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.

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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 Wife:

Usually reality shows do not coincide with major events in my life, but it just struck me while watching the show last night that next week would be the finale of SYTYCD 5, and that also means that summer is over and my move to the Pacific Northwest is imminent. We bought tickets to the Everett show, one of the last on the tour, last Saturday. It’s all happening.

This week, we were treated not only to six routines from our remaining six dancers, plus solos, but also two routines from Sonya Tayeh for the Top three dancers of each gender. I’m actually going to take a minute to talk about Sonya’s pieces first because they were both so good that they deserve recognition. First of all, I want to retract what I said last week about how I’d never cast Evan in a Sonya Tayeh piece. I’m sorry, Mia Michaels, but you are wrong and I was wrong to agree with you. For as good as Brandon and Ade were in Sonya’s Willy Wonka-inspired jazz piece to “True Romance” by She Wants Revenge, the person I noticed the most was Evan. He danced just as strongly as his counterparts, and, I’d argue, with more character. That piece was a joy to watch, quirky and weird and interesting, and suited each of the guys’ strengths. As for the girls routine, Sonya prepared something that highlighted each of their strengths and turned them into superheroes (complete with belts bearing their initials) for a routine set to “Kick It (Superheroes Remix)” by Nina Martino. What I liked about both of these pieces was not simply the dancing, which was excellent from every performer, but Sonya’s use of levels in her work, as well as her commitment to using the entire stage. It made these pieces really powerful, and that made them great bookends for the beginning and end of the show.

The Excellent

Kayla and Brandon (Contemporary)
Choreography by Stacey Tookey
Song: “All I Want” by Ahn Trio

This was Uh. May. Zing. I seriously got chills watching this piece. It was a gorgeous story danced with sheer gorgeousness and gorgeousity all over. Highlights include Brandon lifting Kayla on her side, with her legs bowed together in a frog-like shape, the upside-down V-lift and anytime the two of them came together. Lil C said this was the first time Kayla had been paired with a partner of equal skill and the results were amazing, Mary put Brandon on the Hot Tamale Train beside Kayla and Nigel muttered something incomprehensible about how he thought they didn’t have enough chemistry together but the dancing was strong. To which I say: Nigel, this piece was about a man using and abusing his mistress. They don’t have to have romantic chemistry, they simply need to appear like they get together once a week to fuck. And they did that extremely well.

Another suitcase, another hall.

Another suitcase, another hall.

Kayla and Brandon (Disco)
Choreography by Doriana Sanchez
Song: “Dance (Disco Heat)” by Sylvester

Clearly, Kayla and Brandon are my couple of the night, and not only because they’re two of my favorite dancers. They were simply on fucking fire tonight. I thought disco might kill them, as it sometimes destroys people, but Doriana Sanchez gave us another really memorable, fun and awesome disco routine last night that was made all the better by the people performing it. I have no idea what the hell Lil C was talking about with his rambling about the darkness and seeing with your ears, but I’m going to guess that he meant that Brandon and Kayla demonstrated excellent musicality in this performance. They were, in fact, spot on in their double arm extensions when Brandon lifted Kayla with his shoulders. All of the judges loved this piece and the dance was hot enough to receive two Official Mary Murphy Screams, plus two first class tickets on the Hot Tamale Train for each of the dancers. If there’s one critique I can give the dance that went unsaid by the judging panel, it’s that while I liked the double death drop in theory, the reverse-gender half of it simply didn’t work for me as Brandon nearly took Kayla to the floor with him in his section. Great idea, but it didn’t quite work. Even so, this piece was excellent.

The Good to Very Good

Jeanine and Ade (Samba)
Choreography by Louis Van Amstel
Song: “LoveGame” by Lady Gaga

Dear Karla and Jonathan (and Tony Meredith): this is how a Latin ballroom number set to Lady Gaga should look and feel. Jeanine was in it to win it on this one from the moment she lowered her stunna shades and shook her feathered rump bustle like there was no fucking tomorrow. Also, I’m so glad I got my “LoveGame” wish and Jeanine sort of took a ride on her partner’s disco stick. At least, I’m pretty sure her ass feathers did. I would have put this in the “Excellent” section, but I have to agree with Mary that Ade’s samba rolls were a bit weak. Lil C, I believe, called this dance some sort of misfire in the Large Hadron Super Collider and Nigel reminded Ade that he has to change his style a bit to suit each dance. But even with Ade’s faults here, Jeanine was totally and completely amazing in this. She’s a spectacular performer, and any girl who can wear that many feathers on her ass is aces in my book. Totally my favorite outfit of the night.

Shake those tailfeathers, Jeanine!

Shake those tailfeathers, Jeanine!

