Recapping Television's Hottest Shows with Monkeys as Critics

Recap: 'So You Think You Can Dance' Las Vegas -- The Top 10

The final ten are chosen – and the judges deliver the good (and bad) news

<p>Nigel Lythgoe, Mia Michaels and Adam Shankman of 'So You Think You Can Dance'</p>

Nigel Lythgoe, Mia Michaels and Adam Shankman of 'So You Think You Can Dance'

Credit: FOX

 

It’s time for the final ten to be announced, whoo hoo! But I’ve got to say, I’m a little iffy on this new method of leaping from Vegas directly to the final ten. Granted, it certainly solves some problems the show has had once the final twenty were decided. When we had double eliminations and competing dancers were paired with one another, a so-so dancer could easily skate through to the finals on the strength of his or her partner. I also like the idea that we get to see some familiar faces back on the show and that they’re all dancing to their strengths – each returning dancer will be paired to their specialty as opposed to a specific dancer, making it even less likely viewers will be voting for a favorite couple. But are we ready to cut to the final ten so soon? The level of talent is already pretty damn high, and just one bad moment, much less one bad dance, could eliminate a talent who might have surprised by emerging as a winner in a past season. With so few slots, I just know some spectacular dancers are not going to make the cut, and let’s face it, that stings. We’ve just barely met these dancers, and now we’re kicking most of them to the curb! Waah!
 
But really, none of this compares to the new cheesefest starting tonight -- the judges are going to be breaking the good (and bad) news to the last group of dancers. In their homes. While they’re surrounded by hopeful loved ones. As they sob into the family sofa. I kind of hope someone’s parents are a little nuts and try to beat the hell out of one of the judges when they deliver bad news, just so the producers won’t try this again. For starters, it’s sadistic, plus it drags out a simple process for the purposes of doubling the length of what should be a one hour elimination episode and, finally, it smacks of “The Bachelor,” which is not a good thing. Ever.
 
Anyway, let’s get down to business. Time to see the final 58. And say good-bye to most of them. Uh, yay?
 
[Full recap of Wednesday's (June 9) "So You Think You Can Dance" after the break...]

Recap: 'Glee' Season One Finale - 'Journey'

New Directions stares down Regionals, and Quinn stares down a face from her past.

<p>The season finale of 'Glee'</p>

The season finale of 'Glee'

Credit: FOX

 I’ve never met a show more analysis-proof than “Glee.” That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to say about it, but I’m not exactly sure how much one says about it would actually go towards changing anyone’s mind about it. When the show works, it works so well that it bypasses the head and hits the heart, the land where criticism goes to die. When it doesn’t work, it fails so badly that you feel as if you’ve been literally hit in the head, wondering what in the world just happened. Throw in a more than occasionally odd mixture of satire, black comedy, earnestness, and musical theatre, and you have the modern-day equivalent of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays. 

And this is the show that’s already secured a third season. 

Let’s go over the rainbow and see what went down in the first season finale. 

[Full recap of the June 8 "Glee" finale after the break...]

When I read online that “Faithfully” would be a number in tonight’s episode, I jokingly suggested to my wife that the episode itself be called “Journey,” in that it seemed like the type of obvious title than makes “Glee” giddy in the morning. Turns out that joke was a lot less funny when it turned out to be the ACTUAL title of the episode. But while one can play the world’s deadliest drinking game by taking a sip each time a character in the show utters the titular phrase of the week, one can justify the lackluster Regionals performances through the title: it was more important to watch these people on the road to their big performance than to actually see the performance itself. 

After all, almost nothing truly impressed, from any group, at the supposedly show-stopping performances that represented the best of the Midwest region of the country. When Rachel told her mother Shelby that New Directions beat Vocal Adreneline, she was absolutely right. But that wasn’t exactly saying much. VA’s performance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” may have been a physically impressive piece of musical theatre, but a subpar expression of group vocals. But New Direction’s Journey medley wasn’t exactly barn-burning, either. Watching the expanded group share “Don’t Stop Believing” vocal duties was nice, but I still prefer the yearning of the once-smaller group’s initial rendition from the pilot episode. 

Watching these big production numbers points out one of the fundamental flaws of “Glee” in its first season: it keeps trying to sell us on how hard high school is, but never makes these big-scale performances look anything less than easy. I’m not suggesting Season 2 need be a realistic depiction of the rehearsal process, but it’s jarring to go from, say, Kurt’s complicated relationship with his father to a flawlessly choreographed number accompanied by a band that may or may not even have sheet music. The numbers are impressive without seeing the background work: they could be transcendent by showing the labor that went into making them. 

