<p>Dear tombstone... What a long and confusing season it's been... Love, Sookie.</p>

Dear tombstone... What a long and confusing season it's been... Love, Sookie.

Credit: HBO

HBO's 'True Blood' finale only muddles a muddled third season

Season 3 wraps up with cliffhangers galore, plus one big revelation

After a frenzied penultimate episode characterized by poorly motivated character decisions, poorly hatched plotting, poorly staged revelations and cheaply discarded allegory, Sunday (Sept. 12) night's "True Blood" leaves Alan Ball and company with an almost insurmountable task in next week's third season finale. Somehow, the writers have one week to find a way to make us believe that this season wasn't all a random assortment of things that happened over the course of a few days in Bon Temps, a random assortment of things with barely any connection to each other and with almost not through-lines uniting characters. And speaking of characters, the writers have only one week to service a broad swath of beloved returning and new faces, some of whom were perplexingly dropped from the storytelling this season without any rhyme or reason.

That'll be a lot to pack into one episode, but there are talented people involved with "True Blood" and I'm sure they'll pull it off.
 
Wait.
 
What?
 
*This* week's episode was the third season finale of "True Blood"? This week's episode was the last fans are going to see of "True Blood" for 9 months? 
 
Screw that.
 
[More rambling thoughts, obviously with spoilers, about the "True Blood" finale after the break...]
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<p>Leighton Meester of 'Gossip Girl'</p>

Leighton Meester of 'Gossip Girl'

Credit: The CW

TV Review: 'Gossip Girl' heads to Paris for its Season 4 premiere

Blair and Serena enjoy the City of Lights, while Jenny is blissfully absent

The third season of "Gossip Girl" was a bit of a disjointed mess.

There were still high points within the season, but for 22 episodes, it felt like the writers were steered much more by certain very valid character objectives than by any sort of compelling narrative. 
 
Among those character objectives the writers seemingly tackled:
 
*** After a couple seasons of mooning over Dan and straightening out her reputation, Serena ceased to be Serena. How much wacky stuff can we put her through in a single season to remind you that she's still Serena? Let's just forget about that whole dalliance with the married Congressman, shall we? That was just dumb.
 
*** Everybody loves Chuck Bass and his rakish charm. How far can we push that? And is there a place where he can do something so bad that not even a well-timed "I'm Chuck Bass" can save him? Normally using your girlfriend as a sexual bargaining chip and then deflowering Cindy Lou Who would be damning for a character but, as you may have heard, he's Chuck Bass.
 
*** Along the same lines, how pathetic can we make Blair, while still convincing you that she remains Blair Waldorf, Once and Future Queen Bee?
 
*** How much can we make you hate Jenny Humphrey and how grateful will you then be when Taylor Momsen goes on sabbatical?
 
And then, of much less interest to everybody, we had extraneous plotlines like Dan and Vanessa finally finding love despite a total absence of chemistry (marring even a threesome involving Hillary Duff), like Dorota getting pregnant and married, like whatever soapy show Billy Baldwin wandered in from for a few episodes and like whatever terminally mopey show Chace Crawford is still sometimes a part of. 
 
When it comes to the objectives, the one that was most successfully executed was making Jenny Humphrey into an unbearably toxic character. Momsen became such a vortex of faux-arty, black eye-lined bitchery that her mere absence is sure to elevate Season Four immeasurably.
 
As for the rest? Who can even remember. 
 
With that in mind, it's a pleasure to report that "Gossip Girl" launches its fourth season with two confidently satisfying episodes, returning to The CW on Monday, Sept. 13. Because the episodes are designed almost as a stand-alone chapter, I can't say for sure if this bodes well for the season to come, but hey... Good "Gossip Girl."
 
