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:

In the pre-season buzz articles about Fringe, I’ve been reading a lot about the show embracing its comparison to The X-Files, and was told to watch for one very explicit reference to the iconic series during the season 2 premiere of Fringe. I’ll tell you what that reference was, in case you didn’t catch it, but I’d argue that there’s a larger structure in place meant to mimic the sci-fi juggernaut that caused many an infatuation with David Duchovny.

As Olivia is missing somewhere in another world (and brought back through the window of the car she was driving by some special Walter radio-tampering), the pressure is being brought down on Broyles’ head by the FBI brass. Like its X-labeled predecessor, the Fringe division will be shut down unless some quantifiable results can be delivered.

Officially, this causes some major hiccups in Peter’s rouge investigation to find out just what happened to Olivia, and why agent in charge Jessup keeps finding bodies with three holes in their soft palates. Fortunately, Jessup, piqued to curiosity by Peter’s refusal to discuss his work at the scene of Olivia’s accident, did a little digging and hacked into the Fringe division’s case files. Despite all the weird shit she just witnessed, she’s more than willing to help Peter out while Olivia lies in a vegetative state.

The good news is that she’s not in that vegetative state for very long and bursts out of it in Peter’s presence, muttering in Greek. She has no idea where she was, but she does remember that she was going somewhere to meet with someone, although she can’t recall if that meeting actually took place or what its contents were if it did.

This week’s MOTW, who hit Olivia’s car and fled the scene of the crime, only to steal another man’s appearance, turns up in a curiosity shop to use one of the mirror-portal typewriters they keep in the back, where he learns that his mission to kill Olivia has not gone according to plan. The mirror-typewriter delivers unto him a new mission: interrogate the target, and kill her. (If anyone can find me one of these mirror-typewriter things, I would like one. Totally beats an Ouija board, am I right?)

But nothing says brand new season like a cow in a birthday hat!

But nothing says "brand new season" like a cow in a birthday hat!

Walter, examining one of the cast-off, water-logged bodies the shape-shifting soldier had to electrocute in order to resemble it, finds the three holes in the roof of the corpse’s mouth and remembers something. Back in the day when he and Belly were producing psychotropic drugs that made Timothy Leary jealous, they put together experiments that would cause a subject’s brain to see the divine. When one such subject was being recorded, she uttered a few key phrases regarding how “the three nails go in the mouth” and how, with their machines, “they can look like anyone.”

Because of this, it takes some clever observation on Peter and Agent Jessup’s part to track down any bodies with holes in their palates and follow anyone who looks like that person. Eventually, the suspect makes his way to the hospital where Olivia is under observation. They get the alert from security just as he steals the appearance of Olivia’s attending nurse. With the floor on lockdown, the nurse interrogates Olivia and, when she runs out of information, attempts to suffocate her just as the team arrives, chasing her down into the bowels of the hospital, where Agent Francis eventually kills her . . . or should I say, until she eventually kills Agent Francis and steals his appearance? I should say that, because that’s what happened.

Peter manages to find the shape-shifting machine in the midst of all of this and, although it is broken, he hands it to Broyles as proof that Fringe division does get results. He instructs Broyles to tell the government that this device will allow them to have an army that can look like anyone and that the only way they’re going to be able to develop this alien technology is if they keep Fringe division alive so Walter can find a way to fix the broken tech.

Myth-arc stuff:

  • For once, Walter’s fixation on foods is actually really crucial. As Peter’s birthday is soon approaching, he plans to make a custard for his son. Peter insists he doesn’t like custard and never has, but Walter corrects him and says that he loved custard as a child. This is obviously a disconnect between the Peter we know, who was stolen from the other side, and the boy Walter lost in that car accident.
  • The Greek words Olivia woke up with were something Peter’s mother said to him before bedtime: Be a better man than your father.
  • Agent Jessup notices that all of the events of the Pattern correspond to passages in the “Book of Revelation.” I roll my eyes a little bit at the thought of exploring this hackneyed trope.

Funnies!

  • Astrid stirring custard over a dead body.
  • Walter wanting to eat said custard with bloody glove hands.
  • Gene wearing a birthday hat.
  • Peter: Walter, will you forget about the custard?
    Walter: I refuse!

And The X-Files reference I promised you:

When Peter questions Agent Jessup’s commitment to this case even after seeing the Fringe case files, she quotes Hamlet to him:

“There are more things in heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Scully quoted this line to Mulder once, as well. I believe it was during the third season, but my memory (and the internet) fail me. You’ll also see this phrase crop up in reviews of The X-Files, as a basic philosophy to describe Agent Scully’s dedication to science.

