From the you-can't-make-these-things-up department: So there's a guy in Wisconsin who shot his TV after getting all riled up watching Bristol "The Dancing Dead" Palin on Dancing With the Stars this week. And that's before she made the finals, booting a visibly distraught (and much more talented) Brandy. Before you start going "I know how he feels," a moment of silence for the poor TV. Why do the innocent always have to suffer?
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And why, for that matter, do Dancing fans continue to have to suffer the presence of this underperforming curiosity, who the judges had the audacity to give scores of "9" to this week — because to do otherwise at this point in the competition is to admit that someone with two left (or in this case, right?) feet has outstayed her welcome. I don't know enough about the voting patterns to suggest a "Tea Party conspiracy" or engage in other paranoid musings, but the voting can't be a reflection of what's happening on screen. I'm wondering if Bristol's base is even watching the show.
To be fair, her dancing has become proficient if not exactly inspired, and still a bit soulless. The "Pistol's" true low point this week came during an interview attempting to explain her longevity on the show: "No offense to anyone else, but I'm not fake." Excuse me, but how do you not take offense to such a remark? The holier than thou I'm-not-Hollywood argument doesn't really fly when you're getting all dolled up to dance before a national audience on a show that's taped in Hollywood. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Even if you are "untouched and raw and vulnerable." And untalented. And not a "star" by any definition other than tabloid notoriety and bloodline. (By the way, the abstinence PSA with The Situation? Creepy and unconvincing.)
But there's no denying that the Palin factor is a palpable force on TV, the medium that made Bristol's mother a lightning-rod superstar and which has now catapulted her family into reality-TV fame with Sarah Palin's Alaska. This TLC snoozer, more an infomercial for the Palin brand than for the state (though its landscapes are pretty, what we see of them), chalked up record high ratings for a TLC launch last Sunday. The show is innocuous, but it's hard not to laugh at the hypocrisy as Sarah gripes about an "invasion of our privacy" regarding the writer who's set up shop next door while she's letting reality-TV cameras roam all over her house. Yeah, she's a media victim all right.
FEH: In another chapter of Palin-esque TV brouhaha, fans of Palin impersonator Tina Fey were mighty upset to hear that some of the more biting moments of Fey's Mark Twain Prize acceptance speech were cut from the PBS broadcast (in an ironic coincidence, airing opposite the Alaska premiere). The producers of the broadcast insist these cutting remarks were cut for time and not for content. If time was a factor, they could have excised some of the more extraneous 30 Rock clips. Even PBS' ombudsman got in on the debate, noting. "You would have to have a tin ear ... not to recognize that Fey's extraordinary ability to mimic Palin on Saturday Night Live ... surely was an important factor in this award, and to take out those 30 seconds or so seemed to diminish Fey's uniqueness, take the viewing audience for granted and deprive it of one of the most edgy segments, and certainly at least appear to be influenced by political considerations." Well said.
FAMILY MATTERS: Moving on to happier topics, is there anything more satisfying than an episode of a comedy series firing on all cylinders? Modern Family mined more comic gold than usual from Manny's birthday, where he reflects on how he "let my childhood slip away" while the grown-ups are all acting like children. Jay taunts Gloria for misplacing her keys, and she gets back at him by wielding a mean BB gun; when she shoots Manny's floating island, I howled. Claire and Phil race to the birthday party in separate cars, each having emotional epiphanies along the way; when Phil and his girls make each other cry over "the day when you two finally outgrew me," I howled (I played back that crying scene numerous times, cracking up each time). Cam and Mitchell squabble over Mitch's lack of spontaneity while last-minute shopping — and intruding on the affairs of the "most adult adulterers" ever, including St. Elsewhere's Norman Lloyd — but Mitch has a surprise: He's been rehearsing with a flash mob, and the spectacular dance routine is "my love letter to Cam." Which naturally backfires into a Cam tantrum: "You cheated on me with choreography, and that is the worst kind! You danced without me, Mitchell!" All's well that ends well, though, as Manny realizes, "I've got plenty of time left to be a kid." As do we all, young man. And special honors to tone-deaf Phil's "family camp" T-shirt, reading: "If you ain't white, you ain't right!" Why that would upset his African-American cabbie is beyond him.
