Who’s Your Daddy: Television’s Best Dads

Good fathers are a common trope on television, possibly because there are so few of them in the real world. Which makes it a challenge to narrow them down to just a few of our favorites. What follows is our top twelve, and we salute them, as well as the also-rans like Eric Taylor, Tony Micelli, Michael Bluth, Howard Cunningham, Mike Brady, Stephen Keaton, Henry Spencer, and James Evans. Happy Father’s Day, and thanks for making our real dads seem so inferior!

1. Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby), The Cosby Show
Let’s be honest: Bill Cosby was everyone’s dream dad in the ’80s. When he wasn’t making us laugh with his wholesome comedy routines, telling stories of Fat Albert and the gang, or extolling the virtues of pudding pops, he was delighting us all as Heathcliff Huxtable: obstetrician, jazz aficionado, husband, and father of five. Cliff was silly, kind-hearted, competitive, embarrassing, available to help whenever one of his kids had a problem, and usually clad in a fluffy sweater that just begged to be hugged. He was even chosen as America’s top TV dad in a Harris Interactive poll, the favorite among respondents of all races, ages, and political affiliations. Take that, Ward Cleaver.

2. Dan Conner (John Goodman), Roseanne
If Cliff Huxtable was the dream dad of the ’80s, Dan Conner was the reality. This beer-drinking, blue-collar everyman worried about money, fought with his wife, yelled at his kids and suffered through the recession along with the rest of us. But through it all he was the emotional center of a ground-breaking show that wasn’t afraid to give us an imperfect, realistic take on the American family. You never for a second doubted that Dan would do anything for his kids, and his triumphs were all the more meaningful because he had to work so hard for them. It’s possible he even helped us understand and appreciate our own over-worked, imperfect dads a little better.

3. Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion), Castle
Best-selling novelist Richard Castle is something of a playboy, a bit irresponsible, and frankly kind of self-centered. Except when it comes to his teenage daughter Alexis, whom he’s raised without any help from Alexis’ even-more irresponsible mother. He’s pretty much the ideal dad, to be honest. He has fun hanging out with Alexis (they have laser tag tournaments in their tony Manhattan apartment!), but he’s not afraid to set limits when he needs to. He trusts her, because he’s raised her to be trustworthy. He values her opinions and takes her advice as often as he offers his own fatherly guidance. In fact, the wonderfully heartfelt interactions between this father and daughter are one of the things that sets Castle apart from the other crime procedurals crowding the TV landscape.

4. Jed Bartlet (Martin Sheen), The West Wing
As we learned in the fifth season episode, “Abu el Banat,” to be a father of daughters is to be a man deserving of sympathy, and Jed Bartlet is the father of three very headstrong women. He may not always know how to relate to them, and he may not always approve of the choices they make or the men they marry, but he makes damn sure they know he’s always in their corner, like when he tells his middle daughter, Ellie: “The only thing you ever had to do to make me happy was come home at the end of the day.” *wibble* And on top of that he somehow manages to run the country AND co-parent his loyal inner circle of staffers (with a little help from Leo, of course).

5. Mitchell Pritchett & Cameron Tucker (Jesse Tyler Ferguson & Eric Stonestreet), Modern Family
Like any first time parents, Mitch and Cam have suffered their share of mishaps, like the time they accidentally locked baby Lily in the car (pshaw! Let me tell you about the time my two-year-old locked her babysitter out of the house). But on a show that’s all about the push and pull of family, these two dads are the perfect yin and yang. Between the two of them they’ve got all the bases covered—they’re smart, affectionate, serious, fun-loving, responsible, spontaneous, athletic, and artistic—ensuring that Lily (and any other children they might adopt in the future) will never want for anything.

6. Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni), Veronica Mars
While we sometimes wished that Keith had kept a shorter leash on Veronica, you can’t deny that his example is the reason she grew up to be the clever, strong, fiercely independent champion of the underdog that we know and love. And the fact that the touching bond between this father and daughter was able to transcend the skeletons they each kept tucked in their respective closets is nothing short of miraculous. Even when it seems like the rest of the world is against them, Keith and Veronica always have each others’ backs. And dessert for dinner to ease some of the pain.

7. Howard “Bunny” Colvin (Robert Wisdom), The Wire
On a show with nary a good parent to be found (even the so-called good guys weren’t exactly model parents), Maj. Colvin stands out, not only as a father-figure to the officers who served under him and the neighborhood he wanted to protect with his Hamsterdam experiment, but to the corner kids he tried to help after he was pushed off the force. Even when his middle-school program was terminated, he did the one thing he could do—he pulled Namond out the thug life his mother was pushing him towards by convincing the incarcerated Wee-Bey to let the Colvins take in Namond and raise him away from the streets of West Baltimore. Namond’s out there somewhere right now, getting ready to go off to college thanks to his foster-father, Bunny Colvin.

