Jason Isaacs in "Awake"

 Jason Isaacs in "Awake"

Credit: Fox

Jason Isaacs finds himself 'Awake' at the 2011 Comic-Con

The 'Harry Potter' star jokes around on the panel for a serious new drama

Jason Isaacs, fresh off his final turn in the "Harry Potter" films, walked into a ballroom full of swooning fans at San Diego's 2011 Comic-Con aiming a video camera at the audience to preserve the moment. The crowd hooted appreciatively for their favorite villain, and it's likely Isaacs, not a Fox midseason police procedural-with-a-twist, that brought them in. Whether or not Isaacs will be able to keep them watching with his new series "Awake" is debatable.

 

Though the crowd applauded enthusiastically once the screening of "Awake" was over, the screening suffered from poor sound and the distracting effect of a crying baby in the audience. But "Awake," with its poignant theme of loss and repressed grief probably isn't best served by being tossed up on a giant screen for an audience attending the Con for fun first looks and celebrity sightings. Luckily, Isaacs returned to the stage (along with executive producers Howard Gordon and Kyle Killen) for a fifteen minute Q&A afterwards.

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"Napoleon Dynamite"

 "Napoleon Dynamite"

Credit: Fox

The cast of "Napoleon Dynamite" gets animated for 2011 Comic-Con

It's ligers and bed races and zit popping, oh my

Since the movie was released in 2004, there probably aren't too many times when the cast of "Napoleon Dynamite" can walk into a room and get treated like rock stars, but most of the time they're not at San Diego's 2011 Comic-Con. The moment Efran Ramirez (Pedro) said, "My name is Pedro," the crowd went wild, hooting and laughing as they stomped their feet. Who knew it was so good to be Pedro? Or for that matter, Napoleon?

Executive producer Mike Scully ("The Simpsons") explained that the reason why "Dynamite" creator Jerod Hess decided to opt for an animated series instead of a traditional sequel was because Hess didn't see a way to move the characters into the future, while animation opened a wider range of possibilities. "A lot of movies can't make the leap to animation. 'Schindler's List' would be one," Scully joked. "But we thought it could make the leap and now we're preparing to be on midseason, hopefully between 'The Simpsons' and 'Family Guy.'"

The panel kicked off with each of the actors, all of whom were in the original, reminiscing about taking on a microbudget project. "My agent told me not to do it," said Deidrich Bader (Rex). "There wasn't much money, no one knew what was going to happen, but I was told I was going to stay at the Plaza. I didn't realize there was just a hotel named Plaza. And I was told I was going to be picked up by a car at the airport, and this beat-up Toyota Corolla pulls up. But I guess it wasn't a bicycle." Bader was enthusiastic about the animated show (especially now that his sitcom "Outsourced" has been put out of its misery). "We get to heighten the humor. And I get to play a liger, which was a lifelong dream." The audience erupted into giggles, thinking Bader was just kidding around. But that big lion-tiger hybrid reveal was for later in the program.

Aaron Ruell was also happy to be back as Kip, and briefly fell into character (with Heder) to the roar of the audience. "Aaron Ruell goes away entirely when I play Kip," Ruell said, though this clearly disappointed some Kip loyalists (and yes, they came dressed in character). "I like playing Kip. He's really fun. He's a weird, kind of creepy guy but he's not really dangerous at all, so it's okay."

Jon Gries (Uncle Rico) recalled that everyone took filming seriously -- perhaps to a weird degree. "Something really interesting about doing this film, when we were doing things that were ultimately really funny on film, nobody was laughing on the set. We all approached the film like we were doing 'Schindler's List.' We were all very committed to our characters and were really serious about it. We weren't winking at the camera. These were life and death situations."

Some cast members, though probably happy to be working, seemed understandably sanguine about a movie that came out seven years ago. Efran Ramirez spoke about his East L.A. childhood, then explained his inspiration for Pedro:  "I put Buster Keaton and my ex-girlfriend's dog together."

Sandy Martin (Grandma) admitted, "Grandma's not much of a stretch for me. I roll out of bed every morning."

Jon Heder spoke briefly about how he came to be cast (Hess was a college classmate) and about his attitude toward acting. "After Napoleon came out and all the success with that, I went to LA and it's continued to be fun. And when it stops being fun, I'll leave. But it's pretty rad so far."

