This was a good week for welcoming back familiar and much-missed talent to some very good shows. Let's start with one of cable's underdogs, TNT's gritty and gripping police drama Southland, which introduced Carl Lumbly (who'll always be Dixon from Alias to me) as the squad's militaristic new captain, Brucker. "Our job just got harder," grumbles one of the grunts. Bad for him, good for Southland. Pledging to command a pro-active patrol, with Mickey D applications at the ready for those who screw up, Brucker's mantra is: "We protect! We serve! And we kick a— till we smell s---!" Yeah, he's that kind of boss.
Some memorable Southland moments: Cooper and Tang (Lucy Liu, who's really growing on me) alert the wealthy family of a woman who has been mangled and dismembered in a grisly hit and run. As the husband stands in the doorway, apparently crying, we see he's laughing instead in glee, while his manservant announces to the jubilant staff, "La bruja esta muerte." (The witch is dead.) Yeah, it's that kind of show. Later, when Sherman and Bryant are called to the house of a cat lady who's shooting at intruders, their attempt to disarm her using a feline hostage nearly backfires when she goes for a concealed weapon, only to be shot down by Brucker. "Grandma ain't no joke," they say of "Grambo." Neither is Southland.
As Cheered earlier this week, Carla Gugino's return to the world of Elmore Leonard in Justified — she embodied his Karen Sisco for a too-fleeting moment back in 2003 — was one of the week's special treats. Packing heat in every way imaginable as Assistant Director Goodall, investigating a deadly breach in the local witness protection system, she clearly had some history with Raylan back in Miami. But she appears to get the message when he plants a big kiss on his pregnant ex Winona right in front of her. The episode is also a good one for the often underused Nick Searcy as Raylan's boss, Art, who gets the upper hand on the villain-of-the-week; and for Walton Goggins as Boyd Crowder, who manipulates the prison system so he can get some alone time with the petrified Dickie — thanks to a corrupt guard (Todd Stashwick) looking the other way — and make clear his claim on Mags' buried loot.
Which leads us to the episode's most significant new character: the electrifying Mykelti Williamson (formerly of Boomtown) as local holler legend Ellstin Limehouse — what a name! — whose menacing soliloquy, while butchering meat, to a petrified young night watchman lets us know he's no one to be trifled with. "Some dogs will take you not giving them the pain they deserve as weakness. Got no choice but to put that dog down." As the boy's dad leads him away, we see the long-ago scars on the old man's hand from the lye punishment Limehouse was threatening to administer to the kid. Let's take odds now on who'll win the inevitable showdown between Limehouse and Boyd Crowder.
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Going back to last Friday, how creepy is Jared Harris, returning as the new incarnation of Fringe's Frankenstein-ian David Robert Jones, creating an army of human-hybrid shape-shifters and hopping universes to stockpile some sort of weaponized rock? As he sacrifices one of his monsters in front of Fauxlivia and the Other Lincoln, he taunts: "If I'm willing to do that to someone I love dearly, imagine what I'll do to people I don't care about." Like the unfortunate 16 people in an ER snuffed out when one of his minions unleashes a toxic gas. And who's Jones in cahoots with? Nina Sharp, that's who, seen ominously typing, "We're working on her. She'll be ready soon." Who which what where huh? Olivia, either or both of you, watch your back!
And while we wait for Hilarie Burton to return to White Collar as Neil's squeeze — she's not in next week's episode, either (although True Blood's Joe Mangianello is a swell consolation prize) — she was clearly having a ball on Castle sending up the stereotype of a dithery sexpot of a reality diva (part Kim Kardashian, part Paris Hilton) implicated in the murder of a dog-show official. "Have you heard the phrase 'There's no such thing as bad press?' Having your picture taken with a dead guy is the exception." Needless to say, her charms are lost on Beckett, though not by the guys in the precinct.
I LOVE WHO? Is there any more sure-fire heart-tugger than when someone for whatever reason can no longer recognize their soulmate? (Although I cringe every time I see a trailer for the movie The Vow, which incorporates the same basic storyline.) In House, it happens as guest star Melanie Lynskey (who also earned a Cheer earlier this week) tends to her husband, who's suffering with early onset Alzheimer's and, after one of those life-threatening twists that happen so frequently at Princeton-Plainsboro, lapses back into his native Portuguese tongue. With House helpfully translating, the husband looks at his wife and says, "I knew that she was the one I wanted to marry, Every time I see her I say, 'There she is.'" And when Melanie marvels that "He's still in there," House translates the patient's next line: "He asked who you are." Ouch.