8. Charles “Pa” Ingalls (Michael Landon), Little House on the Prairie
Charles Ingalls did all the things you’d expect of a frontier-based SuperDad–protecting his offspring from wolves and rogues, carrying them across frozen rivers, keeping the fires stoked during bouts of fever and ague. He even welcomed prairie orphans into the family and put his own dreams of farm life on hold to work in the city during drought so no one would starve to death. But what makes Charles most memorable is his ability to put the 1800s behind him and rock the 1970s sensitive man fathering. Whether gently chastising his Half-Pint to set aside her selfishness or mourning the loss of his son, Charles Ingalls’ mix of stoicism, emotion, and gentleness makes him a pioneer in masculinity as well as the wide prairie.

9. Julius (Terry Crews), Everybody Hates Chris
Julius might be best remembered for his penny-pinching–heaven help you if you try to use an eletrical appliance–but he comes by it honestly. He works himself to the bone at multiple jobs to try to provide for his family in the big city. Julius is a lovable combination of big softy and unwilling disciplinarian (with a belt for every crime) who is a good example of making the best out of the little he has. He labors to make Thanksgiving and Christmas memorable for his kids, but his idea of the perfect Father’s Day is spending the day alone (or having the kids paying the bills). And as one of the hardest working dads on our list, he’s earned it.

10. Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head), Buffy the Vampire Slayer
No, technically Giles wasn’t a father. But Joss Whedon’s shows are all about constructed families and there’s no denying that Giles was a father to not only Buffy (filling the gap left by her deadbeat dad), but also to the rest of the Scoobies, most of whom didn’t fare very well in the parental lottery. Teaching Buffy to kill vampires was the easy part–it was teaching her to survive the rest of the world that turned out to be hard. Without the benefit of biology or the even the advantage of similar temperaments, Giles forged a bond with his Slayer that was far stronger than most “real” dads ever manage to achieve, and was the glue that held the rest of Buffy’s “family” together to boot.

11. Burt Hummel (Mike O’Malley), Glee
As soon as you see that Burt’s only reaction to his son’s football-by-way-of-Beyonce exploits is to worry that Kurt is too little for the game, you know the truth: this baseball cap-wearing, Deadliest Catch-watching dad adores his kid, regardless of his sexuality or skin care routines. It’s pretty clear that Burt often doesn’t have the foggiest idea of what’s going on in Kurt’s head, but that doesn’t stop him from being by turns insistent on better behavior, a safe place to land during scary times, and fiercely protective (bullies beware: we hear he’s got a flamethrower). Contrary to his reputation, Burt’s not perfect–he’s a man of his generation and is still more likely to wish his kid would tone it down than demand that the world deal with Kurt dialed to 11–but this widower works hard at parenting and has good results to show for it, both with Kurt and with his new stepson Finn. Even with some gender fail, Burt’s version of The Sex Talk will likely be a great model for real-life parents for years to come.

12. Walter Bishop (John Noble), Fringe
While it seems unlikely that Walter’s own son, Peter, would nominate him for this list, our affection for this shattered genius is such that we can’t help including him. Okay, yeah, he’s got all of the ego and bad temper you’d expect from a mad savant, his childlike (and childish) mentality is often a trial for poor Peter, and, okay, he did sort of conduct unethical experiments on children and steal Peter from his real dad. But STILL. His love for his son was strong enough to literally tear a hole in the universe. And his intentions in doing so were unselfish and pure, even if he might have inadvertently destroyed two worlds in the process. And can you really blame Walter for loving his wife too much to watch her lose Peter twice? I know I can’t, and neither could Peter, even if he’s the one who has to go on all the two a.m. strawberry milkshake runs.

Advertisements

Complete Guide to 2011 Summer TV Premieres

There was a time, not so very long ago, when summer TV was nothing but a wasteland of stale reruns that basically forced you to find something else to do with your leisure time for three months. But no more! Now, thanks largely to cable, summer TV is a wasteland of programming deemed too mediocre to compete in the big leagues of fall and the somewhat-lesser leagues of spring.

I kid! I kid! There’s actually some pretty good stuff on in the summertime, even if a lot of it is the equivalent of beach reading: light and pretty with an emphasis on fluffy fun. And maybe that’s just as it should be. I can’t say I’m generally much in the mood for dark, gritty, intellectual dramas when the sun’s shining brightly overhead and the mercury’s edging towards triple digits. (Perhaps that’s to blame for my increasing disenchantment with The Killing? Or maybe it’s that the show has actually managed to get duller as it’s gotten closer to its denouement.)