The Husband:

And so I shall continue into this second season of Fringe with how I approached most of last season — with haiku!

Shape-shifting is here.
Heroes
, True Blood, and now this.
Mystique would be proud.

In case you forgot
Walter likes sweet confections.
You must taste his pud!

Where is Mr. Spock?
I’ve questions. He has answers.
Stop jumping through time.

Kirk Acevedo
Has survived worse things than death —
Anal rape on Oz.

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:

It’s a total delight to be given the final three episodes of Pushing Daisies when there is nearly nothing else on television right now (except for So You Think You Can Dance and, soon, SLOTAT). Having a plethora of farmer’s market strawberries because my mother won’t stop buying them, I spent my Sunday morning baking, like Ned, with live fruit and watching “Window Dressed to Kill.” And while I certainly enjoyed the episode and the pie-baking, there were certainly some bittersweet moments to both experiences. First, the minute this show opened with the narrative about little Olive Snook being ignored at a costume party, I remembered how much I missed seeing this blissfully designed show, but realized I had also forgotten the central decisions made by the characters in “The Norwegians.” Because that was back in December. Before Christmas and holiday baking and drinking and before cooking my noodle on five months of Lost. I had forgotten about the very literal cliffhanger. I had forgotten that Ned had sworn off detective work, and several other things. Secondly, I had a hell of a time getting my crust to come together, at one point spilling little pie crust crumblies all over my freezer. And finally, once I remembered plot points and got my pie crust together, I realized the most bittersweet thing of all: no matter how much of a lovely time I would have watching Pushing Daisies on Sunday mornings over the next three weeks, these would be the last three airings of the show, airings that many people who were only casual viewers might not see because they’re on Saturday nights at 10 p.m. and there was no ABC-sponsored advertisement to remind us about these airings. Seeing Daisies only for a few minutes made me remember everything I love about it, like the smell of a pie cooling on a windowsill. But both pies and Pushing Daisies are finite things, and that makes enjoying them so much just the slightest bit sad. I can always bake another pie, but there’s never going to be another show quite like Pushing Daisies.

After the last episode’s cliffhanger in which Ned told Olive that he didn’t not love her, she spends her time learning about the intricate grammar of the double negative, trying to discern exactly what he meant by that while Ned chooses to retire from detective work, miring himself in his bakeshop to cook with alive-alive fruit for the first time in his life. As Olive asks Ned delicately constructed questions with obscured meaning, he muses on the fact that he can finally eat his own pies and relishes the possibility of getting fat. So when Emerson enters with the case of a dead window dresser for Dicker’s Department Store, Ned politely refuses to help. In his stead, Chuck offers her services suggesting that they, for once, do traditional detective work through which she can become the Alive-Again Avenger.

Relishing the return of that smile.

Relishing the return of that smile.

While Emerson and Chuck head off to investigate the death of window dresser Erin Embry, Olive’s former kidnappers turn up at the Pie Hole, inconveniently ruining Randy Mann’s attempt to court her. But Olive’s former kidnappers turn out to not be as horrible as we thought they were. In fact, they weren’t actually kidnappers at all. They were petty thieves who just happened to steal the car young Olive was hiding from her parents in, hoping that they’d give her the attention she desired if only they missed her for long enough. This was a pretty magical, ingenious twist that I adored, even more so when it lead to the bittersweet realization that Olive’s parents didn’t even want her back and that Jerry and Buster were jailed simply for returning a lost child to the parents that didn’t want her. Over their time in the pen, Olive wrote to them, considering them in some ways to be surrogate dads, and they returned to find her post-jailbreak to solicit her help in getting them safely across the border to Canada.

Olive has told her surrogate kidnapping dads a lot of things, actually – including that Ned loves her and wants to marry her. This comes as a shock to both Ned and Randy, but Ned decides to play along when he realizes that Jerry and Buster’s only happiness is knowing that Olive is happy. So they load the men into Randy’s taxidermy van, and share a very uncomfortable ride with a stuffed rhinoceros up to the border where they find the police waiting for them. Rather than risk Jerry and Buster returning to jail, they turn the van around and head to Lily and Vivian’s house, where Olive hopes they might be able to root through the aunts’ old Darling Mermaid Darlings costumes and find some way to disguise the escapees. While there, Olive’s dads accidentally spill the not-real news about Ned and Olive’s engagement and while Vivian looks for disguises for their houseguests, she digs up the veil she was to wear to her wedding to Charles Charles and presents it to Olive, the very presence of which freaks out Ned so much that Olive finally realizes he definitely doesn’t love her in that way and comes clean about her fake relationship, which her kidnapping dads recognize as yet another one of Olive’s desperately sad pleas for attention.

