Season/Series Premieres


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 Wife:

Flash Forward, at its core, is a show about epistemology. When everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds, each having their own vision of what they believe to be the future, the show asks its characters and viewers to constantly question the knowledge we’re being given:

  • How do we know these are flashes of the future, and not something else, despite the fact that everyone flashed forward to the same date, April 29, 2010?
  • How do we acquire the knowledge/facts to help us determine what we think we know?
  • What is truth, belief or conjecture?

And from these central questions of epistemics, the show branches out into a Lostian exploration of fate and destiny, asking whether or not they exist, if the future can be changed and how much control we can exert over a predetermined course.

So far, I am into it. It’s slightly more penetrable than Lost, but still contains that show’s crucial elements of action, human drama and mystery to keep up interest in the show. Lost was reinvigorated when it introduced the flash forward structure at the end of season 3, and I like the idea of this show also having a similar endgame. It’s nice to know, as a viewer, that your showrunners have an idea of where they’re going and the experience of finding out if the flash forwards will come to pass is the same for us as it is for the characters on the show.

Because of that, we’re learning things in time with the characters, so all we know at this point regarding what may have caused the blackout is that there is a person of interest called D. Gibbons (who stole the credit card of DiDi Gibbons of DiDelicious Cupcakes) who was working on some major hack in a creepy-ass doll factory, and who made a call 30 seconds into the blackout to the only known person to not fall asleep: a man at a Detroit Tigers game, veiled in black, who walked away nonchalantly as if he knew this would happen. (For my money, I am sure he will be played by Dominic Monaghan, as I know my favorite hobbit has a deal to appear on this show and hasn’t yet done so.)

Lost in time, lost in space . . . and meaning.

Lost in time, lost in space . . . and meaning.

By the end of the second episode, we’ve unveiled almost all of the symbols on the flash of the Mosaic board that Joseph Fiennes’s Mark Benford was putting together in the future: we’ve seen the friendship bracelet his daughter gives him, the name D. Gibbons, the crime scene photo of the burned baby doll, but not yet the blue hand or the man with the star tattoos. John Cho’s Demitri Noh learns that there are other people who saw nothing in the blackout, but not five minutes after meeting one, she dies. He also receives a phone call from someone in Shanghai (I think) (Husband Note: It’s Hong Kong, but I shall correct my wife instead of editing the right answer in because I’m MEAAAAAN!) informing him that she was reading a report of his death in her flash forward, on March 15, 2010. Sonya Walger’s Olivia meets the man with whom she’ll have an affair (Swingtown’s Jack Davenport, using his natural accent), and her daughter Charlie recognizes Davenport’s son from her flash forward.

It’s too early for us to start building Lostian theories about the nature of the “future” or even what we think we know here, but I’m sure we’ll find out next week if Benford burning his daughter’s friendship bracelet has any effect on the future. If this show were to take a banal turn, I’d expect that little Charlie would just keep making them for her daddy, constantly, feeling hurt each time she saw him without it.

Stray thoughts:

  • How good was the opening of the pilot episode? The simplest images stood out: the balloons floating away, the kangaroo on the loose. These were a lovely, almost surrealist expression of the disjointedness of life after a disaster.
  • Speaking of which, has anyone ever seen children playing make-believe versions of disasters on the playground? Watching a bunch of children play “blackout” while “Ring Around the Rosy” sang out was terrifically creepy, as was the repetition of the song in the doll factory. I ask about the validity of this exercise because, while I understand the notion of communal play acting as a method of coping, I don’t remember ever play acting those kind of current events as a child. We play acted the 1994 Lillehammer games, where the worst thing that happened was Nancy Kerrigan’s knee getting bashed in by Tonya Harding.
  • Can Sonya Walger now only play women with children named Charlie?
  • Nice FBI agent cameo, Seth McFarlane! (Husband Note: He’s coming back, which further pisses off everybody who hates his funny shows.)
  • Seeing Joseph Fiennes on TV makes me mourn the unwanted pilot that was Ryan Murphy’s Pretty/Handsome, which was to be an F/X series about a man struggling with a gender identity crisis. The trailer for it was lovely, and I’m sure you can find it on YouTube. But know that when I try to see Fiennes as an FBI agent, I have a really hard time because I think of him surreptitiously fondling silk panties or, of course, unwrapping Gwyneth Paltrow’s bubbies.

The Husband:

The mystery is there, but the characters aren’t. The show has picked up some bizarre backlash in only its second week (with major complaints about Courtney B. Vance’s comic relief bathroom blackout story), but I think that’s just a gut reaction to having yet another deep mystery show on primetime, and this time people have their guard up. The themes and general questions being thrown about are, without question, fascinating, but I can understand some people being frustrated by some very one-dimensional character work. Right now, I’m only feeling Sonya Walger as far as emotions are concerned, because it’s tough for the rest of the show to work its procedural angle without losing some major character time, something from which most procedurals that aren’t named Bones tend to suffer. (But hey, at least Demitri Noh is an awesome name.)

