Inside TV+Movies with Daniel Fienberg
'Scrubs' star discusses her favorite holiday specials and what it was like to get animated
Sarah Chalke doing recording for ABC's 'Prep & Landing'
While new seasonal interlopers arrive every year, the Christmas Special market is still dominated by the old classics featuring Charlie Brown, The Grinch, Rudolph and Frosty in the same form they've had for decades.
will attempt to produce a new classic with Tuesday (Dec. 8) night's premiere of "Prep & Landing,"
the network's first television special produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. The story has a leg-up on achieving classic status thanks to the presence of Pixar mastermind John Lasseter as executive producer.
"Prep & Landing" reveals the untold story of the elves who make up Santa's advance team, dropping before the jolly fat guy to perform pre-presents reconnaissance. The special's focus is Wayne, a 227-year veteran of the force who becomes disgruntled after failing to get a promotion. With the help of eager rookie Lanny, Wayne's about to be reminded of the holiday spirit.
The special features the talents of Dave Foley, Derek Richardson and Sarah Chalke
, voicing Magee, the ultra-efficient North Pole Christmas Eve Command Center Coordinator.
Before the Dec. 8 premiere of "Prep & Landing," Chalke caught up with HitFix to share her favorite holiday special memories and discuss her reduced role on the eighth season of her medical comedy "Scrubs
[NOTE: This interview was conducted when "Prep & Landing" was scheduled to air on Dec. 1, just before a two-episode block of "Scrubs." The special was postponed for President Obama's television address.]
Ray Romano, Scott Bakula and Andre Braugher usher in MiddleAgedManSploitation
Andre Braugher, Ray Romano and Scott Bakula of 'Men of a Certain Age'
Here's how Hollywood works:
When an actress reaches 40-ish and producers stop thinking of her as a sex object, she becomes nearly unemployable in movies, especially if she isn't prepared to transition immediately into "mother" and "grandmother" roles, she's referred to as a "woman of a certain age" and she either stops working, or she comes to TV
. [This is industry logic, mind you. Not necessarily reality, since the top movie in America stars a 45-year-old woman.]
When an actor reaches 40-ish, he continues to work and nobody really notices or cares or thinks twice about pairing him with a 20-something actress, regardless of romantic chemistry or the actor's recent box office track record. You know what Hollywood calls an actor who's a "man of a certain age"? An actor.
That's why there's something unavoidably disingenuous about TNT
's new dramedy "Men of a Certain Age,"
from creators Mike Royce and Ray Romano
. It's not exactly a pity party for its stars, Romano, Andrew Braugher and Scott Bakula
, but amidst the frequently clever dialogue and likable performances, there's still a lot of "Woe Is Us" MiddleAgedManSploitation.
Hugh Laurie anchors the decade's best medical drama, where the diagnosis is almost never lupus
In yesterday's entry, I praised "Weeds" as a show that didn't shy away from pushing and evolving its main characters and premise, taking it to such an extreme that the show today, after five seasons, is almost unrecognizable as the show from the pilot.
Permit me, with today's slot on the list, to reverse field a little and praise a show that has proven that change isn't always mandatory and that even the most formulaic of procedurals can still retain its edge if it happens to be built around one of the best characters and one of the best actors in primetime.
" stands at No. 26 on my list of TV's Best of the Decade
not because it has reinvented the medical genre or because its serialized aspects keep me on the edge of my seat, but because the pleasure of watching Hugh Laurie
's Dr. Gregory House browbeating patients and colleagues alike remains largely unabated after more than 100 episodes.
[More on "House" after the break...]
Mary-Louise Parker and company started off in little boxes and kept getting darker
Mary-Louise Parker of 'Weeds'
TV fans. We're a fickle lot.
Sure, we say we want our shows to change and evolve and grow, to reflect the lives the characters actually might be living. But when we say that, which we really mean is that we want them to get occasional haircuts, to keep up with reasonably priced fashions and sometimes to have cute sitcom babies we rarely see.
We want a simulacrum of change, not actual CHANGE. Because actual CHANGE is messy. It reflects that when a group of five high school chums go to college, they don't all decide, at the last minute, to attend the fictionalized state school that was just build down the street. It reflects that when five or six friends in New York City age, get married and have children, they sometimes move to apartments farther away than across the hall or across the street. It reflects that sometimes once-happy couples get divorced, sometimes people get fired and change their professions and sometimes life goes from comedy to tragedy in the blink of an eye and merely adding David Spade isn't enough to bring the laughter back.
At the very least, taking quality out of the equation for just a second, Showtime
" deserves credit for bucking industry creative convention. In its five seasons, "Weeds" had gotten darker and darker and darker, to the point at which calling it a comedy today seems like a misnomer. As a result, more than a few fans have turned on "Weeds," accusing it of no longer being the show they fell in love with in 2005. I'm sure if you look back at things I've written in the past two years, I'm probably one of those fans. I may not have been completely fair.
