Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s…look, CW, can we talk? I know we don’t get along that well, largely because I am not a twelve-year-old girl and am therefore not part of your target audience. I know I’m apparently part of that 10 percent of women in the world who simply don’t understand America’s Next Top Model (“congratulations, you’re still in the running toward becoming irrelevant”). I probably hurt your bottom line by putting off my Supernatural viewing until summer reruns. But really–must we punish me with Smallville?

Sigh. Fine. Squee! It’s Kyle Gallner on Smallville tonight! We’ve been keeping an eye on Gallner since he broke my heart and my brain in Veronica Mars (I think Susannah sent out search party at one point. No, for me, not the actor). In addition to playing Beaver…I’m sorry, Cassidy Casablancas on VM, you may have seen Gallner in the obligatory Law and Order appearances, guest roles on shows such as Judging Amy, Medium, Bones, and Life, and in recent recurring roles on The Shield, CSI: Honey Barbecue (NY), and Big Love. He’s been an absolute delight as The Flash Impulse (whatever, CW) on Smallville, as he’s the only person with superpowers who seems to enjoy himself. We’ll see if he enjoys himself tonight, or if, given that he’s recently been cast in a starring role in the Nightmare on Elm Street remake, he’s about to become unavailable, making Impulse the rumored character death wrapping up the Smallville season. Don’t kill your one spark, Smallville! Tonight on the CW at 8pm Eastern and Pacific.

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s triple squee spotting on Lie to Me tonight. You may remember the rapture I experienced when Randolph Mantooth showed up on Criminal Minds a few weeks ago. Now his Emergency! partner in crime, Kevin Tighe, pops up as well. Roy DeSoto : Johnny Gage as Jon Baker : Francis Poncherello and Frank Hardy : Joe Hardy. You may also remember Tighe as the athletic governor Josh didn’t want entering the primary after President Bartlet’s MS was announced on The West Wing and as Locke’s no-good, kidney-stealing dad on Lost. He’s also appeared on everything from Leverage and the Laws and Orders, ER and Chicago Hope, to Freaks and Geeks. He’s joined by D.B. Woodside, aka Pretty Principal Robin Wood from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s filled other positions of authority as a president on 24, as well as appearing in Numb3rs, Grey’s Anatomy, and Once and Again (and, heaven help him, Viva Laughlin). Both Woodside and Tighe were in the gone-too-soon Murder One, as well.

Finally, Jason Beghe is also in tonight’s episode. If you’re an old-school X-Files fan like I am, you might be looking at Beghe’s name and thinking, “That seems familiar. Did he date Gillian Anderson once upon a time?” But then you will remember that it was actually David Duchovny. Well, not that Beghe dated Duchovny, but that he kind of shoved Duchovny into acting. So we kind of have Jason Beghe (who has also appeared in fare such as Life, Veronica Mars, American DreamsMelrose Place, and Picket Fences, among many others) to thank for The X-Files. Of course, that means he’s also kind of to thank for Californication–you be the judge. You can catch Tighe, Woodside, and Beghe on Lie to Me on Fox tonight at 8pm Eastern and Pacific. Since ABC has bumped Scrubs and Better Off Ted to next week to accommodate the presidential news conference, you can even catch them with no guilt involved (unless missing the presidential news conference makes you feel guilty, too).

CASTLE Could Use Some LIFE Lessons


Three weeks in, Castle has settled in to a predictable pattern typical of crime procedurals. The good guys are called to a grim murder scene; red herrings take said good guys down some dead-end paths; good guys crack the case and cleverly wring a confession out of a worthy foe. It’s the state of the television union these days.