Things are much twistier on Once Upon a Time, as Snow White/Mary Margaret struggle in their respective worlds with their star-crossed attraction to otherwise-engaged Prince Charming/David. In Storybrooke, it ends happily-for-right-now when David discovers his mouse-wife isn't pregnant and heads to the morning coffee rendezvous (a half-hour late) to plant a passionate kiss on a stunned Mary Margaret as the evil mayor watches. Back in fairy-tale land, Snow denies her true love to save him, even if it destroys him — the wicked king has threatened to kill PC is she doesn't get him out of her head. So as she goes off with the dwarves, seemingly taking Grumpy's "I need my pain" advice to lay off the mind-wiping potion she scored form Rumpelstiltskin, we cut to the next morning, as Grumpy delivers the news that her Prince Charming has broken off his engagement with Midas' daughter. Snow's response: "Who?" as Grumpy reacts in dismay at the empty vial.
By the way, who knew there was an eighth dwarf? Went by "Stealthy," but maybe he should have been called "Unlucky," given that he takes a fatal arrow while saving Grumpy and Snow from the evil king's clutches. These revisionist moments are a big part of Once Upon a Time's appeal.
RUNNING GAGS OF THE WEEK: Raj's relationship with the electronic voice of Siri from his new iPhone on The Big Bang Theory. "Why don't women like me?" he laments. Her robotic response: "Let me check on that." Before long, he's programmed her/it to refer to him as "sexy." Sheldon, naturally, approves: "You have taken a great revolutionary leap by abandoning human interaction and allowing yourself to romantically bond with a soulless machine. Kudos." But when Howard and Bernadette go to Raj's for a "double date" of sorts, Bernadette can't help wondering, "Is that cute or creepy?" Howard: "Uh huh."
And then there's the spectacle of Tom Haverford bowling like a demented child, rolling the ball between his legs to score his strikes, enraging Ron Swanson in the process, on Parks and Recreation. "I'm asking you as a man to stop this immediately!" Ron bellows. No dice. And when Ron tries to crush Tom's fingers in the ball return mechanism, Tom's babyish whining makes it even worse. "Are you a female bird?" wonders a disgusted Ann. Naturally, Tom wins the game, crowing: "King Kong ain't got nothin' on me!" But then remembers he's supposed to be injured: "Oww, my fingie still hurts!" The bowling outing, intended to strengthen Leslie's regular-guy appeal and possibly succeeding — but only because Ben punches the jerk she's trying to win over — is one of the few times I've ever believed Pawnee might actually be in Indiana (instead of in a clever Hollywood writer's imagination).
Kudos as well to April, acting nice over the phone — so against her nature — to beat Chris at fund-raising and thus destroy his unnatural happiness. But then when Jerry's daughter breaks up with him, truly shattering his perky façade, April actually does make nice, offering him the free movie tickets she won (with an extra so they can make it a triple date). Her hatred of hugs is so intense I'd love to set her up with Sheldon Cooper.
ODDS AND ENDS: At least one person could empathize with President Obama's sheepish attempt to make a "spilled milk" joke during his State of the Union speech this week. "As someone who does comedy for a living... been there," cracked The Daily Show's Jon Stewart. "And I can tell you from experience, the worst part isn't the crowd's reaction. It's the wife." Sure enough, Michelle's smug look said, quoting Stewart, "Told you it wasn't funny." ... With Steven Tyler howling the National Anthem before the AFC Championship, and Kristin Chenoweth belting her version in her piercing soprano before the NFC game, we can be forgiven for wondering if they were even singing the same song.
AS HEARD ON TV: "Because of you, there may be an Entourage movie!" — 30 Rock's Liz Lemon, reading the riot act to a gathering of idiots. ... "I have high hopes for the parmesan ice cream." — Fringe's Walter, having newly discovered molecular gastronomy. ... "I'm untouchable, bitch." — Words that may haunt Rob Lowe to his grave, a campy high/low point of Lifetime's true-crime trash wallow hit Drew Peterson: Untouchable. Save yourself 90 minutes of tawdry agony and watch this 90-second cutdown of the movie's most ludicrous moments. ... From ridiculous to sublime, we leave you with the best of Dowager Countess Violet (the great Maggie Smith) from Downton Abbey: "I'm a woman, Mary. I can be as contrary as I choose." On the manor's transformation into a chaotic convalescent hospital: "It's like living in a second-rate hotel where the guests keep arriving and no one seems to leave."