Jeanine and Ade (Hip-Hop)
Choreography by TabNap
Song: “Move (If You Wanna)” by MIMS

After having Shane Sparks last week and being reminded how totally awesome hip-hop on this show can be when its hard-hitting and inspiring (which is not to say that I haven’t loved a few of TabNap’s lyrical hip-hops), I ready to roll my eyes at TabNap’s attempts to follow that zombie number. I saw moving boxes and thought, “Oh! Did TabNap just buy their first house? How sweet!” But what I thought would have been kind of stupid ended up being pretty damn fun. Jeanine and Ade were both fantastic in this number, although for a time I thought Ade was dancing too high until I realized that was just an optical illusion created by Jeanine’s smaller stature. The choreography here was fun and inventive, as well. The sad faces on the moving boxes at the end were a little too precious for me, but I loved the segment where the dancers had to move with boxes on their feet. That was inspired. The judges were way into this one as well, and Mary took the time to remind Jeanine how good she was in the samba. Nigel, instead, took the time to complain about his ex-wife. Nigel, fucking shut it. Half of everything you say makes you seem like a misogynistic asshat. I don’t care how much you hate your ex, just fucking let it go.

Melissa and Evan (Quickstep)
Choreography by Louis Van Amstel
Song: “As Long as I’m Singin'” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra

I heard that they drew the quickstep and announced, “You’re done” to my television. After five seasons of this show, I think we’re all aware that a quickstep is the kiss of death on SYTYCD. It’s an awful dance that almost no one does well. In fact, I can only think of two I’ve ever really liked. One was performed by Artem in season one, and the other performed by Sabra and Pasha in season three to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. But Melissa and Evan broke my “Only Russians Can Quickstep” rule tonight by performing a number I actually liked. Louis Van Amstel’s choreography here was lively and fun to watch, and well-suited to the music. (Ill-chosen music, I think, kills many a quickstep instantly.) This style was far better suited to Evan’s talents than Tyce’s earlier Broadway routine was and I thought he looked really good here, as did Melissa. Lil C critiqued Evan’s retractions, which weren’t snappy enough for him, but admired how big he danced this number. Mary, who choreographed that great quickstep with Artem in season one, thought the dance started strong, but fell apart in the final grapevine section and noted that while the choreography was fun, it wasn’t a true quickstep. Frankly, I don’t care, because it was fun to watch. Nigel also pointed out Evan’s retraction problem in the lindy hop/Charleston segment (which, to my eye, contained zero lindy hopping).

Will I be proven wrong about Quicksteps? Doubtful.

Will I be proven wrong about Quicksteps? Doubtful.

The Mediocre

Melissa and Evan (Broadway)
Choreography by Tyce DiOrio
Song: “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady, only it was some bizarre swing version of it

I do not even have feelings about this routine.

Solos

1. Brandon: “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana. Um, okay guys. I am now pretty sure that Brandon is not human. I think he was simultaneously part spider, part seal and part eagle in this solo. Like a Spiseagle. Spiseagle! Oh my god! That’s now my new nickname for him! Brandon the Spiseagle was totally freaking amazing in this, and I completely agree with Nigel that it may have been the best solo ever seen on SYTYCD. Even if Brandon’s personality isn’t quite your thing, you have to admit he’s the most fucking absurdly talented dancer on this show. I mean, seriously. Watch that solo again. You’ll see.

2. Jeanine: “Feedback” by Janet Jackson. This was not as strong as some of her past solos, but I think she toned down the technique here for the sake of personality. By which I mean she stole Melissa’s whole “naughty ballerina” thing from her. It was sexy, that’s for sure. But, dear Jeanine, please don’t rely too much on your sexiness. Remind us all that you’re also talented as all hell. We can tell you’re sexy just by looking at you.

3. Ade: “11th Floor Balcony” by Blue October. While this was his least impressive solo yet, for lack of near-death experiences, I am still continually impressed by the strength of Ade’s core and the way he sweeps his arms.

4. Kayla: “You Found Me” by The Fray. I think this solo was her attempt to dramatize the first season of Lost in under 30 seconds. Did you see her swim in this piece? I did. Again, not her strongest. I love her, but I’m still waiting for something as Radomkulous as her audition in Denver.

5. Evan: “Lady Is a Tramp” by Sammy Davis, Jr. What can I say? I love his solos. They’re so adorable. And he actually twinkled his toes in this one!

6. Melissa: “I Put a Spell on You” by Nina Simone. I like Melissa, but each time I see her solos, I am less and less impressed. I’d really rather she perform a classical ballet solo that shows her strengths, rather than these odd little improvs.

I’m really at a loss for who could be going home this week. I am pretty sure Melissa will be the girl to leave us, as both Jeanine and Kayla absolutely deserve to stay. Evan should leave us, in order to preserve my perfect final four dancers, but Ade kind of took a beating from the judges and there are as many Brandon detractors as there are Evan fans. But I’m going to vote with the Rule of the Quickstep and lock in Jeanine, Kayla, Brandon and Ade as my final four.

