This week's "In Review" begins with a timely "In Memoriam." Before we get to the highlights reel, some excerpts of my magazine tribute to two indelible stars of classic family sitcoms.
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FAREWELL, MOM AND DAD: For those of us who grew up with them, and never outgrew them, June Cleaver and Howard "Mr. C" Cunningham were more than classic-sitcom icons. They were charter members of a beloved extended family of moms and dads who made us feel instantly at home in front of the TV.
To lose the actors who portrayed them, Barbara Billingsley (at 94) and Tom Bosley (at 83), within the same week is a shock to the system. They didn't exactly raise us, but they helped raise us up to believe the best about family life and the importance of having an understanding, good-humored parent on hand, whatever the messy situation. Though their shows aired in different eras — Leave It to Beaver from 1957-63, Happy Days from 1974-84 — their timeless charms have endured for generations in repeats.
Bosley's character of Mr. C, the wisecracking calm in a storm of adolescent shenanigans, was ranked No. 9 on a TV Guide Magazine list of "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" in 2004. In 1976, Bosley told the magazine that he saw his character as "a combination of a lot of things kids would like their parents to be, and what parents would like to be to their kids."
The same could be said of Beaver's Billingsley, who embodied a post-war, pre-Stepford vision of unflappable suburban motherhood as the perfectly attired and coiffed June, who famously performed her household duties in a dress, heels and stylish pearl choker. She described June as "the ideal mother" in a 1997 TV Guide Magazine interview (around the time a feature version of Beaver was released in which she had a cameo). "Some people think she was weakish, but I don't. She was the love in that family. She set a good example for what a wife could be. ... I think the character kind of became me and vice versa. I've never known where one started and where one stopped," said Billingsley, who like June raised two sons.
As long as there are families, June and Mr. C will beckon as instantly familiar, likable role models. "Good grief, I think everybody would like a family like that," Billingsley said in 1997. "Wouldn't it be nice if you came home from school and there was Mom standing there with her little apron and cookies waiting?"
Now and forever, the answer is yes.
A BUNCH OF HOOEY: As if to dash water on our nostalgic feelings about great TV parents, Dancing With the Stars sent Mrs. Carol Brady, aka Florence Henderson, packing after her tango to the Brady Bunch theme. So not cool, voters. Here's someone who truly relished this return to the spotlight, and as golden-age contestants go, she delivered the goods better than most, with buckets of glittery personality. Which is more than Bristol Palin can muster, putting aside her lack of talent and lack of "star" quality — Really, ABC? How could you? — which makes us wonder what will Mark Ballas cloak her in now that they've gone the monkey suit route. A strait-jacket?
PERSONAL BESTS: Two shows battling it out against Dancing in that unforgiving 8/7c time period had better-than-average weeks. Especially NBC's Chuck, which I've found to be pretty hit-or-miss so far this fall. On the same week it got the great news that its fourth-season order had been upped to 24 episodes, Chuck delivered one of my favorite episodes in quite a while. Helped that much of the focus was on two of my favorite characters: Casey, who spent much of the hour faking death in a comically paralyzed state, and Morgan, who took advantage of Casey's condition to confess his secret relationship with Casey's daughter. In an instant-classic scene, Casey is "couch locked" in Morgan's pad, a Star Wars storm trooper helmet on his head. When Morgan tries to smack the life back into his brawny buddy, Morgan howls, "Man, it's like slapping a car!" We could have told him that. (In other news, Ellie reveals she's expecting a girl, while Chuck concludes his missing mom is probably one of the bad guys. More on that to come later, as the episode ends with "Frost" giving her boy a call.
