Tom Hanks, Conan O'Brien Tom Hanks, Conan O'Brien

This was a week dominated by the Coco Express (and the launch of Conan took some of my focus off prime time this week, so this will be a more selective roundup). Let's start there.

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LATE NIGHT WITH COCO
: If Conan O'Brien keeps creeping earlier and earlier onto the schedule with each step of his career (from 12:30 to 11:30 and now to 11/all times ET), eventually he'll be ready for prime time. But not really. As I noted in my insta-reaction to Conan's opening night, the move to basic cable (feeding nicely into Conan's self-mocking persona) is the equivalent of going from Broadway to off-Broadway. Ergo the hipster beard. Being the underdog suits Conan, and while his explosive opening ratings quickly came down to earth, it's clear that a significant slice of the younger fan base is thrilled to see this funky and deeply silly Irish folk hero of TV comedy get back in the game. Andy Richter, too, who's proving to be an invaluable sidekick. Letting him sit next to the host again (as opposed to being stranded across the stage at a podium, as in the misbegotten Tonight experiment) is one of the smartest moves Conan has made so far.

Conan's best night in the first week was unquestionably Tuesday's show, thanks in part to the reliable wit of guest extraordinaire Tom Hanks (who gamely took a bucket of water as they whale-watched on the seascape backdrop). Accused of starting the "Coco" craze, Hanks shot back, "Finally, he'll blame something on someone other than Jay." Touché! (Conan knows he can play the victim card only so long, and pretty much backed off the NBC-bashing after opening night.) Conan's visit to the deadpan TBS censor was the best single comedy bit of the week as well, as he tested goofy sexual euphemisms ("taking Grandma to Appleby's," "the old Tokyo sandblaster") and the limits to what he's allowed to wear — or not wear — on air. He also mocked TBS' dubbing of movies like Die Hard 2: "Yippee-ki-yay, misterfalcon??" His Tuesday opening was pretty inspired as well, as he pulled a few whiskers to placate a fan ("Next they'll be asking for ear wax!" a grossed-out Andy remarked) and made one of his best TBS jokes: "The whitest man in show business is back on the second-blackest channel on TV."

As these shows tend to be, Conan can be hit and miss. Take Wednesday's show. The highs: Jon Hamm, with a very funny bit on being a middle-aged Superman. Plus Conan's riff on rejected show titles, including Plan B With Conan O'Brien, Finally a White Guy's Take on Things and One Night Closer to Death. The lows: performance artist Christine Yi cracking herself up but no one else, and Will Forte's overlong impersonation of Ted Turner, riding a stuffed buffalo. Some of his rants on "man lady" Conan and his audience of "twittering parasites" were funny, but inserting something that feels like a bad SNL sketch is not the way to go. The hilarity continued Thursday, as Conan welcomed some of basic cable's other biggest "stars": Kardashian hanger-on Bruce Jenner, a bug-eyed "Hoarder" and a platter of Deadliest Catch Alaskan king crabs. Conan feels right at home in this wacky company. Having him back in late night, whatever the channel, is a good thing.

HOWLINGLY GOOD: Top drama honors this week goes to FX's Terriers, which I wrote about earlier, but even days later can't stop marveling at the construction of an episode that mixed so much intrigue, tension and emotional fireworks.

With his ex Gretchen's wedding as a backdrop, Hank spends the first part of the episode desperately trying not to fall off the wagon. Donal Logue is terrific as he bottoms out, then rallies when he stumbles upon a new cause and an old nemesis: evil lawyer Ben Zeitlin and his smarmy henchman Mr. "Tan Suit" Burke, threatening a female investigative reporter who is coming perilously close to unraveling the truth about the fraudulent land-grab (shades of Chinatown) that Hank and Britt stumbled across during the first third of the season.

