Well, That Title Is Just Mean: DOCTOR WHO Special “The Next Doctor” Airs on BBC America Tonight


We may still be mourning David Tennant’s choice to move on from Doctor Who, but that’s not going to stop us from enjoying tonight’s US debut of last December’s Christmas special. Well, actually, it might–“The Next Doctor”‘s big climax is so ludicrous it’s hard not to feel a little cranky that we lose 20 percent of the short time we have left with the Tenth Doctor on it.

Still, Tennant has so much chemistry with guest star David Morrissey (previously seen with Tennant in Blackpool and with recent Master John Simm in the original BBC State of Play) that it’s hard not to be a little in love with this Victorian steampunk fantasia. The Doctor, traveling alone after the tragedy of losing Donna Noble, stumbles over a hero who insists he is…the Doctor. Since we know Morrissey isn’t actually the next doctor, who is he? The answer is a bit touching, and a certain sepia-toned moment is very touching. If that info stamp doesn’t get to you, I have some old-school Who DVDs to recommend. Ring in the holiday in style–TARDIS style, as you have to turn back the clock a bit–tonight on BBC America (who generally do a better job in terms of not cutting the episodes to ribbons) at 9pm Eastern. Tennant pops up on Graham Norton immediately after. The odds of a peculiar suit are high.


New NINJA WARRIOR on G4 Tonight


Very few things can bring a smile to my face like Ninja Warrior, the insane obstable course show known in Japan as Sasuke. G4 is showing the most recent competition, new to the US, this afternoon as part of a weekend-long Ninja Warrior marathon. I’m not ashamed to say I stayed up too late last night because I saw they were showing Sasuke 17, and I just had to see fisherman Makoto Nagano become only the second athlete in the 21 attempts we’ve seen so far to conquer all four stages. Lest you think watching serious athletes do things like trying to cross a moat by hanging from light bulbs is an inappropriate use of your Sunday time, I note that Ninja Warrior is one of the only things my brother and I enjoy watching together. You can cal it family time! Give Ninja Warrior a shot, but beware: it’s kind of like potato chips. Watch it once, and you’ll be going back to watch all of them. New stuff tonight on G4 at 5:30pm Eastern, starting with the network’s American Ninja Challenge (qualifying US athletes into the real thing).

The Pusher and The User: WEEDS and NURSE JACKIE Premiere on Showtime Tonight

It’s Ladies’ Night on Showtime, with the return of Weeds and the premiere of Nurse Jackie. Weeds is sharp, brutally funny, and well-acted, and…we have a hard time watching it. Mary-Louise Parker is terrific in her role as widow-turned-marijuana dealer Nancy Botwin, but Nancy’s choices put her children in such horrific, dangerous situations that we have a hard time not wanting to call Social Services on a television character. Still, the lecture Nancy’s brother (the terrific Justin Kirk) once gave Nancy’s youngest son on…growing up…with a banana peel…is still one of the funniest things that television has produced recently, so if you can stomach the bad parenting, tune in.

Nurse Jackie, on the other hand, finds Edie Falco snorting Oxycontin to keep herself sharp enough to keep her patients out of danger. This pilot is by turns acerbic, heartbreaking, snide, touching, and clever, and it opens by quoting TS Eliot, so I fell a little in love a little too quickly. Falco is so good (and this is coming from someone who could not handle The Sopranos and therefore never really understood the acclaim for its leads) I almost want to hand her the Oxy myself. She’s joined by a solid supporting cast that includes Peter Facinelli (Damages, Six Feet Under, Fastlane), Anna Deavere Smith (The West Wing, The Practice), and Merritt Wever (Matt and Danny’s PA on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). I’m terrified thinking that Nancy Botwin’s kids are going to end up in the emergency room, to the point where I’m not sure I can watch her show, but I’d feel a lot better knowing they were going to end up under Nurse Jackie’s tough, tender care.

Weeds season premiere tonight at 10pm Eastern and Pacific, followed immediately by the series premiere of Nurse Jackie, both on Showtime.

New Episodes of THE CLOSER, RAISING THE BAR on TNT Tonight


I kinda like FBI Agent Fritzie (Jon Tenney), so I wonder occasionally what he sees in Brenda Leigh Johnson. Sure, I love her, but I love her as a hard-nosed cop who makes cool intuitive leaps. If I had to live with her, the Bacon Universe version of Deputy Chief Johnson would be investigating how the real Deputy Chief Johnson’s hacked-up corpse ended up in the garbage disposal.

