<p>Kanye West and Jay Leno on the premiere of 'The Jay Leno Show'</p>

Kanye West and Jay Leno on the premiere of 'The Jay Leno Show'

Credit: NBC

TV Review: 'The Jay Leno Show' Night One

The Kanye West Circus dominates Leno's premiere, which was oddly short on laughs

 

After an entire summer of threatening to viewers that because they -- the innocent, unaware viewers -- had demanded more comedy in primetime, the network was honoring said request with five primetime hours of Jay Leno every week, NBC launched its Grand Experiment with an episode Shanghaied by Kanye West.

Monday (Sept. 14) night's premiere of "The Jay Leno Show" may have been promoted as an hour of laughter and mirth, but it's hard to imagine any viewer remembering a single punchline or filmed piece of hilarity. People will certainly be talking about "The Jay Leno Show" on Tuesday morning, but not for anything comedic.

No, the topic of conversation around the ol' watercooler will probably involve previously announced musical guest Kanye West coming out before his performance with Jay-Z and Rihanna to issue an apology for upstaging Taylor Swift on MTV's Video Music Awards on Sunday.

The timing was either serendipitous or contrived, depending on your status as a conspiracy theorist, but Leno may not have been buying West's sincerity. So, on the inaugural night of his one-hour infusion of comedy into the 10 p.m. landscape, Jay Leno whipped out the Dead Mom Card and reduced Kanye to incoherent whimpering by asking what his late mother would think of his actions. It was as tough a question as Leno has ever asked in all of his years as talk show host, 50-times harsher than his famous "What were you thinking?" rejoinder to Hugh Grant in 1995.

While Grant's response to that question was stuttery and charming in that Hugh Grant way, Kanye mostly clammed up, perhaps not expecting a relatively recently deceased relative to be a go-to reference on the opening night of TV's newest laughter sensation. Leno, realizing he'd gotten his last complete sentence out of the Grammy-winning star, leaned over and patronizingly patted him on the knee and asked -- in a line that will give race theory scholars food for thought for years to come -- "Are you ready to sing?" Kanye, still shaken, shrugged.

Are you ready to sing?

Sigh.

So was Jay Leno ready to sing on Monday night?

[More thoughts after the break...]

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<p>Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder of 'The Vampire Diaries'</p>

Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder of 'The Vampire Diaries'

Credit: The CW

TV Review: 'The Vampire Diaries'

The CW goes after that 'Twilight'/'True Blood' audience and may have found a guilty pleasure

On one hand, you could call The CW's new drama "The Vampire Diaries" a shameless bit of pandering to the fang-banging throngs who have made "Twilight" and "True Blood" into the media landscape's two most reliable pop culture phenomena. 

Hmmm... 

Seems like something's missing there.

Oh right. The *other* hand.

On the other hand, as pandering goes, "The Vampire Diaries" is at least entertaining pandering, especially if you pretend that creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec were trying to make a hammy gothic yarn for teens, a Hammer Studios version of "Dawson's Creek." 

Much more self-consciously silly than "Twilight," featuring more rolling fog than an '80s rock video and driven by a half-dozen of the most stilted performances East of "Melrose Place," "The Vampire Diaries" may emerge as the sort of brainless guilty pleasure The CW hoped its recent FOX retreads might become. 

Think of it as "9021-Type-O" or "Gossip Ghouls" and prepare to giggle. I don't care if the show was supposed to make me laugh or not. It was still a hoot.

[Full review after the break...]

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<p>Jane Lynch of 'Glee'</p>

Jane Lynch of 'Glee'

Credit: FOX

A second look at FOX's 'Glee'

The Fien Print already reviewed 'Glee' once, but after seeing two more episodes, has anything changed?

 

It's going to be hard to maintain, but I like the idea of having a 2:1 ratio of reviews of "Glee" to actual episodes of "Glee" aired on FOX. 

