing about Italian cooking. We do not make a risotto with chunks of anything. Risotto is supposed to be creamy and smooth, so if you put anything in it, it has to be pureed. If you want to see chunks, you serve the chunky items atop the polenta. Certainly, that would have made for a nicer-looking presentation of Fabio’s dish, to serve the mushrooms cooked up with the duck breast atop the polenta, but that’s, again, not what Martha was asking him to do. She essentially wanted him to make a polenta that wouldn’t actually exist. I really have to side with Fabio on this one:

“Martha, my grandmother would be so ashame of you.”

So would my grandmother, bro. And she’s not even a paisan.

As for Martha’s favorites, she liked Hosea’s paella, Jamie’s scallops and Ariane’s fucking meat and faux-tatoes. In an event that actually made me guffaw at my television, Jersey Girl Martha chose Jersey Girl Dr. Lisa Cuddy as the winner of the challenge, handing her immunity and a copy of her brand new book. And here’s where I go: WHAAAAAAAT? Why, why, why, why, why would you pick Ariane’s fucking meat and faux-tatoes over an excellently prepared paella or Jamie’s scallop stew? Is it because it’s as fucking banal as the stuff the home cooks who worship you make, Martha? Is that it? Because people really need to stop rewarding Dr. Lisa Cuddy for simply cooking meat correctly. That is not even remotely reward-worthy. Fucking anyone can cook meat correctly and throw it on some pureed vegetables that are pretending to be other vegetables. Fuck you, Martha Stewart. Seriously, fuck you. You have just absolutely cemented that I will never, ever watch your show or buy your products.

This, Martha? You chose THIS?

This, Martha? You chose THIS?

Over THIS?

Over THIS?



Just you wait, kids. That’s not even half of my rage about this episode.

For the Elimination Challenge, Padma asked the contestants to cater a “holiday” charity benefit dinner for AmFAR, the American Foundation for AIDS Research, with its Chairwoman, actress Natasha “Sally Bowles” Richardson, acting as guest judge. In order to ensure that the cheftestants got the message about creating a dish based on one of the 12 days of Christmas, she called in the Harlem Gospel Choir to sing out the numbers assigned to the chefs by the almighty knife block. Then, for good measure, Bravo threw in one of those little “Don’t DVR Through Me!” segments in which all of the chefs sang their lines from the song. Note to chefs: please don’t sing anymore. Just cook.

I so did not sign on to watch Top Clash of the Choirs, Bravo. Stop with the singing.

I so did not sign on to watch Top Clash of the Choirs, Bravo. Stop with the singing.

And then the chefs headed off to Whole Foods, where I experienced some more rage watching them announce their dumb food choices.

Exhibit A: Jeff, assigned to 10 Lords A-Leaping, was dismayed that he couldn’t get any frog legs. Instead of thinking about other animals that leap (deer! bunnies! fish, even!), he went for cheese. Really, Jeff? I love cheese, I do. But there were so many other proteins you could have used! So many!

Exhibit B: Ariane, assigned to 6 Geese A-Laying, immediately thought, “Oooh, goody! I’ll continue to not be able to elevate my cuisine above the repertoire of a 1950s housewife! I can make deviled eggs! Lots of ’em!” Really, Ariane? Fuck you, okay? Just. Go. Fuck. Yourself. Couldn’t you have done a creative plating of roast goose bits, topped, perhaps, with a quail egg or something of the like? Something literal but not so . . . retarded.

Exhibit C: Radhika, assigned to A Partirdge in a Pear Tree, decided to go for duck as her protein, knowing she can’t get partridge. Know what you could have gotten, though? Squab. Quail. Cornish Game Hen. Any bird small enough to approximate the size of a partridge. I’m actually less angry with her than Ariane, of course. A larger bird was actually a smarter choice, knowing how much more meat you get for your money. It just seemed like she didn’t really think through all of her options.

But then, after a whole day of prep, the cheftestants returned to find that someone had left one of the refrigerators open, rendering all of the proteins inside it unusable, lest someone fall into a situation where Gordon Ramsay would have had to yell:

“It’s raw! You could have killed somebody!”

(By the way, it makes me really happy whenever I can yell that.)