Still, Fritz seems to be sticking it out, and the new season of The Closer that begins on TNT tonight finds the newlyweds negotiating both marriage and a case both the LAPD and the FBI want. Brenda and Fritz can be married all they want, as long as we get to see lots of Provenza (GW Bailey), Flynn (Tony Denison) and Tao (Michael Paul Chan).

TNT also brings back legal drama Raising the Bar, which did not raise the bar when it debuted last year. I may try it again for the love of Jane Kaczmarek, for said love runs deep. If they expect me to stick with it, though, they’re going to have to come up with twistier storylines and retreads of things we saw on Law and Order a decade ago. Fleshing out the characters and their relationships would be a bonus, too. They’ve gotten a second chances, so we’d love to see them take advantage of it. Opening the season mocking Mark-Paul Gosselaar‘s hair seems like a good sign.

The Closer premieres at 9pm Eastern and Pacific, with Raising the Bar immediately following, both on TNT.

ROYAL PAINS “Pilot”: St. Hank of the Hamptons

Pilots are tricky beasts. The need to introduce the characters and situations that provide the foundation for the entire show often gum up the storytelling, creating a checklist approach (“Handsome protagonist–means well and is funny. Check!”) instead of something more elegant.

Royal Pains is not the pilot to break this pattern. While the show’s premise is established with relative economy, the characters have little dimension or shading. The finacee who dumps Hank when he falls on hard times? We know she’s not good enough for him because she states in her three minutes of screentime that she wanted to spend their money on fancy wedding paraphenalia rather than on Hank’s legal bills. Hank’s brother is a good-time boy who takes advantange of the moment. The Hamptonites Hank treats are self-centered and spoiled. Lather, rinse, repeat.

On the other side of the coin, Hank is good but no less one-dimensional. Hank knows medicine better than anyone! Hank would never accept money for practicing medicine! (Until the end of the episode.) Hank is honest! Hank would love to serve as a surrogate father to a poor little rich boy! He’s clearly meant to be with the Hamptons’ hospital administrator, as she is good. She is so good that she knows Hank is right. Because he is Hank!

Maybe Royal Pains‘ aches and pains will be limited to the pilot–as predicted, Mark Feuerstein is adorable, and while Paulo Costanzo gets little to do but be a rascal as Hank’s brother, he’s a charming rascal indeed. The musical choices are less than fresh (really, if songs have been featured on iTouch and Target commercials, they’re not going to serve very well to set a scene), and some of the more melodramatic lines are clunkers (“Why didn’t you tell me you’re a hemophiliac?!?” set me to giggling when I wasn’t supposed to be). But the banter between the brothers is snappy, and the main characters are at least charming, so perhaps Royal Pains is worth a second opinion.

CAPRICA at the Paley Festival: Destroying Battlestar Galactica


After showing the pilot for Caprica at the Paley Festival on Monday night, Caprica and Battlestar Galactica creators Ron Moore and David Eick answered questions for the audience and moderator/devoted BSG lover Seth Green, joined by writer/producer Jane Espenson and Caprica actors Eric Stoltz, Esai Morales, Paula Malcomson, Alessandra Toreson, and Magda Apanowicz for a Q&A session that focused a lot more on That Other Show Moore and Eick Made than on Caprica.

Before the showing, however, Eick noted that they were so nervous before showing the BSG pilot that they employed some, um, libations. A little more comfortable now, he invited Moore to join him in the new tradition of christening the maiden voyage of Caprica by enjoying libations right there on stage, pulling out a flask full of tequila. And invoke the gods or the fates they did, swigging away. And letting Seth Green do so, as well.

Let us dispense with the comments about red-headed stepchild Caprica first, as it was less the focus of the discussion–look for a report on Battlestar-related content in a separate post.

