<p>&nbsp;Kiefer Sutherland of '24'</p>

 Kiefer Sutherland of '24'

Credit: FOX

TV Review: '24' returns for Day Eight

Jack Bauer and company find themselves in New York, but out of ideas

I know I've said this before, but some things can stand repetition: "24" is the amnesiac's favorite television show. We're starting Day Eight on Sunday (Jan. 17) night and the series shows no sign of varying its formula beyond the occasional new location, the occasional new uber-ethnic baddie, the occasional new inept CTU boss and the occasional new POTUS.

The structure remains unchanged. The ethos remains unchanged. Kiefer Sutherland's unflagging commitment to the emotional truth of Jack Bauer remains unchanged. The series has five or six standard twists that get rotated every season, along with five or six standard cliffhangers rotated to end every episode. If you can watch the show and forget that you've ever seen these things before, you can always find enjoyment in a new episode or a new season of "24" and the show's most passionate fans have become experts at that sort of self-imposed forgetfulness.

It helps that "24" spun off a drinking game in its early seasons and that drinking game has seemingly become integrated into the narrative. Drink whenever certain things happen on "24" and then drink some more to forget that everything happening on "24" you've seen before. It's a great formula. Simulated originality through advanced intoxication.

One thing the "24" writers have never failed at before is starting a season off with a bang. If you look at reviews of every new season, you'd think "24" was always coming off of its worst season ever, because critics are always so excited to have it back. And normally you can count on the "24" team to nuke Valencia or kill a President, on Jack Bauer to arrive from China with a bushy beard or to return from the dead with vengeance on his mind. "24" may not know how to finesse the middle of each season and the writers often aren't exactly sure of how to end things, but they always can get the ball rolling.

Alas, this isn't the case with Sunday (Jan. 17) and Monday (Jan. 18) nights' four-hour premiere. Despite transplanting the show to New York City and overhauling the supporting cast, the creative exhaustion on "24" is evident. Sunday's hours aren't so bad (neither are they gripping), but the first hour on Monday is among the show's worst hours and the second Monday episode isn't much better. Even devoted fans may need to do a lot of forgetting (and a lot of drinking?) before Episode Five.

[Full review after the break... Some spoilers, but nothing major...]

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<p>&nbsp;Conan O'Brien</p>

 Conan O'Brien

Credit: NBC

Listen: The Inaugural Firewall & Iceberg Podcast

Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall talk press tour, Jay Leno, Stephen Hawking and more

This is a bit of an experiment, y'all. Sepinwall -- Also known as Alan Sepinwall of the The Star-Ledger -- and I have been talking about doing a podcast for many a moon now, so we got together on Saturday (Jan. 16) afternoon at the Langham in Pasadena for a few-holds-barred conversation about the Television Critics Association press tour, the NBC Leno-Conan kerfuffle, being big-timed by Stephen Hawking and more.

If this works out, we plan to do this more often, so let us know what you think... This is a total stab in the dark. You don't wanna know how much the technology confused us.

Also, if you can come up with a better podcast title than "Firewall & Iceberg" let us know. We're open to ideas...

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<p>&nbsp;Kristoffer Polaha of 'Life Unexpected'</p>

 Kristoffer Polaha of 'Life Unexpected'

Credit: The CW

HitFix Interview: Kristoffer Polaha talks 'Life Unexpected'

'North Shore' and 'Miss Guided' veteran discusses his new CW dramedy

Is The CW's new drama "Life Unexpected" the show that puts Kristoffer Polaha in America's living rooms for the long haul?

The "North Shore" and "Miss Guided" and "Valentine" star has kept busy with guest starring roles on shows as diverse as "Dollhouse," "Better Off Ted" and "Mad Men" and with "Life Unexpected," he has what is probably his best and most interesting character.

Polaha plays Nate "Baze" Bazile, a young man who peaked in high school and now drinks his life away as the owner of a grungy bar. Stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence, Baze gets a shock to his system when he discovers he has an adolescent daughter of his own, in Brittany Robertson's Lux.

