Katie Couric and Josh Elliott
One lesson learned in this wearying week of morning-show warfare: Some people should never give up their dream day job. Which is why it was so gratifying for the week to end with the announcement that Today's Matt Lauer was staying put for years to come. I'd like to think he saw the future — or maybe Today's future — staring at him on Wednesday, when he sat across from NBC-Comcast rising star Ryan Seacrest for his overhyped mouse-peep of an announcement about joining the Olympics prime-time team. This followed the blast from the recent past of Meredith Vieira's overblown "living legend" return on Monday to confirm her own Olympics duties. None of which remotely approached the desperate pandering for ratings that resulted in turning over an hour of Tuesday's show to so-called "co-host" Sarah Palin, who was more of a glorified guest being given the royal treatment. (As David Letterman later joked, "part of their Half-Term Governors Week.")
Yes, Today was that scared that Katie Couric's moonlighting gig on Good Morning America would finally push the needle of GMA's resurgent ratings to overtake Today for a week. That doesn't appear to have happened (although the Katie-centric GMA did win at least Wednesday's battle), but the week has been a pungent reminder that Katie has never looked so good as when working the room, and the crowd, on a morning show. Her rapport with the GMA team, including George Stephanopoulos but especially the winning Josh Elliott, makes me think she should have regular sidekicks on her upcoming syndicated talk show. Anything to emulate the feel and tone of the morning gig. Just as Katie's comeback made us pine for her Today heyday, so did Oprah Winfrey's mea culpa on Monday's CBS This Morning (with her old pal Gayle King) remind us that she should have never given up her throne as daytime's reigning queen.
"Had I known that [launching OWN] was this difficult, I might have done something else," confessed Oprah, adding that if she ever wrote a book about it, she'd title it 101 Mistakes — the biggest blunder being to launch OWN too soon, before she'd finished with The Oprah Winfrey Show. (For me, the second biggest mistake: finishing with The Oprah Winfrey Show. Ah well.)
And then there's the spectacle of the reliably litigious and outspoken Keith Olbermann, whose embarrassing exit from Current TV has made more noise than Current has ever made on TV. During his own "I screwed up" declaration on Letterman's show, Olbermann likened himself to a "$10 million chandelier" (albeit missing a power source these days) that was too big for the ramshackle operation he attached himself to in the wake of his previous embarrassing exit from MSNBC. Chandelier? More like high-voltage wire you'd be crazy to come into contact with. Again, here's a very talented guy, an electrifying personality, a gifted wordsmith. Remember when he was on ESPN and the world was a kinder, gentler place?
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LAUGHING MATTERS: As teased Thursday, this week's Community earns "instant classic of the week" honors with its dead-on takeoff on Ken Burns' documentary style to chronicle the battle between the blanket and pillow forts of Abed and Troy — of whom the narrator notes, "He would later say of the war, 'It was awesome.' But also, 'It wasn't?'" Yes, Troy, it was awesome. As the camera tracks the feathery battlefield, a poem is solemnly recited: "Pillows but no sleep. Feathers but no birds. Pajamas without children. Violence without purpose. I saw Mommy kissing Exxon Mobil. — Amanda Johnson: poet by choice, lesbian by birth." We also get Pierce as the Stay Puft looking Pillowman, "an unstoppably plush weapon." Britta's hilariously bad photography. Abed's leaked e-mail, strategically pointing all the things that could distract the emotionally fragile Troy: "Loud voices. The color red. Smooth jazz. Shiny things. Food smells. Music boxes. Bell bottoms. Boobs. Barking Dogs. And anyone saying, 'Look over there.'"
But Community is more than just a series of inspired jokes. It's a comedy about, as it says, community. And friendship. And this time, it's Jeff who has the epiphany that when the war is over, nothing is more important than healing the rift between Troy and Abed. Even if it means trekking all the way back to the Dean's office to fetch the imaginary "magical friendship hats" he invented earlier. Because, as Jeff faces the truth, "I would do anything for my friends — which I think is how everyone in the world feels, which finally makes me understand war."
Speaking of war, too bad Community had to go into combat opposite another high-profile episode of CBS' The Big Bang Theory, this one featuring the renowned Stephen Hawking in a memorable climactic cameo opposite an awed Sheldon (Jim Parsons), who collapses upon realizing he gave The Man a paper with a mathematical "boo-boo" in it. "Great. Another fainter," sighs Hawking from his voice box.
Most of the episode finds Sheldon humiliating himself to win Howard's favor to get an audience with Hawking: first polishing the "backsplash" off Howard's belt buckles (not so funny), donning a French maid's costume to parade through the work cafeteria (old-school funny), and worst of all, accompanying Howard's never-seen gorgon mother on a clothes-shopping expedition (very funny), ending with Sheldon trying to zip her up in a dressing room. "If I squeeze you any tighter, you might turn into a diamond!" he gasps. But like Community, it all boils down to the odd friendship between these wacky geeks, and all Howard really wants is for Sheldon the genius to compliment him on the work he does. Which leads to this spit-take-worthy moment: "I have never said that you are not good at what you do," Sheldon insists. "It's just that what you do is not worth doing." (Leonard's response to Howard: "I'd take it and run." That's as close to a pat on the head as Sheldon is capable.)
Also had a blast with Fox's best Tuesday comedies this week. Burt Chance (Garret Dillahunt) was on fire on Raising Hope. Struggling with how the hipsters talk nowadays: "Don't ask me. Ever since that UPN went off the air, I've had trouble learnin' new phrases." Getting caught out in a scam on Sabrina (who's blind without her glasses or contacts): "That's why we need cable. We'd be happily entertained at home and wouldn't get into these high jinks." Becoming entranced by a novelty-store plaque of mounted coconuts that look like bouncing boobs: "This thing takes Double D's!" And then realizing the impact this toy is having on baby Hope (whom he imagines, disturbingly, as an adult stripper): "I gotta keep Hope off the pole. And she's not watching Toddlers & Tiaras anymore either."
