<p>Angela Miller of &quot;American Idol&quot;</p>

Angela Miller of "American Idol"

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'American Idol' Season 12 - Sudden Death, Part 1 - 10 Girls Perform

This season's semifinal round takes on a whole new form in Las Vegas

Wednesday (Feb. 20) night's "American Idol" represents an all-new format the long-running series. And, as a result, I don't actually have a clue what's coming tonight. Depending on which press release you read, this is either the "Semifinals" or the "Sudden Death Round." It appears that 10 people -- Girls if you trust FOX's press site, but Boys if you trust my Time-Warner cable listings -- will be singing and five will be going home. How were the groups split? What happens if one group or one gender ends up much better than the other? 

I have no idea. 

So click through and follow along...

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<p>Matt Davis of &quot;Cult&quot;</p>

Matt Davis of "Cult"

Credit: The CW

TV Review: The CW's 'Cult' is yet another unsuccessfully crazy midseason drama

Matt Davis and Jessica Lucas blandly investigate a very meta mystery
Don't look now, but TV networks are about to learn the wrong lessons about wackiness. 
If you measure your wackiness -- or "nuttiness" or "lunacy" or whatever -- by quantity, rather than quality, we're in a Golden Age of Goofiness this midseason. 
NBC's "Do No Harm" had a dude experiencing dissociative identity disorder at regularly partitioned daily intervals, a very expensive sex doll and a sneering psychotic warning a small child with a stuffed animal that monkeys have been known to eat their young.
That was wacky.
ABC's "Zero Hour," with its Nazis, Rosicrucians, demon babies, doppelgangers, underground clockmakers and ice-bound submarines, made "Do No Harm" look milquetoast and rational.
Of course, "Do No Harm" was cancelled after only two airings, which is what happens if you premiere with the lowest in-season numbers for any drama in the history of network television.
And although "Zero Hour" launched last week to more robust ratings than "Do No Harm," it was still the worst start for an in-season ABC drama series, again, in history. Figure in an inevitable Week 2 plunge and the clock is ticking for "Zero Hour." [Yes. I hate myself for that.]
[Due to its modicum of superficial prestige, I've exempted FOX's dreadful "The Following" from my survey of midseason wackiness, though its sadistic shower threesomes, rudimentary literary analysis and gasoline-wielding Romantic poets are more than enough to qualify. "The Following" also warrants temporary exemption because of its initial success for FOX, though ratings have settled more into the "qualified hit" range than "breakout smash."]
It would be wrong to say that "Do No Harm" and "Zero Hour" weren't relatively large swings by NBC and ABC, but they were also relatively large misses. I'll continue to insist that the version of "Do No Harm" that aired was much cleaner and saner than the pilot that NBC initially sent to series, but "saner" is short of a compliment (and may even be an insult in this context). And I'll also continue to insist that "Zero Hour" nearly delivered enough craziness to compensate for its overall awfulness, but "nearly" is short of a compliment as well. That's two strikes.
The third strike for balls-to-the-wall wackiness premieres on Tuesday (February 19) on The CW. Airing after the soothingly conventional and programmatic quirkiness of "Hart of Dixie" -- those things sound like criticisms, but "Hart of Dixie" has become an admirable plate of comfort food in its second season -- "Cult" has almost no chance of success, though thanks to "The L.A. Complex," The CW has an astoundingly low bar for in-season record lows and I wouldn't expect it to fail that badly. But even before it fails with audiences, "Cult" fails creatively. An ill-conceived, poorly scripted, woodenly acted mess, "Cult" is watchably crazy, but that's the highest praise I can give it. 
When "Cult" joins "Do No Harm" and "Zero Hour" on the quickly-forgotten scrap-heap, I fear networks will decide this is a sign that audiences hate wackiness, as opposed to a sign that audiences are able to sniff out when wacky shows are bad. "Lost" was a wacky show. "The Walking Dead" is a wacky show. Heck, this season's greatest rags-to-riches network success story is the second season of "Scandal" and there are few shows on network TV wackier than "Scandal." Blame these midseason failures for being dreadful, not for being difficult-to-categorize or creatively unhinged. 
"Do No Harm," "Zero Hour" and now "Cult" are examples of shows that are wacky without any grounding, that attempt to string viewers along with unmoored weirdness rather than compelling characters or grounded drama. I'm sure there are versions of all three shows that would have been more successful and a version of all three shows that might have been good (probably different versions). These shows failed because they were bad. I'd still rather have "Do No Harm," "Zero Hour" and "Cult" than "Formulaic CBS Procedural X." Better to try something big and fail spectacularly than to try nothing and still probably fail. 
And that was my brief-ish manifesto on failed wackiness. The actual review of "Cult" is after the break.
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<p>Not a bad place to build and unbuild sandcastles</p>