Scully then showed short clips of the show, the first of which ("Zit Pop") got a huge reaction (laughter was so loud and sustained most of the dialogue was drowned out), though the reaction to "Kip Bath," "Shasta" and "Chritchlow" had diminishing returns once the novelty of animated Napoleon, who seemed like a twitchy bastard child of Beavis and Butthead, wore off. With "Shasta," the crowd discovered that Bader wasn't kidding about the liger -- in one episode, Napoleon ends up taking a job on a liger breeding farm and, sickened by the sight of a liger birth, hallucinates a dream sequence in which Bader gives voice to a "Lion King"-esque character. Who happens to be a liger.

Scully also revealed that guest stars will be adding their voices to the show, including Amy Poehler and Sam Rockwell. But one character we shouldn't expect to see is LaFawnduh (Shondrella Avery), as the show takes place before she enters Kip's life. "We didn't want to limit ourselves," Heder explained. "And Kip has a lot of women on the show."

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"Storage Wars"

"Storage Wars"

Credit: A&E

Quick Look: Who thought 'Storage Wars' was a good idea?

Go figure -- they're smarter than you'd think

Flipping through the channels one day, I stumbled upon “Storage Wars” (season premiere Wed. at 10 p.m. on A&E) and instantly rolled my eyes. The show follows a bunch of guys (and a few girls) who troll storage locker auctions for finds. Why not make a show about middle-aged soccer moms surfing the aisles of a 99 Cent store (wait, that one might be in development)?

 
Not familiar with storage locker auctions? They happen when some unfortunate soul who’s stuck their belongings into a storage space can’t or won’t pony up the rental fee, and the contents of their locker are auctioned off to scavengers, I mean, the general public. The idea of actually paying for someone’s moldering sofa cushions or college wall art doesn’t hold much appeal for most people, but the characters in this show gleefully pick through the bags of old baby clothes and dusty boxes, hoping for valuable figurines or forgotten artwork.
 
Sure, it’s a hobby, I guess, but a TV show? Come on.
 
But go figure. On average over 2 million people tuned in last season, so it’s definitely a hit by basic cable standards. And, for the most part, it works.
 
In the vein of “Pawn Stars” or even “Antiques Roadshow” or “American Pickers,” this is all about the hunt for buried treasure. We, like the storage locker bidders, only get to glance into an empty locker (the limit for bidders is five minutes) to see if it’s worth a bid – and if so, how much to offer is another question. We can eyeball the boxes, guess at who the space belonged to (a college kid’s locker is always a ‘no’) and then be just as surprised as the winner of the auction at what they discover once they take their haul to an expert or resale shop.
 
But what is most interesting about the show is, yes, the scavengers. Though I initially assumed it would be a cast of weirdoes and misfits (and I’m not saying it isn’t), they’re petty, strange and oddly endearing enough to at least hold my interest even when they’re irritating. Barry, who could be Robert Evans’ stunt double, is damn fine for a guy in his 60s, and seems almost too refined to be picking through garbage bags. Darrell and Dave are pros (Dave has a store and 15 employees; Darrell has unearthed four Picassos and “the world’s most lucrative comic book collection” through storage auctions) with a bitter, petty rivalry that is more annoying than entertaining and gets more airtime than it deserves, but it’s hard to look away. Jarrod and Brandi are the cute/bickering married couple who could have fallen out of a prime time sitcom.
 
And then there’s the stuff. You have to admire people willing to drop hundreds of dollars on what could be a locker full of bed bugs and spoiled food, but this is a high risk, high reward game (note the Picassos mentioned above). When Dan discovers SCUBA equipment worth over $5,000 in a locker already tossed away by Darrell as a lost cause (and at a big loss), it’s enough to make you (depending on your allegiance) give a victory hoot or groan in frustration. Barry’s big find – a collection of vintage 78s – seems promising until he lugs it to a record store. While he’ll still make several hundred bucks for his Edison disc and assorted vinyl, it’s nowhere near what he needs to recoup his investment on the storage locker. The show strangely tallies up investments versus return as if this were a reality TV competition, but I guess it’s just a way to stretch out an episode.
 