[More on the "Gossip Girl" return, with some minor spoilers, I suppose, after the break...]
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<p>A mascot and Matthew Perry in 'Mr. Sunshine'</p>

A mascot and Matthew Perry in 'Mr. Sunshine'

Credit: ABC

Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'Mr. Sunshine'

Matthew Perry, Andrea Anders and Allison Janney give this midseason comedy some potential

[As I've already mentioned, and will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]

Show: "Mr. Sunshine," ABC [MIDSEASON]
The Pitch: "Chandler Bing's Very Special Midlife Crisis"
Quick Response: [I hadn't been planning on doing midseason shows here, but somebody on Twitter asked specifically about "Mr. Sunshine," so I figured I might as well...] The elements are all in place for "Mr. Sunshine" to become a pretty funny comedy. You've got Matthew Perry, Allison Janney and Andrea Anders, all versatile favorites (plus a solid supporting cast). You've got a relatively unfamiliar milieu in the show's sporting arena backdrop. [I'm not saying it's a terrific milieu or that the pilot convinces me that it's necessarily a meaningful milieu, thematically, but I'm sure it's a milieu that hasn't been overexposed on TV. I'm now done saying 'milieu.'] With Tommy Schlamme directing the pilot with his signature walk-and-talks, you get a clear sense of a show that wouldn't mind being thought of as "Sports[Arena]Night." And there were definitely parts of "Mr. Sunshine" that made me chuckle, generally because of those aforementioned elements (and the un-aforemented elephants). What plagues the "Mr. Sunshine" pilot, though, is an obsequious need to over-explain the overall circumstances as if to say, "We promise there's a hook to this TV series. No, really!" See, Perry's character is celebrating his 40th birthday and realizing that he's been self-obsessed for so long that he no longer even knows how to make human connections, a fact I know because his character announces, "All of a sudden, I want to make a connection and I don't have the first clue how to do it" and because multiple characters reference his selfishness and whatnot. It's my suspicion/hope that once "Mr. Sunshine" stops needing to tell us that it's about a selfish guy trying to be less selfish and starts just becoming about a selfish guy trying to be less selfish, I might be able to relish Perry's trademark snarkiness, Anders' trademark perky loopiness and Janney's oddball eccentricities. Portia Doubleday, James Lesure and Nate Torrence also have potential.
Desire To Watch Again: "Mr. Sunshine," like "Running Wilde," is a comedy that feels unformed in its pilot form. And both comedies focus on unformed men trying to improve themselves. And in both cases, I'll give both shows multiple episodes to see how well and how quickly they find their voices. My ideal version of "Mr. Sunshine" makes a really good pairing with Courteney Cox's "Cougar Town." We'll see if that's how the show goes.

Previously...

Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'Detroit 187'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'Body of Proof'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'My Generation'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Outlaw'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Chase'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'The Defenders'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'Blue Bloods'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'Mike & Molly'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Outsourced'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: The CW's ' Hellcats '
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Raising Hope"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's "The Event"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Running Wilde"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Lonestar"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' "Hawaii Five-0"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Undercovers'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's "Better Together"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' "Feces My Dad Says"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: The CW's "Nikita"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's "No Ordinary Family"

 

 

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<p>Maggie Q of 'Nikita'</p>

Maggie Q of 'Nikita'

Credit: The CW

TV Review: The CW's 'Nikita'

The latest 'Nikita' incarnation gets strong work from Maggie Q and Lyndsy Fonseca
Luc Besson's "La Femme Nikita" may not have created the concept of the cool-as-ice female butt-kicker, but it certainly established a template, one that was directly followed by the feature "Point of No Return" and the USA series that held onto the French name, but was also integral to more movies than I care to count, as well as TV shows like "Alias" and "Dollhouse."
 
The new CW action-drama "Nikita" maintains the name from the Besson original, but its influences are wide-ranging and well-mimicked. Wherever there's a female agent who seems capable of taking out even the best trained and strongest of men, "Nikita" is there. Wherever there's a shadow government organization stripping young people of their identities and working with no apparent oversight, "Nikita" is there. Wherever there's an operative so well-prepared that she can play cat-and-mouse with the most prepared operatives in the world and force them to say things like, "She knows every page in our playbook!" or "She knows what we're going to do before we do it!" "Nikita" is there.
 
