Another extremely full night of TV to review, another holiday party, another late, not live post. Apologies again.
TV Talk for Wednesday, December 7th 2011
The Middle (ABC, 8pm) - S3, Ep11: "A Christmas Gift" - For as offbeat as this family usually is, this holiday episode-- a time at which the crazy in a person is usually dragged out by the crowds, the weather, the extended family and friends descending upon their houses-- was surprisingly muted. Perhaps it was because the Thanksgiving episode was so big and all of that that they didn't want to repeat so soon. But for something that started out with a drunk Frankie (Patricia Heaton) making party plans, I guess I just expected more-- maybe even more of drunk Frankie. Which I guess we got, but only for a short point there towards the end. I don't know, I guess I just expected more overall. There isn't much to go on with a plot point about wanting to keep a present a secret from your wife, especially if you're not going to go over-the-top, hammy sitcom style. And that's not what The Middle is all about. I will say that Brick (Atticus Shaffer) needs to have a conversation about religion with the writers of Dexter; I love his logical mind and extremely specific questions and criticisms-- actually, the writers of The Middle should sit down with the writers of Dexter because Reverend TimTom (Paul Hipp)'s analogy of liking Justin Bieber and believing in God (I swear, it was better than it sounds) is the kind of thing we need to hear more. You can't force anyone to like either; you have to respect differences. Even the men themselves understand that they're not beloved by all, and they're strong enough to be okay with that. Basically, it seemed like they were pointing out that trying to convert someone-- for anything in life-- is not cool. There's a thin line to tread between answering someone's questions and jamming something down their throats. Sue (Eden Sher) is an intense girl as she is; I'm glad he nipped this in the bud. Maybe he should also head over to The Good Wife and talk to Grace.
Up All Night (NBC, 8pm) - S1, Ep11: "First Christmas" - I'm a sucker for all things Christmas, and I'm kind of a sucker for over-the-top sketch acting, too. Which is why Maya Rudolph's Ava has never bugged me the way it has bugged some of my friends and fellow bloggers/critics. But tonight I feel like she was perfection in her eccentricities-- oddities that are only labeled nicer because of the level of celebrity to which she has risen. From sharing her Chapstick by making her boyfriend kiss her, to actually getting me to laugh at a rape joke, to stabbing a knife in a cheeseball to eat whole, to barging into an unsuspecting family's house using the cover of one of her famous makeovers and then asking which window you could most clearly see into the next house's yard...She was just the epitome of the wacky aunt who always manages to liven up and color the holidays. Amy's so lucky! Reagan (Christina Applegate) reminds me a lot of myself-- someone who doesn't really let go of inhibitions or weird "rules" or her own traditions, so it was nice to see her break out of that for her daughter's sake. Admittedly I would have liked her to get even sillier-- to see her and her mother (guest star Blythe Danner) have a goofball montage of getting drunk while getting tangled in Christmas lights and such, but this show doesn't really take potshots at the pop culture that came before it, so I didn't really expect it to start with the holidays. This episode stayed true to what the series has been about thus far-- modern relationships and parenting-- and the theme of Christmas fit because it's a big point in a new family's life and year. I loved that they didn't compromise to force some kind of magic or message. And I really loved that they began bleeping again. That was one of my favorite parts from the pilot.
Suburgatory (ABC, 8:30pm) - S1, Ep9: "The Nutcracker" - Okay, on a totally personal note, yesterday I was talking with a few other bloggers who alerted me to some sexual tension between George (Jeremy Sisto) and Tessa (Jane Levy). Fans online ship them as "Gessa." Or maybe that's a bit of a stretch. But because they're so close in age, and because their relationship is often more peer or friend than father (authority figure)/daughter, and you know, the whole "She calls her dad by his first name" thing, I can see how it can get a little weird for some. I never noticed it before, but now that it was pointed out to me, I can't not see it. Especially in a holiday episode in which Tessa was mad at George for seeing a(nother) woman, and then he broke up with her using Tessa as an excuse-- and then she got mad again when he started dating someone else. Remembering the press release that teased George getting caught with someone unexpected under the mistletoe, I had hoped it would be Dallas (Cheryl Hines), but now all I thought was... Well, I won't go there. And thankfully I did get my wish after all. But like I said, suddenly I couldn't unsee subtext that was never supposed to be there in the first place. When Tessa tried to fix things for him with his NYC girlfriend, the way she ended up complicating things felt like the kind of overcompensation one does to prove she is "fine" and "breezy" when really she is still uncomfortable with any relationship combo that does not include her. Lisa (Allie Grant) thinks Tessa was feeling guilty, but can jealous and guilty share a thin line? She even snooped on his computer! MAKE ME UNSEE THIS, PLEASE! Poor George. He threw a fake party for a girl. He's Rachel from Friends. Or Ted Mosby. Neither are those I think anyone should aspire to be. And I hate to state the obvious, but not having Ana Gasteyer and Chris Parnell in their Christmas episode was a huge missed opportunity for Suburgatory; think of all of the Schweddy Balls product placement around which they could have written!