It’s these highs and lows that make this oddball show watchable. Is it must see TV? Hardly. But I’m inspired to hit the neighborhood yard sales in any case.   

 

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Ames and Ashley on "The Bachelorette"

Ames and Ashley on "The Bachelorette"

Credit: ABC

Recap: After hometowns, the final three results are in on 'The Bachelorette'

Ashley doesn't see red flags waving -- yet

Hometowns! Does anyone else think Ben and Constantine look like the Geico cavemen did their hair? I know, it’s better than a mullet, but that sad sack 70s look just seems so unflattering to me. But hey, it works for Ashley, and that’s all that counts, I suppose.  

 
Ashley walks us through exactly what she likes about each guy. Ben is exciting, Constantine is exactly her type, Ames is unique and J.P. is the whole package. Unique? She keeps calling Ames unique, which is one of those words that does not convey red hot passion. Ames is done for. Boo! I like Ames!
 
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"Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition"

"Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition"

Credit: ABC

TV Smackdown: ‘Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition’ and ‘The Biggest Loser’

Only one will make you sick to your stomach

 

I guess it only makes sense that, in our increasingly jumbo-sized society, someone would find a way to make extreme weight loss TV show fodder. There are two schools of thought on how best to make the insanely boring topic of eating right and exercising entertaining, both of them exemplified in prime-time shows: “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition” and “The Biggest Loser.” While very different in their approaches, both are best enjoyed while slouching slack-jawed on the sofa eating Ben & Jerry’s. Just kidding. Sort of.

Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition

The Concept: This show (Mon. 10 p.m. EST on ABC) is in the vein of most self-help, inspirational TV. Trainer Chris Powell descends on one morbidly obese person in each episode, which follows their individual journey over the course of a year. In the beginning, Chris puts his victim/client/newfound friend through weight loss boot camp. They learn how to eat right and work out. And they work out a lot. Usually until they sob, at which point Powell demands, “WHAT IS MAKING YOU FEEL THIS WAY?” which is when said obese person admits they’ve been trying to bury some traumatic childhood incident under several hundred pounds of cheesecake and barbequed baby back ribs for years.
 
The breakthrough made and the (really, really) heavy lifting done, Powell moves on to his next case while the newly inspired obese person works on getting less obese and filming cheerful/sad video messages and making phone calls to Powell. At the end, we’re treated to a satisfying reveal (hopefully), lots of hugging and some slo-mo video set to heartwarming music. It’s a simple formula, and for the most part, it works.
 
The Obstacle: On a recent episode, though, Powell had his work cut out for him. At 26, Wally weighed 490 pounds thanks to a fast food addiction. I’d always thought fast food addiction was like being addicted to a TV show or expensive handbags, but Powell assures us that it’s not only a real thing, but as overwhelming as heroin addiction. I always suspected McDonald’s was putting something in the fries. Anyway, Wally, as smiling and mild mannered as he is, throws a (fittingly) enormous wrench into Powell’s feel good, take charge, anyone-can-do-it methodology.
 
While assuring Powell that he’s working hard and eating right, a video camera installed in the basement workout room Powell built for Wally suggests otherwise. When Powell finally meets with Wally to reward him for meeting his initial weight loss goal (a family trip to Disneyland), he can tell without having to whip out the freight scale that Wally hasn’t hit his latest weight loss goal. There’s yelling and cajoling and disappointment, which seems to get through to Wally. After he poops out during a 100 mile bike ride, he’s appropriately shamed and humbled. So, he’s back on track, right?
 
Maybe for a minute, or at least long enough for Powell to get back on a plane and out of sight. Then, Wally is back to lying and eating. And eating because he lied. Really, just lots of eating. His wife thinks he’s working out and she’s cut off his fast food budget (this is not so effective if he still has access to his bank account, dear), so he lies to her, too. Wally gains back more of the weight he lost. Clearly, we’re not getting our inspirational reveal in this episode.
 
Finally, Wally simply can’t deal with the guilt. He ponders suicide. And Powell realizes that this particular case can’t be treated with free workout equipment and a leafy greens. Wally is shipped off to rehab for compulsive eating, and Powell tries to take an otherwise lost episode as an opportunity to talk about compulsive eating and treatment and other stuff. He worries for Wally. Wally’s odds aren’t good, either. As much as he wants to stick around for his wife and young daughter, his inability to be scared straight doesn’t forecast a heck of a lot of longevity for him.
 
