Archive for May, 2010

Series Finale: Chung chung!

Did y’all forget in your Lost-mania that the veritable TV institution that is Law & Order is also ending? Tonight, in fact! Yes, the cruel hacks at NBC have bumped our beloved cops-and-lawyers procedural off the air after 20 years, just one season short of the record set by Gunsmoke. Fun fact: Law & Order debuted six months after my youngest brother was born. That’s not really relevant to anything, but I do tend to measure time with his life. Like the time he mentioned how awesome “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is and I was compelled to yell that he was FOUR, GODDAMMIT, FOUR when Kurt Cobain died. For another angle, S. Epatha Merkerson has been playing Lt. Van Buren since your precious mindfucker J.J. Abrams was working with Jim Belushi. And now it is ALL NO MORE. Sob.

We're gonna get you, Dick Wolf.

My favorite period of the show is the Lennie Briscoe–Benjamin Bratt–Angie Harmon stretch, which happened to coincide with my high school years. (Yes, I know his name is Jerry Orbach. I saw him at Daily Soup once. It was the highlight of my early years in New York.) But I also really enjoyed the Jesse L. Martin years, although you could have fooled me that he was on the show so long. Seriously, ten years?! That’s one of the many great things about Law & Order; thanks to the city’s tax subsidies, the show gave literally hundreds of New York theater actors a way to earn a more comfortable living and still do stuff like Hedwig and the Angry Inch off-Broadway. Ha! I was right! I actually guessed that!

Further: I never really cared for Dennis Farina and I missed the whole “Is this because I’m a lesbian” WTFery altogether. But lately I’ve become engrossed in what I think is a late-period renaissance. They’ve been doing some extremely satisfying headline-ripping for the past couple seasons, Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson are wonderful as Lupo and Bernard, and I just love Linus Roache’s cute, pinchy little face and the way he gets all shirty about Constitutional issues. The show also gave us this frigging EPIC discourse on Center Stage, which cross-references all the grown-up actors with their episodes of Law & Order, from Original Recipe to Criminal Intent. I kind of wish they’d do the same thing with Can’t Hardly Wait and Six Feet Under.

I was also Batman's dad. Yeah, Linus, I know. Tell Christian Bale to call me, will you?

Even though the reruns are on TNT, well, all of the time, I am quite sad that Law & Order is coming to an end, and for such a crap reason as, pick one: Dick Wolf didn’t want to cut his fee, the cast is too expensive (I find that difficult to believe), or NBC wants to concentrate on launching Law & Order: Los Angeles. Those are all dumb reasons, and are great examples of the skid toward crappiness that the Peacock network has been on these past few years. That’s the subject of another rant, but for now suffice to say that I am very disappointed and I will miss Law & Order so, so much. And not just for the possibility of seeing famous people in my neighborhood. Although that time I saw Chris Noth on University Place was AWESOME and really impressed my mom when I called her ten seconds later. Farewell, cops who are a little handsy with civil liberties, righteously indignant ADAs, smarmy defense lawyers, and crotchety old DAs. I will see you in the reruns. Chung chung!

ETA: Also! Olympic champion and outspoken Law & Order fanatic Lindsey Vonn makes a special appearance on tonight’s (er, right now’s) episode. Look at this! How effing cute is that?! I have held a Vancouver Olympic medal (it was Seth Wescott‘s) and Sisto and Anderson look as excited as I was. Dammit, I love everything about this show.

2 comments May 24th, 2010

5-4-3-2-Lost!: “The End”

So, super-surprising mega-spoiler alert: Lost is over, and a bunch of the internet is mad, but that was almost certainly going to be the case, unless the show really had been planned out step-by-step when it first premiered back in 2004, which would’ve been nearly impossible. I do have some problems with the sometimes haphazard way in which Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof seemed to go about managing their creation — the way they insisted they had an end point in mind, complained about the difficulties of planning an open-ended serial, negotiated for their own end date, then nonetheless brushed off some subplots due to time constraints that they helped bring about, and then seemed to backpedal a bit on the “we’ve been planning this out the whole time” angle.

But those aren’t really problems within the body of the show, which came to a satisfactory, at times excellent, conclusion last night. Honestly, making a series finale is a pretty thankless task. If people are talking about it, it’s usually because a good portion of the audience is saying that it’s crap. If you make a really terrific one — I’d put “Chosen,” the series finale of Buffy, up with the show’s best episodes ever — no one pays all that much attention.

