Category Archives: TV

AMERICAN IDOL & BETTER Television

I know I’m in full-on nerd mode when I say this but I’m happy season 9 of Idol has started! Yes, this show can be corny and full of deluded, scary folks, but every once in a while they get it right and find a real star among the wannabes (I loved Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood during their respective seasons). Also, while I covered season 8 last year, Poncho dropped by, became one of the most insightful and witty commenters about the show, and has since continued to hang out here and become my cyber buddy. American Idol brings people together!

It’s too early to call anything but here are quick takes about last night’s premiere:

  • My favorites include Benjamin Bright with his smooth Aaron Neville-esque delivery of the Beatles’s “All My Loving,” the stunning Ashley Rodriguez (push-down-the-stairs alert!) and her rendition of Alicia Keyes’s “If I Ain’t Got You,” Katie “I Love My Portuguese Grandma” Stevens doing “At Last” better than Beyoncé at the Inaugural Ball, and Justin Williams, who made ME feel good when he sang “I’m Feelin’ Good,” Michael Bublé-style.
  • I’ve said it before but I’ll repeat myself here: Having Victoria Beckham judge a singing contest is like having Stevie Wonder judge Project Runway. How would she know anything about good singing? Everything was “nice.” Sample critique: “You have a nice smile, nice look, nice voice, nice personality. I say yes.” Thanks for that.
  • Most supportive relatives go to Amadeo Diricco‘s Italian clan, Bosa Mora‘s Nigerian folks, and Katie Stevens’s huge family who made Ryan Seacrest cry.
  • Funniest critique—Simon’s dissection of Norberto‘s audition, saying how weird it was that he sounded like a three-year-old girl but looked like LaToya Jackson with a beard, made me laugh. How will we manage without our favorite judge next year? Who could possibly replace him?
  • Did you spark to any singers last night?

After Idol, I switched to Better Off Ted on my DVR list. Please, please, please watch this show so it won’t die. The laughs-per-minute ratio is higher than any other show currently on and yes, that includes Modern Family and Glee, two of my favorites.

Two fresh episodes were on last night—I fear ABC is burning them off while anticipating cancelation—and the first one was a riot. The company Ted works for, Veridian Dynamics, is a really inappropriate corporation known for sending out memos full of typos then refusing to own up to them out of pride. The latest memo says, “Employees must NOW use offensive or insulting language in the workplace.”

Because higher-ups won’t admit they meant “NOT” instead of “NOW,” employees, even meek ones, let fly an endless barrage of rude insults at each other. The putdowns get more creative as people become more empowered and start enjoying telling others how they really feel. I laughed so hard, I had to repeatedly rewind to catch all the dialogue.

Even if you don’t watch much TV, sample it on ABC.com or hulu.com (the episode I mentioned is number 208, titled “The Impertence of Communicationizing”). I guarantee you’ll laugh. If not, come back here and tell me off since you must NOW use offensive language in the comments!

The LOVE Isn’t Just BIG, It’s Getting Epic

The following is by new contributing writer, Sarah Carbiener. She obsesses about TV as much as I do and will start providing regular coverage of it. I’m happy to have her extra pair of eyes since there are so many shows and I can’t watch them all.—PCN

During the first season of Big Love, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the polygamous family, their world, the politics, and…be completely bored by the plots. It felt like the creators were too protective of their main characters, not wanting to put them in any real trouble and, gosh darn it, they really wanted us to love and root for the central family. Well, it was pretty hard to do that when they were in so little trouble for so long. This certainly wasn’t a problem in the third season, however, and it seems it won’t be in the fourth either. **Spoilers ahead!**

In the third season finale, Nicki (Chloe Sevigny) brings to the Henrickson household the daughter she abandoned when she left her first husband J.J.; Bill’s brother Joey (Shawn Doyle) kills Roman (Harry Dean Stanton), the prophet of Juniper Creek, to avenge the murder of his second wife-to-be; and after falling feet first through a barn loft and hitting his head, Bill (Bill Paxton) decides to follow Roman’s example and start his own church. (This is only a fifth of what happens in the finale. Like every episode last season, it was packed with plot developments.)

The fourth season picks up six weeks later with the FBI mysteriously still searching for the long-dead Roman. It isn’t until Nicki’s mother’s large walk-in freezer loses power that we discover where Roman’s been hiding.

Panicked, Adaleen (Mary Kay Place) calls Nicki, and because she is one of my favorite characters to hate, it was awesome to finally get to see her come apart at the seams. This is the woman who hired a man to approach her son Alby (Matt Ross) for sex in a truck stop and then murder him, and when he confronted her about it, she not only didn’t deny her actions, but she wasn’t at all remorseful. It doesn’t get much colder than that.

