After taking two weeks off following the disastrous January Jones and disappointing Joseph Gordon-Levitt hosted shows in mid-November, it was a relief that the "SNL" crew came back with a much better effort. "Gossip Girl's" Blake Lively made her debut as a host and in what might be a surprise to some, showed some great comedic skills. For many, the show was just a pit stop before "New Moon's" Taylor Lautner hosts next week, but there was a bunch that really worked tonight. And, as always, a good chuck that didn't.
The Salahis Just Can't Stay Away
Obama (Fred Armisen) appears at a Pennsylvania event while the infamous Salahis (Bobby Moynihan, Kristen Wiig) show up behind him, crashing the event. Taking photos, posing, while Obama has no idea. Best moment is when the secret service agent asks them what they are doing and they shoo him away like "It's all good" and he believes them. Then, a second agent appears behind him and they all start taking photos of each other. Meanwhile, of course, Obama has no idea what's going on. Finally, an agent comes on board to take them all off. One beat later, they return with fake mustaches. The agents come back AGAIN ready to carry them away, only to have Joe Biden (Jason Sudeikis) come on and just OK the whole thing. And yes, they start taking photos again.
The punch line? The Salahis, Biden and the agents ask Obama to stop during his speech and take a group photo. He complies as though it's no big deal and then returns to his speech. Oh, wait, he got it wrong. Can they try that again? And, the nice guy Obama is, he takes it one more time. Cue "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night..."
Grade: B -. Great idea, but went on way too long. Love that "SNL" is non-partisan (remember that Fox News) but do we seriously need to see them mock Obama every single show? Really?
"The Left Hand" pays off nearly every moment set up by "The Public Eye" in spades. It ups both the political commentary (Daniel Perrin's brain scan is revealed to show himself to be "very ambitious for a junior senator" - a comment that could have been taken from a right wing blog in the thick of the presidential race last year, but he's also revealed to be a dupe running only on his family name, which, again, George W. Bush) and the action, but it's mainly an episode about the ways we can never really know the people we love the most. If "The Public Eye" brought the insightful commentary on the World We Live in Today that I love from this show, "The Left Hand" was an hour of payoffs both action-wise and emotional.
[Full recap of the second of Friday's (Dec. 4) "Dollhouse" episodes after the break...]
"I think her bad guys are badder than my bad guys." - Echo
"The Public Eye" is like the "Dollhouse" version of one of those Daily Kos diaries where the diarist rants about how the Obama administration's incremental pragmatism has crushed said diarist's greatest hopes and sold out the political left. Though it was produced quite a while ago, it's on a Joss Whedon show, Whedon's a renowned lefty, and there are just too many parallels throughout to think that it's not a bit of "be careful what you wish for" storycraft. Also, like any good Daily Kos diary, there's a little George W. Bush bashing thrown in for good measure. Though, to be fair, very few Daily Kos diaries have two women beating the crap out of each other underneath a bridge somewhere in the D.C. area (though more should).
[Full recap of the first part of the "Dollhouse" return after the break...]
To the mattresses!
The phrase means go to war, and is an apt one for this week’s episode of “Glee,” titled “Mattress.” Sue, as always, tries to bring things to a head with Will Schuester and his club, with a few gotcha moments a jabs. Will and his wife finally have a productive confrontation, Quinn faces off with Sue, Ken bristles at Schue and the whole school passive-agressively battles the gleeks.
First, there’s Cheerios coach Sue vs. Glee: she effectively gets the group’s photo out of the yearbook, on the grounds that the photo always gets defaced (True.) and because she wants to further demoralize and erase the crew from school history. Schue pays to get them back in, even if it the photo’s spot is so small that it can only host two students’ mugs in it. Naturally, Rachel is one and, even though she convinced (whined for) Finn to join her, he flakes because he fears the chiding (potatohead!).
As Rachel gets here solo pic taken, she gets tipped of to some acting parts in a mattress commercial. She ropes in the rest of Glee, without Schue’s approval, to star in the TV spot on the basis that it will make them celebrities and they’ll never get made fun of again. They agree, make an A-DOR-AH-BULL showing, and the commercial airs. The store owner sends them some mattresses as a “thanks.”