"Life Unexpected" is the sort of show The WB used to do and potentially new territory for The CW. It's smart, funny and unapologetically sentimental.

HitFix snagged a few minutes with Polaha to chat about "Life Unexpected," his own maturing process and even a little bit about "North Shore" and his other short-lived shows.

[Click through...]

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<p>&nbsp;'Warren the Ape'</p>

 'Warren the Ape'

Credit: MTV

Some TCA wisdom from Warren the Ape

'Greg the Bunny' co-star goes through rehab in his new MTV comedy

FOX's "Greg the Bunny" was one of the great short-lived comedies of the Aughts and I've taken great pleasure in many of the previous and subsequent iterations of the Fabricated Americans series from Sean S. Baker, Spencer Chinoy and Dan Milano.

So this is one critic looking forward to MTV's summer comedy "Warren the Ape," the first Baker, Chinoy and Milano comedy to focus Warren DeMontague, the substance abusing simian who played Professor Ape on "Sweetknuckle Junction."

In "Warren the Ape," Warren plays himself, a washed up former TV star battling additions and getting therapy from none other than Dr. Drew. It's a little bit like "Intervention," a little bit like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and a lot like "Greg the Bunny."

Warren -- played by the brilliant Milano, if I might shatter the illusion for a second -- appeared at the Television Critics Association press tour on Friday (Jan. 15) morning. At the TCA, we don't love being performed to, because we're reporters trying to report. The biggest disaster of that kind in recent memory was last summer with Jeff Dunham got up, insulted us with his dolls for 15 minutes and then was confused when nobody felt like asking him any questions.

The "Warren the Ape" session was a good deal better than the Dunham fiasco, if only because Warren (and ace improviser Milano) are actually funny.

[Click through...]

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<p>&nbsp;'Lost'</p>

 'Lost'

Credit: ABC

Live-Blogging ABC's 'Lost' TCA Press Tour Panel

Will Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse spill the beans on the last season of 'Lost'? No.

It's the end of an era. "Lost" is having its final Television Critics Association press tour session. 

I still remember how excited and confused we were when the show was first presented to us back in July 2004. I imagine we're every bit as excited and every bit as confused today.

Our panel includes Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse and an assortment of series stars, including Emilie de Ravin, Daniel Dae Kim, Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly, Terry O'Quinn, Michael Emerson and Jorge Garcia. 

Since this panel is bound to include some spoilers -- but probably not huge ones, knowing Cuse and Lindelof -- this live-blog will contain spoilers, so skim at your own risk after the break...

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<p>&nbsp;Ellen DeGeneres of 'American Idol'</p>

 Ellen DeGeneres of 'American Idol'

Credit: FOX

Simon Cowell's departure puts 'American Idol' pressure on Ellen

Randy and Kara aren't going to be able to carry the show, so the new judge must step up fast
By my estimation, the most important person to the future of "American Idol" won't be a part of Tuesday (Jan. 12) night's premiere of the talent show other networks refer to as The Death Star.
 
FOX and Simon Cowell used Monday morning's Television Critics Association press tour panel as the opportunity to make the somewhat shocking (but largely anticipated or previously reported) announcement that the smirky British judge will be departing "American Idol" after this season to concentrate his attentions on the 2011 launch of a domestic version of "X Factor."
 
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<p>&nbsp;Simon Cowell of 'American Idol'</p>

 Simon Cowell of 'American Idol'

Credit: FOX

Live-Blogging FOX's TCA Press Tour Executive Session

Simon Cowell is leaving 'American Idol' and more

 Yesterday, I live-blogged NBC's news-packed TCA executive session. That panel was nothing but Jay Leno and Conan O'Brien questions. It's possible that FOX's executive session is going to be more exciting.

At the very least, we've got a far more diverse slate of possible questions. Is Conan O'Brien coming to FOX? Is Simon Cowell leaving "American Idol" at the end of this season? Why the heck did "Our Little Genius" get pulled? This may, in fact, be the tour's most jam-packed panel.

