The soundtrack for the last week in TV — and virtually every other medium — was provided by the late and lavishly lamented Whitney Houston. Her sudden, untimely death on the eve of the Grammys helped boost that annual spectacular to its highest ratings since the peak of the Thriller furor (a statistic reminding us of the equally resounding loss of Michael Jackson in 2009). LL Cool J, the Grammys' engaging host, opened the show with a prayer — when's the last time that happened? — as the proceedings took on the feel of a celebration and memorial, when they weren't busy crowning Adele the new Queen of Pop. (And how much fun was she on 60 Minutes?)
Top of the Whitney playlist (as TV and entertainment news continues to run with the tragic story): "I Will Always Love You," naturally, a sentiment her fans certainly share, with first Jennifer Hudson performing a powerful last-minute rendition at Sunday's Grammys, and then in an eerie coincidence, Glee's Amber Riley delivering a soaring version in the otherwise scattershot Valentine's Day episode. An unforgettable week of pop-culture history.
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Some other observations from another busy February sweeps week:
Let's give a shout-out to TV's most often overlooked players: the "youths," as New Girl's Schmidt might patronizingly put it. This week, I haven't been able to shake the moving work of Miles Heizer, who plays adolescent Drew on NBC's underappreciated Parenthood. A quiet and sensitive boy, hard to read and to reach, Drew had a bit of a meltdown upon discovering that his mother Sarah was considering having a baby with Mr. (Mark) Cyr. He's confused, upset, and naturally he doesn't want to talk about it. But Mark insists, prodded by Sarah, and with tears quietly falling into his burger, Drew reveals, "It feels like she's gonna go off and start some new family with you. And it hurts." The boy's heart is breaking at the prospect of unwelcome change, and at the realization (which he probably already knew) that his mom and dad will never get back together, even if Seth (John Corbett) stays straight. When Sarah asks him what happened, he admits he cried in front of Mark, "so it was very embarrassing" and, naturally, he doesn't want to talk about it. The aching simplicity of Heizer's portrayal of inarticulate angst is beyond affecting.
On the opposite end of the scale: OhMyGod OhMyGod OhMyGod how hilarious was Sue Heck's hysterical display of "Bieber fever" in ABC's The Middle this week? Eden Sher has been killing it all season as the gawky born loser, who somehow scores a win this week (thanks to mother Frankie, who fondly recalls her own teen crush on Shaun Cassidy) by getting Bieber concert tix when her mom is busted for cutting in line, while Sue's innate gift for never being noticed spares her. In a poignant twist at the end, Frankie's big plans for a night out with her daughter in Indy are crushed when Sue reveals the extra ticket is for her BFF Carly. "Just the natural order of things," Mom concludes as she settles on the couch in front of the TV, and Axl plops down next to her, flopping his legs over her, and she'll settle for that. As moms do.
And tip of the cap to Nolan Gould as Modern Family's adorably inappropriate Luke, who gets this week's "worthy of a spit-take" prize for his reaction to Claire's news that she won't be helping Mitch and Cam make a new baby: "Why? Because Lily's such a mess? But we can agree that she's a disastrous human being, right?" Where did this contempt for his adoptive cousin come from? Who knows, but it earned my loudest laugh of the night.
HOOP DREAMS: Sometimes there's just nothing funnier than an old-fashioned dose of unabashed physical comedy. I helplessly giggled as Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and his nemesis Kripke (John Ross Bowie) haplessly attempted to play a game of One-on-One basketball to decide who gets a vacant office. "You know all those terrible things bullies used to do to us? I get it," concludes a dispirited Leonard, as he watches these geeks-in-shorts (bad idea!) try to dribble and shoot. (Bonus points for acknowledging that even at the urinals in the men's room, it's possible to be in Sheldon's spot.)
The other most memorable pick-up game of hoops, in a week otherwise dominated by New York Knicks' Lin-sanity, was on Parenthood, as Adam tries to introduce the notion of teamwork (and passing the ball) to his troubled son Max — who's lately been using his Asperger's as an excuse to sit out gym, where he's always picked last, despite a decent lay-up. Using the old hoop attached to the garage at the Braverman compound, Adam rallies Crosby and Grandpa Zeek to play along. And while it's not clear Max gets anything out of the experience — though he does gain a new friend at school in Micah, a boy with spina bifida — the game also gives Crosby an excuse to confront Zeek (who's winded) over the medical issues he's trying to keep from his kids.