With "Nikita" and "Hellcats," The CW's development slate wasn't long on outside-of-the-box thinking, but with "Hellcats" and "Nikita," the netlet's new shows are a reasonably well-executed lot. With a big assist from ace pilot helmer Danny Cannon ("CSI," "Judge Dredd"), "Nikita" looks great, moves quickly and features star-confirming lead performance by Maggie Q. Low expectations may be causing some folks to slightly over-praise "Nikita," but it joins CBS' "Hawaii Five-0" and NBC's "Undercovers" as part of a fall freshman class that's surprisingly deep with high octane thrillers.
 
[More after the break...]
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<p>Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James of 'Terriers'</p>

Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James of 'Terriers'

Credit: FX

TV Review: FX's 'Terriers'

Ample charm, chemistry and local texture carry this shaggy dog P.I. dramedy

A USA-style quirky procedural done with FX-style grit and character depth, "Terriers" debuts on Wednesday (Sept. 8) night with an engagingly loose pilot, only to grow darker, tighter and better with each passing episode.

With an all-star creative team including creator Ted Griffin, co-showrunner Shawn Ryan and executive producer Tim Minear, plus directors like Craig Brewer, Clark Johnson and Rian Johnson, "Terriers" almost immediately accomplishes what many shows struggle to do in a lifetime: It finds a voice, a tone and a setting and every second feels natural and unforced, even as the stakes rise.
 
One of the fall's best new shows, "Terriers" continues FX's recent development hot streak (which will remain intact through at least the superb pilot for January's "Lights Out").
 
[Click through for more on "Terriers."]
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<p>The cast of The CW's 'Hellcats'</p>

The cast of The CW's 'Hellcats'

Credit: The CW

TV Review: The CW's 'Hellcats'

What this cheerleading dramedy lacks in originality, it makes up for in energy
For years, "America's Next Top Model" has been one of The CW's bedrock shows, but Tyra Banks' only-occasionally-realistic peek into what it takes to become a model has never done what hits are supposed to do for TV networks. Despite reliably keeping The CW (and UPN) in the demo ratings game on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m., "ANTM" has proven to be an island. No matter how acclaimed or seemingly compatible a show The CW has programmed at 9 p.m. nothing has stuck.
 
Las year, The CW tried the most literal approach yet to encourage audience flow. The netlet programmed "TBL: The Beautiful Life," an only-occasionally-realistic scripted peek into what it takes to become a model, produced by Ashton Kutcher. Audiences rejected the show on an epic level and The CW spent almost the entire year wasting the time period on random repeats, including futile efforts to make viewers care about a reboot of "Melrose Place."
 
This fall, The CW is hoping for thematic compatibility. Tyra's pseudo-feminist manifesto on how women can be simultaneously fierce and hypersexualized, all while learning to smile with their eyes (or "smize," if you feel like paying Tyra her trademark royalties) will be followed by "Hellcats," which uses cheerleading as a medium to show how women can be strong, smart and independent, all while being hypersexualized and dedicated to an unbendable team concept.
 
Stupid me, I actually though "TBL" might be a show capable of working after "Top Model" because of its topical overlap. And, silly me again, I now think "Hellcats" might work here as well. It's not especially fresh material, nor is it all that nuanced, but it's peppy and occasionally clever and it offers ample eye candy for any and all tastes.
 
[A bit more of a review, though possibly brief, after the break...]
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<p>&quot;Hellcats&quot;</p>

"Hellcats"

Credit: The CW

Listen: Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 34

Alan and special guest Mo Ryan review 'Sons of Anarchy,' 'Terriers,' 'Hellcats,' 'Nikita' and this week's 'Mad Men'

The

Happy Tuesday, boys and girls, and this week's Firewall & Iceberg Podcast is an unusual one, in that Iceberg wasn't available. Dan's out of the country on special assignment (I'm posting this to both blogs because the podcast's RSS feed is tied to Dan's blog), and because this is a relatively busy week (four notable premieres), I didn't want to miss a show. So I recruited Mo Ryan, who recently left the Chicago Tribune to be the senior TV critic for AOL (you can find her new blog here), to fill in for the episode, which features the following segments:

