I'll have what he's having. (Well, maybe not the divorce.)
Roger Sterling's exhilarating LSD trip on Sunday's Mad Men set the tone and raised the bar for another wacky week in the world of TV. The disorienting centerpiece of another masterful episode exploring the needs and dashed desires of its central characters, Mad Men's acid trip (played to the tune of The Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times") was harrowing — a cigarette dissolving in one blink-of-an-eye puff, Roger seeing his old and younger self blurring in a David Lynch-ian mirror image — but also hilarious (Robert Morse's face on a dollar bill, a symphony blaring every time Roger uncorked a bottle of booze), and ultimately, oddly sobering. Intended to break down barriers between the unhappily married Roger and Jane, this druggy interlude leads to unexpected clarity, although only after they share a bathtub, where Roger laughs in glee at the 1919 World Series playing out where only he can see. Lying on the floor with towel turbans on their head, they realize that it's over. "So what was wrong again?" Roger wonders. Jane: "You don't like me." Roger, plaintively: "I did. I really did." Kinda sad, kinda sweet, very real. What comes next is going to cost Roger, but it's worth it, as he saunters into work the morning after a changed and liberated man. "It's going to be a beautiful day," he crows. It was certainly a beautiful episode.
As usual, Mad Men haunted me the rest of the week, thinking of Peggy playing pot-addled hooky at the movie theater (where her random encounter made me want to wash my brain out with Purell) after blowing her Heinz pitch, and Don stranding Megan at the HoJo's — A-plus for production design — just because she couldn't stomach the orange "tastes like perfume" sherbet. But it's the LSD trip I couldn't shake, especially as one show after another kept making me wonder if I might not be seeing things. Here's some of the trippier examples:
Bollywood! Not once, but twice this week. With The Amazing Race in India, a grueling Bollywood dance routine (one wrong step and you have to do it again) proves easier for the women than the guys, including the obnoxious J.J. ("I feel like a fat Elvis") and especially for poor Mark of the Kentucky-bred Bopper-and-Mark team, the most likable characters in this mostly forgettable season. Weakened from carsickness and sweltering in the sun, Mark struggles and sweats and struggles some more, to the point where Bopper tearfully begs him to stop, figuring it's better to lose the race than to lose your best friend. It's excruciating and emotional to watch Mark break down, but he decides to give it yet another go — and I can't help but think the choreographer finally just takes pity on him, because it still looked pretty bad. Finally reaching the mat, both guys choked up and distraught, they're greeted with Phil's news that this isn't an elimination leg after all. Which normally annoys me, but this time, I just feel like shouting: "J'ai ho, y'all!"
The next night, Smash goes all-out Bollywood, with the entire cast (even the non-musical types) participating in Karen's lavish fantasy, distracting her from the awkward confrontation over an Indian dinner between her new movie-star bestie Rebecca Duvall and her wet-blanket boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey, who takes lead in the "Thousand and One Nights" number, recharging his musical mojo from when he starred in the London production, which I saw, of Bombay Dreams). The production number comes out of nowhere, but is exactly the sort of over-the-top fantasia Smash should be indulging on a regular basis. Just like musicals are supposed to do. Smash through the maudlin soap opera — Julia's family trauma especially annoying this week — and go musically nuts, the way Ann Miller so famously did in a '70s soup commercial. This is Smash at its smash-iest, and it was the first moment I've ever enjoyed Ellis (dashing into frame, Aladdin-like, to pilfer a jewel while Eileen was kissing her bartender).
It's a wow in a show that was seriously needing one — and the music got even better at the end, as Ivy (pulling a ludicrous All About Eve move on Karen to keep her out of rehearsal) belts the luscious "Second Hand White Baby Grand" memory number, only to have Rebecca claim it for herself. But who can blame her? No self-respecting diva would let a song that good go to an anonymous "shadow Marilyn" from the chorus — and that pretentious concept needs to be ditched in Boston. Along with Rebecca.
Final Smash note: I laughed out loud when a distraught Julia, describing her runaway son Leo to the cops, says, "He's younger than he looks." Right? The kid looks about 40. The only way to rescue that storyline is to send the boy to boarding school. Or acting school. (Later, when Julia says to her reunited family, "Dinner will make us all feel better," Leo whines, "Will it?" in such an absurdly flat demeanor it cracked me up all over again.) More Bollywood, or Hollywood, or splashy Broadway nonsense, please!
