Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tonight's TV Talk: 'The Biggest Loser', 'New Girl', 'Raising Hope', 'Unforgettable'...

TV Talk for Tuesday, December 13th 2011

The Biggest Loser (NBC, 9pm) - S12, Ep13: "Live Finale" - Usually this episode has me cheering, tearing, and stress-eating. I love to see how far the contestants have come and how great they look now. But last week's "bring everyone back for the marathon" kind of sucked some of the thunder out of that. Sure, the marathon was still weeks before this live finale, and yes, they were in running shorts and tee-shirts, not slim-fitting formal attire, but we pretty much knew where everyone who's not in the running for the grand prize stand going into this episode. That alone would have been underwhelming but okay-- after all, knowing the progress doesn't negate the importance of it-- but they didn't even weigh these people in! What the hell is that? I know the moments of changing from formal wear to work-out wear is tough on non-theater people, but the scale IS the show. Also, NBC just keeps trying to give Train a comeback, and that's annoying as hell. I usually cry and eat my way through these special two-hour finales, but this time I stayed extremely, almost uncomfortably dry-eyed. Going into the evening, I wanted Ramon to win. There's just something about that guy, man. He has the best smile, and he spent his time at the ranch in a seemingly impossible state of euphoria, just so insanely positive all the time. I thought that would annoy me, but he was so sincere in his happiness, instead what I saw was just a man who was not getting his life back but truly living for the first time. It was weirdly intimate and beautiful. Plus, the fact that he got sent home but still kept up his weight loss and came back for another chance would have made it more poignant if he took the top title. But no, he fell a bit short and John ended up taking the title-- John who I don't believe has been sincere a moment on the ranch; John who Bob believes will gain it all back; John who-- well, he worked hard and made the numbers and technically deserves the win but who doesn't inspire me to be entirely happy about it. Mostly because the last winner who gained it all back was someone I really thought would commit to the new lifestyle, and I am inclined to trust Bob's instinct about this. I only hope Bob commits himself to constantly check in with John so his fears don't end up coming true. It would really be his failure, too, if John gains even a percentage of that weight back.

PS I totally knew Patrick was a hottie. Though he didn't win the at-home prize (who would've thought Bob groupie Jennifer would beat out both him and Vinny in the end!? Especially because the last few seasons saw an at-home winner who lost over half his or her body weight-- literally), he always had a cute face, but tonight he even managed to rock the vest/Kangol tonight. Adorbs! And congrats, dude. But you still have to lose the soul patch. Just think: it's another half an ounce off your total weight.

New Girl (FOX, 9pm) - S1, Ep9: "The 23rd" - Further proof that Max Greenfield and Adam Pally are actually the same comedian? This year they both dressed as Santa for comedic effect. Different comedic effect, but still... Anyway, Jess (Zooey Deschanel)'s central problem was being advertised differently depending on where you looked. If you read episode summaries, it seemed Paul (Justin Long) was going to give her an expensive holiday gift she didn't know how to reciprocate; if you watched TV spots and promos, he was going to say "I love you," and she was going to be caught off-guard and simply thank him in return. Both are things we've seen a thousand times before, and even when both were put together, all I got out of the storyline was still wondering why Paul loved her, let alone put up with her. Seriously, does he think he can't do better? Because he can. Paul, you CAN (Call me)! -- Wait, is she a succubus? Is he under a spell? Her gift was funny and quirky, but come on, man; have some self-respect! I really don't watch this show for Jess, which is awkward considering she's the titular character, while my fave, Schmidt, is just one of a secondary group. Usually when I dislike a protagonist, I quit the show, but the truth is I don't dislike Jess, I just don't get her. And I certainly don't relate to her, and I'm decreasingly amused by her. So it's Schmidt for me all the way! He could have been just another d-bag (hence the jar), but something in Greenfield ingratiated him to me by the end of the pilot. And now, as they say, a star is born. Seeing him back in his work environment was more than welcome, but it seemed like a bit of a missed opportunity without Eva Amurri to try to do Christmas better than Schmidt, especially consider Michaela Watkins had another chance to come in with her dry humor and be generally awesome. I also loved her kind of racist son. And I wish someone would offer me a lot of money to basically be a baby-sitter. Instead of Amurri this time, though, we got a copy-cat in Gillian Vigman. In fact, it was such a copy-cat, I almost wondered if the show was just trying to pass her off as the same character, which is an insulting assumption that tertiary women are interchangeable-- nay, any woman but Jess is interchangeable? Apparently all of Schmidt's female co-workers make him their whipping boy. That's an interesting character development. But the real whipping boy of the episode, and of the series, really, is still Paul, who had to hear the bad news about Jess' true feelings from...Nick (Jake Johnson). Nick who decreasingly has less of a purpose if it's not to kind of sort of flirt with Jess. In a weird big brother sort of way. They don't really have sexual tension, but they do have chemistry. In that asexual, pre-pubescent, "idea of boyfriend/girlfriend is holding hands" sort of way. So of course he would be the one to awkwardly ruin her current relationship, right? I don't know, I just get the feeling that the writers are dancing around Nick and Jess because they're afraid of introducing a roommate hook-up too soon and changing the tone of the show, but right now the tone is just uneven.