The End Result: What’s surprising is that this show doesn’t find more Wallys, truth told. While people blame extra weight (be in 20 pounds or 200) on lots of things (tough job/baby fat/bullies/metabolism/delicious cookies, etc.), the human mind is far craftier than we give it credit for. Even if the Wallys of the world do fight the good fight and reach their goals, often bad habits return and, one by one, the pounds creep back on once the cameras leave. But that isn’t exactly good TV, especially for anyone scarfing down ice cream in front of the tube instead of working out. But it’s hard to deny how compelling this modern twist on Horatio Alger is. Just as we want that inner tube around our midsections to disappear, we want these jumbo-sized people to slim down. After all, if they can drop 300 pounds, we should be able to lose 20, no sweat.
 
The Biggest Loser
 
The Concept: The NBC show takes the feel good makeover formula of “Extreme” and piles on layers of backbiting, product promotion and competitive game play like so many olives on a pizza.  While the result is just as addictive as “Extreme” (maybe not as addictive as fries, but close), it’s also more than a bit unsettling. Like eating an entire pizza in one setting. Look, it’s hard to avoid the food metaphors, okay?
 
Anyway, we’re invited to cheer on the obese people cast on the show, watch them bemoan their fat fates and tear up thinking about the wife/parents/children that they’ll leave behind if they expire. But this time they’re not just battling against fat; they’re battling against each other. If they only had to loose the most weight (or percentage of weight) to make it to the finish line, that would be fine. But the game is more complicated than that. They must vote one another out, “Survivor”-style, which often has more to do with sending home someone enthusiastic to shed pounds and more to do with keeping floaters to save your own skin. The contestants tearfully explain away their actions by insisting that, after so many years of living for other people, they’re finally fighting for themselves. So, throwing a teammate under the bus is now self-actualization? How convenient.
 
The Obstacle(s): What’s most disturbing about the show is the Temptation Challenge. In this extremely weird part of the game, the players are invited to a dinner where they must pick the most caloric things on the menu and consume them in their entirety – and whoever eats the most calories, instead of being beaten about the head, is presented with a reward. Seriously, who thought this was a good idea? Isn’t this a weight loss show? Instead, while some contestants strategically throw the challenge (good idea), others may gorge themselves silly, desperately trying to convince themselves that the weight they put on will be worth it. I’ve never seen people eat with such grim determination.
 
Another odd thing is when contestants are recruited to plug some item or another (dessert-flavored gum comes to mind). They share their “discovery” with their teammates while conveniently handing out packets of freebies, and everyone nods seriously, as if this isn’t a purely planned infomercial right in the middle of the program. I get it – TiVo has ruined the commercial. But do we have to recruit people who’ve already been forced to be weighed and parade around shirtless (or in sports bras) on national television to do the network’s dirty work?
 
The End Result: But even though “Biggest Loser” doesn’t always square with me, I can’t deny it’s infinitely watchable. The show drags out the weigh-ins interminably, until we’re on the edge of our seats, rooting for 290 instead of 300. Contestants cry and strategize and we find ourselves rooting for favorites, deriding others as schemers and, well, basically watching the very obese struggle to lose pounds with the same excitement we usually reserve for watching the castmates of “The Amazing Race” roll hay bales or eat smoked haddock until they’re sick. There’s something to be said for the humanizing aspect of the show. People who are so often ignored or the subjects of scathing comments are revealed to be just like anyone else, good or bad.Plus, people lose weight. They get healthy. I don't doubt Jillian Michaels (who's leaving the show) and Bob Harper are as dedicated as they seem to be.
 
And yet I still can’t get past the game play, the scheming, the hypocrisy of a show that pushes redemption and exploitation in equal amounts. “It’s not about money, it’s not about winning. It’s about getting my life back,” said castmate Jesse in one episode. Except it’s not about getting his life back. That’s just a happy side effect. If it happens. In the end, it's just a reality TV competition, no more, no less. I just wish, with these people battling not just to be acceptably thin but to save their own lives, it was more.
 