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Back to the trippy stuff: Cee Lo Green farts on The Voice, causing all sorts of joking among the judges because this show really is all about their hot air. And then Cee Lo sings with his hop-hop group Goodie Mob, and I'm not sure what I'm watching: Oompa Loompa Gladiators? No matter what Cee Lo wears, it ultimately ends up looking like pj's. And much as I like Juliet Simms' rocking style, what was with those angel wings they put on her? Blake Shelton was reminded of duck season. I was thinking, worst Christmas pageant ever.
How trippy was it to see President "Barack-ness Monster" Obama slow-jamming the news with Jimmy Fallon and Tariq Trotter of the Roots? As Late Night With Jimmy Fallon travels to the UNC campus at Chapel Hill, their shtick (involving Obama's latest crusade about student-loan interest rates) ranks up there with Bill Clinton blowing his sax on Arsenio Hall's old show, only lots funnier. Especially as Fallon pipes in a "Ah, Pell no!" (as in Pell Grants) after the president somberly reads off his talking points — and admirably keeps a straight face throughout. Or when Tariq riffs: "If Congress doesn't act, it's the students who pay/The right and left should join on this like Kim and Kanye." During the sit-down that followed, the president gave a nice shout-out to Comedy Central's Key & Peele, which really does do the best Obama impersonation of the moment (sorry, SNL).
More trippiness: I've read the Game of Thrones books, but never imagined the scene of weird priestess Melisandre giving "birth" to her supernatural smoke monster being quite this graphic and terrifying. Forget the night; her womb is "dark and full of terrors." Speaking of horrors, I'd also like to forget the torture method of strapping a bucket to a man's chest with a rat inside, then torching the bucket to force the rat to burrow its way out. I'm almost amazed Horrid King Joffrey hasn't thought of this one yet. But he's too busy getting his palace whores to brutalize each other for his amusement. All things considered, I'd rather be with Daenarys in Qarth, "the greatest city that ever was or will be."
So much wild weirdness on NBC's Thursday comedy lineup, from the spot-on parody of Law & Order on Community (as touted on Thursday) to the uproarious political debate on Parks and Recreation between Leslie (writer-director-star Amy Poehler) and Paul Rudd's adorably dim Bobby Newport, who threatens to move Sweetums to Mexico if he doesn't win the city council seat. Leslie's parting shot is a classic: "I love this town, and when you love something, you don't threaten it, you don't punish it, you fight for it, you take care of it, you put it first. ... This is my home. You are my family, and I promise you I'm not going anywhere." Which prompts Bobby to blurt: "Holy (bleep) Leslie, that was awesome!" Yes, it was. But the really trippy part was at the viewing party where the cable goes out, and Andy vamps to amuse his guests by reenacting scenes from Road House, Rambo and Babe. Also awesome.
And was I imagining things, or was I actually enjoying 30 Rock's inspired live episode? For almost the first time all season, I felt as if they were really trying to make us laugh, instead of merely amusing each other. The show actually felt alive, and while I wouldn't expect them to do this kind of stunt every week, the live audience gave the show such a boost of energy and spontaneity that I found myself wishing the show would continue as a more traditional three-camera comedy — or a stylistic hybrid like How I Met Your Mother. (And as much as I've grown to admire Parks and Rec, I have always maintained Poehler would be better off headlining a belly-laugh comedy in front of an audience, where she flourishes.) 30 Rock's parody homages were great fun, spoofing The Honeymooners, Laugh-In, a Dean Martin-like variety show (some of the protean Alec Baldwin's best work), a Huntley and Brinkley-style newscast (refusing to acknowledge a female field reporter) and a very politically incorrect twist on Amos 'n' Andy with Jon Hamm in blackface ("Ah hell no, I'm not doing this!" sputtered Tracy). Plus on the East Coast, a whimsical walk-on by Paul McCartney and glimpses of Amy Poehler as Little Liz Lemon curled up in her basement on prom night. Added bonus: Chris Parnell as "Nazi Doctor" Leo Spaceman doing ghoulish cigarette commercials. By the time Will Forte descended from the rafters, trilling "Zou Bisou Bisou" (better known as Megan's Mad Men bump and grind), I was in heaven.