Not a bad place to build and unbuild sandcastles

Credit: CBS

Recap: 'The Amazing Race' Premiere - 'Business in the Front, Party in the Back'

Eleven teams head to Bora Bora to start the race for a million
You know how I'm going to begin this "Amazing Race" premiere recap and I know how I'm going to begin this "Amazing Race" premiere recap. So we might as well do it together, eh?
All together now...
"Amazing Race" premiere episodes should NEVER be less than 90 minutes and should always, ideally, be two hours. 
Given that "The Amazing Race" has superior 18-49 numbers to "The Good Wife" and given that "The Good Wife" has comically low repeat numbers, surely it would behoove both "The Amazing Race" and CBS to set that particular regulation in stone.
There aren't any objections, are there? There are 22 contestants out there and they're engaged in lots of busy-work and even in two hours, it would be hard to give all of them personalities, but I find that hour-long "Amazing Race" premieres are almost impossible to recap, because I'm spending two-thirds of my time attempting to learn one superficial difference between otherwise similar teammates and almost no time deciding who I like or dislike and even less time than that getting emotionally invested in the results of the individual Leg.
And it's almost like the producers willingly sacrificed that latter aspect in Legs like Sunday's (February 17) premiere. Unless you are related to the team that was eliminated, either by blood or natural affinity to their shared profession, there isn't a chance that their departure will cause you even the slightest hint of disappointment. So Sunday was a basically affectless "Amazing Race" premiere, which I don't think needs to be the case. 
Of course, it can't just be an example of CBS telling the producers, "Look, we've got the space and we wouldn't mind the ratings, so give us a two-hour cut of this premiere." Sunday's Leg was not designed to be padded out over two hours. It featured only two-and-a-half challenges and the episode's key challenge was designed for HD splendor and adrenaline junkies, not for in-Race difficulty or potential character illustration. 
The "Race" producers would say that the design of the opening Leg was, indeed, designed for improved "Getting to know you" time. Starting with a Double Roadblock episode meant that all 22 Racers did something on Sunday's episode, while a single Roadblock and a Detour might leave one of the two Racers a cipher. That's not necessarily wrong. I understand. But one of the two Roadblocks just showcased screaming and falling. I learn very little about contestants from how well they scream and fall. 
But I guess when I think back on the Leg architecture for Sunday's episode, it could have been a very good in-season Leg. It only failed because it was a premiere and it only failed because it was only 43 minutes. 
Let's talk more about the premiere, including a first read on each of the teams, after the break... [Warning: Because I had a screener for this one, I was able to write it early and, in writing it early, I over-wrote. Apologies.]
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'Beautiful Creatures' director Richard LaGravenese talks male protagonists, magic and sequels

'Beautiful Creatures' director Richard LaGravenese talks male protagonists, magic and sequels

The 'Fisher King' scribe's latest directing effort is now in theaters
An Oscar nominee for writing "The Fisher King," Richard LaGravenese has cultivated an ongoing reputation as a go-to source for cultivated adaptations of that the uncultivated might call "chick-lit," ranging from "The Horse Whisperer" to "The Bridges of Madison County" to "Water for Elephants." [We would never put LaGravenese in a "chick lit" corner, since "Beloved" and "The Little Princess" are clearly much more than that.]
With the new teen supernatural romance "Beautiful Creatures," LaGravenese is working with material which might -- again, this would only be a gross generalization -- be thought to skew more toward female viewers, but Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl's novel stands out in the genre because not only does it have a male protagonist (Alden Ehrenreich's Ethan), but the story is told from his point of view.
In our conversation a couple weeks back, LaGravenese talked about the difference that comes from a male hero and, in specific, a mortal male hero. LaGravenese, who wrote and directed "Beautiful Creatures," also discusses his approach to the magical subject matter, which involved keeping even the most unreal of elements somewhat grounded.
Based on the early box office for "Beautiful Creatures," a sequel doesn't immediately seem to be in the offing, but LaGravenese sounded eager to stick with the franchise for potential adaptations of Garcia and Stohl's later novels.
Check out the full interview above...
You can also check out my interviews with "Beautiful Creatures" co-stars Jeremy IronsViola Davis and Emmy Rossum and stars Alice Englert & Alden Ehrenreich.
"Beautiful Creatures" is now in theaters.
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<p>Francesca's torch is snuffed</p>