Which leads us to a mattress of another sort: Terri’s pillow baby bump is finally discovered by Schue and she gets her pregnant bluff called. Awful, awful Terri stumblebums all over an explanation why she lied, he leaves her and spends some quality time sleeping in his office. On one of the mattresses. A week before counselor Emma gets married. Asking for her advice if he should divorce Terri, Emma is sweetly even, saying “You’re a lot to lose.”
After a stirring television editorial appearance encouraging “uglies and fatties” to stay home to give her “retnas a break,” Sue makes another discovery: the mattress commercial. As the students have been “paid” in mattresses, she protests that Glee is no longer has amateur status and cannot compete at sectionals, thus ringing the death knell for the group. Schue takes the bullet by returning the rest of the mattresses and stepping down from the group, since he’s the only one who accepted “payment,” even though he wasn’t even in the thing.
Quinn, too, who has long sought getting back into the Cheerios, calls Sue on shenanigans, since the cheerleaders get free swag all the time. In her blackmail, she tells Sue to give one of the Cheerios’ pages to a full-group shot of Glee. It happens, the crew is still in competition, they all “Smile” for their picture.
And the photo gets defaced anyway.
We appreciated the pocket-square-Ted-Knight reference (don’t worry, we had to look him up too), a line from “When You’re Smiling” – our favorite version comes from Billie Holiday – and the mention that Finn’s forehead could act as a tablet for a haiku. And Terri's observation that, "This marriage works because you don't feel good about yourself." Thanks for saying what we're all thinking.
One of two songs in this episode by this name, this one is performed by Rachel with much skipping and skirt-twirling, which is prominent in the music video to the song’s original performed by British singer Lily Allen. The track topped the U.K. charts in 2006 and made a good showing in the ‘States when the album “Alright, Still” dropped in 2007. Results are not in yet as to, whether or not, it will enhance your yearbook picture grin.
Van Halen, that stalwart of ‘80s rock and ‘90s disenchantment, probably never envisioned their “1984” album hit as a soundtrack to a mattress commercial or fodder for a high school glee club television dramady. But here we are. The kids jump (and nothing gets them down) on mattresses as they sing this groundbreaking track: the original featured keyboards, not Eddie Van Halen’s typical shred, as the leading riff, a rare thing for Van Halen and for pop music of the time. It was the band’s only No. 1 hit ever and even scored them a Grammy nod.
Speaking of Grammy nominations, check out the new ones here.
Charlie Chaplin is normally thought of as a silent kidder from early film history, but he was in fact behind this melancholy classic. It was sung in his 1936 movie “Modern Times,” then actually updated for modern times first by Nat King Cole and then dozens of other pop stars – including Michael Jackson and his brother Jermaine, after the King of Pop died.
Dum, dum, dum dum-DEE-dum, dum-DEE-dum. I think that’s the Darth Vader theme, or maybe it’s a Lady Gaga song or one of those infernal KFC commercials, but in any case, my point is that it’s elimination day, poor widdle Cat’s least favorite day of the week, wah. And I’m not exactly looking forward to it either, because I’ve been hugely disappointed with the judges’ taste when it comes to picking off the dingbats and I have a lot less faith in the average couch jockey.
Does Cat look like a windblown hooker tonight, or is that just me? Is she wearing a massive Ace bandage? I have to say, she was looking pretty darn normal for a while, and this Madonna circa 1993 outfit is just obliterating that. I know she styles herself, but I’m saying, Fox, come on, get her a professional.
But enough about Cat. It’s time for the group dance! Whee!
[Full recap of Wednesday (Dec. 2) night's "So You Think You Can Dance," with results, after the break...]
Oh, no. No wheel. Crap, they’re dancing to Billy Joel. Wearing black Spandex. This is very high school musical, and I don’t mean High School Musical, I mean a bunch of kids who aren’t too coordinated running around and dancing. Too much is going on and none of it’s coordinated. Oh, wait, they just did a quick little group shimmy. Toasty Oreo put this together? Oh, Toasty, not your best work. I am officially embarrassed for him on so many levels.