And, yes, there are usually a few shows that get burned off in the summer because some network belatedly realized they’d Made a Huge Mistake. But there are also a few genuine treasures to look forward to in between all those cookouts and lazy afternoons by the pool. We therefore present you with a round-up of the upcoming scripted television premieres and returns, for your DVR-programming convenience.

Wednesday, June 1


MEN OF A CERTAIN AGE (TNT)
In case you were worried the male experience was being underserved by the predominantly-male writing staffs that dominate the television landscape, this show about three men struggling through their mid-life crises in three separate, yet equally juvenile ways is back for a six-episode half-season.

FRANKLIN & BASH (TNT)
Riding the wave of shows about men who act like children and the cardboard women who decorate the scenery around them, TNT brings us this show about a couple of trickster lawyers (did we learn nothing from The Defenders?), played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar (doomed to languish on the worst of TNT’s offerings) and Breckin Meyer, and their boss, the never not creepy Malcolm McDowell. Think of it as the prequel to Men of a Certain Age.

Thursday, June 2

LOVE BITES (NBC)
When a comedy’s premiere date gets pushed back so many times that it ends up getting burned off over the summer, you just know it has be great, right? How bad does a show have to be to be considered worse than Outsourced and Perfect Couples anyway? Pretty damn bad, I’m guessing.

CHILDRENS HOSPITAL (Adult Swim)
Rob Corddry’s biting hospital-drama satire is back for its delightfully wicked third season, with an impressive pedigree of comedy talent that includes Rob Huebel, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally and Henry Winkler.

Sunday, June 5


The Glades (A&E)
You either love Matt Passmore as a cocky Chicago homicide detective transplanted to Florida or you hate him. But if you’re missing your weekly dose of The Mentalist/Castle/Bones, this procedural, which was A&E’s most-watched drama series ever in its first season, helps pass the time until your regular favorite crime-busters are back on the air.

TEEN WOLF (MTV)
I really have nothing to say about this reboot of the 1985 Michael J. Fox movie. Nothing. At all.

Tuesday, June 7

WHITE COLLAR (USA)
There’s almost nothing prettier on television than the sight of White Collar’s Matt Bomer in a suit. The bromantic chemistry between Bomer and co-star Tim DeKay is also enjoyable, and Willie Garson’s Mozzie always manages to liven things up, making this show about a con-man helping the FBI a diverting summer offer.

COVERT AFFAIRS (USA)
As far as I’m concerned, this show is just Alias all over again, with none of the Rimbaldi nonsense and 50% less excitement and charm. (Seriously, I never realized how much Piper Perabo was a dead ringer for Jennifer Garner before this show debuted.) The likeable supporting cast, which includes Christopher Gorham, Kari Matchett, Anne Dudek and Peter Gallagher, manages to elevate the unoriginal material somewhat, however.

Sunday, June 12

THE PROTECTOR (Lifetime)
Anyone besides me remember that show The Profiler? So ahead of its time. Anyway, Ally Walker is back in this series about an LAPD homicide detective and single mother. If it weren’t on Lifetime I might even watch it.

Tuesday, June 14

PRETTY LITTLE LIARS (ABC Family)
If this teen mystery drama based on the popular book series by Sara Shepard is your cup of tea, you’ll be happy to know it’s back for a second season.

THE NINE LIVES OF CHLOE KING (ABC Family)
And this spooky drama based on the books by Celia Thompson about a teenage girl with supernatural powers sounds like the perfect accompaniment to Pretty Little Liars.

MEMPHIS BEAT (TNT)
Wow, is this unexceptional cop show a complete waste of Jason Lee’s infectious charms. Even the amazing Alfre Woodard can’t make this mess worth watching. Let’s just hope they’ve given up on all the embarrassingly bad lip-synching they forced Lee to do last season.

HAWTHORNE (TNT)
It’s actually incredibly considerate of TNT to schedule all their worst shows into blocks so I know which nights not to bother tuning in. So thanks, TNT. Sincerely.

Wednesday, June 15


HOT IN CLEVELAND (TV Land)
Think of this series, which stars Betty White, Jane Leeves, Valerie Bertinelli and Wendie Malick, as The Golden Girls for a a new millennium. Or the female counterpart to Men of a Certain Age, except that Hot in Cleveland is actually funny on occasion, despite the often tired dialogue.