Amongst the myriad of musical-themed episodes of television that have aired over the past decade or so, the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” episode “Once More with Feeling” stands out from the pack. Why? Because it depicts a world in which people’s emotions sometimes get so damn big that they have literally no other choice to express themselves in song. It’s the only proper form by which they can accurately express themselves. The songs are born from within. On “Glee,” these characters find existing songs and wear them as outward expressions, trying them on like a pair of pants, finding an external representation of what they themselves cannot feel. That’s why the Journey medley worked far less than Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love” later in the episode: the former was imposed on them by Will, and the latter was chosen by them as a more honest form of self-expression. 

When the musical selections on “Glee” truly work, they derive organically from character motivation as oppose to simple thematic relation imposed by the title of the episode. Watching the “Breakfast Club”-esque montage in which each member of New Directions let Will know how much the club changed their life gave context to a song that might otherwise seem like a trite tear-jerker. Had Will allowed them to learn songs that reflected their journey, instead of simply going for the easy montage, then I might have been behind their performance more.  But “To Sir” ended up being one of my favorite performances all year. Anyone that had a teacher that inspired them welled up at that number. “Glee” does these types of moments very well. They can’t often sustain them for an hour of entertainment, but they do short, searing bursts of greatness that occasionally make it stand out from the television pack. 

As mentioned before, “Glee” is already signed up for a 3rd season, which is pretty remarkable. But in some ways, that says more about “American Idol” than it does “Glee.” Both are centered around a viewing audience watching people performing cover versions of other artists’ material. This is fun to watch because nearly everyone watching these programs does that to one extent or another, and since it’s fun to mock the original performers, it’s often just as (if not more) fun to watch that performance once removed. In terms of hits versus misses, I think there are few that would argue that “Idol” outshone “Glee” this year. Simply by having the virtue of being able to pre-record and optimally stage these performances, “Glee” guarantees (as much as a show can) the type of performance that “Idol” used to feature on a consistent basis. 

I’ve focused almost entirely on the musical aspect of this finale, and the show as a whole, because I’m not sure the drama holds up to any type of actual scrutiny. It’s hard to talk about “stakes” when the rules of the show’s universe twists and bends to whatever needs the show has that particular week. Why Sue Sylvester would be let within 50 feet of another singing competition is beyond me, but it’s just the type of question the show doesn’t even want us to be asking. I didn’t even blink an eye when she got New Directions another year, because even though her entire arc this year was about the destruction of the group, “Glee” consistently changes the game when it writes itself into a corner. 

(I’d start a rant about Shelby’s apparent “I think I want to adopt a baby” turning into actually adopting Beth about fifteen minutes later, but I’m going to cut the show some slack and assume she’d learned about Quinn’s baby mid-year and planned this show as her last. Because the alternative makes me want to pull a Mercedes and bust the windows out ya car.) 

Here’s hoping Seasons 2 and 3 aren’t what Will described tonight as “a whole lot of middle.” These are small town boys and girls, living in their lonely worlds, with the occasional song to puncture the monotony of everyday life. That life may not sparkle like the lights on Broadway, but they are lives equally, if not more, worth celebrating. See Sue finally find something in common with New Directions through the callous eyes of outsiders makes me wish for a little more geographical and sociological perspective to seep into the show’s DNA. I’m not asking for “Friday Night Lights,” here, but a little of that could go a long way.  

In some ways, the finale set up next year to be…well, almost identical to this one. New Directions will get another chance at Nationals. Sue will get another chance to torment will. Madonna will get another chance to have her back catalog gainfully employed. Figgins will get another chance to be terrified of vampires. It will possibly feel familiar. Like an old song you used to sing. Hopefully, “Glee” can find a way to take that known melody and fashion it into something unexpected. 

What did you think of the season finale? Does Season 2 offer something different or just the same ol’ song? Leave your thoughts below! 
 

 

Recap: 'Breaking Bad' - 'Half Measures'

Walter takes big risks for Jesse in 'Half Measures'

<p>Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul of 'Breaking Bad'</p>

Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul of 'Breaking Bad'

Credit: AMC

There's a darkness inside of Walter White. It's the thing that has been allowed to flourish now that he's taken his turn toward bad things, the thing that has driven him and pushed him and gotten him to the place where he's making millions of dollars per year to produce meth for Gus. It has served him very well, indeed, and every time I hear star Bryan Cranston or series creator Vince Gilligan say that "Breaking Bad" is about a basically good guy who makes a series of bad choices, I wince. If Walt were a basically good guy, he would have been out of this long ago. There is a thing deep inside of him that is pushing him to be bigger and badder and darker and darker.