Now that the presidential address is over, it’s time for the really important stuff -- the “SYTYCD” top ten! Or really, the top eight plus Mollee and Nathan. I know, I know, this week everyone’s partnered with different people and they’ll have a chance to grow and mature, but seriously, if I wanted to wait around for 18-year-old kids to mature I’d teach community college classes. The competition is way too stiff for dead weight at this point, and I’m really hoping this is the last week I have to put up with these adolescent dingbats. And now I have to go check outside my house to make sure no angry, hormonal tweenagers are spray painting my garage with “I HEART NATHAN” and “MOLLEE FOREVER” or some such crap.
In viewing “The Fifth Stage,” the last episode of “Heroes” until 2010, I thought of the five stages of grief to which the title alludes. Because let’s be honest here: the majority of this show’s fans are in one of those five stages. If the show we loved died in Kirby Plaza in the Season 1’s “How to Stop an Exploding Man,” then those of us that have soldiered through since must be somewhere on the Kübler-Ross model.
Now that we’re at the nominal halfway point of “Redemption,” it’s high time to take a look at the volume as a whole, using those five stages of grief as a way to look at the ups and downs of the volume so far.
[Recap of Monday's (Nov. 30) "Heroes" after the break...]
Look, at least we’re not dealing with another omen of future doom and gloom, right? In the past, we’ve had Isaac’s paintings, Hiro’s time travels, and Parkman’s spirit walks to give us a glimpse into a future that needed to be avoided. This time around, we simply have a charismatic madman trying to carve out a niche for an oppressed minority. Sure, he emotionally manipulates people into doing his bidding and occasionally manipulates plate tectonics into doing his bidding, but hey, haven’t we all been there?
But this volume has presented us with another, more damning form of denial: the denial of a consistent set of characters presented on a weekly basis. The sprawling cast of “Heroes” is so immense that it can’t possibly fit them all into a 40+-minute episode on a regular basis. The montage that played over Samuel’s final speech reminded us all of how many characters were offscreen this week, last week, and maybe even the week before it. The accumulation of characters has bloated the show’s purpose, leaving Samuel and Sylar to essentially dominate screen time with other fight for a chance to be part of the story.
Don Henley once wrote, “The more I know, the less I understand.” And that sort of applies to my view on Samuel: the more we know about his backstory, the less anything he does makes sense. Had he consolidated power over a matter of years in the wake of Joseph’s death, maybe the strength of his position and the sway he holds over the carnival would make sense. But instead, we’ve learned that he’s gone from Johnny Rotten to King of the Hill in roughly eight weeks. Why he would want to be head of the carnival makes sense, given his lust for power. But why the other carnies fall in line so willingly makes less sense.
All this brings me to the true anger of this week: watching the smart, funny, capable Claire Bennet of “Redemption” get flushed down the toilet as Samuel brings her into the fold. Her friend Gretchen essentially stood in as audience proxy this week, asking all the type of questions we at home were asking ourselves. Of course, she didn’t deliver those lines at the top of her lungs while lacing them with obscenities, so maybe she and I deviated in that respect. But trying to square this Claire with the one that casually distracted Samuel in her dorm room to buy time for Noah’s return just didn’t fly for me.
Essentially, Claire needed to join the carnival to ramp up the show’s dramatic tension, introduce a new mystery (who is she supposed to lure in?), and give Noah a focus for his investigation into the carnival. But when I describe these elements, I am consciously aware of the plot creaking away onscreen. These are not organic character choices that lead to interesting situations. The tension between Claire and Noah only erupts when the show needs it to do so. Putting her into the carnival serves to increase Samuel’s power, but doesn’t help Claire’s character. In fact, it does her a disservice. Watching her smile at her new savior while the image of the dead ex-minor league ballplayer lingers in our brain puts her on the level of Mohinder in terms of stupidity.
Lydia makes a bargain with Samuel this week: while she knows that he committed fratricide, she’s keeping her mouth shut in order to protect her daughter. Granted, you really only know anything about her daughter if you watched those Sprint commercials. Which I don’t. So, all that worry and fear from “Thansksgiving”? Yea, don’t worry about it. Just like you shouldn’t worry about Claire’s personality transplant this week.
