Let's get this week's highlight reel started on a positive note.
TEARJERKER OF THE WEEK: Kurt Hummel plaintively singing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on Glee as we relive home movies in his mind, showing bonding moments with his (now comatose) dad Burt, including a tea party where the little boy playing Young Kurt is an uncanny dead ringer. A catch in his voice, a lump in our collective throats, a Kleenex run at the commercial break. Chris Colfer's sensitive yet tough performance as a boy sticking by his non-beliefs during a trying time is the highlight of "Grilled Cheesus," a tricky, affecting exploration of faith, religion, friendship and family. Amber James' soaring renditions of "I Look to You" and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (the latter backed up by a church choir) also top this week's Glee Hit Parade, and or course Rachel turns to Yentl for inspiration. Even a friend's dad's coma can't rain on her Streisand parade. We also learn Sue has turned from God because of the cruelties visited upon her beloved sister, and Emma shows uncommon wisdom as she opens Finn's eyes to the folly of praying to a sandwich. The best Glee episode in quite a while, reminding us why we stick with this show even when the notes sometimes seem sour.
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God got quite a workout this week on some of TV's best comedies, including Modern Family, when an Act of God — an earthquake — rattles the family, but doesn't deter Jay from ducking church for his golf game, taking little Manny along for a spirited discussion of heaven and hell. "I'm skipping church based on a hunch?" Manny howls, hyperventilating. "You're playing pretty fast and loose with my soul." Meanwhile, on Community, the study group faces mortality as Pierce's mother dies and Chevy Chase spends the episode carting around a lava lamp he believes contains her vaporized spirit. Jeff, a health freak unnerved by his high-cholesterol test results, wants to disabuse Pierce of his delusions, but thinks otherwise upon listening to the mom's self-eulogy on a pre-recorded CD. All very sweet, with just the right touch of poignant silliness. See our Community cheer here.
SHOCKER OF THE WEEK: Nelson Van Alden, the twisted G-man who enforces his brand of rough justice on HBO's Boardwalk Empire, has us gasping in disbelief as he absconds with the dying witness from the forest massacre and plops him in a dentist's chair. Talk about adding insult to injury. Injecting cocaine into the stooge to wake him up, this psycho Eliot Ness then puts his entire fist in the guy's stomach wound to get him to talk. It's almost as gruesome as Lucky Luciano's earlier visit to the doctor, where a lethal-looking zinc sulfer catheter is inserted into his Little Lucky to treat the goombah's gonorrhea. Ouch and ouch.
PARODY OF THE WEEK: Jon Stewart reflecting on CNN's firing of anchor-boob Rick Sanchez, who had called the Daily Show star a "bigot" among other ill-advised rantings in a radio interview, leads to this inspired bit where he suggests Sanchez would be the natural replacement for The Office's Michael Scott. "Danny McBride ain't gonna do it," Stewart rightly quips. (Thank heavens for small favors.) Sanchez's blunder goes down in the annals of classic "what were they thinking" moments. As Stewart notes, Sanchez and his CNN soapbox were "extremely poke-able," and the jokes at his expense never had anything to do with ethnicity but all to do with competency.
ATTEN-SHUN MUST BE PAID: To CBS' The Good Wife, which has been absolutely terrific so far this sophomore season. This week's episode goes a little JAG as Alicia finds herself taking over in a military court from Will, who manipulates his way into the "brig" to circumvent a rigid judge. The reason they're re-trying a client they earlier acquitted comes down to the usual suspect: the bitter Cary, still seeking payback for Alicia getting the job he wanted. Visiting Will behind bars, Alicia jokes, "I thought I was done visiting men in prison." Watching the lawyers play by new rules is fascinating, but as usual, there's lots happening on all fronts. Peter and Eli are embarrassed by a viral video from Peter's scandal-happy ex-mistress, who releases a music video full of double entendres about things like handing out stiff sentences. "The stiffer, the better," that sort of thing. Lou Dobbs, playing himself (rather convincingly), shows up as a client from the Derek Bond side of the merger, and while he initially fires the firm when he senses a conflict with the liberal Diane, he decides to hire her instead after meeting her. Something about how she won't compromise her principles. I don't think the subject of undocumented workers came up. And in the final teaser, Kalinda tells Diane she's found some pre-merger dirt on Will and Derek. This show is the perfect package of procedural, personal and puzzle.