I've already read several articles from legitimate papers raving at FOX's atypical "Glee" roll-out, gushing about how the network's strategy of one month of relentless hype, followed by a one-off pilot airing post-"American Idol," followed by three more months of relentless hype, followed by two pilot encores in three nights, followed by an actual series launch had paid dividends. Those plaudits may be justified, but any celebration before Thursday morning is putting the cart before the horse. So far, FOX's strategy has yielded one airing that lost well over half of its "American Idol" lead-in and two additional pilot airings that have cumulatively drawn another 6.7 million. 

That's not bad, by the way. It's pretty great, in fact, to be able to draw 4.1 million for a pilot that's already aired once and been available for viewing on the Internet for months and then to draw another 2.58 million for the same pilot two days later? Well, I don't need to tell "Dollhouse" fans how much trouble FOX has had drawing viewers to the Friday 9 p.m. hour. 

Those numbers reflect a dedicated (perhaps even fanatical) core, but the true expression of mainstream, crossover success won't be measurable until after "Glee" returns on Wednesday, Sept. 9. Or maybe it won't be measurable until September 23, when "Glee" has to go head-to-head with ABC's excellent "Modern Family," CBS' significantly-less-excellent "Criminal Minds" and NBC's "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." 

Currently unmeasured is a different condition that I'm already dubbing "Glee" Fatigue Syndrome, which comes from watching the same advertisements and the same clip packages and hearing the same one-liners for an entire summer.

The best cure for "Glee" Fatigue Syndrome may be new episodes of "Glee," though if the pilot already caused Irritable "Glee" Syndrome, perhaps they're best avoided.

[Some extended thoughts on the new "Glee" -- I've seen Two and Four -- episodes after the break...]

As regular readers will recall, I wasn't a huge fan of the "Glee" pilot.

I wrote, "At times, "Glee" feels like the 'Hang In There' Cat poster of TV shows, it's so full of happy energy. As [Lea Michele's] Rachel says, 'There's nothing ironic about show choir!'"

And I didn't mean that as a compliment. The "Glee" pilot struck me as aggressively, cloyingly, unrelentingly peppy.

I also wrote, "I've already be accused of being heartless on multiple occasions for not falling instantly under its sway. I respect its aspirations and its ideology and have no objections to breaking out in song periodically myself. It was, for me at least, too much of a good thing. It didn't leave me wishing for another episode, but yearning for a nap, for a cold shower, for a sedative. It exhausted me with its glee."

So it's here that I step back and say that I've also seen the season's second and fourth episodes and...

Well, I'm still not sold, but I'm getting closer. 

Because I've already written a formal review, I'm just gonna go through some bullet-point thoughts on the additional early episodes I've seen:

*** There are still tonal problems where co-creator Ryan Murphy's desire to be subversive runs up against what was, at one point, presented as a show the whole family could watch together. Half of the things Jane Lynch's Sue says would probably outrage Conservative America, if folks paused and actually paid attention to what she just uttered. It's something amazing about Lynch's comic delivery that she can detonate little dialogue bombs and clear up the rubble before the next person can speak. Parents are less likely to be able to miss the running joke about premature ejaculation in the second episode. Murphy combined this sort of coarseness and sweetness on The WB's "Popular," but if "Glee" restricts itself to the "Popular" audience, it'll be gone after January. I'm not positively or negatively evaluating on this point, merely observing. The show wants to be Universal and For Everybody, but I'm feeling a darker vein that would probably amuse me more flowing underneath.

 

*** Lea Michele cannot straddle the line between appealing and annoying forever. It just isn't possible. Through three episodes, she's right there, sometimes weebling to one side, other times wobbling to the other. Obviously when she sings, all is forgiven, but there's only so much chirping I'm going to be able to tolerate.