And was it just me or was that ostentatious cul-de-sac Wisteria Lane? That just seems about right.

Raising Hope (FOX, 9:30pm) - S2, Ep11: "It's A Hopeful Life" - I just want to put this out there: a life without little baby Hope (Baylie and Rylie Cregut) is no life at all, and at this point in the story Jimmy (Lucas Neff) should already know that, but Greg Garcia has proven himself quite clever with homages-- first The Wizard of Oz that came out of nowhere two weeks ago and now It's A Wonderful Life, which I hate as a film but love in this context-- and it is the holidays, so we're just going to accept Jimmy had a bad day, got a soda sugar high, and said something stupid he'd wish he could take back even if it had no consequences in his dream. Getting a look into what life would be like without Hope was equal parts hilarious and insanely depressing. Nothing about Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Virginia (Martha Plimpton)'s relationship seemed so rocky in the pilot that I would have imagined they would ever split up, especially after all of this time. But the comedic effect of seeing what they would each turn into if not trying to "look good" for each other was as huge as Plimpton's fat suit. Something tells me she fell in the dip on the couch and never got out. With the babies on the bench for the majority of the episode, Plimpton really got to shine, but it was not her misappropriated words or pop culture references that really got me. For once, it was the sheer physicality. Who knew a simple coughing fit before a one word answer to one of her son's inane questions could be so laugh-out-loud worthy? But it was. As was the snide anger that pored out of alt-Virginia ("If I still loved you, this would worry me."); I was sure she'd be the one to end up a serial killer in this timeline! But maybe this wasn't the absolute darkest timeline... The Chance family is certainly at the core, and the heart, of this show, but everyone around them have really become an extended part of the family, as told time and again to little Hope that it's about those who are there for you that matter, not necessarily those who are blood-related to you. To that point, I loved that the show dove into who else would be different without Hope and how. It's not just about trying to set a good example for the baby; it's about the butterfly effect, and in looking at what everyone was now, we got a great reminder of what they were then. This was more than a Christmas episode; it was a great year in review round-up. Everyone needed the influence of Hope to be better people-- well, everyone except Frank (Todd Giebenhain), and honestly, I'm a little afraid of what that says about him-- but mostly they needed something as sweet and pure as Hope to be happy, even with their sometimes otherwise crummy lives. What better lesson to be (re)imparted at the holidays than the gift of our children? Without being overtly cheesy or sappy, and still giving us snarky reasons to laugh at the characters, their situations, and even the show's situation. I admit I like shows that are self-aware and are able to make fun of themselves more than most, but seriously, more and more Raising Hope feels like it belongs on the smart comedy block of ABC, not procedural-nurturing FOX. I've always loved the "what if?" idea that looks at alternate realities, but until recently I never really found visual representations that I found clever or sharp. I could not be happier at how television is evolving. Merry Christmas to me!

