Checking in on Shows


The Husband:

It happens every year. Just like the film industry, ideas seem to come in packs of two or three. In 2004, Lost fever infected the networks, and three deep mystery science-fiction shows were unveiled for the 2005-2006 season. Two made it a full season before being unceremoniously canceled (Invasion and Surface) while one didn’t even make it to midseason (Threshold). The quality of these shows are unimportant, because they were created to either capitalize on a trend or a repair a hole missing from the schedule. This works in the film world, too. In 1998, we had both Armageddon and Deep Impact. In the same year, we had both A Bug’s Life and Antz. In 2005 we had both Capote and Infamous (one was pushed back to 2006, can you guess which?). And this is not a new concept in Hollywood. I can trace back to most years started with the studio system and can point out virtually identical films coming out within the same few months. But with television this year, two things happened:

1. CBS tried once again to give us their version of what they think draws people into Grey’s Anatomy, but on their own network. That show is called Three Rivers.

2. After a staggering 15-year run, ER finally came to a close last season, and NBC frantically tried to recreate its medical drama glory. But this time, they decided split the show in two to hedge their bets but take up too much room on a schedule already reeling from one man named Jay Leno.

If you don’t feel like listening to my half-assed television history lesson for the remainder of this article, let me just break it down for you. So far, NBC’s Mercy has aired three episodes, NBC’s Trauma has aired two, and CBS’s Three Rivers has aired one. And how do they rank in terms of quality? The exact order I just put them in, with Mercy almost head-and-shoulders above Trauma and Three Rivers, with only a single episode, drudging the bottom of the lake.

The title is probably ironic.

The title is probably ironic.

So about that splitting ER into two parts. It’s really not at all complicated. Mercy is the character drama, and Trauma is the action show. Put together, these elements apparently made some of the best ER episodes of all time, but on their own, it can be a struggle. So far, however, Mercy is a remarkably competent (big praise, I know) slice-of-life story about the unsung heroes of hospitals — the nurses. This year they have come back in a big way, and while I haven’t seen an episode of similarly themed Nurse Jackie and Hawthorne (two other nurse dramas, unseen because I don’t have Showtime and I avoid networks like TNT and USA like the plague), I can tell you that it’s a refreshing change of pace. Surgeons get all the glory, but nurses are the backbone of any hospital. Taylor Schilling leads the show as former army nurse Veronica Callahan, and she is in the top five best new characters on television this season. Tough and hard-edged but sympathetic, she seems like a real woman doing an unappreciated job, and her quiet energy is such a welcome respite from the outwardly emotional hysterics that populate Seattle Grace and Oceanside Wellness. She is a true find, and her personal life storylines (her troubled marriage, her drunk family, her affair with Men In Trees‘s James Tupper) help the very reality-skewing Jersey City-set show and are handled by the writers with what at least appears to be a great deal of honesty.

I haven’t been able to get a handle of many of the remaining characters, but Guillermo Diaz (he of Weeds and Half Baked) does well playing against type, and while the casting of Michelle Trachtenberg as rookie nurse Chloe Payne brings the wrong kind of tone to the character, casting a lesser known and more sullen actress would have made the character completely unimportant. My favorite element, oddly enough, seems to be the reversal of roles, as James LeGros’s doctor character, Dan Harris, is mostly seen on the outskirts of storylines, much how most nurses are treated on nearly every other hospital drama. (You know how Nurse Olivia was just let go from Seattle Grace at Grey’s Anatomy? It took me a good thirty minutes to remember that she was the one who gave George syphilis after getting it from Karev way back in the early seasons.) And, almost more than anything, I appreciate the fleeting comparisons the show finds between Jersey City and the warzone of Iraq. Both are lost places in their own way, and it’s haunting without being obvious. This is definitely staying on my Season Pass list, and I hope that its unfortunate placement Wednesday at 10 (it belongs later, but thanks to The Jay Leno Show, half of NBC’s schedule seems misplaced.)

HOLY SHIT THIS IS EXPENSIVE! AND ON FIRE!

HOLY SHIT THIS IS EXPENSIVE! AND ON FIRE!

Trauma, so far, is just a big, slick, expensive version of Emergency!, a spin-off of a spin-off (Dragnet to Adam-12 to…) which ran for several seasons back in the 1970s (six seasons plus a handful of TV movies). From the several episodes I’ve seen of that show (starring a young Kevin Tighe, a.k.a. Locke’s father on Lost), I really can’t see much of a difference between the two programs other than its location and its budget. I complained that I couldn’t get too much of a handle on Mercy‘s characters, but at least I can give you a general impression of their internal monologue. Not so on Trauma, which is as surface-level as one could get outside of a CW primetime soap. New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis is, so far, the only character with any personality (unfortunately, it’s a shitty one) and the rest get lost in the shuffle.

What Trauma has going for it, though, is a whole lot of money behind it, something that could cause it to be canceled very soon. Paired up with the fledgling Heroes, Trauma continues to represent how NBC is hemorrhaging money and viewers, and by not putting the show at a proper 10 p.m. spot, it’s getting crushed by the two CBS Chuck Lorre sitcoms. But oh man, does it ever get saved by its big action sequences. Nothing has been spared in the high-octane situations that structure the show, from the mostly unnecessary season opener that blew up part of a building to what can’t be cheap San Francisco location shooting. But with an HD DVR and a 52″ HD LCD Eco-Series Bravia television, I’ve never missed my old stomping grounds of the San Francisco Bay Area more. I’m staying to watch this show just from how much is shot there, how [mostly] accurate the set-ups are, and even its inclusion of mayor Gavin Newsome’s actress wife in the supporting cast. My wife can tell you more about the show’s focus on North Beach, where she worked for two years.

My issue, though, is seemingly contradictory. The action is what makes the show work, but it’s a chore sitting through a single episode. It’s fun to yell out “Trauma!” whenever something terrible happens, but in the second episode, we had four separate cases of trauma including the Embarcadero Street Fair getting pummeled by a car piloted by a man having a stroke. This is enough for three episodes on Grey’s Anatomy, but it’s almost a sidenote here. It’s too much action in a show that desperately needs it to survive. But goddamn, does it look expensive. And that expense kind of negates the verité style it’s going for, so I don’t know what to think anymore.

I would rather see Alex O'Laughlin do anything else.

I would rather see Alex O'Laughlin do anything else.