But I’m not hating on the series so much as being distracted by my complete lack of connection, and after the first sequence of “holy shit,” things have settled into a procedural groove a tad too quickly.

The showrunners and writers must have a lot of information up their sleeves, because right now they’re racing through this mofo. Give me a reason to care other than the central conceit itself. Because I’m there, but I don’t know if others will stick around.

The Husband:

I love Big Brother, probably more than any other reality show on television, even though I recognize its many technical and sociological faults. And I do want to cover it here, but as it’s on three times a week, and the show is actually defined by the sheer lack of anything remotely “exciting” happening, I’ll just try a weekly round-up.

And how will I do it? Why, in the same lazy way that I covered the audition/Hollywood rounds of American Idol. This means that I’m pretty much just following notes I’m taking during the broadcast and further elaborating.

The newest Big Brother houseguests.

The newest Big Brother houseguests.

So let’s get into it. Who do I like? And why was I so fucking pissed by episode’s end?

  • Michele’s got that cute, geeky Lisa Loeb look that I very much enjoy. However, her lusting after Jeff is semi-obnoxious. I don’t need her letting up her guard just because she has the hots for somebody.
  • Natalie, there is absolutely no reason to lie about your age – saying she’s 18 when she’s really 24 – especially since any true Big Brother fan (and I assume contestant) knows that, except under very special circumstances (like Michelle on the X-Factor season), nobody under 21 gets on this show.
  • Kevin does not like boobs, and I think he’s hilarious.
  • Jordan is a “no” for me simply because I can’t stand to listen to her. And if you follow the Loveline logic here (which seems to work 90% of the time), her childish voice more than likely indicates something horrible happening to her, and that’s a great deal of emotion baggage that I’m not sure CBS is ready to handle right now.
  • Russell, the MMA fighter, is from Walnut Creek, a city less than 20 miles from my current residence and also where my wife went to high school, so he’d better fucking represent the East Bay in the most hardcore way. Yay Area, fool.
  • Ronnie, the video game geek who looks a bit like Ricky Gervais, has a bit of an ego (probably well-deserved), which could get him in trouble, but if he chills out for a few weeks he could fly by to at least the Top 4. He just needs to make sure to not let some of the more jocky types (I’m looking at you, Braden) feel threatened by his assumed intellect.
  • And, of course, nicely tattooed movie FX artist Lydia is awesome so far, snarky enough to be funny but not so much that she alienates me as a viewer. Not yet.
  • The first competition couldn’t have gone more horribly. I tell you this with every ounce of anger I have within me – I absolutely despised bodybuilder Jessie from s10. Egomaniacal, idiotic, unrightfully aggressive and borderline dangerous, he was the last person I wanted to come back into the Big Brother house. But lo, the athletes won the toilet-seat-and-wedgie competition, and I’m stuck with him for probably the next four weeks
You look even stupider than you did last season, and I hope you know that.

You look even stupider than you did last season, and I hope you know that.

If I had my druthers, Brian would have been the one to return to the house as the 13th contestant, followed by the bubbly but not obnoxious Jessica, and Michael (a.k.a. Cowboy), the runner-up from s5 (also known as the season where my mother and I were actually in the CBS audience for the finale, thanks to being two degrees separated from a BB video editor). I dug Michael just fine, but I also have to think about things in terms of fairness, and he already received $50,000 in his season. And Brian (another Bay Area guy) was ousted far too early last season (first one out, actually) after promising that he’d play a very interesting game, one that I would have loved to have seen.

But hey, good on you, BB11, for getting me so emotionally invested in just the first episode. I don’t think any BB premiere has ever incited such rage out of me so quickly.

I hate you, Jessie.

The Wife:

So Secret Life of the American Teenager has returned for its third season, which is baffling in its own right. I reread my blog about last season’s finale in preparation for getting back in the groove of writing this thing, and I think my husband was definitely right in his observation that the show has sacrificed some of its realism in the interest of soapy baby daddy drama, which has never been more apparent now that formerly non-jealous and understanding Ben is doing silly things like ordering Amy to keep Ricky out of her room, even when he’s there spending time with his son. The Ben I know and love wouldn’t do that, but I guess having a girlfriend with hot, lactating milk jugs changes the minds of adolescent boys.