KEEPING HOPE ALIVE: After the body blow from the early cancellation of Fox's Lone Star, which I had pegged as (and still believe to be) the best new drama of the fall season, what great news for the network's Raising Hope (my fave new fall comedy) to be the first new series picked up for a full-season order. The news comes on the heels of another strong episode, dealing with Grandma Virginia's hoarding ways and Jimmy's desire to baby-proof the firetrap house that nearly did him in back in his own infant days. Maw Maw's Jenga prowess while dancing to "Istanbul (Not Constantinople)" is a demented highlight, but my biggest smiles are reserved for Jimmy's tentative flirtation with Sabrina at the check-out counter. His long, stricken pause when she asks him to come up with another word for "ostentatious" is as funny as his fumbling answers: "Delicious? Tired? Obnoxious? Lampshade?" Only a matter of time before he brings The Saurus ("the dictionary's cousin") along for help. What's another word for Raising Hope? Delightful.
TRIMMING THE FAT: And now to reflect on less happy news: ABC Family's cancellation of summer sleeper Huge after its first season. Turns out this beguiling underdog, about overweight kids at a summer weight-loss camp, didn't fit into ABC Family's mold of plastic-wrapped fluff. A pity.
MILKING THE FAT: I really want to like CBS' Mike & Molly, and I do like Mike and Molly themselves — who finally kiss, though not until they squabble over who's the best bowler — but ouch with the crude fat jokes ("You were eating corn on the cob before you had teeth") and the beyond-cartoonish supporting cast. This week we go home with Officer Carl (Reno Wilson) to meet his sassy (naturally) granny, who says things like "Hush up, black Gilligan!" and, when describing the man waiting for her in the upstairs bedroom, "That man is honest as the day is long, and he had not been honest, I never would have found out he was long!" On second thought, more fat jokes, please.
MELTDOWN OF THE WEEK: Seth, who once memorably wept "The red hots are for my mommy" during a Quickfire challenge, finally lost his marzipan marbles for real on Top Chef: Just Desserts. Seth starts the episode by noting, "You have to be crazy to be a great artist, so I mean I'm a little bit crazy, I guess." You GUESS? A LITTLE BIT? Dude, you're the Sweeney Odd of pastry psychos. In this week's Quickfire, he assumes he'll get to make his own ice cream for a sundae challenge. When told he has to use Breyer's instead, he goes the sugar-frosted version of postal. "Weak sauce," he brays several times. Then backstage, he throws a tempest in a teapot over lost paper cups or some such trigger. He walks out of the stew room and collapses in a panic attack, prompting a visit from an ambulance and an instant toodles from the producers. Everyone is relieved that (in Yigit's words) "the enormous pink elephant in the room is gone." But not so relieved to have the gloomy Heather C., aka Eeyore, brought back to spread her aura of woe-is-me-and-my-meringue.
But the crazy isn't over. While it's clear to all that Heather C. should have been eliminated after the main challenge, Malika falls on her icing spreader instead. "I don't enjoy cooking in a competitive environment," Malika tells the judges, actually interrupting a compliment. Thanks for telling us NOW. What a buzzkill — as is the other Heather's sulk over Morgan's win, after she did double duty making the showpiece that she volunteered to make. This is the first episode of this series during which I was hungry — for it to be over.
READY SET ACTION! Finally, an action sequence in Rubicon, as Will (who has finally connected the dots regarding the Fishers Island brotherhood) delivers an exposition dump to Katherine about the Big Conspiracy, and when he gets home, finds hit man Bloom (acting on Truxton Spangler's orders) waiting to set him up to make his death look like a heroin OD. Will is stabbed with a syringe and throttled with a towel, and it's all very intense, but Will manages to reach for the gun and shoot his attacker in the head. Wisely, and before the drugs kick in, he calls Kale, who arrives with a nameless "cleaner" in tow — presumably because Stephen King was otherwise engaged with the Sons of Anarchy. We hear a saw rev up, but thankfully skip ahead to the spic & span aftermath. "I didn't do anything wrong," Will druggily informs Kale, who responds: "That's absolutely irrelevant." Meanwhile, Spangler is grooming Grant (with Scotch) to take over Will's job, and how will he react to the botched assassination? And it's kaput for Will and foxy neighbor Andy, who comes to the door with a make-up tomato, unaware of all the trauma, and is told, "Go home and don't come back." The game has gotten very deadly, and with only two episodes left, there's no time for hanky panky. With only two episodes left this season, hoping the show maintains this momentum to the end.
