Once upon a very different time, Lisa Kudrow owned Thursday night along with her other TV Friends during NBC's now-distant era of "Must See" supremacy. She's back on the same night, on a different network, but once again she's landed on the buzziest show of the moment: ABC's Scandal (10/9c), where she begins a recurring role as Josephine Marcus, a Democratic Congresswoman — and outspoken critic of the Grant administration — who tangles with First Lady Mellie (the awesome Bellamy Young). What drew Kudrow back to network TV? May have something to do with her longtime friendship and working relationship with producing partner (and guest actor Emmy winner) Dan Bucatinsky, who plays Cyrus's excitable partner James on the show. While she's reason enough to tune in, the Pope & Associates subplot also sounds like fun, as they take on as a client a politician notorious for snapping photos of his unmentionables. (Sound familiar?)
Aw, heck. Is it really worth making a fuss over The Middle's 100-episode milestone? It hardly seems in character for a family like the Hecks of Orson, Indiana. When she's reminded that they volunteered to drive a giant cow float in Orson's centennial parade, Frankie (Patricia Heaton) whines, "This is what happens when we drink: We sign up for stupid committees. Or get Brick."
But as Orson itself expresses in a self-deprecating new town motto: "Why not?" This episode (Wednesday, 8/7c, ABC) truly is cause for celebration, as TV's most heartfelt and hilariously relatable family sitcom reflects on what brought Frankie and Mike (Neil Flynn) to Orson in the first place, while giving their lovably imperfect offspring a chance to shine in clever-to-wacky subplots. (Sue's attempt to make Darrin jealous by cozying up to her flamboyant BFF Brad is especially genius.)
Most Bones fans will likely agree with its title character (Emily Deschanel) when Brennan declares to her intended, Booth (David Boreanaz), "We've waited long enough." The wait is over, as the brusque forensic anthropologist and her impetuous FBI baby-daddy finally head to the altar — although for most of this endearing episode (Monday, 8/7c), nearly everyone in the Jeffersonian lab, including a full complement of returning Squints, is laying bets that the wedding will never happen. There's a new case, after all, and the real challenge is to keep Bones from becoming too distracted. Cyndi Lauper (returning as psychic Avalon Harmonia) is on hand to perform at the ceremony, but what she should really be singing is "Get Tempe to the Church on Time." There are additional complications and intimations of cold feet before the lovely finish, but Angela (Michaela Conlin) probably says it best: "You don't want your fingers to smell like death when Booth puts on the ring."
She's right. And: ew.
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Question: I'm enjoying The Blacklist thus far and would watch it for James Spader's performance alone, but I'm also enjoying the stories as well. NBC is sticking to a formula that has worked before, albeit on a sister network. The intriguing loner, at odds with a government agency, solving the case of the week with the help of his associates, with a through story that's addressed for a few minutes at the start and end of each episode, just enough to keep the serial nature of the story going. Am I the only one who thinks that The Blacklist is Burn Notice with a network budget? If the show is successful, NBC will end up as an expensive version of USA Network. Not there's anything wrong with that. — Rick
Is "I've Got You Under My Skin" the most appropriate sweet nothing to croon in the skin-crawling world of AMC's The Walking Dead? No matter, because there's not much of a lull in Sunday's powerful episode (9/8c), ominously titled "Infected." Which suggests the virus that felled Nerd Boy last week creates a bloody panic in the cell block, reminding us how illusory any notion of safety can be. "I haven't seen anybody be lucky in a long time," former Army medic Bob Stookey (new regular Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) observes as a full gamut of courage, terror and anguish is displayed during and after the latest crisis. Earning special bonus stripes this week: Melissa McBride as the awesome Carol, who takes a few distraught girls under her wing, but not to coddle them: "You want to live, you have to become strong" is her mantra. Meanwhile, the walkers keep pressing up against the prison gates and the audience can't get enough of the riveting mayhem, as evidenced by the record numbers who turned out for last Sunday's premiere.
History be damned. And that's no joke, though the show sometimes feels like one. The CW's Reign (Thursday, 9/8c) is all about herstory, an opulent and giddy bodice-ripper very loosely inspired by the teenage years of the ultimately ill-fated Mary, Queen of Scots (a pouty Adelaide Kane). It's like Masterpiece Junior as seen on MTV after a jolt of Red Bull, or more to the point, Gossip Girl goes to court. And while it will win no prizes for scholarly accuracy (to put it mildly), Reign is such a fanciful folly of royal romance and literally poisonous court gossip that it's hard not to hail a CW show that breaks so lavishly from the network's usual formula of angst-ridden ghouls and cloying rom-com.
Toy Story of Terror
It's Scream with playthings. A scream and a hoot, to be precise. And the first real event of the Halloween season, deserving to become an annual family tradition right up there with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown — which ABC is holding until Halloween night itself. Disney Pixar's first made-for-TV special, ABC's Toy Story of TERROR! (Wednesday, 8/7c), is a delightful half-hour vignette of gags, action and self-empowerment, couching its never-give-up message in terrific non-stop entertainment. Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are back as Woody and Buzz, along with such other iconic fan faves as Don Rickles' Mr. Potato Head and Wallace Shawn's anxious dinosaur Rex, but the focus is on cowgirl Jessie (Joan Cusack), who has to face her abandonment issues and fear of being boxed up alone when one by one, her pals keep disappearing from a shady roadside motel where their owner Bonnie (and her mom) are staying overnight.
The periods are a giveaway. The more I watch ABC's lighter-than-helium super-spy romp Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which was just picked up to no one's surprise for a full season, the more I feel thrust back to a different time, a simpler and brighter time when organizations like U.N.C.L.E. (as in, The Man From ...) held sway on TV, fighting its evil counterpart T.H.R.U.S.H. — or given the hokey jokiness of S.H.I.E.L.D., maybe a better parallel is Get Smart and KAOS (which I'm not sure used periods, though maybe should have). I'm not what you'd call a comics maven, so I can't help it that I giggled every time the word "Gravitonium" was uttered in last week's episode. Things get a tad more serious this week (Tuesday, 8/7c) when the team comes across a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who's apparently gone rogue — but as the episode's title ("Eye Spy") suggests, you can't always believe your (or someone else's) eyes.
Mayim Bialik, Jim Parsons
Question: So now that we have quickly and predictably sorted out CBS's switch of We Are Men with Mike & Molly (and you called that one out a long time ago), can we now focus on further obvious moves for the Fox, NBC and ABC sitcom slates? I know Fox wants to be in the Seth MacFarlane business, but how soon can we banish the 1990s relic Dads and replace it with Raising Hope, which is just screaming to be back on Tuesdays? Can NBC just return low-rated but at least cult classic Community back to Thursdays where yes, it will do poorly but at least it has 80-plus episodes to its name and more value than these dire new cadets, so bye-bye Welcome to the Family, which was wrongly paired with Parks and Recreation to begin with. I can also live without Sean Hayes' and Michael J Fox's "supposed" comebacks, but one step at a time for poor NBC.
It's raining zombies, quite literally, by the end of the first hour of The Walking Dead's fourth harrowing season (Sunday, 9/8c, AMC). And when it rains, it pours blood. Just how fans like it.
But it's in the pauses between the gruesome action, those eerie and unsettling silences, when we're reminded there's no rest for the living in a treacherous world where swarming walkers are constantly pressing against the prison-shelter gates, insatiable and relentless. In these quieter moments, Dead reinforces its claim as TV's greatest horror drama by making us care so desperately about the characters' humanity.