Let's start this week's rundown with some good news.
Like a bit of reality redemption, as the charming and freakishly talented Mondo wins Project Runway All Stars. He should have won for his first season, but better late than never. And winning the All Stars round somehow sounds like a bigger deal. His self-made Rorschach ink-blot prints were pretty fabulous. Wonder how much the buyers on Fashion Star would have bid for his line. But honestly, what was Michael Costello even doing in the finals?
More good news: NBC's Smash gets a second season. Or as I like to call it: Revenge of the Show Tune! And with the concurrent announcement that series creator/executive producer Theresa Rebeck is on her way out, that's a positive sign that the show's creative flaws are likely to be addressed in Season 2. (Might I suggest one storyline: a backstage murder mystery, centered on the death of the icky weasel Ellis. Julia, of course, will be the prime suspect, a welcome respite from her misbegotten show-mance, but the final reveal will feel like a musical version of Murder on the Orient Express, in which everyone from stagehand to producer will be implicated. And forgiven.)
But I digress. After this week's episode, I've concluded that the first season of Smash should be looked at as a very public "workshop," working out the kinks while we all play show doctor. It's obvious that the drama of putting on a musical is more fertile, and original, ground than the heavy-handed personal subplots. More I'm-the-greatest-star cameos like Bernadette Peters' diva turn as Ivy's upstaging stage-mom, please. (But honestly, we're supposed to believe they didn't know their leading lady had a famous mom?) And while I'll bet even the real Bernadette doesn't burst into song every time a chorus boy begs her to, I'm glad she did this time. (But Karen skipping her studio gig out of loyalty to a low-paying workshop of a very shaky musical? Who is this Pollyanna?) Best move in weeks: firing Michael Swift, who always seemed more Mickey Mantle than Joe DiMaggio to me anyway — although I'm a fan of Will Chase, who I'll be seeing next week in New York's Encores resurrection of the little-known Rodgers & Hammerstein Pipe Dream. (It's like I'm living in my own version of Smash. Can you blame me?)
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JUSTIFYING THOSE EMMY ODDS: Last year, FX's glorious Justified managed to snag a well-deserved Emmy for its electrifying guest villain, Margo Martindale as the unforgettable Mags Bennett. This week, the show made an equally strong claim for Neal McDonough to get some serious awards attention as the magnetically psychopathic Robert Quarles. He is becoming seriously and marvelously unhinged, especially after being bested in manipulating the sheriff's election by a triumphant Boyd Crowder, who taunts this carpetbagger as a "conquistador" no longer in control of the savages. "I hope you've enjoyed your stay and you never forget who packed your bags," Boyd says in that quietly lethal way of his.
But Quarles isn't going anywhere just yet. Popping Oxy like Chiclets, he grins with coiled menace as he declares, "I got nowhere else to go." This is a desperate man in desperate straits, and he barely even flinches when a young man named Donovan holds a gun to his head, seeking vengeance for whatever horrors Quarles visited upon his hustler friend Brady. This moment brings out the best in McDonough, in a searing monologue that reveals Quarles' own damaged upbringing, as a "pretty boy" pimped out by his junkie dad. Quarles disarms Donovan by saying of the ill-fated hustler Brady: "Hurt him? No, son, I never hurt him. I did everything I could to help him." With a hug, he adds, "And then I set him free." There are tears, but Donovan should never have let down his guard. (We later see the boy tied up in Quarles' bathroom, apparently about to meet the same hideous fate as Brady.)
Quarles' other big moment is a confrontation with his lawman nemesis Raylan Givens in the bar where Raylan's living. Against the advice of his hapless sidekick Wynn Duffy, Quarles gets right in the marshal's face to threaten him — "Someday you're gonna be walking down the street and I'm gonna put a bullet right in the back of your skull, and you're gonna drop" — and before they can go all Gunsmoke on each other, the fetching bar owner Lindsey defuses the situation with her own shotgun. (Love that after Quarles walks out, Lindsey's "now what?" to Raylan leads to a bout of hot sex. Beats prepping for Dickie Bennett's hearing, which doesn't go the way Raylan rehearsed it.)