Francesca's torch is snuffed

Credit: CBS

Interview: Francesca Hogi talks 'Survivor: Caramoan'

What's it like being the first 'Survivor' contestant voted off first twice?
Baseball fans treasure Johnny Vander Meer's two consecutive no-hitters as one of the sport's great records. It's unbreakable. And what makes it unbreakable is that not only has no pitcher in major league history even come dangerously close to equalling the feat, but after you tie it, you'd then have to go another nine innings without giving up a hit to break the record. You could pitch two no-hitters, retire 26 batters to start the next game and give up a single and you'd still only have tied Vander Meer's record. Unbreakable.
In a way, Francesca Hogi is the Johnny Vander Meer of "Survivor." She's played twice and she's been eliminated first twice, an achievement she has exclusive claim to. Even if "Survivor" were to do the periodically discussed season made up only of first-out contestants (or at least one Tribe only of first-out contestants), that would just raise the possibility of somebody tying her. That person would then have to get brought back a third time and, let's face it, the contestants eliminated first on "Survivor" are only occasionally memorable. 
To her credit, Francesca was memorable when she went head-to-head with Phillip Sheppard on "Survivor: Redemption Island" and that interaction was memorable enough that "Survivor" wanted her back alongside Phillip on "Survivor: Caramoan," a second "Fans vs. Favorites" season.
The results were, for Francesca, oddly similar. Francesca's team of Favorites won their first challenge in Wednesday's (Feb. 13) premiere, but lost the first Immunity. Initially, Francesca seemed to be in a stable early alliance and made repeated comments to the camera insisting she wouldn't be voted out first again, vowing to even eat a rock if that's the way things went. 
Instead, it was Andrea worrying that Francesca's loyalties might be divided and joining forces to work with Phillip to vote her out first again. 
And that's how I found myself talking to the Johnny Vander Meer of "Survivor" this week... In her exit interview, Francesca discusses her [relative] satisfaction with her two one-and-done performances, her ongoing perception of Phillip and what she vows to eat if she returns to play a third time.
Click through...
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<p>Spotlight on the &quot;American Idol&quot; girls</p>

Spotlight on the "American Idol" girls

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'American Idol' Season 12 Live-Blog - The Top 40 Revealed

The Women face their fate and then eight other men go home, or something

Happy Valentine's Day! 

I hope you're off doing something better and that this recap can save you an hour for romance...

Now let's get down to "American Idol" business...

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Bryan Singer says he'll be able to 'correct a few things' in 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'

Bryan Singer says he'll be able to 'correct a few things' in 'X-Men: Days of Future Past'

Does Singer view this as a reset? And who is Hoult psyched to meet?
RICHMOND, ENGLAND - Earlier this week, I was sitting in the drafty, damp, historically epic recesses of the Hampton Court Palace chatting with "Jack the Giant Slayer" director Bryan Singer and star Nicholas Holt.
Most of our conversations revolved, of course, around their upcoming 3D reimagining of the classic fairy tale, which opens on March 1 at theaters everywhere. But that doesn't mean that I didn't sneak in a question or two about Singer and Hoult's upcoming work on "X-Men: Days of Future Past," which will begin production in April and will hit theaters in 2014.
"This movie's gonna be not only quite epic, 'Days of Future Past,' but it also takes place in completely different times than the 'X Men' movies have taken place," Singer told me. "There'll be new technology, new things we haven't seen before in 'X-Men' films. Certain characters and certain story and certain drama that hasn't be done yet, so it's not so much sequel. It's more of its own kinda thing."
I like, however, Singer's reaction to my follow-up using the word "reset."
"I'll be able to correct a few things," he hints, with a smile.
As for Hoult, making his second appearance as Hank McCoy and Beast, he wouldn't give away details, but he admitted to excitement about getting to work with original "X Men" castmembers like Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen.
"As much as it felt like a real 'X Men' film last time, because we were all a new cast it almost felt like it didn't, whereas doing one with those guys is going to feel very much like..." he said, before adding that he's going to be like a big fanboy.
Check out the video above.
And stay tuned for more of my interviews from Hampton Court as we get closer to the "Jack the Giant Slayer" release date.
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<p>Andrea of &quot;Survivor: Caramoan&quot;</p>