There was more great father-daughter bonding this week on The Middle as papa bear Mike (the terrific Neil Flynn) tries to butt in on some "junior-high girl drama" to protect Poor Sue (Eden Sher, hilarious as usual) from a mean and phony "best friend" who's not inviting her to a sleepover. "So this is how girls are? Brutal. I tell you, I wouldn't last 10 seconds as a girl," Mike confides in Frankie, who retorts, "Now you see why we eat so much chocolate?" Mike tries to intervene with the mean girl's cowed dad, who explains, "It's not really my job to force my daughter to do something she doesn't want to do." The fact that Mike tries (fruitlessly) to set this dupe of a dad straight is one of the reasons the Hecks are among my favorite TV parents ever. As the episode ends, Mike indulges Sue with a movie night on the couch, watching one of the Twilight movies and pretending to be interested. Anything to cushion her from the "whole lot of junior-high pain coming Sue's way: tomorrow." So sweet. So real.
BOSS-A NOVA: Just a week ago, Conan O'Brien was making all the noise in late night. And while he's settling into an enjoyable groove and remains fun to watch — and his young demos continue to impress — the thunder (or should I say, Thunder Road) was stolen this week by his NBC successor Jimmy Fallon, who achieved a personal best on Late Night with his hour-long Tuesday visit with Bruce Springsteen. The highlight: Fallon crooning "Whip My Hair" as Neil Young, joined by a hirsute Springsteen. Awesome. What followed was actual conversation — informed, good-humored and enthralling — building up to performances of "Because the Night" (outstanding) and "Save My Love." This was an hour for the ages, a reminder that late-night TV can be event TV when all of the elements — great guest, engaged host — come together.
THE SPOOF IS OUT THERE: Loved the X-Files vibe on Castle — and look out for Supernatural's homage to the Chris Carter classic as well this weekend — with a baffling case of an astrophysicist and SETI researcher dying of "explosive decompression" suggesting alien abduction may have been involved. Enter Millenium's Lance Henriksen as a UFOlogist and Lyle Lovett as a creepy Man in Black who captures Castle and Beckett with the help of an EMP and a blinding white light. (A "Cigarette Smoking Man" is also afoot.) The clever solution has to do with Chinese intelligence and purloined spy-satellite intel, with a vacuum packer as the murder weapon. Castle deserves its success as one of the most enjoyably whimsical shows of any given week
PEA-COCKAMAMIE: Give it to the current overlords of cellar-dwelling NBC. They're leaving a right mess for the new blood to clean up once the Comcast merger (aka Kabletown) is approved. Consider the baffling midseason schedule released this week. The boldest, yet least surprising, move is the decision to turn Thursday into an all-comedy (although something less than "must see") night: the wonderful Community leading off the night, followed by the new rom-com Perfect Couples, then an Office-Parks and Recreation combo — makes sense, since they're cut so close from the same derivative cloth — followed by 30 Rock leading off the 10/9c hour and the inexplicable Outsourced batting last, blowing a big curry-laced raspberry to the affiliates as an underpowered lead-in to the local news. The comedy six-pack is a risky strategy, especially the later into the night it goes, but 30 Rock's wacky sensibility is a good fit for the 10/9c hour — and really, what choice did NBC have? Reality wasn't working, and if NBC was sitting on a potentially breakout drama, we'd have seen it by now. (The days of ER seem very long ago.)
Things get really goofy when you look at how Monday is shaping up. Chuck is the only holdover in January, when the superhero-with-a-twist The Cape and the new David E. Kelley legal drama Harry's Law, with the great Kathy Bates, fill in, at least for a while. (If either of them improbably take off, look for the rest of the game plan to be put on hold.) NBC currently plans to bump The Cape at the end of February with a "re-launch" of The Event (shades of FlashForward's long and fatal hiatus, though this is a more enjoyable, if very flawed, show). And in March, Harry will make room for Parenthood, moving from Tuesdays to the 10/9c Monday hour, where it provides a soft and squishy alternative to the crime dramas elsewhere (although for pure entertainment value, it's hard to beat Castle these days.)
To confuse the audience further, Parenthood will be airing in its regular Tuesday time period through January, but for the month of February, it will be MIA, when Law & Order: Los Angeles takes over the Tuesday slot. The rest of the midseason moves can be found here. I'd suggest keeping a flow chart to keep track of these series' comings and goings, but really, why bother?