Alan welcomes special guest co-host Maureen Ryan from AOL to fill in for Dan (0:00-3:07)

"Sons of Anarchy" season 3 (3:07-15:30)

"Terriers" (15:30-25:59)

Mo yells at Alan about "Supernatural" (25:59-27:22)

"Hellcats" (27:22-31:10)

"Nikita" (31:10-37:28)

Mo's fall favorites (37:28-39:44)

"Mad Men" (39:44-1:01:01)

As always, you can subscribe to The Firewall & Iceberg Podcast over at the iTunes Store, where you can also rate us and comment on us. Or you can always follow our RSS Feed.

And here's this week's podcast...
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<p>Michael Imperioli of 'Detroit 187'</p>

Michael Imperioli of 'Detroit 187'

Credit: ABC

Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'Detroit 187'

Motown gives extra texture to a solid, straight-forward police drama

[As I've already mentioned, and will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]

Show: "Detroit 187," ABC
The Pitch: "So, um... Have we had a cop show in Detroit lately?"
Quick Response: Due to timing, I never got around to watching the original "Detroit 187" with its since-jettisoned documentary conceit. Instead, I watched a largely reshot Franken-pilot in which you can tell that the characters are just aching to talk to the camera but instead have to have slightly-too-confessional conversations with each other. With its documentary conceit, "Detroit 187" would have had a hook that might have interested me. Without the conceit, it's just a solid and sturdy police procedural of exactly the sort that validate (in my head) the various times I say, "I don't really like police procedurals." It's just not my cup of tea, which doesn't mean that I can't watch "Detroit 187" and respect the things it does very very well. The Detroit locations are well utilized and the show really doesn't look like any cop drama I've seen before simply because of that setting. I was also instantly intrigued by Michael Imperioli's nicely understated, yet still eccentric, performance. I liked the diversity of the casting even if Aisha Hinds' Stern Boss and James McDaniel's I'm Too Old For This S*** Veteran and Jon Michael Hill's Fumbling Newbie passed into genre cliche long ago. I didn't find the use of Motown on the soundtrack to be nearly as annoying as I initially feared I would. Etc. "Detroit 187" might have a little too much broadness at times, a tone that doesn't feel entirely committed, like somebody wanted to make an "NYPD Blue" knockoff and also wanted to make a separate knockoff of "The Unusuals" and instead combined little pieces of both without picking a side.
Desire To Watch Again: I definitely think there's an audience for this show and I think folks who dug "NYPD Blue" and who like "Southland" will find things to enjoy here. [Then again, that audience didn't bother trying "The Unusuals," which still makes me sad.] I'll probably watch the second episode, just to see how the series works when it isn't trying to hide its faux-doc roots, but I probably won't watch much more.

Previously...

Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'Body of Proof'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'My Generation'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Outlaw'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Chase'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'The Defenders'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'Blue Bloods'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'Mike & Molly'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Outsourced'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: The CW's ' Hellcats '
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Raising Hope"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's "The Event"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Running Wilde"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Lonestar"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' "Hawaii Five-0"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Undercovers'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's "Better Together"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' "Feces My Dad Says"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: The CW's "Nikita"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's "No Ordinary Family"

 

 

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<p>Dana Delany of 'Body of Proof'</p>

Dana Delany of 'Body of Proof'

Credit: ABC

Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'Body of Proof'

Led by Dana Delany's star turn, this is an appealing character-driven procedural

[As I've already mentioned, and will continue to mention each and every one of these posts that I do: This is *not* a review. Pilots change. Sometimes a lot. Often for the better. Sometimes for the worse. But they change. Actual reviews will be coming in September and perhaps October (and maybe midseason in some cases). This is, however, a brief gut reaction to not-for-air pilots.]