Andrea of "Survivor: Caramoan"

Credit: CBS

Recap: 'Survivor: Caramoan' Premiere - 'She Annoys Me Greatly'

A second 'Fans versus Favorites' showdown begins with familiarity
Welcome to "Survivor: Caramoan." It takes three seconds for me to realize I can't tell the difference between a bushbaby and a spectral tarsier. Based on geography, I'm saying those were spectral tarsiers in the opening. Not that that has anything to do with anything. Oh gracious. What sort of wormhole did I just go down? Oy. Let's start over again, shall we?
Pre-credit introductions. Bearded Matt, already a pre-show favorite, calls this surreal. Shamar, an Iraq veteran, says that this game (or his competitors) will be lunchmeat. A blonde, I think it's Allie, says she knows enough about people to make it to the very end. A different, totally indistinguishable blonde, [Laura, I guess?] profiles that because Michael wears glasses, he's going to be a strategist. Michael thinks Laura looks too young to be out there. Or maybe he thinks that about Allie. Or possibly Hope. Come on! It's bad enough I can't tell spectral tarsiers from bushbabies, but differentiating between Hope, Laura and Allie may kill me. Fortunately, speaking of telling people apart, Jeff Probst is reminding us who each of the "favorites" is or was. I remember nothing about two or three of these people and I wouldn't call more than four or five of them "favorites." Adorable Andrea helpfully explains that the theme of this season is people who made big mistakes. But if that's the case, why is CBS calling it "Fans versus Favorites" as opposed to "Newbies versus Ooopsies" or something?
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Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich discuss forging 'Beautiful Creatures' chemistry

Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich discuss forging 'Beautiful Creatures' chemistry

The two young stars also chat about fate and destiny in their careers
The cast of "Beautiful Creatures" may be dotted with Oscar and Emmy and Tony winning actors, but at the film's center are a pair of young stars who you may not have heard of yet. Don't worry. You're gonna hear more about them.
Alice Englert and Alden Ehrenreich play the couple at the center of the young adult romance. He's Ethan, a motherless dreamer who wants nothing more than to escape his South Carolina hometown. She's Lena, a young witch -- Sorry, "caster" -- counting down the days til her true nature is revealed, dark or light.
For now, chances are good that unless you were a big fan of "Tetro," the best way to ID Ehrenreich for you is from that Natalie Portman Dior commercial. And while Englert has generated strong buzz for the indies "Ginger & Rosa" and "In Fear," it's still coolest to think of her as Jane Campion's daughter.
I sat down the two stars to talk about the challenges to forging their "Beautiful Creatures" chemistry on the fly after Ehrenreich was a late addition to the cast. And since "fate" and "destiny" play a major role in the movie, I asked about how those forces impacted their career choices. 
You can also check out my interviews with "Beautiful Creatures" co-stars Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis and Emmy Rossum.
"Beautiful Creatures" opens on February 14.
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<p>The Women take Hollywood!</p>

The Women take Hollywood!

Credit: FOX

Recap: 'American Idol' Season 12 Live-Blog - Hollywood Round, Part 3

Finally the 'Idol' Women do Hollywood

I'll repeat this again for "American Idol" producers: I appreciate the need for occasional formula innovation, so you didn't do anything wrong by splitting Hollywood Week up into separate segments for Men and Women. 

Just don't do it again, OK? Consider this a failure, but don't be bothered or disturbed. Dust yourself off and figure out an another twist for next year. 

Because... I'm done with Hollywood. I did it last week. There were solos. There was Group Night and people whined and cried. And then there were more solos and the judges made their decisions. I took that journey. It wasn't entirely satisfying, because the men don't seem all that great this year and there were no women, but I went through that arc. Now I'm ready for what comes next. I'm not especially interested in deja vu sans man-parts. 

But... Here we go!

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