And that’s the problem–Castle brings little new to the table beyond Nathan Fillion. Hey, we think he’s fab, but we find ourselves tapping our toes impatiently through the minutia of the investigative scenes waiting for more of the droll-yet-tender interactions between Castle and his teenage daughter, or more fun with Castle’s phone. Castle’s background as a best-selling author has yet to be truly exploited (he may as well be a wise-cracking cop back from probation)–even Temperance Brennan’s literary exploits have been better woven into Bones‘ storylines, and she’s usually busy playing with femurs and fungus. Fillion’s a gem, but he can’t make plots used ten years ago on Law & Order seem fresh.

Maybe Castle‘s makers should take some lessons from Life.

They’re both crime procedurals. They’ve both had obligatory episodes with creepy flower imagery and overly convoluted symbolic clues. Both shows include wacky distractions at home for the heroes. Both quirky crime-fighting protagonists are paired with by-the-book female cops who grudgingly come to respect their partners, quirks and all, while maintaining a friendly antagonism. The major difference between the two is that Life has a dark streak half a mile wide. Life‘s mysteries, in addition to feeling fresher, dig into the twisted and sad lives of victims and perps alike (the music on Life is fresher, too). Dani Reese’s eyerolling at her partner is tempered by the fact that she’s a recovering addict, the daughter of a dirty cop, and probably shouldn’t be dating her boss (said boss’s and partner’s bemusement at termporary Dani fill-in and mayor-to-be Jane Seever’s lack of a dark side brings a tart amusement). Rick Castle has been married a couple of times. Charlie Crews learned all kinds of deadly skills in prison after being framed for murder–he just tries to find his Zen place so he doesn’t use those skills.

At the same time, Life doesn’t give up on life. It never goes to the bleak extremes of the CSIs of the world (which, to be perfectly fair, get many, many more viewers). While the second season has been more diffuse in lining up suspects in the framing mystery, it has also more neatly underlined the fight between redemption and vengenace that still rages in Charlie. Most other crime procedurals just don’t take on the issues of trust, growth, and failure in their leads that Life manages to balance with every mystery of the week (even the aforementioned and charming Bones places the emphasis on its regulars’ lives on romance instead of redemption). Life isn’t perfect (this week’s crying jag between Ted and his long-lost daughter was embarrassing, and that’s hard to do to Adam Arkin), but it has something to say–one of Castle‘s problems is that it’s glib, but it’s not saying much. Come over to the dark side, Rick Castle. You can bring your phone and your kid.

Wake Up Your DVR–LIFE Returns Tonight


I love my DVR. It keeps me out of enormous amounts of trouble and organizes me better than any calendar ever has, but for some reason it hates Life. No matter how many times I try to teach it to love Life, it skips over the adventures of Charlie Crews and Co. pretty regularly. I don’t know why–has it got something against fruit? Against Zen? Against mordant wit and Adam Arkin?

It’s a puzzle. Still, I was lucky this time and caught it trying to sneak out a window and hang out with the kids who smoke in the parking lot while it was supposed to be recording Life. So, since NBC doesn’t seem to care if you know the show is coming back this week, and just in case your DVR was the one my DVR met online and made a date with, here’s your heads up–new episode of Life on NBC tonight at 9 Eastern and Pacific. It is amusingly called “Re-entry.” Glad we caught it before it burned up in such (what with being scheduled across from Lost and Lie to Me).

The Ten Best Television Moments of 2008

I’m one of those grouches who generally doesn’t love New Year’s Eve, spending the evening grousing in a corner about another year slipping away into the ether. In a lot of ways, however, 2008 has been great enough to kick me out of that rut. This year, we saw whales in two different oceans and camped with alligators and saw David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in Hamlet (side note: truly excellent) and touched Paul Revere’s headstone and made awesome Brussels sprouts and actually did workout programs. Heck, one of us even survived a hurricane and a week without power by washing dishes in rainwater while one of us had a chunk of her head removed and lived to tell the tale (should we give out prizes if you guess which was which?). Good year.