HONOR ROLL: Another "A" grade for Community this week, as it hits another berserk high with conspiracies piling upon subterfuges upon double-cross fake-outs, involving Jeff, Annie, Dean Pelton, a smarmy drama teacher (Kevin Corrigan) and a security cop, all shooting blanks at each other with prop guns in a climax that just keeps on climaxing. The surreal nonsense, which also features a chase through the largest blanket fort in community-college history, stems from Jeff's faked credit for a conspiracy-theory class that doesn't exist. (Or does it?) The lesson to be learned here is that, much like Seinfeld's no-hugs rule, no one is ever the wiser once the dust (and fake blood) settles. Extra credit for the roster of phony night-school classes: "History of Something." "Principles of Intermediate." "Learning!" "Reading?" "Theoretical Phys. Ed." "Simplified Chinese." "Introduction to Basics." "Math 1-2-3." "Class 101." Community is starting to take on the feel of a new warped classic.
DISHONOR ROLL: Please, Chuck, stop with the lame "Greta" running gag. Even with Summer Glau as this week's visiting op, it only indulges the worst of the Buy More idiocy. And could the Subway product placements have been more intrusive and less amusing? ... I'm trying to like The Event, but it isn't easy when it indulges the hokiest 24 tendencies. The subplot involving Sean's triage in an alley after being shot, courtesy of a nice doctor Leila takes hostage, couldn't have been sillier. And you knew the corrupt VP would never get to the end of his phone conversation implicating Hal Holbrook to the president, before being killed. Van goes boom just as he's about to utter Dempsey's name. Heads roll. Eyes roll. ... And Cristina tending bar on Grey's Anatomy? Just as aggravating as it sounds. Derek and Owen have the patience of saints. I don't.
REALITY CHECK: A champagne toast to Bravo's Top Chef: Just Desserts for denying homophobic bully Morgan the win. His fallen soufflés doomed him, but his boorish comments soured the audience on him long before the grand prize went to a resurgent Yigit. A sore winner from the previous round, Morgan disses Zac as "an annoying little fairy" after he's been booted, and when Zac returns briefly (but isn't chosen as one of the sous chefs), Morgan growls, "If I could punch somebody on this show without getting thrown off, I'd knock his skull right off." Hey Bravo, how about some anger-management courses as a consolation prize? Even Morgan's celebrity-chef helpmate, Claudia Fleming, is turned off, referring to him later as a "typical male pastry chef," whatever that means. (It isn't a compliment.) Meanwhile, babbling Danielle makes a thousand annoying faces and makes us relieved this show is over. Bring on the Top Chef all-stars! ... Finally, a power shift on Survivor as cocky Brenda overplays her hand and refuses to scramble for survival, voted out in a bit of a blindside, engineered in part by the psychotic Naonka, who coins the term "piss-tivity" — as in, clueless blabbermouth Chase "pissed me off to the highest point of piss-tivity." Kudos to Jane, winning a grueling endurance immunity challenge and besting the young studs (thanks to her regimen of lifting 80-pound dogs). She's a remarkable survivor. But really, tribe? Leaving a raging fire untended and surrounded by wooden crates? Recipe for disaster.
CASUALTIES OF TV: You didn't have to be a psychic to see the writing on the wall regarding Medium, which will reach its end early next year after a healthy run of seven seasons on two networks. I've only caught it sporadically since the show moved to CBS Fridays, but this is a series finale I'm very curious to see. ... TNT's glum Dark Blue also goes to black, not being renewed for a third season. Have to admit, its second season entirely escaped me. ... The most shattering death notice of the week? The demise of "Big Joe," the giant wine tumbler cherished by Jules on Cougar Town, destroyed by Travis' clumsy college girlfriend Kirsten. "He was family," moans Jules. And here's Ellie breaking the news to Travis: "Your Uncle Joe is dead, but you're allowed to start drinking." Never too early to start in that household.
