Pop quiz: Which TV character this week said this line: "I'm tired of running." And who said this? "I'm done running." Hint: One of them is running straight to the unemployment line.
And so we confront the paradox that one character whose life is built on a lie — the celebrated anti-hero of Mad Men, Don Draper (who uttered the first line) — escapes his latest identity crisis and lives to see another day and several more seasons. Whereas the equally handsome Texas con man Robert Allen of Fox's DOA Lone Star (he's the source of the second quote, unloading on his crooked father) sees his story cut short after a mere two weeks on the air.
Want more Matt Roush? Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!
Makes you wonder how long Mad Men would have lasted if thrown into the unforgiving maw of network TV, where characters need to have at least a shred of likeability. Many critics (including myself) were wooed by the audacity and originality, and the high quality of acting and writing, on Lone Star, while understanding Fox was taking a huge risk in introducing a character playing such a long con — not just on everyday Americans he (and his dad) are bilking of money, but also on two women he professed to love. (On the road, when given the opportunity to cheat, Bob politely says no. He's faithful to the women he's unfaithful to.) Moral ambiguity is a tricky road for a network drama to navigate, and it seems Lone Star asked too much, regardless of the undeniable charisma possessed by James Wolk. (How soon before he gets snapped up to headline another show, or movie? Let's not forget the long string of flops George Clooney endured before ER exploded.)
I couldn't help reflecting on this summer's TCA press conference for Lone Star, where new-to-TV creator Kyle Killen (who made ardent pleas on his blog and elsewhere to drive viewers to the show last week) revealed his pitch: "I sold it as Dallas without the cheese." Turns out, a little more dairy might have helped this audacious premise go down easier. Killen very bluntly noted at the time: "I have no idea if this was a good idea for a network show, but I feel like they're willing to find out with the boldest, craziest version of it. If it's a failure, I think it's going to be a spectacular failure, and I like that idea."
Lone Star was going to either hit big or fail terribly, and while Killen may not in reality like what happened, there's no denying this is no ordinary first-of-the-season cancellation. Noble failures rarely are this interesting.
In the second and final episode, I was most impressed by David Keith's performance as Bob's unrepentant crook of a dad, unhappily trapped in a cubicle — reminiscent of Michael Chiklis' Vic Mackey at the end of The Shield — as he infiltrates Bob's Houston workplace, squirming at the thought of carrying through on a legitimate wind farm operation. Robert Allen really was trying to better himself and escape the criminal life, but even so, he was living a lie with two women and their families trapped in the middle (including a stepdaughter, who was invisible in the pilot and not a happy complication). What excited some of us was that we had no idea where this story was going, but it's also impossible to see how it could end well, and that's a tough pill for any viewer to swallow. So they didn't.
Meanwhile, Mad Men achieved yet another dramatic high this week as Don freaks out and melts down when feds do a routine check on Don's made-up past (seeking a security clearance for the agency's work with an aeronautics client), ensnaring a rattled Betty to lie on his behalf. Jon Hamm, working overtime to earn that elusive Emmy, convincingly plays Don's panic and fear of discovery, and the fallout couldn't be timed worse. He forces Pete to fall on his sword to drop the $4 million account, taking the blame and earning a blistering reprimand from Roger, who's hiding from the partners the terrible news that their biggest client, Lucky Strike, has just dropped them. (Nothing personal, he's told. But who didn't wonder if that means Sal might return, now that the closeted bully from Lucky Strike who had him sacked is no longer a factor?)
Don escaped his own crisis, but what about the agency? These next few episodes should be epic. The show has been on fire for weeks. This one was full of surprises. Not just the Lucky Strike twist, but the revelation that Joan was carrying Roger's baby — she took care of it in a sequence of silent sorrow — and the news that man-about-town Lane Pryce was a Playboy Club habitué and had fallen madly for a "chocolate bunny" named Toni Charles. He proudly reveals his interracial romance to his rigid, controlling father and gets whacked in the head with a walking stick for it. As this Dickensian dad grinds his foot into Lane's hand, demanding his son return to London to put his house in order ("You'll not live in-between"), we cringe.