Hosea lost all of the pork he had butchered, and Radhika lost her duck breast. In the spirit of the holidays and togetherness and, oh, functioning like an actual kitchen staff would, the unaffected cheftestants banded together to help Radhika use the parts of the duck she could use (legs, wings) and found of extra product for Hosea to use in his dish. This helpful holiday togetherness may have scarified some cooking time on their own dishes, but, rather than see a teammate fail completely, they’d rather all serve at 90% capacity than lose someone on the line. Props to you all, cheftestants, for not being like the assholes on Hell’s Kitchen, who totally would have just let Hosea and Radhika bite the dust. That, my friends, is how a real kitchen works.

At the AmFAR benefit, another guest judge, cookbook author Michelle Bernstein joined the crew in Gail’s stead. Natasha Richardson asked the attendees to place their AIDS ribbon on the signboard of the dish they liked most, and a winner would be chosen at Judges’ Table from among the highest ribbon collectors.

Hoseas fans started pinning ribbons on him. Thats how awesome he is.

Hosea's fans started pinning ribbons on him. That's how awesome he is.

The Elimination Challenge Dishes:

  • Stefan – 12 Drummers Drumming – a chicken pot pie, reflective of the first Christmas meal he had in America (how very Dickensian)
  • Hosea – 11 Pipers Piping – smoked pork with apple-brandy jus and potatoes
  • Jeff – 10 Lords A-Leaping – seared hallomi and kasseri cheese with a salad of nuts and beets (like island-hopping in Greece, which just reminded me on ProjRun Season 2’s Nick and his “Paris Hilton in Mykonos” dress that got him booted)
  • Fabio – 9 Ladies Dancing – a sweet corn crab cake, because crabs are the dancing ladies of the sea (and sometimes, ladies who dance professionally have crabs – hey-o!)
  • Melissa – 8 Maids A-Milking – gorgonzola and New York strip steak on a crostini
  • Jamie – 7 Swans A-Swimming – a crudo sea scallop in vichyscoisse
  • Ariane – 6 Geese A-Laying – deviled eggs, six ways (Urge. To Kill. Rising.)
  • Eugene – 5 Golden Rings – poisson cru with pineapple rings
  • Leah – 3 French Hens – braised guinea hen with butternut squash on a brioche
  • Carla – 2 Turtle Doves – braised chicken with mushrooms (almost as boring as Ariane’s)
  • Radhika – A Partridge in a Pear Tree – braised duck with pear chutney (You know something, Radhika? If you want us to stop thinking of you as “that chick who can only cook Indian,” lay off the fucking chutney.)

Based on the number of ribbons pinned to their boards by the end of the night, Radhika, Jeff, Hosea and Stefan were called to Judges’ Table the next day. The judges were especially impressed with the teamwork demonstrated by everyone in helping Radhika and Hosea get back on track. Michelle Bernstein and Natasha Richardson loved the salad in Jeff’s dish, but thought the cheeses were a little much. (To which I say, you ladies be nuts. Twice the cheese can never be a bad thing.) Based on ribbons alone, the Judges awarded the top prize to Hosea – a prize he had to share with everyone else when Michelle Bernstein decided to give a copy of her cookbook to everyone. You know, in the spirit of the holidays, which take place in July in Top Chef land.

Called in as the worst of the bunch were Melissa, Eugene and Jamie. Michelle Bernstein told Jamie that the scallops she got were lukewarm, thus making them gross, slimy and inedible. Equally gross, slimy and inedible was Eugene’s poisson cru, which was also far too sweet for everyone’s palates. And then there was Melissa, who suffered from too much cheese and too much dry crusty bread, rendering the strip steak virtually absent from her dish. Again, in the spirit of those holidays that occur in July, a thoroughly disappointed Tom Colicchio decided to spare everyone from elimination this week. Instead, he went into the stew room with these choice gems:

  • “The food was just universally disappointing.”
  • “Are you happy with anything you did tonight? I can’t imagine you are.”
  • “You don’t win with a deviled egg.”

Indeed, Tom. You don’t win with a deviled egg, and that’s why I’m mad that you didn’t send anyone home. Eugene or Melissa need to go. Soon. So does Dr. Lisa Cuddy. I appreciate Eugene’s spunk, but he clearly needs a few more years on the line before he’s ready for super top-notch fine dining. Melissa . . . her I just can’t stand to look at. And I think we all know how I feel about Ariane at this point. Enjoy your free pass, you guys. I expect more from you next time.

Fucking really? REALLY?

Fucking really? REALLY?