Three Rivers has only aired one episode, and this is after it was heavily recast (which happened to Alex O’Loughlin’s last show Moonlight as well) as it was decided to air the second episode first. No matter, because the show helped drop CBS to one of its lowest-rated Sunday nights ever, being paired up with Cold Case. (All the family viewers and young professionals pretty much abandon the channel after The Amazing Race is over.) It’s not long for this world, and for good reason. It thinks that we want to be preached to right off the gate, and so this drama about an organ transplant facility in Pittsburgh just doesn’t work. It’s unfair to judge it based on one episode (and one that isn’t the damned pilot), but when a show starts off talking down to us, it’s not a good feeling. ABC’s Grey’s started off as a much frothier show (I would even call it a dramedy) and only later fell into its soapy rhythms, but Three Rivers doesn’t seem to have time for that. A major problem: I understand its decision to include the story about where the organs are coming from in order to humanize the situation, but it’s mostly unnecessary and I hope they abandon it, because it makes the characters back at the facility complete ciphers, just going through the procedural motions. Even O’Loughlin, as famed surgeon Andy Yablonski, isn’t enough to draw me back for much longer, and I once again fear that Alfre Woodard is one of the most misused actresses of her generation. It’s not the worst new drama of the season, nor is it the most obnoxious (so far, that seems to be the tonally misshapen The Forgotten), but if it doesn’t pick up soon, it will be canceled before I even give up on it. (Remember CBS’s hospital drama 3 Lbs.? No? It was on less than five years ago. Still don’t remember it? Exactly. But I watched all three episodes.)

So give Mercy a chance, and I don’t think you’ll regret it. Its cases, while mostly unoriginal, are handled delicately, and the characters feel like actual people. The other two shows? If you’re not into high-definition cinematography of San Francisco or learning about the intricacies of putting new hearts into pregnant women, they probably won’t work for you, either.

The Wife:
I worry about Mercy‘s necessity. Fundamentally, I like the show. And I really didn’t think I would. When NBC was promoting Mercy, they almost entirely glossed over the fact that this show is a narrative about an Iraq war veteran struggling to reintegrate into civilian life, instead using its promo time to make it look like some slick, glossy glorification of nursing (which indeed deserves such glory) and the bonds of female friendship. Case in point: even if Veronica’s background as a soldier was included, what I remember from those promos is the shots of the girls at the bar together, drinking and smiling.

The hurt backpack.

The hurt backpack.

I do think Mercy, as a show about a female Iraq war veteran, an Army nurse not unlike my mother (who once made her non-military living as an OR nurse), is utterly necessary. It is important for us to experience narratives of soldiers returning from conflicts overseas and to understand what it’s like for them to try to carry on with all the horror they’ve experienced. And it’s especially critical that this is a narrative about a female soldier. For all the women who fight for this country, too many artistic renderings of soldiers focus on the men and their experiences. I even applaud the decision to focus this story around the life of an Army medic, a crucial military position I think many forget about. My mother never (thankfully) saw conflict. But when I hear Veronica talk about setting up field hospitals, I can’t help but think of my mother. She knows how to do that, and has done so many times in her life. I’ve seen what those hospitals look like, as we always went to the family day at the end of the Army Reserve’s two-week summer training exercises where her medical unit practiced setting up those hospitals. So this character is perhaps doubly unique to me. I know the women that she is drawn from, my mother and her friends, and that alone makes her utterly real to me.
But although I think Veronica is a starkly unique character and its important for us to have a narrative of a female Iraq war veteran, I do think that gets lost in the way NBC advertised Mercy and its inevitable pigeonhole as just another medical show. I don’t care so much about the cases Veronica deals with, but I care deeply about her inability to share her wartime experiences with her no-longer-estranged husband. Seeing her hold his head in her hands so that he cannot face her when she talks about losing her friend in the field was truly effective, and I hope those of you who watch Mercy continue to tune in for those stunning portraits of a soldier coming home to a world she no longer knows how to navigate.

As for Trauma, the best parts of the show are screaming “Trauma!” when something traumatic happens, and realizing that I probably walked through the set dozens of times when I worked in North Beach. In fact, there was a scene filmed on Green St. between Grant and Broadway in the second episode that I know I’d walked through during tear-down one day when my coworker and I were heading up to North Beach Pizza for lunch. (I was extra impressed that they got a shot of the new location of North Beach Pizza, which only opened in April or May . . . directly across the street from its former location.) This scene happened to feature a homeless drug addict trying to scam the EMTs into giving him morphine, and I frankly wouldn’t be surprised if the show stumbled upon some of North Beach’s actual colorful homeless people. I will keep watching simply to see restaurants I used to frequent and, hopefully, a glimpse of Knifey Knife (a homeless woman who once threatened my friend at the bakery across from my old office with a pumpkin carving knife) and Charlotte (a kindly homeless woman who enjoyed wigs and often sat outside my office, complimenting me on my shoes). Hell, if one of my couriers, Junior, made it into B-roll on Anthony Bourdain’s San Francisco episode of No Reservations, he might even turn up in a long shot, riding his bike down Columbus.

There is really nothing good about Three Rivers.

The Husband:

While we, the children of Saint Clare, have found the time to write about many of the biggest shows on television (and even some small ones), there is only so much time and energy we can spend on this site. The truth is, we watch a whole lot more than what ends up on the site, and since I watch most of these on my own and yet never find the ability to write about them, their absence is mostly my fault. But no matter. For those that fall through the cracks, I have here a grab bag of the 30+ shows I watch in addition to whatever ends up on the site. These are the ones that slipped through the cracks. And hell, I’m sure there are more I’m forgetting (and also not even bothering writing about, which tend to fall under instructional/educational stuff like anything on Discovery), so if you think I’ve forgotten something, please let me know. (And no, I don’t watch any CSI or L&O shows, so don’t even try to get all up in my grill.) Here they are, the missing shows of the 2008-2009 television season, in alphabetical order.

24

I really should have written at least some criticism on this season, but work piled up and I simply didn’t have the time. It started off as the most intelligent season with some of the most compelling political questions being thrown around (welcome to the show finally, “debate on torture”), but by the fourth time Tony twisted his alliance and Jack was infected with the disease, I kind of stopped caring. Great first half of the season, though, and I think Renee is the best new character in a very long time.

Adult Swim (Xavier: Renegade Angel / Superjail! / Squidbillies / The Drinky Crow Show / Metalocalypse / Delocated / Robot Chicken / Etc.)

Thank you, young people of Adult Swim (who I have spent some time with, don’t forget) for freaking my mind week after week, and giving alternative comedy a major boost in America. And for freaking out my wife.

A beacon of normalcy in a world of wackiness.

A beacon of normalcy in a world of wackiness.

Better Off Ted

It took me a couple episodes to latch onto the tone, but once I did I simply couldn’t get enough from this latest product of the mad mind of Victor Fresco. Check out some episodes online, then watch Andy Richter Controls the Universe (his previous show), and I guarantee you some of the oddest network comedy in a very long time. I still think Portia DeRossi is trying to hard, though, and should take a page from the book of Fresco mainstay Jonathan Slavin.

Castle

Bring it on, Nathan Fillion. Hypnotize me with your nostrils and your addictive but borderline-stupid mystery writer-cum-detective series. (Although how weird was that Judy Reyes episode? What the hell, Carla Turk?)

