Let's start this week's roundup by blowing some Valentine's kisses to ABC's Wednesday night lineup. No tongue, and not on the mouth, because that would be rude! But also very funny, as evidenced on the night's standout comedies The Middle and Modern Family, in which Sue Heck freaks when her wrestler boyfriend Matt gets "international" with his tongue-wrestling and Claire Dunphy is seriously skeeved out by Greg Kinnear (a hoot as Phil's wealthy new client) as he plants kisses right on her mouth, while shirking an oblivious Phil's hugs. Turns out he kisses everyone that way, even the family dog. But now we know what it takes to get Phil jealous: laugh at someone else's jokes.
Here's how he puts it, indelibly, during his "interview" to the camera: "You can kiss my wife. You can take her to bed. But you cannot make her laugh." Pause. "I want to go back." Take two: "You can kiss my wife, but only I can take her to bed and make her laugh." Pause. Take three: "Only I can take my wife to bed — comma — and make her laugh."
And who's that girl (apologies to New Girl) in the Dunphy house? Betty Luke! A classic sight gag, as the helpless baby of the family is ganged up on by his squabbling Big Sisters and, for old time's sake, decked out like a contestant on RuPaul's Drag Race: Toddlers & Tiaras Division. Do the parents object? Au contraire, they reach for the camera.
On Suburgatory, Tessa tells her tiresomely earnest boyfriend Scott to "Kiss me like I'm Africa" — he only gets passionate when talking about his volunteer work in Zambia — so as to get Dalia jealous. But her heart really isn't in it. Which will please George, once he stops fiddling with the "virginity calculator" online. "I'm not the cool dad?" he laments after freaking over the XL condoms he found in Tessa's room. "Just because you're a dad doesn't mean you can't be a dude," advises Noah. Advice that lands George in the voracious clutches of Jocelyn (the hilarious Arden Myrin), who ravages him on the game table: "I'm going to slide down your chute and I'm gonna climb up your ladder!" she shrieks en route to an orgasmic "Yahtzee!" Bonus points to Cheryl Hines as Dallas, performing a Risky Business-style victory dance of freedom (to Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger") once she decides it's over with her cheating husband. "These panties are a slap in the face," she declares upon discovering his latest indiscretion. They're not even petite!
And on Happy Endings, Max gets a peck from his ex, Grant (James Wolk), who dumped him a year ago on Valentine's Day. They head off to a romantic dinner while the rest of the gang nurses their romantic wounds. But not before a drugged-out Brad (in the episode's funniest subplot) calls out the show's obvious debt to Friends, seeing each of them as Ross, Rachel, Phoebe and "Fat Joey" (that would be Max). And to his horrible wife: "Don't patronize me, Monica." Which would make Brad the new Chandler? Not so fast.
ABC's Wednesday builds to a delicious nightcap in Revenge, setting off all kinds of echoes from the glory days of the classic prime-time soap by introducing silver fox William Devane — who'll always be Knots Landing's Gregory Sumner to a certain demographic — as the Grayson patriarch, who clearly holds Conrad in contempt (who doesn't?) while chumming it up with Queen Victoria, whose white-trash roots mirror his own high-school drop-out upbringing. (Isn't this show ripe for a prequel?) Love that we first see him interrupting lunch at the South Fork Inn. (Homage to Dallas?) Episode's climax is an engagement dinner party to end all scandalous dinner parties, as the Graysons-plus-Emily are interrupted by an enraged and confrontational Jack, who's viewed the tape left under his bed revealing Victoria's affair with the late and ill-used David Clarke. So much for Victoria's cover story (to Daniel) about Charlotte being the product of rape, said biological beans spilled by a vengeful Conrad to lay all the blame for this mess at his estranged wife's pedicured feet. While the Graysons sort through the emotional wreckage, Emily arrives home to find her Secret Stash of Revenge unearthed from beneath the floorboards, with a "Fire & Ice Ball" invite spookily marked that "Emily Thorne" will attend. As in the real Emily aka Faux-Manda (who's already mighty peeved about how she left things with Jack)? Things are gonna get real messy next week.
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HAVING A BALL: Revenge's "Fire & Ice" engagement party is going to have to step it up to compete with the glamour of the Mikaelsen's "dancing, cocktails, celebration" insta-gala on Thursday's The Vampire Diaries, the latest addition to the town's hyper-busy social calendar. Where did Elena get that knockout gown? Does Mystic Falls have the best tux shop in the South or what? And now that they've all been un-daggered, I'm digging this gorgeous "Original Family" that Klaus has been keeping in cold storage for way too long. Besides the luscious Rebekah and the elegant Elijah, who we already know and love (or love to hate), we now meet the impulsive Kol and the world-weary Finn — and, as revealed last week, witch mother Esther, whose one-on-one with Elena reveals her master plan: to use the blood of the doppelganger in a champagne toast to link as one all of her vampire brood. "My family are an abomination. It's my duty to kill them." Whoa. But in the meantime, Klaus continues to pitch woo to Caroline (who appreciates his art if not his dark hybrid soul) and Rebekah, rebuffed by mortal Matt, tears off Damon's clothes and vice versa in a steamy climax. What's your rush, Esther? Let your kids live a little before sending them to eternal death.