Modern Family (ABC, 9pm) - S3, Ep10: "Express Christmas" - I have never felt like the Dunphy/Pritchett/Tucker family was more real than in the opening scene to tonight's holiday episode. Everyone was gathered around the pool having a conversation about the holidays, and the flow was completely natural with different family members chiming in with opinions and commentary that happened to have a humorous edge but were not flat-out jokes. It was like spying over your fence at the family who lives next door. I fell back in love with the series in that moment. All Claire (Julie Bowen) wanted was to keep the family together for Christmas because it is the "family" holiday, but really, they're a closer family than most year-round. So as much fun as it may be to scramble through the holidays a bit early, it isn't necessary. What was necessary, though, was the random pairing of family members that normally don't get to share screen time-- family members who have more in common than you really gave thought to before. Luke (Nolan Gould) is fast becoming my favorite character on this show, and he got to work opposite my usual favorite, Gloria (Sofia Vergara), which made for a hilarious time worthy of their own adventure web series. As the series goes on-- as he grows older-- he is proving more savvy and slick than anyone could have expected. He's not a dumb kid; he may have the sharpest wit of them all, and he's sneaking up from out of nowhere. Also, I have a soft spot for the present shopping story because they shot it at my favorite mall, which is really like it's own tiny town, Westfield Topanga Canyon. But what I really liked about the episode was that it flowed full of action because they only used one mock interview and only at the end. I didn't realize how much they take you out of the story until they weren't there anymore, and I was just able to sit back, relax, and actually enjoy the story. Though I could have done without so much of Ty Burrell's physical comedy. The prat-fall was one thing, but all that stun-gun response? Took valuable screen time away from the clever writing and left me just waiting for his scenes to be over. Overall, though, in my opinion this episode really showcased what Modern Family does best: takes a plot-line that sounds super thin-- "about nothing"-- and makes it memorable for the unique interpersonal conversations and moments between the colorful characters.
Happy Endings (ABC, 9:30pm) - S2, Ep9: "Grinches Be Crazy" - I'm not going to lie, as much as I love this show, I was worried when I learned they would be tackling staycations twice in just a handful of episodes, let alone the whole season. But this is the kind of show where it really doesn't matter where the gang is hanging; their snarky zingers are what will keep you laughing. It's the nuances that endear me to these guys-- though I admit I was hoping Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.) and Jane (Eliza Coupe)'s "drawer" was going to be full of not the obvious "sinful" items but something as wacky as the couple who likes to twirl and roll around in money piles, Indecent Proposal style. But their storyline wasn't entirely about them this time around: they accidentally gave the wrong envelope to their cleaning lady, gifting her with all of their holiday trip money, while Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) skimped on her own presents, creating homemade coupon books for everyone. She has all too easily become the Joey of this group. Yet I love it every time because Cuthbert totally commits to the insanity and that plays super well with Zachary Knighton's "straight man" Dave, who decided to cash in every coupon Alex ever gave him at once. And they were together a long time. And some of those coupons should be for favors Alex is no longer willing to do for him now that they're just friends. They didn't go there-- well past the much-teased kiss-- (fortunately? unfortunately? I'm honestly not sure. I don't want them to be cliche, but without the story was a bit thin). But once again the best storyline of the episode was when Penny (Casey Wilson) and Max (Adam Pally) got together. She hired him to dress as Santa for a charity event, and sure, he had an emotional breakthrough with the kids and blah, blah, blah, but their banter always wins us over-- and having a mugging take place in the background of one of their inane discussions, while they yell for them to keep it down, still has me giggling. Nothing about this was a typical holiday episode, though they all did come together at the end in a makeshift beach vacation that personally sounds like the perfect new tradition to start. Can I get in on that next year? Also, I really want to see a commercial for Jane and Penny's Polish Mr. Clean product!