The Husband:

There are now officially more episodes in season two of Private Practice than what made up the entirety of the first season, so I say congratulations to Shonda Rhimes’ spin-off for lasting this long and doing a fair amount of soul-searching in order to achieve this pivotal number. Not everything is working perfectly this season (I’m so not behind the Addison-S.W.A.T. Guy romance, but hopefully that’s done after this episode) and some characters are still absolute ciphers (the only real noteworthy thing about Violet is that she has had two abortions and was once viciously raped in college, which doesn’t really affect anybody else), but I just wanted to give props where props were due.

Why? Because while I watched this episode I drifted in and out of sleep, having been out late with my wife to see Bruce Campbell present his most recent film My Name Is Bruce in the city and then coming home to watch the extra long Top Chef episode last night, and so the plots kept on dropping out of my mind only to confuse me upon me waking up every couple minutes during the second half of the show. So I feel like I must apologize to Shonda for doing so, hence the given props.

So how did this episode fare for someone that without question needs more sleep? Well, all the stories still worked, although I may have to read a recap for Naomi’s story about her consultation with the hotshot doctor on the fourth floor, because it was during those scenes that I intentionally closed my eyes and chose instead to merely listen. (This, readers, is a bad choice when one is tired.) Also, I believe that Addison and the S.W.A.T. Guy are breaking up because he was pissed that she sent her maid to clean up his apartment in the Valley, which he took as her lording her wealth and higher social/occupational standing over him. Whatever, douchebag. She did you a favor. Eat shit. Now she’s gonna bang that fourth floor doctor. And Jayne Brook found out about Violet and Pete banging, but I’m not really sure where that ended up.

Addison had an interesting story that wasn’t simply about her breaking rules about how far she can go as a doctor or limiting herself as a doctor because of an internal moral conflict, so that’s a plus. One of her patients, a very intelligent medical student, admits to Addison that she is paying her way through college by being a high-priced call girl, making, as one of my acquaintances would say, gobs of money by simply having fun with a lot of very nice, sweet guys. Addison is, of course, worried about the girl’s health, her having had sex with 11 different men in the last month, but the student says she’s fine, having made more money as a call girl than her parents would probably ever make (and, needless to say, more than a minimum wage job). The student doesn’t want to hear it, though, and instead wants Addison to give her attention to a few other call girls, who may have picked something up during a big honking call girl party time in Dubai (which my closed-captioning delightfully thinks is spelled “Dubayy”). Addison [presumably] treats them, but later gets a call that the student has just had her face and ribs beaten in by a John, which is cutting off her air supply. After Addison saves her from death, she tells her, during recovery, that she can no longer be her doctor. You see, Private Practice, you can have Addison stick by her morals without compromising the potential health of patients.

Is it just me, or does this outfit seem like, oh, not at all what a high-class call girl would wear to meet a client?

Is it just me, or does this outfit seem like, oh, not at all what a high-class call girl would wear to meet a client?

Cooper, once again, had the best story. I think Cooper’s are the most effective because Paul Adelstein plays the role with such conflicting emotions that his mixture of sweet and serious, kid-friendly and sexually deviant, that it makes the storylines a bit more multilayered. It also gives the weekly child actor just long enough to prove himself or herself as a great talent in the 10 or so minutes devoted to their character, and I personally like to see young acting growth. In this episode, Cooper deals with a diabetic young boy, Porter (Joey Luthman, who apparently was on this year’s season of Weeds, which I will be unable to watch until it comes out on DVD), and his father, and learns that they have been struggling to get by and have been living in their car for some time. Cooper understands that this is the reason that the boy’s infections haven’t been getting cleaned well enough, but he soon learns a further, more serious secret – upon inspecting Porter’s insulin pump’s serial numbers, he finds that the boy’s name is actually Evan, and that he has been reported as kidnapped. The father really is his father, we find out, and that Evan/Porter chose to run away from home as his mother’s boyfriend was abusive and the only person to believe him was his estranged father.

After I drifted in and out of sleep again, I saw that the Evan had fainted from complications due to diabetes and was rushed to Saint Ambrose, where Charlotte chewed Cooper out for not going directly to the police with the information about the kidnapper/kidnappee’s whereabouts. Choosing to continue following his heart, he tells Evan and his father about a way to escape from the hospital without being seen (the service elevator, as usual) and tells them some basic-level tips on how to take care of Porter’s problems. I don’t know if Cooper ever confronted Charlotte again, but I’d definitely like to see more of their fallout in upcoming episodes.

So yes, it seems Private Practice still works well when you freakin’ miss about 10 minutes of material. Go figure.

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