Verdict: Thought both are watchable and “The Biggest Loser” is exciting to watch, “Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition” is less likely to leave you feeling queasy, regardless of whether or not you eat the Ben & Jerry’s.

 

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Jeff and Jordan on "Big Brother"

Jeff and Jordan on "Big Brother"

Credit: CBS

Recap: The newbies forge new alliances on 'Big Brother'

The veterans are dominant -- but for how long?
I thought the veterans might be sunk after Evel Dick left the show (not only did they lose a great strategist, they were even further down in numbers), but go figure – a few of the newbies are bending to their will. With Jordan as HOH, this should be a cakewalk. At least until Big Brother throws another twist into the game. The problem is, we will need another twist unless we just want to watch the newbies get picked off like so many ticks off a dog’s back.
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"So You Think You Can Dance"

"So You Think You Can Dance"

Credit: Fox

Recap: Bad choreography costs on 'So You Think You Can Dance'

Two dancers must hit the road before the top ten

So, more than one person has mentioned to me that they feel like “SYTYCD” is playing favorites. Not intentionally, mind you, but the going theory is that the judges’ panel, which sometimes includes Mia Michaels, hesitates before eliminating one of her students. I’m not sure I necessarily buy it, but if Ryan survives much longer in the competition after subpar performances like the one she turned in last night, I might have to consider it.

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"So You Think You Can Dance"

"So You Think You Can Dance"

Credit: Fox

Recap: Choreography lets some dancers down on 'So You Think You Can Dance'

It's the last week before the couples are split apart

This is the last week for power couples, as the pairs will be split apart next week. While I’m looking forward to the All-Stars (and there are a few people who’ve been coasting on the strength of their partners, ahem, Alexander), I’ll be a little sad to see Melanie and Marko forced to dance with other people. It just feels like one of those romantic comedies in which the couple who’s really perfect for one another starts dating other people. But hey, it’s a dance competition. I’ll get over it.

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<p>Danielle Everine, Rafael Cox, David Chum, Serena da Conceicao, Gunnar Deatherage, Anya Ayoung-Chee, Bryce Black, Fallene Wells, Julie Tierney, Laura Kathleen, Olivier Green, Becky Ross, Cecilia Motwani, Kimberly Goldson (Bottom Row) Bert Keeter, Amanda Perna, Joshua Christensen, Joshua Mckinley, Viktor Luna, Anthony Ryan Auld from Project Runway Season 9.</p>

Danielle Everine, Rafael Cox, David Chum, Serena da Conceicao, Gunnar Deatherage, Anya Ayoung-Chee, Bryce Black, Fallene Wells, Julie Tierney, Laura Kathleen, Olivier Green, Becky Ross, Cecilia Motwani, Kimberly Goldson (Bottom Row) Bert Keeter, Amanda Perna, Joshua Christensen, Joshua Mckinley, Viktor Luna, Anthony Ryan Auld from Project Runway Season 9.

Credit: Lifetime

It's too soon to judge the new 'Project Runway' contestants, but...

Time to take a look at the newbies for season nine

The big premiere of “Project Runway” (Thurs. July 28 at 9 p.m. on Lifetime) seems so far away, but rest assured, it will be on us faster than a Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress. Now, thanks to a new article in Us Weekly, we’ve gotten a peek at the new designers who’ll be competing on the show. While we don’t have much to go on beyond name, age and the assorted fun fact, that isn’t going to stop us from weighing in on our very, very early favorites (and a few wild guesses at who’s going home). So let’s begin this thoroughly unscientific, just-for-fun stab at who’s getting auf’ed and who’s not.

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Giuliana and Bill Rancic of "Giuliana & Bill"

Giuliana and Bill Rancic of "Giuliana & Bill"

Credit: Style Network

What happens when reality TV gets real on 'Giuliana & Bill'

Their lives have been rocked by tragedy, but is the result better TV?

After the “is the breakup real or is it fake” brouhaha surrounding “Gene Simmons Family Jewels,” I decided it was worth looking for a reality TV show that was, at least in part, indisputably real. While “Giuliana & Bill” (a new season kicks off on the Style network Mon. July 18 at 8 p.m.) has its scripted moments, last season the show was forced by circumstance to get real – and was all the better for it.

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