The Celebrity Apprentice 2

So sue me, I liked Joan Rivers. And the addition of the phrase “Whore Pit Vipers” to the television lexicon.

Celebrity Rehab (Sober House) with Dr. Drew

So help me, I can’t stop watching. It’s just a disaster. I will say, though, that I like the drama in the rehab far more than the sober house, as the latter seems to exist simply to destroy any progress the celebrities made in rehab. And now having seen all three of his seasons of Taxi, Jeff Conaway’s fall from grace is fishbowl television at its finest.

Dating in the Dark

Really fun, actually. I hope it gets a second season. I also hope that more matches will be made, and that people stop being massive failures.

Dirty Sexy Money

Everything I needed to say about the failure of the second season of this show can be found on this blog, and it ended its truncated run by turning itself inside-out by revealing that the show’s central mystery, who killed Peter Krause’s father, was a bust since he wasn’t dead after all. What the hell, Dirty Sexy Money? Oh well, your cancellation made room in Krause’s schedule for the much anticipated (by me) adaptation of Parenthood coming to NBC mid-season.

The Goode Family

It took a few episodes to find its footing, but by the end of its sped-up summer run, I was a major fan of the latest Mike Judge effort. (R.I.P. King of the Hill.) Vastly misunderstood by viewers who only watched the first episode, it, just like KOTH, found a middle ground between conservative America and liberal America and found the ability to make fun of both without drawing blood, choosing to love instead of hate. Some of the voice cast was misused (why was my beloved Linda Cardellini in the cast?), but as a Berkeley native, I had a blast relishing in mocking the stereotypes of my own people while rediscovering what it is I love so much about them. The bull dykes were also two of the most original characters of the season.

One Earth isn't just a grocery store, it's a way of life.

One Earth isn't just a grocery store, it's a way of life.

The Great American Road Trip

Any show that has two contestants debating over which is more correct, “y’all” or “youse,” gets major points in my book. A nice and forgettable summer trifle after a long, way-too-hot day. Silly, yes, but I can’t say it was bad. And it was a definite improvement over the similar family-based season of The Amazing Race. (I’m sure The Soup is really grateful for this show, too.)

Heroes

Oh god, kill me now. Volume 4 was a marked improvement over #3, for sure, but I just don’t care about anybody anymore. And yet I feel that I need to keep watching. It’s too late to give up now. There was one great episode this season, though, and that was the flashback one surrounding Angela Petrelli’s stint at a mutant internment camp. Why can’t they all be this good?

Howie Do It

Yeah, I watched it. Shut the fuck up. About one-third of it was funny, and as I watched it on Hulu at work, it’s not like I wasted any of my own time. Howie Mandel is savvier than you think, but I wish he would return to his wilder roots.

How’s Your News

This Parker-Stone produced MTV show revolving around reporters who are developmentally delayed confused the hell out of me initially, but once I realized there wasn’t a mean bone in its body it became a warm bit of fun. I want a second season, dammit. These are some of the most joyful television subjects I’ve ever seen.

I Survived a Japanese Game Show

Better than the first season, but I’m still glad I only watch this online while doing something else.

In the Motherhood

Worst opening credit sequence of the year. Some pretty funny material hidden underneath unfunny slapstick. Horatio Sanz got thin. Megan Mullally couldn’t find a rhythm. I still think Cheryl Hines is oddly hot.

Lie to Me

I unfortunately didn’t start watching this until July, and I wish I hadn’t waited so long. While gimmicky to a fault and not nearly as intelligent as it pretends it is, this Tim Roth vehicle about an FBI specialist who studies the subtleties of the face (OF THE FACE) is clever, compelling and well drawn. I’m not sure about the addition of Mekhi Phifer’s character, but we’ll see how it works out next season, especially with Shield creator Shawn Ryan at the helm of season two.

Life

This cancellation reallllly hurts. One of the unsung gems from the 2007-2008 television, this, the smartest network cop show in recent memory, took its great season one energy and hit the second season with all it had and came up with a compelling, hilarious, devilishly clever and gleefully violent run that was only marred by a major cast shift during the final few episodes. (I’m looking at you, Gabrielle Union. Your presence was what I like to call a massive failure.) A Zen-obsessed cop recently released from prison after serving over a decade for a murder he did not commit, this show had the best cases of them all. It also gave me one of my favorite hours of television of the year in an episode that revolved around a seductive assassin, fertilizer and pigeon aficionados. And at least the major serialized storyline (who framed Damien Lewis and why) got paid off in a major way thanks to the ever-reliable Garret Dillahunt.

lifeshot

My Boys

Putting PJ and Bobby together was a great idea, but your nine-episode seasons are too short to gain any momentum, and the spring training season finale was a bust.

Nitro Circus

Moronic glee.

Numb3rs

Man, did they put Charlie through the ringer. First, he nearly gets his brother killed with a miscalculation on his part, he questions his own validity as a mathematician and then Amita gets kidnapped just as he decides that he wants to marry her. Otherwise, another fine, if somewhat uneventful, of this show that never captured the glory of its über-nerdy first season. Also, thanks for all the great guest star work, but sometimes it gets laid on a little too thick, such as in “Sneakerhead” which brought together Bruno Campos, Patrick Bauchau, Dr. Edison from Bones and Eve. (And points for making the Liz Warner character actually bearable. I fucking hated her in season 4.

Privileged

So apparently the CW thought that their best idea ever was to get rid of this show, the smartest show on the UPN/WB merger since the Buffyverse, one that was technically pulling in bigger numbers than 90210, one that was a delight to watch and deeply addictive, and make room for what is sure to be one of 2009-2010’s worst new offerings, Melrose Place. I gotta tell ya, this cancellation hurts. While I wrote recaps and reviews of the episodes way into its freshman (and only) season, the looming axe, as well as a more heavily serialized structure, turned me off from writing on the final stretch of episodes, and I told myself that I’d only recap them if the show came back. Lo and behold, another Joanna Garcia vehicle has gone down the tubes. I’ll miss you oh so dearly, Ms. Too-Smart-For-The-CW Palm Beach satirical melodrama known as Privileged.

I hate to say this, guys, but I think Robert Buckley might be a showkiller. And that's sad, because he's so damn pretty.

I hate to say this, guys, but I think Robert Buckley might be a showkiller. And that's sad, because he's so damn pretty.

Rescue Me

I thought it was a great season, and thanks to an extended number of episodes (it didn’t air in 2008 thanks to the writer’s strike), the show was able to focus much of its energy on pages-long dialogue-happy battle-of-wits in nearly episode, which to be is melodrama heaven. Gone is the maudlin tone, returned is all the comic energy, and the stories seem to actually progress instead of just flopping around like a dying fish. Leary and Tolan deserve major praise for bringing the show back up to snuff. And now having seen all of Newsradio, I love any chance I get to watch Maura Tierney, although I’m still not going to watch ER. (I am proud to have only seen three episodes of that show ever, being a Chicago Hope fan.) Special shot-out to the Sean cancer storyline, if only to allow Broadway actor Steven Pasquale (husband of Tony winner Laura Benanti) the opportunity to belt out some songs in a handful of hallucination scenes.

