Sunday, June 26, 2011

Show You Should Be Watching: "Leverage"

If you've never seen "Leverage," the premise is fairly simple: a group of criminals team up to play Robin Hood. What happens after they team up is much more complicated, and a whole lot more fun.

The team is led by Nate Ford, an often surly sometimes-alcoholic who left the insurance agency he worked for after the death of his son. After teaming up with some of the people he used to chase as an insurance investigator - a con artist, a thief, a hitter and a hacker - and getting conned himself, he and the rest of the team decide to turn things around, and use their criminal powers for good.

The show plays out like Ocean's 11 meets Robin Hood - each episode involves a person or persons who have been wronged by someone evil, and the team uses their particular skill sets to bring that person justice.  It's a fun premise, and one that has seemingly infinite possibilities.

The real appeal of the show, however, lies in the relationships between the main cast of five. Over the first three seasons these hard people, used to working on their own, develop a quirky, dysfunctional family, with Nate as the grudgingly loving father and con-woman Sophie as the mother. Brilliant hacker Hardison, gruff badass Elliot and emotionally-stunted expert thief Parker make up the rest of the crew.

"Leverage" is really largely about this nontraditional family, but each week they manage to pull off increasingly complicated heists and cons, pulling down bad guy after bad guy and racking up an impressive list of enemies. Though the show is largely set in Boston, the team does often travel, and even their local cons are set in a variety of locations: museums, fashion shows, country music studios, and even horse ranches.

It would be easy to write "Leverage" off as a fluffy action show, but amidst the humor and the snarking there are occasional moments of depth, emotion and even romance. While Nate and Sophie have played the flirting game since day one, the relationship between Parker, who is often childish in her whims and emotions, and geeky but sweet Hardison, is one of the show's most endearing. Even if Parker can't quite bring herself to start a romance, they have one of the best relationships on the show.

Although to be fair, the snarking is pretty fun, too.

It's entirely possible that Parker is my favorite character (if you couldn't tell).

The other high point of the show is often the action scenes. Elliot is usually the star here - watching him beat up rooms full of large, armed men is always one of the most exciting parts of the episode.

The season 4 premiere of "Leverage" is tonight. If you're looking for an exciting, fun show to end your weekend right, this is a great choice. The good guys (usually) win, but they sure don't do it the easy way.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Guilty, Guilty Pleasure of "Make It or Break It"

"Make It or Break It" is a silly little show that embodies a lot of the worst qualities of ABC Family. It's sappy, often poorly acted and poorly written, and annoyingly preachy. It's also a show about elite, Olympic-contender gymnasts who can apparently only do basic skills.

So why do I keep watching it? There is a spark of something compelling in this story of elite gymnasts striving for Olympic gold at the cost of everything else. It can be a lot of fun. And, when they're not busy mooning over boys (it is a teen show on ABC Family, after all), there's even a hint of female empowerment behind these badass girl athletes.

Two of the best things about MIOBI are Olympic hopeful Payson and her coach Sasha. Payson is the golden girl right from the start, mature and driven, but a back injury at nationals sidelines her early. Her comeback story, while more than a bit unbelievable, did make for some good TV, and she is a character for whom you want to root. It helps that the actress who plays her, Ayla Kell, is one of the best on the show. And her relationship with her coach is just as intense and interesting - he believes in her fully and she trusts him implicitly, and as a viewer it's easy to want to see them make it all the way to the Olympics.

They aren't the only good thing about the show. National champ Kaylie can also be pretty interesting, and her battle with an eating disorder managed to pull a few great moments into the show. Some of the gymnastics parents offer great insight into all the sacrifices they've had to make to get their kids to this level of competitive athletics. And Emily, the poor girl trying to make it big, gives the viewer an underdog to root for - although sometimes she veers into Bella Swan-esque "Poor me, why do all the boys love me?" territory. Emily would have been better served as a character by being less obsessed with her sometimes boyfriend, a trait that eventually led to her pregnancy and the end of her gymnastics career on the show. That silly plot (fueled by the actress' real life pregnancy) was explained by the fact that because she was an athlete and had only ever had one period, Emily apparently did not think she needed birth control. Emily (herself the result of a teen pregnancy) has also apparently never heard of an STD.

What makes this a seriously GUILTY pleasure for me is the over-the-top, ridiculous writing and often hammy acting. But even that wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for two of the worst characters on TV, Lauren and Summer. If they could just get rid of these two horrific women, or rewrite them to have more than one layer, this might even occasionally be a good show.

The main problem with Lauren is that she is a sociopath, but the writers refuse to admit it. In the very first episode, she sets up a vault to purposefully injure another gymnast. She sleeps with her best friend's boyfriend, multiple times. She almost ruins her coach's career, because he's dating her dad's ex and she wants them to get back together. She lies constantly. And yet the other girls at the Rock continue to be her friends, she continues to win, and there are no consequences for her actions, ever. I love a good villain as much as the next TV addict, but Lauren is just ridiculous.

Summer is even worse, primarily because she is supposed to be a moral Christian character, but she is constantly being a judgmental hypocrite. All she ever does is slam everyone else's beliefs as being wrong - abstinence is the only choice ever! Sex before marriage is wrong, even though I really want to have sex with the hot coach! I'll lie for Lauren because she says she'll stop sleeping around, even thought lying is wrong and I'm going to judge anyone else who lies! Her "relationship" with Sasha lacked chemistry and almost ruined his awesome character, and there is no logical reason for her to be on the show. And as much as I loved DJ on "Full House," Candace Cameron Bure is horrible as Summer. Basically, she is the worst.