So follow along (and click through) as FOX Entertainment President Kevin Reilly and FOX Chairman Peter Rice entertain the press...

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<p>&nbsp;'The Simpsons'</p>

 'The Simpsons'

Credit: FOX

Tune-In Reminder: 'The Simpsons' Episode 450 and "20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice!'

Anne Hathaway and Morgan Spurlock lead a night of animated fun on FOX
Want proof that FOX's "The Simpsons" is mellowing in its old age? Back in Season Seven, the long-running animated smash mocked the idea of landmark telecasts with "The Simpsons 138th Episode Spectacular." 
 
It's 15 years later and "The Simpsons" team seems to have made peace with the show's iconic status and with the idea that certain milestones truly are significant. "The Simpsons" caps off a full-year 20th Anniversary celebration on Sunday (Jan. 10) night with the show's 450th episode and an hour-long documentary titled "The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice!"
 
It's funny to see a show that used to revel in a renegade's disregard for industry convention getting so caught up in its own hype, but you know the truth? If "The Simpsons" wants to take a night to celebrate itself, the show has earned the right, especially since both of Sunday's big Springfield-ian events are plenty entertaining.
 
A little more talk on Episode 450 and the Morgan Spurlock-directed "The Simpsons 20th Anniversary Special: In 3-D! On Ice!" after the break...
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<p>&nbsp;Jay Leno</p>

 Jay Leno

Credit: NBC

Live-Blogging NBC's TCA Press Tour Executive Session

Jeff Gaspin and Angela Bromstad discuss Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien and... other things

I usually don't live-blog Television Critics Association press tour panels except when they're likely to be spectacularly newsworthy, spectacularly funny, spectacularly stupid or spectacularly awkward.

No fair guessing which of those four I'm expecting from Sunday (Jan. 10) morning's NBC Executive Session featuring Jeff Gaspin (Chairman NBC Universal Television Entertainment) and Angela Bromstad (President, Primetime Entertainment, NBC and Universal Media Studios). 

I do, however, expect Jay Leno to be mentioned once or twice. Follow along! [And click through...]

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<p>&nbsp;Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski of 'Chuck'</p>

 Zachary Levi and Yvonne Strahovski of 'Chuck'

Credit: NBC

TV Review: NBC's 'Chuck' - Season Three

Zachary Levi, Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin return with two hours of Sunday fun

 I could just bottom line this for you: Plenty of shows will be premiering and returning in the first few months of 2010. I know this because I watched more than 30 hours of screeners last weekend, an amount that verges on a mathematical impossibility. Many of the screeners I watched are for shows I enjoy, shows I respect a great deal, shows I fully intend to recommend to you further at a later date. I don't think that any of those shows are more enjoyable than NBC's "Chuck," funnier than NBC's "Chuck," more exciting than NBC's "Chuck," more easily and instantly able to bring a smile to my face than NBC's "Chuck."

 
But you, regular readers, know that I just happen to really like "Chuck." If I were a person prone to using outdated slang that I really can't get away with saying -- and I often am -- I'd admit that "Chuck" is my jam. It's music played in a key that this particular writer is always happy to groove to. I've always been convinced that the vernacular of my Inner Child of the '80s is one in which Chris Fedak, Josh Schwartz and their wildly talented team of writers are fluent. I watch "Chuck" and feel like its cleverness and messages are pitched directly at me and since I know people who are *nothing* like me who feel *exactly* the same way, I know that "Chuck" must be doing something right and something universal, even if the show's ratings suggest that not every part of the universe has discovered it.
 
Like I said, that's the bottom line. After a long day of press tour, my ability to write as much as I'd like to about "Chuck," which premieres on Sunday (Jan. 10) at 9 p.m. and then moves to its regular slot the following night, is limited. 
 
But I'll try to say a bit more after the break...
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