The Wife:

This weekend, I was able to watch the original Joss Whedon pilot for Dollhouse (included on the DVD that comes out Tuesday, July 27), as well as the futuristic mind-fuck that is the unaired “Epitaph One.” And even though I have some slight misgivings about certain things in Whedon’s original pilot, I ultimately believe that it would have set the show up for a better, more consistent run, leading ultimately to “Epitaph One,” which is one of the most interesting episodes of science-fiction television I’ve seen in some time. Let’s look at these things one at a time:

“Unaired Pilot”

The only thing I didn’t like about this pilot is that it reveals that Sierra and Victor are dolls right away. Therefore, if this had been the pilot, the Victor reveal that happens a few episodes later wouldn’t have been shocking. Nor would have Echo witnessed Sierra’s making and called into question her own making. However, for all that was sacrificed, the episode managed to explain a lot about the business strategy of the Dollhouse in a very believable, naturalistic way. In fact, the opening scene here is of Miss DeWitt explaining the process to a skeptical client. Likewise, there’s a scene where Topher explains to Boyd, not quite as new to the operation as he appears in the reshoot we all saw, how his tech works and why he’s so concerned over the dolls flocking together. Sometimes, these parts felt a little too “telly,” but in the end, I really didn’t mind them. A pilot should establish your universe, and Whedon’s original pilot does that a lot better than the one Fox made him rewrite.

And if there’s any positive spin I can put on not having the Victor/Sierra introductions appear a few episodes in, it’s that Echo’s problems don’t surface right away and it establishes the possibility that her “evolution” might also be happening to other dolls. There’s also a better character introduction to Whiskey, although it still doesn’t affect the game-changing 11th hour reveal that she’s a doll. It simply hints about the Alpha problem earlier and actually answered my question about how many people in the Dollhouse’s employ were aware that Whiskey was a doll. It’s clear from a scene she shares with Topher (about how pro bono engagements with purely altruistic purposes are good for the dolls’ health) that he, as well as others, are aware of what she once was. They simply do not address it.

I do like that this version of the pilot established a prior connection between Echo and Ashley Johnson’s character who, in the finale, has Caroline’s personality uploaded into her. It would have been great for Fox to have allowed that to stay so that the season finale would have included a great big payoff for those who had been watching since day one (“Honey, I am you,” Echo growls at alcoholic Ashley Johnson, in a delightful bit of foreshadowing before launching into a screed about how she once was addicted to booze and men. Echo is a better Cleaner than Benjamin Bratt is, and I appreciate that altruistic engagements can still involve kicking out barstools from under people.) And it would completely explain why that particular mall employee is the one that Echo and Alpha as Mickey-and-Mallory kidnapped, as she would have looked familiar, thus triggering Echo’s memory issues.

There’s also not a hint of Mellie/November to be found, which is great, because Miracle Laurie was always the worst part of this show.

But the most important and necessary part of Whedon’s pilot is the way in which it establishes Echo’s relationship to Paul Ballard. See, she was originally sent to kill him, in the guise of a woman looking for her lost sister (“Caroline”), and, once she got close enough to him to seduce him, she’d off him and rid the Dollhouse of the Paul Ballard problem forever. But Echo fails to kill him, and though she is called off her mission before she can snuff his life out in his hospital bed, this gives Paul Ballard a good reason to be obsessed with this woman who looks like Caroline and why it’s vitally important for him to find the Dollhouse.

Whedon’s original pilot only makes me wonder how much more solid the whole series could have been had Fox not asked him to make the series conform to some sort of case-of-the-week format. This episode definitely felt more like a Whedon episode, from ass-kicking ladies to corporations with less-than-forthright intentions to excellent character building and witty zingers. (More Topher = more goodness.) All I can say is that I’d have loved to see the show jump off from this point, rather than where it actually started. I can only imagine how much better it would have been.

The house that Echo built.

The house that Echo built.

“Epitaph One”

If you regularly read my Dollhouse posts during the season, you would know that one of my chief complaints during the course of season one was that the show always skirted issues of consciousness and embodiment, both physical and digital, as well as other cyberpunk-esque conceits. Here, Whedon treated us to a future, only 10 years down the line, in which the technology employed at the Dollhouse and other similar houses has gotten out-of-hand and basically caused the apocalypse. Not only has most of the world as we know it been destroyed by weapons technology from China (obviously, this is prior to the Sino-American alliance of Firefly), but there’s also an all-out war between natural humans and those with imprints, specifically those who have been imprinted so often that they no longer have a memory, roaming the land, it seems, like vacant zombies, capable of basic human function but incapable of emotion or real thought. The “actuals” have taken to tattooing themselves with birthmarks of their own names so that they never forget who they are – something which, for the sake of my continued work on tattoos and body marking, I hope is further explored as Dollhouse progresses.

In this episode, a group of actuals are heading underground to find a place called “Safe Haven,” and find themselves inside ruins of the Dollhouse. They’re mission is to protect a little girl, who turns out to not be quite what they thought she was, and by encountering Whiskey and experimenting with Topher’s chair on a captive “blank slate,” they learn about what happened to the Dollhouse that made things get so bad. Among these incidents: Victor and Sierra also underwent the multiple consciousness uploading processes that Echo went through, allowing them to be many people simultaneously; the Dollhouse acts as an underground safe haven, with Miss DeWitt heading up vigils for people’s memories, as forgetting seems to be a plague affecting the world; Topher, unable to cope with the fact that his technology, a technology he revolutionized so that uploads would happen in minutes, rather than hours, has wrought such horrors upon the world, is reduced to a blubbering mess, sleeping in the pods the dolls used to occupy and desperately trying to find the right math to fix things. There are many other things we learn here, but no image was more powerful for me than the image of Topher, scratching symbols into the walls of his pod with chalk, rocking back and forth in Miss DeWitt’s arms and crying, a mere shell of the brilliant, confident man he once was.

