There's music that sticks with you — like Megan's can't-get-it-out-of-your-head "Zou Bisou Bisou" birthday party bump and grind from Mad Men — and music you can't wait to forget: as in whatever the hell Katharine McPhee was screaming on that revolving mattress-prison during the ambush production number on Smash's worst episode to date.
Which seems an appropriate way to begin our medley of some of the week's notable hits and misses.
MAD ABOUT MEN: I had the good fortune to be asked to co-host a live screening of Mad Men's two-hour premiere Sunday night at New York's Paley Center, and it was a gas. Much of the audience in the overflow crowd came dressed for the occasion — I even broke out my one skinny tie — with bouffanted hair and psychedelic prints (how very Megan!) as the guests posed next to posters of the iconic characters from Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. It was a perfect episode to screen in front of an audience, brimming as it was with wry, sometimes bitter humor in a comedy of bad manners, reaching its apex in Megan's raucous surprise party for a mortified Don. ("I saw his soul leave his body," Lane later gossiped to Joan, as he mimicked the dance — an instant GIF — to which Joan echoed everyone's thoughts: "I can't even imagine how handsome that man must be blushing.") If only Megan had listened to Peggy: "Men hate surprises. Didn't you have Lucy in Canada?"
How smart of Matthew Weiner to ease us back into the lives of these characters after such a long absence, with a light touch that nevertheless manages to illuminate the darker side of '60s metropolitan life. The laughter rang out with satisfying consistency from beginning to end, including the bookends dealing with the civil-rights protesters being water-bombed by Y&R hooligans, and then showing up at SCDP for job interviews when the satirical "equal opportunity" ad backfires. "Is it just me, or is the lobby full of Negroes?" quips Roger, who was on fire throughout the episode. High point: "There's my baby!" he shouts when Joan brings their infant into the office. "Now move that brat out of the way so I can see her." Said brat ends up being held by a most reluctant Peggy ("My hands are dirty!" Ahem) while Joan has her debriefing with Lane. But it's the Don-Megan relationship that gets most of the scrutiny, the "dirty old man" turning 40 and the toothsome embodiment of his midlife crisis who tags along awkwardly at work, a source of relentless titillation among the young Turks, especially after her exhibitionistic show-stopper. "What is wrong with you people?" Megan eventually cries to a chastened Peggy. "You're all so cynical. You don't smile, you smirk." You just noticed?
So much to enjoy: Power player Pete Campbell finally whining so loudly (after bloodying his nose on the intrusive support beam: another big slapstick laugh) that he takes over Harry's office, and he's still not satisfied, because he'll never be as well-liked as Roger. Harry being so petrified at his racy gaffe in front of Mrs. Draper that he thinks Roger is about to fire him as they negotiate over office space. Don with his kids, telling little Bobby (now being played by Mason Vale Cotton, better known as Susan and Mike's "M.J." on Desperate Housewives) that he's turning 40. "When you're 40, how old will I be?" Bobby: "You'll be dead." Time to send the kids off to Morticia and Lurch (nice Addams Family shout-out). The poignant interlude, nearly approaching phone sex, as Lane bonds with Dolores, the woman whose fetching snapshot is the real treasure in the wallet he finds in a cab.
Mad Men is off to such a promising start, I don't even mind watching this Sunday's episode at home.
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SUCH A GREAT WIFE: "How many Florricks are there?" wonders the real-estate agent when Alicia's house is sold from under her on another fabulous episode of The Good Wife (which is to network drama what Mad Men is to basic cable: a peerless class act). Alicia blames Peter, forgetting there's a third Florrick: ice-queen mother-in-law Jackie. "Where are you going?" Peter asks when Alicia realizes her mistake. "To buy a gun." Last we see, Alicia is confronting the smug old lady at the beauty parlor. Don't stop there! (But the hour is up. Cliffhanger alert!)
The rest of this marvelously entertaining episode, titled "Blue Ribbon Panel" (and deserving a blue ribbon of its own), finds Alicia sitting as the "token female" (in lieu of Diane) on an exclusive panel of power brokers, chaired by an excellent and unexpectedly sinister Matthew Perry, examining a police-involved shooting case that screams of cover-up — Alicia going all 12 Angry (Wo)Men to see that justice is done — which gets sticky when it seems that Peter and Eli had something to do with not pursuing the case. Alicia ultimately recuses herself, but not before making a new enemy in our former favorite Friend. Because she isn't busy enough, Alicia also represents Kalinda at her IRS hearing, which is being monitored via laptop by someone — who turns out to be Alicia's admirer Dana from the FBI. Not the best way to rekindle a romance with this vixen, gotta say. And what about the power struggle back at the firm over Will's vacated seat? Will pulls a fast one on Eli, David Lee and Julius by nominating doddering old Howard (Jerry Adler, better known as The Sopranos' Hesh).