There's no word yet on if MIOBI is getting another season, but even with all these reasons to hate it, I can't help enjoying it and hoping it does. I want to see Payson and Kaylie make it to the Olympics. Maybe even Lauren, if they can make her less hateful. I would even accept a totally ludicrous storyline about Emily coming back post-pregnancy and somehow talking her way back on the National Team if it would mean getting to see this tightknit group of athletes make it to the big time. Winning Worlds was pretty satisfying. But winning the Olympics? That would bring this feel-good show to the ultimate level of happy fluff, and sometimes that's all I need.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

New Shows for Next Season: What Looks Good

It's upfronts time, which means previews of recently greenlit shows for next season are floating around the interwebs. Out of what I've been able to track down, here are a few that I'm excited about:

Terra Nova
This show has been buzzed about for over a year, but now there are actual real previews, and I for one am super psyched. Dystopian future! Dinosaurs! Pretty scenery!

It has former-Buffy producer power behind it, and it looks awesome. I can't resist a good twisted fairy tale. This one could go either way, but it looks much better than the preview for ABC's "Once Upon a Time," and I have high hopes.

Another Fox show, this one from mastermind J.J. Abrams. The premise sounds silly, but the preview looks pretty cool. The general idea is that all of the prisoners on Alcatraz vanished into thin air on the last day the prison was open, and are now popping up in our time and committing crimes. There seems to be some kind of conspiracy lurking in the background (and I wouldn't expect anything less than a super-complicated mystery from Abrams).

This could be very cool, or it could get old fast. A man lives in two realities - one where his son died in a car crash, and one where his wife died in a car crash. Every time he goes to sleep, he wakes up in the other reality, and he doesn't want to let go of either one.

I'm on the fence about this one, but I'm a sucker for shows with good singing, and this could be promising. Debra Messing and Katherine McPhee in a show about the building of a Broadway musical.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Show You Should Be Watching: "Happy Endings"

"Happy Endings" is a sitcom about a group of six very different friends living in the city. Which makes it sound like just about every other sitcom on TV right now, including 3 or 4 others that have started just this season with almost the exact same premise.

But "Happy Endings" has something most of those other shows don't have - it's joyful. The characters mesh. They feel like actual friends. They banter and have a good time at each other's expense, but none of it is really mean-hearted. And, most importantly, watching them is actually funny.

Take the clip below from the most recent episode, where single girl Penny accidentally starts dating a hipster and tries to fit in to his world, with the help of slacker gay Max.

This intersects with a plot where Max is competing with uptight badass Jane to find out which one would be able to survive a zombie apocalypse - by the end of the episode, they are on the run from a crowd of zombie-like hipsters trying to catch a food truck.

Part of the show's appeal is that any of the characters can be paired together and funny things happen. No interaction feels strained or faked. These actors seem to be genuinely enjoying playing off of each other, and it makes the show that much more enjoyable. Certainly some of the plotlines are sitcom staples, but the pure fun of the characters and the realistically snarky banter they throw back and forth makes this much better watching than most shows formed around similar premises.

I wasn't totally convinced by the pilot, but this show has really gelled, and I for one hope that it sticks around for awhile. The ratings haven't been quite so hopeful, due I'm sure at least partly to the fact that the show started in mid-April in a 10 p.m time slot. ABC has been airing two episodes at a time many weeks, so they may be trying to burn off the episodes. I hope this is not the case, and I hope that this show attracts more of the audience it deserves. It's only been 7 episodes, but these characters are starting to feel like old friends, and I would hate to lose them so soon.

All 7 of the first episodes are available on Hulu.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"The Voice": Better Than "Idol"?

"American Idol" has been king of the reality singing competitions for 10 seasons. Coming this late in the game, a show like "The Voice" seems like it would be yet another copycat, an attempt to cash in on "Idol's" dying gasps. But there is something genuinely fun about this show, a freshness that I did not expect to find in such a stale concept.

The first rounds of "The Voice" are based on a blind audition round, where the coaches - Xtina, Blake Shelton, Cee-Lo and Adam Levine - are judging the contestants based solely on, well, their voice. All of the contestants are chosen ahead of time, avoiding the nonsense bad auditions that plague the first rounds of "Idol" every season. If one of the coaches wants one of the singers on their "team" of 8, they press a button to basically offer a spot on their team to that person.

What I personally love about this concept was that the coaches then have to sell themselves to the contestant, who ultimately gets to choose whose team they get to join if they have had multiple offers. So not only do we get to hear talented singers, we get to see them have a small measure of power over their own destinies. Of course, working with any of the four is a dream come true for most of these artists, so there's really no way to lose - unless nobody turns their chair around, which only happened a couple of times in this first round.

The coaches are a bit of a surprise, too - I expected to like Cee-Lo, and Adam Levine, but wasn't sure if Xtina's diva image would get in the way, and I had never heard of Blake Shelton. But all four of them seemed to really be enjoying themselves, lavishing praise on deserving contestants and playing up the drama in a kind of tongue-in-cheek way. They seem to actually want to nurture the talent of these contestants, to really find the best people and help them make the right connections. And they themselves just feel more connected to the contestants than the much more aloof judging panel on "Idol."

So is it better than "Idol"? Maybe, maybe not. It's hard to compare one episode to ten seasons of talent. But I love that the singers are all talented, and that the coaches/mentors are all passionate about the people they are vying for. That may be difficult in the next round after auditions, when they have to cut their teams in half. And "The Voice" may get a little too Idol-y in the last few rounds, when the final group is chosen and America gets to vote on the winner.

But at the very least, this first round is something fresh and exciting, a new take on the singing competition. The blind auditions mostly ended up being pretty people, sure, but there were a few surprises mixed in for the coaches in terms of look and presentation. If next week is as entertaining, I'm in, at least for the season.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

American Idol: Best Performances of the Past 10 Seasons

"American Idol" is a junk-food show. I know it's not good for me, and a lot of the time I don't even enjoy it, but I can't help but coming back to it, week after week.