With only three episodes left to go, I can't wait to see who gets the final showdown with Quarles: Raylan, Boyd, Limehouse. Whichever way it goes, it's going to be epic.
RHETORICAL QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Who has it better than The Good Wife's Diane Lockhart (the great Christine Baranski)? OK, she may be presiding over a firm full of screaming crybabies in suits who all want to take over Will's seat as a name partner. ("Apparently we're now Stalin and Associates," grumbles the ever-dissatisfied David Lee.) But even the office vixen Kalinda can't manage a look as self-satisfied as Diane's, as she juggles two manly-man suitors on the phone: Bryan Brown's rugged process server Jack Copeland, and the welcome return of Gary Cole as right-wing ballistics guy Kurt McVeigh, who puts the whole opposites-attract theory into sexy action.
It's a good week for the ladies on the show: Alicia gets her salary bump, with helpful leverage from the latest offer by Louis Canning (the always enjoyable Michael J. Fox). And it looks like Alicia and Kalinda are finally healing the breach in their relationship, though Alicia insists it "can't go back to the way it was before. ... I can't be the only one being forthcoming." Good luck with that, Alicia.
A TALE OF TWO COLTONS: And you thought karma was a bitch. Karma just about met its match (though ultimately triumphs) in Survivor's most exasperating player in years, the mean-spirited and viper-tongued spoiled brat Colton Cumbie, who spends the first part of a pivotal episode taunting Christina, utterly blindsided by Monica's undeserved exit last week. Ever the poor winner, Colton can't stop needling Christina to her face: "No one's going to go off by themselves with you ... You might be making an alliance with a hermit crab at this point ... You can jump in the fire and be medivac'ed, whichever is more convenient for you." Words that come back to haunt him as he is stricken by what appears to be appendicitis (actually, it has been reported, a bacterial infection), and as Christina cradles the poor wretch — which he ungenerously, though correctly, sees as an attempt to save herself — he just keeps getting worse: "I am literally about to die," he moans, as the medical team is brought in to take him out of the game against his wishes.
In one last selfish salvo, he keeps the immunity idol for himself: "Tell Sabrina thanks for the souvenir," he says before being carried off, leaving his equally loathsome co-conspirator Alicia in the lurch. (It has been reported that he wanted to give the idol to Jay, but was denied because they were on competing tribes at the time.) We'd never wish pain and suffering on anyone, so we're glad Colton's better now. But we couldn't be happier to have seen the last of him. And now that he's gone: Merge!
Meanwhile, in the category of nice guys singing last and becoming front-runners, kudos to American Idol's Colton Dixon for his stirring rendition of "Piano Man" — at the piano, naturally — wrapping Wednesday's Billy Joel themed night. Way to end on a high, and to wipe the memory of the other Colton from my mind for a while.
GRAND FINALES: My thoughts on this week's season finales of The River and Southland can be found here — and thanks to those who clarified for me Lydia's decision to take a less active role for the duration of her pregnancy (makes sense) — but the one I'm still thinking about is the blisteringly suspenseful climax to The Walking Dead's second season, as a relentless herd of zombies forces the survivors off Hershel's farm once and for all. (Check out our Burning Questions Q&A.) Now that's how you end a season, with plenty of grisly action and crazy marksmanship as they treat this invasion like a shooting gallery. And while there are plenty of close calls — leaving Andrea behind, for instance, which is so not cool — after two consecutive episodes in which major characters perished, only the tangential "red shirts" (aka Patricia and Jimmy) fall to the ravenous monsters this time. As usual, the humans are their own worst enemy, turning on Rick after he confesses he killed Shane in self-defense — isn't this what Lori wanted; what's her problem? — and especially after he reveals "We're all infected," the secret he's been carrying since last year's CDC finale. Can't they all get along? (Answer: If they did, there'd be no show.)