Lost tried to thread the nerd-expectation needle with a balance between fantastical island action and emotional character connections, and, indeed, the central debate between those pleased with the finale and those who are ready to slog off the whole series as a waste of time seems to be whether the focus on the characters is more or less important than the mythology and mystery elements. I can certainly identify with that conflict; for the first few seasons of the show, I maintained that my problems with it had to do with the creators thinking it was about the emotional and character-based components, even though the most original and interesting aspect was the sci-fi/fantasy/mystery storytelling. In other words, no, sorry, I don’t care that much about Sun and Jin as people; I care about what they’re doing on this crazy island.

I can’t say that I’ve completely come around to the character side of things — I’m just not as attached to the Losties as I was to characters in, say, Buffy and her friends or even Mulder and Scully — but, oddly, when the show kicked into trippier sci-fi elements in the fourth and fifth seasons, and started moving at a faster pace, I also found myself more invested in the characters, because even the less essential later episodes didn’t sink to the feelings of time-killing you got in sections of the first three seasons. That is to say that I may not have been most interested in everyone’s character development, but the show did a better job of making that development not come off like downtime. (Or maybe I’m just happier whenever a show adds time-travel into the mix.) So I’ve at least accepted that yeah, the creators are more into the emotional character-arc stuff, some of which is great and some of which is sketchy, but OK, they’ve given us enough fun sci-fi trippiness so that strict, definite answers wouldn’t necessarily make the show any better.

Anyway: so everyone is dead! But not necessarily in a bad way. Actually, in kind of an amazing way. We were left to assume that the flash-sideways world was time-travel related, and it wasn’t (OK, a little bit of a bummer), and/or that it could be some kind of postscript to the series, and it wasn’t (OK, a little bit of a bummer that everyone is still dead, but pleasing that they didn’t issue a bunch of get-out-of-death-free cards) — but the way they handled the flash-sideways afterlife actually indulged in a little of each of those angles. There was sort of a spiritual time-travel going on, the way that some of those characters died way before Jack, and others way after, yet all came together in a single all-time point, and it offers an epilogue to their lives in a way sort of reminiscent of the Six Feet Under finale (which, I admit, I haven’t seen, but I read about it. That and the Sorpanos finale: episodes I haven’t actually seen, but sound completely awesome).

So the revelation about the sideways world was a nice one, and not, to my mind, a cheat, even if it does play right into Lost‘s tendency to get all soppy and slow-mo with the togetherness. But this time it worked; it wasn’t just a time-killing slow-mo sequence of everyone boarding a plane again (I’ll grudgingly admit there was a symmetry in that church sequence that would not have been present without all of that past plane-boarding, but still, never my favorite moments of the show).

The easy complaint is that the show wound up going the purgatory route that everyone guessed in the first year and which Cuse, Lindelof, and Abrams insisted wasn’t the solution. But of course, the island itself wasn’t purgatory — even the sideways universe wasn’t exactly purgatory, but rather that spiritual time-space convergence. Still, no Lost fan could watch the resolution without thinking of those early purgatory guesses, and I’m sure that “so it turned out it was basically purgatory, ugh” will become a whiny meme.

The afterlife turn, and several repeated shots and self-referential lines of dialogue, made for a surprisingly meta final episode, which added some fun (Hurley’s “I have a bad feeling about this,” Sawyer’s joke about Kate following after him) to a pretty dire situation. Also fun: watching a trio of later cast additions, the kind of characters that are killed off all the time on the show, actually survive: Lapidus! Miles! Richard! Flying to safety! I mean, yes, they brought along Sawyer, Kate, and Claire at the last minute, but I really liked the way they accomplished this primarily by breaking away from the major characters and just trying to get themselves the hell out of there. Lapidus even got a petulant “leave me alone!” while the main characters yelled from the walkie-talkie. In a season that provided all manner of hilarious ideas for spin-offs via the sideways universe, it was fitting that the last episode would add in some tantalizing non-sideways possibilities: Hurley and Ben, Island Administrators! Lapidus, Miles, and Richard, super-mismatched trio flying ’round the world!