Unforgettable (CBS, 10pm) - S1, Ep11: "Spirited Away" - I hate to be "that blogger," but Castle already did it! Castle already did it! Tonight's episode, dealing with a paranormal investigator being killed right when he learned something major about a case was something the ABC crime procedural (and I learn that term loosely for the latter show) did just this season and did quite well. But I really, genuinely enjoyed Unforgettable's take-- from the ripping the cops did on each other for their own ghost stories, to the canvasing of strangers' ghost stories, to the same result: that the guy really disproved ghost theories, not truly hunted spirits. I'm starting to believe those who work in the paranormal are the greatest skeptic of us all! For the first time all season, though, this show utilized a big name guest star-- but I was happy to see it was too clever to use the biggest guest star story device. Sure, first it led us down that path-- even if you didn't know who Scott Cohen was, you probably suspected him the minute he opened the door, right? That dude is shifty! A possessive arm around his wife, his hippie hair, his doctor's complex, trying to deflect using a personal story of a miscarriage and potential baby ghost, the gardening shears, maybe even remnants of mob-esque Nico sticking on the actor himself-- it all lent itself nicely to the darkness of this episode. But hitting the mark of "Scott Cohen did it" at the thirty-minute mark had to be a misdirect, and the question became about how much of what the crazy wife said was actually true. Did he actually kill the teenage drifter, or did he merely hide a body so his beloved wouldn't be hauled away? I know what we were told in exposition at the end, but like I said: he was shifty. I am not inclined to believe he was completely innocent. Was there ever a child, even if it didn't die in utero? Why does he let her carry on without getting mental help if he really loved her/was worried about her? These are the kinds of things Carrie (Poppy Montgomery) is powerless to answer because they're not details she could have caught glimpses of during a trip to their house. These are the kinds of things that haunt these kinds of cases, and in turn, will probably come to haunt Carrie. She's great at what she does, but what she does has limits. Spooky sound music cues for an episode about a ghost hunter are cute and kitschy, but they didn't do anything for me personally. What's truly spooky is how easy it is to overlook pivotal details in behaviors and body language when you're used to scanning the memory bank for for more concrete evidence. Carrie's not a cop-- not really-- but she makes a hell of a consultant. Besides, if you want to go for cute and kitschy, you need to do more of the "stumbling into a horror shoot from some seeming-NYU kids." Honestly, I'm not sure why more procedurals haven't tapped into that already. At the end of the episode, it was almost hard to remember that what started it off was a ghost hunter's murder. Unlike Castle, this storyline twisted and turned, veering off from that gimmicky course. But at the end of the episode, the themes were brought back around again when Carrie was asked if she believed in ghosts, especially not having answers to her own sister's murder. It was such a short, simple wrap-up moment where she was brutally honest and vulnerable for the first time all series in front of someone else when she said she wanted to believe-- because she wanted her sister to say hi. I think that's so poignant, and so indicative of why the idea of spirits seem too far-fetched to most. Seeing is believing, and "getting a feeling" seems too hippie-dippy. But Carrie has a point there. If ghosts were real-- if her sister had passed on too soon-- why wouldn't she reach out to say a proper good-bye? Maybe she tried and Carrie wasn't open enough to receive her. Or maybe when you die tragically and violently as she did, you don't have to stick around this crummy world; you get express train'd to whatever awaits, be it heaven or another plane or reincarnated as a puppy. These are the kinds of questions that could, and perhaps should, plague a character like Carrie; she clearly got into this business because of a personal pull, and every case that hits a little too close to home is one more suckerpunch, shoving her to the edge of her own self-destruction. At least, that's what most procedurals teach us. Unforgettable is still so new, and Carrie seems so oddly well-adjusted (except for that whole "needing a rush of danger" thing), I may not be able to say that for sure, either, until I blatantly see it.

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