Thursdays are a pain, aren't they?
I have a dual tuner DVR and a magical East Coast Slingbox and I still find myself scurrying to Hulu and OnDemand on Friday morning making sure that I've caught everything that needs to be seen.
Tonight, for example, we have new episodes of "Burn Notice," "Community," "Parks and Recreation," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Bones." We get Kathy Bates guesting on "The Office," more time-travelling on "Vampire Diaries," plus a "Survivor" special on CBS to whet our appetites for next week's "Heroes vs. Villains" premiere. That doesn't even touch on shows that I don't watch regularly, but which draw big audiences, dramas like "CSI," "The Mentalist" and "Private Practice."
Fortunately, I got a handful of screeners for Thursday offerings, which helped me get a little viewing clarity and maybe it'll help you as well.
If you click through, I have a few spoiler-free thoughts on the "Fringe" midseason finale, a "Saturday Night Live" legend guesting on "30 Rock" and the season premiere of "The Sarah Silverman Program."
Like I said... Minimal spoilers...
"Fringe" (9 p.m. on FOX) - This is what we call poor timing. After a season of lackluster ratings, "Fringe" has finally showed signs of life in recent weeks, probably going a long way towards moving the series to the optimistic side of the renewal bubble. How much of the recent "Fringe" momentum has stemmed from a ratings spike for "Bones"? Certainly some. How much of that "Bones" ratings spike has stemmed from airing in an 8 p.m. hour stripped of "Survivor" and "FlashForward"? Certainly some. But no matter how many caveats you try putting in front of it, there's no doubt that "Fringe" has gotten a bump. So naturally, Thursday's episode is the last new "Fringe" until April. Starting next week, the 9 p.m. Thursday hour gets turned over to "Past Life" and as I'll discuss in a few days... "Past Life" isn't good.
"Fringe" goes off into its hiatus with a big mythology episode, ending a streak of three or four consecutive episodes (depending on how you count the aired-out-of-sequence "Unearthed") that have been strictly procedural. I'm almost tempted to wonder if the ratings bump has been related to this procedural run, suggesting that casual viewers are more interested in small-town freaks, rapidly spreading viruses and Nazi gases than the broader mythology questions raised in "Jacksonville."
"Jacksonville" is all about alternate dimensions, Cortexiphan and pushing several characters in the direction of major pieces of knowledge that they didn't possess when the episode began. I hope that's vague and non-spoiler-y enough. As is almost always the case, Thursday's "Fringe" starts with a fantastically freaky opening sequence, this one featuring a beloved actor from "The Wire." Then we wander through nearly 25 minutes of hallucinations, flashbacks, Lance Reddick talking in measured tones, John Noble acting crazy and the usual "Fringe" wheel-spinning before a climax which does, indeed, appear to put things on intriguing and different footing moving forward.
My interest in "Fringe" episodes is always the highest at the beginning and ending, with long valleys of malaise in the middle and "Jacksonville" is no different. It does, however, feature some of Anna Torv's best acting to date. Remember early in the first season when there were complaints that Torv was holding the show back? You don't hear that so much anymore. The writers didn't really have a sense of her range in the beginning, plus expectations are always super-high for any J.J. Abrams female "discovery." I don't feel any reservations about Torv anymore, even if Noble and Joshua Jackson remain slightly more compelling.
I think it's time for "Fringe" to give both Blair Brown and Jasika Nicole more to do. An Astrid-and-Nina-on-the-road episode would probably get that desire out of my system. Make it happen!
Anyway, "Jacksonville" gives "Fringe" fans a couple things/answers they've been hoping for and the episode also teases something some fans have been desiring. It's a solid episode. Will it keep people jazzed through til April? Some people.
"30 Rock" (9:30 p.m. on NBC) -- There's an art to lining up big name and biggish name guest stars. There has to be a reason why stunt casting almost never proves to be a distraction on "Chuck," but why other shows are so very hit-and-miss with their stunting.
Look at something like "Modern Family." It's a show that everybody in Hollywood wants to do and sometimes you get a guest star like Benjamin Bratt who adds a lot to an episode. Just as frequently, though, you get a Minnie Driver, whose appearance this Wednesday contributed nothing and left more than a couple viewers going, "Why did that have to be Minnie Driver at all?"
No show demonstrates the guest star extremes more than "30 Rock." Can we all stand in agreement that the James Franco appearance last month was as good as guest starring turns get? Give that man and his full-body pillow an Emmy nomination.
Then you get episodes like Thursday's "30 Rock," where we're supposed to be excited by the triumphant television return of "Saturday Night Live" veteran Jan Hooks. Or I assume we're supposed to be excited, since that seems to be why NBC sent out press screeners for an otherwise lackluster episode to which Hooks adds almost nothing.
Mostly, the episode is just an excuse for more of Jack Donaghy's mother issues and for Tina Fey's Liz Lemon to confusingly find herself co-habiting with yet another of her "TGS" employees. We're up to at least three different "TGS" peeps bunking down at Casa Lemon, two this season, which is a lot. Meanwhile, I fear that poor Lutz may be homeless and Liz isn't giving him a couch.
"The Sarah Silverman Program" (10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central) - The third season of "The Sarah Silverman Program" kicks off on Comedy Central and it's my duty to remind you that Silverman earned a Lead Actress Emmy nomination last year. Had you forgotten? I hadn't exactly forgotten, but it was one of those things that felt like a fever-dream and I had to check to make sure. She did!
Good for her.
"The Sarah Silverman Program" remains an acquired taste, fueled by its leading lady's unique brand of cutesy lewdness. Sometimes the show tries (and succeeds) at just being funny, but it's often content to just make you shake your head and go, "Oh Sarah. If you weren't so adorable, we'd string you up for saying that!" But that's what the show is and some episodes are painfully funny and others are just reaches.
The third season premiere, "The Proof is in the Penis," is more funny than head-scratching, with third-act musical number that erases the memory of many an earlier flat punchline. Not gonna spoil it. Not gonna spoil anything, in fact, other than to say that "The Sarah Silverman Program" is just another piece of the recent Mustache Renaissance. It's one thing for actors like the incomparable Nick Offerman to rock a natural mustache on "Parks and Recreation," but as Ty Burrell proved on Wednesday's "Modern Family" and Silverman proves in her season premiere, fake mustaches are also almost always a hoot.
"The Sarah Silverman Program" is being paired with the second season premiere of "Important Things with Demetri Martin," one of my favorite new shows of last season. I haven't had time to watch Thursday's premiere, in which Demetri turns his attentions to Attention, but that's another thing that's on my DVR for tonight...