Thursday, May 31, 2007

Say You're A Winner But Man You're Such a Sinner now: NBA, Summer Movies, MORE

What's up, people. Man, am I beat. Last night I had a whirlwind adventure, as my old BU roommate Dan Levin was in LA on his way back to St. Louis from Australia. I tried my best to meet up with Dan before he had to get on his second flight, but by the time I got to him at Universal Citywalk it wa nearly time to hit the road again. I drove DL down to LAX without having eaten dinner, then drove all the way back to Burbank, getting back to the apartment at almost 11 pm, tired, hungry, and ready to pass out (didn't help that I spent like half an hour trying to figure out where in the massive sprawl that is LAX I had parked my car ...). It was good catching up with Dan (one of the three Dans in the now-famous / infamous "Three Dans and Aksel" sophomore-year suite in Shelton Hall), but after a long day of workin' for the man, this wasn't exactly the relaxing evening of winding down that I desperately needed.

People keep asking me if I've seen FOX's new reality show - On the Lot. Aside from catching it for a few minutes during the premiere, no, I have not. I'm somewhat interested in the subject matter, but from the little I saw it seemed slightly bland. And to tell the truth, I'm totally burnt out on television. While I love taking the time to follow my favorite shows like Lost or 24, I also hate the time demands that those shows put on you. Honestly, I don't mind a show like Lost only having 12 episodes per season at all - it doesn't need any more than that to tell a good story, and it creates a lot less pressure to commit to watching it week in and week out. I love the feeling of having more time to read, watch a movie, play some Playstation, work on some writing, or just go out and meet up with friends. When I do turn on the tube at this point, it's either to watch the NBA Playoffs, or to catch something random like Colbert or CNN or VH-1 or even MTV. I mean, I'd like to give, say, Traveller a try, but I just have little interest in commiting to watching anything beyond a stray episode of The Real World during these summer weeks.

One thing I am chomping at the bit to talk about is the networks' new fall shows. A few things are preventing me from giving my round-up though. One is the sensitivity of talking about some of this stuff. the other is that there's a few key shows that I've yet to see - off the top of my head I still need to catch CBS's Moonlight and FOX's K-Ville and New Amsterdam. Other than those three, I think I've caught just about every new pilot, both picked up and not picked up, that's of interest (things like the Grey's Anatomy spinoff I could care less about). So yep, I've seen all of NBC's cool new pilots (and company bias aside, they ARE cool - Chuck, Bionic Woman, Journeyman, and Life are all excellent), as well as buzz-worthy shows like The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Pushing Daisies, Sam I Am, Reaper, Gossip Girl, etc ... Sometime soon I may give my picks - feel free to ask me privately what I think though - as some of my media friends will tell you, I am not especially shy about giving my thoughts.

Some movie stuff:

- The trailer for The Golden Compass looks spectacular - I was pretty impressed with this one and can't wait to see. I'll also say I was pleasantly surprised by how cool Enchanted looks. In general, I don't like the trend of every family movie being stuffed with cool / ironic references, but this one looks like it may pull of the whole concept of a Disney movie in Real Life.

- My revamped most-anticipated Summer Movie list (in order of anticipation): Superbad, The Ten, The Simpsons, Stardust, Ratattouille (sp?), Balls of Fury, Transformers, and Fanboys. Two which I'll likely see but am cautiously optimistic for are Evan Almighty and the latest Harry Potter. BTW - I'm by no means a big Potter fan - I had never even seen the movies until last year. But I admit that the announcement of a Harry Potter Land at Universal Studios Florida is pretty awesome. For one it's just good for Universal to have such a cool and buzz-worthy attraction. But more than that, it just plain sounds cool to have such a comprehensive attracton based on a movie - how cool would it be to have something similar for a Star Wars or Lord of the Rings?

- The Simpsons in particular is going to be fascinating in terms of how well it does at the box office. Millions of people worldwide love the show, and most will likely turn out to see the movie. But - Simpsons fans are a fickle bunch - if the buzz is bad, then that could really negatively impact the box office. Still, this is the sleeping giant of the summer season, and I am rooting for it to succeed if only to validate The Simpsons as the greatest comedic creation of all time (even if it's been a shadow of its former self for almost ten years now ...).

- In addition to all of those, I'm really looking forward to Knocked Up, which I may end up seeing next week at a Universal screening. I've been a fan of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogan since Freaks and Geeks, and I was such a fan of that show that I'll eagerly support any new project from its creators or any that features that show's great cast.


- Well, a grudging congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs on once again making it to the NBA finals. The Spurs are an amazingly solid team, and one of the few teams in the NBA that's been able to have an old-school team centered around one of the last great Big Men - Tim Duncan, with a supporting cast of slashers and shooters and great defenders - a very, very rare combo in today's watered-down NBA. There's only one problem - the Spurs are boring, and not particularly likable. I'm a fan of Michael Finlay from his days as a Sun and Maverick, but otherwise, I've never been a fan of the Spurs' stoic style of play, ever since David Robinson led them and began a tradition, continued by Duncan, of uber-talented players with little real fire, personality. I don't know, I respect Duncan's mastery of the fundamentals, but you never really get the sense that he's fighting for his life out there - my favorite players like Reggie Miller and Sir Charles always gave that little extra something when the game was on the line, and you could tell they were leaving their hearts on the floor each and every game. Also, the Spurs have some of my least favorite players ever, including the much-maligned Robert Horry. I just can't bring myself to root for them even if I have to admit they're probably the best and most well-managed NBA franchise of the last decade.

In the East - man, please let LeBron and the Cavs pull this one out. At least with the Cavs vs. Spurs you have a compelling storyline of LeBron, the young breakout, trying to make a name and taking out the old-guard Spurs. That series would have an exciting, history-making feel, even if the Cavs would need a miracle to have a chance. But, Detroit vs San Antonio - that's just painful. We've seen that series before, and it was one of the most boring in recent memory. The only drama will be whether or not C-Webb can get a ring, and if Rasheed Wallace gets suspended for amassing 7 technical fouls in the playoffs.

And my condolences to my brother, a long-suffering Utah Jazz fan (why, I have no idea), who yet again saw his team quietly surprise the critics and ascend the playoff ladder, only to bow out with a crushing defeat, with few outside of Salt Lake, not named Matt Baram, giving a flying #$%$. Don't worry Matt, maybe next year, maybe next year ... Dammit all.