Also picking up the pace this week: How I Met Your Mother, introducing a very spirited Jennifer Morrison (so ill-used in recent years on House) in a recurring role as Ted's new sparring partner, Zoey, an activist whose latest cause is protesting the new GNB headquarters Ted is designing from the ruins of a landmark hotel. Which leads to some fun sparring among the chums about how "new is always better" (Barney's cockeyed mantra) and whether size matters — in the case of Robin's otherwise hunky new beau. The guys are horrified to bear witness to "you ladies and your salty sailor talk" (Marshall's words), which leads to this memorable Marshall-ism: "Max's penis is stuck in my brain like a splinter. Like a splinter-sized splinter!"
WELCOME ABOARD: Jennifer Morrison isn't the only one making a good first impression in newly recurring roles. Julia Stiles is a strong addition to Dexter as the feral and deeply scarred Lumen Ann Pierce from Minnesota, saved from the clutches of one serial killer (the late Boyd) by another (Dex), and she's fighting back. Hard. Just what Dex needs at this precarious stage: a traumatized loose cannon. ... Timothy Olyphant shines as the very handsome (though a jealous Jim can't see it) new star salesman on The Office, recruited by Michael after he steals a client from Dunder Mifflin. He once dated Pam, but it's unclear who dumped whom. (We have our suspicions.) Some delicious farce as Michael, Jim and Dwight try to "sting" their rival to learn his sales techniques, secretly recording his mock meeting with, of all people, Meredith, the nympho lush who responds to his seductive ways with a vodka-soaked come-on of her own. Olyphant's Cheshire grin is delicious as the office women swoon, comparing him to Josh Duhamel while Kevin suggests, "He's like a better-looking Andy."
FAMILIAR FACES: Mrs. Blankenship lives! Well, Randee Heller anyway, in a small Grey's Anatomy guest shot as the overprotective partner of a patient going in for brain surgery. Didn't really recognize her until she spoke. No mistaking that voice. ... Is there any show Sam Page hasn't appeared in? Joan's smarmy husband from Mad Men turns up as Sean's hacker buddy on The Event and has also been spotted (by those still watching) on Gossip Girl. ... Was that Hiro playing the piano as a quirky medical examiner on Hawaii Five-0? Wouldn't be surprised to see Masi Oka making return appearances. Scott Caan shouldn't have to provide all the charisma every week. Also appearing as a heavy: Patrick Gallagher, better known as Glee's departed Coach Tanaka. ... Jennifer Grey's career revival continues with a strong guest turn on House (airing opposite Dancing With the Stars), as a mother whose sick newborn reveals her own life-threatening illness. And yes, that was Gilmore Girls' Keiko Agena (Lane) as the latest short-lived tryout on House's team. ... What a waste of a cameo, as Kelsey Grammer plots to scam a Carvel cake store (more awkward product placement!) with Jenna and Kenneth in one of 30 Rock's least funny subplots ever. Say it ain't so, Frajer!
SHIRLEY YOU JEST:My favorite episode of any comedy this week: NBC's scrappy little underachiever Community, which finally gave Yvette Nicole Brown's sweet but feisty Shirley a chance to shine. Working with Danny Pudi's inspired Abed, who accepts her challenge to make a religious video ("It needs to be cool and addictive, like that video of a kitten falling asleep"), Shirley goes all Pharisee on Abed when he becomes the new messiah of self-indulgent meta. "We need a Jesus movie for the post post-modern world," says Abed, to which a chagrined Shirley counters, "That sounds very appealing — to filmmakers." Her annoyed rage is hilarious, but her faith is never shaken, reminding us how rare it is to see a devout Christian in a TV comedy (or even a drama) who occasionally gets the last word. When Abed tells her she's reacting to his navel-gazing project "the way the world did to Jesus," Shirley's comeback had me howling: "I'm reacting the way the world does to movies about making movies about making movies. I mean c'mon, Charlie Kauffman, some of us have work in the morning. Damn!" Both are ultimately humbled by the experience, and I hope it isn't too long before Shirley gets another juicy story. Just as funny is the subplot in which Pierce starts hanging with a gang of mean-spirited senior-citizen "hipsters" (so named for their hip replacements), forcing Jeff to play dad and bail the silver-haired adolescent out of trouble.