What an odd conversation to have with your friends about the increased size of your girlfriend/wife’s breasts, Ben! Almost as inappropriate as, say, telling your wife’s lover that she’s fat and/or pregnant, George! Never before has an episode of this show been filled with such awkward discussion of women’s bodies by men. I don’t exactly know what was meant by it, other than to show that both being possessive of your girlfriend’s milk jugs and embarrassing your ex-wife by exposing her pregnancy are both kind of shitty things to do. Oh, but this is a great rebuttal, no?:


“I’d rather be pregnant than be fat and eat soup every night!” –Mama Ringwald

Hey! I love soup, lady! You watch your mouth!

At least Ricky seems to have come into his own in the new season, being a responsible father to his son with regular visiting hours and a steady job, and appropriately using his mouth to tell Adrian’s dad that he’s a douchebag that walked out on Adrian years ago and therefore has no business telling her what to do with her life now that she’s almost an adult. It feels weird to me that I’m suddenly liking Ricky, but fatherhood has clearly changed something in him, and we can only be thankful for that.

At least Ricky is fully aware that Bens request is really, really weird.

At least Ricky is fully aware that Ben's request is really, really weird.

It’s changed Amy, too. As a tired new mom, I feel like her brattiness has purpose, and it was really interesting (and actually kind of funny) to see her play the mothering role to her own mother, who now finds herself in a situation comparable to the one her daughter just went through. Clearly, Amy still has a lot of growing to do, though, as it’s evident she relies too much on the help of her family and others to raise her child. I mean, it may take a village and all that, but if she’d had this kid at 25, its not like she could call grandpa in the middle of the night just to put the baby to sleep because he sleeps better when a male figure puts him to bed.

But for all that discussion of baby weight, milk jugs and how having a child changes a person, there are two much more important things that this episode dealt with:

1. The Sausage King is fucking Betty the Escort and seems to have no idea that she’s an escort. Oh, wait. So is this the message we were supposed to get about not getting married young? Is it because when you’re later widowed, you won’t be able to recognize the difference between a regular date and a date with a hooker? (I should note that George also has no idea that she’s a hooker, and he also married Anne pretty young.) Or maybe I’m selling Jennifer Coolidge’s Betty a bit short here. Maybe she wants to go straight with a nice rich man who likes sausage just as much as she does.

2. If you’re a Christian and you have sex before marriage, your father will die in a plane crash ON THE SAME NIGHT YOU LOSE YOUR VIRGINITY. Man, if Grace’s highly contrived and totally unemotional drama here doesn’t scare kids into abstinence, I don’t know what will. (I’m certainly not shortchanging Josie Bisset and Megan Park’s acting here, I’m merely shortchanging the writing. Bisset and Park were great at crying.)

The Husband:

I had asked my wife to jot down a particularly funny quote from this episode, but I guess it didn’t make it onto the page. Thanks to IMDB’s devolving silly message boards, however, I did get another gem. I love how you’re never really sure how intentional this show’s humor is. It definitely keeps viewers on their toes.


Grace’s Mom: “He’s dead!”
Grace: “No! Nobody is dead! We just had sex!”
Tom: “YOU KILLED HIM!”

Glorious.

The Wife:

My husband has many film school friends that make their living working behind the scenes in Hollywood. Likewise, my sister-in-law has a number of college friends who are actors. So whenever we get word that a friend in the business is going to be on a show or is working on a show, we make a point to watch it to be supportive. That is why we watched Hitched or Ditched last night on the CW, and unlike my dedication to watch every single episode of Discovery Health’s Mystery ER last year, I can’t be supportive enough to keep watching Hitched or Ditched.

The premise of the show, for those who can’t figure it out from the title, is that couples who have been dating for a long time but haven’t gotten engaged are given a week and infinite resources to plan their dream wedding and when they show up to the altar, dressed to the nines before their friends, family and viewers at home, they must decide if they will stay together or break up right then and there. I was wary when I heard the concept of the show, and now that I’ve seen it, I’m going to attempt to explain why I find this so problematic and, ultimately, horrible.

First of all, while I am married and do encourage my long-dating friends to get married, I do so for a variety of pragmatic reasons. Being married is a social institution, and that’s all it is. It says that you’re going to share a life with that person for as long as you can. And if we remember marriage is a social institution, that does mean that the contract can be negated, just like any contract, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you love that person any less. It makes your life a whole lot easier in terms of tax breaks, insurance policies and a variety of other socially/governmentally mediated activities/events. A wedding, with the ritual and the rings and the vows and the white dress, that’s the thing that shows you profess your love, a party for all of your friends to celebrate the commitment you intend to make to your partner.

To me, they’re separate entities, but we often confuse one with the other, and that’s a major problem with this show. Planning a wedding – your commitment ceremony or love celebration party, if you will – is not at all the time to decide whether or not you and your partner should enter into a marriage. In fact, if you’ve been in a relationship with someone for a significant amount of time and you two haven’t mutually decided to enter into a marriage, there are reasons why – reasons that do not need to be discussed on national television as you go along with the charade of your relationship, sampling cakes together. The show confuses the two entities, and thus confuses the participants by conflating a wedding ceremony with an actual marriage.