JERSEY-OLOGY: For those who've noticed that the title character of Bones and The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon might have been cut from the same eccentric-genius cloth, this week's episodes give us some more evidence. First, Bones in one of its more amusing outings goes to the Jersey Shore to confront a grisly "situation." Namely, the murder of a local stud who calls himself "Ritchie the V" because of his body shape. Yep, it's a Jersey Shore parody, where we learn Temperance has been conducting an anthropological study of "the Guido tribe" courtesy of "a compelling documentary" she has been watching on TV. (Prompting this necessary caveat from Angela: "Just because it's called reality television doesn't mean that it's a documentary." Word.) Meanwhile, over on Big Bang, as Sheldon talks about how he "suffered in silence" (as if!) during the months of the Leonard-Penny relationship, he notes as one of her offenses subjecting him to "night after night of an uninformative TV documentary about the Jersey Shore."
Back to Bones, which has great fun as Temperance uses the case and subsequent club-hopping as "field research," even making a tribal monkey face at one of the suspects, while Booth (who warns against ethnic profiling) heaps scorn on all of these "dumbass kids." As a final salvo, this week's killer shrugs off his mistaken-identity misdeed: "What can I say? They all look alike." I do enjoy the occasional wish-fulfillment episode now and then. (Meanwhile, Mike "the Situation" lives on at Dancing With the Stars and even got the encore spot on the results show, giving me another chance to fast-forward through his freaky and Frankenstein-ian futuristic fox-trot.)
FEUD OF THE WEEK: Not since the glory days of Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney, Jr. have we seen so many variations of the classic werewolf-vs-vampire battle. This week it played out on The Vampire Diaries, as usual, and in a change of pace, on CSI, indulging one of its detours into occult fetishism. First: Vampire, because what show burns through story with as much devilish speed? "Be warned, I'm in a mood," newly minted vamp Caroline tells her sheriff mom Liz, and she's not kidding. Liz is at the center of much of the action, as werewolf Mason outs the Salvatore brothers as vampires to the disbelieving cop. Liz changes her mind when she sees Damon choke on vervain-spiked lemonade, and has the brothers shot and taken prisoner in the Lockwood slave quarters. (How she gets deputies involved in this, and what she does with them after the ensuing carnage, is beyond me.) When Elena and a reluctant Caroline come to the rescue, Caroline reveals the bloody truth to her distraught mom. "Kill me now," she tells Damon, but he pulls back this time. And Mason hasn't finished with the surprises. Back above ground, he finally gets Tyler to turn over the moonstone, at which point we learn the evil Katherine was behind the incident that turned Mason into a killer, triggering his werewolf mojo, and that she's the one jonesing for the moonstone. Why? We'll have to wait through next week's repeat to find out. Until then, we can savor the intimacy of Elena letting Stefan drink from her cut hand, as he promises to control his intake of human juice.
Meanwhile, CSI has a particularly gory outing as a decapitated body is discovered propped on a fence, its head stuck on a pike, in a ritualistic slaughter that leads back to a "Covens and Clans" convention of wannabe vamps and werewolves. (Red and yellow contact lenses are required, depending on the obsession.) I'm still cringing from Doc Robbins wrestling the head off its stick: "It's like getting meat off a shish kabob." Ewww. Andy Dick appears as a vendor of slayer tools, but that's not as scary as it sounds. The case boils down to a thwarted vampire wedding that's disrupted when the groom is outed as a former member of the werewolf club. Can't we all get along? Guess not.
THE NBC PUNCHING BAG: What would 30 Rock do without NBC to beat up on? As Kenneth desperately tries to reapply for a page position, he overhears another candidate working on a song with lyrics including, "Outsourced is the new Friends." That's just mean. But funny. (Funnier, actually, than any of Kenneth's over-the-top antics this week.) And when Jack is challenged by grandstanding congresswoman Queen Latifah about NBC's lack of diversity, we get an inspired running gag about NBC's clumsy cancellation of the original Law & Order. "Why did we cancel that? That doesn't make any sense," Jack blurts. And later, Tracy has a Soylent Green moment of despair: "WHY? It was a tentpole. A TENT POLE!!" And in a nod to a former writer on the show who has gone on to more visible things, Jack admits, "I was too busy trying to remember the name of the black kid on Community." To which Liz prompts: "Denal Glover." Actually, that would be Donald. And hope you stayed to the end to see a cameo from the great John Amos, playing second fiddle to a dog named Stanley. Only on "more colorful" NBC.
MAD WOMAN: Go, Peggy Olson. As the rest of the Mad Men crew deals with the bad news about the Lucky Strike defection — and when the bleep hits the fan, it is devastating (especially to Roger, who's told by Joan, "I'm not a solution to your problems. I'm another problem") — Peggy is getting busy with Abe, including a little office role-playing when he shows up pretending to be a messenger with a Special Delivery. Glad somebody's having a good day. Although, as Peggy acknowledges, "Every time something good happens, something bad happens. I knew I'd pay for it." But even this setback hasn't robbed her of her moxie. When Stan makes a move on her, saying, "C'mon baby, it's the end of the world," she cuts him down to size. "Why do you keep making me reject you?" Another terrific episode, and I can't believe there are only two episodes left this season.