  • Speaking of red hair, Green asked Eric Stoltz if, as a redhead, he feels enormous pressure to change his hair color. While Stoltz did not really answer the question, he did note that Green is currently sporting a purple mohawk. Green claims this is just the latest in a long line of poorly considered hair decisions on his part.
  • If Caprica hits it big, Stoltz may need a little training on dealing with fandom, as he didn’t really seem to get into the swing of charmingly answering questions until the very end.
  • Paula Malcomson, on the other hand, was a hoot, spanking people both literally and figuratively. Possibly because Green at one point mistook her for someone on 24.
  • After 90 minutes of the pilot and an hour of questions that had nothing to do with the show she was on, poor Apanowicz had to escape to the restroom in the middle of the Q&A. Since no one was asking anything about Caprica, she could have gone for an In and Out burger while she was at it. When she was (finally) asked about landing the role, however, she noted that she’d had infected wisdom teeth incisions at the time and that they cast her from her audition tape–and how grateful she was they’d trusted her from only that.
  • When asked how she came to the pilot, Toreson talked about liking that Zoe was a strong, intelligent character, but then claimed that it was exciting to get this opportunity because there are so few roles for young female actors out there. It is possible the audience snickered at this claim. Perhaps she meant there are few roles for young female actors in which they play computer geniuses who become alleged terrorists over monotheism? Because she might be right about that.
  • In response to the same question, Morales talked about how he was sure he wouldn’t get the role because he saw someone who looked more like Edward James Olmos than he does auditioning. Under pressure from Stoltz to reveal who that actor was (“Was it Danny Trejo? Was it Dabney Coleman?”), Morales went from refusing to answer to saying it was a successful actor to saying the actor’s first initial was A to saying it was A Martinez. Way to obfuscate there, buddy (thank goodness they went with Morales–especially since he has a killer Olmos impression).
  • Malcomson originally auditioned for private school headmistress (counselor?) Sister Clarice, the role that eventually went to Polly Walker.
  • Stoltz finally warmed up a bit during this question, teasing Morales and then telling his own tale of woe about filming in Provo, UT, (“Provo. Utah. It…was tough”) and getting and then ignoring the script, tossing it on his dresser. From which the maid stole it at the behest of a Battlestar fan. Which was when Stoltz realized he might have something big on his hands and he should maybe read the script. That he no longer had.
  • Morales also thought the current BSG still had Dirk Benedict and had been running for 30 years.
  • Given that Caprica opens 58 years before the robotcalypse that kicks off Battlestar Galactica, the actors “expect” to do 58 seasons.
  • Jane Espenson was willing to use the term “soap opera” when referring to Caprica as more serialized than BSG.
  • The actors were all full of praise for director Jeffrey Reiner, who set up enough cameras that acting felt like theater and who was more than willing to tell them when they were crap.
  • Moore, Eick, and Espenson were insistent that they not focus much at all on telling Joseph Adama stories that allow BSG viewers to connect too many dots as to how little Willie grows up to be Admiral Adama.
  • Along the same lines, they are trying really hard to resist the temptation to make cute litte references to Grandpa Agathon or a line of musicians named Thrace or to one of young William Adama’s teachers being named Roslin. One of the things they feel they have to do is “destroy Battlestar Galactica“–changing the look, the dynamics of relationships, the way the story unfolds–and making too many connections back (forward?) to BSG, no matter how winking, would undermine that. No flashforwards, no overt references–Caprica is its own show.
  • They also know that means they’ll lose some fans in translation–but they think they’ll gain some, too.

Overall, they seemed excited and hopeful–a lot of the audience seemed to be, too. I’m off to see if Morales’ uttering his name summoned Dirk Benedict, and if he has anything discouraging to say about how Caprica won’t work because a teenage girl is meant to hand out babies instead of computer programs.

BETTER OFF TED “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”: That Yogurt *Is* Intriguing


We keep begging you to watch Better Off Ted, but we do have to wonder if it’s current economic conditions that make people shy away. When lots of people are worrying about how long their jobs will last, it’s a little terrifying to think of a place where the HR supervisor insists your name is not what your parents gave you or thinks that a body falling past a window is problematic solely because of the paperwork it will cause. Ted ends up getting help from corners both likely (the inept scientists he supervises) and not (Veronica costing the company money by tricking the computer into re-adding Ted), but a supervisor thinks it’s a great idea to replace him with a younger, cheaper worker before that. It’s a little scary.

On the other hand, a show that debates whether its lead character’s last name is Chips or Crisps is just plain funny. If you don’t laugh at this economy, you might cry–so you may as well laugh at Veronica as she admits she’s afraid of the lab because it smells like science.

This week’s Veridian Dynamics commercial: “Veridian Dynamics. Individuals. We believe everyone is special. Irreplacable. And will follow the thing walking in front of it. That’s why we celebrate all individuals. Even ones going nowhere. Veridian Dynamics. Because you can’t spell ‘individual’ without ‘Veridian’. And you. And an ‘l’.”