But in this opening episode, when she’s begging her daughter to go into the walk-in freezer and get some bacon because she doesn’t know how else to tell Nicki that her father’s dead, we finally get to see her as desperate and frantic and crazed as she makes everyone else.

After the discovery of the body, the episode becomes a much darker version of Weekend at Bernie’s as the Juniper Creek gang and the Henricksons keep trying to dump the body in the others’ backyard. Unfortunately for Bill, he forgot the one rule about revenge. (My father taught me this in the second grade, and it has served me well ever since.)

If someone picks on you, never get them back right away because you will always be the person who gets caught. Wait a few days and get them when they’re not expecting it. Bill drags Roman’s thawing corpse straight back to Juniper Creek when it shows up in the lot where he’s building the casino and, based on the end of this first episode, it looks like he’s getting caught.**End spoilers**

The rest of the episode includes some light conflict between Barb (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and the Native Americans they’re running the casino with, and a hilarious storyline between Bill’s homicidal parents (Bruce Dern, Grace Zabriskie). The septuagenarians’ fighting, complete with exclamations like, “Ow, my hip,” had me laughing so hard I was crying. Overall, a very strong start for what’s sure to be another intense season of our favorite polygamists. With Bill basically naming himself the next prophet, this may be the most literally epic season yet.

CHUCK’s Back!

Did you catch the Chuck season three premiere last night? Talk about two satisfying hours of television. I’ve always enjoyed this show, but now that Chuck (Zachary Levi) has downloaded the Intersect v.2 into his head, giving him access to skills like kung fu and flamenco-guitar playing, the fun factor has ratcheted up a few notches.

This doesn’t mean our Buy More nerd is James Bond. He’s too emotional for the Intersect to work properly so his klutziness is alive and well. He’s also still in love with Sarah (Yvonne Strahovski), the tension between them as thick as ever, if not more so because of something we see in flashback. Though I feel for their predicament (“Spies don’t fall in love,” she tells him), I kinda hope they never get together because the show will be over.

It might end anyway after this season if ratings don’t pick up. It baffles me why a well-written romantic action comedy like this (what other show does all that?) can’t find a bigger audience. I hope recurring guest stars Brandon “Superman” Routh and Kristin “Lana Lang” Kreuk will be able to help.

If you missed the premiere last night, you can watch it at nbc.com and another fresh episode airs tonight at 8 p.m. Any other fans out there?

Nerd verdict: Chuck yourself

Nerdies for Favorite Things of 2009

Hope you all are enjoying the holidays. Me, I’m having so much fun with family, I need more gigabytes in my brain to store all the memories being made.

I get grateful this time of year for 1) making it this far and 2) all the wonderful experiences I had in the last 12 months. So, between all the eating and social gatherings, I present to you my Nerdy Awards for favorite things this year.

Most Valuable Preposition: Up. Apparently, the best way to make sure a movie is good is by putting this two-letter word in the title. Up and Up in the Air tie for best movie I saw this year. Both are perfect blends of comedy and poignancy, light and dark, entertainment and explorations of what makes us human.

Best Reasons for Staying Home Wednesday Nights: Glee, Modern Family and Cougar Town. Wednesday nights are always a party in my house, as I sing along to Glee then laugh my face off with Family and Cougar. You’ve probably heard plenty about the first two but may not know that Cougar‘s cast, led by the game Courteney Cox, has really gelled into one hilarious ensemble.

Most Unique New Voices in Crime Fiction: Chet the Jet from Spencer Quinn’s Dog on It, Pietro Brwna from Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper, and Stella Hardesty in Sophie Littlefield‘s A Bad Day for Sorry. The field is crowded with cops and detectives but this year, I met fresh new characters starting with Chet, a dog who narrates the adventures he has while solving crimes with his human partner, Bernie. Brwna is a hit man turned jaded medical intern who uses a deadly weapon I’ve never seen used before. And Littlefield introduced us to a 50-year-old, slightly overweight woman who helps abused women keep their partners in line partly by using S&M restraints. These books are all first in a series so discover them now before the next installments come out (Chet’s new case, Thereby Hangs a Tail, arrives January 5).

Best Noir Debut: Richard Lange‘s This Wicked World. This is Lange’s first novel but it reads like he’s been writing them forever. Worthy of a place on my shelf among the genre’s greats.

Best Avoidance of Sophomore Slump: Gillian Flynn with Dark Places. Her debut, Sharp Objects, was so stunning, I wondered if her second novel would measure up. I was thrilled, then, to find Flynn delving even more deeply into the female psyche’s dark, twisted side in Places. Few writers can write about damaged, prickly women and make them so mesmerizing.

Fattest Books I Finished in Shortest Time: I got lost in Kate Morton’s gothic, 560-page The Forbidden Garden for 3 days, while my eyeballs were glued to the 512 pages in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire for 34 hours, finishing it in almost one sitting, minus a few hours of sleep.