I did have some problems with the finale. Desmond came back into this season with a bang, and his role turned out to be disappointingly minor: passive in the island world, and receding in favor of Jack’s story in the flashpurgatorium. He basically lacked a single awesome moment here, which was kind of a problem considering how much build-up his presence received. I mean, we got to see the tearful flash-reunion of Sayid and Shannon, but not Desmond and Penny. That’s kind of messed up considering that probably at least a third of the audience would be more likely to go “What the fuck? Oh, right, Sayid and Shannon, yeah, I guess they were a thing” rather than, you know, the intended “awww” (I would’ve been way happier with Shannon and Boone having a touching moment where they remembered how they boned that time).

Also, some of the on-island action felt a little perfunctory, even with an epic Fake Locke/Jack battle strangely reminiscent of a sequence from The Matrix Revolutions, a movie I’m pretty sure no one but me actually likes (I was going to say that made sense if it was originally conceived in 2004, but actually, no, even in 2004 it would be weird to conceive anything to look like Matrix Revolutions). I’m not sure it makes sense to describe the island as a metaphorical cork, and then have it turn out to contain basically an actual cork. In fact, that seems sort of confusing. But, as I hoped, the series managed to sidestep the “good versus evil” idea. I mean, yeah, Fake Locke was pretty rotten, and the new Jacobs are obviously pretty solidly good, but Hurley and Ben don’t seem particularly inclined to follow the Jacob administration’s approach to island governance; it sounds like they’ll be focused on helping people find their way home, which honestly, even if there wasn’t a larger mission, I don’t think Jacob would’ve done. I just don’t like that dude.

So yeah, I thought it was a pretty solid, slightly uneven end to a pretty solid, slightly uneven show, with some really lovely moments of direction from series regular Jack Bender, and touching character moments for most of our core castaways: Jack, Sawyer, Kate, Hurley, and Ben all had a wealth of good moments (or in Ben’s case, good fortune: anyone else catch how Ben got out from under that tree towards the end? I didn’t think much about it, but a friend pointed it out and now it seems really weird that they weren’t able to lift the tree, but he somehow escaped, and also didn’t seem to have shattered any bones under it). There was resolution with some ambiguity. There was spiritual stuff but it wasn’t too hokey. Hurley said “dude” a bunch of times and we saw Vincent. Good show. What did you guys think? And what am I going to watch now?

9 comments May 24th, 2010

Who Won Thursday: Really Long Season Finale Edition

Let’s go out with a bang, shall we? Verbosity here will hopefully make up for all the quick and dirty weeks.

Community: Pascal’s Triangle Revisited
I’m getting the sense that I liked this episode more than most. And, surprisingly, it had little to do with Troy eating his big cookie (which I loved). Sure, it boiled down to a love polygon, which is never my favorite part of any show. (I’ve heard lots of complaints that Jeff isn’t such a catch that two girls should be fighting over him—but to me that’s true-to-life. There are lots of girls out there that have mind-boggling crushes on guys who are no big deal—especially if they know other girls are into him. And Brita is no prize, either.) But I love how the show subverted its own love triangle by having Jeff kiss someone else entirely—and someone I personally like better than either Britta or Slater. (Hooray for uptight brunettes!)

As a finale, I think it did a fine job. There’s something to wonder about over the summer, but it’s not something huge or earth-shattering like a pregnancy or marriage proposal. Plus, they managed to avoid the temptation of ending on a sticky-sweet note, like Abed’s turning off the lights for a sense of finality. The last episode did nothing to reaffirm all their friendships, which was a relief.

Parks and Recreation: Freddy Spaghetti
It’s astounding how much Parks & Rec feels like it knows exactly what it’s doing. Towards the end of the season, it brought in two new characters, and nails exactly what’s funny and likable about each of them. They didn’t have to spend any time figuring out what to do with them. Rob Lowe had two fantastic scenes of upbeat positivity followed by pawning all the bad news off on Adam Scott. It was funny both times.

For being the final episode of the season, it did almost too good of a job. I can’t believe I might have to wait until midseason to find out what happens next. I want the government up and running again, because that’s what the show is about, but I’d be sad to lose Adam Scott and Rob Lowe.  I can’t wait to see how it plays out. I guess I’ll just hope for a swift death to Outsourced.

The Office: Whistleblower
There were some moments, but the second half of this season has really run out of steam. I chuckled at Ryan’s “Woof,” and Andy’s Woody Guthrie song, but nothing really made me guffaw—and there wasn’t anything really emotional in this episode, either, to take the place of the laughs. I’m intrigued at the idea of Holly returning, but other than that, it seemed like a weird note to end the season on. Michael and Jo went to her private jet for what reason, now? Did they even go anywhere?