There's something uplifting about the idea of talented kids getting a shot at stardom. It speaks to the classic American dream that drives many of us - success, fame, money, power. Yes, most of the contestants from AI are back to normal after their fifteen minutes is up, but even some of the losers of the competition have gone on to have extremely successful careers due in large part to the exposure they got from Idol.

This season has been hit or miss, with a very talented group who has been (a bit boringly) consistent. No Sanjayas this time around, hanging around on the basis of their train-wreck potential. There is real talent in the group that's left, and the judges have found little to criticize. That's one of the weak points of this season, for me - while I've mostly enjoyed Tyler and Lopez and even occasionally Randy as judges, they seem to be there primarily to lavish praise on even the most generic performances.

As I watched last night's top 7 perform, I couldn't help but think that there really hasn't been a star-making moment this year yet. Each of the top group has had some good performances, and some of them have even been great performances, but unlike past seasons, I have yet to hear a performance that makes go, "Wow. That kid deserves to be a star."

So I thought I'd present some of my personal "star moments" from the past seasons. I'm sure a lot of people will disagree with me on which ones made the cut, but these are seven of my favorites, the ones that I've gone back and watched again and again even after the season was over.

#5: Blake Edwards, "You Give Love a Bad Name"
Blake may not have been the best traditional singer on the show, but he knew how to mix things up and keep it unique and interesting. This performance was unexpected, fun and different.

#4: Elliott Yamin, "Moody's Mood for Love"
It took me a few weeks to get into Elliott. He was a funny-looking guy, but when he opened his mouth, all of that melted away into an absolutely gorgeous voice. This was the first moment I realized that. One of the few Idols I've bought music from post-show.

#3: Clay Aiken,
Definitely another case of a big, amazing voice in what could be considered a funny-looking guy. He may have gotten a tad creepier since his season ended, but man, what a voice.

#2: Fantasia Barrino, "Summertime"
What I liked about Fantasia, even though I didn't always love her, was that she really poured herself fully into every performance. This is a fantastic example of that.

#1: Kelly Clarkson, "Stuff Like That There"
The first Idol is still the best, IMHO. This perky, upbeat performance could have been overly cutesy or silly in someone else's hands, but Kelly knocked it out of the water. This was the song that made me think she should win the first season.

Honorable mentions: Adam Lambert's "Mad World," Jennifer Hudson's "Circle of Life," Tamyra Gray's "A House is Not a Home."

I'm sure I've forgotten a few other favorites here. But these are at least a few of the moments that have kept me coming back to Idol. I hope to see another one in the next few weeks from what's left of this year's contestants.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Review: "Game of Thrones"

My reaction as the first episode of "Game of Thrones" wrapped up?

Holy. Shit. I am going to love this show.

I haven't read the books this series is based on. (Although the first one is sitting on my bookshelf, just begging to be read now.) And I was concerned about getting into an epic and sprawling fantasy series, trying to figure out who's who without having read the hefty volumes this show is based on. I've been burned before. But to my pleasant surprise, while the pilot certainly contained a huge number of characters and stories to keep track of, they managed to present everything in a way that was engaging, providing an intro without being overly clumsy and obvious, and allowed me to follow the story with relative ease.

I expected to have to slog my way through this first episode, trying to learn names and characters and figuring out what was going on where. But I very quickly picked up on who everyone was and their motivations, and that, even more than the sweeping sets and beautiful people, drew me masterfully into the story. I found the women in this story especially compelling - Daenerys, being married off to a savage king to further her brother's aspirations to win back his throne; Arya, the young daughter of a northern lord, fighting against the traditional roles her older sister embraces, preferring archery to embroidery and food fights to flirting with princes; Lady Catelyn, trying desperately to protect her family as her husband chooses to leave and help his king; and the Queen, who was giving me serious Lady MacBeth vibes in addition her creepy incestuous relationship with her pretty-boy twin brother.

Some of the men were pretty interesting, too - in particular, I was interested in Ned Stark's bastard son, Jon, who I would assume from this first episode will play an important role in the coming series, and Tyrion Lannister, the "Imp," is sure to be an interesting character to watch. Daenerys' brother was compelling, in an evil, creepy way; I expect to hate him with a passion. But it was the women of this show who really stood out. Not much good happens to them in the "Game of Thrones" pilot, but from what I've read about this series, I hope to see them come back with a vengeance throughout the season.

I'm sure I'll be looking up the characters' names at least a few times an episode for now, but that doesn't really matter. Their relationships at this point are clear, the story is compelling, and I fully expect that this is quickly going to become a new favorite series. I can't wait to see what happens next week. In the meantime, if you need me, I'll be devouring the first book.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

New Show Review: "The Killing"

Who killed Rosie Larsen?

That is the central question behind AMC's new show, "The Killing." But this series is about so much more than a simple homicide investigation - it's about the people left behind, the impact of a life and the destruction created by a senseless murder. Based on a Danish show, "The Killing" centers around a few groups of people: Rosie's grieving family, the detectives investigating her death, and a mayoral candidate who gets caught in the crossfire when Rosie's body is found in one of his campaign cars. 

The lead detective on the case is Linden, a quiet but competent detective who is supposed to be on her last day when Rosie's body is found. Her plans to move to Sonoma with her fiancee are derailed by Rosie's murder, as she stays behind to find the killer. Mireille Enos plays Linden with a soft confidence. She is good at her job, but not showy. With a firm intelligence she goes about unraveling the investigation, pulling along her intended replacement, an aggressive homicide rookie who has just been transferred from vice. 

Enos is impressive, but the real pull of the show acting-wise is Michelle Forbes as Rosie's mother, Mitch. Forbes embodies Mitch in every way possible, showing her in the pilot to be a loving but somewhat distracted wife and mother, and masterfully descending into devastation as Rosie's fate is revealed. Watching her hold herself underwater to try to understand her daughter's drowning death is horrifying and heartbreaking. Seeing her and her husband (played perfectly by Brent Sexton) react as they try to explain to their young sons what has happened to their sister is devastating. 