A lot of times, it didn’t feel like TV kept up–although we did (and still do) support the WGA in their strike, the repercussions slammed down 2008 TV pretty hard. We can’t say there’s a new show from the fall docket we actually, you know, watch, and that probably has a lot to do with the munched-up development season. We lost a bunch of old TV friends this year, too (shut up, ABC). Upon further reflection, however, we found plenty to celebrate in TV 2008.

This is only our list, of course, made up of shows that we watched. If your top ten list is different, feel free to leave a comment letting us know what we’ve egregiously omitted (or criminally overrated). Fair warning–any video or links may have spoilers.

10. Tina Fey asks whether the vice presidential debate will include a talent portion on Saturday Night Live (October 4 on NBC): It’s probably stretching things to suggest that a comedy show decided the US presidential election, but it’s hard to deny that David Letterman’s jilted outrage and Fey’s spot-on impression of Sarah Palin put the McCain/Palin campaign in an unenviable position: they moved from being candidates to lead a superpower to being punchlines. Fey might have done more to revitalize late-night comedy in a couple of months than she did in years as SNL‘s head writer.

9. Amber shuffles off this mortal coil after trying to do House a solid (“Wilson’s Heart,” May 19 on Fox): House is essentially a procedural, just one set in a hospital and with a really tremendous lead. House will guess the Disease of the Week is vasculitis about ten minutes in and then manufacture a crash cart crisis right before every commercial break. It really stands out, then, when they break that pattern, and they’ve never broken it like they did when they broke Wilson’s heart. Watching doctors who deal with life and death every day shed their professional armor to say goodbye to the colleague they can’t save gave us emotion we rarely see from this crew, and the resulting break-up between Wilson and House drove the fall run of the show. Part of the reason Hugh Laurie is so great on this show is because Robert Sean Leonard raises his game, and Mr. Leonard has never been better than here.

8. Shawn asks his (appalled) father for a pair of his underwear in an auto shop classroom on Psych (Murder?…Anyone?…Anyone?…Bueller?,” July 25 on USA): Maybe Psych is more fun for those of us old enough to remember all the pop culture gags the show tosses out at lightning speed. No episode had more of those gags than the one centering around Shawn and Gus’ 13-year (yes, you read that right) high school reunion, which was a cornucopia of 80s teen movie jokes. Having a reference to Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago, or ending the show with the Breakfast Club fist in the air is nice, but what really put us over the edge was Shawn bonding with Henry in a dark auto shop classroom…and then asking for his underwear in a Sixteen Candles homage so funny it makes us want to break into a chorus of “If You Were Here.” We wonder if Shawn’s long-lost mother will claim that she paid a buck to see Henry’s underwear at the dance.

7. Desmond finally finds Penny–or is it the other way around?–on Lost (“The Constant,” February 28 on ABC): I’m neither the biggest Lost fan around nor the biggest romantic, and even I got all teary at the end of this one. After an episode of bouncing dangerously through time and space revisiting his own past and salting in potential clues about physics and relativity, Desmond faces the same fate as others who have messed with the island: death by nosebleed and seizure. How is he able to avoid such a sorry end? He has a constant in time and space. Penny’s looking for him, too. In one quick scene, Lost gains more emotional momentum and satisfaction from an oft-referenced but rarely seen character than it does from many of its regulars.

6. Jason Lezak’s come-from-behind relay leg keeps Michael Phelps’–and NBC’s–Olympic dreams alive (4X100m freestyle relay, August 11 on NBC): The Beijing Olympics left a big footprint on the television landscape this year, and no athlete was more of a Sasquatch than 8-time-gold medalist Michael Phelps. We were able to learn more about his diet, his mother, and his dog, however, because his 32-year-old teammate, Jason Lezak, hunted down recent world record holder Alain Bernard of France to keep Phelps’ record hopes alive. Lezak made up half a body length in 25 meters and merely swam the fastest relay split in history. It wasn’t an implausible comeback–it was an impossible comback. And it was almost more fun to watch Phelps scream his teammate to victory just like we were than it was to watch Phelps swim.