As I step back and look at the arc of the series, I can see the logic to the journey that "Weeds" has taken and that's why it stands at No. 27 on my list of TV's Best of the Decade
. Well, that at Mary-Louise Parker
, giving one of the decade's great and under-recognized (one Golden Globe win, no Emmys to date) performances.
[More on "Weeds" after the break...]
Viewers have loved going around-the-world in 15 seasons with Phil Keoghan
Phil Keoghan of 'The Amazing Race'
In the fall of 2001, TV viewers were given the choice between two shows with difficult-to-distinguish race-around-the-world formats. One of them was Bertram van Munster's "The Amazing Race
." The second, as I like to periodically mention, was NBC's "Lost."
At the time, it seemed as if you needed to choose between the two, to pick which format was most appealing to you.
Naturally, I chose "Lost."
And I'd do it again.
In case you've forgotten, "Lost" felt like the edgier, least "produced" of the two shows. Two-member teams, previously unacquainted with each other, were dumped in the desert of an unidentified country, with only the most basic of provisions. Period. Their goal was not only to figure out where the heck they were, but then to find their way from that spot to the finish line at the Statue of Liberty. The story goes that "Lost" premiered on September 4, 2001. I don't need to tell you why the second episode was preempted, not that the ratings for the first episode were so superior.
There was something appealing about how desolate and amorphous "Lost" seemed to me. And, in contrast, there was something exhausting and over-programmed about "The Amazing Race." The two-member teams already know each other? Where's the fun in that? They get clues telling them where to go? Where's the challenge there? At each destination, they have to play games? Why does globetrotting have to be "Survivor"?
It turned out that "Lost" was on its way to a speedy cancellation, with the added ignominy of having its name usurped so totally that whenever I've mentioned "NBC's 'Lost'" in past articles, I've invariably had readers attack me for not knowing that "Lost" is on ABC, something any good TV critic ought to know.
And "The Amazing Race" went on to win all seven Emmys for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. Thinking myself a "Lost" devotee, I skipped "The Amazing Race" for its first three seasons, but the 12 subsequent seasons that I've watched are enough to place the series at No. 28 on my list of TV's Best of the Decade
[More on "The Amazing Race" after the break...]
The Gang smokes crack, travels back in time, sings and makes us laugh
'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia'
The lyrics from that awful theme song to "Friends" told you everything you needed to know about the hit NBC comedy. "I'll be there for you/ Like I've been there before/ I'll be there for you/ 'Cuz you're there for me too."
All together now... "Awww..."
Ross, Rachel, Monica, Chandler and Phoebe (yes, I always forget Phoebe [NOTE: As a commenter notes, it was actually *Joey* I forgot. Sorry, Matt LeBlanc.]) *were* always there for each other, when they weren't sleeping with each other and dealing with the repercussions of sleeping with each other. "Friends" was a safe zone in which viewers could rely on the therapeutic powers of camaraderie to overcome any adversity and in which we could count on never hearing a single mention of *anything* related to the real world outside of this hermetically sealed bubble. [Oh and yes, at its best, "Friends" was a tremendously funny and effectively performed multi-camera comedy, one that would have made my Best of the '90s list.]
"Friends" ended its run in May of 2004. After a respectable mourning period, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
" premiered on FX in August of 2005 as almost the anti-"Friends."
Replace Central Perk with Paddy's Pub and you had a filthy petri dish that served as a breeding ground for the friendship between Mac, Dennis, Sweet Dee and Charlie, four chums united by the awareness that each one would throw the other under the bus given half the opportunity. Be there for each other? Perish the thought. The characters on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" thrive on torturing, humiliating and denigrating each other. They find happiness in getting in the way of each other's happiness, which means that over the course of 50-plus episodes, they've never lacked for happiness.
I'm eventually going to have to split hairs over this. After all, I have at least five comedies (possibly two or three more depending on how open your definition of "comedy" is) ranked higher than "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." But while some of the decade's comedies may be more consistent or more artful or brainier, it's very possible that no show makes me laugh harder than "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."
Cut LVAD wires, exploding patients, ghost sex, McDreamy and more the Aughts' enduring medical soap
Patrick Dempsey of 'Grey's Anatomy'
I'd original set this spot aside for CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." My argument, given that I can make up my own darned rules regarding what justifies a show's placement on this list, was going to center around the unquestionable proficiency of the original "CSI." The thesis was going to continue, noting that the formula established by Jerry Bruckheimer, Danny Cannon and company had taken CBS over and, in the process, made CBS TV's most watched network. Only only one or two shows of the decade were more empirically important and influential to the fate of a single network, because without "CSI," there'd be no "CSI: Miami," "CSI: NY," "Criminal Minds," "Without a Trace," "Cold Case" or "Numb3rs" and there probably wouldn't be an "NCIS" or an "NCIS: Los Angeles" either.
Oh yeah. I could have sold "CSI" at position No. 30. I could have made you believe.
Then Sepinwall says to me, "How often do you watch 'CSI' each season?"
Ah. There's the rub. Like several of CBS' procedurals, I really only watch once or twice per season, usually when there's a big-name guest star or the introduction of a new main character. I only watched the first two seasons of "CSI" in their entirety and even if I'm allowed to cheat this list as much as I see fit, that's more of a cheat than I could stomach, at least this early. I'll be cheating plenty down the road.