NO MORE HOUSE CALLS: Putting Fox's House on a DNR (do not resuscitate) after eight seasons was the right call, although coming on the heels of this season's best episode to date — in which House's reckless methods came under serious scrutiny — adds to the poignancy of the decision. It's almost unimaginable that Hugh Laurie has never won an Emmy for creating this maddening, fascinating, mercurial character. He has carried House through many rocky and often unnecessary transitions, and this year without either Cuddy or Thirteen to play off, and with the glum Foreman promoted to become his new boss, and with unappealing new characters joining an already depleted team, all we really had left was House and Wilson to divert us. They're almost enough, but enough is enough, and before House becomes even more of a shadow of its former greatness, this is the best sort of mercy killing, allowing the writers to end the show on their own terms.
NAME THAT TUNE: Even if you don't like singing competitions, the "blind auditions" on NBC's The Voice are can't-miss TV, an irresistible package of showmanship and ingenious gimmickry as we watch to see whether any of the judges will turn their giant chairs, and when more than one of them do, the feisty bidding war that ensues is a hoot, as Adam Levine gloats over winning last year's contest, Blake Shelton hammily basks in a fan's crush, and Christina Aguilera taunts anyone who dares try to steal one of her faves, while Cee Lo Green kicks back, as amused as the rest of us. Best moments so far: Christina failing to immediately recognize Tony Lucca, a fellow former Mickey Mouse-keteer, and then telling him in front of his wife and kid that Britney Spears used to crush on him (way to duck that bullet!); and host Carson Daly sweating it out when one of his own discoveries, Air Force staff sergeant/band singer Angie Johnson, nearly goes unpicked as she belts "Heartbreaker," with only Cee Lo turning to pick her.
With the post-Super Bowl launch and a strong Monday showing, The Voice couldn't help but upstage the start of American Idol's Hollywood week, which tried to amp the drama by relentlessly teasing the collapse (from dehydration) of 16-year-old Symone Black, who fell off the stage after her "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" solo. They saved this moment for the very end of Wednesday's episode, which in many homes (including mine) was cut off by the DVR — sorry, Fox, nothing's going to get me to set my machine for Mobbed. So much for that cliffhanger, which wasn't resolved until the next night. If these are the tricks Idol is going to be playing with the audience this season, my allegiance will be to The Voice.
DOWN MEMORY LANE: As "what if" episodes go, NCIS' 200th episode affirmation of Jethro Gibbs' life and labors — with Muse Watson's Mike Franks acting as his guardian angel as a diner is overrun by acquaintances past and present — was a big improvement over last week's Grey's Anatomy stunt. Any excuse to peel back layers from Gibbs' aloof, gruff façade is welcome, and as we revisit some of his and the show's turning points — the assassination of Kate by Ari (if he'd saved her, would she really have married Tony and started a family?), his execution of Hernandez as payback for his wife and daughter's murder — we're reminded of his sacrifices, but also of all the lives he's saved along the way as the leader of the NCIS team. "I wanted both," he tells his beloved Shannon, rather heartbreakingly. But ultimately, no regrets as he seizes the moment back in the present and disarms the troubled son of the man he just jailed. Back at work with a sling the next day, he joins the team on a new case: "My choice. I wouldn't have it any other way." Neither would his millions of fans.
I HEART TV: Romantic gesture of the week, part 1: On Parenthood, Crosby gives Jasmine a housewarming present now that she's moving in with Doctor Joe: a homemade doorknob he fashioned from the ends of ballet barres, originally intended for the house he bought for them until he screwed things up. "I love it," Jasmine purrs, and we know she's now having second (or third and beyond) thoughts. ... Romantic gesture of the week, part 2: On Grey's Anatomy, Ben (Jason George) knows Miranda Bailey's work-over-pleasure habits all too well to expect her ever to honor a Valentine's night dinner reservation, so he arranges a romantic dinner to be waiting for her in the hospital at end of shift. And who at Seattle Grace Mercy West has the worst Valentine's? Without question, Owen and Cristina, still barely speaking. He announces he's moving out while she stands quietly and tearfully in the elevator, and when he reaches out to Teddy in hopes of forgiveness, is mercilessly shot down: "I actively hate you!" she snaps. Which is why Cristina's plea in their final scene, "Please don't hate me," is likely to resonate.