30 Rock: I Do I Do
For a comedy that butters its bread with slapstick comedy and wacky situations, I’m really surprised at how restrained they were with Liz’s whole three-wedding dilemma. I thought it’d be one of those sitcom moments where she had to keep changing dresses in the cab. (Oh wait. That actually happened in 27 Dresses. Man, I wish I didn’t know that.) Wesley Snipes was delightfully weaselly as always, Elizabeth Banks had some great moments (her “Overshop” commercial being one of them), Matt Damon had some excellent pilot jokes (and dance moves), and they used Kenneth and Jenna the exact right amount. This is also probably the best of the finales, too, since they wrapped up the season-long arcs about Jenna, Liz, and Jack pretty nicely and without too much hand-wringing.

So, the tough question. Who won Thursday?

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4 comments May 21st, 2010

5-4-3-2-Lost!: “What They Died For”

I’m not sure if it’s awesome or kind of bizarre that the most delightful aspects of last night’s Lost came from the alterna-world rather than the “real” island action. Sure, there were plenty of doings a-transpirin’ on the island in 2007 (or whenever it is “now”); the story moved forward, there were at least two deaths, and Jack assumed the role he’s been training for all season as Jacob’s replacement, the island protector. All in all, lots of exciting scene-setting for the now solidly feature-length series finale on Sunday.

But what I really loved in “What They Died For” were the alt-2004 moments, mostly trading on our affection for familiar Lost characters and situations, and cashing in for a lot of poignancy and hilariousness. I loved Desmond waiting in the parking lot at Locke and Ben’s school, revving his engine to run Locke over one more time; I loved it even more when sneaky, slimy Ben defended Locke with such earnestness, and then, after getting his ass kicked, as happens in any of Ben’s realities, going on sort of a surprise family date with Alex and her mom — hey, a non-crazy Rousseau! Well, mostly non-crazy; she did seem just about ready to marry Ben after spending a couple of hours with him and his sexy (?) bug eyes.

Back in 2007, Ben’s sneakiness got a second or third or tenth wind; I loved the weirdly quaint image of him sitting on his little porch, waiting for the Smoke Monster that he now realizes he wasn’t so much summoning with his secret room as inadvertently cooperating with Smokey’s destructive plan. Now, I guess he figures, might as well actively cooperate, and if his enemies die in the process, all the better. His chilling follow-up question after shooting Widmore — who else are we going to kill? — could be a particularly convincing ruse (again, with the side benefit of vengeance against Widmore), or it could be a pledge of actual allegiance. One of the most fascinating aspects of Ben is his refusal to be redeemed — if his (non-alt) character does have some redemption, it’s almost incidental. Even in the endgame, he’s still angling to get what he wants, even if he doesn’t seem entirely sure of what he wants (that he’d still like Penny to die is almost as chilling as the idea that, well, Penny could die, although the writers have to know the wrath they’d engage if that happened).

So yeah, heavy stuff in 2007; excitingly silly stuff in 2004, with Desmond’s Zen prison break, aided by the corrupt Ana-Lucia (not ready yet to get punched into letting go), bringing most of the important cast members to an awesome Faraday-led classical-meets-rock concert, a concept as ambitious and dorkily prog-sounding as Lost itself. It’s kind of a neat trick, the way the writers have let us enjoy rebooted versions of these alt-characters, including (more than) a wink and a nod to the early days as Jack and Locke once again arrive at a (more benevolent) discussion of science and faith, as death and despair and mystical baptisms reign in the 2007 version of their lives.

Oh, and of course the writers can’t stop raising questions; I can’t decide if this is a sign of good storytelling or just bad habits. New (or newly revived) questions from this episode include: how is Desmond going to serve as a failsafe? Who is Jack’s ex-wife in alt-2004 (probably Juliet, right?)? How long will Jack last as protector? How can you kill a Smoke Monster? Is Ben back to his evil ways, or is he doing a long-con on Smokey? Were Richard and/or Lapidus actually given ignominious semi-off-screen deaths, or are they being saved for later? I was ready to guess the latter for Lapidus, but now, I don’t know, it looks suspiciously like house-cleaning. Again, it’s hard to tell if this is shrewd storytelling or not until we get a look at that finale thing.