"The Killing" is not a procedural, not really. Yes, it centers around a murder investigation, but unlike any of the many "CSI" or "Law and Order" clones on network TV, it doesn't wrap everything in a neat bow in 40 minutes. Being on AMC, a network known for high-caliber shows like "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad", it has the luxury of taking its time and really getting into the story. It benefits from a dreary Seattle setting and a stellar cast, and although the investigation is drawn out over the season, each episode so far has offered plenty of fodder to keep the audience compelled until the next Sunday night. I know I plan to be there. 

The fourth episode of "The Killing" airs tomorrow night at 10/9 Central on AMC. The first three full episodes are available on the AMC website, as well as through the usual suspects (iTunes, Amazon, etc.). 

Friday, March 25, 2011

Parks and Rec: Why Leslie Knope is (or should be) a feminist icon

Leslie Knope is not Buffy, or Sydney Bristow, or Veronica Mars. She doesn't kick evil's ass on a daily basis, or uncover vast conspiracies and take them down. She is the deputy director of the Parks department of a small city. And, yet, a total badass. 

For me, Leslie defines what it is to be a real-life feminist. One of my most startling college memories is sitting in a large lecture hall, hearing the professor ask anyone who considered themselves a feminist to raise their hand, and being one of only about 3 or 4 people (in a room of over 100) to actually do so. This was a class about the 1960s, where we were discussing the way that people thought, way back when, that if you were a feminist obviously you were a lesbian, or there was something wrong with you. But this was 2002, I thought at the time - certainly people understand now that being a feminist just means women should be considered equal to men. Shouldn't that be a pretty standard way of thinking in the 21st century?

It wasn't, and it's not. "Feminism" is still a dirty word to many people, who seem to envision feminists as angry women who want to destroy all males and take over the world. As a feminist, I do not believe that women are better than men. I just believe that we should be equals. And the optimist in me would like to believe that most people, whether they consider themselves feminists or not, generally feel the same way.  

But back to Leslie Knope. "Parks and Recreation" started out as a companion sitcom to "The Office," with Amy Poehler as lovable but goofy Leslie, who cared deeply about her job but seemed just a bit ditzy. As the show progressed, Leslie began to really shine, becoming the still occasionally goofy but overall lovable and competent character she is now, in the show's third season. 

Leslie has always been shown to be be a feminist. Her office is plastered with pictures of notable women. She celebrates "Galentine's Day," where she spreads love to all her female friends. She was deeply offended when a feminist award was given to her undeserving male boss as an attention-grabbing gimmick. 

But what really makes Leslie the image of a modern feminist is her confidence and attitude. She is upbeat and strong, believably great at her job, and always self-assured. Unlike Liz Lemon, whose feminism often verges on parody on "30 Rock", and so many lesser female TV characters, Leslie Knope is not constantly obsessed with her appearance or love life. Yes, she dates, but she has a life outside of it. She doesn't drop everything for a boy. Even more importantly, she has female friends that she cares about and supports. She is never catty or backstabbing. Her friendship with Ann is ridiculously healthy for a TV show.  

These are simple things, but they matter. So often female friendships on TV are more like competitions. To many TV women, being single is like a death sentence. Their lives revolve around their romantic relationships, instead of their careers or friends. And while there is nothing wrong with caring about finding love, I certainly prefer Leslie's way of looking at the world, which is more concerned with making other people happy and doing her job well than with finding the perfect mate. She finds satisfaction in living life in a positive and productive way.

So, no, Leslie is not an ass-kicking spy, or a quippy and clever teen detective, or a superhero. But in many ways she has the power to do more for feminism than any of them. Her life is attainable. Young girls could potentially look at Leslie, at her successes and her optimism, and strive to be like her, and the world would be a better place for it. A character like Buffy may be a little flashier, but, no matter how hard we wish it, most of us don't get to be awesome vampire slayers (I should know). Deputy director of a Parks department, with aspirations to keep moving up the political ladder? Much more doable. 

One of my favorite moments of the entire series is in the episode "Hunting Trip," when Leslie tries to cover for a coworker by saying she was the one who accidently shot their boss, and encounters a sexist park ranger in the process:

Basically, Amy Poehler and the writers of "Parks and Rec" have created a character who is really just a regular woman in a lot of ways, but in her lack of drama and upbeat confidence she is unique. I find it refreshing to not hear a woman on TV constantly criticizing herself or others. To me, Leslie's awesome attitude, strong work ethic, and empathy for others are markers of a true and relatable feminist. It doesn't hurt that she's smart and hilarious. 

Screw Buffy, I want to be Leslie Knope when I grow up. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Finale Review: Pretty Little Liars

OK, confession time: I love "Pretty Little Liars."

Yes, it is cheesy, and melodramatic, and on occasion there is some very bad acting happening. It is also probably intended for teenage girls. But as a guilty pleasure show, it hits all the right marks - twisty, ridiculous plots, angsty characters, forbidden romances... and on top of that, it is occasionally even funny and clever. Really.

It certainly is not a show for everyone. But it is a lot of fun.

Last night's first season finale followed in the grand tradition of shows like "Lost" by supposedly answering one mystery while actually opening up about five more. In theory we learned the identity of Allison's killer. But his story didn't quite match up, and I'm not convinced that he wasn't covering for someone else. And who showed up to kill him? On top of that, it became even more obvious than before that the mysterious "A", who has been harassing the Liars via text message, email and lipsticked mirror all season, is most likely not the same person as Allie's killer.

Everyone on this show seems sinister. Even the Liars themselves, on occasion. And there is a whole lot of older male/teenage female hooking up on this show, which just lends to the general air of ickiness. How can you not feel suspicious of a 20-something male who feels the need to sex up 15 and 16 year old girls? Really, anyone on this show could potentially be the all-knowing A, or Allison's killer. No one would be that surprising at this point.