From the seeing-double files: When hot-under-the-collar Detective Amaro punches the guy he thinks (perhaps mistakenly) his wife is sleeping with on Law & Order: SVU, couldn't help but do a bit of a double take, because the man on the receiving end of this beatdown is Dominic Fumusa — who not so long ago over on Nurse Jackie was playing the wronged husband giving his wife's sometimes-lover Eddie (Paul Schulze) similar abuse. Turnabout's fair play.
MOVING ON: Transition seasons are tricky to pull off, but Glee and Grey's Anatomy are making the most lately of their many characters' uncertain futures. I respectfully disagree with my esteemed Watercooler colleague's assessment of this week's Glee, which might have misstepped with some of the hastily bundled Whitney Houston song choices — though not the a cappella opening number, "How Will I Know," which was sensational. But the emotional core of this pre-graduation episode, celebrating the time they've spent together while preparing to move on, felt mostly true. And I'm willing to bet for some people of their generation, "Whitney is their [Princess] Diana." (Although I'm not buying the insta-friendship of Rachel and Santana, either.) Even Mr. Schue's abandonment issues, as he prepares to say goodbye to the kids who "changed my life," felt less pathetic and creepy than usual, though rushing up the wedding date and suggesting a campground wedding for his neurotic bride just seems cruel. I know it's hip to hate on Glee these days, but while watching Kurt's spat with the jealous (and insecure about being left behind) Blaine, and Sam and Joe's locker-room conversation about being "a new kind of Christian," I couldn't help reflect how easy it is to take this groundbreaking show for granted. I'm so curious to see what Glee will look like next season.
Same goes for Grey's Anatomy, as the fifth-years all head to San Francisco to take their oral board exams — though Alex rushes back to Seattle Grace to be there when Poor Baby Tommy is finally allowed to give up the fight (very sad) and appears to have missed his interview, while Meredith catches Baby Zola's stomach bug and spends the night in the upchuck, and across an adjoining hotel-room door works out separation-anxiety issues with Cristina, who is still mulling her future with Owen. (Tellingly, as she reflects on his one-night infidelity, "I wouldn't want Owen to leave me for that.") A borderline hysterical April slugs a jerky doc in the hotel bar, and ends up in bed to lose her virginity with Jackson, then feels she's cheated on Jesus. And Jackson's mom Debbie Allen hooks up with the Chief at the same hotel, which is actually quite sweet (and heaven knows Richard Webber has earned a night of mutual affection) — and funny when Jackson shows up the next morning to fetch his magic pencil. How many will remain in Seattle for next season, and who will survive what sounds like an epic cliffhanger in three weeks? Stay tuned.
BOMBSHELLS: Couldn't really blame you if you didn't make it to the end of this week's House, where we had to put up with the doctor mooning over his preposterous green-card bride (who finally learned, despite his best efforts, that she'd been cleared for citizenship). But the final scene was a game-changer: Cancer doc Wilson, House's BFF and longtime grounding-sounding board, reveals he has cancer. Say it ain't so, James! Terrible news for them, but great news for a series that had been floundering its way to the finish line and now has a strong hook to get us invested in these characters again. Anything to take the focus away from the remnants of his team. ... On the penultimate episode of this season's The Good Wife, Cary is welcomed back to the firm, but it might not have happened if Will hadn't already bedded the other leading candidate (the fetching Julianne Nicholson from last week's case). Pretty intense stuff from Kalinda, who worries for her life now that their druglord client is caught up in her tax mess, and when Kalinda tries to get her FBI gal-pal to back off, their encounter is as hot as it is disturbing. ... Things turn dark for Alaric on the CW's The Vampire Diaries, as the resurrected Original Mama Esther taps her dark magic to make him "the Ultimate Hunter," which means melting down his ring to make the white-oak stake indestructible, then killing and turning him or some such thing. It's all very sad as the gang gathers to honor him and watch him die with candles in the woods, and Elena once again has lost a beloved guardian, but a possessed Bonnie mucks it up all over again when she awakens the Evil Alaric with her blood. Game on! ... For those of us still watching NBC's Awake, we're reminded once again how with "one tiny little thing (like the random outcome of a football game), this could all be different." When Michael's son Rex shares his heartbreak, that his girlfriend dumped him after losing the baby they accidentally made (which he didn't even know about), dad's first priority in waking up on the other side is to track down said girl, who in the other reality is still carrying his lost boy's child. Wonder what the shrinks will make of that?