Most Soul-Shaking Book: Jon Krakauer’s Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. This non-fiction tale of a star football-player-turned-soldier gunned down by friendly fire in Afghanistan ripped me apart and made me re-evaluate how I live my life. A searing read I won’t forget anytime soon.

Funniest Person I Least Expected to Be: Brian Williams on 30 Rock. The veteran NBC Nightly News anchor made me laugh hard when he unexpectedly showed up on Rock, telling Tina Fey he wanted to audition for her show within the show by doing a stand-up act. The punchline wasn’t funny at all but Williams’s hammy, goombah delivery was very much so.

Favorite Movie Trend: Women 45 and over kicking ass at the box office. Sandra Bullock had two big hits (The Proposal, The Blind Side), Meryl Streep had three movies (Julie & Julia, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, It’s Complicated), one of which may win her a third Oscar. And Sigourney Weaver returns as sci-fi queen in Avatar. I hope this trend continues so I can stop watching actors get older while their female co-stars get closer to infancy every year.

Best Performance by Any Actor, Male or Female: Mo’Nique in Precious. Not so much a performance as a terrifying inhabitation of a nightmarish character.

Most Memorable Movie Quote: I just met you and I love you.” —Dug the talking dog in Up.

What were some of your favorite things this year?

THE SING-OFF

Anybody watched this show? I abhor reality shows (except American Idol and Project Runway) but tuned in to NBC’s The Sing-Off because it was advertised as real-life Glee and you know I love me some of that. The four-night competition is between a capella groups made up of non-pro singers hoping to land a Sony recording contract. Guess what? The Glee comparison wasn’t completely off base! It was like watching sectionals, except some of the singers are older than school age.

The groups are quite talented and one in particular, the Socals, reminded me the most of our beloved New Directions. They even sang “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Somebody to Love.” Another bunch of preppy school kids, The Beelzebubs, sang “Sweet Caroline,” though Puck’s rendition was much, well, sweeter. The ‘Bubs are well-liked by the crowd but they turn me off with their cheesy smugness. My prediction for the win is Nota, an all-guy group which manages to put some spicy flavor into every song.

If you missed the three episodes which aired this past Monday through Wednesday, you can watch full episodes on NBC.com or Hulu. Then you can still vote for your favorite group (on NBC.com only; voting closes Sunday, Dec. 20) and the winners will be revealed on Monday’s show.

Check it out, tell me which group(s) you like best, and help some folks get a recording contract for Christmas!

OD’d on PC

This past weekend, I wore my nerd badge proudly and indulged my reading, TV- and DVD-watching, M&M-eating, CD-listening, pop culture-loving tendencies. Here’s what I covered.

DVD — Chéri

Photo by Bruno Calvo

Photo by Bruno Calvo

Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Lea de Lonval, an early 20th-century Parisian courtesan who takes Chéri (Rupert Friend), the teenage son of a former rival, under her wing to teach him the ways of the world. A weekend turns into a six-year affair which ends when the boy’s mother (Kathy Bates) arranges for him to marry a girl closer to his age. Lea and Chéri pretend they’re okay with moving on until they realize they can’t.

Pfeiffer is as radiant as ever, showing the vulnerability beneath the proud and elegant facade. Friend’s titular character, however, comes across as a spoiled rich brat and borderline stalker. I didn’t get a sense of true love from these two; it’s more like Lea just doesn’t want to grow old alone and Chéri only wants what he can’t have.

Lea’s gowns are resplendent and Alexandre Desplat’s score is melodious as always, but I expected more from director Stephen Frears and screenwriter Christopher Hampton (adapting stories by Colette), both of whom had worked with Pfeiffer on the superior Dangerous Liaisons. Nerd verdict: Respectable in parts but not that endearing.

CD — Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johansson’s Break Up

yorn & scarlettLast month, my friend Tomas made me aware of this album over at his blog, make.see.eat.do, and I finally had a chance to listen to the whole thing. If you were envious of Johansson before because of her bodacious looks and acting skills, you’ll positively want to push her down the stairs after hearing her sing. Because she can, quite impressively. Her retro smoky tones blend well with Yorn’s emo voice on this album of mostly catchy, toe-tapping, folk-rock tunes. This isn’t some misguided star trip a la Don Johnson or Bruce Willis; Johansson (who was asked by Yorn to collaborate) is better than some “singers” out there and should do more albums.

Don’t believe me? Watch the video below for the first single “Relator” (you’ll need surgery to get it out of your head afterward), then go to www.lala.com and register to listen to the entire album for free by entering the actress’s name in the search window. (This only works for U.S. visitors. If you’re overseas, search YouTube for other videos like this one.) Nerd verdict: A recommended Break Up.