Secondly, even though I personally encourage my long-dating friends to marry, there’s something seriously wrong with a show that drives forward the notion that marriage is the only proper outcome to a long-term relationship. Some people are perfectly happy living without that social contract, and that’s fine for them.

This is really not the time or the place to decide to marry someone.

This is really not the time or the place to decide to marry someone.

I would much rather that the money being spent to tempt these couples with free dream weddings be spent on wedding ceremonies for people who actually do know that they want to get married, but can’t afford to celebrate that decision in the way they’d truly like to. Because that’s a nice thing to do for people, rather than spend a week cruelly asking couples to conform to some notion of social rightness by asking them to get married or break up.

There’s more I could say about this show that probably needs to be said, like maybe something about how utterly ridiculous it is that we hold heterosexual couples to this standard of “get married or break up” yet 45 states, including my own, won’t let homosexual couples engage in equal social contracts, but ideological issues aside, there’s nothing joyful to be found in Hitched or Ditched. It’s not entertaining to watch people with relationship issues fall apart on national television, because this show takes itself seriously unlike the trainwreck sensationalism of daytime talkshows. And there’s nothing to be learned from this experiment, unlike, say, enjoyable trash like Wife Swap. It’s really just sad, cruel and sends a highly problematic message. And I can’t spend any more time on it than this.

(Now that I’m posting this, I should note that I had no idea until now what the title of this episode was as I hadn’t planned on writing about it and I’m so horribly offended. Really, show? Have you have no faith in any of your participants, do you?)

The Wife:

I adore So You Think You Can Dance. It may have a cumbersome and silly name, usually reduced to SYTYCD, which is even more cumbersome, or, in my home, Dancey Dance, but I’ve yet to find a televised dancing show that better shows us the experience of dancing professionally in a variety of different ways. It shows us all of the beauty and meaning that can be created with the human body with a leap, a twist, a leg extension or the artful flex of a foot. It shows us what it’s like for a dancer to go from audition, to casting, to rehearsal and to review, and what it’s like to see choreography through from concept to rehearsal to staging. (I should note that I find many of these qualities in MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew, but not the full spectrum.) Over four seasons of SYTYCD, I have been moved to tears by the artistry in the collaborative efforts of these young dancers and veteran choreographers in ways I never expected. It doesn’t mater if it was the never-to-be-topped Paso Doble by season one’s Artem (who remains my favorite Russian ever to grace the show), Ivan and Allison’s breathtaking contemporary routine set to Annie Lenox’s “Why” from season two, Jesus and Sara’s Wade Robeson-choreographed pop jazz to “Cabaret Hoover” from Les Triplettes de Belleville that stunned me to silence with its inventiveness, or any of my favorites from season four, all of which except Sonya’s brilliant jazz piece to “The Garden” for Mark and Courtney made it into the title sequence for this year: Nikhul’s Bollywood number for the entire group, Tabatha and Napolean Duomo’s breathtaking piece set to “No Air” for Katee and Joshua, their moving, heart-stopping piece for Chelsie and Mark to Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” and Mia Michaels’ visceral piece set to Duffy’s “Mercy” for Katee and Twitch. There are so many other memorable routines from this show that I can’t possibly list them all, but I hope those examples speak to what you’re missing if you do not watch SYTYCD. There is real, glorious inventive theatre happening on your television two nights a week, a collaboration between visionary artists who move my heart with the ways they move the human body and the skillful dancers that inhabit those roles. And you should be experiencing it.

Step right up, ya'll!

Step right up, ya'll!

I’ll be writing about every audition episode, doing my best to keep you abreast of the names and faces you may get to know very well after Vegas Week. Let’s begin in Brooklyn, NY, where Tabatha and Napolean Duomo (who helped cast ABDC two seasons ago) sat in with Nigel and Mary Murphy for auditions:

Gaby Rojas: Not five minutes into this season of Dancey Dance, and they grant my heart’s dearest wish by giving me an honest-to-God carney. One of my deepest desires is to be like this girl and learn circus arts, so I was prepared to be amazed by her flexibility and muscle control – which turned out to be all the more stellar because she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis (which is sad). She was, in a word, astounding. Her isolations were so perfectly befitting a seasoned popper, and yet she could also dance with the grace of a ballerina, the power of a contemporary dancer and the carriage of a ballroom dancer. The judges were equally impressed and gave her a ticket straight to Vegas. If she doesn’t make the Top 20, I will eat my hat. (Which will be hard, as I do not routinely wear hats.)