HONOR ROLL: Amid all the Super Bowl hoopla, the one thing I can't stop humming — sorry, Madonna — is the NBC "family's" exuberant song-and-dance celebration of "Brotherhood of Man" from How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying (though this week, NBC has really, really been trying to succeed). Led by the 30 Rock jokesters, this smashing production number included everyone from Smash to the on-hiatus Community — come back soon! — to SVU, the Rockettes and the Today crew. So much fun. ... A close second: the elaborate rock 'em, sock 'em action-movie teaser for The Voice with Christina, Blake and Cee Lo battling it out, Tarantino-style. ... I'm still having nightmares over those creepy dolls hanging from the macabre "spirit trees" in the second hour of ABC's The River premiere. As the idiots from The Magus lay down camp on the haunted site, we watch in horror as a sleeping Lincoln is dragged from his tent by an unseen entity (shades of Paranormal Activity). "How in the hell did I end up over here?" Run, people, run! ... Congrats to Kevin Rankin for keeping his day job on CBS' Unforgettable. In the same Tuesday time period, as Boyd's overly ambitious sidekick Devil on FX's riveting Justified, he's sent to Hell for trying to turn Cousin Johnny against Boyd (spurred to action by a zealous Mr. Quarles). It's a wonderful death scene as Boyd turns the tables, shooting Devil in the chest (a call-back to his own injury in Justified's first season) and lamenting, "All I ever asked for was your loyalty, was I not entitled to that?" Feeling his pain, Boyd puts the gun to his head: "You want some help with the pain? You close your eyes, son." And on the sound of the gunshot, the episode goes to black.
ODDS AND ENDS: Please, NBC, even at the risk of running a Parks and Recreation repeat during sweeps, no more hourlong episodes of 30 Rock, I beg you. When you're reduced to giving a major subplot to Lutz, you know you have too much time on your hands. ... Can we all forget the Channing "shut up and strip" Tatum episode of Saturday Night Live ever happened? Well, everything except for that hilarious Spike TV-meets-Downton Abbey mock promo. ... I pity anyone who gets Glee's Will Schuester as a history teacher, if he's as bad at that as he was at Spanish. Maybe we can also try to forget the silly Ricky Martin episode ever happened while we're at it. ... I'm still not terribly keen on the episodic manhunts that make up the majority of Fox's Alcatraz, but there were some strong reveals in this week's episode, built around conflicted prison guard/training officer Guy Hastings (True Blood's Jim Parrack). Most notably, that Rebecca's "Uncle Ray" (also a former guard) and her grandfather-inmate Tommy Madsen (one of the 63s) are brothers. That certainly complicates things. ... "There's no cryin' in fine dinin'," says Lindsay as she's almost cut from Top Chef this week. But I admit I almost felt like cryin' when Ed is bounced at the expense of Beverly, an obviously less inspired chef who fought her way back into the game through the Last Chance Kitchen webisodes (this show's version of Survivor's Redemption Island) and earned her safety this week by preparing food in a wok. Whatever.
AS HEARD ON TV: "Who knew Palmer had abs like that?" — NCIS' Jethro Gibbs, after glimpsing the ME's assistant (Brian Dietzen) lying shirtless while Abby rolfs him. Or maybe that should be ROFL? ... "I don't need to give you the other fish in the sea talk, do I? Because you're basically a fisherman." — Revenge's Nolan, trying to get Jack to get over not-really-Amanda.. ... "Hawaii is a former leper colony on top of an active volcano where the disappointing ending to Lost was filmed. Mahalo for nothing, Hawaii!" — The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon, poo-poohing the idea of an island vacation. ... "Burn! Rejected by the captain of the football team. Welcome to adolescence." — The Vampire Diaries' Damon taunting "original" vamp Rebekah when Matt the mortal rebuffs her. ... "What tipped you off? Was it the gaping wound in the parietal section of his skull? Because that's what clued me in." — Jane Curtin introducing herself at a crime scene as the feisty new medical examiner on Unforgettable. Welcome aboard, Jane. You've immediately made the show more interesting. ... "If those teeth were in your vagina, you'd be considered a monster." — A classic diagnosis from Dr. Spaceman (Chris Parnell) on 30 Rock, during an examination of Jenna, who's pretty monstrous already. ... We give the last word to Glee scene-stealer NeNe Leakes as bronze medalist-turned-synchronized swimming coach Roz Washington, who lets Sue Sylvester know what she thinks of her prospects for motherhood: "What you need to do is wake up and smell the menopause. You are done as coach, and all the hormones in Thailand can't change the fact that you are done as a woman. What you need to do is start praying that you give birth to a child that likes to eat sand, cause that's all that's coming out of those old wrinkly boobs!" Them's fighting words.
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