But there’s barely any time to mope over the dissolution of a fake relationship as the cops have surrounded the aunts’ house, as a suspicious neighbor saw Jerry and Buster smoking on the porch and called them in. Ned, who’s spent the episode “trying on” a normal relationship and a “normal” life in which he can eat pies and not wake the dead and hold the hand of a girl he loves (in some way) realizes, after a long talk with Randy and the events with Olive, that he should be happy being somewhat-super instead of trying to hard to fit in to normalcy, and so he rushes out to Randy’s van and makes the rhinoceros alive-again long enough to disperse the police. This very much embarrasses Randy, who just can’t believe he taxidermied a live animal. But Olive quiets his fears with talk of the convent and he, in turn, quiets hers by suggesting she turn to whomever Mother Superior would turn to in times when one runs out of their own cunning.

Olive talks to the police about letting Buster and Jerry off the hook since they didn’t really commit a crime in the first place, but they seem unmoved. Luckily, as if by some divine plan, Mother Superior and her sisters enter the Pie Hole looking for a pee break, and Olive kindly breaks her “customers only” policy to allow the sisters in, which also allows her to spirit her jailbird dads out in nun’s garb, along with some complimentary pies. You know, in the name of charity. This was a very clever take on deus ex machina, especially because I saw Diana Scarwid’s name in the credits and kept wondering how Mother Superior was going to figure into this episode. In general, I really liked this whole insight into Olive’s desperation for love and attention, especially the flashback to what her childhood kidnapping experience was actually like (better than her life at home) and the moment where she breaks away from her fake-engagement party to sing a few bars of Lionel Richie’s “Hello.” Swear to God, Bryan Fuller is almost as good as Ryan Murphy at choosing appropriate music for a scene. I was also very fond of Ned’s Superman/Clark Kent-ish struggle with being ordinary or extraordinary, which also reminded me of how good the first season of Heroes (when Fuller worked on it) compared to subsequent seasons.

The Emerson-and-Chuck mystery was mostly just fluff compared to the emotionally-driven Olive-and-Ned narrative, but it was pretty fluff, which is the best kind of fluff Daises has to offer. Sans their magic finger, they investigate Erin Embry’s murder and realize that the current window at Dicker’s mirrors the crime scene. She’s wearing the same dress as the mannequin and died in the same frozen, wintry fountain. As the police have ruled Erin’s death an accident, Emerson has no one to pay him to investigate. Cleverly, Chuck drums up some funding by whispering into the ears of Erin’s many devotees that she may have been murdered, so after about three minutes of rumor-mongering, Chuck and Emerson are on the case. The suspects are many, particularly Coco Juniper, Erin’s window dressing partner, whom they suspect may have offed Erin to show which of the two had real talent. Only, that theory gets shot to hell when Coco Juniper turns up dead after the unveiling of the Erin Embry Memorial Window, showing a goddess-like woman ascending retail escalators to heaven . . . which means Coco’s corpse is also lodged in an escalator. By poking around the store at night, Chuck and Emerson uncover the fact that neither Erin nor Coco were the creative geniuses behind the Dicker’s windows – it was their biggest fan, Chic-as-Hell Denny. When they suspect he might be murdering everyone at Dicker’s to get credit, they inform store owner Dick (Sex and the City‘s Willie “Stanford Blatch” Garson), who immediately starts to make suspicious inquiries about Denny. Ned returns just in time to help put everything together by waking the two dead designers (so distractingly funny to see Coco wonder where the hell her legs are) who inform them that it was in fact Dick who offed them, meaning Chic-as-Hell Denny would be his next target. You see, Dick hated his family business and wanted out without having to lose his family, so he set about to lose the one thing that brought Dicker’s Department Store so much revenue: its famous windows. Case closed, thanks to Ned’s magic fingers, and Chic-as-Hell Denny went on to get Erin and Coco’s old job all to himself with a new member of the Dicker family running the store.