STAYING PUT: As many of us expected, CBS gives full-season orders to all five of its new fall series, a fairly rare occurrence. They're all doing well enough, including the ones (Bleep My Ears Bleed) that don't deserve the good fortune of airing on the most-watched network. As fewer of us predicted, NBC spread its largesse to Chase as well as Chuck, having given the back-nine earlier to Outsourced, The Event and LOLA. There are even reports of an additional script order for Undercovers, which is a bit of a puzzlement, because that suggests someone's actually writing that thing.
LIGHTS OUT: And on a sadder note, just as the fifth and final season is about to premiere on DirecTV next week (requiring several hankies from the get-go), Friday Night Lights fans are deprived the pleasure of reliving past years' repeats on ABC Family, which unceremoniously yanked the show from its schedule for (what else) low ratings. Gimme an O, gimme a U, gimme a C, gimme an H. What's that spell? OUCH.
THINGS I DIDN'T SEE COMING: Don Draper proposing to his kid-friendly secretary (not much more than a child herself) Megan after a jaunt to California in the Mad Men finale. Lucky Megan. Poor Megan. Peggy's peeved because the news steals the thunder from her own triumph, landing a new account after the agency's long dry spell. Dr. Faye is even more annoyed and crestfallen for obvious reasons and snipes that she hopes she doesn't end up being the subject of a New York Times ad. For more thoughts about the finales of Mad Men and, less impressively, Rubicon, go here. Also got a few decent shocks from The Vampire Diaries, as Damon offs Mason Lockwood after torturing the truth from him about Katherine and the moonstone. "Katherine will only rip your heart out. Let me do it for her." Which he does, then taunts Katherine about it over the phone. "He's right beside me. Although his heart's across the room." Payback's a vampire bitch, though, as Kath compels Elena's Aunt Jenna to stab herself (would anyone miss her?) and, in the final coup de grace, hypnotizes young Matt with the orders to "go after [nascent werewolf] Tyler until he kills me." Thatta girl.
THINGS I NEVER WANT TO HEAR AGAIN: The "Dawn Hand Renewal With Olay Beauty Quickfire Challenge," which is how Gail Simmons introduced the first faceoff on this week's Top Chef: Just Desserts, in which chef-testants had to create a dish with only one (re-used and washed) pan. There's product placement, and then there's overkill. ... Also irritating to the ear: Grown women chattering obsessively about being kissed. Happened to Kitty-in-the-country on Brothers & Sisters after the sweaty carpenter laid one on her. Also to Lauren Graham's Sarah on Parenthood as she dithers about having been kissed by boss man Gordon, who wisely sizes up the aftermath: "We're acting like teenagers." Really annoying ones.
SCHOOL DAZE: Watching parents grovel to get their kids in exclusive prep schools or day care is among TV's most overdone storylines. It's especially aggravating (and not only to Luc) to watch Brothers & Sisters' Sarah suck up to a gaggle of mean moms while jockeying to get the adorable Cooper a placement. What a relief when things fall apart during the class play (Romeo & Juliet for grade-schoolers? Guess they needed a metaphor for the Justin-Rebecca parting) letting Cooper/Romeo off the hook. ... One of the very few things I don't enjoy about Modern Family is when they paint Mitchell (the terrific Jesse Tyler Ferguson) too broadly as a shallow social climber. And so it is as he and Cam scramble to get Lily into a deluxe preschool. But that storyline is quickly redeemed in yet another hilarious episode when a receptionist clues them in on their "diversity times three" status as gay adoptive parents of a minority baby: "You're like Jimmy Buffett tickets to these hybrid-driving straight white folks." Too bad they're later trumped by "disabled interracial lesbians with an African kicker." Cam seals their doom when he pretends to be an Indian. Mitchell rightly wants his scalp. A hoot.