I think “Epitaph One” gives us an excellent look at where this series could go, getting darker and darker as it progresses. I’m not sure I’d like to see Dollhouse play out for 10 years (nor should it, as it would be hard to maintain being your best as a doll once aging takes its toll), but I’d love to see Dollhouse function on a five-year plan, exactly the length of each doll’s contract, building a momentum toward this destructive and horrible future, preferably with some episodes like “Epitaph One” thrown in. Lost revolutionized and reinvigorated its narrative by tossing in some flash-forward storytelling, and I think that Dollhouse would do well to include a few glimpses into the future, as well. I like every idea presented in “Epitaph One,” and I liked its execution. I’d like to see more like this, and it gives me great hope for the potential of this series.

The Husband:

If IMDb is to be trusted (which is should be about 80% of the time), the show is intended to run, as mapped out, for five years. This is a good, comfortable number, as that is the longest amount of time any Whedon show has lasted on one network. So it’s optimistic while still being realistic. And if you’re like my wife and you pay attention to the show (which I clearly did not do nearly as well), then you’re already ahead of this information and now I look like a fool. But hey, at least I’m confirming your estimates.

As far as “Epitaph One” goes, I hope more people don’t complain about its spoilerishness, because I don’t really look at it this way. For one, I don’t think anybody behind the show has said whether or not this episode should be considered canon. Then again, I didn’t listen to Whedon’s commentary on the disc, so I can’t be certain. Maybe Whedon mentioned something at Comic-Con this past weekend that could illuminate this discussion. But I do know that he mentioned (at least allegedly, as I read this on a blog review of “Epitaph One”) that even if it is canonical, we have to realize that the memories we see throughout the episode can’t be entirely trusted, as memories are, by nature, not always the truth.

But I often subscribe to the Sophocles version of storytelling mentioned in what I refer to as Ebert’s Theory of Sophocles vs. Shakespeare as found in his review for Road to Perdition, which raises the question of whether or not a reader/viewer wants their story’s conclusion fated/preordained/foreshadowed. Oftentimes, by knowing the direct ending of a story, it does not spoil what comes before but makes the events even more suspenseful, exciting and even heartbreaking. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Cycle, we know how it’s going to turn out, but we don’t know why, and it makes the story that much better. It’s obvious from Death of a Salesman what is going to happen at the end, so it’s the journey that is the important element of that play. And, to go way-mainstream as an example, knowing that a major character was going to die in the Ministry of Magic battle climax in Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix (thanks to a shrewd marketing move by J.K. Rowling), that climax was that much more dangerous and readable, as almost all of the major participants within the fight came close to death at one point or another. (Ebert oddly misses the concept that, in most of Shakespeare’s tragedies, we are told almost immediately who is going to die, or at least that there will be a mega-bloodbath, but whatever.) And for Dollhouse, I don’t mind the “spoilers” at all. It’s the journey that matters. It’s Sophocles.

Lost is Sophocles. You heard it here first.

The Wife:

While we watched Chris Hardwick on Web Soup to kill 30 minutes prior to the glorious, glittery dance fest that is SYTYCD, I sat squirming on the couch, making the kinds of noises the Marlowe cat makes when he meets another cat he doesn’t like (or, more recently, makes at our other cat, Calliope, when she doesn’t have her collar on because, apparently, he can’t recognize who she is without it). Marlowe makes this lengthened, low, whining growl, which I’ve interpreted as his sign of extreme anxiety – I thought it was appropriate to make a similar sound in anticipation of So You Think You Can Dance. And all that pre-show tension (momentarily alleviated when Hardwick showed a “palate cleanser” segment which featured furry rodents nomming noms to an adorably, annoyingly catchy nomming song that I will now sing ALL THE TIME) was totally worthwhile because this first competition episode of the season already shone with moments of true brilliance. The wonderful things were truly wonderful, and even the bad things weren’t atrocious. Overall, it was a great way to start the season.

Before I talk about the dancing, though, I’d like to note that I think Mary was on something last night that might throw my scream count out of whack. I counted a total of 6 scream-like entities, but four of them were more like extended woos, so I’m not sure if I should include them in the Official Mary Murphy Scream Count for the season. I mean, the woman admitted to Botoxing the hell out of her forehead on national television last night – which on the one hand I applaud in terms of her honesty, but on the other hand I think might be the best indicator that her new happy pills are working a little too well. (Not the Botox, but the admission of its use.) I’ll not where the screams/woos occurred in my discussion of each performance – let me know in the comments if you think I should count the woos in the Official Mary Murphy Scream Count, but for now, I’m only going to count full-fledged, ouch-my-ears-are-hurting screams. (Husband Note: As you should. A woo is not a scream. Thousands of TRL teenagers could tell you that.)