Favorite outfit of the episode belongs to the black lace cocktail dress worn by Olive’s inattentive mother at the party from which her daughter gets “kidnapped,” which I think was nicely reflected in Coco Juniper’s black lace sheath – two women who could not have cared less about the loss of people they “loved.” I just taught you costume design, bitches.

The Husband:

It may be entirely because of the five-plus-change months between the last episode of Pushing Daisies and this one, but this entry may log as one of my favorites. It could just be because of the sudden rush of nostalgic awe-inspiring goodness of this show (yes, something five months old can be nostalgic), but I was so into this episode and its clever way of working around Ned’s insistence that he would no longer revive dead things, at least for the time being. It somehow ironically livened up the procedural aspect considerably, especially since Emerson and Chuck figured out pretty much everything even before Ned broke his pact with himself and went to the morgue with the two of them.

Instead of ignoring the Darlings, we got just the right amount of screen time from them without resorting to another flashback into their pasts. Instead rehashing old guests stars just for the sake of it, David Arquette and Diana Scarwid were essential plot items used 100% correctly. Instead of pushing Olive to the side as pretty much the entire first season did, she was front-and-center when she needed to be and elsewhere when she wasn’t.

Am I actually praising this show for simply using its ensemble well, something that would seem to be pretty much was you’re supposed to do with an ensemble show? Yes. Because it doesn’t happen enough on television. It should, but it doesn’t.

I’m so glad to get these aired in some form or another, followed by the leftover episodes of Eli Stone and Dirty Sexy Money, even if it is at 10 p.m. It’s always a shame to have to wait for the DVDs, usually released midway through the fall, so this is a nice present from the networks who saw the poor ratings for these three good shows and just had to cut them. Stay tuned for the leftover eps of Samantha Who, In The Motherhood and the not-canceled but cut-down first season of Better Off Ted during the rest of the summer. It’s actually quite a lovely idea, even if it is bittersweet.

The Wife:

We don’t usually do news here, but since I’m trying to decide what shows I can and can’t watch next year (thus, can and can’t cover) because of grad school, I figured I’d help you all out by sharing my handy-dandy season schedules for the major networks here at Children of St. Clare.

I’ve listed everything by hour, as most networks are running hour-long shows these days, so two half-hour shows are listed in the same box with the time the latter show starts in between them. If a show runs longer than one hour, I’ve indicated the length and listed it in the hour in which it starts. Asterisks (*) indicate new shows, and I’ll have some snap judgments on those shows following these graphics:

falllineupMTWRF

And here’s the weekend schedule for the fall, which, as you can see, is largely blank:

FallineupSS

In January, the networks will change to their midseason schedules:

midseasonlineupMTWRF

And here’s the weekend midseason schedule

midseasonlineupSS

Now, on the midseason schedule, you may notice some funny little symbols after the network names. Here are those footnotes:

  • # ABC has not yet announced its midseason lineup. The have, however, three new shows on deck: V, Happy Town and The Deep End, as well as returning shows Lost, Wife Swap, True Beauty, The Bachelor, Better Off Ted and Scrubs. Timeslots all to be determined.
  • + CBS has not yet announced its midseason lineup, but has the following shows for midseason replacements: Miami Trauma*, The Bridge*, Undercover Boss*, Arranged Marriage*, Rules of Engagement, Flashpoint
  • = CW’s midseason debut is Parental Discretion Advised, timeslot to be determined.
  • Additionally, Fox has Hell’s Kitchen scheduled for Summer 2010, and has Kitchen Nightmares on deck to fill holes in the schedule.

Now, for my snap judgments . . .

NBC: While we all know by now how I feel about Jay Leno, I can honestly tell you that the only one of their new shows I will definitely watch is Joel McHale’s comedy pilot Community, joining the NBC Thursday comedy block in 30 Rock‘s spot until it returns at midseason. Community has a good premise (McHale finds his college degree is invalid and must go back to community college to make up the credits), and has both McHale and Chevy Chase, who turned in a good performance as the villain at the end of Chuck season 2. I am overjoyed that Chuck is returning at midseason, as I think a 13-episode run will give us only the most super-concentrated awesomeness Chuck has to offer. I do not need another medical show in my life, so I’m declining Trauma and Michelle Trachtenberg’s nursing show, Mercy. 100 Questions looks so much like Friends that it is entirely out of the question for me. But then there’s Day One, which has a nice pedigree of coming from the people who work on Lost, Heroes and Fringe. It could be awesome, or it could be hokey, but I think it’s the only other promising thing NBC has to offer us.