Basically, this episode was a lot of fun given that it was occupying the standard piece-moving and set-up-heavy penultimate-episode slot, times a million since it leads into the series, not just season, finale. Episodes like this, enjoyable as they are, make me wonder why the producers wanted to set an end when they did. That is, the last three seasons of Lost have been shorter runs designed to stretch two seasons and change worth of episodes across three seasons to satisfy ABC while not spreading the show too thin. But in retrospect, it seems like they could’ve used the extra ten or fifteen episodes that could’ve come with full-season orders. Then again, maybe the faster pace of seasons four and five would’ve been sacrificed. Maybe it’s just this season didn’t have quite the time/plot management skills I would’ve liked to see, even with a lot of entertaining installments.

I was going to do a list of best and worst Lost characters, but that seemed a bit redundant, as producers have essentially composed their own list consisting of who’s been left alive going into the finale. But maybe I’ll throw that into my finale recap on Monday morning, if the internet hasn’t broken by then.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome below.

3 comments May 19th, 2010

The New Golden Age Is Over

I am too lazy to back this up with evidence, and perhaps with Lost ending and the “summer season” rearing its head I am in a bad mood, but it seems to me like everything good and exciting is ending, and it’s all being replaced by garbage. (Remember when I used to get excited about the upfronts? Weird.) Here are the current upfronts. Ugh.

Is this it? Is it over? The comedies seem to be the only returning bright spots, but even they’re looking a little long-in-the-tooth (The Office, 30 Rock, HIMYM) or they’re being shoved to midseason (Parks & Rec). I’m watching Treme but it’s no The Wire. I’m watching Caprica but it’s no BSG.

Yes, Justified is great. Community is great. But I’m still a big frowny face.

2 comments May 19th, 2010

HBO Does The Pacific

So I just finished watching Part 10 of HBO’s miniseries The Pacific. This is obviously a weird time to write about a TV show, when it’s over, but I can’t shake the last emotional echoes. So I’m going to work some of them out here. And if you’d like to experience the whole thing, HBO will be running the entire miniseries in two marathons next weekend (fittingly, Memorial Day). Parts 1-5 will be Sunday starting at 2, with Parts 6-10 on Monday. I’ll be drunk in the Bahamas, but if you have the intestinal fortitude to watch this whole miniseries in two giant blurts, good on you.

Humor fails me.

To recap: The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. And then some nice young men went and fought a horrific jungle war on a series of rocky little knobs and many of them died and many more were maimed and some came home. And then Mad Men happened, and now you understand why Don and Roger are alcoholic pathological liars.

Not really. I mean, some of that happened, yes. But there’s more. The miniseries, brought to you by the team behind Band of Brothers, begins with Pearl Harbor and follows two small groups of soldiers during the Pacific war.

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1 comment May 17th, 2010

Late Additions, Best Friends

I’ve been thinking a lot about Lost. Who hasn’t? One thing that struck me, as I believe I’ve said in comments elsewhere on this site, is that if they touch a hair on Desmond’s head I will full on revolt, tossing the TV out the window (and it’s very heavy) and burning the place down. This made me think about the phenomenon of Desmond, a character added after the first season who I love as much (and often more) than the original crew.

Are there others out there, who were added late but gained full-cast love? A few. But it’s not easy. The most important metric I used was the Died/Disappeared rule. If the character seemed important but then Died/Disappeared suddenly and the show went on much as before, they were not, by definition, essential to the show. It’s tough, but I made these rules up, and I’m going to stick to them.

Desmond Hume and Ben Linus (Lost)

These two are the gold standard of essential late additions. One of the things that made Desmond so effective as a character was that he appeared and then abruptly vanished, so that when he came back we were pleasantly surprised and probably fooled into believing he’d been around a lot longer than he had. Ben Linus is a different sort of addition — the unplanned kind. He rocked the part so hard they basically had no choice but to write him in to the series. These are both great examples of characters evolving naturally, and the creators being responsive and observant enough to figure out that they’ve got something there.

Counter-example: Ana-Lucia. The argument could be made that she was supposed to be an unpleasant character and we weren’t supposed to like her, but I don’t care: I hated every second she was on screen and everything she did.

Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Spike shows up as a season 2 villain, and develops into one of the core Buffy gang in fits and starts, as one arc ended and the writers realized they had something great and needed new ways to bring him back. By the end of it you forget that he wasn’t in the short first season at all.