HAPPILY DIVORCED (TV Land)
It’s difficult to imagine a TV show that sounds more painful than this one about a woman (played by Fran Drescher) re-entering the dating world while still living with her gay ex-husband (John Michael Higgins). Now allow me to tell you that it’s based on the real-life experiences of Drescher and her ex-husband, producer Peter Marc Jacobson. I think the word you’re looking for is yikes.

Saturday, June 18

OUTCASTS (BBC America)
BBC America seems to have dedicated itself to ensuring that us Americans have enough Jamie Bamber in our lives. In addition to their rebroadcasts of Law & Order: UK and repeats of Battlestar Galactica, they’re giving us this sci-fi drama, about a group of people forced to flee an uninhabitable Earth and colonize another planet. Oh, and it also stars Ugly Betty’s Eric Mabius. Yes, please.

THE INBETWEENERS (BBC America)
This unvarnished and comedic look at a quartet of awkward British teens presents a sharp contrast to the glam portrayal of high school offered by the decidedly sexier Brit series Skins. I’ll take the funny one any day.

COME FLY WITH ME (BBC America)
The second half of BBC America’s comedy block features Little Britain’s Matt Lucas (most recently seen on the big screen in Bridesmaids) and David Walliams playing dozens of characters in this mockumentary about an English airport.

Sunday, June 19

DROP DEAD DIVA (Lifetime)
If Lifetime thinks adding Paula Abdul to the cast of this comedy-drama about an undead wannabe model (no, seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up) will entice me to tune in, they are tragically mistaken.


FALLING SKIES (TNT)
Noah Wyle leads a ragtag band of rebels fighting against an alien invasion in what’s probably the summer’s most ambitious series. Hey, it’s got to be better than that V remake, right?

Tuesday, June 21

COMBAT HOSPITAL (ABC)
I guess we were probably overdue for another M*A*S*H imitation, and this Canadian series about a medical unit at Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan aims to fill the gap.

Thursday, June 23

ROOKIE BLUE (ABC)
ABC is giving us a double-helping of Canadian co-productions this summer as this series about young cops in L.A. returns for its second season.

BURN NOTICE (USA)
Pretty and fluffy perfectly sums up this fun spy drama, which is back for its fourth season. If the sight of handsome star Jeffrey Donovan’s stylish shades and the always hilarious Bruce Campbell’s Hawaiian shirts don’t put you in the mood for summer, nothing will.

SUITS (USA)
Yes, it’s another show about a couple of hot-shot lawyers, but given USA’s extremely decent track record, I’m willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt, despite the ridiculous premise (one of the lawyers never went to law school).


WILFRED (FX)
Of all the new summer offerings, this is the one I’ve got the highest hopes for. Sure, this series (based on a hit Australian show) about a man (Elijah Wood) who sees his neighbor’s dog as an obnoxious human in a dog suit (Aussie Jason Gann, reprising his role from the original) sounds deeply weird, but that could just be what makes it great. Or really, really annoying.

LOUIE (FX)
When practically every comedian and comedy writer working today raves about a show, you have to assume it’s worth watching. Find out for yourself when this vehicle for comedian Louis C.K. returns for its second season.

Sunday, June 26

LEVERAGE (TNT)
This delightfully snappy series about a five-man band of altruistic grifters is, hands down, my favorite of all the returning summer series. If Aldis Hodge’s adorable hacker, Christian Kane’s noble thug and Beth Riesgraf’s wacky thief don’t charm your socks off, I can only assume you just don’t like to have fun (or possibly you’re wearing flip-flops).

TRUE BLOOD (HBO)
I know lots of people love True Blood, but as far as I’m concerned, the only thing worse than the writing on this atrocious vampire show (based on the equally atrocious books by Charlaine Harris) are the Louisiana accents. Regardless, consider this your notice (or warning) that it’s back for a fourth season.

Monday, June 27

WEEDS (Showtime)
Hey, look, one our worst moms on television is back for a seventh season! And apparently she’s coming off a well-deserved stint in jail. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she hasn’t learned her lesson, though.

THE BIG C (Showtime)
I hear this series starring Laura Linney is really quite good, but I’m still not going to watch a show about cancer. Sorry.

Wednesday, June 29

ROYAL PAINS (USA)
This series about a concierge doctor (Mark Feurerstein) treating the rich and privileged in the Hamptons practically screams summer. And that’s about all it’s got going for it, unfortunately.

NECESSARY ROUGHNESS (USA)
Rescue Me’s Callie Thorne stars in this series about a therapist who works with pro athletes and celebrities, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the 1991 Scott Bakula movie.