Revenge (ABC, 10pm) - S1, Ep10: "Loyalty" - First of all, I just need to say that this episode sticker on GetGlue.com was hottie Daniel (Josh Bowman), and I checked in, like, 13 minutes too late to get it :( How are they rewarding my show loyalty!? Look, this show is what it is: it's guilty pleasure TV. It's delicious and addictive, but it's not reinventing the genre, and it isn't the kind of series that I think can sustain half a dozen seasons. I'll give it half that. Maybe. But I enjoy it nonetheless. I get sucked into Emily (Emily VanCamp)'s misguided plan-- a plan we know is doomed from the start because she is acting out of emotion in a way her father specifically asked her not to. But I never considered the show ridiculous-- not when Lydia (Amber Valletta) was tossed off a balcony and still lived, not when Tyler (Ashton Holmes) came a'cruisin'-- until Emily performed martial arts with her mentor (?). I thought the warden (CCH Pounder) was her mentor. Scratch that, actually I thought Emily was self-made-- out of sheer anger. I would have preferred that. Only Chuck can do the "serious discussions about life while fighting hand-to-hand" scenes. And since we're kind of on the topic of the hooker (or at least dancing around near him), I really think Tyler needs to go. I don't care if he is run out of town with his tail between his legs or if someone shoots him in cold-blood. I just don't care about him and his small, petty dreams-- especially when compared to the large scale of Emily's plan. He's getting in the way, and he's doing it so with a stupid, sniveling face. Nolan (Gabriel Mann) never really struck me as a genus, no matter how much money he managed to make for himself, but he was always more goofy doofus-- conniving but ultimately harmless. Tyler is making him sloppy. No matter how he thinks he can stay ahead of him, he's not thinking with his right head right now. And he can't help Emily-- or help her father's true mission for Emily-- with a cloudy mind. Also not thinking with their right heads? Jack (Nick Wechsler) and Declan (Connor Paolo). If you remember the title card from the pilot, all of these events are only taking place a few weeks apart, and these two bleeding hearts are moving fast with their ladies. But forget Jack, my heart broke when Emily had to say good-bye to her dog. Twice. I totally would have bought it if the reason Emily came back to town was not for revenge but to just get her dog back, as she promised. I hope when her plan is complete she gets to reconnect with Sammy properly. I'm a sucker for a puppy face, but really, it's not fair that Sammy has to endure the fake Amanda (Margarita Levieva). I don't blame him for barking at her; she's kind of awful and needs to go. I feel like she was originally conceived to be a female version of Nolan-- kind of intense but rubs people the wrong way and if not properly controlled will spin and spiral and drag everyone down with them. But Nolan has more merit because he has a good heart. All we know of the real Emily/fake Amanda is that she was violent in her youth and sexually predatory in her adulthood. Not a good color on anyone. I can only hope by Emily introducing her around to Daniel and such, it will get back to Victoria (Madeleine Stowe) and she'll find a new minion to "get rid of the problem." One who won't screw it up. Maybe even Daniel-- who knew the former party boy would become the most well grounded, if somewhat naive, voice of reason in this show? Well, other than the whole Oedipus thing...