Samantha Who?

One of the biggest upsets of the last two years was the rise and fall of this light-hearted, occasionally gut-busting amnesia sitcom that started off the talk of the town, only to waste away its final episodes after the conclusion of the actual television season. Ending on a shitty cliffhanger (Sam’s parents are getting divorced, so Mom is going to live with you and your formerly-estranged-but-now-love-of-your-life lover), we nevertheless found out who caused the accident that brought about Sam’s amnesia, Jennifer Esposito finally made it with the towel boy, and Melissa McCarthy continued to be one of the brightest stars of the year.

Scrubs

Like Privileged, I hesitated to continue writing due to the threat of its cancellation, but now it’s continuing on into yet another season (albeit with some major changes), so I really have no reason to stop writing about it. But let’s just say that while the hurry-up to conclude its many disparate storylines often felt rushed (those two Bahama episodes felt especially odd), the conclusion to J.D.’s years-in-the-telling tale was a lovely way to conclude the season. (No props for the awful awful Peter Gabriel song that accompanied his final walk down the hallway, as laughably bad as it was when I heard it in the remake of Shall We Dance?)

The Shield

I don’t have to tell you how amazing the final season was. Watch it. Seriously. You owe it to yourself to experience one of the hardest hitting cop shows of all time. Like The Wire, a Greek tragedy hammered into modern-day policework with some of the most finely drawn characters around. And oh man, did those final three episodes pack a major punch. Ouch, indeed.

Southland

Quite a bit like The Shield, really, had it followed Michael Jace’s beat cop instead of the Strike Team. A little too dour at times for me to really give a crap, and the sprawling ensemble needs to be cut down (which is what I hear it’s doing for the second season), but this L.A.-centered procedural has a lot going for it, not least of which its pitch-perfect direction. (I especially dig the long shots, including my favorite, which involved a cabin and a K9 unit bringing down a perp.)

Way better than dating Marissa Cooper.

Way better than dating Marissa Cooper.

Surviving Suburbia

A sitcom in serious need of finding one tone and sticking with it, this sometimes-sweet-sometimes-brutally-cruel suburban comedy worked as well as it did because of Saget as well as G. Hannelius’ performance as the precocious daughter. Still, all the jokes about disabled people, pregnant teenagers and strip clubs really didn’t mesh together with the clichés of the genre.

Survivor: Tocantins

I love Survivor, but this was one of the most boring seasons in its ten-year run. I don’t think I gave a shit about one person, and I simply couldn’t find anything compelling to write about. A waste of a good location.

True Beauty

The right person won, the losers got (mostly) schooled in this trick show designed to expose the douchery involved in modeling, Ashton Kutcher made another heroin-like show, and I concern myself for months with how they can pull the trick off a second time in the next season.

The Unusuals

When grading a cop show, I tend to focus on three things — the tone, the characters and the cases. A bizarre, pessimistic yet comedic take on all those wacky cops we’ve seen throughout the years all thrown together (one is deathly afraid of…death, one has a brain tumor, one talks in the third person, one is a closeted socialite, etc.) pushed into some remarkably dark territory, The Unusuals had tone and characters down pat, but suffered at the hands of some DOA storylines. But oh man, did the tone ever make up for most of the show’s shortcomings. Great ensemble cast, too, although I would have recast Eddie Alvarez.

Rather unusual.

Rather unusual.

Worst Week

A breezy and often hilarious slapstick comedy based off of a British hit, it could never regain its momentum after moving away from the initial “week” of the title. Kyle Bornheimer is a true find and made the more unbearable misunderstandings and embarrassing moments of the show (of which there were many) all the more palatable. I’m not the biggest fan of comedy based around humiliations, but this show found a likeable ability to have its characters not completely despise each other at every moment. This was, to say the least, very refreshing. Big points for giving me the biggest network TV laugh of the year (when Bornheimer wakes up his brother-in-law only to be thought a murderer) but major negative points for pushing back a major character-based episode into a weekend spot months after the show had already ended its run.

The Wife:

And so another season of Criminal Minds draws to a close with a bomb . . . only this time, it was a C-bomb! What what! C. Thomas Howell up in your faces, bitches! But I’ll get to Tommy later when I discuss the two-part season finale. But first, I must discuss three other episodes:

4.22 “The Big Wheel”

Criminal Minds often does some of its best character work when it allows us to identify first with the episode’s villain, even sometimes to sympathize and root for him. Certainly, I-don’t-know-why-he-isn’t-a-fucking-star-yet Anton Yelchin got a great character episode in season three’s “Sex, Birth and Death” (see also the Official Documentary of Matthew Gray Gubler on The Gube’s website, in which Yelchin does a great job of sucking up to The Gube and pretending like he’s an acting god; it’s good stuff), and here CBS favorite and Moonlight star Alex O’Loughlin got a great role in an otherwise totally obvious and uninteresting episode. O’Loughlin played a loner cameraman/photographer/videographer with OCD who, after witnessing his father murder his mother and watching a tape of the act repeatedly, murders women resembling his mother each year on the anniversary of his death. Only one year, he murdered a woman who had a blind son and, besieged by guilt for robbing a boy like himself of a mother, he later befriended the boy and planned to atone for what he had done. O’Loughlin’s Vincent found his victim’s son after he was placed in a foster home through a kind of Big Brothers-Big Sisters program and promised the boy he would one day take him on a Ferris wheel, alluded to throughout the episode by the repetition of two concentric circles (either drawn on the boy’s palm or circled around the date of the boy’s birthday). I don’t really know what a blind kid gets out of a Ferris wheel (wind? the feeling of being high up?), but Vincent managed to spirit him out of his home to fulfill his promise of taking the boy to the Ferris wheel, only to poison himself at the top of the ride and slip away into death while the boy simpered at his side and held his lifeless hand.

Even when I think about Feed, he's still cute.

Even when I think about Feed, he's still cute.

I’ll admit that I’m one of many, many humans on this planet powerless to the unstoppable sexiness of Alex O’Loughlin, and he is definitely hot in thick black glasses (with or without a camera mounted to them). And even hotter in long johns!

4.23 “Roadkill”

I didn’t like Deathproof and I didn’t like this episode.