So I looked at my provisional list, with maybe 45 shows in no particular order, and "Grey's Anatomy
" jumped out. Like "CSI," it isn't a snobby choice. It isn't one of those "I'm a Critic And I'm Going to Complain About a Show I Love That Sarah Palin's Real America Doesn't Know Exists" choices. It's also not a "cool" choice. In fact, "Grey's Anatomy" has been a punching bag for years, often self-inflicted.
"Grey's Anatomy" is a hit and it's also a hit that I watch every week, a hit that I feel emotionally invested in and a hit that I feel often achieves excellence, albeit sometimes dancing between excellence and infuriating within the space of a month.
[More after the break...]
It may not be quite as funny as 'Modern Family' or '30 Rock,' but Steven Seagal's reality show is full of laughs
Steven Seagal of 'Steven Seagal: Lawman'
Life is tough for washed up action movie stars.
If you're a "serious actor," a Chris O'Donnell or a Thomas Jane or a Joseph Fiennes, after a few failed movies, you can always come back to TV
. Casting directors will always assume that just because you had no presence on the big screen, you might become a star in the "minor leagues." That's a retrograde kind of thinking, since it turns out that Joseph Fiennes is no better an actor on "FlashForward" than he was in the many motion picture duds he's done since "Shakespeare in Love." In fact, he may be worse, because "FlashForward" is asking us to spend 22 hours watching him this season, something even Andy Warhol wouldn't have been sadistic to ask in a movie.
Anyway, if you're a "serious actor" who can't cut it on the big screen, your next step is clear. But what do you do if you're Steven Seagal? What do you do if you were a huge star for a brief period, but none of your movies have been released in the States for a decade? Showtime isn't about to offer you a pilot and no matter how desperate Broadway promoters get, nobody's going to ask you to join the 1000th revolving cast of "Chicago," because no matter how low Ashlee Simpson's star wattage may be, she's credible on the Great White Way and you're not.
Fortunately, it seems that Steven Seagal has already had a secondary career in the works. For the past 20 years, Seagal has been a deputy in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office in Louisiana.
As the opening credits of A&E's new series "Steven Seagal: Lawman"
tell us, this is "a job he's kept out of the limelight... until now."
Yes, starting on Wednesday (Dec. 2), Steven Seagal is a movie star (if you happen to have caught 2009's "Driven to Kill" or "The Keeper"), a lawman and a reality TV star. And, if the first two episodes of "Steven Seagal: Lawman" are any indication, he's also well on his way to becoming a comedy icon.
"Steven Seagal: Lawman" may not give you any deep insight into Mr. Seagal and it certainly won't give you any deep insight into the workings of a small regional police force, but as an unintentional laugh-getter? It's off-the-charts.
[Full review of "Steve Seagal: Lawman" after the break...]
Vengeance and fatherhood prove difficult in the second season finale of the biker drama
Charlie Hunnam and Maggie Siff of 'Sons of Anarchy'
Credit: Prashant Gupta/FX
Vengeance is a real pain in the ass, isn't it?
Rarely has a season begun with a more clear imperative for bloody revenge. From the premiere, we had insidious white nationalists who didn't give a second's thought to using rape as a bullying tactic. TV may not have a Hays Code mandating punishment for all bad deeds, but not even the darkest and grittiest of cable dramas could deny that the combination of supremacists and sexual violence evade the most gruesome of retribution.
But sometimes vengeance is hollow and sometimes vengeance is a catalyst for even greater catastrophes.
[More on "Na Triobloidi" after the break... I'm just gonna talk about the finale as if you've seen it, OK? That means I'm spoiling everything. You've been warned.]
Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell's teenage gumshoe series kicks off our Best of the Aughts list
Kristen Bell of 'Veronica Mars'
I intentionally and calculatedly decided to start my countdown of the Top 31 TV Shows of the Aughts with an entry that shows the vagaries of preparing a list of this sort.
Had UPN cancelled "Veronica Mars
" after its first season, as bloodless ratings-driven network logic would have deemed reasonable, Rob Thomas
' teenage gumshoe drama would have had a far higher place in the decade's pantheon, certainly in the Top 20 and maybe in the Top 15. I would have lamented the show's all-too-swift passing, but I would have celebrated the one exquisitely crafted season that viewers were lucky enough to get.
But "Veronica Mars" wasn't cancelled after one season.
UPN (and then The CW) tried everything to thank the show's fans and to get the series a bigger audience, experimenting with different time slots and different programming strategies, attempting to finesse Thomas and company into different storytelling structures and themes.
Somehow, "Veronica Mars" survived for two additional seasons and, in the process of those additional 42 episodes, much of what was so great about the first season got lost and diluted, many of the characters viewers fell in love with were compromised or marginalized. And my enjoyment declined. And declined.
But it's a tribute to the greatness of "Veronica Mars" Season One that the show comes in at No. 31 on my Best of the Decade
[More after the break...]