- Seriously though, the absolute saddest part of the Eastern Conference Finals winding down is that it means an end to one of the most hilarious shows on TV - TNT's Inside the NBA. This show is so far above and beyond anything on ABC or ESPN it's not even funny, and it's a joy to watch Ernie Johnson, Sir Charles, Kenny the Jet, Magic, and Reggie Miller take jabs at each other and the rest of the NBA each and every week. The other night, I was dyin' as Reggie Miller compared the hypothetical rosters of an ESPN vs. TNT basketball game, with TNT winning out in every position except point, where Mark Jackson beat out Kenny Smith (emphasized with a hilarious vintage clip of Jackson schooling The Jet, played over and over t0 escalating comedic effect). Meanwhile, TNT's roster of announcers is consistently on point, with Marv Albert and Steve Kerr always doing an outstanding job. So here's hoping this Cavs-Pistons series goes seven games, just for the sake of getting as much Inside the NBA as possible before season's end!

- Alright, I am out. Here's something I never thought I'd say: Go CLEVELAND!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Dead Men Tell No Tales: PIRATES 3 Review ... and MORE

Hey, hope everyone had a great weekend. I had a pretty relaxing though slightly uneventful three days. Got in some good basketball playing with the Kaiser Roll, saw Pirates 3, and worked on some screenwriting that I'd been meaning to get into for a long while. Now it's back into the fold, but man, things are rarely boring here in the entertainment biz. I come into work today and all kinds of things are goin' on at NBC. Check the entertainment news sites and welcome to the craziness that is network television ...

I'd like to make a mention of a favorite actor of mine who passed away this weekend. Charles Nelson Reilly is not someone whose career I was very familiar with until I began reading some of the articles and obituaries over the last few days, but it's no surprise to me in reading them how beloved and influential the guy was. For me, Reilly was best known as Jose Chung, a role he played to perfection on Millenium and in the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." I've mentioned it before, but the latter is to me the greatest episode of television ever made. It's hilarious, brilliant, insightful into the human condition, and endlessly rewatchable, and it's one of the pieces of television that made me say "aha, I think this is what I want to do for a living." Reilly played Jose Chung with wit, humor, and an almost tragic sense of cynicsm. If From Outer Space is my all-time favorite TV episode, then the Millennium episode, "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" - an amazing critique of a Scientology-esque cult, is not far behind. Both, brilliantly written by Darin Morgan, present Chung as a feisty old writer searching for relevance in a world where he is known for his past successes rather than his current endeavors (even the usually business-like Agent Scully called his best-known book, The Caligarian Candidate, "one of the greatest thrillers ever written") . Chung, through his writing, is confronted with the darkest depths of humanity yet deals with them through his world-weary humor and knowing sense of truth. Reilly was simply brilliant in these episodes, and now, hearing about his long career of making people laugh, pushing the boundaries of acceptable humor, and his classic repartee with legends like Johnny Carson, I see that he was more than just Jose Chung, but a true icon of the stage and screen. Still, I can't help but remember him as the man behind two of the all-time great television guest-starring roles. Some classic Reilly-as-Chung quotes in his honor:

"I once knew your god. He worshipped me: he thought I was a literary genius. And I was then. Then he asked me what I thought of his writing and I told him: "Goopta, you stink." Because he did! I never saw a grown man cry so hard, for so long. I put my arm around him, I said, "It doesn't matter that I don't like your work! What matters is that you enjoy doing it, you must do what makes you happy." But what I didn't know was that what made him happy was to be a deity! So you are here to kill me because I once told God to not be dark. Isn't that funny? So feel free to use your Onan-o-Graph and your therapies, if that's what it takes to make you happy. And I truly mean that; good luck to you, buddy. But please allow me to wallow in my own misery in peace. And if I should look up from my "downbeat abyss" and find you a fool, that's no right of you to commit upon me a foolish act."

"I humbly add my own prophecy of what the dawn of the new millennium shall bring forth: one thousand more years of the same, old crap."

"Then there are those who care not about extraterrestrials, searching for meaning in other human beings. Rare or lucky are those who find it. For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways on this planet, we are all ... alone."


- What can I say, I love these Pirates movies. When it comes down to these flicks, I am reduced to a 12 year old fanboy chomping at the bit to once again jump into this wonderful world of rogues, wenches, fish-people, and high seas adventure. What can I say, Pirates are the definition of cool. They were rock stars centuries before Elvis Presley ever took to the stage. As a kid, I loved nothing more than riding the Pirates of the Carribean ride in Disney World. A Pirate's life for me! I looked forward to trips to Cape Cod just to go to Pirate's Cove miniature golf course. I read up on Blackbeard and Captain Kidd. The one thing I never really got was a good pirate movie to see in the theaters ... that is until the first Pirates film came along a few years back. Since then, I've totally loved this series. I enjoyed Part 2, with all its over-the-top, cartoonish action and comic book-esque plot as much if not more than Part 1. And yeah, for me, Part 3 was another great ride that left me more than satisfied, once again drifting off into dreamland dreaming of sailing the seven seas in search of buried trasure and untold adventure.

Really though, I don't think my fanboy love for these films, and for Part 3 in particular, is without merit. The negativity I've heard toward the third film in the franchise always focuses on the plot being convoluted and the movie overstuffed. However, I really think that those who dwell on this are missing the point. The meat of the movie is really quite simple - Will Turner, Elizabeth Swan, and Jack Sparrow. Two are star-crossed lovers thrown into the world of pirates and forced to adapt to its moral murkiness and crafty characters. The third is the classic rogue supporting character - there to cause trouble, stir the pot, and leave the other characters caught between grudging admiration for his villainous charm and weary contempt of his tendency to double cross a friend at the drop of a hat. That is Pirates in a nutshell - the rest is just color. But man, what color it is.

I can't help but be blown away with Pirates 3 for its sheer overflow of artistry and craft. Sure, this is a huge big-budget summer popcorn movie, but watching the imagination and detail on display reminded me more of the quirkier works of a Jim Henson or Terry Gilliam. Other blockbusters have beasts and creatures that look to have been designed by a marketing department. Pirates has characters that look like the product of someone's very fertile imagination - straight from the page, the pen, the brush - onto the movie screen. Davy Jones and his crew alone are just breathtaking to look at - eel creatures, men embedded in rock and stone, hammerheaded humans, and a captain with a tentacled beard who has more character in his face than most non CGI'ed actors. Everything in the movie - the costumes, the sets, the f/x - just bleeds off the screen with candy-coated visual artistry.