 

*** I found Jessalyn Gilsig's Terri to be a brittle harpy in the premiere, but after watching two more episodes, I was much more appreciative of the little comic grace notes she gives the performance. In addition, Terri is, like Sue, a character who can get away with saying anything, which is always entertaining. I'm not implying that I'm ever going to start rooting for for Terri, not with Jayma Mays' wide-eyed Emma as the alternative, but Gilsig is building something compelling. [Read my interview with Gilsig, who goes into depth on Terri's motivations and thought process.]

 

*** Speaking of compelling, Chris Colfer absolutely owns Episode Four, titled "Preggers." But it isn't only Colfer's Kurt who makes the episode. As Kurt's dad, Mike O'Malley actually moved me a little. Yes, I said it. "Yes, Dear" star Mike O'Malley moved me. That's a pretty remarkable sentence, one I never guessed I'd write.

 

*** And speaking of "Preggers," two words of comic gold: Sue's Corner. "Glee" continues to make better use of Jane Lynch than "Party Down" ever did (I know I'm in the minority opinion there), so while I'll miss her on that show (and while Megan Mullally's addition to the cast does nothing for me), this feels like a better home.

*** I saved this for last, even though it's my biggest qualm, because for some readers, it's going to sound like the stupidest statement ever uttered: I don't *get* the musical numbers.

Yikes. I'll just pause and let you throw things. I'll try to explain myself and you can just ignore the explanation and yell at me. 

Problem 1: The "Rehab" number performed by the championship team in the premiere was a group performance and a full ensemble presentation. They sang together, danced together and complimented each other. Nearly everything our heros have done thus far seems to just be a glorified solo. An acknowledgement of that fact has been built into the plot, with Will attempting to give meatier parts to people other than Rachel, but it doesn't change the fact that my perception of glee club and chorus is based on a good deal more collaboration, rather than just a bunch of showcase songs. That could be a "me" problem.

Problem 2: Everything is over-produced. The actors are all doing their own singing. I know that, because it's part of the gimmick of the show. But the vocals and music have all been so sweetened in post-production that there's an unnecessary disconnect between the stars and the melodies. Something dirtier and rougher might allow me to better appreciate just how good these kids are. Then you can pretty it up for the soundtrack and the iTunes downloads.

Problem 3: Perhaps because of Problem 2, the quality of the different performances seems to be uniform. But sometimes aren't the kids supposed to be, um, less good? For example, I kind of hated the version of "Push It" that they do at the school assembly in the third episode and not because I found it disturbing or depraved. I just thought it was poorly arranged and silly, a big reach that they didn't really pull off. But the show never allows for the possibility that, despite only a day or two's rehearsal, the kids are anything less than awesome. Also, "Push It" is yet another performance that Will had nothing to do with. So far, he's the hero of the show, but he's dead weight as a glee club coach.

Problem 4: In the three episodes I've seen, every performance but one has been explained within the structure of the show (i.e. they're a glee club and they're trying out possible performances, or somebody is practicing a routine and filming themselves), but then at the end of the second episode, you have Rachel doing the traditional musical "I have something I can't say, so I'm singing it" moments, where she's singing to a mirror or a hallway and nobody sees her singing. I have *no* problems with that being a direction the show wants to go. It just shouldn't be something that happens once, arbitrarily. Make rules and live by them.

 

*** This is an unrelated note, but the fate of "Glee" may be in the hands of FOX's attempt to rush "So You Think You Can Dance" back to air only a month after the most recent finale. While FOX has had success with rushing "Hell's Kitchen" episodes onto the air one-after-another, NBC's attempts to do something similar with "Last Comic Standing" essentially killed that show as a viable ratings performer. Personally, I'll be perfectly happy to have Cat Deeley and company back on Wednesday night, but I'm not really hungry for their return. How will "Dance" do against regular season competition? And will it boost or detract from "Glee"? We'll have our first inkling on Thursday morning when the ratings come in.

 

"Glee" returns to FOX on Wednesday, Sept. 9 at 9 p.m. 