It's a good thing The Beatles are in town, and that Don has scored tickets at Shea Stadium for a squealing Sally. For at least a moment, there's shared happiness in the Draper world — even Betty can't help smiling at her daughter's glee — and that's something to run toward, not from.
IN THE DOGHOUSE: Next question: Which character this week uttered this line: "Let's talk about Michael Bolton." No, it wasn't Dancing With the Stars' Bruno Tonioli, widely dissed for speaking harsh truths about the sullen singer's dreadful doggie jive. (On Dancing, a little Simon-style attitude goes a long way, and given that the show is more a career lark than a career goal like American Idol, insults are supposed to be delivered with a veneer of encouragement. But honestly, Bolton was hopeless, and didn't even seem to be enjoying himself. So good riddance.) The above Bolton quote was said, with rather uncanny timing, by Glee's Mr. Shue, pitching adult contemporary songs to the club for the upcoming assembly, when they'd all really rather obsess on Britney Spears. Uh, why? (Sorry, Glee, Britney's no Madonna, and this hallucinatory episode didn't measure up to last season's Madonna-rama, though Heather Morris was sensational in her dancing and her comedy. More on that in a bit.)
Bruno's Bolton diss and the resulting clamor weren't the only boos being analyzed on Dancing With the Stars this week. After front-runner Jennifer Grey's spectacular jive with Derek Hough, boos were heard while they were in the interview room, spawning a "Boo-Gate" controversy. Was the audience jeering at the fact the judges refused to pony up a single "9" for her routine, or were they cat-calling special audience guest Sarah Palin, who was settling in for a front-row chat with Tom Bergeron? The show insists the boos were about the scores, not about Bristol the Pistol's lightning-rod mama. You be the judge. (Putting my own sentiments aside, I don't see the Dancing crowd, even in this Hollywood setting, being that rude to even the most controversial visitor.)
By the way, what master of subtext is picking Bristol's musical selections? First "Mama Told Me Not to Come," and then "You Can't Hurry Love." What next: "I'm Just a Girl Who Cain't Say No?"
A KISS IS STILL A KISS: My love for ABC's Modern Family continues to grow in its second season, and I'm not afraid to express it in public. Unlike Mitchell, whose queasiness with PDA's (a trait inherited by his closed-off dad) makes for another inspired episode. The pratfall when the demonstrative Cam tried to give Mitchell a peck while perched on the back of a couch, toppling over and sending a bowl of chips flying (one lodged behind his ear), was classic slapstick with a sting. "You know what takes real strength?" Cam challenged Mitchel earlier. "Whining?" "Affection." Touche. We do witness a quick throwaway kiss between the guys once the fuss dies down, but it's their intimacy and familiarity that really matters in this portrayal. Eric Stonestreet and Jesse Tyler Ferguson, we heart you. And additional kudos this week to Sofia Vergara's Gloria, who gets back at Jay's mocking her Columbian kitchen traditions by getting him to "slap the chicken." Or as he later puts it, "For the better part of a half-hour, I screamed the death out of your meat." Serves him right.
LAUGHING MATTERS: Shel-bot FTW! Jim Parsons, the deserving winner of an Emmy for The Big Bang Theory, is a scream even when he's reduced to a talking head atop a robotic "mobile virtual presence device." Even in this form, he can order Penny out of his seat, knock on her door for a stanza of "Soft Kitty" and cause a fuss at the Cheesecake Factory, charging "discrimination against the otherwise located." ... Meanwhile, over on Community, a classic bit of physical comedy as Alison Brie's Annie chloroforms a janitor — twice! — while Abed and Troy freak out. "My whole brain is crying," squeaks Troy as we LOL. ... Happy to see Fox's Raising Hope holding up as the new season's freshest, funniest new sitcom. Little Hope may not smile much, but I'm grinning ear to ear at the broad, rude humor and the disarming sweetness amid the chaos. Martha Plimpton is sensational, whether she's making breakfast turtles or giving up her cigarette money to pay for child care. ... It's rare when Tracy Morgan is the funniest thing in 30 Rock, but his ride in Cash Cab on the way to his wife's latest baby delivery was a hoot. ... Why should we be surprised that The Middle's little Brick can't even blow his nose like a normal kid? (He blows in, not out.) After raking the leaves, he asks his dad to take him into the woods to set them free. A great bonding moment for Atticus Shaffer and Neil Flynn.