And of course, some of the credit for that has to go to the underrated Gore Verbinski, who directs these movies with so much visceral excitement that the action tends to grab you and not let go. Some of the action scenes here are just so well-staged, they leave you smiling ear to ear. Will and Elizabeth's climactic fight scene / dance-off / wedding was a prime example - frenetic action, impeccably staged, bursting with humor, character, and fun. I also give kudos to Gore for going a little eccentric on us in this one. The scenes with Depp in Davey Jone's Locker were wonderfully surreal and trippy, the last thing you'd expect from a mainstream Disney movie, that is, unless you have fond memories of things like Fantasia and that one acid trip scene in Dumbo. But yeah, for a guy to sneak in some kind of whacked-out modern art film into the third Pirates movie ... that's kind of cool.

Character is another area that Pirates 3 just gets right. I've heard people complain about the movie being almost overly obssessed with squeezing in literally every character from the previous films and giving each his or her own little subplot. To me, this WOULD have been an issue if each little character bit didn't turn out so consistently funny and/or amusing. I mean, I can't help but love all of the bit players that help round out the Pirates universe. Mackenzie Crook and Lee Arenberg are hilarious as usual, with some particularly classic lines ("we can still use them as clubs!"). Watching the two of them stumble their way through these adventures is always a blast. I love Chow Yun Fat here. He doesn't have a huge role, but he and his band of Asian Pirates, along with all of the other international pirate lords that convene to fend off their extinction, add yet another layer of depth and coolness to this crazy fantasy world. Chow adds a nice bit of intensity and darkness to the preceedings, and it was cool to see him pop up here ("More steam!"). And even the most hardened of hearts has to smile when Keith Richards enters the fray in full-on Captain Morgan pirate garb. Just awesome ... I also love Kevin McNally as the oh-so-piratey Mr. Gibbs. He's like some great 1950's character actor transplanted from an Errol Flynn pirate movie into the present day. When he squints towards the horizon and bellows that the winds are in the Black Pearl's favor, signalling that the tides in the battle have turned the pirates' way, I mean, the kid in me wanted to jump up and clap. And then, of course, there's Bootstrap Bill, Governor Swann, Lord Beckett and the East India Trading Company, Calypso, the always great Jack Davenport as Norrington, and a wealth of other assorted pirates, fish-people, officers, and scoundrels. Is this a crowded movie? Yes, of course. But to me that's part of the delight - it's like being a kid and opening up some dusty 1970's comic book and marveling at all of the brightly costumed characters and wondering who they all are and where they all came from and how they all fit together. The details aren't so important, its the sheer spectacle of it all that makes a lasting impression.

Geoffrey Rush ... is just on fire in this movie. I said that all of these side characters were there to add color to the world of Pirates, and none so more than Rush, who is giving it 110% here, scowling the perfect pirate scowl, screaming the perfect pirate scream, saying things like "shiver me timbers" and "avast, me mateys!" with just the right amount of unrestrained glee, all the while never losing that villainous gleam in his eye. Make no mistake about it, Captain Barbosa is never having more fun than when the $#%# really begins to hit the fan, and his enthusiasm for it all is contagious. Rush's chemistry with Depp is also really great, and the two have a number of hilarious moments together, as they double cross, scheme, and compare the sizes of their periscopes.

Bill Nighy is once again great here, giving an outlandish character like Davey Jones personality and pathos in what is a remarkable performance. Of all the characters here, it is Jones whose story feels most cumbersome at times, as the nature of he and Calypso's history and curse is never quite crystal clear. Still, when Jones and his tentacled beard are battling with Sparrow atop the Black Pearl's mast as it circles a whirpool and chaos ensues all around ... well, sue me, all is forgotten.

I give credit to Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly - in Pirates 3, they take back the series as their own in spite of all the numerous peripheral characters that are circling around them. Knightly in particular kind of re-centers the series here and it is her journey that takes center stage. Kiera as Swann is commanding and, well, pretty kickass in this third go-round - she even gave a pretty great motivational pre-battle speech at one point ... not something a woman typically does or gets to do in a movie like this. Bloom is decent, slightly bland as usual, but he gets the job done and nicely portrays a character who has come a logn way since Pirates 1.

Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, well, he deserves all of the credit he's gotten for just how well he's taken this character and made it his own. Here, Sparrow is presented as something of a genius, yet certifiably insane, talking with multiple versions of himself and encountering Sparrow in miniature, like something out of Evil Dead. Jack embodies this series spirit of comedic playfulness and adventure, and I loved where Jack ends up by movie's end - mostly alone, crew-less, left for dead - yet primed and ready to set sail on one more crazy adventure. A pirate's life for him, yo ho!

Okay, I've mostly had nothing but great things to say, and I feel it's important to say those great things, because I really genuinely love and respect what these Pirate movies have accomplished and I hate to see Part 3 lumped in with say, Spiderman 3, which missed the mark in as many ways as Pirates was spot-on. And yet, critics at EW, The Onion, and elsewhere seem intent on microanalyzing the plotline to death, since somehow to them the plot overshadowed everything else when to me, it was never the focus at all, simply the engine that gave momentum to the characters and the chaos of this fantasy universe. But yeah, the plot here is convoluted, and yes, at times I found myself frustrated with its seeming ambiguity. Calypso, for example - what was her deal, and what happened to her at movie's end? Did Davy Jones love her, hate her - did he want to see her set free? I couldn't rightly tell you, exactly. So there's that ...

The only other problem I have in this movie was the pacing. Part 1 was perfectly-paced from start to finish, with a potent mix of drama, action, and character. Part 2 was just nonstop over-the-top action and adventure that never let up, which turned off some but which I found vastly entertaining even if it was taking Part 1 - a fairly simple, straightforward pirate yarn, and making into something much larger that clearly, Part 1 was not originally intended to be the prelude to. Part 3 cuts back drastically on the bombastic action set-pieces from Part 2, but spends a bit too much time on the dynamics of the side characters (notably the Davey Jones - Calypso relationship and Beckett and the East India Trading Company). The Jones-Calyspo thing is just pretty muddled, and there's too much exposition that doesn't make things much clearer, instead just serving to really slow things down. Meanwhile, while the EITC's quest to destroy all piracy provides the impetus for much of the movie's conflict (since they are controlling Davey Jones), there isn't quite enough attention paid to this end of the story, leaving the EITC'ers pushed into the background by movie's end, lost among all the piratesand fish-people (except for the two officers who switch sides to Team Pirate, which is kind of a funny little side-plot). By about midway through the movie, things really do begin to drag a bit. But just when things are getting a bit dull, the action kicks in again in the last half hour or so and suddenly the movie hits its stride.