Hobgoblin and Shadowman-P: These guys are Brooklyn Bonecrushers who don’t really know that the kind of dancing they do is referred to in the street crew community as “bonecrushing.” They do a mix of contortions (bonecrushing) and illusions in their act that would make them right at home on America’s Best Dance Crew. They also sometimes paint their faces “schmean,” a putrid shade of green and act like zombies, going so far as to advance upon the judges table during their audition act. I love that Cat Deeley let them paint her face schmean, and that the judges let them take a turn at that day’s choreography round.

Peter Sabasino: Tappers don’t do well on this show, but this guy is the best we’ve ever seen. He’s got the old school flair of an MGM hoofer from the 30s, combined with some sweet foot action like an 80s Michael Jackson. He also has great arms, and I want to see him beautifully lift girls in ballroom numbers. He goes straight to Vegas.

Tiffany Geigel: She only has three out of seven vertebrae, making her torso very squished together. It is clear that she will not be allowed to advance simply by looking at her, but for someone with her disorder, she actually dances quite well. There’s a real grace in her arms and legs, even though she has trouble extending them fully. Nigel et al give her criticism befitting her body and skill level (that she needs to work on extending her knees and arms fully), and praise her for having the courage to audition and show that she can, in fact, dance despite her appearance. It’s a no, but she still gets a standing O and that’s very nice. I’m sure there’s a dance troupe for the disabled that would love to have her with them. She’s just so spirited that you can’t help but wish her well.

Maksim Kapitanikov: He auditions with the help of former SYTYCD contestant Faina doing a samba. The judges think he partners exceptionally well, although it was hard to take their eyes off Faina. I think he has great footwork. He goes on to the choreography round.

Nobuya Nagahana: He’s apparently so Japanese that the producers feel the need to capture with supertitles all of the dance styles he talks about in his interview package. He’s very cute and very energetic in his audition, but I really don’t think he’s quite right for the show. The judges, however, see something I don’t and send him to choreography. Maybe I’d have liked him more if he were dancing with a crew?

Arielle Taylor: She auditioned in season three and got cut during Vegas week. I don’t remember her, but her audition this time is graceful and lovely. She gets a ticket straight to Vegas.

Thomas Martin and Amanda Clark: They claim they’re doing the Bolero, a dance we’ve not seen on SYTYCD before, but it is beyond clumsy and awkward and probably not what a Bolero should look like at all. They get a no.

Igor Zabrodin and Nina Estrina: I saw Nina’s yellow skirt flair in an amazing knee-spin during the previews, and I immediately wanted her to go straight to Vegas. It turns out that what I thought was a knee-spin is actually performed on the ball of her foot and she spots amazingly during this 30-second potstirrer. I love them. The judges send them through to choreography.

Kellen Stancil: When he appeared onstage with that umbrella, I thought the worst, but Kellen actually managed to turn in an artful, meaningful audition that was chilling and incredibly well-executed. Dancing with props is hard, and he sold me when he opened the umbrella at the end of the piece without a hitch. After telling a story about how that dance was for his recently deceased aunt, he gets a ticket straight to Vegas.

Chimezie Nwosa: He performed a dope hip hop routine, but didn’t successfully land either of his flips. The judges send him through to choreography.

At the end of the choreography round for day one, Hobgoblin and Shadowman-P quit (I know a crew you guys can join! They’re called Ringmasters and they’re in Brooklyn!), and Maksim and Nobuya earn tickets to Vegas. For day two, Igor got a ticket to Vegas, but not Nina, which I think is a fucking outrage. How do you not send someone who spots like that to Vegas? They also send Chimezie to Vegas, although I have no idea why as he completely overdid the choreography that was given to him. At the end of the New York auditions, I caught that 14 people earned tickets to Vegas on day two. I have no idea how many got Vegas tickets on day one. I have failed you all. I can tell you, however, that the Official Mary Murphy Scream Count for NYC auditions was 1, for Gaby Rojas. (Igor and Nina got an unofficial one, so I’m not counting it.)

Next up, Denver auditions in the Colorado Convention Center, which has ugly theatre seats, but a breathtaking stage. Choreographer Sonya (wearing a cute Betsey Johnson sweater) joins Nigel and Mary for judging.

Kayla Radomski: My husband immediately decided that her nickname should be “Radonkulous,” so if she makes the Top 20, that’s what we shall call her. And she might just! Her dance was brilliant, she moved between sharp isolations and unconventional hand movements that made me think she was a velociraptor to stunning extensions, leaps and lines. She is a sexy, sexy velociraptor. And I love her. She gets a ticket straight to Vegas, and her father cries because he’s so proud of her. Now I love her even more.