I also feel the need to express my love for “occasional swing dancer” Adam Shankman, and not just because he gave us an update on the fate of Step Up 3D, but because he and I had apparently participated in a Vulcan mind meld at some point as my comments about the dances were more often than not the exact same as his. I’d say I had them first because I said them out loud while the dances were happening, but I know that honor technically belongs to him because the performances were filmed hours before the episode was even shown. Either way, Shankers and I shared some headspace last night, and it was pretty uncanny.

As far as the dancing is concerned, rather than list them in order, I’m going to separate the performances into various categories of greatness: Brilliant, Good to Very Good, Mediocre, Problematic and, just for tonight, a special category for a special dance. I will include pieces under those subheads in my order of preference.

The Brilliant

Kayla and Max (Samba)
Choreography by Louis Van Amstrel
Music: “Jum Bah Day” by House of Gypsies

It is absolutely unbelievable that Kayla “Radomkulous” Radomsky has never danced ballroom before because she was fantastic. This couple closed the show, and it was pretty clear to me by the strength of the Official Mary Murphy Scream they received that they were the pinnacle of the evening. Barely three seconds into the dance, I wrote, “If this doesn’t get on the Hot Tamale Train, I don’t know what will.” It was hot, spicy, passionate and danced beautifully by both partners. Max’s footwork and carriage were very, very impressive and he partnered Kayla effortlessly. She was a joy to watch in that pink fringed dress, which easily trumped Randi’s blue dress for my Outfit of the Night prize. And for the record, can we all agree that the best part of the choreography in this number was when Kayla freakin’ mounted Max and grinded down on his sexy Russian junk? I’m pretty damn sure that was the best thing I’ve ever seen. My other notes for this piece, before universal judges’ praise and Mary screaming her head off basically go like this: “YEAHHHHHHHHH! HAWTT SHIZZ! SHE FUCKING RODE HIS NADS, YO! RADOMKULOUS!” It’s appropriate that Kayla and Max closed the show with this hot samba, because it was a motherfucking SHOWSTOPPER.

SHOWSTOPPAZ!

SHOWSTOPPAZ!

Randi and Evan (Jazz)
Choreography by Tyce DiOrio
Music: “I Only Have Eyes for You” by Jaime Cullum

You all know I am a Tyce complainer, but I only complain about his lesser works because pieces like this show me how absolutely great he can be. Believe me, I will get angry later about his Broadway routine, which was a total fucking disappointment, but this jazz number, like many of his past Jazz numbers (an African one for Pasha and Jessie that was so vivacious, and “Why” for Ivan and Allison in season 2 stick out) was utterly breathtaking and beautiful. I actually got a little misty about how well I could believe the passion between lovers Randi and Evan (and enjoyed the rehearsal package in which Evan said he was worried Randi’s husband might kill him if he got too into character with the married lover of unitards). And how fucking cute was Cat riffing on the prospect of Randi’s man coming from the audience to maim Evan, as well as pretending like she wasn’t a bajillion feet taller than the show’s most “vertically challenged” couple? She’s the best fucking host on television, as none of the corny stuff she pulls ever comes off as anything less than authentic, bubbly and cute as all get out. Randi’s blue dress in this piece was easily my second favorite of the night, and I apparently share part of my brain with Nigel because he also noted how much more beautiful she is when her “Pob” (that’s the Posh Spice bob, for those who have not worn it, as I did for about a year) is curly. I would never be angry with Tyce if he always choreographed this spectacularly for dancers who can dance this beautifully. I think Nigel is totally correct in his assertion that this piece will make Randi and Evan a memorable couple for whom people will pick up the phone. I know I will. (This got an extended woo from Mary, which should have been a full on scream.)

Jeanine and Phillip (Hip-Hop)
Choreography by Tabitha and Napoleon Duomo
Music: “Mad” by Ne-Yo

This was the first piece of the night and, just like last season, TabNap started us off with soulful, slow hip-hop that was a brilliant piece of storytelling. While I miss Shane Sparks a great deal and his particular, hard-hitting brand of hip-hop, I love anything Tabitha and Napoleon choreograph that is, in some small way, inspired by their marriage. Last year, they graced us with two genius pieces, “No Air” for Katee and Josh and “Bleeding Love” for Chelsie and Mark, that will forever flicker in my mind. The Duomos best work comes from their hearts and enacted in the bodies of these dancers, and “Mad” was no exception. They interpreted the lyric in their short piece about why couples shouldn’t go to bed angry, and Jeanine and Phillip executed the rise and fall of this dance very, very well. It was pretty clear to me that Phillip was much better at this than Jeanine, but she did keep up, and for that I commend her. It’s hard to dance with a man whose bones are rubber. This piece was universally loved by the “jidges,” and I think I teared up a little bit at the end of the piece where, after the couple has their fight, they lay back down in bed and Phillip spoons Jeanine with his arm draped over her. Cat Deeley referred to that as “schnoogeying,” which just made it all the more adorable. (Another extended woo from Mary Murphy that should have been a scream.)

The Bizarrely Brilliant Wade Robeson Piece

100% Wade Robeson. 100% Bananas.

100% Wade Robeson. 100% Bananas.