And while things do drag at times, the sheer number of cool moments throughout the film is more than enough to make up for it. The opening, with pirates being hanged by the dozen as the somberly chant a pirate tune, is simply great - a dark, memorable, cool scene. Then there's Sparrow in pirate purgatory, Barbosa in full scene-stealing mode, a killer half-man half-eel, Chow and his Asian pirates, Keith f'n Richards, "Dead Men Tell No Tales," Will and Elizabeth's shotgun wedding, the dog (~!), some surprisingly racy pirate-on-wench action on the beach, and the nice little after-the-credits "ten years later" coda to cap off the big love story. And that's only the half of it. Coupled with the beautiful f/x and character / set designs, kinetic action, madcap humor, and the awesome Hans Zimmer score, I enjoyed the heck out of Pirates 3, and I thank all involved for giving me three films that were pure entertainment from start to finish, that I look forward to revisiting again and often.

My Grade: A -

Thursday, May 24, 2007

LOST - The Shocking Season 3 Finale - Reviewed! Plus - the HEROES finale.

LOST - Season 3 Finale:

- For the last two years, Lost has dropped the ball when it came time to close out its season. For some reason, the writers failed to put that all-important exclamation mark on the season, never delivering on the hype that was built-up to near boiling point levels.

Last night, holy crap, did they ever deliver. Last night's LOST was an insanely good piece of television, and I don't think it's hyperbole to say that it contained one of the most memorable narrative twists in the history of scripted television drama. I was very, very skeptical when Damon Lindeloff and co promised a true "game-changer" for last night's finale. But if there was ever a game-changer, then that was it. Dayum.

First, let's forget about the twist for a moment and just focus on the meat of the episode. This was, simply, one of those classic moments in a story when everything just comes together to deliver high adventure and pulse-pounding drama. For two hours, the tapestry of great characters, heroes, villains, and storyarcs seamlessly wove a riveting tale, and man, it was just a joy to watch.

Charlie has never been more entertaining or cool then he was last night. It was like suddenly, everything just clicked with his character and this was, right here, the Charlie that we've always wanted to see. Flippant, staring down danger with a smile, dare I say punk rock? If Charlie is really dead, then what a high note to go out on. No more angst or moping about for everyone's favorite ex-hobbit - he went out a hero, and with a character arc that had been brilliantly advanced and seen through to completion.

Everything with Charlie, Desmond, Mikhail, and the two VIPER Squad members in the underwater base was just 100% awesome. Classic James Bond-esque adventure and intrigue, I was eating up every second of it. I mean, how kickass is Mikhail as a second-tier villain? I actually hope he isn't dead because the PATCH must live on. I'm not sure what to make of the Penelope / Naomi thing. It's intriguing, I guess, but I need more info. But anyways, everytime Lost cut back to Charlie and co in the underwater hatch, I was lovin' it.

For a while now, Hurley has been kind of useless, even bordering on annoying. But dammit all, Hurley barrelling through The Others in his Dharma truck, after we thought he had returned to the group following Sawyer telling him to go back, was one of my favorite moments ever on Lost! That was legit smile from ear-to-ear stuff. The scene when Jack, after beating the snot out of Ben and picking up his walkie-talkie, was expecting to talk tough with some Others who had just murdered his friends, only to hear a victorious Hurley on the other end --- well, who didn't want to jump and cheer? Like Charlie, Hurley, the unlikeliest of heroes, saw his character arc come full circle last night and I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed it.

Locke ... Locke has been one of the most uneven characters on the show - the focus in some of the show's all time best moments as well as in some of its worst. But Locke, awaking from certain death in a mass grace, being urged on by the reappearing Walt to continue on with his mysterious mission, with Locke managing a knowing smile in reply as he gripped a gun ... that was classic Locke, and classic Lost. That whole scene of Locke's "resurrection" before Walt was just friggin' cool.

Like in the best ensemble stories, everyone had their great little moment. Think Sayid snapping that one guy's neck with his legs. Think Rose and Bernard, who were show-stealers despite this being their first real appearance on the show since last season! Think Jin and Sun, and the bond that Jin had formed with the other islanders. Think Danielle as she was reunited with her long-lost daughter, Alex. Her first words to Alex: "Tie him up." The man being restrained of course, was Alex's father Ben. Talk about a dysfunctional family ...

Sawyer, who has gone from villain to Han Solo-esque rogue to broken blank slate (after being manipulated into killing Locke's dad, aka the "real" Sawyer), got off the line of the night when he finally got one up on Mr. Friendly. "I didn't believe him." An instant classic.

The triangle romance between Jack and Kate and Sawyer saw some real developments as well. Jack told Kate he loved her, but before that kissed Juliette. Sawyer and Kate had some tense moments. All said, these characters are just the best on TV, and it will be a crime if people like Matthew Fox, Josh Halloway, and Elizabeth Mitchell aren't nominated for Emmys.

As always with LOST, a few things did bug me. Namely, the usual problem of characters (particularly Ben and Locke) speaking in riddles, which is totally counterintuitive when you're trying to win someone over to your way of thinking. Ben's M.O. has always been that of a liar and manipulator, and Jack and co are long since wise to this fact. So, why would Ben make a last-ditch effort to dissuade Jack from leading his people off the island by giving them more ambiguous warnings about how doing so would lead to their dooms? And the same goes for Locke. It's like, if you've got something to say, spit it out! What did Locke know that was so extreme that he killed a seemingly innocent woman?

Aside from these quibbles, I can't state enough how much I loved this episode. Now, about those "flashbacks ..."