Although, fundamentally, the motivations for murder with one’s vehicle were proven different in this episode (misdirected guilt vs. vehicular rape), I still find something about vehicular manslaughter to be unsettling. Could it be the fact that it would have been really, really easy for any of the victims in this episode to simply run off the road? Or, in the case of the parking garage, not to run up the parking structure, but, perhaps, back into the building from whence you came, weaving between barriers of vehicles the whole way? I guess in the very least I can say that I’m pleased Reid validated my dislike of Tarantino’s Deathproof by actually talking about vehicular rape.

In a semi-related note, I’d like to mention that my husband has been watching All-American Girl a.k.a. the sitcom starring Margaret Cho that is so totally not based on her stand-up at all, and he showed me the “Pulp Sitcom” episode last night, featuring her then-boyfriend Quentin Tarantino as a videotape bootlegger. I am glad he gave up acting. Because he really sucks at it. The only thing he’s good at is showing up for a brief cameo in Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror to have his junk blown off, which is kind of an apology for positing that a rape-act should be retribution for a rape-act, if we read the vehicular rape theory into Deathproof. And kind of not.

4.24 “Amplification”

Rarely does CM do something I find frightening, but anthrax is pretty scary, yo. Especially whacked-out mutant strains of anthrax unleashed onto unsuspecting groups of people! Especially when my darling Spencer Reid accidentally exposes himself to some of that super-mutant anthrax and nearly fucking dies! Not okay! (I mean, as a viewer, I was pretty sure Reid would live as he is so crucial to the show and all, but, still – how heartless would I be if I didn’t tear up when he called Garcia to record a message to his schizophrenic mother to tell her, as he sputtered and coughed from the anthrax in his lungs, that he was proud to be her son?) In addition to the horror of this episode’s threat, I have to say that it was one of CM‘s better thematic episodes, as well. With Reid’s sacrifice, we’re asked to ponder a central conceit bandied about during this episode, “Is it better to sacrifice the few to save the lives of many?”

J.J. and Emily struggle with their own interpretations of the question. When Hotch forbids the team from calling their families to warn them about potential outbreaks, J.J. wonders what harm it could do to call home and tell her nanny not to take her infant son for his daily park stroll. Hotch tells her it would be unfair of them to use privileged information to save their families when they couldn’t give the same information to the public they serve. Similarly, when Prentiss and Rossi investigate the home of the unsub, a curious neighbor comes up to them and inquires if she should get her children indoors, after seeing some commotion at the house. Prentiss seems like she’s about to tell the woman about the anthrax, but instead informs her that the house is infested with toxic mold. They shouldn’t come near the house, but her children should be safe to play outdoors. It would be wonderful for both J.J. and Emily to share their information and save a life, but both would be at the greater cost of potentially letting that information spread uncontrolled, causing panic and endangering more than it would save.

Hotch comes up against his own interpretation of the phrase when he goes against an army general for control of the anthrax investigation. They debate principles of information dissemination, with the general taking the opposite line of the BAU (and also totally not getting profiling, like, at all), asserting that its not appropriate to sacrifice the lives of the few to save the lives of many . . . thus completely destroying the hopes of anyone who practices utilitarianism of working in government . . . even though that’s basically the point of government . . . but . . . whatever. Eventually, General Witworth comes around to working with the FBI, especially when Garcia is able to track down Nicols’ assistant, a grad student doing a case study on anthrax with whom Nicols, a former government researcher, was more than happy to share his work. It’s this man, Chad Brown, rejected for working at government labs numerous times, who planned to initiate a large-scale anthrax attack that would cripple military presence in D.C. With help from Garcia, Reid discovered most of this while trapped inside Nichols’ home laboratory, nearly dying from anthrax, but not before discovering the cure for the mutant strain lodged in a safe, unsuspecting place: Nichols’ inhaler. So when Hotch and Morgan intercept Brown as he’s about to attack the D.C. subway system, Witworth steps in and pretends he wants Brown to recreate the strain of anthrax for government use, giving him the recognition he desired and getting him to hand over his bag full of lightbulb anthrax bombs while Morgan handcuffs him.

And thanks to Reid finding the cure, he and three other victims of the park attack survive. And thanks to the rest of the BAU, D.C. goes on, unaware of the threat to the lives of its citizens. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Good stuff, Criminal Minds. Good stuff.

4.25 “To Hell and Back”

As its own fucked-up, two-hour horror movie, this would be pretty great. I totally love the idea of a quadriplegic Garret Dillahunt forcibly controlling his mentally challenged younger, pig-farming brother with guilt and convincing him to kill transients and extract their spinal fluid in the twisted hope that, one day, mentally-challenged pig-farmer brother will be able to follow research and restore Dillahunt’s motor functions. I totally love that. I totally loved that there were never any bodies after Lucas and Mason’s experiments because, just like when Dillahunt was on Deadwood (both times, in fact), they were fed to the pigs. I loved that Lucas collected the shoes of his victims, and I loved that his most recent abductee, a crack whore named Kelly, was so good at convincing him to follow her lead instead of his brother’s that I really think she could have a career as a suicide counselor or a hostage negotiator once she gets out of rehab and into community college.

And I have to admit, the unnecessary shootout at the end, in which the SWAT team rains bullets on Lucas because he wants to make sure his new friend is okay, while the man who brought this case to the BAU, Sgt. Hightower, enters into the farmhouse to straight-up assassinate the defenseless Garret Dillahunt? That was pretty brutal. The BAU never wants to end a mission in bloodshed, and sometimes, there are not neat quotes to sum up a day’s events – especially when that day’s events truly end with George Foyett sneaking up on Hotch in his apartment, and the episode ends with the sound of a gunshot and blackness.

I kind of don’t care about Hotch, and I do deeply love how fucked up George Foyett is – especially because it’s clear to me that C. Thomas Howell will be around for a mutli-episode arc at the beginning of next season. By attacking Hotch, Foyett has gone outside of his normal methodology, which means something here is seriously wrong, and I can’t wait to find out what it is. The threat of a C-bomb is way better than the threat of an actual bomb, and that coda, complete with Hotch’s excellently creepy voiceover about the summation of events through quotations tells me we’re in for a wonderful season opener next year, in which I think we might actually lose someone important to the show . . . unlike this season’s opener, in which the person who died was someone no one cared about.