Counter-example: So many! Anya, Tara, Wesley, Faith, Riley, and the character who’s a meta-commentary on the whole process of introducing new people, Dawn. These characters were integrated into the main cast in varying degrees of success, but they never felt as essential as Spike.

Andy Bernard (The Office)

Andy is the only one from the Stamford branch to have made it through unscathed, and that’s only after an anger management class fundamentally changed the entire conception of his character. Now he’s at home in Scranton just as much as the others, which is to say, he’s a weirdo with personal issues who we love despite his bizarre tics.

Counter-example: Erin. I’m not saying she won’t feel essential in a year or two, but right now, she’s still standing out.

Will Bailey (The West Wing)

Josh Malina joined The West Wing in season four, making him the latest addition on this list. But he felt like an old-timer immediately. This one may be a strange case, in which an actor’s previous experience with related material (his awesome work on Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night) meant that the audience was primed to accept him as a member of the team.

Counter-example: I admit that my watching was spotty over the years, but I really disliked that blonde Southern Republican who’s now on CSI. This show also was a strange case of a first-season character finding herself completely unessential to anything — poor Moira Kelly all but disappeared eventually.

Many shows never managed to introduce new people successfully, not for lack of trying, and so only contain counter-examples:

Veronica Mars

Piz and Parker are two of the most energetically disliked characters on this show. Personally, I always liked Piz, and his poor pathetic Piz hair, and who knows what would’ve happened had the show stuck around for a few more years. But these late additions didn’t click with the fans and so didn’t do the struggling show any favors on its way out.

Gilmore Girls

The essential characters in this show (Lorelai, Rory, Luke, Emily) are SO essential that any addition is super distracting, even if it’s boyfriends (Max, Chris, Jason/Digger, Dean, Jess, Logan) and especially if it’s secret love-children (ugh, April).

The Cosby Show

As happy as I am that the phrase “That’s so Raven” has entered our collective ironic lexicon, I don’t think Raven Symone is anyone’s favorite Cosby, and certainly never reached the level of a Theo or Vanessa or Rudy.

House

I guess this one depends on if you liked 13 and Taub. I didn’t. I don’t watch any more (for many reasons, but the lack of connection to new characters is part of it).

This is all admittedly biased by my personal preferences and shows that I watch and characters I particularly liked, so I welcome additions to the additions list. Also, I feel like this was particularly hard to pull off before the current Golden Age of television, as shows were stricter in their scope and less amorphously serialized, and so less likely to try to introduce new beloved characters, way-back-when. But I could be wrong. What am I missing?

4 comments May 17th, 2010

Monday Morning Quarterback: SNL Season 35, Episode 22

For a nerd like me, Alec Baldwin hosting SNL, as routine an occurrence as it’s become (and sustained, thanks to the cross-promotional opportunities with 30 Rock), is far more exciting than Betty White doing it. So it’s with a heavy heart that I report that Baldwin’s episode wasn’t much better than White’s; it just wasn’t as overhyped.

Of course, while White’s episode suffered from multiple sketches essentially hitting the same joke (old lady talkin’ saucy!), the many one-joke sketches of Baldwin’s record-tying fifteenth hosting gig at least provided a variety of single jokes. Some of them worked beautifully, like the escalating absurdity of an infomercial for the Timecrowave, a food-heating device that can also wreak havoc on the space-time continuum, or the extremely, hilariously length set-up in the old movie clip about Baldwin reforming a prostitute (or rather, pretending to, and then trying to get a handjob). Others half-worked, like Baldwin as a belligerent swim coach, berating his young charges one by one; and another kinda felt flat, like the sniper sketch where the single joke was Baldwin saying “take the shot!” semi-comprehensibly. The majority, then, fell somewhere between middling and quite good, which is a pretty good track record for these types of sketches.

The one-joke indulgences can come crashing down, though, when you barely have any idea what that joke is supposed to be. In the worst sketch of the night and possibly of 2010 so far, Kristen Wiig debuts a delightful new character named Starfish. Get this: she’s awkward and clueless, and talks weird! If that sounds too much like other Kristen Wiig characters, how about this: she also has buck teeth! And if that doesn’t sound enough like eighty other SNL sketches since the beginning of time, don’t worry: the premise is that she keeps ruining takes on a set and the director has to keep yelling “cut” — a structure inexplicably beloved by comedy writers. I cannot remember the last time this device was funny and would love any recollections about when this was in the comments section below.