And while I rarely watch AMC shows live (thanks to advance screeners), I made an exception to experience the Walking Dead finale in all of its gory HD glory, and was rewarded with a hilarious Mad Men promo touting: "Walking Dead fans, Mad Men is for you." The evidence: "A small group (Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce) struggles to survive." "Their leader (Don Draper) keeps them safe." "While his dangerous deputy (Pete) tangles with the older guy (Roger), who doesn't sermonize but says things like, 'I don't think it's a bad idea to have a chance to out-drink your clientele.'" "It's set in a volatile time (the '60s)." "Everyone looks good (Joan), has lots of sex and drinks like Hershel used to." Hey, anything to boost the show's numbers after a 17-month hiatus.
THE HONOR ROLL: There's an app for that — on Mr. Burns' tablet, anyway. When the sadistic Simpsons mogul uses a trap-door app to rid his office of a nuisance, we glimpse the other apps he apparently finds useful: "Am I Alive?" "Ukulele Hero." "Google Naps." "Angry Burns." ... On New Girl, Jess's sex-ed classroom chalkboard lists a number of "Alternatives to Intercourse," including "Get to know a neighbor," "Tick/lice check," "Meet a friend for decaf" and my favorite, "Watch Friday Night Lights." ... And thumbs up to Dermot Mulroney as Jess' new love interest, a wealthy dad who's charmed even when she turns the spray of the Japanese bidet up way too high. As one does. ... Hard to say who had the most outrageous man-crush reaction this week: Possibly Dancing With the Stars judge Bruno Tonioli gaping at "Mexican Brad Pitt" William Levy: "The hottest package of the season!" he screamed. "You're overdressed!" (He wasn't.) Or was it Community's Dean Pelton (the hilarious Jim Rash) collapsing on the floor after glimpsing Jeff in his aviator sunglasses. "Oh My God, even his shadow!" the dean screams. "Look at his shadow!" Hee. ... Speaking of Community, loved watching French Stewart transform each of the study group into their celebrity doppelganger. Shirley as Oprah? A given. Jeff as a Seacrest "more handsome than the guy who's famous for being handsome?" Sure. Pierce as "fat Brando" when he fancies himself Burt Reynolds? Mean, but funny. But the kicker: "Wow, this is rare. Both versions of Michael Jackson!" as Troy and Britta sit side by side.
THINGS I'D LIKE TO FORGET: Sitcom greats Holland Taylor and Georgia Engel, as the mothers of Alan and Lyndsey on Two and a Half Men, playing morning-after tonsil hockey to shock their kids, and presumably us. ... Cee Lo Green's horrific pairing of the squeaky siren Erin Martin and garage-band wannabe The Shield Brothers in a rendition of "What's Love Got To Do With It?" that made me feel like Tina Turner after a bad night with Ike. These are inarguably the worst members of his team, so why pit them against each other, ensuring one will make it to the finals? "Don't make a fool of me, woman," Cee Lo says after letting Erin through. Too late for that.
AS HEARD ON TV: "I won as many mirrorball trophies as I have chest hairs. And that's four!" — Dancing With the Star's winning-est pro Derek Hough boasting in the season opener. If Maria Menounos doesn't tone down that annoying laugh, I'm betting he won't make it to five this spring. ... "Not since the Sanjaya pony-hawk have we seen such a transformation on this show with hair." — Ryan Seacrest praising Erika Van Pelt's American Idol makeover, which still wasn't enough to keep her in the game. (Whoever's voting for DeAndre and Heejun, please stop.) ... "I'd be off the show. I'd be Brian Dunkleman!" — On Castle, the host of a dancing show (providing synergy with its Dancing lead-in) worrying that a contestant's murder could lose him this job — not unlike Seacrest's short-lived co-host. "Who's Brian Dunkleman?" Beckett wonders. The host: "Exactly!" Ouch. ... "Damn it, this life is taking forever." — Raising Hope's Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) in a lucid moment. ... "My daughter is named Tampa?" — Cougar Town's Grayson, upon learning he's a baby daddy. ... "Don't make me cry. This isn't Oprah." — Michelle Obama reflecting on her dad to David Letterman on her first visit to his late-night show. After lightening things up, the obviously charmed host ends the interview by asking, "Would it be all right if I came home with you?"
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