CLIFFHANGER OF THE WEEK: If the fall's new network shows aren't thrilling you, have you tried FX's Terriers (Wednesdays at 10/9c)? This week's outrageously entertaining episode ended on the kind of OMG moment that had the show's small but loyal fan base in stitches. Our heroes are up to their necks in crazy now. It starts when our PI heroes' nemesis, the crooked developer Landes, hires them to steal a quarter of a million dollars from himself. It ends when Landes, who has been hit by a car while running from them, dies in Hank's house — as Hank's former cop partner enters the scene. Also on hand: Hank's crazy off-her-meds sister, who's been squatting in his attic. What a mess. What a great show.
THE OUCH HEARD ROUND THE WORLD: Still reeling from the moment in the Amazing Race season opener when contestant Claire (part of a Home Shopping team) gets smacked in the face with an entire watermelon, the result of a reverse catapult incident. "I can't feel my face," she kept saying, but she carried on in classic Race tradition. The moment has become a YouTube sensation, but really: Yikes!
TWISTS AND TURNS: Quite the scoundrel Eli Gold (Alan Cumming) is turning out to be on The Good Wife. Yes, Alicia has made her choice for now between Peter the philandering husband and Will the flirtatious boss. But only because Eli deleted the voice-mail message in which Will took back his "let's just drop this" words to reveal his "I love you" plan. So much awkwardness at work, and not just because Michael Ealy has come aboard as part of the merger, admiring Alicia enough to volunteer to be her new mentor. Also loving Friday Night Lights' Scott Porter as Ealy's go-to investigator, who wastes no time getting in Kalinda's face and under her skin. Fireworks! ... And good for NBC's The Event not to keep us in the dark. In the second episode, the time-jumping isn't quite as obnoxious as in the pilot, and much of it helps answer questions, like who those detainees are in Alaska — as expected, they're aliens who crash-landed in 1944, and their leader Sophia (a very good Laura Innes) is keeping mum about their agenda. Meanwhile, we see how the bad guys kidnapped Sean's fiancé, framing Sean for the surfer dude's murder while they were at it. Jason Ritter, a classic Hitchcockian wrong-man, has a great line as he pleads to understandably skeptical FBI agents: "Why would I be making any of this up?" The Event isn't as deep or provocative as Lost — forget metaphysics, this show is purely physical — but in its own Perils-of-Pauline way, it's a fun ride. It also prompted the Tweet of the Week from Lost's Damon Lindelof: "I think The Event is swell, but if 24 and Lost really had a baby it would hate both its parents and regularly engage in torture." And friends, that would be an event.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR: Reason we who have it love TV On Demand: Pay giants HBO and Showtime duking it out on Sundays by programming their high-profile signature shows, Boardwalk Empire and Dexter, in the same 9/8c time period. Boardwalk holds up in episode 2, taking us to Chicago (great work from Stephen Graham as the young, volatile Al Capone) and New York (with Michael Stuhlbarg's quietly sinister Arnold Rothstein) and back again to Atlantic City, where Nucky extorts hotheaded Jimmy for $3000 in payback for the whiskey heist — meaning the boy has to take back the necklace he gave his showgirl mom Gretchen Mol. (And who was surprised when she turned out to be his mom instead of another floozy on the side?) This is a show to get lost in.
Meanwhile, on Dexter, Michael C. Hall brilliantly conveys his character's detached remorse over Rita's murder, flashing back to their first date (cover for stalking one of his victims) as he carries on in a daze, revealing the tragedy to Rita's kids while wearing Mickey Mouse ears. His bottled-up rage explodes at the expense of an unfortunate redneck, after which he releases a primal scream in front of Harry's encouraging ghost, which sends Dexter back in time to deliver a touching eulogy at Rita's graveside. Be patient, Dexter fans. The story kicks back into gear soon, but attention must first be paid to this game-changing twist. Still, you have my permission to fast-forward through any scene involving (snore) Angel and Lt. LaGuerta. And really, Deb? Getting it on with Quinn? The guy who wants to take your brother down? Stop it!