Misha Belfer and Mitchel K . . . something: A big deal was made about these two dudes dancing the samba together in very homoerotic costumes, rightfully summed up by Nigel as reminding him of Blades of Glory. Both were good dancers, and Sonya and I appreciated that they both integrated the traditional male and female roles into the roles for each partner because it creates an interesting take on gender identity in the dance world. However, not having someone dance the male role and the female role confused the hell out of Mary, who probably knows more gay men than I do, and yet somehow is so traditional. They go through to the choreography round, perhaps because they fell during the routine and semi-successfully played it off like they meant it to happen.

Allison Moist: She dressed like a lion and danced with lightsabers. I usually wouldn’t spend time on the disillusioned here, but there was something kind of brilliant in her inability to discern that she wasn’t very good and subsequent inability to express why she chose to perform that audition in that costume with those props. I like that Nigel tried to steer her toward being a makeup artist, though. That’s called corrective cuddling, the human equivalent of squeezing a cat that’s done something bad so hard that they’re slightly uncomfortable and mew. She got a no, and was followed by a sequence of bad auditions, the most notable of which featured a girl who could have been a dead ringer for Jennifer Love Hewitt dancing with a ventriloquist dummy.

Elias Holloway: He auditioned with the help of his 16-year-old brother, Enoch. They are the youngest of 14 children who are either dancers or swimmers. With that many children, I would have expected to hear that they all run a farm or something. Anyway, Elias is into popping and locking, and he and his brother perform a routine to some Daft Punk-ish techno that’s pretty good. It earns him a chance at choreography.

Natalie Reid: This was the girl who almost made it to the Top 20 last year instead of her roommate, Katee. I’m so happy Natalie came back because she is even better this year than I remember her. She is so good she brings Sonya to tears and earns a ticket straight to Vegas! I sincerely hope she makes the Top 20 this year because she’s brilliant. Surely they won’t deny her the chance this time.

Brandon Bryant: This guy was another favorite of mine last year, who moves in ways I didn’t think humanly possible. He was beat out for a spot in the Top 20 by Gev. I remembered him when I saw the ankh tattooed on his thigh, and every reason I loved him last year came flooding back in his audition. It was primal and graceful, muscular and liquid all at once. He moves Mary to tears and earns his ticket straight to Vegas. I would love to see him in the Top 20 this year.

After the choreography rounds, Mitch and Mischa are given nos, along with Elias. All in all, 19 people are Vegas-bound from Denver. The season is promising so far! Looking forward to Miami and Memphis auditions next week!

The Wife:

I’d be lying if I said that the pilot of Ryan Murphy’s Glee was perfect. It was far from it, but so much of the show is so winning that it’s easy to overlook its few flaws and fully embrace it. It’s not a silly musical in the slightest. Ryan Murphy has always treated music with much more respect than that, even when he’s being ironic or cheeky during surgeries on Nip/Tuck. On that show, the surgery music is used to dig deeply into something as seemingly superficial as plastic surgery. Sometimes it’s funny (such as the use of Don McLean’s “Vincent” during a surgery in which Rosie O’Donnell as Dawn Budge gets a transplant ear grown on a mouse’s back . . . it’s a long story), and sometimes it’s incredibly moving (to this day, I can’t hear Leo Delibes “Flower Duet” without thinking about conjoined twins Rose and Raven Rosenburg, who died after their separation surgery and asked to be put back together when they were buried).

On Glee, the music functions as it should in any great musical: it’s intended to give us an insight into the characters, and I can think of no better example of this than Lea Michele’s (Broadway’s Spring Awakening) audition song for the new glee club, “On My Own” from Les Miserables. I hate Les Mis, but to hear Rachel Berry sing it while hearing about her backstory was the most sublime use of that song. You see, despite the fact that Rachel’s two gay dads raised her to be an overachiever and to strive to be known in the world because “being anonymous is worse than being poor,” she’s lambasted by her peers for being talented, for being different. She posts daily MySpace videos of herself singing in her bedroom, all of which receive comments from her peers basically suggesting she should kill herself (cyberbullying that would probably destroy someone with less self-confidence). She also often has things thrown at her, because for as much of a type-A personality as she is, Rachel is, in fact, on her own. She might be a little cocky and a little dogged in her quest to be special, as evidenced by her claim that the former glee club director molested the boy he gave Rachel’s solo to, but there is something in her that deserves to be recognized for who she is. And there is a tremendous sadness in the fact that no one sees her specialness but her . . . and her two gay dads.

Glee: what this show will be filling me with Wednesday nights at 9 in the fall.

Glee: what this show will be filling me with Wednesday nights at 9 in the fall.