The fun continues on New Girl, as Jess finally learns to her horror — thanks to "sweatback" Jake — that Schmidt and Cece are an item. This episode belongs to Schmidt (the hilarious Max Greenfield), who in the middle of Jess's meltdown crows, "Can we just take a moment to celebrate me?" And later, reflecting on the ensuing chill between Jess and Cece, "It makes me really sad to see them fighting over me like this," with an ear-to-ear grin. What a douche, so who better to give Jake douchebag lessons? And Winston (often underwritten) comes into his own with a masterful aria as "Theodore K. Mullins," channeling his inner Color Purple in the guise of Jake's "down-low" lover. In this company, no wonder Jess is a mess, even before she realizes "you all thought about me when self-completing." But things get better when Jess discovers that Cece really somehow likes Schmidt and it's not all about sex. And sure enough, there's something adorable as we watch the douche and the diva in the kitchen, Schmidt's kingdom: "What are you doing to that basil, Cece? You trying to make it confess? Easy with the knife, Robespierre." When New Girl is on its game, it's more than adorable. It's terrific.
WEIGHTY ISSUES: As if to twist the old commercial slogan to "You're not getting older. You're getting fatter," poor miserable Betty Draper was kept off stage during Mad Men's season opener to delay the shock of this week's unveiling of Fat Betty Draper. That's one way to deal with an actress's pregnancy, and to me, usually the wrong way. (I never really forgave Frasier for turning Jane Leeves' pregnancy into one long Fat Daphne joke back in the day.) With Mad Men, puffing up an expectant January Jones with prosthetic waddle isn't exactly subtle, but does convey a certain grim reality about unhappy housewives of the time. Bullied by a domineering mother-in-law, patronized by an ambitious husband, never really at ease as a wife or mother — and still turning to her rock, Don, for comfort when presented with a possible medical crisis — Betty is a mess. Trapped in a mausoleum of a house, she whiles away her day on the couch scarfing down Bugles watching The Andy Griffith Show on TV. (OMG, Betty is regressing to my childhood!)
Meanwhile, alphas like Don and Roger really are just getting older. Even after shedding his tie backstage at the Stones concert, Don is razzed as Bewitched's "Durwood" (Endora's version of Darrin) and told, "None of you want any of us to have a good time because you never did." Don begs to differ — "No. We're worried about you" — but point taken. His sort of cool is being eclipsed, and a Rolling Stone gathers no Brylcreem. At work, Roger fumes after being upstaged by Pete ("the last guy I hired") during the Mohawk Airlines announcement. "I'm tired of trying to prove I still have any value around here," he sulks. Times are changing. Don's new secretary is the black hire ("Dawn," to confuse matters) from last week's employment kurfuffle, and Peggy spends much of the episode fretting over bringing someone as brash as new Jewish recruit Michael Ginsberg (the entertaining Ben Feldman) on board. "At least this one we're hiring on purpose," quips Roger. The more things change, the more some things (and people) never do.
ODDS AND ENDS: "Why can't you just admit that there's a mystery to life, Bones?" — Booth helping Bones deliver their baby in a stable, an awfully on-the-nose twist after they'd spent much of the episode debating religion, mythology and baptism. "Worthy of a manger," Hodgins coos of the adorable Christine Angela. Perhaps, but maybe not so worthy of prime time. ... "Are we up, or down?" — Councilman Darren Richmond's first words (about his campaign, not his condition — or the show's ratings) upon waking from his gunshot coma in the season opener of The Killing. His story is the most compelling as we return to the Rosie Larsen mystery, learning that on the night of the murder, he got wet attempting suicide at the bridge, remembering his late wife on their anniversary. Ever the politician, Richmond threatens to sue Detective Linden if she breathes a word of this alibi. And Linden's kind-of partner Holden? Not a dirty cop after all. He was being manipulated by his mentor — not that Sarah wants to hear any of it. Yet. ... "You want to call off the Chihuahua?" — An LOL moment from Smash as Derek disses Ellis — no one likes this creep, so why is he still around? — while Julia's marriage falls apart over her affair, this domestic "bombshell" inspiring the new title of the Marilyn musical. Still channeling Marilyn, Ivy collapses on stage while high on pills during a Heaven on Earth production number. Does she sleep it off? Hardly. She bonds with Karen (of all people) wandering Times Square and singing to a street musician, all while getting drunk in her angel-wing costume. Trust me, I live near there, and even a jaded New Yorker would stop and stare at that spectacle. Still, if Smash wants to morph into a musical version of Valley of the Dolls, I'm on board. ... "I'm so glad I don't get invested in your boyfriends-of-the-week that I only hear about through dialogue." — Max going meta on poor dateless Penny on the Happy Endings finale, which leaves us wondering if Dave is going back with Alex (is hand-holding a sign?) or if he and Penny might someday resolve their feelings for each other. Personally, I'm more invested in Jules and Grayson's impending nuptials on Cougar Town. But after another exasperating week of last-minute pre-emption, I'm wondering if ABC will even let this much-abused sitcom get to the end of its merry road. ... "You did a terrible thing. It doesn't mean you're a terrible person." — Bailey to Owen on Grey's Anatomy, after learning of the tryst that has wrecked his marriage. Just try telling that to Cristina, the aggrieved lioness waiting for him at home, hurling her bowl of cereal in his face. And as milk drips off his sorry puss, we're teased with scenes from next week, which looks like quite the emotional workout for Sandra Oh and Kevin McKidd. I'm there.
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