First off, I freely admit that until the final minutes of this episode, I hadn't even considered that these might be anything other than standard-issue Lost flashbacks. Even with that mindset, I loved these flashbacks. Seeing the usually-composed Jack fall so far off the wagon was pretty jarring, and Matthew Fox did an incredible job with this material. The opening flash of him contemplating suicide was beautifully-shot and just so well done - it immediately drew you into the story in a way that many of the flashbacks fail to do, and set up a mystery surrounding Jack that I eagerly followed to the end. Of course, all through these flashbacks, something did seem off. Jack with a grey-speckled beard? Using a razor cell phone and wearing very modern-looking sunglasses? Whose funeral was he attending? What did the fact that a drunk, pill-popping Jack angrily referenced his father, as though his dad were still alive, imply about where in the Lost timeline these flashes were set? Still, I mostly just accepted that this was some as-of-yet unseen period in Jack's history, revealed to, as usual, parallel the events on the island and give some new insight into a dark period from Jack's past.

But then ...

HOLY $#%~!

This was an ending that I didn't see coming whatsoever, but one that left me with my jaw left hanging on the floor and my head buzzing on a euphoric high. Was this really Lost: One Year Later? So what we had just seen was ...? As in Memento or other similar fare, my mind was totally blown when I realized that what we had been watching all this time was in fact a Jack who had escaped the island with his fellow castaways and had been trying, largely unsuccessfully, to reintegrate back into the real world. Suddenly, the mystery of whose funeral he had gone to as the sole attendee took on a whole new urgency. Was it Ben? Sawyer? The blonde woman who was Jack's emergency contact had at first glance appeared to be his wife as previously seen in flashback, but it wasn't, was it? So, who was she? Why did Kate and Jack have such a strained relationship in this future timeline? Who was "him" that Kate had to get back to? Were allusions to Jack as being a hero solely in reference to him saving the woman from the carwreck, or did people know him as the man who rescued the survivors of Flight 815? And here's the big one - WHY did Jack want to go back to the island? Were some of the castaways still there? What became of Locke, Desmond, and the rest? Why weren't Jack and the rest supposed to escape, and what made Jack feel so wrong about leaving? And -- why had Jack been lying about the island - was he forced, coerced, unable to tell the truth?

DAMN. Like I said, my mind was blown.

But you know what - even without all these burning questions - how awesome was Jack's characterization in retrospect in those future-flashes? Knowing that this was a returned-from-the-island Jack, I was floored by this amazing depiction of a broken man who had just seen and experienced something so unbelievable that he held on to some hope of returning to that hell, because it was the only existence he could live with after all he had endured. Thinking about the episode's opening scene of Jack on the plane, with the reveal in mind, wow - what kickass characterization is that. In terms of narrative structure and intersecting plot threads and multiple layers of meaning woven into each scene - this was simply an amazing story, sci-fi at its best, scripted television at its utmost potential. And let me also mention some of the other aspects of the show's production. The direction and cinematography here was, as always, pretty spectacular. Truly a step above what you usually see on TV. The music here was superb as well - feature film quality scoring that really added to the drama and intensity.

I have no idea what the next season of Lost will bring - whether it will be set in the island's present with flash-forwards to the future, or focus on the newly-revealed future with flashbacks to how that future came to be, ala 52. But this is one of those cases where I simply cannot wait until this show returns. No longer am I saying "okay, I'll give Lost one more chance to impress me." That's it - they've impressed me, and whatever issues I had with the episode were far, far outweighed by the overall greatness of this finale. Congrats to the Lost writers, producers, crew and cast - you guys put on one hell of a show. This episode may need to be viewed in the context of what comes next to truly be judged in its proper context. But, as of now, I can, I think, fairly safely say, that this was one of the best and most memorable installments of a TV drama I've ever seen, and definitely and example of LOST at the top of its game. This one will be talked about for years to come.

My Grade: A+

HEROES Season Finale:

- I give Heroes a lot of credit. It brought comic book mythology to the small screen with a level of mainstream appeal that is certainly unprecedented. It introduced some great characters like Claire, the indestructable cheerleader, and Hiro, the humble office drone turned time-bending adventurer. Most of all, I give Heroes credit for getting better each week. When I first saw the pilot last year, I was disappointed that the greatness of the initial script had seemingly been lost in translation to the screen. And for those first several episodes, I couldn't bring myself to jump aboard the Heroes bandwagon. There were a few things I liked - Hiro, mostly - but many of the characters felt generic and thin, and the plot seemed to meander and get bogged down by angsty brooding and little sense of forward momentum. But somewhere along the way, business picked up. Sylar was introduced and brought a much needed villainous presence to the mix. The mythology of the show was broadened, and great actors like Christopher Ecclestion, George Takei, Eric Roberts, and Malcolm McDowell were brought in and brought much-needed dramatic chops to a cast that suffered from a few too many stiffs. And then "Company Man" happened. Suddenly, Heroes had shifted into another gear, with an amazing episode that narrowed the spotlight, focusing on HRG / Mr. Bennett / Noah and creating a dynamic, compelling backstory. With that episode, Heroes loosened the reigns and felt fresh, original, innovative.

All along, a certain contingent of fanboys, encouraged by the show's high ratings and breakout status, have been making noise about how Heroes, is, apparently, the greatest thing since sliced bread. While it wowed me with a few key episodes, Heroes has still never 100% clicked with me. There's too many plot elements and characters that feel ripped straight out of some other story. There's too many characters that feel thin and whose motivations seem contrived. Usually, I come away from Heroes having loved certain scenes, but rarely feeling like the show was firing on all cylinders.

For a show that has to some extent cruised along on hype (sorry, I'm not a fan of a marketing catchphrase becoming so integrated into a show's scripts), this finale was make or break.

Well, in the end, this one didn't really do either. It was a competent finale - some fun moments, a few cool twists, and a pretty great lead-in to next season that left you goin' home happy and excited with anticipation. But was this the huge, explosive finale we had come to expect? Not exactly. I realize this isn't a Michael Bay movie (and thank God for that), but I was still left wondering where all the fireworks were as things reached the climactic endgame.

Visually, I was kind of underwhelmed. These characters are fighting with superpowers in a public plaza in New York, and yet no one (in NEW YORK?!?! Come on!) is there to witness? The battle between Peter and Sylar could have been an awe-inspiring moment, with throngs of New Yorkers shocked at what they were seeing, filled with dread as they realize what's at stake in the battle. Instead, the heroes still exist in a vaccum despite all logic dictating otherwise. On a show whose conceit is that its superheroes in a real-world setting, I was disappointed at how unrealistic this version of New York seemed.