So with the former glee club director out of the picture and the club in danger of being shut down, Matthew Morrison’s Spanish teacher Will Shuster decides he should take over. After all, Will sees that these kids need a place where they won’t be bullied, and where they can cultivate their talent. But as usual, the activities in which the popular kids reign get more funding, especially The Cheerios, the cheer team coached by Jane Lynch, which receives the bulk of the school’s budget because they keep winning national competitions and bringing the school a lot of press, which ultimately means more funding. So Will is allowed to operate glee club, recently renamed New Directions (which is weird for me, because that’s the name of a counseling center that a friend I know from high school theatre works for), on a $60 budget, which struck me as incredibly realistic given the dire nature of arts education in America, by which I mean, the lack thereof. But even that $60 budget eventually gets cut and Will is asked to run New Directions with his own $60, something that is, for him, very difficult because he lives off his teaching salary and his wife’s 12-hours-a-week job at Sheets and Stuff.

We meet a lot of characters over the course of this hour-long pilot, but even though there are some of the glee kids we don’t know all that well, I’d say that Jessalyn Gilsig’s Terri is the least well-drawn. Terri is obsessed with an idea of womanhood that allows her to contribute little to her marriage and spend all of her time crafting and decorating. She’s largely just a stand-in for the thing that’s holding Will back from what he really wants from life. But that said, I think Jessalyn Gilsig, as always, turns in a brilliant performance of very little material. I mean, this is a woman who nearly suffocated her own daughter in a cargo hold (on Heroes) and, more importantly, a woman who got fucked off a building (on Nip/Tuck). I am certainly not used to her playing someone demure, and she creates a sort of quiet insanity in Terri that makes her seem both utterly unreal and yet absolutely the kind of woman who thinks her life should be what she sees in magazines. She is deeply shallow, and I think there’s something exceptional about placing a character like that amongst so many other deeply real people. She’s a wonderful contrast.

[Husband Note: Gilsig also did wonders with the quite poorly written role of teacher Lauren “The Nun” Davis on Boston Public, as well an incredible job as the oblivious sister-in-law-party-girl-way-past-her-prime on Friday Night Lights. She’s not the best actor, but she’s a serviceable television performer, and that’s good enough for me.]

Because Terri won’t give Will an extra $60 a month to run glee club (as she’d rather spend it on trinkets from Pottery Barn and crafts), he tries to drum up more membership around the school, taking guidance counselor Emma’s (the lovely and talented Jayma Mays) advice to recruit a few popular kids into glee club, and the rest will follow. He tries to get a few Cheerios in the club, but Jane Lynch’s Sue refuses to give up her girls, setting up a rivalry between the glee kids and the cheerleaders that I’m sure will continue throughout the series. But then, by a stroke of luck, he catches football star Finn singing in the shower, and blackmails him into joining glee club by “planting” some weed from the Chronic Lady (the former glee club director’s new profession: dealing weed) in his locker and telling him that he can spend six weeks in detention (which Will is now running, unpaid, due to budget cuts) which will go on his permanent record, or he can join glee. There was a moment in this scene that I truly loved because it was very representative of how Glee likes to play with cliches from high school movies. Will tells Finn that if he chooses detention, it’ll stay on his permanent record and they’ll take away his football scholarship. Finn asks, incredulously, “I got a football scholarship? To where?” And because that’s just something Will said because he heard it in a movie, he continues on, “You could go places, son.”

With Finn in the club, Will takes New Directions to see the current national show choir champions, and Emma decides to chaperone, as Terri has already turned Will down for some crafting-related outing. Emma, who clearly likes Will, is something of a germaphobe, a trait Jayma Mays does not play up for comic effect, but rather allows into the open with a kind of reserved sadness. In addition to cleaning surfaces in the teacher’s lounge with disposable gloves before she eats off of them, she brings her own food, even to public events, ands he and Will have a conversation about the state of his marriage to Terri over a peanut butter sandwich prior to the choir concert. Over that sandwich, which he says he never gets to eat because Terri is allergic to nuts, he confesses that he’s not entirely happy with his marriage. There’s just something about his relationship with Terri that isn’t working, but he rationalizes that it’s okay because he does love her, and he does want to have children with her, even if they aren’t totally happy. If you want to know why they’re not happy, look at the scene in which Terri makes Will do a puzzle with her in her craft room while she tells him it’s important for him to have a creative outlet, while in the same breath telling him that she doesn’t want him to run glee club because they don’t make enough money with him teaching. She’d rather he be an accountant, the epitome of jobs that lack creativity.

