SUNDAY

The Surreal Life
Just when you think this goofball show is nothing more than a load of contrived, carefully calculated scenes strung together (which it is), a meaningful moment sneaks its way in. After a series of tirades blasting his youthful persona, Rob Van Winkle (Vanilla Ice) confronted his infamous past during an evening of karaoke. As Trishelle Canatella (The Real World) and Traci Bingham (Baywatch) butchered "Ice Ice Baby," Erik Estrada gently nudged a microphone to Rob who eventually gave in and channeled all that burning resentment into a blistering rendition of his signature song. The crowd went nuts.

Tammy Faye Messner summed it up this way: "It was a breakthrough for him because he didn't want to go back to that man who was Vanilla Ice." It's ironic — Rob, along with the rest of the cast, was most likely doing this reality cheesefest for exposure, money or just the hell of it; and then out of nowhere, came this emotional milestone that could make a long term difference in Vanilla's life. However, to offset that sincere stuff, the Surreal Lifers also visited a nudist colony where Trishelle and Erik got topless, porn legend Ron Jeremy dropped his shorts and Tammy Faye cried like a baby (well, a baby wearing a ton of caked-on mascara.) Ahh, it all evens out.

Sex and the City
How many times can you say it? No chemistry! Hold on, is that what's supposed to get us to root for Carrie to dump Alexandr, an otherwise perfectly nice gentlemen, and go back to Big? If so, all right, I get it. What I don't get is why, for about the last two seasons, this show — winner of the 2001 Emmy for best comedy — has forsaken much of its sharp humor for plain poignancy. (You can do both, right?)

Alias
OK, you lost me with this one. Sydney and Vaughn have less than five minutes to escape from a possible deathtrap, and they need Marshall's help to do it. But the tech geek's pregnant girlfriend thinks this would be a dandy time to interrupt him because she's going into labor and wants to get married right now. Unless her water broke about four hours ago, I'm willing to bet she could have waited, say, six minutes, so Marshall could complete the mission at hand.

And according to the scenes for the next episode, Sloane might be Sydney's real father. If that's true, I think I might throw up.

Inside The Actors Studio: Jay Leno
What's the Tonight Show host doing on James Lipton's interview show? Good question. Maybe it has something to do with Bravo being a sister network to NBC. Regardless, I haven't enjoyed watching Leno this much since his days of munching sandwiches all over David Letterman's desk in the mid-80s. Leno was engaging and funny and sincere. Plus, we found out his least favorite word is "crap".

Arrested Development
I really have to commend the show's writers and actor Michael Cera, who plays Jason Bateman's earnest son. They've created such a sympathetic character that I find myself actually rooting for him to hook up with his first cousin Maeby (Alia Shawkat).

SATURDAY

Saturday Night Live
Not exactly the strongest installment. The only sketch I found remotely funny was a Larry King Live parody with Jimmy Fallon interviewing host Drew Barrymore as an exceptionally air-headed Anna Nicole Smith. Also, you wouldn't think there would be much overlap between this late-night staple and CBS's Joan of Arcadia, but this weekend you'd be wrong. Dead wrong. SNL had a superhero-themed bit about the White Stripes while poor Joan missed out going to a concert by the duo on Friday's episode. Yeah, that's all I got on that one.

FRIDAY

The Great American Celebrity Spelling Bee
According to the voice-over at the beginning on the show, "the tension has never been higher, the anxiety has never been greater." Obviously they've never been around my Aunt Judy preparing a holiday dinner (which do turn out delicious, by the way). Well anyway, here's a sampling of celebrity spelling prowess:

  • Alan Thicke nailed "pistachio" and "titular" as well as "Archimedes," the ancient Greek mathematician.
  • Corbin Bernsen, who played a divorce lawyer on L.A. Law spelled "prenuptial" as "prenuptual." But he did get "Jagermeister."
  • To his great relief, David Faustino came up with the right spelling of "testosterone."
  • Tatyani Ali (Fresh Prince of Bel Air) performed admirably in the speed round, but she totally whiffed when it came to the word "silhouette." Somehow, that turned into "sillheuote."
  • While George Wendt correctly spelled "legume," he did miss "methamphetamine" (not bad considering his only mistake was saying "e" instead of the second "a").
  • And, to be fair, several of the celebrities had easy-to-misspell names, too. You got the aforementioned Tatyani Ali, Meshach Taylor (Designing Women), and Vincent Pastore (The Sopranos).

    All-Exclusive with Ahmad Rashad
    This all-star roundtable made for a fascinating hour. Rashad interviewed his pal Michael Jordan along with Serena Williams, Derek Jeter, Roy Jones Jr. and Warren Sapp. As expected, they each talked about the intense drive it takes to be the best and how you have to fend off challengers once you get to the top of their respective athletic mountains. But there was also discussion about the facets of being a celebrity and how, for instance, if you go through a tragedy, it becomes a public tragedy. When Rashad carefully brought up the death of Jordan's father back in 1993 they showed Serena, who recently lost her sister Yetunde to a violent crime, quietly looking down at that moment. Typically you chastise hosts for not asking the tough questions. In this case, Rashad knew that this group talk was not the place to bring up so fresh a memory for the champion tennis player.