And yet, that thing cannot completely crowd out whatever parts of him are good. And those parts of him that are good are the parts that are finally going to get him killed. Walt can't leave well enough alone. He can't cut Jesse loose as he probably should. He can't let his family go as he probably should. He can't find his way to not making the same mistake twice (as Gus recommended in last week's episode) because to be Walt is to be continually making the same mistakes over and over and over. His inability to completely give in to his sociopathic side holds him back almost as much as his inability to give in completely to his better angels. He's an awkward blend of good and bad that seems unlikely to rise much farther in the Albuquerque underworld. The more times he finds improbable escapes from the tiny corners he boxes himself into, the less he seems to grasp that his time is marked, that the way to ensure he provides for his family is to either get out of the game entirely or give in and become Gus, Jr.

[Full recap of Sunday's (June 6) "Breaking Bad" after the break...]

Recap: 'So You Think You Can Dance' Auditions - Dallas, Nashville and Las Vegas

The South doesn’t rise again, and some early contenders get cut in Vegas

<p>'So You Think You Can Dance' judge Adam Shankman</p>

'So You Think You Can Dance' judge Adam Shankman

Credit: FOX

It’s time for the “SYTYCD” auditions to move on to Dallas and Nashville, and given how things have been going thus far, I’m bracing myself for a tough two hours. The truth is, as much as I love “SYTYCD,” these audition episodes tend to focus on what I find to be the weakest part of the whole show.  

On the one hand, there’s a behind-the-scenes, “A Chorus Line” vibe to these shows that I love. We see the hopeful faces in line, the agony of learning choreography in just a few hours and, yes, the disappointed also-rans shuffling back onto the street outside. On the other hand, this is when the producers set up their most maudlin and manipulative reality TV tropes. First, there are the sob stories, then the feel good stories, and finally, the pathetic losers. While “SYTYCD” is, to its credit, less in love with nightmare auditions than, say, “American Idol,” it also drives home the fact that, when all is said and done, this show, like almost every other reality competition out there, is essentially a popularity contest.
 
Yeah, I know. This is a contest to find America’s favorite dancer, not the best. But I’d feel better about it if the producers weren’t constantly whacking me over the head with video segments about how Dancer A grew up in a cardboard box and Dancer B broke both legs in a horrible kickball accident, especially when we never see these dancers again. I mean, sometimes it’s interesting and sometimes you feel like you’re being forced to huff Hallmark cards. Why can’t we just pick, oh, I don’t know, the best dancer? Instead of watching these lame “This Is Your Life” segments, we could watch more dancers who are making it to through to Vegas and we have half a shot of seeing again. Because let’s face it, when these guys go to Broadway, no director is going to say, “Yo, Dancer B, you completely blew that grand jete when you landed in the orchestra pit and we’re out a trombonist now, but props for being able to move the lower half of your body, all things considered!”
 
But hey, Fox has to fill two hours and heartwarming segments are marginally better than commercials, so there you go.  So let’s head to Texas!
 
[Full recap of Thursday's (June 3) "So You Think You Can Dance" after the break...]

Recap: 'So You Think You Can Dance' Auditions - Los Angeles and Chicago

It’s ladies’ night in L.A., but Chicago’s a bust – except for a new dance craze

<p>Cat Deeley of 'So You Think You Can Dance'</p>

Cat Deeley of 'So You Think You Can Dance'

Credit: FOX

“So You Think You Can Dance” is back, and, as is the wont of every reality competition, it’s time to see dancers who don’t suck along with a smattering of people who really, really do so we can all feel superior and self-satisfied. The good news is that the show is going to Los Angeles and Chicago, and as every waitress in L.A. is taking acting/dancing/guitar lessons instead of learning how to bring you the sugar when you ask for it, there’s always plenty of talent. And, because L.A. is full of lunatics, there’s usually some good comic relief, too. So let’s dive in!

[Full recap of Wednesday's (June 2) "So You Think You Can Dance" after the break...]

Recap: 'Glee' - 'Funk'

Tension mounts between the glee club and Vocal Adrenaline just before regionals

<p>Amber Riley of 'Glee'</p>

Amber Riley of 'Glee'

Credit: Adam Rose/FOX

There are times when I wish Las Vegas had a section devoted to all things pop culture. You could place bets on things like “The ‘Lost’ finale will drive half of audience completely bananas.” Or “The next ‘American Idol’ judge will be Joss Whedon.” Or my personal favorite example: the over/under on how many times an episode of “Glee” will figure out a way to insert the title of its episode into the show’s dialogue. I think Pop Vegas should set that number around 40, because it feels like that’s as many times as a character issued the word “Funk” from their lips in tonight’s Season 1 penultimate episode. 

It’s always darkest just before the dawn (or, in this show’s case, Regionals), so it makes sense that most of the show’s characters were deep in their own personal hells just in time to potentially throw a year’s worth of hard work down the drain. Did they pull out of their tailspin in time for the big performance? Does George Clinton own an Atomic Dog? Exactly. Let’s break down this week’s action. 

[Full recap of Tuesday's (June 1) "Glee" after the break...]

