Critic's Notebook: Giving Thanks (and No Thanks)
Joshua Jackson, Anna Torv, John Noble
Before we settle in for a nice long Thanksgiving weekend, some thoughts on a few of the TV shows and headlines that caught my eye over the last few days—some of which makes me thankful, some not so much.
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THANKS to Fox for suddenly making the midseason interesting with its bold scheduling moves in the new year — though NO THANKS to some of the side-effects (especially involving Fringe) and NO THANKS to breaking the news late on a Friday night, as if we somehow wouldn't take notice. Where American Idol is concerned, we notice everything. Especially when it involves scheduling the show on new nights invading Thursdays, meaning the juggling of The Big Bang Theory, Community and The Vampire Diaries in the 8/7c hour just got that much more complicated. (Will there be any scheduling fallout on the rival nets in the wake of this news? We'll see.) Idol giving Bones a juicy Thursday lead-in is nice, but jettisoning Fringe to Fridays (starting in late January) just as it's riding a creative wave of crazygood is a serious buzz kill worthy of the Walter-nate.
THANKS to The Walking Dead for reminding us how seriously affecting a horror-show can be when executed with smarts and ruthless nerve. This week's episode subverted our expectations when the Away Team encountered a group of what looked like gang-bangers taking Glenn hostage in exchange for Rick's treasured stash of guns. After a tense standoff, we learn these guys are actually do-gooders, and the turf they're savagely protecting is a retirement home-cum-clinic whose golden-agers would have been left as zombie chow if not for these noble young souls. During the negotiations, our heroes' wheels get stolen (presumably by the one-handed Merle) and as they approach home on foot in the dark, the camp is set upon out of nowhere by a gang of "Walkers" in a truly horrific attack. Poor Amy is taken down before Andrea can give her little sis her birthday necklace. Tragic. But seriously, Andrea, get away from that body. Don't you know how the zombie thing works?? The gun-toting heroes arrive in time to put down the threat, but not before significant (if otherwise anonymous) casualties. And crazy Jim now understands why he was dream-driven to dig all those holes. Creepy. Just how we like it.
NO THANKS to the unwelcome news that a Buffy the Vampire Slayer motion-picture "reboot" got a green light—without the participation of the franchise's visionary creator, Joss Whedon. In an e-mail to E!, the witty Whedon expressed his "strong, mixed emotions" to seeing his pet creation, which he has kept alive in a series of inspired graphic novels, taken over by others. "I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER. I don't love the idea of my creation in other hands, but I'm also well aware that many more hands than mine went into making that show what it was. And there is no legal grounds for doing anything other than sighing audibly." All together now: Sigh. And I have only one word regarding any future news of this ill-considered project: Hush.
THANKS to Dancing With the Stars voters (or whoever) for restoring the balance of nature and rewarding the appropriate champion: the elegant Jennifer Grey, with Place and Show going in proper order to Kyle Massey and Bristol Palin, who endeared herself to us yet again by chirping how a win would be like "a big middle finger to all the people out there who hate my mom and hate me." Way to rise above. That said, Bristol's final "instant cha cha" was questionably her best dance of the competition, and to her credit, she stayed with the program and never quit. But NO THANKS to the lamentable Skating With the Stars, a tepid knockoff with laughable casting, somnolent performances and cornball judges (excepting the fabulous Johnny Weir, who tries to will some life into the program). And for the love of Tonya Harding, where did they find that unctuous, smarmy British boob of a host?
THANKS to Glee for sending us into the holiday in a very good mood, thanks to a touching (if typically over-the-top) wedding between Kurt's dad and Finn's mom that includes singing and dancing in the aisles and a reception where the bullied but unbowed Kurt is honored nearly as much as the newlyweds. So sweet you can almost forgive the silliness of Sue marrying Sue, because it prompts Carol Burnett (as her distant Nazi-hunter mom Doris) to duet with Jane Lynch on a memorable musical-comedy rendition of Ohio that would have felt right at home on Burnett's classic variety show.
THANKS to The Simpsons for delivering one of its funniest and most merciless satires in quite a while, starting with the deluxe Avatar pre-credits sequence (including a flying couch) and sustaining through a wicked opening sequence that mocks both Fox News—"Not racist, but #1 with racists"—and NBC: "You are here to listen, not to speak," commands the leader of a "secret conclave of media empires" to a Jeff Zucker-ish suit. (Meanwhile, Logo and Bravo make out passionately.) When an ailing Mr. Burns regresses to an infantile state, Smithers' new boss is Dick "architect of America's downfall" Cheney, who listens to Lee Greenwood on his "my-pod" while ordering the wings pulled off bees. A revived Mr. Burns is not saved by kindness but by the realization that "loathing is my life blood and sage my royal jelly." His secret to eternal life: hate. Whereas love is the only possible response to an episode so chock-full of barbed goodies. THANKS as well to the Futurama "holiday spectacular" that aired later on Sunday. It was every bit as twisted, with doomsday scenarios involving the over-greening of the planet and Bender's apocalyptic celebration of Robotica.
NO THANKS to Saturday Night Live for not spoofing the spectacle of this year's Oprah's Ultimate Favorite Things, which nearly busted our eardrums Friday and Monday afternoon with all the screeching and caterwauling as Queen Santa Oprah treated her (no doubt deserving) audiences to a farewell-tour orgy of consumerist excess, from the mundane (chicken pot pies) to the marvelous (iPads on wings, a Caribbean cruise, and new VW Beetles-for-all that are so top-secret they can't be shone). But THANKS to SNL for providing game guest host Anne Hathaway with some decent material for a change. She was spot-on as Katie Holmes (alongside Vanessa Bayer's "really cool" Mylie Cyrus), as Judy Garland in a throwaway Wizard of Oz sketch, as a nicely flustered Kate Middleton meeting the royal grandparents, who behind closed doors morph into Cockney commoners, and as a crazed shopper in a manically inspired "Black Friday" ad parody. By SNL's shaky recent standards, this was a hit.
Finally, some more quick THANKS: To Chuck's Yvonne Strahovski for bringing some seriously badass "giant blonde she-male" kickboxing action mojo to her mission of rescuing Chuck, and then turning on the passionate heat to bring him out of a mind-wiping trance with a Sleeping Beauty kiss. ... To Jorge Garcia for bringing that Hurley charm to How I Met Your Mother as college pal "Blitz," blurting out those Lost digits for old time's sake and declaring, "I was on that island for what seemed eternity." ... To The Good Wife for giving us a twist to savor for the next few weeks—it's pre-empted next Tuesday—as Alicia overhears Will on a wiretap talking about the phone-mail message he left for Alicia that Eli erased in the season opener. Breathless with emotional turmoil, she's about to confront Will about the whole mess when Will's new fling (aka Ava from Grey's Anatomy) pops up. Network TV's best drama just keeps getting better.
Signing off for the holiday with hopes you won't forget to watch ABC's wonderful Wednesday night comedies (3 of the 4, anyway). And consider recording PBS' Great Performances broadcast of the Stephen Sondheim birthday concert, a show-stopping keeper for aficionados. And on that harmonious note, happy Thanksgiving to all!
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