If it weren't for cable, The Good Wife would have won several Best Drama Emmys by now. Why can't more network TV aim this high?
SOUR NOTES: From the Smush pile-on: Even with all the ups and downs of its freshman season, it's pretty clear this week's Smash hit rock bottom. Written by outgoing show-runner/creator Theresa Rebeck, this episode ("The Coup") should have been titled "Last Nail in the Coffin." Hard to imagine more subplots being of less interest: Karen's boyfriend Dev scheming against a rival to become the mayor's press secretary. Yawn. Julia's son Leo taken to court, where Julia insults the judge. Huh? Eileen's daughter (Meryl Streep spawn and lookalike Grace Gummer), a trust-fund do-gooder, lecturing her squabbling parents, and then ranting about Eileen and Derek's ambush of Julia and Tom: "It's this kind of crap that made me want to flee to Micronesia." (A line that made Twitter explode, by the way.) The chorus kids, plus Ivy, blowing off post-workshop steam and anxiety with a group sing (cut-rate Glee ripoff) at a bowling alley. And horrible Ellis, Ellis everywhere.
"How did he get here?" Julia erupts, speaking for all of us, when the creep shows up in the warehouse after the aforementioned McPhee "Touch Me" number lays a goose egg. And yet he's rewarded with a gig as Eileen's assistant, before Tom can actually fire this snooping little Franken-weenie. Wake up, lady. Send the twerp to Micronesia, or better yet, Siberia. A dinner theater in Harlan County, Ky., is too good for this twerp.
Only the blow-up between Tom and Derek (Jack Davenport, still somehow managing to rise above the material every week) had the Smash vibe we crave for: a blistering, theatrically heightened moment of arising from actual creative conflict. More of that, I beg of Smash.
JUST BRILLIANT: FX's Justified hurtles toward this season's end game with Neal McDonough (the unhinged Quarles) and Jeremy Davies (deranged, disheveled Dickie) duking it out for top honors as the most pathetically desperate villain in all of Harlan County. Quarles is on a murderous rampage, slaughtering two of Boyd's drug mules, while hit men from Detroit seek to bring him down. Nice cameo by Adam Arkin as Quarles' vengeful boss, Theo Tonin, and I sure do hope we get to see him talk into the ear he carries around with him before it's over. Favorite line, as Raylan takes down the Detroit thugs, coming up empty on the Quarles hunt: "Ever get the feeling God's laughin' at ya?" To which Art, along for the ride, responds: "Why? Just 'cause we shot the guy that's looking to kill they guy that you're just dyin' to see dead?" Yeah, something like that.
We leave the twisty story with Quarles as Boyd's prisoner, tasered and chained to a bed in the whore-trailer. With a bounty on his head — $100,000 dead, double that if he's brought in alive — Duffy advises Boyd to snuff the psycho now. But do they ever listen?
TWISTS AND TURNS: As our Watercooler rightly noted, excellent game-changer on The Vampire Diaries, as the season-long hunt to kill those dastardly Originals (most especially Klaus) took an unexpected turn. And not just because Klaus had Bonnie cast a spell (using a threat against Jeremy as leverage) to break the curse linking the Original family, meaning that killing one — in this case, Finn — won't kill all the others. Good thing, too, because after our heroes took down Finn, all those he turned, including the feisty Sage, expired. Which means (cue Elena exposition): "If the Originals die, so do all of you. The entire vampire species would just be dead." No more Salvatores? No more show. Time to round up the rest of those white-oak stakes — except Alaric's is missing. Damn his psycho alter ego! If/when he snaps, he could do some serious damage to eons of bloodsuckers.
Things aren't nearly as satisfying on The CW's dreary Ringer, where another tease that twins Bridget and Siobhan (Sarah Michelle Gellar) would finally meet again turns out to be just another fake: "Shiv" imagining an encounter with the sis who stole her husband and life — "What do you have that I don't?" — ending in murder. Sadly, nothing that exciting actually happens, though we do discover that Andrew's greedy witch of an ex (Andrea Roth) is the one who sent the hit man after Shiv/Bridge in the first place. Like we even care at this point.