5. Crews and Reese find unhappy surprises in trunks scattered across LA in the season opener of Life (“Find Your Happy Place,” September 29 on NBC): Other detective shows focus on how ugly the world can be. Life is different because it focuses instead on how unsettling the world can be. A nearly dialogue-free opening with our heroes helplessly opening trunk after trunk containing dead bodies underscores why the conspiracy hiding who framed Charlie Crews is so important. In a world so unsettling, we need Charlie Crews (and Dani Reese) to find the bad guys and keep us safe…but Charlie isn’t even able to protect himself, not even with a Zen attitude and a lot of fruit. The typically brilliant musical choice accompanying the scene–Gram Rabbit’s “Devil’s Playground” –says it all: the mean streets aren’t so cheap as to just murder you. They’ll play with you first. Better hope Charlie is there to help.

4. Chuck hears her mother talk about giving birth to her on Pushing Daisies (“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic!,” October 29 on ABC): Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles can occasionally be a little grating (did you see that? Did you see how I slipped that little cheese pun in there? Hello?) in her insistence that everyone be as fascinated by their origins as she is. Still, given that her boyfriend accidentally killed her father with his magic finger and she’s only recently discovered that the aunt who raised her is actually her mother, Chuck’s obsession with her family tree is understandable. The end of this episode, with ever-patient third-wheel Olive wearing a wire and asking Aunt/Mother Lily an eavesdropping Chuck’s questions, gave us a window into how much these bits of information mean. We can’t put too fine a point on it: Chuck, who was told her mother died giving birth to her, is able to hear her mother say she knew her baby was an angel. It would have softened us toward Chuck’s perspective, but we were too busy crying our little hearts out with her. (And did Olive retreating to fantasy love while singing “Eternal Flame” make us cry, too? Maybe. A little. Hush, you.)

3. The TARDIS tows the Earth home on Doctor Who (“Journey’s End,” July 5 on BBC One; August 1 on Sci Fi): Doctor Who‘s season finales can be…a bit messy, and this one was no exception. Several old buddies didn’t really do much plot-wise but get in the way (really, what were the odds Martha Jones was going to use the Osterhagen Key?), but they needed to be there for one purpose: they needed to be there so we could see the TARDIS fully staffed, flown the ways TARDISes are meant to be flown. For one glorious moment, the TARDIS is viewed in all of its potential, with all of its might–it’s towing a planet. And it can because it’s piloted by a family, restoring to the Doctor so much of what he’s lost. Yes, the end of Donna’s story minutes later is crushing, but it hurts so good because everything was singing so beautifully such a short time before. From this point forward, every time we see the Doctor running around the TARDIS’ console and hitting things with sledgehammers, we’ll miss this moment, and something so indelible in a show that is so much about how things change is special.

2. David Simon and Co. say goodbye to Baltimore to close the series finale of The Wire (“-30-,” March 9 on HBO): One of television’s greatest achievements, The Wire revisited over and over again the idea that unless institutions change, the same patterns of poverty and corruption will keep destroying people’s lives. Perhaps the most amazing thing, however, was that in the midst of that soul-deadening truth, both the show and the viewers found characters to love, the most notable of which was Baltimore itself. The series-closing montage showed us not only where each of our beloved characters ended up (sweet merciful crap, how did he become police commisioner?!? The circle really is unbroken), but also the beauty and pain of the city they loved in so many different ways. I’ll never love a dining room table as much as I did in this moment of watching television.

1. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech (November 4 on various networks): Regardless of your political leanings, the sight of as many as a quarter of a million people crowding into Grant Park to hear the newly elected US president was a spectacle made for television. At the same time, the sight of sheets of bulletproof glass separating said newly elected president from the people he will represent is the kind of thing politicians used to be able to hide before the advent of television. Can you imagine FDR keeping his health issues a secret if there had been 24-hour news channels in his day? The thing that makes television different from other medium is the shared nature of the experience–millions of people might see the same film, but they don’t do it all at the same time. Obama’s acceptance speech, so rousing that researchers are using it to try to study emotional elevation, would likely have affected people anyway, but the exponential expansion of that elevation that comes from sharing it with millions of other people comes thanks to television. And the inability to hide things less elevating, things that still need fixing, is in many ways thanks to the real-time, moving pictures television is able to provide. There’s some talk that web-based communication will supplant this function, but I’m not sure texts can ever create elevation the same way watching history unfold can. Even in a television year that may not have been historic itself, this kind of participatory history gives us something to celebrate about television.

LIFE Makes AFI’s Top Ten of 2008


NBC’s Life received its first ever awards attention Sunday when the American Film Institute announced its top 10 TV programs of the year. The other television honorees (which include series, telepics and minis) are Breaking Bad, In Treatment, John Adams, Lost, Mad Men, The Office, Recount, The Shield, and The Wire.

Conspicuously missing from the list is award-darling 30 Rock, as well as other frequent nominees Entourage, Weeds, Damages, Dexter, and House. AFI awards are selected by a 13-person jury composed of “scholars, film artists, critics and AFI trustees.” Creative teams for the selections will be honored at a luncheon on Jan. 9 in Beverly Hills.

LIFE “Black Friday”: You’re Scaring the Children


I’ve been a little concerned about Life this season. Moving it around to multiple time slots makes me nervous the audience won’t be able to find a show that wasn’t exactly burning up the ratings charts to begin with. In addition, after a clever and spooky season opener, the plots sagged a bit. The convenience of an earthquake wasn’t quite as bad as thinking anyone could re-create the Stanford Prison Experiment, but it didn’t make a lot of sense. The editing has often been weird, as well, with the show returning from commercials to scenes completely unrelated to anything that’s previously happened in the episode.

Still, I’m not sure you watch Life for the procedural twists–this is a show you relish for the character moments, the terrific music, and the witty asides. When those are paired with a more interesting plot, like the mall-based child abuse in “Black Friday,” you have a show ten levels above the typical procedural. Unlike its crime-show siblings, Life is never lazy–instead of filling time with fake science mimed to cheap techno music, Life shades in the corners with questions about who Dani is evolving into and whether Charlie can continue to evolve while dipping a toe back into his old life. The show also goes to the trouble of writing actual dialogue: you’re not going to see throwaway discussions of the sugar content of fruit or the shopping habits of lizard buyers played for laughs on CSI or Law and Order. The difference between these shows and Life is that the latter is fun. Crime procedurals are among the most popular shows on network TV–if you like them, give yourself an early Christmas present and check out one with a dark sense of humor and characters that do more than prop up fake science.

NBC Orders a Full Season of LIFE


Despite its middling ratings, NBC has given a back nine order to sophomore cop drama Life.

“This unique crime drama continues to offer consistent and compelling stories each week,” said Teri Weinberg, executive vp, NBC Entertainment. “We love Life and are thrilled that we get to see more of these characters and amazing new cases.”

The critically acclaimed series has had a bumpy ride. Life started out the season on Mondays after Heroes, which should have been a ratings boost… if only Heroes hadn’t been having its worst ratings year to date. Life was then was shifted to the dead zone of Friday nights (where it performed exactly as unremarkably as expected) and finally was resurrected as part of NBC’s revamped Wednesday night crime drama lineup. Unfortunately, the Wednesday night block bowed to disappointing ratings for all three series last week: Knight Rider dropped sharply to a season low; Life was up 33% from its extremely low Friday average, but still less than Deal or No Deal in the slot; and Law & Order was down 42% from its debut last year and posted its lowest Wednesday numbers ever.

NBC’s loyalty to Life is extremely heartening, but one wonders just how long they can keep it up. Then again, it’s not like they’ve got anything to replace it with, either. And how can you expect a struggling series like Life to find any traction when the rest of of NBC’s lineup is hemorrhaging viewers?