American Horror Story (FX, 10pm) - S1, Ep10 - "Smoldering Children" - Anyone who wondered about the, uh, liveliness of Violet (Taissa Farmiga) should have no more questions after this episode. Even before the actual dead body reveal. And um, really, Tate (Evan Peters)? You say you love her; have the decency to bury the body respectfully! The blowflies were the dead giveaway, long before the house dragged her back, like the magnetic pull of a boomerang or whatever. My upstairs neighbor passed away in her apartment a few years ago, and the blowflies had made their way into my apartment by the dozens soon enough. It was bad. But it only took me a day to notice them and start to investigate where they were coming from. The truancy officer may have checked in on the Harmons to find out why Violet wasn't in school for the last three weeks, but really, he should have dug a little deeper. Not going to school is often the least of a kid's problems; in fact, not showing up for school is usually what happens when the kids have so many other problems they just don't want to have to show them to their peers. But that was such a small part of this episode, I don't want to harp on it too much. Especially since if she and Tate didn't know they were already dead, it's hard to fault the audience for not being sure either. But seriously, Ben (Dylan McDermott)? Worst parent ever. So much worse than Larry (Dennis O'Hare), who I understand a bit more now. He loves Constance (Jessica Lange), in that twisted, "not good for you love" sort of way. But you can't choose who you love. And when you realize the love is toxic, you have to get out. Larry wasn't a strong enough man to get out before things got bad, but now-- having FINALLY gotten to see his kids again-- he may just be able to make his move. Though, I don't have any reason to believe he'll be successful. The show is nothing without Lange, and time and again she has proven to have a resolve and a strength greater than anyone. I don't know how she does it, but she gives me inspiration. She has gone through so much (that damn body count is ridiculous, and honestly I could have done without ever having to see greasy-haired dolt Travis again), and though I'll never forgive her for how she treated her dogs-- human meat aside, I never think it's okay to keep them in cages!-- I respect her will to survive at all costs. I wish we had more Tami Taylor (Connie Britton) time, but I feel almost as if we're keeping her at a distance now so that when her big birthing moments come, we are completely blown away by what she does, not only the state of the children she delivers. Or so I hope. Tate's right: Violet's too sad, and sad equals whiny, and whiny characters equal no bueno for this blogger.
...And in other, completely apropos of nothing news, Dylan McDermott has no problems with nudity, as evidenced in the pilot of this show, so, um, why did he have to super glue his towel on during the fight with Tate!? Oh Ryan Murphy, give the people what they want! His character is only good for his body!
The Soup (E!, 10pm) - I'm sorry, but it's week two of the new air day, and I just can't get used to it. I love winding my week down with Joel McHale and his snarky commentary on all things reality TV, commercial parodies, and "news" stories. Putting it on Wednesdays doesn't give me a day off to look forward to when I wake up the next morning, it just means another weekday. BUT in a time that is inching toward Community-lite because of NBC and their weird scheduling decisions, this episode was extra special because of how much the cast went all out for McHale's other gig. And poked a TON of fun at their own network. Lesser people might be bitter that they're benched while one goes on, but this cast is so down-to-Earth, genuine, and supportive of each other, that's not the case. Maybe I can convince them to do some kind of community theater project while they're on "hiatus."
The Exes (TV Land, 10:30pm) - S1, Ep2: "A Little Romance" - After laughing a surprising amount for me at a traditional sitcom with the pilot, I wanted to give it another chance to know whether or not that was just a fluke-- maybe even a sense of "too much TV" delirium. This second episode was cute in all the same places but unfortunately seemed to fit a formula that promised to be present in all future episodes, making me like the show as a whole a lot less. Kelly Stables, who was one of the bright spots in the pilot, was thrust front and center when Donald Faison's character needed to win over a new client and ultimately decided to prostitute his female friends, but just as soon as she was on-screen, she was off, the jockey character preferring the "tall, leggy one" (Kristen Johnston). Haskell (Wayne Knight) still hasn't ventured off the computer-- or off the couch-- this time even sucking Stuart (David Alan Basche) into his scheme, selling all of the antique clocks that were assumed to be important to his ex-wife on eBay. But no, it turns out that Stuart just has another seemingly female quality in his love of such ornate items. It wasn't offensive, in the way a show like Work It that plays on stereotypes is, but it wasn't all that funny either, leaving me to conclude I might have just enjoyed the pilot as much as I did because I was surprised that it wasn't offensive. That's not really a good sign. Then again, Basche and Faison shared a nice moment at the kitchen table where Stuart finally got him to open up about something going on in his life, and Johnston is always a riot, whether she's taking out anger on a little, little man, or simply reacting to a wacky antic from one of the other characters. With so much on Wednesday nights, this is going to end up becoming a show I only get to when I have a boring weekend to get through, but at least it's worthy of that.