Meanwhile, the characters still seemed to kind of just get thrown around with little rhyme or reason. This was evident from the get-go, as new dialogue was thrown into the recap of last week to make it clearer what happened in the confrontaiton between Linderman and D.L. Then, Bennett is all over the place in terms of what he wants for Claire. Does he want her kept away from the bomb, or to be in the thick of things? Nathan Petrelli is still, to me, such a lifeless character. A character can't swing back and forth between being complicit in the murder of millions and being a hero - that's way too much of a stretch. That was the whole point of Watchmen - that Adrian Veidt believed himself a hero when in fact he was delusional - he couldn't be both a hero and a mass murderer. Nathan flying his radioactive brother out of harm's way was a twist that was neither here nor there - Nathan is such a blank slate that he could do practically anything and it'd barely register with me.

To add to that feeling of disappintment I had, the ep was just overwritten to the point of inducing extreme instances of eye-rolling. Did Richard Roundtree, in his fairly dull and confusing scenes with the younger Petrelli, really just tell Peter that all you need is love? What was that that Claire was crying about - fate and destiny not being written in stone? And the capper - the return of Mohinder's godawful narration, which basically was a lot of flowery prose that added nothing to the storytelling.

Don't get me wrong - there were a lot of fun moments, as per usual. Jessica / Niki's fight with herself was pretty cool, although she was useless later, randomly hitting Sylar with a pole despite not even knowing who he was.

Clearly though, Hiro, Ando, and Mr. Sulu owned this episode. They had all the best moments, with Ando's near-death at the hands of Sylar, Hiro's rescue, and then Hiro going Crouching Tiger on the brain-sucking badguy. I also loved the end of the episode, with Hiro transporting back to feudal Japan and being caught in the middle of some kind of battle between horse-mounted warriors. Good stuff, and I look forward to seeing where it all goes, and I am very interested in the whole "Generations" concept that looks to be the focus of Season 2. I mean, any good comic geek knows that you can't have a superhero universe without some generational legacy stuff (that inevitably ties into World War II in some way). Again, the problem is that this type of story has been told many, many times before, and very well (ex: Watchmen, JSA, The Golden Age, Planetary). It will be interesting to see what if any new spin HEROES has on this classic staple of superhero lore.

As for the episode - not spectacular like I'd hoped, but decent enough to keep me interested and reasonably eager for Season 2. I hope that this season was a kind of learning period and now, hopefully, the kinks have been ironed out. Let's hope that with season 2, Heroes really begins to live up to its full potential and that business really begins to pick up.

My Grade: B

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

re: LOST Season 3 finale ...

HOLY F'N $@#!@ !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

"A long time ago, we used to be friends ..." - The Final Case For VERONICA MARS.

- A few years ago, I heard about a new show called Veronica Mars premiering on UPN, a network not exactly known for quality scripted programming. I'm not sure why, but I watched the pilot on something of a whim, possibly due to some strong early reviews that placed it alongside ABC's Lost as one of the must-watch shows of the new fall season. I liked the idea of mixing film noir with high school drama, and the name of the show alone, Veronica Mars - there was something about it that to me screamed coolness. I tuned in, and was soon hooked - I mean, within the span of a few episodes, it was clear that this wasn't just another show. This was something special. This was a classic in the making.

Since I started this blog, one of my own little pet projects has been promoting this show at any chance I can get. I think I succeeded in turning at least a few people on to the show, and I'm glad that I could do my small part to spread the gospel.

But it wasn't enough. Despite an impassioned fan base, Veronica Mars could never find the kind of quantifiable success it needed to stay afloat in the cutthroat world of network television, and that, to me, is a total shame. Sure, it had many things going against it - it began its life on a network known for courting young, urban males, as a high school drama with a female lead. And yet, if fans of shows like 7th Heaven or One Tree Hill tuned in looking for another teen soap, well, they would have been shocked by what they saw - an uncompromisingly dark, unabashadly smart, neo-noir detective show that was unlike anything else on TV. For this reason, VM became that rare show that is elusive to the average viewer. There was little network-generated hype, and zero built-in audience. Like some indie rock band with a cult following, this was a show that had to be FOUND, by those actively seeking something new and different and BETTER than the usual network TV crap. But indie rock bands can toil away in obscurity for years before achieving their big break. In TV Land, prohibitive costs and the constant pressure for bigger and better ratings doesn't allow for this kind of growth period. You'd think, you'd THINK, that of all places, a fledgling, struggling network like the CW would give its best-reviewed show a shot to find that audience, but I guess they couldn't be bothered to make a move that would actually create goodwill with audiences.

But forget all that for a second, let's talk about the show.

24. Lost. Heroes. Pick a show. Over the last three years, Veronica Mars has been as good if not better. When the show hit its stride in seasons 1 and 2, every episode was a puzzle, a character drama, a film noir, and a high school melodrama wrapped into one thrilling package. Every episode had this stark, barren atmosphere that pulled you in and didn't let go. High school was Hell, and Veronica was caught in its depths.

Kristen Bell should have won an Emmy for this show. Other than the similarly unrecognized Lauren Graham, I can't think of another female lead who carried a show on her back like Kristen did this one. Bell played Veronica to perfection - a former cheerleader and Mean Girl who had, in a sudden turn, fallen from grace, and was left bitter and world-weary before her time. Bell's narration somehow had the weight needed to make Veronica Mars a modern day Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe. One wouldn't expect that a high school sleuth could compare to those legendary private eyes, but Bell pulled it off - sly, witty, quick with a snappy comeback, handy with a tazer, and (almost) always one step ahead of the game. Bell convinced you that Veronica was pretty much always right. Except, sometimes she wasn't, and it was in those moments of vulnerability that Bell really turned in some award-worthy stuff. What can I say, the girl's got it.