SPEARS CARRIER: OK, so there wasn't much going in this week's Glee beyond the over-the-top (so what else is new) homage to Britney Spears. Certainly no plot to clutter things up. So why go to Paramore for Rachel's climactic power ballad? Which, by the way, is two in two weeks for Rachel, and enough already; even the power of music can't make us forgive the way this character is currently written. But I digress. The point of this item is to celebrate the wit and glorious non-wisdom of Brittany S. Pearce, played by Heather Morris with a killer deadpan that this week exploded in ferocious dance and song. A few of her best non-musical moments follow: "I don't brush my teeth. I rinse my mouth out with soda after I eat. I was pretty sure Dr. Pepper was a dentist." In the dentist's chair (of an appropriately smarmy John Stamos): "This room looks like the one on that spaceship where I got probed." My favorite, as she pets Jacob's hair: "Looks like a Jewish cloud." And for those who feel Glee hasn't been quite on its game yet this season, next Tuesday's is a classic. Worthy of standing O's and more than a few Kleenex.
UNDER-WHELMED: I'd like to echo Gerald McRaney in regards to this week's forgettable second episode of Undercovers, a show I had such high hopes for. "Pains me. Deeply. In the groin." Actually, the pain barely goes skin-deep, which is about as deep as this shallow dud of a lark ever goes. Even with a script co-written by J.J. Abrams, and with head-turningly beautiful stars, this glossy globe-trotting caper never catches fire. It looks great but is about as filling as a canapé in the catering operation that's nowhere near as entertaining a cover as Chuck's Buy More store. I was OK with Sam chiding husband Steven on not reading directions — which comes back to haunt them on the current mission — but Undercovers becomes unbearable when the comic-relief supporting cast shows up, from the fawning sidekick to the insecure sister to the cocky agent who once bedded Sam and who is so annoying I wish the rescue from the pilot episode had failed. Undercovers is, so far, so tepid it makes USA's escapist summer hit Covert Affairs seem like John le Carre.
TEARJERKER OF THE WEEK: The sweetly eccentric Mondo has been my favorite designer on Project Runway all season, but this week, he broke and lifted viewers' hearts as he revealed his HIV-positive status after designing a personally revealing fabric with embedded plus-signs. Opening up on the runway after Nina Garcia prodded, "I wish I knew what the story was," he explained why he was breaking a 10-year silence over his HIV status. "I wanted to give something back of who I am now and that I've been so scared of and hiding from. That's the story." The story, and the design (which Michael Kors described as joyful), were good enough to earn him another win, but also the tearful respect and love of his fellow contestants. And, no doubt, the audience.
SEEING DOUBLE: Who doesn't love a good doppelganger? The real Gov. David Paterson made a surprise Weekend Update cameo alongside Fred Armisen's fake version as a highlight of Saturday Night Live's season opener. His best dig: "Working in Albany is just like watching SNL: There are a lot of characters, it's funny for 10 minutes, and then you just want it to be over." Word. ... Nina Dobrev's bravura dual performance on The Vampire Diaries takes a step forward when Elena and Katherine finally meet face to fang. It's a brief encounter, but there's no doubt the evil vamp means business. ... And has Anna Torv ever been better on Fringe than in her current double duty as Olivia, trapped on the other side, and the scheming Faux-livia putting one over on Peter and Walter on our side. "I guess there's nothing like seeing another version of yourself to give you a little perspective," says Peter — if he only knew — as he dances with the newly musically inclined Fake Agent Dunham.
WE NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CREEPY: "We don't go weird," says wife #1 Meri about the living arrangements, including bedroom schedules, of the polygamist family exploited in TLC's latest freak show Sister Wives. Because three-or-more-ways would somehow be distasteful? This real-life Big Love — depicting the mundane routines of a plural marriage between a man and his three wives and a brood of children, about to welcome a fourth wife into the fold — has put the participants in the crosshairs of the Utah authorities, which tend to look the other way UNLESS THE OFFENDERS ACTUALLY GO ON TV AND BRAG ABOUT IT.
