<p>A scene from Tuesday's &quot;Glee&quot;</p>
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A scene from Tuesday's "Glee"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Glee' - 'Michael'

Michael Jackson-themed episode asks one very important question: Do you know what's in your Slushie?

Look, anytime you have an episode in which the most dramatic event involved a rock-salt laced Slushie potentially blinding one of your leads, you know you’re in for a special hour on your hands. And so it was with “Michael,” just the latest in “Glee”’s attempts to not even bother trying to make sense on a basic level. There’s little to really review. The show’s review-proof, and consciously so. There’s absolutely no way to logically analyze what just beamed into our brains for an hour.

Let’s take the central conceit of Michael Jackson being at the heart of a new war between New Directions and The Warblers. One could, and probably should, argue for Jackson’s place in the pop pantheon. But I’ve not said that one is currently a teenager, which makes the obsession with him this week slightly odd. On Twitter tonight, it was clear that there was a schism between people my age, who remember “Billie Jean” when it first aired on MTV, and people a lot younger than me, who are surprised to learn that MTV used to play videos. Had this hour been an exploration of how Jackson paved the way for artists currently on the charts, then maybe the students could have gone through Jackson’s extensive back catalog in order to discover songs that were personal to them. But no. When Will writes, “WWMJD?” on his White Board of Doom, everyone already knows.

It’s a silly thing to quibble over, I know. “Glee” did a Michael Jackson episode because, well, “Glee” wanted to do a Michael Jackson episode. But “Glee” also thinks just throwing that idea up on its own version of Will’s White Board of Doom is good enough as an episode of television. Sometimes, the songs managed to coincide with something actually happening with a character’s arc*. Other times, characters just recreated Jackson’s original videos with remarkable fidelity. And yet other times, they sang “Black and White” and made me wonder if the entire episode was somehow about racism without me knowing about it.

* I have to asterisk this, because I managed to use the word “arc” when applied to characters on “Glee.” I promise this won’t happen again.

Look at the way Blaine kicked things off, before getting a rock-salted Slushie to the cornea. (I have to keep typing that out, because I’m semi-convinced it couldn’t have possibly happened.) He is psyched about Michael week, and knows the perfect song to start the week. That song? “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” THAT is how much effort goes into the writing of a typical episode. It’s whatever is easiest at that moment to achieve, and if getting into a song is organic, then awesome. If it comes screaming out of left field like an auto-tuned banshee, then so it goes.

All of this depresses me to no end, because every once in a while the show connects music to emotion in ways that justify the program’s existence. Rachel agreeing to marry Finn is beyond thunderdome levels of dumb, but there’s something really powerful about the way he set up “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You.” He tells her, “I always feel like you hear me better when I’m not talking.” Well, that’s pretty much musical theatre in a nutshell, no? Singing what you can’t say? It’s a throwaway line, one that I’m far from sure the writers of the show ever take to heart. But watching Finn/Rachel sing, or Sam/Mercedes in a sweet, pared down version of “Human Nature,” is to watch the show at its best. It’s really small, really intimate, and uses pop songs in order to sell emotions, not records.

It’s a lot better than the college drama interspersed throughout the hour. “Glee” theoretically shows a lot of people who will never leave Lima. That’s not a bad thing, to be sure. But there’s always a sense lurking on the edges that while everything inside the practice room is hunky dory, the world can be a benignly cruel place. (Except when you’re restaging “Bad” in an abandoned parking lot. Then life gets REAL, and REAL FAST.) But no: both Rachel and Kurt get into the finalist rounds of NYADA. Not surprising, but not exactly dramatic. Quinn, though? Here’s what I wrote a few months ago: “Quinn should be going to jail. Instead? She’s probably going to Yale. Kill me in the face.” Or, in light of tonight’s episode, throw a rock-salted Slushie in my face. So of course she gets into Yale, because why not? It’s not like we’ve heard a lick about this plot since it was ludicrously introduced.