The Wife:

The final four episodes of this season of House almost made up for Kutner’s random-ass suicide in their inventiveness. Almost. I thoroughly enjoyed the return of Amber as House’s ghostly hallucination and his three-episode quest to discern exactly what’s wrong with him, either way knowing that if he’s crazy, he can’t practice medicine, and if he’s experiencing side effects from his Vicodin addiction, he can’t practice medicine because once he’s clean he’ll be in too much pain. Anne Dudek was delightful has his subconscious manifestation throughout this arc, especially the moment in which she reappears after House thinks he has staved her off by OD’ing on insulin, singing old jazz standards over the microphone at his bar, echoing her first appearance beside his piano. But nothing, really, was more chilling than the final episode, when House realizes he’d hallucinated the entire night he spend kicking Vicodin with Cuddy, ending in the two of them sleeping together. Reliving all of the moments we saw of him flipping coins or examining a tube of lipstick are replayed with Vicodin bottles replacing those objects, suggesting a very powerful drug addiction that has completely taken over House’s life, was pretty brilliant. Frankly, I’d prefer more arcs like this, rather than so many one-off episodes. But what else are you going to do with a 24-episode season? So while everyone else attends Cameron and Chase’s wedding (they spent these past few episodes almost not getting married because a. Cameron kind of got cold feet b. House nearly killed Chase with a stripper covered in strawberry body butter . . . that apparently was made with actual strawberry extract and c. Chase was being a dick to Cameron about keeping her dead husband’s sperm on ice because he took it to mean that she thought they weren’t going to work out, rather than, you know, being the last thing she has to hold on to of her fucking husband), House checks himself in to a mental institution . . . which he will inevitably check himself out of at the beginning of next season because you can do that kind of thing with you are voluntarily committed.

I should have known this was too good to be true . . .

I should have known this was too good to be true . . .

As far as the patients were concerned, I’m often irritated by how precious the conceits are in which every patient is a metaphor for someone on the team, etc. So I totally get why the guy with split brain whose hand was not his hand was necessary for the metaphor of the finale, it was also perhaps added just a tad too much levity, despite how much Thirteen et all tried to tell me it was creepy. The only patient that really got to me out of this bunch was the ballerina who lost her skin. A lot of my research deals with holes in the surface of the body, mitigations of that surface or the abjecta beneath the surface, but I found her skinlessness to actually be quite frightening. Perhaps its because I’ve had skin cancer that I find the idea of losing that much skin so terrifying (which, for the record, makes no sense, because the removal of skin cancers just leaves some awesome scars), but its more likely the fact that, without the mitigation of the surface, the inside is all that much more frightening. We forget that our skin is the largest organ on our bodies, and so it is vital that we take care of it. Losing a little bit when you scrape your elbow or knee is fine, and hardly horrifying, but losing so much that we are exposed so wholly to the world is truly unsettling. And deadly. I shuddered for that poor girl. She’s just damn lucky that Princeton-Plainsboro has so many fresh cadavers from which to harvest grafts. I know the episode wanted us to sympathize more with the possibility that she, a dancer, would have to have her gangrenous hands and feet removed in order to live (Taub managed to revive the tissue, somehow), but the loss of her flesh was something I couldn’t get out of my head. And I doubt I will.

So, damn you, House, you actually got me. Good for you.

Considering how poorly I did at keeping up with House this year, I don’t think I’ll write about it next year. I’ll still be watching, though, storing up dozens of episodes on my DVR to marathon whenever I get a break from my book learnin’.

The Husband:

And so the month of season finales involving hallucinations continue, and between this, Bones, and Grey’s Anatomy, I wonder what else have I not come across? I know how the US version of Life on Mars ends (but since neither my wife nor I have finished watching the second half of the season, I’ll refrain from saying what it is), but what about the shows I’m behind on?

Smallville, of course, always has at least a couple hallucination episodes a season – and more now that they’ve been struggling to find stories in Metropolis, a task that doesn’t actually sound very hard – but will Prison Break get all wonky during its final five-episode run that’s sitting on my DVR? (Michael does have major brain shenanigans last time I checked, so this has potential.)

Does Lie to Me, which we’ve DVRed but haven’t touched yet, turn everything on its head by revealing that Tim Roth is just a figment of our imagination? (Considering he’s been both a futuristic ape and Abomination in The Incredible Hulk, this could be a possibility.)

Is Reaper going to turn out to be an extremely vivid dream concocted by Sock during a very long nap at the Work Bench? Will that explain Andi losing her personality this season?

Is that missing episode of Sit Down, Shut Up an apology to the idiots who didn’t find it funny and complained about the intentionally awkward animation-on-top-of-real-backgrounds?

Motherfucker! Ugly Betty ended in a hallucination, too! What happened here? Is this a veiled backlash against Obama? Did all the showrunners stop taking their medication?

The only time I can remember even the slightest bit of consistency across certain shows during season finales was May, 1996 (I had to check Wikipedia for the year, but remember everything else about the following without any aid.) For some reason, three major shows in my life decided to kind of lose their minds and go way too dark for my young teenage brain. With Seinfeld, it was Susan, George’s fiancée, dying as a result of toxic envelope glue, and when the main cast stopped by the hospital, they pretty much felt nothing and went to go get some coffee. On Roseanne, Dan breaks his diet and he and Roseanne get into one of the foulest shouting matches I’ve ever seen on a family sitcom, devolving into back-and-forth screams of “Fatty! Fatty! Fatty!” (Let’s not even mention the final season, which was all a dream.) And, finally, Mad About You challenged Paul and Jamie’s marriage when she kissed the man she was campaigning for and Paul lusted after another woman but didn’t do anything, leading to a quiet, disturbing fight.

It just seemed like, for no discernable reason, sitcoms ended that year wanting us to feel like absolute shit. So I ask, does anybody have an explanation for this madness in dear old 2009?

Don’t get me wrong, I thought everything with Dudek was some of the most compelling minutes House has ever had, and even without her, the final mindfuck, while hard to avoid in the press after the fact, was still eerily effective, thanks in no small part to Hugh Laurie’s continued brilliance on this show. Does he still not have an Emmy? (Now that Boston Legal is gone, Spader’s absence in the category will help considerably. That is, if Jon Hamm’s John Ham doesn’t take it, which would not be a bad thing per se.)

On another note, do any of you out there seriously care about Chase and Cameron? At all? Boooooooring. How about hiring another intern. I’m fine with that. Anything to get away from the dour blondes.

The Wife:

Our DVR was getting close to capacity, so this weekend was very procedurally focused for me. But before I start talking about Criminal Minds, I’d like to suggest that you all visit Matthew Gray Gubler’s personal website. I discovered it a few months ago, and even though I already harbor a fairly well-known crush on the good Dr. Reid, I am now head-over-heels in love with the actor behind him. Gubler has worked with Wes Anderson, used to be a fashion model and is also an artist, drawing some truly strange and macabre little watercolors and sketches. You’ll either love him more for this website, or become slightly afraid of him. Either way, you should check it out. He’s amazing.

4.17 “Demonology”

An episode about exorcism that I no longer really remember, sufficient to say that it took place in Georgetown, which is funny because that’s where The Exorcist was filmed and also funny because I happen to know that a linguistic consultant for the show sometimes guest lectures at the school.

I do remember, though, that this was a good character episode for Prentiss, who is rocked by the death of her friend, a friend who stood by her when she had an abortion in Rome at 15 and helped her walk into church with her head held high, despite what everyone in the room thought of her. Some very good work by the multi-talented Paget Brewster in this episode, but nothing else stand-out.