One of the things I love about "Pretty Little Liars" is that solving Allison's murder is complicated by the fact that almost everyone hated her. The girl was a psycho, blackmailing people left and right, toying with the emotions of both friends and enemies and even notably blinding someone. So even the Liars are easy suspects in her murder. And every time they try to go to the police with some new piece of evidence, they end up somehow implicating themselves. As a viewer it's not hard to see why: there is almost a "Crucible" vibe to these four pretty, popular girls crying "Murderer!" at every turn. If we weren't seeing it from their point of view, it would seem pretty suspicious.

I will say, this show has treated some characters better than others, and the finale was successful in showing all of the Liars to their strengths. Aria is always less interesting when she is mooning over her inappropriate boyfriend (and high school English teacher) Ezra, so watching her call him out for being a jerk and then spend the rest of the episode actually be a good friend was refreshing. Spencer is always awesome, but she had plenty of opportunities to run the spectrum from cute and romantic to terrified but still badass. (Although, really, Spencer, you never run UP the stairs when trying to escape a madman. Horror 101.) Hannah and Emily had less to do, but did enough in the time they were given, and since they have both had quite a bit of screentime lately due to Hannah's up-and-down relationship with bad-boy Caleb and Emily's attempt at starting a relationship with closeted Paige, their storylines still felt like plenty.

Where they go from here is anyone's guess. One of the reasons I actually enjoy this show is that I never know what is going to happen next. There are a few characters who you just know are bad, but who is behind each threat, and what crazy twist will happen next, is definitely still a juicy mystery.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Finale Review: Detroit 1-8-7

We're already nearing that time of year when shows start wrapping up for the season. For some of them, it's the end of the line entirely. "Detroit 1-8-7," easily one of the best new shows of the season and one of the most criminally underlooked, will very likely be one of those shows.

It's really a shame. This is not just another cop show. It's a portrait of a troubled city, painted through the eyes of a diverse group of homicide detectives. These characters are much more than broadly painted cops intended as vehicles for exploring the drama of murder investigations, like some other shows I won't mention. Yes, many of the cases they explore are outrageous, but they certainly feel real, and the reactions of the leads always feel authentic.

The cast is led by Michael Imperioli, who plays Detective Fitch. Fitch is not a man who makes friends easily. He is closed off in many, many ways. In the show's pilot, we see him slowly start to open up to his new partner, Washington, a new dad who starts out a rookie when it comes to homicide. By the time the show reached this weekend's season, and quite possibly series, finale, Fitch had been won over enough by his new partner to trust him with his son's safety. And the audience was rewarded by finding out what made Fitch so closed to human interaction, and by seeing him slowly start to open up to the beautiful Detective Sanchez, who he'd been awkwardly and quietly mooning over all season.

Fitch is the star, but the show wouldn't be nearly as wonderful without a great supporting cast, and this show definitely has that. The city of Detroit is one of the most important characters - in any other city, this might be just another (albeit pretty good) cop show. But the setting plays a major role here. In addition, there is the tough Lieutenant Mason (one of the only female police lieutenants I can remember ever seeing on TV), sweet and old-fashioned Longford and his funny, womanizing partner Mahajan, quiet and hard-working Sanchez and pretty boy Stone.

Sadly, this show didn't do particularly well in the way of ratings. Even for a die-hard fan, it was sometimes hard to find - more than once it was pre-empted for something "more important" (like a Charlie Sheen interview, duh). If I hadn't checked Hulu this morning I wouldn't have known they aired the finale over the weekend - the show's usual time slot was Tuesday nights. With seemingly little promotion and erratic airings, it's little wonder the show didn't get more love than it did.

The finale was a bittersweet but near-perfect end to the season, and could easily serve as a series finale as well. It painted Fitch in very unclear shades of gray, showing what great lengths he would go to in order to protect the people he loved, and just how far his colleagues would go to protect him. This episode was a masterful ending that left me with chills. It's a shame that, unless ABC pulls out a last-minute renewal shocker, it will probably be the show's last hurrah.

(Warning: This clip is kinda spoilery for the finale. But it is also awesome, which is why I chose it.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Show You Should Have Watched: "The Middleman"

"I'm as serious as a hefty bag full of rottweilers!"

One of the flaws of my TV addiction is that I tend to fall head-over-heels for doomed shows. Shows that are just a little too quirky for the general viewing public, or are mismatched with their network or time slot, or for some unknown reason just never pick up the audience they deserve. So I want to use a little of this blog space to highlight shows that are no longer on, but still deserve a view.

"The Middleman" probably fell mostly into the "too quirky for the general public" column. It wasn't particularly well-matched with ABC Family or the timeslot they stuck it in. To be far, ABC Family did a pretty great job of promoting it ahead of time, airing a series of cute, hilarious and slightly disturbing commercials that perfectly captured the show's tone. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to keep the show alive beyond a short first season.

Like many other favorites, "The Middleman" is largely great because of its characters, but this show also entertains an abundance of brilliant writing. The plot centers around Wendy Watson, a slacker artist working as a temp who stumbles into a job as Middleman-in-Training. The Middleman is a superhero, in a way, although he doesn't really have any special powers. He is, simply, an all-American, straight-laced kind of guy, who fights evil in his own wholesome way. He has the help of a snarky robot, Ida, and a host of gadgets and gizmos. And, of course, Wendy, who proves to be feisty and hero-ready, even while protesting she's a pacifist.

You could say that "The Middleman" is a scifi show. You could also say it's a comedy. Both would be true. Through the course of the series the Middleman and Wendy (lovingly referred to as "Dubbie") fight   a super-intelligent ape, a boy band who are actually fugitive alien dictators, vampire ventriloquist dummies and, of course, trout-eating zombies. The cast is solid and lovable, and the writing is rapid-fire and ridiculously clever.