ABC: I am delighted that ABC has given a permanent slot to Castle, allowing Nathan Fillion to prove he is charming, rakish and shouldn’t be a showkiller! He and Adam Baldwin have broken their own curse! Other than that, though, I am extremely concerned at how unimpressive the new shows debuting for fall seem, compared to the stuff ABC has on deck for midseason. Not a single one of the Wednesday night comedy block shows looks palatable. Hank looks downright abysmal, The Middle looks, well, middling, Modern Family falls flat and Cougar Town is trying way too hard. I might DVR Eastwick because I like Rebecca Romjin and Lindsay Price, but I have no emotional ties to either the previous film or the novel upon which it’s based to grab my immediate attention. I watched a clip from The Forgotten and I can tell you right now that I think it’s going to be the most dour procedural on television, and I certainly don’t need that in my life. I am, however, intrigued by Flash Forward because I like both time travel and Joseph Fiennes. But what sounds really interesting are the midseason shows. The Deep End is about law students and, out of all the ABC clips I watched, it certainly has the most character, pizzazz and joy. It also has Tina Majorino, looking the prettiest she’s ever looked. I will give that a shot when it premeires. I will also give hardcore sci-fi reboot V a shot, as we certainly don’t have any shows on network TV currently dealing with alien invasion, and I’m really jazzed on the trailer for Happy Town, which seems like its going to be a slightly more normal Twin Peaks (in that its a small town mystery), only this time, with Amy Acker!

FOX: I’m wary of a fall edition of SYTYCD, but I do see the benefit of it giving FOX a consistent schedule so that things don’t get shitfucked when Idol rolls around at midseason. Perhaps, if this is a success, going forward we’ll have to find a new totally awesome summer reality competition . . . maybe one for actors? OR MAYBE WE CAN MAKE A TRIPLE THREAT SHOW BECAUSE I WOULD TOTALLY WATCH THAT????? (Please, FOX?!!!!) Fox is actually my favorite of the networks so far, actually. I’m happy to see they’ve renewed Dollhouse and paired Bones with Fringe, which makes for a really rockin’ Thursday. Also excited to see Sons of Tucson with Tyler Labine as it looks pretty funny from the promo.  Human Target looks pretty fun, too. And you best fucking bet I will be watching Glee. The only thing I think I’d really pass on, here, is Past Life, and that’s just because I’m not really interested in seeing a show that solves crimes using past life regression (although one of my favorite X-Files episodes has exactly that conceit). So, rock on, FOX. You are my winner for next season.

CBS: I will be skipping pretty much every new show on CBS this year as they continue to build their police procedural empire. However, I will give a try to the new Monday comedy Accidentally on Purpose, even though it’s based on the memoirs of a film critic I don’t like very much, the Contra Costa Times‘ Mary F. Pols, who can’t seem to see the good in anything at all. The show is set in San Francisco, though Pols lives somewhere in the Walnut Creek area in reality, I assume, and Jenna Elfman plays the fictional version of Pols’ film critic who accidentally gets pregnant by a younger, one-night stand and decides to keep the baby, and it’s daddy. I generally like Jenna Elfman and, of course, adore Grant Show, who will be playing her boss. I will also give Three Rivers a shot, because it stars Moonlight‘s Alex O’Laughlin and its about organ donation, so there’s a chance I could see him repeat at least part of his horrifying performance in Feed, a film in which he kidnaps obese women and feeds them their own fat until they die. (How he would repeat part of that performance, I don’t know, but I’d like to see CBS try.)

CW: Will I watch a show produced by Ashton Kutcher about teenage models called The Beautiful Life? Yes, I will. Will I watch a show about teenage vampires called The Vampire Diaries? Indeed, I would probably watch something like that, as long as it sucked in a good way and not a bad way. Melrose Place? I have even less of a connection to that show than to 90210, so I’m not inclined to watch the reboot — especially since Ashlee Simpson’s on it. But, hey, I might need some mind-numbing crap to counterbalance all my grad school reading, so perhaps. I’ll give Melrose Place a perhaps, a perhaps perhaps, even, if I choose to continue watching 90210, making my Tuesday nights just like 1992. I am, however, surprised that CW axed the Gossip Girl spin-off, as even though I didn’t like the backdoor pilot, I did think the show had potential. I’m also surprised they axed Jason Dohring and Minka Kelly’s legal show, Body Politic, if only because I was hoping both former Moonlight vampires would have jobs come fall, but I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for Josef Kostan nee Logan Echolls.