(Husband Note: I do, however, remember the presence of Walton Goggins as one of Prentiss’ old friends, and that I could not take him seriously because of how pathetic he as a character became during the final season of The Shield. I hate to typecast actors, but he was so good as the show’s truly tragic, wretched second lead that I can’t see him as anybody else. Sort of like how Dylan Baker will always be a pedophile.)

4.18 “Omnivore”

Besides Matthew Gray Gubler, you know who else is amazing? C. Thomas Howell.

First of all, dude works like a motherfucker. He may have never been a star, but when I see someone with 127 credits to their name since the age of 11, I’d say they’re living the dream that only a lucky few get to experience: being a working actor. Tommy is perhaps best known for his work in The Hitcher and the movie that should have made him an 80s teen star, Soul Man (but kind of didn’t because he was kind of in blackface . . . just watch it . . . it’s not as horrifying as it sounds, but why anyone thought Tommy would make a convincing black man, I’ll never know). But I know Tommy best for somehow beating Hal Sparks on VH1’s Celebracadabra, a short-run series where “celebrities” learn magic. Look, I love Tommy, but Hal Sparks had that shit in the bag. In any case, Tommy is a totally likeable human being . . . which just goes to show you how good of an actor he is in this episode of CM.

(Husband Correction: He is definitely known the best for Red Dawn and The Outsiders, but yes, we are in agreement that C. Thomas Hwell is the muthafuckin’ man.)

I am hurt and confused that The Wife does not remember my brilliant performance in Red Dawn. Wolverines? No?

I am hurt and confused that The Wife does not remember my brilliant performance in Red Dawn. Wolverines? No?

Given that he had top billing of guest stars in the episode, it was not at all a surprise to me that his character, George Foyett, was actually The Boston Reaper, a serial killer that had made a pact with the police 10 years ago to stop killing as long as he was no longer pursued, a pact that would soon expire. Foyett was the Reaper’s sole survivor, and that’s because Foyett, a hebophile (someone who is sexually aroused by teenage girls), had murdered a girl he was allegedly going to propose to and then inflicted 67 stab wounds into himself to throw the police off his trail, all the while being able to assume another identity (his own, non-killing identity) and profess the “real” story about the Reaper to the media, thus gaining the kind of fame serial killers like to have.

Once the team figures out that Foyett is the killer, they arrest him, only to find out that he has engineered his own escape from jail – the arrest and escape were something he had been plotting in the ten years he lay dormant, all to feed into his own legend and narcissism. Frankly, I think that was a great twist and it opens us up to another episode with C. Thomas Howell in the future. And that’s only a good thing, because I now cannot get the image of Tommy with blood running down his chin out of my head. And that’s disturbing, because it was kind of sexy.

4.19 “House on Fire”

And that truly brilliant Boston Reaper episode was followed by something of a non-starter involving a serial arsonist in a small town, all because the town drove away a due whose “love map” went all wonky when his parents died in a fire, thus giving him an unnatural attachment to his sister. Lost’s Sam Anderson guest starred as the town doctor, basically playing another version of Bernard, and Michael Rooker had very thick facial hair as the town Sheriff, which really threw me off because I’m used to a clean shaven Rooker.

The best part of this episode, though, was Garcia having to play profiler by digging deep into the victim’s pasts to find any connecting threads at all. She’s excellent at digging, and there were some good character moments for her here when she realizes that she likes to pour through information, not the minds of people.

4.20 “Conflicted”

I never really did “Spring Break” the way MTV wants you to do Spring Break, so I have a hard time picturing people voluntarily going to warm locales just to drink a lot and have random hookups. I can, however, picture a scenario like the one in this episode where Alpha male Spring Breakers are being raped and murdered, presumably by a male-female partnership.

And they’re right – except that the male/female partnership are the same person, hotel housekeeper Adam Jackson and his alter personality, Amanda, who surfaces to protect Adam. And when Amanda is arrested, she becomes the dominate personality, locking Adam away inside her.

I should note that in addition to guest star Roma Maffia (Hey there, Liz Cruz!), this episode also featured Jackson Rathbone as Adam/Amanda. I thought that Rathbone was incredible in this role, because that Amanda was definitely one fucking crazy bitch, and I am now even more impressed because I should have known him from Twilight. He plays Jasper, and he seems to be one of the most hated things about the movie as it always looks like Jasper is getting an enema. Rathbone is a good actor, I’m just pretty sure that working with material from Stephenie Meyer is nowhere near as good for stretching one’s acting abilities than twisted shit in a guest spot on a procedural. Or maybe Jason Alexander is better at directing actors than Catherine Hardwicke? Either way, I’m now looking forward to the later movies in the series where Jasper actually has things to do.

Sorry, I just got a flash of that one time I created an army of vampires during the Civil War.

Sorry, I just got a flash of that one time I created an army of vampires during the Civil War.

(Husband Note: I just had a fun time calling the episode out on its bullshit, as the “Texan island” where the episode took place was just Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles, right the fuck next to the airport. Had the camera moved slightly to the right in some shots, I would have seen my clearly SoCal alma mater. I don’t know a whole lot about the islands off of Texas in the Gulf, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t look like an episode of The O.C.)

4.21 “A Shade of Gray”

A sociopathic child incapable of feeling remorse kills his little brother and his parents hire their cop friend to make it look like it’s part of an ongoing serial kidnapping case to get the BAU involved. All I could think of is that this is all probably guest star Gretchen Egoff’s fault, because she should have made that little sociopath a pizza sandwich.

Oh, man, I miss Journeyman.

The Wife:

A part of me feels like catching up with Eli Stone is too little too late at this point, as we are now nine episodes into the season, leaving only four after this before the show goes away forever, but Eli Stone, while this season has faltered a bit, doesn’t deserve to go away with a quiet whimper. It’s a good show. And it’s too bad people don’t watch it. I realize just now that’s its basically Private Practice – Medicine + Spirituality + The Law. (I’m basing that half-assed math solely on the fact that the shows are both about ethical dilemmas and how to approach them.) And if people won’t watch a medical show about Big Ethical Question that’s a spin-off of another highly successful medical show about people sleeping with other people, what hope is there for a show about a Prophet-Lawyer? The answer, evidently, is not much.

Seven episodes have aired since we last wrote about this show, largely dealing with the break-up of Weathersby, Posner & Kline and the reforming of those partners as two distinct legal entities. Jordan broke off to form Weathersby Stone with Eli as the other managing partner, successfully avoiding a breach-of-contract suit by proving that his newfound interest in pro-bono work was the original intent of Weathersby, Posner & Kline based on a cocktail napkin he and the other two partners signed containing the first draft of their mission statement when they formed their firm. From there, Posner and Kline try to seduce all of Weathersby Stone’s loyal employees by offering them the kind of money their newly pro-bono counterpart cannot. Taylor stays with her father, as does Keith, who has stepped up to become a much bigger character this season, while Matt Dowd goes where the money is and, much to Eli’s dismay, Maggie Decker, too, turns to the dark side, lured with the promise of being able to choose her own cases as head of the pro bono department.