Now, when I say that Bell carried the show, that is to take NOTHING away from this show's superlative supporting cast - one of the absolute best in the biz. First and foremost is Enrico Colantoni as Veronica's dad, Keith Mars, the best private gumshoe in all of Neptune, CA. Like most, I only knew Enrico as that guy from Just Shoot Me before he appeared on Mars. But wow, who knew this guy was such an amazing actor? Keith, like Veronica, was a fallen man - his wife had left him, he was relieved of his job as Sherriff after trying to bring down the wealthy and powerful Jake Kane - but he compensated with world-weary humor and a keen sense of right and wrong. Keith and Veronica had one of the best father-daughter relationships on TV. It was fileld with tension, humor, love, and mutual admiration. Percy Daggs III as Wallace - his introduction to the show, strung up on a flagpole, hazed as the new kid in school, Wallace became an instant fan favorite - the Dr. Watson to Veronica's Sherlock Holmes. Jason Dohring as Logan Echols was at his best as a psycho loose cannon - sure, his charms at times won over Veronica, but he was a guy who could never quite overcome his screwed-up upbringing as the son of a famous actor, and the sins of his father continually came back to haunt him. One of my favorites was Francis Capra as Weevil, the misbegotten gangsta who at times could have a heart of gold, but who too often feel back into old habits. Weevil was emblematic of how VM so cleverly dealt with themes much greater than who was hooking up with who. The show tackled themes like class struggle, morality, and justice with intelligence and complexity. And, it was just bursting at the seems with cool characters. In season 1, Amanda Seyfried was haunting as Veronica's best friend, Lily Kane - her murder the impetus for the great season-long mystery that at first propelled the show to greatness. Tina Majorino as Mac was such a great character - what started as a peripheral computer geek soon became a living breathing three-dimensional character that was another fan fav. You've got to love State alum Ken Marino as Vinnie Van Lowe. Charisma Carpenter was seemingly born to play femme fatale Kendall Casablancas. Harry Hamlin played one of the best villains in recent memory when he assumed the role of murderous actor Aaron Echols. Ryan Hansen was funny and tragic as Dick Casablancas, and Kyle Gallner was disturbingly-screwed-up as his younger brother Beaver.

And there's so many more great characters to mention ... for a show that only ran three seasons, it really is amazing. Chris Lowell was cool as Piz, the everyman fanboy who got a shot with Veronica. Ed Begley Jr. was great in Season 3 as Hearst College's Dean O'Dell, and Patrick Fabian was similarly superb as rival and murder suspect Hank Landry. There was Steve Guttenberg in a memorable turn as Mayor Woody Goodman, and Julie Gonzalo as Parker, who slowly grew into a great character in Season 3.

One thing about Veronica Mars is that it could, plain and simply, TELL A GOOD STORY. In an era when shows seem to meander endlessly yet never get to the point, Veronica Mars was so packed with meticulous detail, so filled with clever plotting and spot-on dialogue, that by each season's end the finales would be bursting at the seams as the writers tried to wrap up all of the expertly crafted loose ends. When this show featured a mystery, big or small, it was expertly told, with clues laid out, suspects lined up, and red herrings cunningly dangled before us as we tried to guess whodunnit. While watching VM, I was constantly blown away by the writing. The mysteries weren't just logic puzzles either - they featured interesting characters, genuinely surprising twists, and never failed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Forget the mysteries of a remote island ... Who killed Lilly Kane? Who was behind the Neptune High bus crash? Who killed Dean O'Dell? These were mysteries expertly crafted and resolved in thrilling and conclusive fashion.

And the dialogue. Now THIS was dialogue. Fact is, the guys behind VM wrote their asses off each and every week. Thanks to them, Veronica and co's words crackled with the rythm of classic films and the freshness of the best modern TV shows. Pop culture references that zinged, geek-out moments galore (Frak! Lebowski refrences up the wazoo!), and back and forth repartee that was a joy to listen to. As someone who aspires to write for TV, this was a show that I always felt like I should be taking notes on while watching, it was that good.

So here's to VERONICA MARS - a show that never quite got its due except from the select few who were cool enough to get it. An instant-classic with a finger-snapping theme song, a genre-bending joy with sensibilities that were truly too cool for school - it was aces, gangbusters, what more can I say - I'm just sad to see it go so clearly before its time.

VERONICA MARS Series Finale:

- Oh. man. This can't be right. I need to know how Keith handles this wrench in his campaign for Sherriff. I need to see if and how Veronica and Logan patch things up. Does Jake Kane seek revenge on Ms. Mars? What does Wallace do? Piz? Parker? Mac? Dick? What becomes of the amazing, surprising, soon-to-be severely missed world of Veronica Mars?!?!

As a season finale, this was great, great stuff. It showed me that this show is still as good as ever, that it can still tell an intense, riveting mystery story better than anyone. As a SERIES finale, oh man, I just don't know ... it was such a downbeat, hard ending. Fitting with the show, which has never gone in for the standard sunny-side up Hollywood way of telling stories? Sure, yeah, of course. But was it the kind of closure I wanted for the show? Well, something tells me this isn't exactly how Rob Thomas and co wanted to go out, exactly. It just didn't have that final punch to give that real sense of finality, to give the show a real ending. But it's okay, I forgive 'em. I can only guess at what kind of uncertainty and jerking around by the network the show had to put up with in its final days.

As an episode ... this was two hours of classic VM. The ending to the first half, with a bloodied Logan approaching Veronica after having just wrongfully gone Mike Tyson on Piz - wow, talk about intense. And the first half's main mystery, with some classic Veronica sleuthing as the teen titan brought down a rich-kid conspiracy and exonerated Weevil once again, was just plain good stuff, a vintage VM caper. In the second half, we got an old-school Veronica and Wallace teamwork, as Wallace infiltrated a skull and bones-esque secret society in order to figure out who was screwing with Veronica. Well, the trail of corruption led all the way back to Jake Kane, in a mystery that really brought things full circle for the show. What we got then was the real kicker - Keith Mars having to make the hard choice - risk jeapordizing his daughter's future by following the letter of the law and allowing the Kane's to press charges, or else tamper with the incriminating evidence that would implicate Veronica, thus sabotaging his chances to win the race for Sherriff. Again, the ep brought some of the big themes of the series full circle - falling rom grace and rebuilding, rising from the ashes, coping with tragedy, and coping with a society that will beat you up and drag you through the mud. The ending here was tragic, dark - Veronica got her man and got off free, but at what price?

Two great hours - you couldn't ask for better quality storytelling from a show that rarely fails to deliver despite so many factors being against it. I guess I can find hope in knowing that the good stuff will live on. Long after the latest lame reality shows and sitcoms are gone and forgotten, people will still be rediscovering Veronica Mars. A curious consumer will buy the DVD or download an episode from iTunes, and spread the word to their friends - "Hey, you ever see that show Veronic Mars? Man, that was good stuff." Meanwhile, those of us who were in the know the whole time (who, likely, never filled out a Nielson survey, go figure), can take comfort in the idea that we were there to witness a great show in its prime.