BETTER OFF TED “Racial Sensitivity”: Getting Your Own Free White Guy


Astonishingly, it turns out Better Off Ted is the flip side of an old, successful coin: once upon a time, All in the Family used an all-too-realistic portrayal of the bigot next door to make society laugh at its own unflattering reflection. Better Off Ted is super-stylized–no one on this show lives next door to you–and it’s not going to last as long as All in the Family‘s theme song. But no show today is as adroit at holding a mirror up to society’s foibles.

This week’s entry finds Veridian Dynamics forced to hire white people to follow their black employees around because a newly installed security system simply doesn’t register black people (Legal insists that this is indifference, not racism). While the episode tosses around giggles like Lem’s collective bargaining crew getting stuck on the elevator because the sensor is…indifferent to them and Veronica dismissing Lem’s concerns by trying to make him think he’s won by getting a sensor-free drinking fountain dedicated to black employees, the show doesn’t shy away from the assumptions created by the American Dream. In describing the ludicrous “hand out white guys” solution VD has come up with, Lem bitterly notes that his personal white guy has a new job because he “was born with the God-given talent to trigger a light sensor.” That’s the kind of human capital that’s gotten the melanin-challenged ahead for decades, and isn’t that the American Dream? If you just work hard enough and better yourself by learning the skills necessary to trigger a light sensor, you deserve all the good things that come to you. Thanks, Veridian Dynamics–I’ve been railing against racism for years, but you’ve made it so clear that I’m wrong! As your commercial points out, just the thought of that makes me smile:

Diversity. Just the thought of it makes these white people smile. We believe everyone works best when they work together. Even if they’re just standing around. Just like we enjoy varieties of foods, we enjoy varieties of people. Even though we can’t eat them. At Veridian Dynamics, we’re committed to a multiethnic workplace. You can shake on it. Veridian Dynamics. Diversity. Good for us!

HOUSE “Simple Explanation”: Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain


It isn’t so much that House killed off a more interesting character and left much less interesting characters alive. And it isn’t very hard to sympathize with producers who had to figure out a way to write off an interesting character because the actor had bigger fish to fry (kind of nifty fish, at that). It’s not even that they settled on a suicide–while House’s “but it’s a mystery I cannot solve!” reaction was pretty predictable in this episode, being so unsettled could lead to interesting paths the rest of the season.

No, the thing that’s irritaing about having Kutner kill himself is that the show is trying to pass off the fact that they couldn’t be bothered to really write for the character as a strength rather than a weakness. We’ve been subjected to what feels like years of wallowing in Thirteen’s illness and romance, and we’ve even gotten some interesting Taub backstory lately. But Kutner largely remained the cheerful guy who used his brain and solved the mysteries. Wrapping the mystery of his own suicide in the show’s refusal to give him a storyline is dirty pool. We’ll be hoping this goes somewhere–hey, who doesn’t want to see the great Hugh Laurie dig into something juicy?–but we’ll also be hoping that the White House treats Kal Penn better than Fox’s House did.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS “Hello Goodbye”: Eyes on the Prize


One of the reasons the characters on Friday Night Lights dig themselves into trouble is because they are constantly looking over their shoulders. (It’s so bad you’d think the entire Texas landscape would be covered with pillars of salt). Matt can’t stop looking over his shoulder to see JD McCoy gaining on him. Smash can’t stop glancing back at the player he was and the starry path he’d laid out for himself. Lyla ran right back into the arms of her past. Landry can’t stop looking back at Tyra, who can’t stop looking back at her old life. Coach got himself a nice little smackdown when he couldn’t stop looking back for the coach’s wife who had a less demanding job and only one child and could devote herself more fully to telling him he’s great.

And that’s what makes “Hello Goodbye” so satisfying–people look forward, focusing on the future, which lets them move forward. Tami embraces the fact that she’s lost the Jumbotron wars and starts new wheels turning. Coach Taylor admits that his freshman QB is pretty good and installs an offensive scheme that will help his team succeed. Matt’s grandma releases him just a bit from the ghosts of the past so he can forge a tentative relationship with his mother and get some freaking help already. Best of all, of course, is Smash Williams stepping over the ashes of his old plan, owning that field, and moving to a whole new world. It’s so satisfying that I know I’m going to catch myself feeling more sympathetic to Texas A&M football this fall just for the fictional chance “they” gave a fictional character, and that’s just not okay. If the show indulges a bit and gives us one more Smash “touchdown” with his boys on the Dillon field, well, that’s the kind of looking back we don’t mind.

Next to look forward? Jason Street. See, Tyra? People can get out of Dillon after all. We’ll just miss them an awful lot when they’re gone.