The rival choir puts on a ridiculous performance of Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” which is stunningly choreographed and sounds great, but is obviously wildly inappropriate for a high school choir to sing and is incredibly funny if you absolutely don’t ever take your mind off of the lyrics. You just can’t do choreographed lifts when you’re singing a line like, “I’m gonna lose my baby / so I always keep a bottle near me.” (On the other hand, though, I think you absolutely can sing “I Kissed a Girl” for a glee club audition, because that’s just funny.) Clearly, a performance of that caliber is intimidating, but that’s not all of the problems facing New Directions. Finn’s teammates find out that he’s been lying to them about where he had to go when he missed practice. They are not pleased that he pretended his mom was having prostate surgery, and pelt him with paintballs. (“Chicks don’t have prostates. I looked it up.”) Finn eventually stands up to his football teammates when he finds that they’ve locked the wheelchair kid in a port-a-potty, telling them that, like Troy Bolton in High School Musical, he’s not going to choose between being a jock and being a singer. He’s going to do both. “Because you can’t win without me, and neither can they,” he snarls.

And when Terri announces that she’s pregnant, Will quits, following his wife’s suggestion to apply for a job at an accounting firm, leaving his newly formed club without a mentor. Emma tries to talk some sense into him, setting him up with a guidance appointment with her when she catches him filling out an accounting application at H.L. Mencken (oddly, named after a writer and literary critic for the Baltimore Sun who had some interesting ideas on elitism within social classes, rather than a traditional class or race-based social hierarchy . . . I must miss Lost a lot if I’m looking for these kind of references on other shows). Emma shows Will a video of the year the school’s glee club won nationals. It was 1993, and Will was in that choir. And he was happy. She asks him if providing money for his wife and child is really the same thing as providing them happiness, but being a man of his word, he heads off, presumably never to return.

Meanwhile, Rachel and Finn have taken over New Directions and have recruited the jazz band to help them stage their first performance, with Mercedes doing costumes, Rachel choreographing and Finn doing vocal arrangements. As Will heads down the eternal hallway, he hears them singing strains of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’,” another instance of perfect music choice. Not only does it serve as a ballad for these kids who just want to believe they’re good at something, but for soloists Finn and Rachel, those opening lines serve as portraits of themselves. Never before have I been teary-eyed hearing someone sing, “Just a small town girl / Living in a lonely world” or the phrase “S/he took the midnight train goin’ anywhere” until last night. They took that song, and made it transcendent – enough to make me believe in the beauty, sadness, humor and joy of this little show and enough to convince Will not to leave, but to remain with New Directions.

This is a show about lonely, sad people, trying to find something that actually makes them happy, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t made happy by music. So even for those of you who don’t really like or get musicals, know that Glee is simply about people trying to find happiness, and that happiness is achieved through music. I also take that last song as something of a plea to those of us who watched Glee and everyone at FOX, executives who clearly believe in taking a risk like this enough to promote it now and schedule it for Wednesdays at 9 p.m. throughout next season, picking up on SYTYCD results shows and Idol results shows as a built-in audience. FOX wants us to believe in Glee, and I do. Your Journey-infused plea has not fallen on deaf ears, Ryan Murphy.

I believe, I believe, I believe. Oh, I believe.

Some other notes:

  • “I’m Beyonce! I aint’s no Kelly Rowland.” – Really, Mercedes? Because you seemed so happy to be asked to do costumes later in the episode. Are you sure you don’t want to host The Fashion Show on Bravo?
  • For as much of a monster as I think Jessalyn Gilsig’s Terri is, she’s really funny. Two winners from her: “If my diabetes comes back I can’t get pregnant” and “Don’t go in the Christmas Closet!”
  • I’m told the first episode aired in the fall will be a re-edited pilot. My first edit: eliminating the references to MySpace and replacing it with something more culturally relevant. Like the word, “Facebook.” Or maybe even “YouTube” in some cases.
  • Spring Awakening fans, that last line was for you.


The Husband:

I honestly thought we were going to wait to review this show until the fall, but as it stands, here it is.

I’m sure I’m not the first person to find many parallels, mostly in tone and narration, between Glee and Alexander Payne’s biting 1999 high school satire Election. Not only do we get some wonderfully insightful yet overly self-centered internal monologues from our main characters at only the most opportune times, and also revel in both the show’s insistence on clichés and its subversion of them, but Cory Montheith, the actor who plays Finn, bears a striking resemblance to a young Chris Klein. (You know, before Chris Klein started sucking.)

This is quite a show, just from the pilot, what with its heightened emotions, its parody of high school affectations, its very focused jokes and, of course, the usage of Journey. True, there were some considerable lulls, and I thought the Finn transformation happened way too early, but there is definitely something special about this show. A dramedy of the highest order, I hope it helps brings even more respect to the musical form.

And on that, some might argue this isn’t a musical. Yes it is. It’s just not a “traditional musical.” People don’t have to break out into song, but simply have the music define much of the piece itself. And Ryan Murphy, as my wife pointed out, is very specific about his song choices, so “Don’t Stop Believin’” as sung by Finn and Rachel, knowing what we know about them, defines who they are, amplifies their backstory, and fits perfectly into this world. Sounds like a musical to me. Definitely as much of a musical as Cabaret.

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