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<p>Jessica Stroup, Jessica Lowndes and AnnaLynne McCord of '90210'</p>

Jessica Stroup, Jessica Lowndes and AnnaLynne McCord of '90210'

Credit: The CW

TV Review: '90210' Season Two

Some characters are gone, some new characters arrive, but has '90210' found its own voice yet?

One of the things I did this summer was commit to expanding my ABC Family viewership, figuring the network had too many shows ("Middleman," "Greek") that people insisted I'd like that I'd somehow missed.

That's probably why, when I settled in to watch the season's first two episodes of The CW's "90210," I had an odd thought: "90210" is already in its third or fourth creative incarnation since The CW decided to reboot the franchise, which means the netlet is finding it impossible to nail, just once, what ABC Family has been churning out for a several years now on an assembly line. 

ABC Family has "90210: Preachy" ("The Secret Life of the American Teenager"), "90210: Springy" ("Make It Or Break It"), "90210: The College Years" ("Greek") and "90210: Pseudo-Shakespeare Comedy" ("10 Things I Hate About You"). Not all of those shows are entirely creatively successful, but they're all confident in their tone and execution.

The same still can't be said for "90210," which is a long way from the show that premiered 12 months ago with an onslaught of hype and an absence of screeners for critics. It's getting closer to capturing the tone of the original "Beverly Hills, 90210" without the name-dropping and cameos that plagued the first season. It still isn't the flagship brand The CW wants or needs for it to be.

[A review of the start of the second season of "90210" after the break... Some spoilers, but not many...]

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<p>Jessalyn Gilsig of 'Glee'</p>

Jessalyn Gilsig of 'Glee'

Credit: FOX

HitFix Interview: Jessalyn Gilsig of 'Glee'

'Glee' star talks about her scheming character and the power of 'Glee' fans

FOX's "Glee" is a series about spreading your wings and soaring, but inspirational teacher Will (Matthew Morrison) has a heavy tether in his own living room in the form of his wife Terri, a spouse willing to do anything to keep her family together, even if it means making her husband miserable.

On a show fans love (after only one oft-repeated episode), Jessalyn Gilsig plays the woman fans love to hate, a formidable adversary standing between Will and seeming happiness with Jayma Mays' Emma.

With credits including "Boston Public," "Nip/Tuck" (with "Glee" co-creator Ryan Murphy), "Heroes" (like her romantic rival Mays) and "Friday Night Lights," Gilsig is one of the veterans in a cast of fresh faces.

HitFix caught up with Gilsig to talk about just how wicked Terri is, just how far she'll go to keep her man and when she's going to get to share some scenes with the rest of the "Glee" cast. We stopped discussing "Glee" at a certain point, but I left that part of the Q&A intact, because the McGill University grad is mighty interesting.

[There are things in this interview that might be considered spoilers... Full interview after the break...]

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<p>Katie Cassidy of The CW's 'Melrose Place'</p>

Katie Cassidy of The CW's 'Melrose Place'

Credit: The CW

TV Review: The CW's 'Melrose Place'

Sydney and Dr. Michael Mancini are back, but the new residents of The CW's reboot are pretty dull

 

If something only aspires to be a guilty pleasure, is there any purpose at all in reviewing it on the level of quality? Well yes. A show doesn't have to be good to be a guilty pleasure, but it has to be pleasurable.

The original "Melrose Place" was never a particularly good show. Actually, it was a pretty bad show for a long time, starting off attempting to be a semi-realistic depiction of the struggles that come from being young and beautiful and living in an upscale apartment complex. But if viewers had only been treated to Sandy and Billy and Rhonda, "Melrose Place" wouldn't have lasted very long. Instead, Heather Locklear came on and Laura Leighton came on and Marcia Cross came on and, over the years, "Melrose Place" went utterly haywire. Just because it wasn't good -- I was never a fan -- didn't mean that it didn't achieve its goals with manic flair.