TWISTS AND TURNS: How about that reveal at the end of The Event in which all of the presumed-dead passengers of Flight 514 begin to stir? I'd never argue this show is anywhere near as deep and affecting as Lost, but in its unpretentious way, it's a fun ride, and I'll be watching what comes next. ... FX's underappreciated Terriers wraps up (for now) its first story arc in a most entertaining way. Hank and Britt plant Landes' corpse in his (stolen) car to make it look like he died in an accident, planting the damning soil report on him as well, only to learn the cancerous results were a fake. There's a scam beyond the scam they thought they'd put to rest, and under the mantra of "This is too big for us," Hank declares the case closed. Something tells me that won't last long.
GREAT GUESTS: In the strongest House episode of the season to date, because it balances all of the "Huddy" stuff with a solid hospital story, Amy Irving is terrific as an imperious and difficult patient, a celebrated children's-book author who collapsed mid-suicide attempt. The case is compelling, and she gets off a great line when House tries to coax her to write more volumes of Jack Cannon: Boy Detective. "How many answers do you get in real life?" she teases. Was she on Lost's writing staff, too? ... Nathan Lane scores in his Modern Family scenes as dandified drama queen Pepper Saltzman, whose overly overly fussy theme brunches ("Oscar Wilde-and-Crazy," "Studio 54th-of-July," "Seder-Day Night Fever") have driven Cam and Mitchell to distraction. Says Mitchell: "Pepper has done the impossible. He has made two gay men hate brunch." Also loved Mitchell declaring Cam a "mob wife" for making him do all the dirty work.
UNCATCHIEST CATCH PHRASE: "Where's the poop, Robin?" From How I Met Your Mother, as Lily's BS detector goes off every time Robin talks about getting over Don. This line wore itself out around the second time, and it never got any funnier.
A BONE TO PICK: With Fox's Running Wilde for the egregious product placement of a KFC lunch banquet at the Wilde Oil workplace, followed by an actual KFC commercial. Still, seeing Steve fit in at work (though hardly working) — and even better, Emmy succumbing to the lure of corporate shenanigans — made for the show's most amusing episode yet.
SIGNS OF THE TV APOCALYPSE: Saturday Night Live strands the brilliant Bryan Cranston with such lousy material you'd never know how funny he can be. Shameful. ... CNN's DOA Parker Spitzer talk-show snooze. Bargain-basement blather whose hosts have zero charisma and chemistry, rehashing things you can hear dissected more provocatively almost anywhere else. ... Meanwhile, Fox News falls for a hoax, reporting that the cash-strapped Los Angeles police department is investing billions in jet packs. ... Logo apes Bravo's Housewives bottom-feeders with the all-male The A-List: New York, where bitchy name-dropping narcissism is magnified by a desperate desire to play to the camera. Soul-shriveling.
THEY SAID IT: "How far is Tolerance?"—Modern Family's Haley when her sister Alex asks her to drive her to the Museum of guess-what. ... "I did a book report on heart attacks if you want to give it to the doctor. It got knocked down an entire letter grade because it was written in crayon."—Brittany bringing the laughs to a grieving Kurt on Glee. ... "Kind of a Catch-32"—A Jimmy malapropism on Raising Hope, as he explains why it won't help to put makeup over the "DORK" written in magic marker on his face. ... "I'm not G.I. Jane. I'm Attachment Barbie!"—Dr. Teddy Altman on Grey's Anatomy, mourning the departure of grief counselor/current bedmate James Tupper. ... "I can't handle a love triangle. I'm not a Kardashian!"—Sue Heck on The Middle, delusionally fretting about two-timing her brother's jock friend and her effeminate ex, neither of whom are interested in her. ... "More like Yoko and Yoko."—How The Big Bang Theory's gang of geeks beholds the John-and-Yoko relationship of "Shamy," aka Sheldon and the even more arrogant Amy (the very funny Mayim Bialik). ... "There's no such thing as an easy 10 grand. They took that away when they took away Hollywood Squares!"—Paul Shaffer as himself on Running Wilde. ... "Can you ask Congress where they put the USA Network? I've been trying to find Monk for like three months."—From 30 Rock. Oh, Liz Lemon (or "Winona Ryder in a hundred years"), why are you asking Jack Donaghy (on his way to a Kabletown hearing) when you could always "Ask Matt" such things?
And that's a wrap. Next week: a live 30 Rock among other distractions. What did you think about this week's TV?
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