Friday, July 8


TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY (Starz)
Look, I can’t deny that that the trailers for this look pretty awesome. But if this American continuation is anything like the British sci-fi drama’s previous offerings, what starts out as a jolly good time is destined to degenerate into a disappointing mess by the end. Nevertheless, we’ll be glued to our seats, hopeful that the influence of some of our favorite American writers (Doris Egan, Jane Espenson and John Shiban) will inspire Russell T Davies to finally give us a Torchwood that delivers on all that potential.

Sunday, July 10

CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (HBO)
In the “That’s Still On?” Department, Larry David’s uncomfortable comedy is back for another season. Okey dokey.

Monday, July 11

EUREKA (Syfy)
I really wish cable networks would stop chopping up their seasons. Case in point: it feels like it’s been a hundred years since the first half of Eureka’s fourth season aired. It’s hard enough to get invested in this pleasant but annoyingly formulaic show without trying to keep track of a storyline involving altered timelines over a ridiculously long hiatus.

THE CLOSER (TNT)
It’s Kyra Sedgwick’s last season on this cop drama that basically ushered in the renaissance of summer cable programming we’re enjoying right now. I won’t miss her terrible attempt at Georgia accent, but I will miss the smart story lines and amusing ensemble cast. Fortunately, we’ve got the forthcoming spin-off starring Mary McDonnell to look forward to after Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson has interrogated her last suspect.

WAREHOUSE 13 (Syfy)
I suspect most of my affection for this goofy steampunk-influenced series is due to the high likeability quotient of star Eddie McClintock. It also might have something to do with the way it switches gender tropes around by making McClintock’s Secret Service agent the intuitive one and his female partner the one with the superior physical skills. I’m not thrilled about the prospect of Pete getting a new partner in the form of Aaron Ashmore, though, so let’s hope they get Myka back where she belongs quickly.

ALPHAS (Syfy)
This sci-fi drama about a team of people with supernatural abilities solving cases for the CIA and the FBI sounds a bit more promising when you know that David Strathairn plays the team’s leader.


RIZZOLI & ISLES (TNT)
Hooray! Everyone’s favorite lesbian crime-solving duo are back for a second season. Wait, what do you mean they aren’t lesbians? Do they know that? Because all my lesbian friends assure me that this is the best lesbian show on TV.

Wednesday, July 13

RESCUE ME (FX)
Denis Leary’s gritty drama about New York firemen returns for its seventh and final season. Is it wrong of me to hope that Leary’s next project is something with a few more laughs?

DAMAGES (DirecTV)
Do not look for the fourth season of this dark legal drama on FX, because it’s following in the footsteps of Friday Night Lights and moving to DirecTV’s 101 Network. Which means if you don’t have DirecTV you’ll have to wait for the DVDs to find out how Patty Hewes plans to manipulate the impressive new roster of guest stars, including John Goodman, Judd Hirsch, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunn, Bailey Chase and Derek Webster.

Friday, July 15

HAVEN (Syfy)
An FBI agent continues to investigate the strange happenings in a mysterious Maine town in the second season of this utterly forgettable series based on Stephen King’s The Colorado Kid. How forgettable is it? I’ve already forgotten about it.

Sunday, July 17

BREAKING BAD (AMC)
This critically-acclaimed drama starring Bryan Cranston as a meth-cooking chemistry teacher is finally back for its fourth season after an extended hiatus, and if you haven’t seen the first three seasons, AMC is making it extra-easy for you to catch up by rerunning them starting July 5. So you have no excuse.

Tuesday, July 19

WEB THERAPY (Showtime)
For some reason the phrases “part-improvised” and “Lisa Kudrow” used in conjunction give me the vapors, but your mileage may vary. If nothing else, the list of guest stars—which includes Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Bob Balaban, Rashida Jones, Selma Blair, Jane Lynch, Molly Shannon and Courteney Cox—certainly sounds enticing.

Sunday, July 24

ENTOURAGE (HBO)
And here’s our second entry in the Department of “That’s Still On?” Don’t worry, though, it’s the last season of this blithely sexist show. Finally.

Why FRINGE is the Best Sci Fi Series on Television Right Now

We weren’t too nice to Fringe around here when it first premiered. I seem to recall phrases like “slow and derivative,” “disappointing,” and “bargain bin” being tossed around in our early reviews. And we weren’t wrong. The show got off to a pretty creaky start–creaky enough that we stopped tuning in altogether. But a funny thing happened while we weren’t watching: it got better.

It didn’t happen overnight. It took them most of the first season–and maybe even a good part of the second–to find their butter zone and figure out what they were good at. But once they did? Wow. And now that Doctor Who seems to have lost a lot of its mojo (a post for another day), I’m officially declaring Fringe the best sci fi show on television.