In the meantime: Jesus, that sketch was really, really bad. And it was the first real in-show sketch of the night! And it ruined a perfectly rhythm set up by an amusing (and quick!) non-Obama cold open, a typically smooth Baldwin monologue with a Steve Martin cameo, and a hilarious Digital Short going more Broadway than fake rap. Well done, SNL writers: your treatment of Kristen Wiig can officially be called enabling, bordering on self-destructive.

I suppose I should be happy that the only recurring characters of the night were those that haven’t nearly worn out their welcome (Nasrim Pedrad’s mature fourteen-year-old Bedilia; Bill Hader’s mouth-covering club expert Stefon) or those that consistently display a degree of infectious joy in their performance (Kenan’s old-man sexpert Grady Wilson; Wiig and Armisen as underprepared musical duo Garth and Kat), and that Wiig tried out a new character instead of trotting out Penelope, the Target Lady, or the chick who ruins surprises. But boy, did that sketch leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Among the peaks represented by Timecrowave and the valleys represented by Starfish, we had pretty much the entire season: some brilliant invention, some passable one-joke material, a musical guest that doesn’t inspire me to say much, and a dash of awful hackery. In short, Baldwin hosted Saturday Night Live in 2010, and it was okay. I’ll try to put up a season-in-review later this week, but for now, this episode’s grade sort of suffices in that department.

Episode Grade: B-

4 comments May 16th, 2010

Who Won Thursday?

Look! A full post! On Friday, no less! And for a really tough week, too, because all four NBC comedies had me laughing out loud.

Let’s get to it.

Community: English as a Second Language
I hate how this show constantly boils down to a struggle between friendship and personal gain, with friendship always winning out. They really need a new conflict. No one loves her friends more than I do, but I’d seriously reconsider my relationships if I kept having to prove them on a weekly basis.

Parks & Recreation: The Master Plan
Who would’ve guessed that April and Andy would be the will-they-or-won’t-they relationship in this show? I pretty much love that, because it’s not like they’re Jim and Pam, two sweet people destined to be together and have the cutest relationship ever. It’s harder to root for them, but you can’t help yourself.

The Office: The Chump
I adore it when the whole office gets together to try and work something out. In this episode, it was how to shoot Toby, Hitler, and Osama bin Laden with only two bullets. The episode pretty much peaked there.

30 Rock: Emanuelle Goes to Dinosaur Land
All the boyfriends return! Including the beeper king! And Wesley Snipes! (Though Wesley’s talking about “Russ and Rebecca” on “Chums” is no “gang way for foot cycle.”) It pleases me that all these guest stars seem game to return and be silly, like old John “Hook Hands” Hamm. (Knowing 30 Rock, though, they’re probably in it for the Emmys.) However, I find myself not really caring about Jack’s romantic dilemma. Perhaps that’s because, if I were Jack, I would have chosen Elizabeth Banks WEEKS AGO.

So, who won Thursday?

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6 comments May 14th, 2010

5 4 3 2 Lost!: “Across the Sea”

In a sense, even though it took a complete break from the typical format of the show in the style of the Richard episode and the Tailies episode from way back in season two, among others, “Across the Sea” is sort of a mission statement for what appears to be the Lost philosophy on answers. You’ll get answers, yes, but not necessarily explanations. As Alison Janney’s creepy mother character said, in a line that I’m assuming had to be spoken by a guest star to cut down on any involuntary winking directly into the camera, “every question I answer will only lead to another question.” No kidding, Lost, replied ten million people all at once.

This episode did answer questions, like: who is Jacob? Who was Fake Locke before he was Fake Locke? Where did the time-unsticking donkey wheel come from? And also: who are those skeletons in the caves from season one? But it didn’t necessarily explain any of that. We don’t know the exact nature of Creepy Mother’s power, or where she got it; we don’t know the specifics of her idea that the brothers can’t “hurt” each other, because they sure seemed able to punch each other in the face and draw blood, and whether their inability to kill each other was always there or only actually came to be once Jacob became the island’s guardian and Fake Locke became a swirling ball of electromagnetic smoke; and we don’t know exactly what happened to Jacob’s brother to turn him into the Smoke Monster Later Known as Fake Locke, or what percentage of the Smoke Monster contains Jacob’s brother’s soul (or whatever). Among other things.

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4 comments May 12th, 2010

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