This sinister confrontation, which Hank is eavesdropping upon with the help of a Lone Gunmen-style posse of techies, is all happening in the same posh hotel where Gretchen's wedding is taking place, with Britt and Katie as guests. Hank's canny rescue of the reporter dovetails with a shattering blowup when Katie blurts out the truth of why she's been lying about her pregnancy. Michael Raymond-James' distraught hurt is agonizing, as Britt prods Katie (a never-better Laura Allen) to explain why this happened. "You're not ready," she says. And he is destroyed. As Hank the hero finds a dejected Britt sitting on the curb (gutter?) as the episode ends, Britt declares, "I need a drink more than ever in my life." Hank, puffed up with purpose, answers: "I don't." And so we're off for the final episodes of the first (and hopefully not last) season. Be there.

THE PEN IS MIGHTIER: The week's top (prime time) comedy honors goes to another underdog: NBC's seriously demented Community, with a self-referential and thoroughly ridiculous "bottle episode", a genre Abed naturally despises: "They're wall to wall facial expression and emotional nuance. I might as well sit in the corner with a bucket on my head." And later, in a "few words of sarcasm," he notes, "I much prefer being entombed alive in a mausoleum of feeling I can neither understand or reciprocate." The catalyst for this week's madness: a hysterical Annie (Alison Brie at her most ferocious), who refuses to let any of her study group go to the puppy parade until she smokes out the culprit who stole her pen, a quest that exposes cracks in the group dynamic and the putrid stench of what lies beneath Pierce's leg casts, as everyone eventually strips down, emotionally and literally to their underwear.

"It's not a pen, it's a principle," Annie insists to Jeff after she finishes her primal scream, but other values are at stake, as Britta launches a civil-liberties screed when they suggest going through her purse, and all the ladies' sense of privacy is violated when Abed's chart of their menstrual cycles is revealed. Shirley tries to keep the contents of her "comically huge bag" private — "This Christian woman thought you'd find it on the Muslim," she notes — but a pregnancy test is unearthed, and while she talks of reconnecting with her husband (who will be played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner), Abed calculates she was ovulating on Halloween, which complicates things. (A Shirley-Senor Chang offspring? Horrors!) After all that, it turns out the monkey did it. Brilliant stuff, reminding us once again that Community is the hidden gem on NBC's perilously uneven Thursday comedy lineup.

ZOMBIES IN, SPIES OUT: It takes guts for a network like AMC, riding a wave of critical and (with The Walking Dead) popular success, to admit that one of its shows simply didn't work. That would be Rubicon, the cerebral and wonderfully acted but dramatically inert spy drama. In the same week when AMC officially renewed Walking Dead for a second season (of 13 episodes, hooray), the adventurous channel finally confirmed that Rubicon would not be returning for a second season. This is not a sign that quality no longer matters here. Mad Men and Breaking Bad are still thriving and pushing boundaries, upstaging pay giants like HBO (which lacks the stones to pull any of its underachievers off the schedule, especially its miserable slate of so-called comedies). And even if you don't have the stomach for horror, The Walking Dead is strong, gripping entertainment.

In Rubicon, I'll miss Arliss Howard's crafty boss Kale Ingram most of all, but James Badge Dale's Will and his twitchy team of prickly intelligence analysts were fascinating characters as well. Too bad they were mired in pretentious, leaden storytelling, yoked to a conspiracy plot that wasn't nearly as shocking as they imagined. Rubicon's producers often cited movies like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor as inspiration, but those thrillers had pace and managed to sustain, not squander, tension. I'm hoping AMC has better luck next year with what sounds like a sophisticated take on a murder-mystery, The Killing.