There’s no denying that lot of the first season felt like a mundane X-Files rip-off with a lot of cheap gross-outs (WARNING: Do not under any circumstances attempt to watch this show while eating. You will regret it.) and some truly ridiculous “science.” But as the show’s mytharc develops, you gradually begin to realize that all those seemingly isolated incidents were actually leading the characters somewhere pretty interesting. (The mad science, unfortunately, never gets any better, so you’ll just have to resign yourself to some serious suspension of disbelief.) And unlike its predecessor, The X-Files (or J.J. Abrams’ Lost, for that matter), the Fringe mytharc has a straightforward, linear progression that manages to be both satisfying and intriguing, while actually kind of making sense. In that respect it turns out to have a lot more in common with shows like Veronica Mars and Damages than its genre cousins.

But it’s in the second season that Fringe really hits its stride, because that’s when it really digs into the emotional lives of the characters. Monsters and supernatural phenomena are all well and good, but what gets me invested in a show is its characters. And with John Noble’s masterful turn as Walter Bishop, Fringe has managed to create one of the best characters on any drama, ever. If Walter’s tragic, fragile genius doesn’t break your heart again and again, well, you might want to check to make sure you’ve got one. And while I admit that I found Joshua Jackson’s Peter and Anna Torv’s Olivia awfully wooden at first (and Peter downright unlikable in the pilot), they’ve evolved quite a bit since then. That off-putting woodenness has transformed over time into a natural reserve that not only masks personal heartbreak but is a point of commonality that eventually draws the two characters together. Watching these two damaged, distrusting people slowly open up to one another has been an unexpected delight.

Speaking of which, that’s another thing Fringe does better than The X-Files (and almost every other show on TV with a will-they/won’t they couple, for that matter). Instead of dicking around the audience and dragging out the sexual tension between the leads interminably (*ahem* Hart Hanson *cough cough*), they let it develop steadily and naturally over the course of the first two seasons. And then they totally went for it. And then, of course, they threw some major, epic roadblocks in their way, just to keep things interesting. But something tells me these two kids aren’t going to let something as simple as the end of the world get in their way.

Fringe has a little something for every sci fi fan: star-crossed lovers, wacky mad scientists, doppelgangers from parallel universes, mysterious time-travelers, and Leonard Nimoy. There are even plenty of Easter eggs seeded throughout the show to keep hardcore conspiracy buffs busy, from the fedora-sporting Observer who’s hidden in every episode like a game of Where’s Waldo, to the cipher that appears before the commercial breaks, spelling out a new word each week. But those are just bonuses: you don’t need to devote hours of your life to searching for the clue that foreshadows the next episode or combing fan sites to see if you missed a hidden Massive Dynamic logo somewhere in order to enjoy this show. The main storyline is easy enough to follow even for casual viewers, although it’s not necessarily the sort of thing you can just jump right into the middle of.

The season three finale airs this Friday night and it looks to be another mind-blower, but if you haven’t been watching the show I honestly can’t recommend you start now. The long, hot desert of summer television is just around the corner, and what better time to give Fringe the chance it deserves? Start from the beginning on DVD (if you’re impatient you can even skip to season two, but if you’re a completist like me you’re going to want to see it all) and enjoy watching this Little Show That Could grow from a tiny caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly, albeit one with creepy finger-bone wings.

HAWAII FIVE-0: No Worse Than Any Other Cop Show, I Guess

Despite the fact that Alex O’Loughlin has about as much range and charisma as a piece of cardboard with a frown painted on it, CBS seems stubbornly determined to build a show around the guy. Hawaii Five-0, a remake of the classic cop show from the 1960s, is the eye network’s second strike, after the ill-fated Moonlight (which missed the current vampire renaissance by *this much*).

Unfortunately for the new Hawaii-Five-0, the rest of the cast isn’t much more interesting than O’Loughlin. Lost‘s Daniel Dae Kim is about dynamic here as he was on Angel, which is to say, not dynamic at all. One begins to suspect the man’s at his best when he’s not allowed to talk much. But I really have hate in my heart for the writers who decided that Battlestar Galactica‘s Grace Park, the ONLY female lead, needed to be mostly naked in two of her THREE whole scenes in the pilot episode. Not that Grace Park is Meryl Streep or anything, but she can certainly do more than show off her abs. Scott Caan is the cast’s one high point. He’s actually rather adorable, but he has no hope of overcoming the sucking personality vacuum generated by the rest of his co-stars. The poor guy might as well be acting opposite a cinderblock wall.