Maybe "The Middleman" would have done better on a different network, at a different time, but I can't really think of any network it would have fit. Probably there just wasn't a big enough audience for a show this unique in style and tone. It's a shame, because "The Middleman" is smart, joyful, funny and a brilliant homage to the superhero and scifi genres. Personally, I plan to watch my DVDs of this show over and over again, until they wear out and I have to buy a new set. Join me. I don't think you'll regret it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Glee: Hurrah for Regionals

Maybe I'm just still in a post-episode happy fog, but I just caught up on this week's episode of "Glee," and it's been awhile since I've loved an episode of this show quite so much.

I've been a fan of "Glee" since the beginning, but the truth is, it is often wildly uneven. When it's good, it's great. When it's bad, it can be pretty damn horrid. But as long as I get a couple of catchy songs to buy on iTunes and a few laugh-out-loud zingers, I'm usually set. This week's outing offered all that and more.

This year's Regionals episode made me nervous. I wasn't sure about the original songs idea, particularly after hearing Rachel's previous attempt (although "My Headband" was pretty epic, it was not exactly what you might call a good song). But the original songs the kids came up with were actually a lot of fun. The first ones offered were, again, not exactly good music, but they were hilarious and catchy. The actual Regionals songs they offered up, while somewhat generic pop, were, again, catchy, and pretty fun. You didn't have to be a rocket scientist to see New Directions was going to Nationals this year, so their win was pretty obvious, but it was still a thrill to see them come out on top for once. And the glitter slushies were a perfect touch.

While I'm usually not the world's largest Rachel fan, I thought she was used to perfection here. We saw her diva side, but we also saw her vulnerable. Which made it that much sweeter when she ended up triumphant. But I was also surprisingly moved by Quinn, who came off like a mega-bitch for a lot of the episode but showed her own vulnerable side in revealing that she expected to end up in Lima raising a family while Rachel ran off to be a star.

Finally, I can't overlook the completely adorable romance blossoming between Kurt and Blaine. I am only a little ashamed to admit that I squeed like a 13-year-old fangirl when they kissed. Between that, the surprising vulnerability shown in the Rachel/Finn/Quinn triangle and last week's heartbreaking scene between Santana and Brittany, my faith in the writer's ability to set up actual relationships on this show is somewhat restored.

On that note, I have to say, Santana is quickly becoming my favorite character. "Trouty Mouth" was the perfect note for an original song from her to Sam, who seemed just flummoxed and a little insulted by the whole thing. After her devastating confession of love to Brittany last episode, her hardened bitchiness this week was even more compelling. She was awesome as a mean girl. She's even more awesome as a mean girl with real layers.

Of course this wasn't a perfect episode. There were moments that felt messy or rushed, or like they were trying to cram way too many threads into one 40-min slot. But I came away feeling happy. Almost giddy. And isn't that how television should make us feel?

The New Directions' original song:

Rachel and Quinn:

Santana being brilliant, per usual:

And, finally, Kurt and Blaine, making millions of fangirls and fanboys swoon:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Show You Should Be Watching: "Raising Hope"

I never planned on watching "Raising Hope." The previews certainly showed promise, but I already had a packed TV viewing schedule and felt no need for yet one more sitcom about a messed-up family. I mostly watched it because it happened to be on in a slot where nothing else I wanted to watch was on. Now I can't imagine my viewing schedule without it. 

The great thing about "Raising Hope" is that it is not only funny, often hysterically so, but it also has a lot of heart. As dim-witted and dysfunctional as the characters can be, they genuinely care about each other. They may fight, and say offensive things, and they may not be the most traditionally great caregivers for baby Hope, but they almost always have good intentions, and they are hard not to love. 

The premise behind "Raising Hope" is that the lead character is a slacker 20-something who has a one-night stand with a woman who turns out to be a serial killer. After she is executed, the baby that resulted from their fling is handed over to Jimmy, who lives with his young parents (Jimmy himself was the result of a high school pregnancy) and his great-grandmother, Maw-Maw, who is only occasionally lucid and always inappropriate. Together they take on the task of raising Hope (originally named Princess Beyonce by her murderous mother). 

Jimmy is sweet but a bit dull-witted, and he falls quickly for a checkout girl at the grocery store, Sabrina, who is clever, cute and (of course) taken. On any other show Jimmy's crush would be a constant and major focus. On "Raising Hope," while it does come up and often provides interesting storylines, Jimmy's family is really the center of the show, and Sabrina is just a bemused bystander who quickly becomes a friend and frequent visitor. 

Jimmy's parents are an especially integral and hilarious part of the show. His mother, Virginia, is tough and opinionated, and often makes up or misuses words when she tries to make a point. His father, Burt, is not very bright but makes up for it by trying really, really hard. Usually with disastrous results. 

This is a group that obviously cares about each other, but they're not the type to get sappy. The actors have great timing and play perfectly off of each other. They are charming and imperfect. But it certainly also helps that the writing is sharp, irreverent and hilarious.

A few examples:

Sabrina (on Jimmy meeting Hope's other grandparents): Lucy never introduced you during your storybook romantic courtship? Oh, right, you did it in the back of your van and then she was executed. 
Jimmy: You know it cheapens it when you say it like that. 

Virginia: Make sure you keep your distance so you don't let them reel you in like you did with that cult that worships Josh Groban.
Jimmy: I wasn't that caught up in that. I swear to Josh. I mean, God. 

Sabrina: My cousin's an ultra-gay conservative. He's a member of the Herbal Tea Party. 

Jimmy: I have her picture here. I keep it in my wallet next to the condom I always carry now. Fool me once, right? 