NBC Revamps Its Wednesday Nights

NBC is filling up Wednesday nights with crime dramas, making it the first network to rejigger its fall schedule. The new Wednesday night block will premiere Nov. 5 with Knight Rider (staying put), Life (moving out of the Friday dungeon), and Law & Order (retuning to its old roost sooner than anticipated). The underperforming Lipstick Jungle (seriously, what isn’t underperforming on NBC’s schedule this season?) will move to Fridays at 10 p.m. Eastern.

“These moves will play to the shows’ mutual strengths and will help us to reinforce our lineup,” said NBC co-chairs Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff in a statement. “A Wednesday night with wall-to-wall satisfying mysteries and great dramas–paced by the return of the original Law & Order to its home on Wednesdays–will provide creative continuity that night. Fridays will feature escapist drama with Lipstick Jungle joining Crusoe.”

The Wednesday night jump suggests the network still has some faith in the critically acclaimed Life, which has lost a significant portion of its (already meager) viewership on Friday nights. Unfortunately, the move will put the struggling series up against the mystifyingly popular (and vastly inferior) crime drama Criminal Minds, which may not be doing Life any favors after all. At least on Friday nights no one expects you to perform well.

LIFE: Everything the Same, Everything Distinct

NBC has their very own House, and they don’t even know it. You probably don’t either, given how very few people tuned in to watch the extraordinary Life last season.

So how exactly is cop show Life like medical drama House? Well, aside from the monosyllabic nomenclature, they’re both shows that take tired television genres and revitalize them with clever writing, surprisingly complex plots, and singularly talented and charismatic leading men (who both happen to be Brits doing a remarkable job faking their American accents) playing characters who are broken on the inside.

Life stars Damian Lewis (Band of Brothers) as Charlie Crews, a homicide detective back on the force after spending 12 years in prison for some murders he didn’t commit. His time in the clink has left Crews slightly unhinged, a condition he attempts to quell by spouting Zen wisdom at odd moments, much to the chagrin of pretty much everyone around him. He’s also obsessed with fruit. But more importantly, he’s got a brilliant mind for detective work and a gift for looking at a crime scene (or a suspect) and seeing what others don’t.

Unsurprisingly, Crews really wants to know who set him up for murder. And here’s where Life does House one better, because its murder-of-the-week format is framed by a compelling, Veronica Mars-style mytharc. The clues are doled out in tantalizing dribs and drabs throughout season one (which was abbreviated to only eleven episodes due to the strike), culminating in a startlingly revelatory two-part finale. And if you think the mystery ends there, well, you must not watch much TV. But don’t worry, you don’t have to understand the intricacies of the central mystery to enjoy Life, you just have to show up.

Another area in which Life tops House is that its male lead is matched by an equally impressive female lead. Crews’ tough-as-nails partner, played by the stunning Sarah Shahi (The L Word), is a perfect foil for her kooky counterpart. She may not like him much, but her immediate and unshakable loyalty to her damaged partner is a force to be reckoned with.

Here’s the bottom line, people: you need to watch this show. No, really, you do. Season two debuts Monday in the post-Heroes slot before Life is shuffled off to its regular Friday berth, and I promise you it’s ten times better than Heroes. Don’t want to wait for Monday? You can watch a sneak peek of the premiere on Hulu right now. Right now! Plus, if you’ve got TiVo, it’s available free on Amazon Unbox this week (along with Chuck). Also, season one is available on DVD for those who want to catch up on what they missed (even if NBC’s cheap-ass accountants have replaced the show’s outstanding music selections with cheaper, lamer fare for the DVD release).

This show needs you. For the sake of good television everywhere, I beg you to watch Life before NBC pulls the plug. Remember what happened to Veronica Mars? Do you want that to happen again? Do you?