Meanwhile, can we talk The Walking Dead? Week two escalates into full-blown horror, as Sheriff Rick Grimes is rescued from his tank prison by the spunky young Glenn. He's introduced to a group of scavenging survivors whose home base is a camp in the woods where (unbeknownst to Rick) his wife and son are waiting. But first they have to get out of Atlanta intact, and that involves chopping up a zombie corpse (an organ donor, hee) and smearing the entrails all over Rick and Glenn, leading to the memorable line: "We need more guts." A rainstorm washing the gore off their bodies complicates the escape, but eventually everyone gets away. Except for raging racist redneck Merle (Michael Rooker), who's left handcuffed and howling for revenge on the rooftop. This being a survival parable as well as a scary action series, The Walking Dead not so subtly reminds us that the human monster can be just as scary and deadly as the hungry, lumbering zombies in their midst. Some have questioned how long a series like this can be sustained, but having seen the next two episodes, which admirably balance character drama and terror, I'm in it for the long haul.

HORMONE HIGH: Like an episode of Afterschool Musical, this week's typically polarizing episode of Glee takes on the Very Important Issue of bullying, especially the anti-gay variety, and the way it played out amid subplots of hetero hormonal high jinks brought out the legions of Glee-bashing bullies in full force. (For the record, nothing bores me more than Glee backlash.) At the same time, the episode probably also sold millions of downloads of the instantly addictive a cappella treatment of Teenage Dream. And so it goes.

As Kurt (the brilliant Chris Colfer) copes with a football jock who brutally throws him into the lockers and then hits a brick wall trying to find anyone at McKinley High to come to his defense, he goes undercover at an impossibly virtuous all-boy prep school (Gay Valhalla) and meets hunky gay confidant Blaine, a fairy god-boyfriend of sorts who texts Kurt "Courage" after inspiring him with said treatment of Teenage Dream. Meanwhile, the straight boys — and Tina — cope with their frustrated adolescent sexual urges by conjuring mental images of Shrek-like Coach Beiste (in various humiliating costumes) to douse their ardor. A psychological cold shower, if you will. Beiste learns of this and quits, but Mr. Shue woos her back with a tender friendship kiss, the patronizing "ick factor" of which is off the charts. But that's nothing compared to the shock Kurt sustains when he finally stands up to his bullying nemesis and is rewarded with a tormented and shocking kiss. Yep, the bully is a closeted, confused lost soul, lashing out at the school's one symbol of gay pride. I am so praying we don't get a Dr. Phil dream cameo before this is all over. In the meantime, I'm checking my atlas to see where in Ohio there's a school like the Dalton Academy. Must be in Brigadoon County.

Kurt's isn't the only same-sex kiss raising eyebrows this week. Over on The Good Wife, while Michael J. Fox merrily chews the scenery as sweeps-stunt guest star of the week (a canny New York lawyer using his disability to charm and sway the jury in a class-action case), we get more insight into the mysterious Kalinda's flexible sexual orientation and, more to the point, emotional ambivalence. We meet a bitter ex named Donna, played by Six Feet Under's Lili Taylor, a public defender who hasn't gotten over Kalinda. "I won't tell him how heartless you can be," she tells Kalinda regarding work rival Blake, who's been sniffing around Kalinda's sexual past. ("It's better not to keep secrets. Then people don't go looking," he warned Kalinda earlier.) In another scene, Donna tells Kalinda, "You broke my heart," to which Kalinda replies, "I'm not ... domestic." And they kiss, but Donna pulls and runs away. Messy much, my stylish booted friend?

The Good Wife episode is all about dirty tricks, as both sides in the class-action case play for keeps. Meanwhile, Eli sets up political rival Glenn Childs' campaign manager, getting the stooge to leak a viral cartoon mocking new candidate Wendy's breast augmentation (unaware she had had a double mastectomy). Oops. And loved the twist at the end where the firm celebrates settling the high-profile pharmaceutical case for $35 million, only to have Fox kill Alicia's buzz by revealing that his client was prepared to go as high as $50 million. "You were new math. I was advance trig," he says, gloating about his $1.3 mil stock option bonus. I smell a rematch in their future.