OUT WITH A BANG: "And they call me crazy," muses ill-fated psycho Tyler (Ashton Holmes), back from the Springhaven Hospital for the Criminally Insane (!) and better equipped than most to see through the multiple layers of secrets and lies that make ABC's Revenge such a guilty pleasure. (Or, as Cougar Town's Jules would call it, "Revengeance.") Tyler returns to the Hamptons hotbed of intrigue just in time for the show to come full circle to the events of the series premiere, and the minute the madman donned that white dinner jacket — or possibly way before — you knew he'd be taking the bullet(s) we'd been led to believe spelled Daniel Grayson's doom. RIP Tyler, you will be missed. And Revenge, how obvious of a fake-out was that twist on the beach. "I hear there's going to be fireworks," Tyler promises Emily as he and Faux-manda wave around guns earlier in the day. And so there were, with Faux-manda now in the clutches of Emily's "sensei," and a blood-spattered Daniel back in the talons of Ice Queen Victoria. "Don't say a word," she whispers in his ear as he stumbles back into view at the crime scene. Speaking of criminal behavior: ABC is postponing the next new Revenge a week in favor of a pre-Oscar Before They Were Famous special? For shame!
OUT WITH A COUGH: How convenient for the Spanish Flu to insinuate itself into Downton Abbey — just in time to free Matthew (miraculously walking again, and wasn't that a classic OMG moment like out of some MGM movie?) from the mousy Lavinia, whose dying words actually include "Isn't this better, really?" Of course first Matthew will have to get over himself and his grief, blaming his surreptitious kiss with Mary for hastening his not-quite-beloved's demise. Such melodrama! The flu nearly takes lady of the house Cora as well, which wakes up Lord Robert from his reckless flirtation with Jane the maid. (And what was he thinking!) In happier news, Bates and Anna tie the knot and experience connubial bliss, but you knew it was just a matter of time before the police come calling over Evil Vera's mysterious death. Can you believe there's only one more two-hour episode to go? In the immortal words of Dowager Countess Violet: "Don't be defeatist, dear. It's very middle class."
BLOOD IS HER BUSINESS: In what is turning out to be a successful season of transition for original-flavor CSI, Elisabeth Shue looks like she'll fit right in as "blood whisperer" Julie "don't call me Jules" Finley "call me Finn." She shares a history she'd prefer not to talk about with CSI boss D.B. Russell ("We know how it ended last time"), and should he cross the line, she's clearly ready to tell anyone that D.B. is short for "Diebenkorn." Seriously? First seen (shades of Russell) laying on the floor, pretending to be a victim as part of a seminar demo, Finn is sardonic, proud of her professional bona fides, and very hands-on as she eagerly accepts Russell's challenge to piece together a complicated blood puzzle involving multiple victims. "I like it when you beg," she tells him when he offers her a consulting gig in the crime lab. "I may call you," she says. "I may answer," he responds. I may watch.
GREAT PERFORMANCES: "These are the end times for Dewey Crowe," laments one of Justified's most memorable and hilariously pathetic stooges (played to the desperate hilt by Damon Herriman), who's been fooled into thinking he's had his kidneys stolen and goes on a crime spree to pay off the crooked prison nurse Lance. "You mean I have four kidneys?" Dewey wonders aloud as he takes a leak in the closet where he takes refuge from Raylan. In a refreshing change of pace, Psych's adorable Maggie Lawson turns up as Lance's partner in crime. And in the grisly payoff, after she's drugged Raylan Givens and put him in the tub (the better to harvest his organs) and shot Lance on top of him, the tables turn as Raylan shoots through Lance and takes down Maggie, who declares, "I can't believe you shot me!" as she looks at her bloody chest. "I can't believe it either," answers the groggy marshal. The episode also gave us the first face-to-face between Walton Goggins' Boyd Crowder and Neal McDonough's chilling "carpetbagger" Quarles, with the promise of more conflict to come. And in just one scene revealing he's been lying about Mags' fortune, Mykelti Williamson as Limehouse reminds us that there's plenty of villainy to go around this season.
As we Cheered earlier this week, and I previewed, we can't praise highly enough the work of Michael Cudlitz on TNT's too-under-the-radar police drama Southland. As the "seventh oldest guy on patrol" John Cooper, Cudlitz projects an air of unflappable authority, and this week an impassioned humanity as he tries to talk a bullied and humiliated gay teen off the ledge, literally. "People care. That's why we're here," he says, before throwing himself at the kid when he jumps and hauling him up to save his life. Visiting the boy in the hospital, the openly gay officer opens up enough to say, "I got a lot of problems, kid. Being gay is not one of them." Later, we learn the boy jumped to his death from the hospital roof, and while Cooper mourns the tragedy, he knows there's little he could have done to stop someone so determined. "Just giving the city its money's worth," he tells his partner Tang. And so much more. Emmys, are you listening?