TV — White Collar & Grey’s Anatomy

whitecollarWhite Collar, USA’s latest original series, stars Matthew Bomer as Neal Caffrey, a convict who excels in the kind of crimes for which the show is named. In order to stay out of jail, he makes a deal with the FBI agent who finally nabs him to let him help solve cases, using his expert criminal mind. Bomer is handsome with his piercing blue eyes and does a capable job, but he lacks the extra oomph that makes an actor a breakout star. Tim DeKay is solid as Agent Stokes, the straight-up guy who’s frustrated by and a little envious of Caffrey’s lifestyle. The show doesn’t offer anything new but I might tune in again if I’m home on a Friday night and there’s nothing better to watch. Nerd verdict: Lightweight criminal.

Over on ABC, this week’s Grey’s Anatomy episode had the kind of action-packed, pulse-quickening drama that called to mind the show’s best episodes from seasons past (i.e. the “Into You Like a Train” crash ep in which two people were impaled on the same pole and the doctors could only save one). A patient dies amidst the chaos in the ER after a nearby fire and Chief Webber interviews the doctors to determine who’s responsible. The camera swirls like a Tasmanian devil through the scenes, throwing the viewer into the confusion and leaving no time for the kind of angsty stuff that can drag the show down. The Rashomonian element of the doctors telling conflicting stories about the same events made it fun to try and figure out who made the fatal mistake. It also made me hope that Izzie never returns. I didn’t miss her at all and found Alex’s repeated phone calls to her super annoying. Nerd verdict: Heart-poundingly good.

Book — Daniel Judson’s The Violet Hour

judson's coverThis noirish thriller, set in the Hamptons, unfolds over three days as auto mechanic Cal tries to hide his pregnant former boss from her abusive husband while searching for his friend, Lebell, who has gone missing after leaving a trail of blood in his apartment. Cal wants nothing but an orderly life to prove he didn’t inherit criminal tendencies from his father and brother, but as he gets more involved in his friends’ crises, he wonders how far he’s willing to go to keep them out of trouble and even save their lives.

Hour grabbed me from the first minute with its mysterious opening paragraphs about a deadly female assassin. The pace is non-stop, the language rat-tat-tatting through one plot development after another. This book reminded me a little of Charlie Huston’s debut, Caught Stealing, another crime noir with a lean style in which an innocent bystander is driven to violence after inadvertently crossing paths with bad guys.

The novel isn’t perfect; it’s a little too coincidental that all the bad stuff happens to different friends of Cal’s on the same weekend. Judson also has a tendency to overuse commas by inserting adverbs and prepositional/adverbial phrases in awkward places, disrupting the flow of his sentences. Witness:

Closing her eyes, she held still for a moment, or tried to, ended up, despite her efforts, wavering a little.

And:

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust, and when they did, she saw, beside the house, in its shadow, both the motorcycle and the Lexus.

But Judson’s characters are dynamic and his plot riveting enough that I was willing to overlook this quirk. Not only that, I now want to read Judson’s other novels, too. Nerd verdict: Hour goes by fast and is time well spent.

What did you read/see/hear this weekend?

More TV Flippin’

The DVR was about to explode this weekend so I chained myself down with popcorn and cake for some marathon TV viewing. Some quick impressions:

3 riversThree Rivers. Warning: This soporific show might induce a coma. Though the actors—including Alex O’Loughlin (Moonlight), Daniel Henney (Agent Zero in X-Men Origins: Wolverine), Katherine Moennig (The L Word), and Alfre Woodard—are pretty, their characters are dull and saddled by storylines that are neither compelling nor groundbreaking. It’s all been done better on the myriad of medical shows that have gone before. Nerd verdict: Needs life support.

nursesMercy. For a better new hospital show, try this NBC series instead. It focuses on three nurses working at Mercy Hospital in Jersey, with stories revolving more around their lives than medical mysteries. The lead, Taylor Schilling, is a TV newcomer but she comes across like an old pro, playing her Iraq veteran character, Veronica, with intelligence, forthrightness and sly sexiness. Jaime Lee Kirchner injects sass into her role while Michelle Trachtenberg is a little annoying as the green, earnest nurse (more how the character is written than the actress’s fault), but she has less screen time than the other two so I’m okay with her for now. Nerd verdict: Check into Mercy.

115783_GROUP5FlashForward. Three eps in and it’s growing on me. At first, I thought it was too much a Lost rip-off, with references to Oceanic Airlines and Australia in the pilot, plus Lost‘s Penny, Sonya Walger, as a series regular (additional Losties include Kim Dickens guesting in ep 3 and Dominic Monaghan joining the show in episode 6). But I’m now caught up in the Mosaic and the visions and mystery without being pissed off—yet—by the obliqueness of it all. Nerd verdict: I see it being around six months from now.

Are you hooked on anything yet this season? What started out strong but has already lost you?