Show: "Body of Proof," ABC
The Pitch: "It's a little 'Bones,' a little 'House,' and a little 'China Beach.'"
Quick Response: "Body of Proof" has to spend too much time justifying/expositionalizing its premise -- Revered neurosurgeon has to become a medical examiner after a car accident -- but it's still a far more convincing Mid-Life Reversal Drama than NBC's "Jimmy Smits' Tiburon." Despite at least a half-dozen painfully over-declarative lines of dialogue -- "Tell me something... This new you, this Megan Hunt, ME, who seems to care about dead people more than she ever did about the living, is she for real, or is she just working off her guilt after killing a patient on the operating table." -- I actually found myself largely enjoying "Body of Proof" on its own simple merits. The show's secret weapon isn't exactly a secret weapon: Dana Delany has a meaty part to play and she tears into the role like the TV star she is. She's funny, interesting and, when she needs to be, appealingly sympathetic. Since the pilot has nary an original bone in its narrative body, "Body of Proof" is probably the fall's most purely and decently star-driven new show and Delany delivers. But that doesn't mean that there aren't worthy supporting players around her. You have the ubiquitous John Carroll Lynch and "The Wire" veteran Sonja Sohn as the two homicide detectives who are probably going to work with our main character every week, no matter how contrived that feels. You've got Jeri Ryan, basically reprising her role from "Shark," which isn't necessarily such a bad thing. You have Geoffrey Arend -- Mr. Christina Hendricks to you -- and Windell D. Middlebrooks popping up at the main character's workplace. And then you have Nicholas Bishop, like "Chase" star Kelli Giddish, trying to distance himself from "Past Life" as quickly as possible. I don't know how I feel about "Body of Proof" -- annoyingly generic title -- as an ABC show or as a Friday night show, but this is some solid, character-driven procedural comfort food for people who crave such things.
Desire To Watch Again: Moderate. I mean, I liked "Body of Proof," but I didn't exactly love it and it takes love, or at least a *heck* of a hook to get me to watch a procedural on Friday night. I probably won't be a regular "Body of Proof" viewer, but I might tune in occasionally.

 

Previously...

Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's 'My Generation'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Outlaw'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Chase'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'The Defenders'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'Blue Bloods'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' 'Mike & Molly'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Outsourced'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: The CW's ' Hellcats '
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Raising Hope"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's "The Event"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Running Wilde"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: FOX's "Lonestar"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' "Hawaii Five-0"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: NBC's 'Undercovers'
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's "Better Together"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: CBS' "Feces My Dad Says"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: The CW's "Nikita"
Take Me to the Pilots '10: ABC's "No Ordinary Family"

 

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<p>&nbsp;Kara DioGuardi</p>

 Kara DioGuardi

Credit: AP

Where does Kara DioGuardi's departure leave 'American Idol'?

'Idol' keeps failing with its female judges and can't find a female winner. Coincidence?

 "American Idol" has a bunch of problems. 

 
I know. "Breaking news!"
 
With the not-so-abrupt Friday afternoon news-dump departure of Kara DioGuardi, the only judge we assume is returning to "American Idol" next season is Randy Jackson. 
 
Imagine if the Lakers jettisoned Kobe and Lamar and Pau and D-Fish and Bynum and sent Phil Jackson packing and then came out to season ticket holders and said, "Of course we're the same team! We're called the Lakers and we still have Luke Walton."
 
That's where "American Idol" is right now. 
 
Now don't get me wrong. I've been writing about "American Idol" obsessively for eight of the show's nine seasons and I know that when the FOX executives say, "The star of the show isn't the judges, it's the format and the kids," they're absolutely right. Give viewers a true superstar or two, toss in a couple kids with really inspirational stories, add at least one horrible freakshow contestant with impressive staying power just for luck and it won't matter if Simon Cowell or Steven Tyler or Biz Markie is the one critiquing their singing. You'll have a successful season.
 
That doesn't mean that this "Idol" off-season hasn't become a nightmare, unless you truly believe that there's no such thing as bad publicity. 
 
[More thoughts after the break...]
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