CLUTTERFUSS: A zeitgeist alert when two very different shows tackle the same topic on consecutive nights. This week's buzzword: hoarding. On South Park, when Stan's locker and Mr. Mackey's office overfloweth, they're sent into regression dream therapy, prompting a clunky Inception parody. Props, though, to Stan's mom, who isn't buying all the dream-within-dream shenanigans. "Just because an idea is overly convoluted and complex doesn't make it cool." The following night, on CSI (which has really been raising its game the last few weeks, still the gold standard of procedurals), a hoarder's pungent hovel provides cover for a mass murderer, and also gives us the gross-out of the week, as Nick Stokes navigates around the mountains of clutter and steps right into a decomposing corpse.
5 REASONS WIFE WAS SO GOOD THIS WEEK: As CBS' The Good Wife continues to make its case for climbing higher atop my top-10 list for 2010, some high points from this week's thrilling episode. 1. The climactic surprise reveal that Wendy from Glenn Childs' office (the lovely Anika Noni Rose) is the new stealth candidate in the state attorney's race. 2. Mamie Gummer's delightful return appearance as the deceptively ditzy-seeming lawyer Nancy Crozier, once again getting on Alicia's wrong side. Never a good idea, toots. 3. The sexually heated confrontation between rival investigators Kalinda and Blake, after she vandalizes his car with a bat and they continue to size (or is that feel?) each other up. Very "ham-fisted," true, but hot. 4. The deposition with Cary trying to entrap Alicia as Will watches, trading a few threats of his own. So tense. So smart. 5. Griffin Dunne as a capricious judge, susceptible to Nancy's flirting as he chides Alicia for wearing a pantsuit in his court. He's a boor, but never crosses the line into David Kelley-style cartoonish absurdity. The Good Wife is better than that, and better than any other network drama of the moment.
AS SEEN ON TV: Margaritas rimmed with crushed-up aspirin, the latest concoction of Cougar Town's Jules. "They should market this to drunks. Or us," says Ellie, admiringly. ... 9-year-old Liz Lemon's Dorothy Hamill cut is actually a "Pete Rose," in a 30 Rock flashback. ... On FX's underrated Terriers, Hank's off-her-meds sister Steph (played by Donal Logue's actual sister Karina) bonds with a little neighbor girl. Who turns out to be imaginary. And a ghost of her own former younger self. When Steph flips out upon realizing she's lost it again, Hank is forced to leave her in assisted living. Their parting is heartbreaking. This is a great show. Why aren't more people watching?
AS HEARD ON TV: "Holy crap, we've been Shawshanked!" — Modern Family's Phil Dunphy, upon being hoodwinked by daughter Haley's phone-carved-from-soap during their no-tech challenge. ... "Purists everywhere know you were dancing as the first Darren." — Tom Bergeron to Kurt Warner after his charming Dancing With the Stars quick-step to the Bewitched theme. ... "That's not a sour puss. This is just my face." — Cristina of Grey's Anatomy, still in her sullen post-trauma funk. ... "Werewolf thing aside, the guy's a surfer." — Damon explaining his contempt for the doomed Mason Lockwood hooking up with Katherine on The Vampire Diaries. ... "If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't." — Growly musical-theater legend Elaine Stritch, vamping in front of the Obamas while singing Sondheim In Performance at the White House on PBS. ... "That's the most pragmatic thing anyone has ever said to me." — Sheldon admiring girl/friend Amy's screed against the notion of romantic love on The Big Bang Theory (and wasn't Penny's absence noticeable this week). ... "Stop talking already." — Sara Gilbert's cute daughter Sawyer in a taped intro on the first episode of CBS' dreadful daytime The Talk. Couldn't agree more. This support group for quasi-famous mommies, regularly overshadowed by the braying of Leah Rimini, gave me post-partum depression, and I'm not even in the demo.
That's a wrap. Coming up next week: Zombies on IFC and AMC, the return of Friday Night Lights on DirecTV, Glee does Rocky Horror, and much more!