Recap: 'Breaking Bad' - 'Abiquiu'

'Albiquiu' has its moments but is hurt by some sudden, unmotivated character behavior

<p>Bryan Cranston of 'Breaking Bad'</p>

Bryan Cranston of 'Breaking Bad'

Credit: AMC

I guess if I were to make a single criticism of "Breaking Bad," one that I thought most held the show back from being theoretically "perfect" (which, of course, is unattainable), it would be that the show does a fairly bad job of truly portraying the cost of Walt's actions on the community around him, other than in the abstract. We've seen the junkies that trapped Jesse in their house last season and their barely cared for kid. We've seen some of the shambling wrecks of people Walt's dealers sold to in the first season. And we've seen a handful of junkies here and there, but mostly, the costs of Walt's chosen endeavors have been felt in over-the-top action setpieces, like when the Cousins took down Hank or when Walt's actions indirectly led to a mid-air collision. The consequences of Walt's actions are almost always writ large, not expressed on an intimate human scale like the best moments of this series usually are.

Recap: 'American Idol' Finale Live-Blog: And the Season 9 winner is...

Will it be Crystal Bowersox or Lee DeWyze? It'll take more than two hours to find out

<p>Lee DeWyze, Ryan Seacrest and Crystal Bowersox of 'American Idol'</p>

Lee DeWyze, Ryan Seacrest and Crystal Bowersox of 'American Idol'

Credit: FOX

Wednesday (May 26) night's "American Idol" finale is scheduled to run for 127 minutes, from 8 p.m. til 10:07 p.m. I know it's running long. You know it's running long. Simon Fuller, Ryan Seacrest, Bruce Gowers and FOX's programmers all know it's running long.

And why wouldn't it? We're going to have musical performances galore, lengthy tributes to Simon Cowell and his storied legacy, more integrated cross-promotional plugs than you could shake a stick at and, if we've been very bad indeed, the time-wasting travesty known as The Golden Idols. All the while, tension will build... Is your next American Idol going to be Lee DeWyze or Crystal Bowersox?

Join me for all of the fun (and the not-fun) over the next two-plus hours. Jump in and comment, or just share my pain. It's your choice.

Click through for the recap and the results...

Recap: 'Glee' - 'Theatricality'

KISS, Lady GaGa and more get the 'Glee' treatment

<p>'Glee' meets KISS in the 'Theatricality' episode</p>

'Glee' meets KISS in the 'Theatricality' episode

Credit: FOX

The costumes may have been gleefully ridiculous, but "Glee's" Lady Gaga episode didn't exactly capture the same kind of magic that Madonna night did a few weeks back. Blame it on the limited catalogue Gaga's unleashed upon the world in her brief reign over pop culture. (What else is there besides "Bad Romance" and "Poker Face?" Not much, according to this episode.) Or blame it on the crippling lack of Sue Sylvester, sorely missed this week.

In what promised to be the most outrageous episode of the season we got a lot of the same old stuff, starting with Rachel and her mommy issues, represented via Idina Menzel's sweet but snooze-worthy rendition of "Funny Girl" and later with a Rachel-Shelby duet of Gaga's "Poker Face." Also familiar was the "Kurt and Finn as stepbrothers" subplot, which brought their family drama -- and Finn's latent homophobia -- to an unexpected breaking point. If anyone's previously overlooked Mike O'Malley's contributions as Kurt's dad Burt, you won't forget him after watching him lay into Finn in one of the tensest, most emotional scenes of the series so far.

But the question remains: was this the episode that Lady Gaga fans deserved, or the episode "Glee" needed to move its characters' arcs along?

[Full recap of Tuesday's (May 25) "Glee" after the break…]

Recap: 'Dancing with the Stars' Finale -- The Mirror Ball goes to...

Nicole, Evan and Erin were the favorites for most of the season and the winner was...

<p>Nicole and Derek of 'Dancing with the Stars'</p>

Nicole and Derek of 'Dancing with the Stars'

Credit: ABC

If you had asked me whether or not I was looking forward to tonight’s show on, say, Monday afternoon, I would have said, unequivocally, yes, yes yes! But after seeing last night’s debacle, I’m approaching this big finale with dread in my heart. I’m not sure if I’ll be happy regardless of who wins. Do you give the mirror ball to Erin, as her performances were the strongest last night, despite her not being the strongest dancer overall? Do you give it to Nicole because, even though Derek screwed up her routines left and right last night, she’s been the best dancer of the season? Or do you give it to Evan for simply tolerating Anna’s crap choreography? How no one was able to knock it out of the park last night, largely due to the missteps of the pros, still baffles me, and any victory feels as if it’s going to come with an asterisk. Okay, I’m just being sulky at this point, so let’s get on with the dancing!

 
[Full recap of Tuesday's (May 25) "Dancing with the Stars" finale after the break...]

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