Jimmy: Listen, I have a question about this food and it might be a stupid question, but I I feel I should ask.
Sabrina: I'm sure it's not stupid.
Jimmy: Okay. Well, um, the book I have says I should feed her vegetables and I want to do that, but the only vegetable jars I found have pictures of either black babies or Asian babies on them, and I don't know if the pictures are random, you know, or if there's a reason Asian babies instead of white ones should eat these particular string beans?
Sabrina: That is a really good question. The colors of the babies on the jars don't matter, however it's really important that you do not feed her anything with a picture of a boy on it or else she will grow a penis. And a mustache.
Jimmy: I said it might be a stupid question.
Sabrina: Yeah you did. I just... really wasn't prepared for that. 

Add some quirky, often brilliant comedic acting to this writing and you get a show that is not only gut-bustingly funny but simultaneously charming and often even heartwarming, without ever crossing the line to sappy or cliche. Luckily I'm not the only one who recognizes this - "Raising Hope" has already been renewed for a second season. So if you're not watching already, get on that. You'll be glad you did. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A Love Letter to Opening Credits

I adore opening credits. There's something about the familiar strum of a theme song beginning, and familiar images zooming by, that gives me the warm fuzzies and puts me in just the right mood for the show I'm about to watch. I'm sure that's the intention with most credits. But there has been a trend toward skipping credits in recent years, and although it may fit best with the mood of some shows ("Lost" is one example) I always miss that minute of singing along and getting geared up for watching a favorite show.

My favorite credits are ones that really set the mood for what's coming in the show. "Dexter" by far has one of the best credit sequences, turning what should be a normal morning routine into something threatening and sinister. A perfect match for a show about a likeable serial killer. In similar fashion, "True Blood"'s opening sequence sets a mood that is sexy, dark and very Southern, a perfect intro into the often campy and graphic supernatural show.

A more recent favorite are the opening titles for one of my guilty pleasures, "Pretty Little Liars." This is a brilliant opening, a spooky tone over what initially appears to be a girl getting made up. For a show about secrets surrounding the murder of a teenage girl, this sequence is perfect.

There are so many more I could name. "Firefly," with the original song and beautiful imagery that capture it so beautifully; the catchy beat of "Justified"'s opening theme song, set over flashes of mood-setting pictures; the original opening to "Grey's Anatomy," sadly no longer used, transitioning seamlessly between the sexy and the medical.

We often overlook these opening sequences, using them as an excuse to get a drink or take a bathroom break, or even fast-forwarding through them if possible. But they are one of my favorite parts of many of my favorite shows, and I always look forward to dancing and singing along to the familiar songs. Well-made credits enhance a show and set the tone for the viewer's entire experience. I hope that more and more shows follow the trend of those who pay particular attention to their opening sequences, and offer up more brilliant, show-enhancing credits.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Farewell to "Greek"

Next Monday is the series finale of "Greek," ABC Family's charming and quirky look at fraternity and sorority life in college. When this show first started, I didn't expect to enjoy it, but I am so glad I gave it a shot. While I was never in a sorority (and never had any desire to be in one), "Greek" has done a fantastic job of capturing the feelings and experiences that go along with being in college, whether that experience included Greek life or not.

"Greek" has not always been perfect. There have been episodes, even stretches of episodes, where the plots were silly or cheesy. But when it came down it it, the characters were pretty typical of true college experience, forming friendships in unexpected places, learning to accept their own oddities, finding love and lust (but never easily), going to epic parties and occasionally even to class. The final season has especially rung true to me, as the older group of characters try to move in a post-college world - finding and losing jobs, making their way through post-graduate schools and lying to their former friends about how successful they are.

While the major characters have evolved significantly over the course of the show, they are really only a minor part of "Greek"'s appeal. From snark queen Rebecca Logan to uptight Katherine, and from judgmental Dale to ditzy Beaver, the show has developed even it's minor characters into people we love to root for and love to hate. I know I'll miss them.

A moment of cheesiness, courtesy of the ZBZ girls, making a comeback after another sorority steals their dance routine:

And something a little more sentimental:

Finally, some funny scenes from a recent episode focusing on fan favorite Beaver:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Thursday Night Comedy: Community and Parks and Rec

There are so many shows on Thursday nights, it's always a challenge deciding what to watch and what to save for later. Thanks to the continuing brilliance of "Community" and "Parks and Recreation," lately my primetime viewing has been going to NBC's comedy lineup.

While I also usually enjoy "The Office" and "30 Rock," it's these two younger shows that really have my attention. With a few rare exceptions they are consistently brilliant, delivering sharp and often unexpected humor and offering some fantastic comedic performances. Last night's episodes were both excellent additions to already stellar seasons.

On "Community," the Dean decides that Greendale CC needs a student body president, since Joe Biden is coming to visit and is expecting to meet the head of the non-existent student government. Really, this is just an excuse for Annie to jump into perky overachiever mode and for Jeff to show off his lawyer skills as he tries to take her down. While funny moments abounded in the election, as usual it was Troy and Abed who really made the episode for me. Abed's side plot involved a Secret Service agent who kept trying to find ways to make him a terrorist threat so she could spend more time with him, and their coverage of the election was hilarious and spot-on:

While Abed's plot was cute and took up much more time, Donald Glover's line delivery here as Troy was one of my favorite moments of the night. Glover is always hilarious, but more and more I've been noticing how perfect his comedic timing and delivery of seemingly simple lines really make him a standout.

Over on "Parks and Rec," Leslie and Ron headed to Indianapolis for a ceremony, and Tom threw a party at the Snakehole Lounge to try to shop his horrible perfume. The best parts of this episode for me were the focus on Leslie and Ann's friendship, which is always cute and funny, Ron's freakout over his inability to get a steak at his favorite restaurant, and Adam Scott as Ben, who is working himself very nicely into the cast and proving to be an excellent addition. As funny as Rob Lowe's character is, Adam Scott has really brought his much less flashy character to the forefront beautifully, and I can't wait for the inevitable moment when he and Leslie hook up. It was also nice to finally see April and Andy together, as they adorably tried to figure out who could get the most free stuff since they both have no money.