GREAT GUESTS: Gwyneth Paltrow has fun letting it rip on Glee as Holly Holliday, "the cure for the common class," a super-indulgent substitute teacher who wins over the glee club—and wins over much of the audience by telling Rachel to her face, "You suck! You are like a total drag." But they make nice in an overproduced Chicago duet, and then Holly makes nice with the temporarily fired Mr. Shue in a climactic—and typically improbable — group dance to Singin' in the Rain. ... Keith Carradine is at ease doing comedy on The Big Bang Theory as Penny's dad, who's led to believe she's still dating Leonard, the nerd next door. "I've seen you do a lot worse with a lot stupider," he says. And he's right. ... Spitfire Sonia Braga raises the temperature on a madcap episode of Brothers & Sisters as Luc's "classic narcissist" French-Portuguese mother, roiling an insecure Nora by capturing Dr. Carl's absinthe-looped fancy and locking lips with sudden man-whore Justin.
SHOCKER OF THE WEEK: (Spoiler alert for the uninitiated) If you haven't been watching BBC America's Luther, you've missed some of the most outrageously gripping crime drama this fall, grounded in Idris Elba's (The Wire) sensational star turn as John Luther, a tormented London detective whose personal life hit the tragic skids in Sunday's penultimate episode. (The finale airs this weekend, and it's a doozy.) Things begin to unravel as we learn that Luther's police colleague Ian Reed is a dirty cop, and when a situation involving a diamond theft and hostage situation goes gruesomely south, Ian turns in desperation to Luther's ex, Zoe. In the frantic standoff, Zoe is shot and killed, with Ian telling his former friend, "This is your doing," as he runs off leaving Luther with his beloved's blood on his hands. No one does dark crime drama better than the Brits.
TWISTS AND TURNS: Some thoughts on a few of TV's best dramas, starting with FX's brilliant Terriers. This week's emotionally charged episode flashes back to a serial-rapist case that cost Hank his detective job three years ago while introducing him to Britt, then a suspect. (The case is solved in the present day with the help of reporter Laura "I don't work for dead tree media" Ross, and a fellow cop turns out to be the culprit.) While we are witness to the beginning of Hank and Britt's beautiful friendship, in the here and now we see it fall apart, when Britt is jailed after assaulting a college boy he (mistakenly) confuses for Katie's one-night stand and Hank is forced to confess he knew of the transgression all along. Can this relationship be saved? Please say yes. ... The shoe finally drops on Fringe in an episode dealing with the devastation of child abduction (of special concern to Walternate and Alt-Broyles), as Olivia saves the day, then reaches out to Peter from across the universe, arranging a wake-up call about her situation while he lies in bed with Faux-livia. (He should have guessed something was up when she keeps referring to a bizarro version of Casablanca that in OtherWorld apparently stars Ronald Reagan and has a happy ending.) ... In another strong episode of The Good Wife, battle lines are being drawn at the firm pitting Derek and Will against Diane. Will Alicia be caught in the crossfire? Meanwhile, Peter is urged to drop out of the State's Attorney race by the Democratic Committee leader (who offers Peter his own job), but the campaign scores a win by securing the influential black minister's endorsement over the unctuous Wendy — if the minister's own father and the church board don't interfere. Juicy, juicy stuff.
AS HEARD ON TV: "I can't believe some people have never heard of us." — A clever in-joke from Tony of CBS' top-rated NCIS, reacting to an apprehended perp's query: "What's NCIS?" Of course, the suspect is 22, not exactly in the show's prime demo. ... "Thank you for having me on the show, Johnny." — Maw Maw of Raising Hope, imagining her visit to a lawyer's office to be something more glamorous. She was arrested for going topless. And as Burt says, "The first time you see 'em can be pretty rough. I still can't eat dried fruit without heaving a little bit." ... "Microwave is for pizza rolls. The oven is for bulky storage." — Frankie lecturing Brick on The Middle, after he nearly burns the house down while left home alone (a mistake) as he turns the oven on and scorches Aunt Pearl's quilt. ... "I believe in every human being's right to being tortured democratically." — Human Target's coolly lethal Guerrero giving his prisoner a choice between being kneecapped or having her fingernails peeled. (Thankfully, she's one of the sorta good guys, and neither option is pursued.) ... "He will be dead soon, anyway. Have you seen the color of his urine?" — A guest housekeeper on Two and a Half Men, making the latest morbid joke about Charlie's drunken ways, which just don't seem as funny as they used to. ... "Tiger Tiger." — The last words of the cop-killing villain before he dies of his burns on The Mentalist, suggesting a connection to Red John that renders Patrick Jane shocked and speechless.
That's a wrap. Happy Thanksgiving week, everybody. We'll resume this column in December.
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