Everything in her speech to New Directions about overcoming obstacles rang false. Not because the details in them were inherently impossible, although that had something to do with it. No, it rang false because it detailed events we hadn’t actually seen for ourselves. Getting Quinn from “planting evidence in order to have an adult woman framed for child abuse” to “into an Ivy League school” should have taken more than eleven minutes of screen time. I’m guessing. I’m not a professional television writer. But I’m willing to wager my assessment here is correct. It’s a symptomatic problem for the show: rather than painstakingly lay out a character’s trajectory, they just skip to what they perceive are the cool, important, or emotional moments. But without the groundwork, none of the moments themselves register as they should.

After all this, New Directions won’t even perform Michael Jackson at Regionals. Santana manages to record Sebastian detailing his evil plot, in which he’s the Gus Fring to Santana’s Walter White. (“I’m the one with underboob!” she bellows, or should have.) So it’s no MJ for anyone, apparently, when it comes to the upcoming competition. That makes sense, in that the show hates to repeat musical numbers. It’s harder to sell iTunes singles if you keep reusing the same ones, after all. I understand the show not wanting to pull a “That Thing You Do!” and drive a specific tune into our brain until we cry uncle. And that’s fine, so long as each episode contributes to their understanding of what makes them work as a group. I just don’t know what they learned this week, aside from what can be concealed inside Santana’s bra.

If “Glee” worked in ways related to Finn’s earlier description, a lot of these complaints would go away. I really don’t watch a musical for its book. A smart book helps, but strong songs with strong emotional content go a long way towards covering that up. Only about 15% of tonight’s musical content actually connected, which made the remaining 85% frustrating rather than transporting. (Blaine had to be sitting there in bed thinking, “They know my name isn’t Ben, right?”) Given that The King of Pop was one of the all-time best in transporting people through his music, that’s a disappointing percentage. Then again, it’s been a disappointing season. So who should be surprised that this was the outcome?

What did you think of tonight’s episode? Were you a Michael Jackson fan going into this episode? Did you leave as one? What are the odds that Rachel leaves for NYC still engaged? What would you put in a Slushie in order to wound your mortal enemies? Sound off below!

 

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<p>Anna Torv and Lance Reddick of &quot;Fringe&quot;</p>
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Anna Torv and Lance Reddick of "Fringe"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Fringe' - 'Forced Perspective'

Olivia meets a girl who might have clues about The Observer's prophecy
Destiny versus self-determination. That old chestnut reared its head on tonight’s “Fringe” in an episode that essentially put all of its mythology on hold for a Season 1-esque standalone episode. Sure, bits and pieces moved along on the periphery, but this was an examination of two women that felt isolated due to childhood traumas that defined their lives. Putting aside my issues with Season 4 as a whole, was this a good hour of television? “Forced Perspective” was…fine. Perfectly perfunctory. It was also, unfortunately, fairly dull. Forced, you might say.
 
I look back on those Season 1 standalones with a certain fondness now, even if those episodes aren’t particularly good. But they were definitely exercises in cookie-cutter storytelling: “Fringe” had an almost immutable formula within which it worked. Start off with a scene in which something freaky/grotesque happened, put Fringe Division on the scene, have Walter realize what happened was somehow tied into experiments he did with William Bell, and Olivia would save the day in the nick of time. Lather, rinse, repeat.
 
It’s also what passes for continuity these days on FOX as a whole. Look at “Alcatraz,” a show that seems like a complete repudiation of the serialization that blew hardcore “Fringe” fans away even as it sent casual fans fleeing for the hills. If you saw “Touch” this weekend, then you saw a similar approach in which an overarching premise is doled out in morsel-sized bites to invite the unwashed masses to occasionally check in on the series. This isn’t an evil way to produce a television series, but it’s certainly not the most interesting way. “Fringe” embraced serialization, but it also put that on the backburner in favor of character study. The show followed the characters, not the plot.
 
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<p>John Noble and Joshua Jackson of &quot;Fringe&quot;</p>
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John Noble and Joshua Jackson of "Fringe"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Fringe' - 'Enemy of My Enemy'

Jones is back, in an episode that would have been a series highlight in another universe
Producing a television show is a tricky thing. There are so many ways to go wrong that it’s a miracle when anything goes right. Starting around the halfway point of Season 1, and stretching through the penultimate episode of Season 3, “Fringe” did almost everything right. Moreover, they did it in a way that gave the illusion that television is in fact quite easy to pull off. Nothing could be further from the truth, and not for a single second would I ever retroactively take back anything positive I had to say about those two and a half years. But this fourth season is a prime example of how quickly a show can go off the rails.
 