THE HONOR ROLL: Highest marks to Fox, for renewing Fringe for one final 13-episode season to blow our minds. Which presumably means we'll get to go back to the future and continue the fight against the Observers, as seen in last week's knockout episode. ... On South Park, Mr. Garrison's history lecture is actually a flow chart of the various Game of Thrones dynasties. My kind of classroom! ... Kudos to Survivor's Troyzan for playing the game hard to the very end, even if he might have sometimes tried to keep his strategy to himself better. The odds were against him, once the women (led by Kim) started controlling this game, but he did his best to engineer a blind-side. Too bad the rest of the Tikiano underdogs aren't players. ... This week's Motown celebration was Dancing With the Stars at its best, with an event feel that has somehow eluded The Voice or American Idol lately. (Really? Queen?) It seemed fitting that the very game Gladys Knight would go out on this classy high. ... Schmidt's date with the Russian model Nadia on New Girl was comic gold. Especially as she started rattling off, often unintelligibly, what she loved about America, including salad bars, Tosh 2.0, yo mama jokes, David Fincher, Wilmer Valderrama, Leon J. (?) Panetta — and some strange riff on "McMouse." All of which leads to Schmidt's broken penis, which Cece's visit to the hospital does nothing to heal. ... The Good Wife has a good eye for casting judges, including David Paymer as a magistrate under fire for possible prosecutorial misconduct earlier in his career, and Stephen Root as a good-old-boy small-town judge overseeing the case who's smarter than he looks. "Do you think there's a hell?" wonders Paymer as he watches his legal team ruthlessly strategize. When Diane tells him no, he concludes, "I don't either, but then I meet lawyers and I change my mind."
WHO SAID IT? In conclusion, let's play a game in which you guess who is responsible for some of the week's more memorable lines of dialogue? Answers (with annotation) will follow. A) "Nothing gets me more amped than Sarah McLachlan." B) "I don't mean to intrude, but could you please keep your pants zipped?" C) "You can't pick the cherries with your back to the tree." D) "Sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled plotting." E) "Love is like taking a dump. Sometimes it works itself out, but sometimes you've got to give it a big, hard slimy push." F) "Born amidst salt and smoke? What is he, a ham?" G) "That right there is why I stopped dating Italian women." H) "Jeepers, that's creepy!" I) "They could not pay me to be 24 again." J) "I can't ask him on a date. I just nailed his brother." K) "Typewriter wrapped in an enigma wrapped in stubble."
THEY SAID IT: Answers: A) Parks and Rec's Leslie Knope, gearing up for her memorable debate. B) Diane on The Good Wife, exasperated that Will has slept with yet another woman she'd like to have on her legal team. C) Who else but American Idol's Steven Tyler, elliptically criticizing soon-to-depart Elise's song choice. What does it mean? Sorry, I don't speak Tyler-ese. D) Nolan on Revenge, as he consults with Emily on her latest anti-Grayson schemes. E) Who else but South Park's scatological and racist Cartman, tapping his manipulative "Cupid Me" matchmaker side to unite Token with the school's new black student Nichole, because "people who are the same belong together." Her parents beg to differ, using a turkey-dinner metaphor to get her to "try the white meat. I know it's a little dry, but there's a lot more of it." F) Game of Thrones' Renly Baratheon, sparring with his humorless brother Stannis and his sinister priestess Melisandre. G) Detective Munch, still kicking on Law & Order SVU, after witnessing Amaro's blowup with his wife (the lovely Laura Benanti) at work. H) Sheldon knocking back a whiskey at Howard's soon-to-go-viral bachelor party on The Big Bang Theory. When Bernadette freaks over what she learns (online) about Howard's past, Amy calmly wonders "what bothers you most: the borderline incest, the prostitute or group sex with the girl dressed as the children's cartoon?" I) The exasperated ob-gyn treating Hannah on HBO's Girls, not amused that she could be so glib about AIDS. When the doc asks Hanna in the stirrups, "Is that painful?" her answer says volumes: "Yeah, but only in the way it's supposed to be." J) Elena on The Vampire Diaries, torn between two vampires, considering asking Stefan to the '20s dance before having recovered from her road trip with Damon. K) Emma's description of the mystery-man writer August on Once Upon a Time. Works for me.