I REMEMBER IT WELL: In honor of Jeff Zucker, who will soon leave NBC, the network he helped destroy, let's relive some of his greatest non-hits, courtesy of this inspired bit from Jimmy Kimmel's show. (And props to bringing up at least one disaster from Steve MacPherson's reign at ABC. Fair play.)
WEEK'S MOST ANNOYING CHARACTER: Ryan's aggravating mooch of a sister Paige on the CW's Life Unexpected, who burned down Baze's bar in the season opener and who has made life miserable for Ryan and Cate ever since. She steals $300 from Cate to help pay back Baze, which of course leads to little Lux falling under suspicion. She's no thief, but Lux is an academic cheat, and when she's busted, we got one of those only-on-the-CW moments where a teenager busted for cheating turns it around with a reprimand for bad parenting, as Lux blames them for pushing her too hard: "If you want a daughter that's you, I'm sorry, but I think you've got the wrong kid." Who's arguing?
HONOR ROLL: Vanessa Williams fits right into Wisteria Lane, trading barbs with old pal Felicity Huffman before moving in with Lynette's brood on Desperate Housewives, looking fabulous as usual. And Mark Moses' Paul Young, returning to the block with a revenge agenda, is the best villain this show has seen in quite a while. ... Jennifer Love Hewitt put herself through the emotional ringer as a terrified victim of serial rape on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (do not be surprised, given this show's track record, if she gets a guest Emmy nomination for it). Mariska Hargitay had one of her better moments recently when she confronted the perv perp in public, growling, "You're my bitch now." ... Sandra Oh, making us believe Cristina's post-traumatic panic attack during surgery on Grey's Anatomy, is bringing it this season. ... Ditto Dave Annable as a grown-up Justin on Brothers & Sisters, returning from a year's tour of duty in Afghanistan to a "family in limbo," including a strangely subdued Nora. Nothing a couple of cases of wine can't cure. But did we really have to endure the angst of Kitty pulling the plug on (an unseen) Robert? Not sure the jump ahead in time has really refreshed this aging show. ... The farewell scene in Sons of Anarchy between Katey Sagal's distraught Jemma as she drops her senile pop Hal Holbrook at the nursing home is Emmy bait for both. But that trauma is nothing compared to Jemma's collapse upon learning (in a phone call from Maureen in Dublin) what really happened with her baby grandson. When Irish eyes aren't smiling, indeed.
THEY SAID IT: "You could almost taste the resentment in her cookie." — A judge on Top Chef: Just Desserts. What she was tasting was loser Heather's, and everyone else's, disdain for Seth, who skates by again. How soon before they dump him for not actually conforming to the actual challenges? What nerve to present an "engagement cake" to wedding-cake queen Sylvia Weinstock. ... "Your tie, I think you have a little bit of brain on it." — Astrid saying words (to Walter) you're only likely to hear on Fringe. Until AMC's The Walking Dead premieres on Halloween, that is. ... "Seriously, you wear more vests than the cast of Blossom." — Sue Sylvester taking a dig at something other than Will's hair on Glee. Also loved her description of Emma as a "bony, red-headed hominid." ... "Full disclosure. Most of my experience is putting babies in women." — The welcome return of Chris Parnell's obtuse Dr. Spaceman on 30 Rock, this time as an ob-gyn for Tracy's wife, overheard during the delivery chanting, "Pull, Angie, Pull!" ... "You just unleashed an eight-legged man-eating shark on the world!" — Hello, Sharktopus. Syfy does it again with its cheesy Saturday night creature features. You have to think Big Bang's Sheldon would approve, given his defense of the dogopus. "A dogopus can play fetch with eight balls. No one can hate that." ... "If I cause a stranger to choke to death for my own amusement, what do you think I'll do to you if you don't tell me who ordered you to kill Colasimo?" — Boardwalk Empire's Arnold Rothstein, cutting to the chilling chase.
And that's a wrap.
Next week: The return of Syfy's Caprica and Comedy Central's South Park, Patrick Stewart does Macbeth for PBS and Bryan Cranston makes his Saturday Night Live hosting debut. What are you excited to watch next week, and what rang your chimes this week?
Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!