Ashley and Kupono (Jazz)
Choreography by the Bizarrely Brilliant Wade Robeson
Song: “Felt Mountain” by Goldfrapp

I am never unamazed when I see Wade’s choreography. He is always such a unique and strange storyteller, and those are probably the best two words I could use to describe this piece. He created a non-jazz-handed jazz number about two crash test dummies, exploring the idea of “living life like you’ve never been hurt.” Kupono played a broken and used crash test dummy, while Ashley played one that was younger and newer. She described keeping her fingers closed as dancing with “jazz blades,” which was pretty awesome – almost as awesome as the piece itself. The movements were simultaneously jerky and cold, but so fluid that they couldn’t be considered robotic at all. Kupono had a moment during this piece where he held his arms together in an acute angle and then proceeded to perform a very fluid shimmy from his head to his tailbone, like he was both breaking down and coming to life again, which struck me as a movement similar to those Matthew Bourne used to create his Edward Scissorhands ballet. Prior to that movement, though, he reminded me a bit of what Sheldon Cooper would be like were he a crash test dummy. This piece was fucking bananas, but I loved it. Like, I would pay to see a whole show with those characters, that’s how good it was. Freaky. Scary. Awesome. Totally Wade Robeson. My only critique is that I wish Ashley hadn’t smiled quite so much – I understand that her character needed to smile, but it was the manner in which she did it rather than the act itself.

The Good to Very Good

Caitlin and Jason (Bollywood)
Choreography by Nikhul, whose last name I will apparently never learn
Song: “Jai Ho” by A.R. Rachman from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack

For me, Jason was spot on in this piece. He danced powerfully and gracefully with hard-hitting execution. There were sections of this where Caitlin was off a little bit, but she always managed to find her footing again rather quickly. (And I’m glad Shankers noticed she was off and commented on it, because I thought I was the only one who saw it. It’s that shared brain we have, apparently.) However, her gymnastics training came in handy during a 15-second handstand, in which she still had to dance with her feet in the air. That was probably her greatest moment in this piece, and its enough to make me forget about her weaker points. This one also got an extended woo from Mary, but not really a full-on scream. Nonetheless, it was very, very good – and I’m so happy to have Bollywood dance on this show! I look forward to the inclusion of more ethnic dancing down the line! (Truly! Let’s go global, SYTYCD!)

Truly, this is one of the most dynamic shots I've ever seen.

Truly, this is one of the most dynamic shots I've ever seen.

Melissa and Ade (Contemporary)
Choreography by Mandy Moore
Song: “Right Here Waiting” by Richard Marx

I’ve always liked Mandy Moore’s choreography, and the piece that stands out the most to me is the piece she created for Sabra and Dominic in season three, which I always remember as being like A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This piece she created for ballerina Melissa and her very, very strong partner Ade was pure loveliness. Both dancers’ lines were beautiful, they looked beautiful together and were so effortless in their performance. For me, Melissa was the standout of the pair, especially because she has amazingly strong legs. She wrapped herself around Ade like a sexy little lemur, and was most amazing when she leapt up behind him and held there for about 20 seconds, only to have him raise her up in the splits over his head and catch her in his arms again in front of his face. This piece got a real, true Mary Murphy scream – not quite of the same caliber as the one received by Kayla and Max, but a real, true scream nonetheless.


Jeanette and Brandon (Foxtrot)
Choreography by Louis Van Amstrel
Song: “Come Fly with Me” by Michael Buble

While the Foxtrot is nowhere near as horrible as the Quickstep, it’s probably one of the least well-received dances on SYTYCD. Couple after couple has fallen due to a disliked Foxtrot, but I doubt such a thing will occur to Jeanette and Brandon. They were graceful, lovely and well-paired. Jeanette’s pink dress for this number was another of my favorites for the night – it just made every single leg extension she did look more compelling and fluid. Brandon was a stellar partner for her, but I was worried about his facial expressions during the dance. I surely thought Nigel was going to call him out on pulling faces, but Nigel actually thought it showed he was dancing with character and personality rather than his usual stoicism/disingenuous smile.


The Mediocre

Karla and Jonathan (Cha Cha)
Choreography by Tony Meredith, who got a new redheaded assistant this year – where’s Melanie?
Song: “Poker Face” by Lady Gaga

Despite my excitement for “Poker Face,” which is probably my summer anthem, there was a point where this piece started sliding a little bit downhill. Karla, former Boogie Bot, just couldn’t get her back into it correctly, and there were definite moments where I knew she wasn’t doing something right. For instance, there was one point where she leaned forward to go into a lift with Jonathan, but she bent herself in entirely the wrong shape, causing a weird lull, after which the dance picked up again when Jonathan slid between her legs, only to fall into another lull because of Karla’s lack of carriage. Shankers saw it, too, which meant I wasn’t alone. He also commented on the fact that Jonathan needs just a skotch more roll to his hips to carry of a Cha Cha properly. No one else seemed to notice, though, that the dead drop in this piece was kind of lame, probably because of Karla’s weak back. It was an okay effort by both dancers, and definitely didn’t live up to the awesomeness of the music. How many more Lady Gaga tracks do you think will hear this season, btw? I fully expect a Maria Torres disco number to “Love Game,” if only because I want to see someone actually take a ride on her partner’s “disco stick.”