So, as the curtain on this TV season falls, you can look forward to me actually writing about Mad Men this summer, as well as many, many articles on SYTYCD. After that, I’m going to have to see what my fall schedule is like and compare it to the above fall schedules to see what I can really watch and what I can, in turn, cover.

I’ll make you guys a chart of all that later.

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.

The Wife:

The Dollhouse season/series finale (and I’m betting it’s the latter) was certainly some of the series’ finest work, confirming my Dr. Saunders-is-a-doll theory and engaging in some interesting cyberpunk conceits. As a finale, I think this episode admirably wrapped up the season and, since the central arc was essentially completed, could serve to wrap up the series, as well. But, as any good season finale-that-might-be-a-series-finale should be, there are open doors through which to proceed should FOX get Dollhouse a greenlight for 12 more episodes. (Or 13. Depending.)

When Alpha abducted Echo from the Dollhouse, he stole all of her former imprints, and destroyed the backup copy of her original “Caroline” personality. Topher struggles to find out which of her imprints he would have uploaded into her before absconding, and discovers that it was never one of Echo’s imprints at all, but one of Whiskey’s.

A tall glass of Whiskey.

A tall glass of Whiskey.

Three or so years ago, Whiskey and Alpha were sent out on a paired engagement, basically playing Mickey and Mallory from Natural Born Killers in some dude’s totally weird torture/porn fantasy. Alpha, programmed with a personality prone to paranoid delusions, started to take things too far, which in turn called in the handlers to break things up, but not, of course, until after the reveal that the silhouetted woman he was working with wasn’t Echo at all, but Whiskey . . . and after Whiskey and Alpha proceeded to have some totally hot foreplay with their captive. (This is, I guess, the only reason one should ever want to be kidnapped by Mickey and Mallory, because otherwise that’s a pretty fucking terrible idea!)

And here’s where I take a moment to thank Joss Whedon for giving us Amy Acker in stripper clothes. She’s so much more beautiful and has so much more range than Eliza Dushku that I’d rather watch a spin-off prequel about her character. I mean, really, Dushku has basically only been Faith for most of this series, whereas Acker has been someone completely different than Fred. And we already know she’s a great actress. Let’s all take a moment to shudder in remembrance of the Ilyria arc on Angel.

But as to the Mickey-and-Mallory imprints, it seems Alpha chose them in part because his Mickey personality was dominant at the time, and in part because it was the most convenient way to go on a kidnapping spree. He and Echo-as-Mallory, only minutes out of the Dollhouse, kidnap a young girl named Wendy and drag her back to Alpha’s lair. He was astute enough to call in a bomb threat to the building and lock everyone else inside the Dollhouse so they’d have greater difficulty finding him, and Paul Ballard (who also doesn’t have a whole lot of range or characterization, thanks to Tahmoh Penikett) puts himself in charge of reconstructing what happened on the day Alpha went rogue.

It seems Alpha was obsessed with Echo from the day Caroline strode into the Dollhouse for her pre-Activation tour. Caroline makes a comment about how the Dolls all seem like zombies waiting for tasty brains, which I thought was a pretty cute, sly nod to her Hulu commercial, as well as an accurate assessment of living without a personality. Per the Mickey-and-Mallory flashback, it seems Alpha was routinely paired with Whiskey on engagements, as she was, at the time, the Dollhouse’s most requested Active. And because of his fascination with Echo, he one day took a pair of scissors to Whiskey’s face during art class, eerily demanding, “Whiskey, let Echo be number one.” And so Whiskey was broken, and Alpha was to be given a full diagnostic, wiped and then sent to the Attic (despite his protestations that “I was making art”). During the diagnostic, though, he resists, creating that famous composite event where all of his former imprints uploaded into his brain, causing him to not have multiple personalities, but to be multiple personalities, as other brains shifted, randomly, into his own consciousness at any given moment. And so that killing spree occurred, in which he preserved the one person he thought was different and special: Echo.