From the "shipper" corner, yet another wrinkle in Castle's Castle-Beckett will-they-or-won't-they dance marathon. After a public bombing that makes them realize "nobody's tomorrows are guaranteed," Castle comes thisclose to revealing his true feelings to Beckett, then overhears her telling a suspect who was at the bombing site: "Do you want to know about trauma? I was shot in the chest and I remember every second of it!" (Including Castle's "I love you" declaration over her body?) Castle spends the rest of the hour sulking: "Come to find out it's all a big joke. She knew the whole time. ... She was embarrassed. She doesn't feel the same way. I'm such a fool." So he pulls away, refusing to go for a drink after they close the case. Can't these two just get along? Ever?
From last Friday: Loved Fringe's manifesto on the power of love — with the guest mutant trying to concoct a chemical formula for love (much like Once Upon a Time's Rumplestiltskin), but going about it in all the worst macabre ways — which takes on new meaning as the resurrected Observer known as September tells Peter, "You have been home all along." Take that, one-too-many-timelines. Just like Dorothy and the ruby slippers, only not. What gives? "You could not be fully erased because the people who care about you the most would not let them go. I believe you call it love." Even if you believe we should call that schmaltzy, as Peter and (no longer faux) Olivia finally go in for the rapturous kiss-and-embrace, we're reminded how deeply grounded Fringe is in the emotional ties of its main characters (including this week, Olivia and Nina).
REALITY CHECK: Kind of hard to empathize with Cee Lo Green's tears as he made two tough calls on the final "battle round" of The Voice, given that he pitted his two worst singers (Erin Martin and the Shields Brothers) against each other a week ago, ensuring one of them would get through. The Tony Vincent-Justin Hopkins sing-off to "Faithfully" was especially rough. They should both be finalists. ... Note to American Idol judges: Sit down, you're rockin' the ego. Way too many standing O's in this week's show, rewarding the likes of DeAndre and Heejun (who was sent home anyway, and it's about time). ... Yes, Martina Navratilova served into the net (paraphrasing Bruno) with her clumsy jive on Dancing With the Stars, but would she have been the first one out if she hadn't been wearing those horrific fringed pants?
LAUGHING MATTERS: "The bread is stale!" With those words, the "corpo-humanoid" known as "Subway" (the human embodiment of a thriving sandwich business) is removed, leaving Britta bereft on another inspired Community: "Corporate America has destroyed love," she cries. ("Again?" muses Annie.) This Orwellian love story between the anti-establishment babe and the dude forced to "live within the rules" of his corporate Subway overlord — the most twisted product placement I can remember — was destined to end badly. But we're confident Troy and Abed will eventually heal their blanket-vs-pillow fort-war rift.
"How can we be passé? We're only in 4th grade!" On the funniest episode to date this spring of South Park, Kyle and the gang learn just how hard it is to keep up with mindless Internet memes, from Faith Hill-ing (pulling your shirt out to look like breasts) to Taylor Swift-ing (dragging your behind on the ground like a dog). When cats get in on the act, "proving to be about as intelligent as we are," as everyone apes the "Oh Long Johnson" drawling cat of YouTube infamy, the satire on this pandering trend is just about purr-fect.
I could watch a whole hour of Jim Parsons' Sheldon mixing it up with "Tiny Spock" (the voice of Leonard Nimoy), as they did on The Big Bang Theory, with Spock convincing Sheldon of the logic of playing with a Star Trek transporter toy, despite it being "mint in box." When it breaks, and Sheldon switches his broke toy for Leonard's, Tiny Spock acts as Sheldon's conscience: "You're a green-blooded buzzkill." One of Parsons' best moments in a while as he attempts, clumsily, to confess the truth to Leonard and Penny: "I regret my actions towards the two of you. That's a lie."
AS HEARD ON TV: "I'll do you a favor. I'll choose David Letterman... [to] help us both out." — Mitt Romney with Jay Leno on The Tonight Show, ducking the "running mate" question and leaving the host temporarily speechless. ... "No one in the entire world can explain that." — New Girl's Winston, discovering to his horror that Schmidt and CeCe are huddled together in the back of his car. It's enough to make you stop singing along to Wicked. ... "We got a Jeers in Corporate Blimps Weekly." — 30 Rock's Jack Donaghy, lamenting the state of things at Kabletown. Hey, I thought those Jeers were copyrighted!