The CW's new version of "Melrose Place" mostly attempts to skip over that initial phase of awkwardness. Within two episodes, it's going into murder, thievery, prostitution and voyeurism. It's got sexy stars, mostly giving amateur theatrical performances, corny dialogue and the apartment courtyard scenes look like they were shot on a poorly lit soundstage. In short, it's a really bad show, but who's going to quibble?

Thanks in part to several carry-over members from the original cast, I'd expect "Melrose Place" to mostly strike a chord with fans of the original, even if other viewers aren't so welcoming. 

[Full "Melrose Place" review after the break...]

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<p>Ron Perlman of 'Sons of Anarchy'</p>

Ron Perlman of 'Sons of Anarchy'

Credit: Mike Muller/FX

TV Review: 'Sons of Anarchy' Season Two

The rogue bikers of Sam Crow return to FX on Tuesday with a new adversary, Alan Arkin's Ethan Zobelle

You won't often hear me argue in favor of simplicity and streamlining when it comes to an high-reaching series, but "Sons of Anarchy" returns to FX on Tuesday (Sept. 8) in a cleaner, clearer and markedly less ambitious form and it's better for those changes.

I was a lapsed "Sons of Anarchy" viewer in the first season, not because the show was too complicated, but because the reward for following the myriad plotlines and undercurrents wasn't necessarily worth the effort, even if the final episode or two were satisfyingly shocking and powerful. 

The relief of starting the second second is that, plot-wise, the carry-over is limited and nothing that can't be picked up in the pre-credit "Previously on 'Sons of Anarchy'" montage. What you're missing is the character background developed over the first season, but that's mostly recoverable as well. 

The point? If you're curious about "Sons of Anarchy," this would be a good time to tune in and see a show which, while still imperfect, is still a unique look at the biker subculture and at one of TV's most interesting family units.

[More review after the break...]

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<p>Michael Steger of '90210'</p>

Michael Steger of '90210'

Credit: The CW

HitFix Interview: Michael Steger of '90210'

The CW's '90210' star teases what's in store for Navid and Adrianna and the rest of the gang

< ;p> 

 

The new "90210" returns to The CW this Tuesday (Sept. 8). Or maybe what's premiering on Tuesday is the new, new "90210," or even the new, new, new "90210." 

As many breakups and abrupt reversals as there have been within the show, there have been nearly as many creative changes-of-direction behind the camera. But maybe that's as much a part of the past as Steve Sanders or Andrea Zuckerman, with returning executive producer Rebecca Rand Kirshner Sinclair starting her first full season as showrunner, offering the hope of stability.

Not included in that stability? Adrianna (Jessica Lowndes) and Navid (Michael Steger). The drug-addicted, pregnant diva and the awkward, journalist son of a Persian porn magnate were an odd pick to deliver Season One's healthiest romance, but fans responded to the unlikely duo. Alas, that relationship is facing obstacles as the new season begins.

The 29-year-old Steger spoke with HitFix last week about the new challenges for his onscreen relationship, starting this season with a bit less hype and about the new creative feel of the show.

[Interview after the break...]

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<p>Daryl 'Chill' Mitchell and Michael Strahan of FOX's 'Brothers'</p>

Daryl 'Chill' Mitchell and Michael Strahan of FOX's 'Brothers'

Credit: FOX

The Fien Print's Fall TV Preview preview

Before the reviews start pouring in, here's a preview of how HitFix is going to preview the new TV season

 

It used to be that the TV criticism gig slowed down in the summer, with only repeats and baseball games getting in the way of trendspotting for the fall. Somehow, that didn't seem to be the case this summer. In addition to blue chip reality programming like "So You Think You Can Dance" and "Top Chef" (plus the ever-compulsively-watchable "Big Brother"), cable unleashed a scripted programming from "Burn Notice" to "True Blood" to "Make It or Break It" to "Mad Men." Even Saturday nights were busy this summer with "Harper's Island" and "Kings" and ABC's Summer Burn-Off Theatre. 