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<p>Lea Michele of &quot;Glee&quot;</p>
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Lea Michele of "Glee"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Glee' - 'Yes/No'

A tale of two proposals marks the start of a new year at McKinley High
Honestly, “Glee.”
 
Look, you and me need to have a little sitdown. Just the pair of us. No need to bring in anyone else. After all, this episode was nominally about the trials and tribulations of various romantic pairings new and old tonight, even if it ended up being about the powers of synchronized swimming to overcome the fearmongering of ginger fascists. (In that respect, “Yes/No” was pretty much a straight-up rip off of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.”) Regardless, we need to have a chat. You can sit there and listen and nod and keep a running monologue inside your head that sounds like Helen Mirren if you like. I won’t hold it against you.
 
Here’s the thing: You need to stop.
 
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<p>Lana Del Rey and Daniel Radcliffe of &quot;Saturday Night Live&quot;</p>

Lana Del Rey and Daniel Radcliffe of "Saturday Night Live"

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' - Daniel Radcliffe and Lana Del Rey

Would the 'Harry Potter' star be able to cast an 'SNL' spell?

There are many actors out there who are known primarily for a single role, but very few of those actors spent an entire decade of their lives playing that role in a series of eight films which quite comfortably be considered a phenomenon. It’s all the more impressive of course that Daniel Radcliffe, hosting “Saturday Night Live” for the first time, has done all of this at the young age of 22, all while seemingly avoided the child star syndrome that has plagued so many others who became so famous so quickly.

This seems like a fine week to be filling in for my estimable colleague Ryan McGee, given that Radcliffe has spent much of the past year honing his live performance skills on Broadway. As Hugh Jackman indicated in his brief cameo as Daniel Radcliffe earlier this year, there are definite advantages to having celebrities who have at least some experience in a live setting, and from the moment tonight’s episode began it was clear that Radcliffe has become highly comfortable with this kind of environment, making for a strong central performance that could weather even the weakest material the show could send at it.
 
However, before we get started, I figured in honor of Radcliffe’s presence we should adjust our grading system accordingly. As a result, I’ve adopted – just for this week – the system of evaluation for the Ordinary Wizarding Levels at Hogwarts. While this means that we need a legend to interpret some of the below, I feel it’s only fitting (and gives me the potential to label something particular awful as “Troll,” which seems too good an opportunity to pass up).
 
The O.W.L. Grading Scheme
 
O = Outstanding
E = Exceeds Expectations
A = Acceptable
P = Poor
D = Dreadful
T = Troll
 
Let the exams begin – hope you all brought your timeturners!
 
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<p>Joshua Jackson of &quot;Fringe&quot;</p>
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Joshua Jackson of "Fringe"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Fringe' - 'Back To Where You've Never Been'

The show returns with a step in the right direction, but many improvements left to be made

Welcome to 2012, “Fringe” fans. Did you miss the show? Most likely. Did you miss my reviews? Less likely. But that’s fine: it was probably as little fun to read my frustrations with the show as it was to write them. I’ve gone over my problems with this fourth season week after week this season, so regurgitating them here is pointless and waste of all of our times. What I will say is this: while “Back To Where You’ve Never Been” didn’t solve those systemic problems by a long shot, it was certainly a step towards something better in what may be the show’s final season.

The biggest shift? Using Peter Bishop’s third-rail status as a way to both drive the narrative engine and explicitly comment on ways in which these unfamiliar iterations of beloved characters’ interaction with the singular constant in this show’s universe. If the first few weeks of Season 4 played as a series of “what if” episodes, “Back” gave temporary purpose to this reality by grounding it in some old-fashioned character-based moments that reflected as much on those versions no longer around as much as those presently onscreen. Peter’s presence helps tether these individual moments since his mere presence acts as a type of mirror to reflect what has been lost and bring it temporarily back into the fold.
 