The Problematic

Paris and Tony (Hip-Hop)
Choreography by Tabitha and Napoleon Duomo
Song: “Let the Beat Rock (Remix)” by Black Eyed Peas

This piece is how I knew Adam Shankman and I shared a brain: the minute I saw these two take the stage, I took one look at what they were wearing and couldn’t concentrate on their dancing. As such, I can’t really comment on it because I, like Shankers, found the costumes too distracting. The judges were hardly about this piece, though, complimenting Paris on the fact that she danced it well (and dance is really important to her because she crushed her leg in a car accident and thought she might never dance again), and warning Tony that it’s clear he needs serious improvement – even in his own style. Oh my god, you guys, I feel it . . . I feel it coming on . . . here it is: “We could have had two Kasprzak brothers, but instead we got this guy.” If Tony can’t even compete adequately in HIS OWN STYLE, I certainly think we’d have been better off with two Broadway Babies in the Top 20. (By the way, is anyone else with me in the fact that “Broadway” shouldn’t be a dance style, in the same way that animation is not a film genre, because anything can be animated, just like many kinds of dancing appear on Broadway? Maybe that’s an argument for another day, but after five years, and tons of bad Tyce routines, it’s starting to irk me . . . kind of like . . .)

Auska and Vitolio (Broadway)
Choreography by Tyce DiOrio
Song: The worst version of the “Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago that I have ever heard.

Oh, fuck me gently with a chainsaw. This is quite possibly my least favorite Tyce routine ever. Remember how earlier I praised his Jazz piece for its beauty and grace? Neither of those words could be used to describe this fucking debacle. In theory, I liked the concept – a sort of pastiche of Busby Berkeley and Charlie Chaplin, what with the bowlers and the minstrel show gloves and Vitolio’s unfortunate Chaplin-stache that just doesn’t look right at all on a black man from Haiti. But in execution, Tyce did nothing to make this piece anywhere near good. He squandered every opportunity he had to create something fun and interesting, something that would utilize the old-school conventions of popular Broadway dance in the 1920s and 1930s and SUBVERT them, MODERNIZE them and SAY SOMETHING through them. Furthermore, Auska and Vitolio danced it without any life or joy, although did so with great technicality, so the piece felt completely and totally inauthentic and flat. I believe Shankers also used similar words, completing our mind meld. I hated every moment of this, so much so that I wanted to punch Tyce square in the face.

Even they can't stand this number.

Even they can't stand this number.

I definitely think that Karla and Jonathan, Paris and Tony and Auska and Vitolio will be in the bottom three couples tonight, and that the judges will send both Karla and Jonathan home. They should send home Tony, but Nigel seems to have a great deal of faith in him, so he won’t go quite yet until he commits some totally irredeemable offense that can’t partially be blamed on the wardrobe department. So, in advance of tonight’s results show, sorry, Karla, reality dance competition programs just aren’t for you to win. Go back to the Boogie Bots and your national tours of Broadway shows – you may think that isn’t the world for you, but it is. And Jonathan, I’m sure Kenny Ortega will hire you back to work on another installment of High School Musical. I wish you both well.

Other stray thoughts:


  • I thought the majority of the intro solos were kind of lame, except for Phillip Chbeeb’s and Evan Kasprzak, although I might be biased because they’re already my favorite two dancers.
  • I cannot hear “You Found Me” by the Fray without thinking of the Lost promo commercials for season 5, and it makes me really sad that there won’t be more Lost until Jan. 2010.
  • Cat was wearing a dress made out of glittery Greco-Roman spiderwebs and jewels. Someone should wear that to my upcoming Greco-Roman murder mystery. I’d do it myself, but I already am debuting a dress I’m very proud to have purchased one of the last of. Also, I’m not quite a bajillion feet tall like Cat Deeley, so I’m not sure I could pull that white shift off.
  • Good to know that Kupono’s name technically should be pronounced with a long u, if the bar above it is any indication.
  • I like that Mary gave the RoboPuppy in Wade’s piece a ride on the Hot Tamale Train, thus bringing Hot Tamale Train Tickets to 1.25 for this episode.
  • The Official Mary Murphy Scream Count for the episode stands at 2, with 4 enthusiastic woos for backup.
  • Jazz blades!

The Husband:

I think my unbridled enjoyment of this out-of-control, batshit-crazy action/adventure/thriller show is well documented. And by well documented, I actually just mean I did a write-up back in December. Just one. Here.

I think that pretty much sums up my feelings for the entire run of the series save for the final six episodes that closed out both the fourth season and, thanks to Fox’s swinging axe, the entire series. With this series, it all comes down to whether or not one is willing to suspend their disbelief week-after-week and realize that, while the show technically takes place in the real world (i.e. non-fantasy), it’s so absolutely ridiculous that it seems to exist in a sort of Bizarro World. As I’ve never had a problem separating common sense from viewing a television show, a movie or a play, this series seemed destined to become a DVR favorite for me, and even if I missed giant portions of the show (such as my scheduling snafu that forced me to miss s3), this is one of those programs that actually works better on DVD, so you can marathon the shit out of its particular brand of madness.