So forgive me if I'm not exactly ready for Fall Preview coverage. Unfortunately, with the new season unofficially starting on Tuesday, Sept. 8 with the return of "90210" and the premiere of "Melrose Place 2.0" on The CW, I don't have much choice.

[More after the break...]

My formal Fall TV previewing got started yesterday, when I looked at the season's best and worst new shows with Maggie Furlong of AOL-TV and AOL-TV's DVR Divas.

GIVE IT A LISTEN.

I'll be reviewing all of the fall's new shows and many of the returning shows in the week to come, but for preview purposes, all the cool kids like to do editorial photo galleries.

But how to break them up? 

By network? Well, ABC seems to have 50 new shows, while The CW only has three. That doesn't seem fair. 

By night of the week? Too diffuse. Also? Poor Saturday.

By "Best" and "Worst"? Well, you can't mess with the classics.

The problem: Most of this fall's new shows fall squarely in the middle range. There are definitely four or five awful shows (Yes, "Brothers," I'm looking at you). And there are also four or five shows I'm looking forward to seeing more of (including ABC's "V," which doesn't premiere until Nov. 3, which still counts as fall in my book).

That puts most of the season's new shows right in the middle, which isn't surprising at all. There are bad shows that I think I'll watch anyway (The CW's "The Vampire Diaries" comes to mind) and acceptable shows that I wish were better (I just can't get excited about "The Good Wife"). I made "Best" and "Worst" galleries, which is pretty binary, but there's room for shades of grey. I may have put a new show in the "Best" gallery or the "Worst" gallery, but the difference between the worst of the best and the best of the worst is negligible.

That's especially true in the case of shows that were categorized based on a really lame 10 minute clip reel (ABC's "The Forgotten"), a gloomy pilot that's been partially recap and won't even air as the premiere (CBS' "Three Rivers") or a spinoff that didn't look interesting in its backdoor pilot but may be better when it stands alone ("NCIS: LA"). The rankings are based on what I've seen, but that doesn't mean that some good pilots won't lead to bad shows or that some bad pilots won't lead to good shows.

Heck, HBO's "Bored to Death" (which I've included in one of the two galleries along with USA's "White Collar," just because they're both premiering in the fall) has a forgettable pilot, followed by two memorable and satisfying episodes, so I've had more to evaluate. Then again, having more episodes to evaluate didn't help "Brothers."

 

 

Enough preamble, though...

TV Season Preview: The Fall of 2009's Worst New Shows

 

Stay tuned on Sunday (or maybe Monday) of the season's Best New Shows... And the reviewing will also start on Monday.

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<p>Alexander Gould of 'Weeds'</p>

Alexander Gould of 'Weeds'

Credit: Monty Brinton/Showtime

'Weeds' season finale makes a splash

Nothing ever ends well for Nancy Botwin and company, but what went wrong on Monday?

 

I have a really, really, really stupid question regarding "Weeds": Where has the majority of this season taken place? Have we been in random corners of Mexico? Ren-Mar? Some new SoCal beach community? Cleveland? Have all of the characters been in roughly the same place for most of the time or have they been separated completely, only occasionally coming together by accident? 

"Weeds," a show once so confident in both its voice and its sense of place, has been geographically and totally adrift for two seasons now. As diffuse as Season Four was, it was positively single-minded compared to the schizophrenic fifth season that scattered strong, dark comedy in amongst episodes that cheated time and character motivation with near-alienating abandon. I enjoyed broad swaths of the season, but only after I realized that the episode-to-episode carousel of Nancy Botwin's affections for Mayor Esteban was irrelevant.

Season Five of "Weeds" concluded on Monday (Aug. 31) with an act of violence that was played for shock-value, but could hardly have been more predictable. For attentive "Weeds" viewers, the finale was like a one-third-completed game of "Clue": We knew who was going to be involved, but the location and implement were left in doubt until the last minute.

[A discussion of the "Weeds" finale and a wrap-up of the season after the break... It's not a recap. But it will spoil everything, so watch the finale first, eh?]

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