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<p>&quot;Saturday Night Live&quot; host Charles Barkley</p>
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"Saturday Night Live" host Charles Barkley

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' - Charles Barkley and Kelly Clarkson

Could the Round Mound of Rebound and the first Idol start 2012 off right?
Tonight marks the third time that Charles Barkley has hosted “Saturday Night Live.” I completely forgot that he initially hosted the show in 1993 until doing a little digging in preparation for tonight’s recap. I remember his 2010 appearance well, albeit unkindly. So I’m slightly dreading his presence tonight in this, the first “SNL” of 2012. It doesn’t help my confidence that he spent seemingly half of today inside NBC’s “Football Night in America” studio plugging his appearance rather than working on his sketches. He’s a larger-than-life personality outside of this show, but seems to shrink in this particular spotlight. Oh well. If nothing else, the original “American Idol” herself Kelly Clarkson may brighten tonight’s proceedings.
 
As per usual, only one way to find out. I grade each sketch, you get mad, and then we all move on with our lives. Deal? Deal.
 
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<p>Stephen Lang of &quot;Terra Nova&quot;</p>
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Stephen Lang of "Terra Nova"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Terra Nova' Finale - 'Occupation/ Resistance'

A strong season finale, but was it worth the lame hours leading up to it?
Back in the 1980’s, Wendy’s ran a successful ad campaign based around a single catchphrase: “Where’s the beef?” You could apply the same question to “Terra Nova,” which we can now safely say was a 4-hour television movie that managed to also have nine inconsequential hours between the season premiere and season finale. (We might be able to eventually substitute “series” for “season,” but as of the time I’m writing this, that’s still up in the air.) It’s not that there wasn’t another nine hours of story here. It’s that the writers/producers of the series didn’t know how to fill those hours with compelling characters, interesting action, or philosophical inquiry. They knew the starting point, and they knew the ending point. Everything in between wasn’t an opportunity so much as an obstacle.
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<p>&nbsp;Michael Buble and Jimmy Fallon</p>
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 Michael Buble and Jimmy Fallon

Credit: NBC

Recap: 'Saturday Night Live' - Jimmy Fallon and Michael Buble

Surprise guests join an 'SNL' veteran to close 2011 on a high note
So putting my cards on the table up front: I didn’t particularly care for Jimmy Fallon during his run on “Saturday Night Live.” I thought his impressions were great, and his energy was always on point. But there was a sloppiness to his work that always irked me. Either he was busy butchering the English language on “Weekend Update” or overtly trying to make Horatio Sanz break on live television. Still, his late night show has turned around my impression of him entirely, and he’s truly grown into his own as a confident comic performer during his tenure in Conan O’Brien’s old slot. Will he excel tonight in his old stomping grounds, or will he revert to his previous ways? Will musical guest Michael Bublé stick to simply signing, or will Christmas come early and give us all “Hamm and Bublé II: Electric Pork-a-loo?”
 
Only one way to find out: onto tonight’s recap!
 
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<p>Amber Riley of &quot;Glee&quot;</p>
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Amber Riley of "Glee"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'Glee' - 'Extraordinary Merry Christmas'

New Directions splits its attention during the holidays, and HitFix starts a tradition of its own
“Well, tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you!” That line, sung by Bono in “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, has always bothered me. I’m sure it’s bothered a lot of you as well. I understand the meaning the song was probably going for, but it comes off completely condescending at best, and totally tone-deaf at worst. Is Bono sarcastically berating those who have the technology to listen to the song? Is he mocking those in Africa who might not get MTV, satellite radio, or Spotify? For reasons only Ryan Murphy can probably answer, New Directions sang this song, including that infamous line, AT A BUNCH OF HOMELESS PEOPLE TONIGHT. Essentially, New Directions said, “Look, you’re down and out, but at least you don’t live in Africa.” I think. I honestly don’t know. All I know is that when I heard, “Well, tonight thank God it’s them, instead of you,” I heard “Glee” singing it at everyone no longer watching this program.
 
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