At his power plant lair, Alpha uploads Caroline’s brain into poor unsuspecting Wendy with his own version of Topher’s chair, and forces “Caroline” to confront her own body. This was absolutely my favorite part of the series so far, as I felt it finally engaged in some commentary on theories of consciousness and embodiment rather than just bringing something up through a moral lense (such as the show’s constant dialogue about slavery and freedom, which also is brought up in the most eye-rolling way possible during this otherwise great scene). Alpha shows “Caroline” her body and chastises her for abandoning it, making a strange bid to privilege the corporeal and temporal over permanent, ethereal cyber-consciousness. I found this bid to punish Caroline’s mind for abandoning her body especially strange in light of Alpha’s next assertion that, if he makes Echo like him, they can be supreme beings, gods or supermen (or, literally, the Alpha and Omega), because they are not one person with multiple personalities, but one body comprised of many people, able to shift in and out of consciousnesses at any minute.

To make her into Omega, Alpha uploads all of Echo’s imprints into her, hoping that she will do as he did when he emerged from his composite event and destroy her original consciousness. In this case, to kill “Caroline.” But Echo as Omega seems to have a slightly better grip on reality and juggling multiple consciousnesses than Alpha does, and realizes it’s pretty insane to destroy one’s primary consciousness, so she instead swings at him. She disagrees with his theories on the übermensch, because even though they may be everybody, in the sense that they are many people, they still aren’t someone without their original personalities.

That notion of being “someone,” I think, is what Alpha’s addled brain is rallying against by destroying his own original brain and asking Echo to destroy hers. To Alpha, a body with just one brain in it, one consciousness, is to be “someone,” which is to be less than “everyone,” privileging a multiple consciousness, an ever-shifting collective over the singular, individual consciousness. I really like this conceit as it subverts the notion of what it means to be an “everyman” in narratives. This whole time, we’ve looked at the Dolls as “everymen,” capable of having attributes projected onto them, but now we’re asked to read Alpha and Omega’s composite personalities as “everymen” in a literal sense, which renders them godlike, in Alpha’s conception, and, therefore, utterly singular. Uniqueness here is achieved by subverting the traditional notion of an “everyman,” and that’s pretty clever.

Barring that reading, I would find it very odd for Alpha to spend time punishing Caroline’s brain for abandoning her body, when he went on to destroy his own. Especially when he utters the most cyperpunk line in the entire series as he uploads Caroline into Wendy: “A body’s just a body. They’re all pretty much the same.” And he’s right: bodies aren’t special, but consciousness is. This show’s entire conceit has privileged the consciousness over the corporeal, uploading new people into blanked out bodies and sending them off to do the extraordinary or the ordinary. A body is only meat and flesh and organs, something that can be marked, scarred, broken or destroyed while the consciousness, especially the kind that is downloaded or uploaded at will, that lives on. And I couldn’t be happier that Dollhouse finally made it to a point where it engaged in its own conceits. (Props to you, Tim Minear!)

Thus ends our brief, poorly-executed literary theory section of this post. I promise only summary/brief commentary from now on.

While Alpha, Wendy/Caroline and Echo/Omega are having theoretical fun in his lair of doom, Ballard manages to get the bomb threat called off so he and others can go hunt down Alpha and their missing Doll. Sierra and November are imprinted as thieves, for some reason, in the one plot thread that never actually goes anywhere, which I think was added just to make Ballard uncomfortable at seeing the woman he kind of cared for uploaded with a new personality. He also discovers that Alpha and some of the other original dolls were taken from a prison population, and that, as a convict, Carl Craft (later known as Alpha) was also prone to carving up people’s faces and kidnapping. (So perhaps one never leaves one’s original consciousness behind, even when erased?)

Meanwhile Dr. Saunders tends to Victor, whose lovely face will now be scarred worse than her own. She’s actually not very kind to him, reminding him that he will never, ever be able to be his best again, that he’ll basically suffer the fate she suffered: being uploaded with a new personality for the remainder of his contract with the Dollhouse and working on the inside, as a Doll with scars is a broken Doll. (I’ll spare you more theory/analysis on bodily marking, abjecta and the horrific powers of scars, even though I assure you I really, really, really want to say something about it.) You see, once Whiskey was broken by Alpha, and he killed the original Dr. Saunders (who was an old dude who liked lollipops), they made her useful by uploading his skillset and temperament into her body. I feel so badly for Victor, whose life will never be normal again. He won’t notice it now, but when his contract is up, he will. Maybe Topher can make one of the Dolls into a plastic surgeon and fix most of Victor’s scars. He’s almost too valuable to lose as a Doll.

Why couldn't she climb to the top of the ratings? She can do practically everything else.

Why couldn't she climb to the top of the ratings? She can do practically everything else.