PATTERN CRIMES: Iman is fierceness personified as host and judge of Bravo's revamped The Fashion Show reality competition, but I'm skeptical about the dueling-fashion-houses premise. How does individual expression get rewarded when everything's a team challenge? This same format ruined HGTV's Design Star last summer. But yikes to the max as breakout villain Calvin Tran butts heads with the exotic beauty. "Tomato, to-mah-to," he shrugs when Iman criticizes his color choice. "It's not a tomato OR a to-mah-to. It's a yellow!" Iman barks, going on to call his creation "a fashion emergency, and it needs an evacuation." Still, he's safe because frazzled Francine's look reminds one of the other judges of something you'd see on the rack at Strawberry. Ouch.

NEW GEEKS IN TOWN: There's a new doctor in the House, and I'm OK with that. Amber Tamblyn makes a good first impression as brainy med student Martha Masters, mocked (naturally) by House as "the love child of Einstein and Mary Poppins" and by a disgruntled Taub as "Pippi Longdivision." House fires her a lot, but she survives the first round, if only to keep Cuddy happy. (But she's still peeved, because House lied to her about a patient's doctored-up blood test.) ... Another brainiac who's growing on me: Sheldon's soul mate Amy Farrah Fowler (played with masterful deadpan by Mayim Bialik) on The Big Bang Theory, who decides to bond with Penny and Bernadette on "girls' night" and is predictably tone deaf when it comes to girl talk: "I have a real zinger about my tilted uterus."

ODDS AND ENDS: While I appreciate that everyone's a neurotic mess on Grey's Anatomy, and the aftereffects of the shooting trauma can't and shouldn't be resolved quickly, I find myself growing weary of Cristina going off the rails, quitting the program and — judging from next week's trailer — getting even more manic (if that's possible) as a bartender. Enough already. ... Speaking of enough's enough, thank Cthulhu that South Park has finally brought its "Coon & Friends" superhero/comic-book parody to an end. Outside of Cartman playing "cute kitty" on Cthulhu's back, and Kenny-as-Mysterion lamenting his super power of coming back from the dead (while nobody ever remembers how often he dies), this trilogy was too much of an unfunny thing, and could have served as a single episode playing off the BP oil spill. ... Also getting impatient with The Vampire Diaries. Too weeks of exposition-dumping blah-blah about "breaking the curse" is at least one week too many. Bring on Big Bad Klaus already! ... Let's end on a positive note: John Slattery showing his comic range on 30 Rock as the certifiably lunatic political rival to Jack's congressional nemesis, running on a "goo goo ga ga" platform. Think Mad Hatter's Tea Party, and then imagine Roger Sterling in a diaper. Comedy gold.

AS HEARD ON TV: "Oh, here go hell come." — Calvin ruffling feathers and mangling the English language on The Fashion Show. ... "She doesn't commit suicide. She inspires it." — Alan to son Jake on Two and a Half Men, referring to dragon-lady grandma Evelyn being depressed on her birthday. ... "Since when it is OK to shoot people in this hospital?" — Lexie barking at Alex on Grey's Anatomy for playing with a toy ping-pong shooter he confiscates from a patient. It probably is too soon to be playing with guns at Seattle Grace. ... "Is it like lap-dancin' scandalous?" — Sarah Palin watching daughter Bristol rehearse a saucy Dancing With the Stars routine. Sadly, the answer to her question is no. Even more sadly, Bristol's still dancing in the semi-finals. ... "I trust awards shows. They tell me how much to care about different dead people." — Liz Lemon reacting badly to Jenna's plot on 30 Rock to influence Tracy's chances with the Golden Globes voters. ... "I hate playing stupid so much, but it's like the smartest thing to do right now." — Fabio finally catching on to how to play Survivor. Meanwhile, Marty is booted for being too smart for the room. ... And finally, here's Jon Stewart on Keith Olbermann's short-lived "indefinite" suspension from MSNBC for breaking NBC's journalistic code with his political donations. "It's a stupid rule, but at least it was enforced poorly."

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