To honest, though, Hawaii 5-0 is fine for what it is. The dialogue is wall-to-wall cliches and the characters are straight out of the television writer’s archetype playbook, but the plots are serviceable, if predictable, and the locale is almost as pretty as the actors. There are also several nice nods to the original, in the revival of the show’s iconic theme music and in the use of the old catchphrase, “Book ’em Danno.” And really, in a landscape littered with the likes of Criminal Minds and NCIS, Hawaii Five-0 isn’t so bad.

R.I.P. Andy Hallett: One Part Hum, Two Parts Dinger

andy_hallet_lorne

There’s a little less music in our dimension now, folks.

Actor Andy Hallett passed away yesterday at the age of 33 after a five-year battle with heart disease. Hallett was particularly beloved by us here at TV Bacon for his role as Lorne, the Kermit-hued, lounge-singing demon on the television series Angel. On a show populated by monsters and known for going to some pretty dark places, Lorne could always be counted on to lighten things up with his playful humor and his gentle heart.

Hallett himself was a talented singer who shared Lorne’s love of music. He spent his post-Angel years working on his music career and was featured on the Angel: Live Fast, Die Never soundtrack, released in 2005.

Here’s looking at you, kid. Wherever you are.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS Gets Another Two Seasons

fnl107

Once again, the Dillon Pathers live to fight another day–NBC and DirecTV have officially worked out a deal for a two-season, 26-episode pickup for critically lauded but ratings-challenged drama Friday Night Lights.

DirecTV will continue to premiere episodes of the series commercial-free before they air on NBC, with the two entities sharing costs. Production is expected to contine on location in Austin, Texas, although the two upcoming seasons may be filmed back-to-back as a cost-cutting measure.

Executive producer Jason Katims may find himself pulling double-duty next season, since he’s currently on board the NBC pilot Parenthood, starring Peter Krause, Maura Tierney and Craig T. Nelson (and coincidentally also based on a feature film).

According to The Hollywood Reporter, most cast members, including stars Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, are set to return, with the exception of Minka Kelly, who was recently cast in the CW pilot Body Politic opposite Veronica Mars‘ Jason Dohring. EW‘s Michael Ausiello suggested last week that Adrienne Palicki will be exiting the show as well. If true, it’s likely that both characters will appear in a handful of episodes next season to tie up their character arcs, similar to the send-offs that Gaius Charles and Scott Porter had this season.

The two-season pickup will bring Friday Night Lights‘ episode count to 77, making it ripe for syndication.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS Renewal Buzz

fnl-coach-mrs

It seems almost too good to be true, but Entertainment Weekly‘s Michael Ausiello is claiming that NBC and Direct TV are in active talks to continue their Friday Night Lights partnership. Even better, they’re reportedly looking for a two-season pickup. After the marked improvement we’ve seen in the show this season, that would certainly be welcome news.

Although, with so many of our favorite characters on the cusp of graduation, you’ve gotta wonder who’ll still be around. If they all go the way of Jason Street and Smash Williams, we may be looking at the Julie Taylor and J.D. McCoy show next season. *shudder*

DOLLHOUSE “The Target”: Really? We’re Doing This Now?

dollhouse0102

It would be great if I could say that this week’s episode showed significant improvement over last week’s dismal premiere. Unfortunately, after watching “The Target” I am, if possible, even less enamored of Dollhouse.

The fact that they’ve already resorted to a tired television trope in the second episode doesn’t bode well. The Most Dangerous Game has been done and redone by dozens of TV shows over the years, from the pilot episode of Fantasy Island to Whedon’s own Buffy the Vampire Slayer and three separate incarnations of Star Trek. We’ve all seen it before, and it doesn’t get any more interesting with repetition–when it’s already been spoofed by both The Simpsons and American Dad, I’d say it’s ready for retirement. And casting Matt Keesler, late of the excellent (and tragically canceled) The Middleman, as the skeevy hunter just adds salt to the wound.

But worst of all, last night’s episode made me wonder at what point Joss and Co. stopped being feminists. When the man who once made ass-kicking young women standard television fare is now serving up an extended rape fantasy, things have gone badly wrong. And no, it doesn’t make it okay even if the victim gets one good shot off in the end.

There is one shining point of light in all this mess. The ratings for last week’s premiere were so dismal that it’s unlikely we’ll be subjected to many more episodes of this disaster.

DOLLHOUSE “Ghost”: We Are Not Amused

dollhouse0101

Joss Whedon’s television shows are not typically an easy sell. Teen vampire romps and space westerns pretty much have “limited cult appeal” stamped on them right out of the gate. Yet despite middling ratings, Whedon’s shows have always earned a shower of critical acclaim and a dedicated fan following. But his long-awaited return to the small screen, which premiered on Fox last Friday, looks to be even harder to swallow.