Well, we could always team up with MacGruber at some point, right?

Well, we could always team up with MacGruber at some point, right?

But where does s4, now that it’s closed shop, fall in with the rest of the seasons? I break it down thusly.

Season 1: Incredible network television

Season 2: Good caper, but spread a little thin

Season 3: Underrated and damn exciting, thanks especially to its strike-shortened season

Season 4: Okay caper, spread way too thin

I think s4 could have really benefited from a few more storylines that shifted its major characters away from all the Scylla drama – you know, that file that everybody wanted because it could cause a global conflict thanks to its information on how to build…wait a minute, it doesn’t matter what the hell it does, because it is the perfect example of a MacGuffin – and maybe have started on something a little more emotional and character-focused. Because even during s4’s fall season, there were about 50 major characters all vying for the same prize, and once Gretchen/Susan went off on her merry way, we were left with men staring at each other with increasing intensity. Thank God for the introduction of Michael and Lincoln’s thought-dead mother, who is not only not-dead but is sort of a domestic terrorist and complete criminal mastermind. (Why they chose Oscar-nominee Kathleen Quinlan to play this character I’ll never know, as her attempt at dastard mustache-twirling evilness came off more silly than menacing.) As she attempted to frame her sons once again (turns out she was heavily involved in earlier series conspiracies all thanks to that glorious enigma known as The Company, she puts the emotional hammer down hard by revealing that Lincoln was adopted and was actually birthed by an idiotic, violent drug addict – which, to be fair, explains a lot about the dichotomy between Lincoln and Michael – and proceeds to torment the now-pregnant Sara Tancredi. And as the various character bump into each other (now in Miami, yet another location in this mini-globe trotting adventure), nobody knows who to trust anymore. Along this line, I could have definitely done without the Lincoln/Michael rivalry, as each wanted different things in terms of what to do with Scylla and/or who to give it to and why.

Finally broken out . . . but not quickly enough to escape Fox's axe.

Finally broken out . . . but not quickly enough to escape Fox's axe.

But while I wasn’t 100% invested in four of the six spring episodes, the final two-hour episode was designed almost solely for fans. With the wonderful returns of Sucre and C-Note, finding out the ultimate way to reward the two “brothers” who busted them out of jail in the first place, a piece of the s1 wonder (and the subtler bits from s2) came roaring back. And, as an added bonus, Paul Adelstein took a break from being a sex-addicted pediatrician on Private Practice to revive his role as the bad-turned-good agent Paul Kellerman and pretty much deus ex machina the shit out of this wonky show. As Michael and Sara finally discover that their relationship can continue with baby attached, the future looks bright, as Kellerman allows all the remaining Fox River inmates to strike an immunity deal and be done with this nonsense once and for all. All the inmates, of course, except for the vicious child molester Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell, who the brothers decide to send back to jail, where four years later (thank you, Prison Break coda) he is once again a leader among criminals within the walls of a penitentiary, but only that. No out-in-public sniveling coward.

But what else happened during the immensely satisfying coda?

  • The ever-changing-sides Mahone is now clean and off his anti-psychotic drugs and is in a relationship with his former FBI partner (who did, unfortunately, trick him into police custody earlier this season.)
  • Sucre and C-Note are ecstatic to be with their respective families, no longer on the run from the PoPo.
  • Bellick is still dead.
  • General Krantz is put to death in the electric chair after being implicated in countless domestic terrorist activities.
  • Kellerman is now a congressman, albeit a controversial one thanks to his checkered agent past.
  • Donald Self, during a terrifying escape from the evil members of The Company that involved him breaking his leg in a near-Cronenberg level of grossness and then being poisoned while recovering at the hospital, is now a vegetable at an assisted living home, running over, in his head, his treachery that led to the murder of his innocent family.
  • Linc and Sofia are living, deeply in love, back in Central America, the setting of season 3.
  • Sara loves her son, Michael Jr.
  • Michael is dead.

Wait. What? As the remaining good guys visit a seaside cemetery, we find that this is indeed true. Michael finally succumbed to his brain condition that put him in the operating room at the end of s4’s fall season. Is this the way you’re going to send out your main character? By putting the ever-present origami crane that defined the first season on his headstone, and then walking away?

There’s a final straight-to-DVD Prison Break film coming out this summer, so it’s pretty clear that Michael isn’t actually dead but is thought to be for some ridiculous reason or another. Maybe he’s hiding from everyone he affected during his stint in and after Fox River, a plan that backfired so many times and involved so many others that Michael and Lincoln have basically directly or indirectly caused the death of hundreds of people. That’d be a pretty big weight on my conscience.

We’ll see when all the answers are revealed. I don’t know about you, but Stephen King and I had a fucking blast with this show, and we’re not ashamed to admit it. It was a wild adventure show through and through, a wonderful bit of escapist entertainment, and when this show wanted to reallllly ratchet up the tension, no show on television (other than Lost) could do it as well as Prison Break.

Vaya con dios, Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows. Fox will be less insane without you.

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.