Here’s the bargain “Heroes” wants to make with you: it wants us to all be Haitain’ed. In short, we’re Lauren Gilmore: forget about what went on last week (or at Primatech), let’s forge ahead boldly into the future and maybe good things will happen. But as “Heroes” constantly notes, the truth (and/or memory) will out. Lauren’s can-do attitude is both commendable and actually downright charming upon realizing Noah’s need to find Claire, but it also served as the prelude to the sucker punch. Just like Lauren, we’re unable to ever forget what’s come before, even if we want to do so.
In Peter’s case, bargaining comes at the price of absorbing the Haitian’s powers, which consist of mind wiping, power dampening, and power tool expertise. (OK, fine, YOU explain the nail gun skillz.) He convinces Sylar to cede control of his body lest the whole situation turn into “The Last Temptation of Gabriel Gray.” Taking the Home Depot approach to family reunions works temporarily. But Nathan’s memories can’t forget his body in the storage unit.
So, Adrian Pasdar’s death: let’s discuss! I separate scene from story. The latter was always covered in a heaping helping of weak sauce, yet another example of the show refusing to truly kill off its main characters. Had Nathan’s initial death stuck, it would have served as an abrupt and shocking moment, and potentially signaled a new direction for the show. Instead, it took the show eleven episodes to undo this terrible decision.
As such, we as an audience were compelled to take the same point of view as the Petrellis in terms of dealing with Nathan-in-Sylar: should we mourn the loss of what is essentially a biological hard drive? Nathan’s memories seem better equipped to deal with the dissonance better than either of his living relatives, with Angela and Peter anxious to take the facsimile in lieu of the real thing. (So, I’m guessing they are pro-cloning, the Petrellis.)
The question then becomes: did this story present wish fulfillment within the world of the show? In other words: “Heroes” strives to place extraordinary abilities into everyday people in order to see what might happen. Perhaps this storyline was the “Heroes” version of the Dollhouse episode, “Haunted,” in which a woman downloaded herself after death into Echo’s body in order to solve her own murder. The ability to commune with the dead is undoubtedly powerful, and not one I easily dismiss. What I am trying to work through here is if Nathan’s “death” this week was actually powerful. And I think it was more powerful for Peter, having only come to acceptance at the place the two first used their powers, than for the audience. While Peter cried tears of sorrow as Sylar walked away, finally free from psychological contamination, we at home cried tears of joy, finally free from this storyline.
With Sylar finally free to be Sylar, perhaps at last his storyline can intersect with Samuel’s in a meaningful way. Sure, there was the brief dalliance between the two earlier, but that was a muted, impotent version of the character. Samuel’s final speech asserts that it’s time to gather more people with abilities to the camp, which I thought he’d been doing all season anyways. (Was he Haitian’ed as well?) But Sylar won’t stand another superpowered alpha dog on the scene, so look for them to start a collision course come January.
The show luckily already has a way by which to get every disparate character pointed in the right direction: the compass. In Season 1, they were all pulled by destiny towards New York City, guided by an unseen hand towards a mutual meeting place. While Samuel has dominated screen time, he hasn’t necessarily dominated the minds of the majority of the show’s characters. If Samuel kicks the speed of his plot come 2010, look for a lot more compasses to end up in the hands of familiar faces. Hopefully, in tying the characters more closely to the show’s Big Bad, they will find a more organic way to find screen time for its major players, show them working in unison, and then have the type of epic battle a show full of superheroes should have.
Oh wait, I’ve circled all the way back around again to denial, haven’t I? Rats.
“Heroes” comes back January 4, 2010. Will you?
On the Sunday Nov. 29th episode of “The Amazing Race,” one team stopped racing and instead started playing the game.
Before tonight’s episode of “The Amazing Race,” where a team had a Speed Bump that I thought would be erased by bunching within the first ten minutes, I expected to be writing thoughts on how annoying I found the manipulation of the race in terms of controlling competition.
However, through a strange and unthinkable series of circumstances, I am instead writing about how one of the racers was so convinced of this sort of producer intervention that they risked the entire race on being able to predict their next move.
They bet zig, the race zagged, and the final three was set in stone after only thirty five minutes of a frustrating, if fascinating, hour of television.
[Recap of Sunday's "The Amazing Race" after the break...]