Dollhouse is about a super secret (and highly illegal) service that leases out people who’ve had their personalities wiped so they can be imprinted with a temporary new persona and skill-set. Hired by the ridiculously wealthy, these “Actives” don’t just perform their parts, they actually believe they are whomever or whatever their client wants them to be.

It’s a premise that’s not only implausible (why would anyone hire a fake expert when they could just hire a real expert for far less money and without breaking the law?) but troubling (the loaning out of beautiful young women who’ve essentially had their free will removed is just plain creepy–and not in a good way). Those aren’t necessarily insurmountable flaws, however. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a thoroughly ridiculous premise and it never stopped me from the loving the show (okay, it did at first, but I got over it). And tackling thorny gender issues is pretty much Whedon’s trademark, so he’s earned a little latitude with the creepy factor.

No, Dollhouse‘s biggest failing is that it feels like it could have been written by anyone.

One of the reasons I’m willing to follow Whedon to the gates of hell and back (literally, in the case of Angel) is his brilliant wit. No matter how dark things get (and things can get pretty dark in Mutant Enemy territory), there’s always a moment of levity to drag you back from the abyss. And we’re not just talking run-of-the-mill comic relief here–Whedon’s trademark quips are funnier than you’ll find on most of the “comedies” on the air today.

Yet the premiere episode of Dollhouse? Elicited not a single laugh, nary a mild chuckle, nor even the faintest wisp of a smile.

Okay, so maybe Whedon wanted to get serious about sci fi for a change. I’m willing to buy a ticket for that train provided he still delivers the walloping emotional punch I’ve come to expect. Except that Dollhouse‘s main character doesn’t actually have any character. How am I supposed to become attached to Echo (or the other Actives, for that matter) when she’s a totally new, fake person every week? And since most of the other characters are complicit in this highly disturbing venture, there’s not really anyone to root for. It doesn’t help matters that lead Eliza Dushku is an actress who succeeds on charisma more than craft, thrust here into a role that’s all about craft. I’ve always found her enjoyable, but I’m not convinced she’s got the chops to do the heavy lifting a show like this requires.

Given Dollhouse‘s tumultuous history, it’s hard to know how closely Friday’s premiere hews to Whedon’s original vision. But what we got felt far more like something created by a team of Fox execs than than the vision of a gifted writer with a unique voice. This Dollhouse is a ready-made procedural with a sci fi twist, dressed up with sexy girls and motorcycle chases and shootouts. Something only slightly less absurd than last fall’s failed My Own Worst Enemy and marginally more interesting than the previous fall’s failed Journeyman. Maybe Fox figures what bombed on NBC will fit right in on their network–Dollhouse certainly seems made for a lineup that already features Fringe and Sarah Conner Chronicles.

That may be good enough for Fox, but it’s not good enough for me. I expect more from Joss Whedon. Far more.

Maybe it’ll get better. Pilots are rarely the best example of a show to begin with, and Dollhouse has had a bumpier-than-usual ride to the screen. I’m going to keep watching because I desperately hope it will get better. But at this point I’m not sure I actually believe it will.

SCRUBS Begins Second Life Tonight with ABC Premiere

scrubs801_09

Scrubs makes its ABC debut tonight for its eighth and possibly last season. And with the new season comes a new guest star (Courtney Cox, appearing for a multi-episode arc) and a whole new set of interns.

Why introduce new characters in what’s supposedly the comedy’s swan song year? Apparently, in case the series goes on for a ninth season. Creator Bill Lawrence (who’s currently working on a sitcom pilot for ABC titled Cougar Town) and star Zach Braff have both said they’re leaving after this season and the series/season finale is already in the bag. But if Scrubs performs well for ABC (which is desperately lacking in the comedy department), the network could renew the series, with or without Lawrence and Braff.

According to The New York Times, Lawrence is fine with that. If it keeps his cast and crew employed, he’s not Grinchy enough to object. For his own part, Braff says he might even be willing to continue recording the voice-overs that provide the framework for each episode.

Of course, that’s all dependent on the series pulling in good numbers for ABC–something it was never quite able to do on NBC. Scrubs has always been something of an acquired taste, what with its goofy dream sequences, recurring (some might even call them repetitive) jokes, broad slapstick, and a tone that sometimes borders on the schmaltzy (all of which is why we love it, of course). And being the only half-hour comedy on ABC’s schedule probably won’t help the envelope-pushing show find an audience.

So for now, I’m just going to sit back and enjoy these 18 episodes as the gift they are–the closure I never thought I’d get for this beloved underdog series.