Back in the power plant, Echo agrees that she won’t kill her own consciousness (after the world’s most eye-rollingly on-the-nose speech about how she has 37 different brains in her head and not a one of them thinks you can sign a contract to be a slave, especially when there’s a black president), Alpha threatens to break Wendy’s personality so that she can never have it back, revealing his plan to basically live out his days kidnapping people, and putting Echo’s consciousness into them so that she can repeatedly kill herself (and yet never kill herself . . . which is where his argument descends into crazyville). She chases him outside to save Wendy’s consciousness and literally goes out on a limb for the girl, crawling on a construction beam to get to the wedge. Conveniently, Boyd and Ballard have figured out where Alpha’s lair is by this point and Ballard manages to position himself right under Echo, catching the wedge as it falls and saving the girl. Alpha escapes (thus setting up the chase to continue should there be a next season).

Back at the Dollhouse, Ballard agrees to contract for DeWitt to help track down Alpha, but only if November’s contract is voided and she gets to return to her own life, which was pretty sweet and unexpected of Ballard to do, and proves that, in some small way, he did care about Mellie, even though she was never real. And Echo? She gets wiped clean, at least for the foreseeable future.

I’d be surprised if Fox gives Dollhouse a second season, but with such a strong sweep (save for “Haunted”) heading into the finale, they’d be remiss not to. It’s not the smartest show on TV, but it tries hard enough to be. And I’d rather watch something with which I can engage than something that doesn’t ask me to at all.

The Husband:

Hell, I can ignore about half of the Dollhouse episodes and still be confident enough with the other half, especially the last two and the Rashomon episode, to demand a second season. Just like Buffy and Angel, it took its time to get its intelligence and cleverness past the network and finally become a true Whedon show, one of big ideas, big laughs and big action. While I felt the first handful of episodes really talked down to its viewers (something that FOX surprisingly does not do very often with its dramas, and far less so than the #1 network, CBS), it finally started asking us to put the pieces together, and play along with the show as it progressed through its actual mytharc.

As I didn’t really give a crap about this show for a few weeks, I was surprised at how emotional I felt during this finale, especially during the Alpha flashbacks. This may have a great deal to do with how much I have grown to love Amy Acker over the last nine months while I watched Angel, but also my extreme amount of respect for Alan Tudyk as an actor ever since I saw him in A Knight’s Tale. (It took me another three years to discover that he wasn’t British.) The moment he slashed up Whiskey’s face was probably the series’ best moment, one of both great despair and, in a really fucked up way, love. I’m so glad I called the fact that Whiskey only became Dr. Saunders after she was slashed up, and that she wasn’t necessarily the second Doll, and that it in turn gave me a reason as to why Dr. Saunders would be afraid of Alpha, even if she wouldn’t have remembered him as an activated active and not as Whiskey.

While my wife geeks out on cyberpunk, I’m more interested in the broader concept of a soul, or in this case, how despite being a superpersonality, Alpha original form, Carl Craft, tends to dominate and thus fucks up the rest of the Dollhouse by basically being Jack the Ripper. It explains away some of the contradictions in Alpha’s “quest” versus his own killer instinct, the highbrow and lowbrow of what’s going down in that fried brizzain.

Ballard still sucks, though, but now that he’s in cahoots with the Dollhouse, maybe he can redeem himself as a character if the show gets renewed.

Which brings me to the renewal question. I wholeheartedly think that had FOX not dumped it on Friday nights, pairing it with the sinking second season of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, it would have definitely earned a second season. Can you imagine how Fringe would do on such a shitty night with such a shitty pairing? Why not put Dollhouse on Mondays after either House or Bones (the ever-shifting hits of different proportions)? I think going up against Heroes, which some might consider stupid, would actually be a great concept. Heroes is hemorrhaging viewers each week, viewers who’d do better with the similar-but-better Dollhouse, so FOX could easily snag those viewers away, viewers who’d perhaps prefer something a bit more rewarding. And at 9, it could basically take all of those viewers who love Chuck at 8 but ignore Heroes (…as I raise my hand…), because Chuck was designed for Whedonites, the smart nerdy crowd who’d follow Adam Baldwin anywhere. It’s a dirty tactic, sure, but it’s not a new concept.

Come on. Even if many great shows have failed ratings-wise this season, at least they were given a second chance after the WGA strike. Money is money, so wouldn’t you love to capture the intelligent 18-34 bracket who are smart enough to have a disposable income? Because those people are called Whedonites.