There were a ton of hilarious moments in this episode, but I especially appreciated Leslie trying to cheer Ann up by telling her about all the times she's been dumped, and Ron trying to find himself a decent steak:

And yes, I ignored "Perfect Couples" and "Outsourced" here. Because I don't watch them. What I've seen of both has not impressed me enough to give them much of a shot. I'd rather spend that 30 minutes watching old episodes of "Parks and Rec" on Hulu.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Case for "The Vampire Diaries"

"Where is Mason?"
"He's right beside me. Although, his heart's across the room."

When I first heard about "The Vampire Diaries," I was resistant. I'd read some L.J. Smith books as a teenager, and loved them in that way that only dramatic teenagers can, but I hadn't read the series this show is based on, and it sounded like Twilight TV. I decided to check out the pilot anyway, and while there were a few moments of surprising fun, I still wasn't convinced. 

Months later, I started hearing about how great this little CW vampire show was, and I decided to give it another shot. Episode 2 was a little better than the pilot, and the next few episodes were a little better than that. As I continued through season 1, I felt myself getting more and more involved, and before I knew it I was totally drawn in. By the time season 2 rolled around I was an addict. 

When I tried to explain to my brother and sister over the holidays exactly why this show is worth watching, I was told I sounded like a 15-year-old girl. Maybe I do. But the fact remains, this is one of the most overlooked shows on television right now. Far from being Twilight TV, the characters are compelling, the stories move at breakneck speed, and week after week I find myself getting excited as I get ready to watch a new episode.

So why is this show so good? There are a few reasons that are especially key. 

1. It's way more "Buffy" than "Twilight." 

Some of the vampires are good. Kinda. A lot of them are killing machines who value human life much less than their own pleasure. The Angel of the show, Stefan, is mostly a good guy, but when he is bad, he is very, very bad. And it is awesome. His brother Damon (the Spike of the show, for sure) has a penchant for ripping peoples' hearts directly out of their chests, literally. They both love Elena, who is no Buffy by any means, but over the course of the show has shown that she is a lot stronger and more compelling than any Bella. And while Stefan mostly drinks animal blood, he would definitely never sparkle in the sun. 

2. The characters are great.

It took a little time for me to warm up to this cast. Ian Somerhalder was pretty immediately a standout as Damon, the snarky and often violent "bad" brother, but the rest of the cast seemed to be pretty standard CW fare, pretty people with wooden personalities. Now it's obvious that couldn't be further from the truth. Elena is an imperfect heroine and occasionally annoyingly good, but she has had some excellent badass moments, and her lookalike ancestor, evil vampire Katherine, shows off a pretty impressive acting range from actress Nina Dobrev. Despite looking exactly the same, Elena and Katherine are very different, and Nina does an excellent job of showing those differences, even when Katherine is trying to impersonate Elena. And Stefan, far from being just a pansy romantic lead, has also shown that he can be a total badass when Elena or anyone he loves is threatened. 

In addition to the leads, the supporting cast contains Caroline, who has gone from annoying dumb blonde friend to a fan favorite over the course of these two seasons; Bonnie, whose witchy powers have grown and blossomed until she is a verified BAMF; and Tyler, who also started out as a caricature of a high school bully but has become so much more (especially when it's a full moon). And that's just the tip of the iceberg. 

3. The stories move like lightning. 

There is never a dull moment on this show. In one episode, you might have someone's fingers getting chopped off, one major character snapping another major character's neck, someone getting turned into a vampire, unexpected bad guys showing up, important new characters being introduced, other important characters leaving and, of course, some very steamy makeouts. (Note: This is an actual episode.) One recent episode featured no less than half a dozen hearts getting ripped out. Several plotlines will be resolved and several more introduced over the course of 40 minutes. This is not really a show you can just jump into, but even if you've been paying attention, the pace can sometimes be dizzying. No dragging out of stories here. It's refreshing. 

4. It's hot. 


I could say more (a lot more, probably), but if you're not convinced by all that, this is probably not the show for you. I won't go so far as to say this is the next "Buffy," which I still think is one of the most brilliant and influential shows ever, but at moments, it is damn good. For anyone who likes horror, gore, romance, thrills, drama or just plain enjoyable entertainment, this is a great choice. Don't let the "teen vampire show on the CW" stigma fool you. "Vampire Diaries" rocks.  


Spazzing on "Parenthood"

"Parenthood" is one of those great shows that I always forget when I'm listing my favorites. It has a kind of quiet dependability, showcasing the many extremely talented actors who populate it and framing relatable issues in raw, sometimes uncomfortable emotion.

Last night's episode, the brilliantly named "Do Not Sleep With Your Autistic Nephew's Therapist," was an absolute roller coaster of emotional upheaval and real-to-life drama. Mae Whitman was a real highlight in her small time on screen, but Lauren Graham was equally tear-inducing as her mother, and while there may not have been quite as much crying in other parts of the family, there was drama (and a few touches of comedy) to spare.

This article from NY Mag sums up some of the most emotional moments well (plus, clips!):

The Seven Best Spazzes on Last Night’s Parenthood

If you haven't been watching "Parenthood," now is a good time to start. It's not perfect by any means, but there are enough heartrending moments to satisfy any emotional junkie, and touches of comedy that feel natural and true to real life. There is also a brilliant cast of actors quietly creating lovable, hateable and ultimately relatable characters. If you're a fan of shows like "Friday Night Lights" (also a Jason Katims project), this is exactly the show for you.


My name is Sarah, and I'm a TV addict.

Since I am constantly boring my friends, family and Facebook acquaintances with that TV addiction, I figured why not put it in writing? When I actually remember this blog exists and update it, it will be a spot for me to spill out my feelings about recent TV episodes, post funny or brilliant clips, and share my nerdy excitement over the latest Doctor Who spoilers.

Without further ado, I give you a clip from last week's episode of one of my current absolute favorites, "Community," to break this blog in: