Hell to the yes!
We lead off this week's rundown with congratulations to New Directions for winning Regionals, but more to the point, to Glee for finally giving us something to sing about again, delivering an overdue winner of an episode that reminds us why we fell in love with this musical-comedy-fantasy in the first place. Seeing an episode that gets so many things right, after so many recent episodes that felt perilously off-key, has me wondering if Glee wouldn't be better off producing on a cable schedule of fewer episodes per season, allowing for more polish and less thematic incoherence. A moot point, because corporate greed and the show's own popularity would never allow it.
But let's accentuate the positive, as the great old song goes. Replacing the time-honored "let's put on a show" mantra with "let's write an original song," this tune-stuffed hour focused on the kids (always more fun than those aggravating adults-who-act-like-children), and what plot there was developed character through music. Sometimes for comic effect — loved how Santana's hilariously torchy "Trouty Mouth" ode to Sam was briefly trending on Twitter — but more frequently for overdue emotional payoff, because as Mr. Shue says, "The greatest songs are about hurt." Which leads to heartsick Rachel's Get It Right power ballad and the exuberantly defiant Loser Like Me anthem with its confetti-Slushee climax. Like the best Glee episodes, this one spreads the wealth, giving Mercedes a rousing Hell to the No number (already a workout favorite) and Puck a Big Ass Heart salute to plus-sized Lauren. Top dramatic honors go to Quinn and her confrontation with Rachel, a wake-up call for the diva to get over her high-school crush because, unlike Finn and Quinn, she doesn't belong in Lima. Rachel is special — and I'm glad the episode gave her an un-ironic win.
Also special: Kurt, who gets a big swoony win as well — no trophy, but a trophy boyfriend, plus a performance spotlight alongside Blaine after schooling the Warblers star on his "numerous" solos: "I feel like we're Blaine and the Pips." Crooning Blackbird after the sudden death of Pavarotti the canary, songbird Kurt warbles his way into Blaine's affections, and the rest is gay-TV history: a kiss that sent message boards and Twitter into a frenzy, setting up a Regionals duet of Candles that gives Kurt stage fright but Blaine the chance to tell Kurt how adorable he is. They both are. Raise Your Glass to Glee this week, and let's hope the last batch of episodes this season can live up to this standard.
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SPACE CAMP: Oh V, you foolish failed show, why did you wait so long to give us a taste of what could have been? The season (very likely series) finale gives us a top candidate for line of the week, if not the month (or season): "Now THAT'S how you kill your mother!" Genius!
This is Anna, showing wimpy daughter Lisa — who botched her own planned assassination of Anna — how it's done, as the evil queen dispatches the unfortunate deposed matriarch Diana (toodles, Jane Badler) with her killer lizard tail. It's not the only gloriously garish death scene in the episode. From matricide to patricide, as boring turncoat alien Ryan sneaks back on the ship to fetch his rapidly maturing hybrid daughter Amy, but is instead killed (presumably) when Amy wraps her own tail around dad's neck, revealing her allegiance to surrogate mommy Anna. The audience at home chants: "Now THAT'S how you kill your father!" And then it's time to say goodbye to the show's most annoying character: Erica's gung-ho empty shirt of a son Logan, bedding the newly hatched Lisa clone (whose Alien-esque birth gave us Anna's other great line of the week: "Put skin on my daughter, and make sure she looks exactly like Lisa!"). Resting in post-coital bliss, poor Logan doesn't see it coming when NotLisa extends her toothy lizard jaw and rips his throat out. As the audience at home chants, "Not THAT's how you kill a doofus!"
Sadly, no other boring humans are harmed during the making of this episode — although most of them (including no-longer-Father Jack) end up dazed by a cosmic dose of Bliss, a quality this show waited way too long to produce.
SHOULD-SEE TV: We're a long way away from the days when NBC "must-see" Thursday comedies like Friends, Seinfeld, Will & Grace and Cheers dominated the prime-time landscape. No longer mass in appeal, NBC's sitcoms now tend to lean toward irony first, with self-consciously hip pop-culture riffs defining absurdist characters who can be suffocatingly smart-alecky in tone. NBC's new programming regime gave the lineup (all but the negligible Perfect Couples and Outsourced) a vote of confidence this week by renewing Community (my current favorite), The Office (the night's anchor, still popular though running on fumes — and who knows what the show will be like in the wake of Steve Carell's departure next month) and the steadily improving Parks and Recreation (an Office clone that has found its own voice and is now as good as The Office was during its brief peak).
The highlight of this week's "should-see" Thursday comedy lineup was unquestionably Parks' long-awaited and very enjoyable "Harvest Festival" episode, the culmination of a very strong story arc and a personal triumph for Amy Poehler's hard-working Leslie Knope, who withstands media cynicism and a local native-American curse for staging the festival on sacred battle burial grounds. Stealing the show: an aged local legend of a miniature horse named "Lil Sebastian," and it's hard to say what was funnier: the ecstatic look of boyish glee on sourpuss Ron Swanson's face when the mini-horse is led into the office, or the look of utter incomprehension on outsider Ben's face. Adam Scott (Ben) has been a great addition to the show, and while his nerdy horsing around with Leslie is awfully reminiscent of the Michael-Holly bond on The Office (these shows are well paired together, because they're virtually the same), they tend to humanize each other, which is a good thing.
Meanwhile, Rashida Jones continues to convince us how rattled Ann is in the wake of being dumped by Rob Lowe's Chris (who returns next week, yay). She tries confessing her "bottoming out" to Donna, who kills with her response: "I'm gonna recommend you bottle that noise up!" And in the best subplot, Andy learns that the wrong way to respond to your snarky girlfriend April's "I love you" while trying to win her a bazillion teddy bears is to say: "Dude, shut up! That is awesome sauce!" Later, after the curse is lifted — but not before we see a Taiwanese animated re-enactment — Andy tells April he really does love her: "It's what makes the sauce so awesome." That sauce is good enough to make what they're serving on Deep Fried Boulevard taste good.
Best insta-catchphrase of the night, as Leslie reacts to a sudden power blackout: "Crap on a spatula!"
THE OPPOSITE OF BRAVO: On the other extreme: How do you parody something that is itself a parody? Not very well, given the evidence of an unusually painful outing of 30 Rock gussied up as an episode-length spoof of faux Bravo celeb-reality shows: In this case Queen of Jordan, all about Tracy's wife (a game Sherri Shepherd) and her stereotypical entourage. Though there were some clever stylistic gags — credits include a "guest starring" Tina Fey, and "written by" has quotes around it, and a chyron ID introduces Liz as "another person" — this overdone gimmick based on an overexposed, and rarely as amusing as it thinks it is, subgenre of TV only accentuates the show's most annoyingly silly tendencies. The episode stalls frequently with a run of sophomoric gay jokes, a pratfall sending Jack into an unlikely tizzy (followed by a fart joke), the waste of Susan Sarandon as a Mary Kay Letourneau-like teacher who once had a thing for the show's most repulsively unfunny character (Frank), and a typically heinous Jenna subplot in which she hurls wine on everyone to force her way on camera (one of many trite, sub-SNL Bravo jabs) and then exults in her own intervention.
The biggest laugh I got during that half-hour may have been from the Law & Order: Los Angeles promo touting that misbegotten show's return next month. All together now: "Now THAT's how you off a series regular!"
"SITUATION" COMEDY: Or should we say: Schaden-fraud. How satisfying was it to see Jersey Shore knucklehead Mike "The Situation" bomb on the dias of Comedy Central's roast of Donald Trump? Note to world: How could someone this useless become this famous? (Meanwhile, Snooki found herself in the WWE Raw ring, a much more suitable arena for a no-talent.) Even with all the near-death jokes aimed at Larry King (who was pretty funny), the "Situation" died a miserable death at the mike, delivering his jokes badly with a self-impressed smirk that turned sheepishly defensive as the boos began to escalate. I think my TV got flop sweat. Normally I'd feel sorry for someone in that, er, situation. But I'd like to think revealing moments like this could hasten the end to these crass acts' inexplicable overexposure. All hail Marlee Matlin, who got in the best dig: "Like the Situation, I too have never heard the sound of laughter." And Jeff Ross, who echoes my sentiments exactly: "I'm looking forward to 'The Cancellation.'"
IDOL-ATRY: Speaking of bombing, how about that boring performance on Thursday's American Idol results show from Lee De Why-in-the-world-did-anybody-ever-vote-for-that-guy, an unwelcome reminder of how awful Idol was last year. (He'd be gone by now, if he'd even made it this far, on the current season.) I guess they brought him out early so they can spend the rest of the season ignoring the 2010 debacle. No issues yet with who's been sent packing or who's been in the bottom three so far during these eliminations. Let's break down the remaining Top 11:
Naima: What's tone got to do with it? I like this girl's style, but ouch on the vocals. Paul: Dude, stop twitching like a spastic marionette and focus on the singing. Like Naima, I want to enjoy this oddball, but he's already like a parody of himself. Thia: Wake me up when this Disney princess does something interesting. Feels like the kind of performance you see on Oscar night as you drift off between awards. James: Annoyed me during auditions, but he comes alive on stage. A true showman. And I hope Steven Tyler sticks to his guns (or is that gums) and performs alongside him during the finale — because this is James' to lose. "That man right there has a rich vein of inner crazy," Tyler declares, and he should know. Haley: A literal siren, because she makes you want to cover your ears. Unless she has a Motown miracle next week, she's next to go. Stefano: A little cheesy, but adorable enough for Glee — or the next boy band. He'd be a keeper if he'd just open his eyes when he sings. Pia: The female front-runner, a gorgeous belter who only lacks the element of surprise. Scotty: An instant star, a natural. Does he have range? Does it matter? Casey: Smells like ... "the goop that great stuff is made of," according to Steven Tyler, even when the bearded one takes a big risk with Nirvana. "We need fearlessness!" yells Randy in one of his better moments. Casey seems like the smartest musician on that stage. But is he too much for the room, and will he continue to connect with the masses? Lauren: Southern prom teen queen (yawn), this year's Diana DeGarmo (double yawn). She'll have to really bomb to be in danger. Jacob: A little of that "Lusky stank" goes a long way, and it's getting out of control. With Motown on the horizon, Diana Ross called and is demanding her diva card back.