What a joy to find Louis C.K. back in Pawnee, pitching woo to a mortified Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. A world away from his caustic, profane alter-ego on FX's Louie, Officer Dave is determinedly polite in his awkward bluntness as he tries to win her back, even as her boyfriend Ben (who's petrified of cops) looks on. "You look like I could use some company," Dave blurts in an attempt to get Leslie on her own. When that doesn't work, he cuffs Ben in the men's room. His quiet, literal desperation would be sweet if it weren't so disturbing.
THE HONOR ROLL: The "Game of Thorns" logo on the side of the repossessed flower van in Once Upon a Time. ... Zooey Deschanel playing Ashley Olsen to Abby Elliott's Zooey Deschanel in a "Bein' Quirky" skit, the highlight of Zooey's Saturday Night Live gig. ... Kudos to NBC's Smash for not dragging things out and giving the Marilyn role to Megan Hilty. But the story won't end there, naturally. ... Rob Lowe pricelessly mangling Take Me Out to the Ball Game in his "audition" on Parks and Recreation. ... The full rules to Big Bang's signature game of Rock Paper Scissors Lizard Spock, never spelled out so thoroughly (or as frequently). Saith Sheldon: "Scissors cuts paper. Paper covers rock. Rock crushes lizard. Lizard poisons Spock. Spock smashes scissors. Scissors decapitates lizard. Lizard eats paper. Paper disproves Spock. Spock vaporizes rock. And, as it always has, rock crushes scissors." ... Brittany's playlist in honor of Santana, as revealed on Glee: "Purple People Eater." "Disco Duck." "Monster Mash." "On Top of Spaghetti." "Pac-Man Fever." "Osama Yo Mama." And the Diff'rent Strokes theme song, because why not. ... Schmidt's list of "Desert Island Books" on New Girl: Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers (for its "10,000-hour" rule), Machiavelli's The Prince, Freak by John Leguizamo, "any of the scripts from the first season of The Vampire Diaries," and "a little Phantom T" — as in "tollbooth."
ODDS AND ENDS: I know it was tough for most Happy Endings fans to take their eyes off a shirtless James Wolk (who despite his protests is pretty much perfect), but did anyone notice that Penny's beau-of-the-week not-pharmacist was played by the guy (David Rogers) who was Courtney Cox's first boy-toy back when Cougar Town thought it was still about its title? ... Speaking of Cougar Town, how sweet was Grayson's proposal to Jules in a yard of toilet-paper streamers flowing from a vandalized tree. "Everyone you love's here. Isn't this all kind of like a fairy tale?" Indeed. Now if only some magic genie can conjure some better ratings to ensure this isn't the show's last gasp. ... As romantic gestures go, it's hard to top Raising Hope's Jimmy Chance taking Sabrina to the local improv theater (which his parents have joined), where they re-enact the not-quite-couple's past, accompanied throughout by Burt and Virginia crooning You Light Up My Life. "I wrote this play because I couldn't think of a decent way to show all the history that led up to this lie," he says, apologizing for having concocted a fake girlfriend to woo her from Wyatt. As he asks for forgiveness, Sabrina runs off. But only because "I hate kissing in public." Happy ending!
AS HEARD ON TV: "Caruso-ing wasn't even cool when you did it six years ago. Live in the now." — Jane chiding Happy Endings' Dave for aping Horatio Caine with his sunglasses shtick. ... "Not adorable. Appalachian." — From Modern Family, Mitchell's morning-after second thoughts about letting his sister donate an egg for their baby. "Aunt Mommy?" No thanks. ... "We're going to cut his throat faster than Taylor Swift will write a song about an ex-boyfriend." — Survivor's preppy priss-pot "Country Club" Colton plotting a move against his macho rival Matt the "manly" lawyer. ... "This a laundry visit or a food visit?" — Camille welcoming Crosby at home on Parenthood. Did we know she called him "Goose?" ... "They're the Cadillac of beans." — Talking kidneys here, as Justified's ill-fated prison guard Ash Murphy (Todd Stashwick) goads Raylan from his hospital bed during the organ-harvesting caper.