From there, Eli has gone on to break up Maggie’s marriage (after having a vision of her fiancé cheating), as well as break up his brother’s marriage (after having a vision of Laura Benanti cheating on Nate with, uh, Eli). He’s gotten really good at breaking up engagements this year. But there’s more to his relationship with Nate than just Laura Benanti’s fickle affections. After getting his visions back from Nate and discovering their father’s journal, he grapples with living his life and knowing his fate. Ultimately, Dr. Chen convinces him to burn the journal (but not before making a secret copy for himself). However, desperate to unlock the journal’s secrets, Eli starts participating in a very dangerous kind of acupuncture called The Dark Truth, which Frank refuses to perform on Eli more than once, thus leading to a rift in their friendship as he turns to rival acupuncturist Dr. Lee (Melinda Clarke) for help. Meanwhile, he receives a vision about a burning building, complete with Victor Garber’s Jordan Weathersby singing the most strangely keyed version of “Don’t Mess Around with Jim” I’ve ever heard, leading Eli to take on a drug trial case for a wealthy businessman that turns into an emancipation hearing for that man’s son when, after Eli helps his father get permission to run an MS drug trial that could save him, contradicts the son’s own wishes. Eli needs to prove that the father (the Jim of the song) did not have his son’s best interests at heart, and he achieves this by having Nate look into Jimmy’s medical records, thereby discovering that his father had falsified his CT scans to show that his son’s MS had not worsened, thus allowing him to swim on the Olympic team. (Complicated, I know.) Nate’s testimony in the case means that he can no longer work for St. Vincent’s, the hospital at which Jimmy’s primary care physicians worked. Instead, St. Vincent’s offers Nate an extremely large amount of hush money to keep their shoddy and falsified medical records under wraps. Thus, while risking Nate’s job, Eli actually puts his brother in a pretty sweet position, financially, giving him the means and free time to ask Laura Benanti to marry him. And then Eli has that pesky vision. And Laura Benanti finally sings something. (Finally!) And then she leaves Nate on their wedding day, despite Eli’s best efforts to keep himself away from her. As it happens, he could do everything in his power to make sure he didn’t reciprocate, but there was nothing he could do about Laura Benanti’s feelings for him.

Pity. She looked fucking amazing in that wedding dress.

Needless to say, this leaves Nate furious with his brother – putting their father’s vision that they were to work together in dire jeopardy. It’s difficult to explain in a catch-up post just how intricate the late Mr. Stone’s journal has been to the Nate-Eli relationship, but it has been a good plot thread to keep this season together. Last season was about Eli coming to terms with his gift and learning how to use it, and this season has been about how that gift affects other people – especially the brother who didn’t end up with the vision-providing deadly aneurysm.

Couldnt we just have a threesome with Laura Benanti and call it a day?

Couldn't we just have a threesome with Laura Benanti and call it a day?

Meanwhile, Maggie is struggling to find her place at Posner & Kline and, other than plugging up an intel leak at Weathersby Stone, hasn’t been doing very much at all. She pines for Eli, but stays away when she isn’t met with quite the same reaction. Poor Julie Gonzalo goes underused again. It’s like on Veronica Mars – her character had such potential at the beginning of Season Three . . . and then it just petered out. I guess we’ll never find out how she ends up with Eli and a baby in the future now.

Keith got a good multi-episode arc with guest actress Tiraji P. Henson (who deserves a Supporting Actress nomination for her work in Benjamin Button; she also deserved that same accolade for her work in Hustle & Flow, but they let her sing with Three Six Mafia in the live performance of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” so I guess that’s a decent consolation prize). Henson starred as Angela, Patti’s daughter, a promising medical student who was arrested for a DUI when she wasn’t drunk. Keith managed to get her off that charge, while falling for her, until he finds out that she tested positive for cocaine. Angela insists that the false positive was because of some antibiotics she had been taking for a cold (which she probably shouldn’t have had even a glass of wine with, if warning labels on drugs are to be believed). Angela later gets suspended from medical school when she is accused of stealing drugs from the nurses station – a charge she tries to disprove, coming to blows with her mother over her drug addiction and, in the process, allowing Eli to discover that Patti once had a severe alcohol problem that was only solved by Jordan setting her straight. Henson and Loretta Devine have a great scene together during this confrontation, and it allowed us to see Patti as something other than a sassy black side character. (She’s great and all, but I often worry about black actresses being pigeonholed in the sassy black friend role. Or, sometimes, as the “magical negro” trope.) While Keith doesn’t get to end up with the girl, he does manage to help Patti and Angela have a real, honest relationship and assures mother and daughter that, while Angela probably can’t return to that medical school, she can find a way to work in medicine if she still wants to and make her mother proud.

And then there’s Matt and Taylor, whose strange relationship has taken up a lot of screen time this season and has culminated in a pregnancy. They’re learning how to be a couple, how to be good parents and, mostly, how to not be a Big Giant Douche and a Fucking Ice Bitch. In the latest episode, they thought, briefly, that there would be a chance their baby would have Down Syndrome, something that made Matt immediately want to find ways in his life to accommodate a special needs child, while Taylor turned straight down abortion alley. In actual human life, having a baby does change a lot. It certainly changes who you are as a person. I’ve just never seen a baby used as a character-changing plot device in this way. I mean, we’ve seen the dude-needs-to-shape-up-and-be-a-dad thread before (Knocked Up, Worst Week . . . oh, dozens of other examples), but I’ve never really seen it work both ways. And so deliberately. There is absolutely no reason for Taylor and Matt to be having a baby other than to see how they, as characters, react to this change. This plot, for me, is probably the strangest part about this season. I see its function, but I don’t really understand its necessity. Oh, well, Taylor won’t have that baby before the final episode airs in two weeks, right? I won’t have to care about this plot very soon.

Even with that weird baby plot, I will miss Eli Stone, and not only for the Victor Garber and Loretta Devine and Johnny Lee Miller’s very strangely large head, but for its heart and its faith. Much like Pushing Daisies, this show asks us to believe in miracles, and to have faith. It’s certainly not subtle about that approach, especially when George Michael appears in your living room and insists that you gotta, in fact, have faith, but I think we need things that ask us to believe in miracle-working lawyers and candy-coated pie shops filled with Anna Friel in beautiful dresses. If not for the landscape of arts and entertainment, where in the world are we asked, so blatantly, to indulge in hopes and fantasy?

That, and I’ll miss playing “Hi, Broadway actor!” with my husband when Broadway vet-fueled Eli and Daisies are gone.

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.

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