REALITY CHECK: Very pleased that Syfy renewed FaceOff on the same day as its satisfying first-season finale. The last challenge was typically creative and revelatory, as the final four special-effects makeup artists were tasked to reinvent classic fairy tale icons. Gage clearly won this round with his disturbing riff on an "industrial" Hansel and Gretel (the hands pressing from inside the witch's stomach was awesome), but Conor won the grand prize for his brilliant technique and consistency. (The inflatable throat bladder Conor installed inside the grotesque Frog Prince's neck was brilliant.) Can't wait to see what visions are in store for next season. A win ... On Top Chef: All-Stars, Tiffany finally is sent packing this week. A flaw of this show is the way middle-of-the-road talents who play it safe tend to overstay their welcome when more accomplished chef-testants flame out earlier for overreaching. ... How great is Matt's winning streak on Survivor's Redemption Island? The first person sent there, he has vanquished all challengers to date, and I'm rooting for him to stick it out long enough to return to the game as payback for the overly cocky Rob. (Though Rob did amuse me as he playfully switched clues, sending Grant scrambling to find the immunity idol already in Rob's possession. "I have to entertain myself out here somehow," Rob chuckles. "You gotta hustle if you wanna make a dollar. Everybody knows that.")
SURREALITY CHECK: As the nuclear crisis escalated in Japan this week, maybe not the best timing for NBC's woeful The Event to give us a backstory indicating that Thomas (the bad alien) was responsible for the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe. Fearing that Thomas will initiate a new meltdown in a nuke reactor outside San Diego, as he seeks uranium to power his alien-invasion portal, the good guys take the bait and transport the fuel rods away from the power plant. Hello, ambush. Goodbye, The Event.
EXIT STRATEGY: Raise your hands if you really thought they'd killed off Paget Brewster's tormented Emily Prentiss character on her farewell episode (for now) of Criminal Minds. Now put your heads down in shame for being fooled by such a familiar fake-out. Though staked in the gut by her former IRA nemesis Doyle, whose son's murder she faked a while back to break him, Emily survives to be relocated by JJ (fellow show refugee A.J. Cook) to Paris. We only see the back of her head, but I assume Prentiss is grinning ear to ear at getting her walking papers in the City of Lights. C'est la vie. Personally, I'm just glad to see Brewster returning to comedy, in the NBC pilot My Life as an Experiment. Fingers crossed.
THE HONOR ROLL: Who serves up better plot twists than Fringe these days? The Friday night fantasy series gave us a doozy last week, when Walter triggered William Bell's "soul magnet" by ringing the bell he left behind with Nina. But in what vessel does Bell's spirit choose to return? None other than the already beleaguered Olivia Dunham (thumbs up for Anna Torv's Nimoy impersonation). ... Loving the chemistry between Justified's drawling hero Timothy Olyphant and his sexy ex Winona, played with just the right amount of vulnerable sass by Natalie Zea. "She didn't seem so innocent," says the jerk bank robber who kicked her in the face — and gets clocked by Raylan. Turns out she's not so innocent, and she could be in a heap of trouble, if it's discovered she took a $100 bill out of an evidence locker that ended up in the robbers' hands. ... "I'm a really loud cryer," confesses a disarmingly emotional Bradley Cooper, repeatedly choking up as he sits across from mentor/dean James Lipton on Inside the Actors Studio, the first alum from the school to return in the hot seat. (In clips from past episodes, we see Bradley-the-student asking questions to Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg and his current Limitless co-star Robert DeNiro. Great stuff.)
AS HEARD ON TV: "Why do I have to put the VCR on 3 if Bones is on 5?" — A fun Community shout-out to the (former) competition, as Senor Chang attempts a heart-to-heart with Shirley's ex (Malcolm Jamal Warner) ... "I can't do reefer comedy! I'm drunk! Two different animals." — Homer Simpson being called into service to perform alongside Cheech Marin when Chong storms out. And thus is born "Cheech and Chunk." ... "I don't want to see Mike Isabella topless. And you don't, either." — Top Chef's Richard Blais fearing the worst as the remaining players dive for conch in the Bahamian beach challenge. ... "These girls remind me of crabs. ... They're quick to move away." — Survivor loose cannon Phillip wondering about his effect on the women of his tribe. ... "Grouper mouth. Froggy lips. I love sucking on those salamander lips. Want to put a fish hook in those lips so cherry red. If you tried hard enough, you could suck a baby's head." — Lyrics to Santana's Trouty Mouth on Glee. Just because.