Because damn, Veronica Mars was cool as hell.

My Grade: A

"We're comandeering your helicopter.Get Out!" 24: Season 6 Finale!

24! 24! 24!

- Ahhhhhhhhhhh. Will all of you 24 haters please regain some semblance of sanity? Once again, I am seeing all these idiots coming out of the woodwork, declaring 24 dead and comparing it unfavorably to the likes of Heroes, Lost, and any other show deemed as the next big thing in TV. Will people please stop being so melodramatic about this (I'm looking at you, MATT ROUSH). Duh, 24 struggled this season. But there is no way that a true blue 24 fan could have watched last night's finale and not had some genuine, only-on-24 "holy $%&" moments. So let me get to it ...

The TWENTY by-God FOUR Season 6 finale:

- Call me a 24 apologist or whatever, but I really enjoyed last night's finale. Sure, it had its share of flaws. But I think there's a huge double standard when it comes to certain genre shows. For some reason, 24 this year has gotten picked apart like no other, whereas Heroes, Smallville, and a few others seem to get free passes from some week after week. There was enough stuff last night that kicked ass that, for me, I was willing and able to just sit back, overlook some of the lame stuff, and enjoy the ride.

And yes, this episode was good enough that it prompted me to a.) keep watching FOX until well after 10 pm with the slim hope that something would be revealed about 24: Season 7, b.) immediately call my brother for the traditional post 24 call, which last night, as in the 24 days of yore, was initiated with a hearty cry of: "Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn!"

To paraphrase:

Me: That was awesome ...
Matt: Eh, it was okay.
Me: It was awesome.
Matt: The Chloe stuff was lame.
Me: Who cares ...
Matt: We never even found out anything about Jack's father!
Me: Yeah ... but still ... how could you not love Bill Buchanan saving the day?
Matt: Yeah ...
Me: It ruled ...
Matt: Dammit all.
Me: Dammit all.

(sadly, this is what many conversations between my brother and I actually sound like)

So as I so often gave you in those halycon days before 24 stopped consistently ruling it, here are some random thoughts:

- Bill Buchanan is back! Why is it that Bill is always kind of boring at CTU, but once he trades the suit and tie for civies, he suddenly begins to kick seven kinds of ass with an extra dose of gravitas?

- Okay, it was a pretty lame Part 1 cliffhanger to have Chloe collapse with no real build up or anything. But the moment was totally saved by the awesomeness of Morris' desperate cry for help. "Somebody help me! I said ... SOMEBODY HELP ME!!!!" Dayum.

- You've gotta love Vice President Grodd. One minute it's "I want Karen Hayes punished to the full extent of the law!" The next minute it's: "Well, I've mellowed out a lot in the last 22 minutes. I suppose I can find it in my heart to forgive her ...".

- The most ridiculous thing in this whole ep was probably Morris calling the CTU doctor to check in on Chloe literally 30-seconds after he saw her in her room. What, do CTU doctors have to update agents about their patients' health in "real-time?" And does anyone in real life ever actually ask for anything to be done in "real-time?"

- What was with Milo's brother's sudden appearance and then random disappearing act? Mysterious ...

- Man, was Nadia ever a lame character. What a waste of space.

- Rena Sofer continues to be the Queen of Monday Night TV, appearing simultaneously on both 24 and Heroes! Hiro, is that you?

- Good ol' Subarov -- what a Prime Minister, always threatening to start World War III.

- So yeah, I do agree with my brother that, in the end, Papa Bauer turned out to be a disappointing villain. All through last season, the threads of some vast conspiracy were swen throughout the 24 mythology in the form of the man who would be Graem and his Bluetooth mafia. Then, the mastermind behind Graem's actions turns out to be he and Jack daddy dearest. So ... what exactly was his deal, anyways? We never found out, and Jack was so emotionless and devoid of curiosity by the time he found his father that he never had the chance to ask (also, the oil rig they were standing on was about to be blown up in like 18 seconds). I hope that the origins of this secret cabal are explored a bit inthe future, because 24 has a REALLY bad habit of introducing all these interesting conspiracy elements to its plotline and never following up on them at all (I'm STILL waiting to find out exactly who Naked Mandy was working for when she gave David Palmer that poison-tipped handshake).

- Looks like little Josh inherited some of the Bauer family badassery! He hit his own grandpa in the back of the head with a lead pipe - nice! His grandpa was a sociopathic weirdo though so, you know, it's all good.

- I will also say ... Karen Hayes' motivation for risking her entire career and reputation in order to help Jack save his nephew was pretty weak. After all she'd been through, one casualty in the name of stopping a World War would have been deemed an acceptable loss. That leads me to another problem with the season as a whole - th enormity of what happened during the day, like, say, a NUKE going off just outside of LA, was never really conveyed well at all. An event like that would change everything, and yet it felt like business as usual in the 24-verse.

- One of the best lines of the show - Jack and Bill taking the CTU helicopter to storm the oil rig and save Josh - Jack Bauer: "We're commandeering your helicopter. GET OUT!" Gravitas through a straw.

- And the best part of the whole thing - Jack and Bill suiting up for battle, during which time JACK was reunited with his SACK! Yes, in one glorious moment, the JACKSACK returned!

- Doyle is blinded! Nice little scene with him taking the fall, too bad his character was 98% LAME.

- And man, those action scenes on the oil rig were tight! Great stuff, and awesome direction here, that was big-budget movie quality, baby. Bill Buchanan piloting a helicopter as it swings around to pick up Jack, Josh and a bloodied Chang in tow, with F-18's poised to launch missles and blow it all to hell ANY SECOND, was pretty freaking cool.

- And the ending ... NICE. It sounds like people were somewhat divided over this, but I liked it a lot as a coda to this season, and as an ending that allows next season to go in a number of different directions. First of all, William Devane rules it, period. Secondly, this ending gave us 24 fans one of the best insights into Jack Bauer's state of mind we've yet seen on the show. FINALLY, things slowed down for a second and things were put back into context. This wasn't just Jack as a robotic anti-terrorist machine. This was the man we were introduced to in the opening minutes of this season - a man who had been broken and betrayed, who was left for dead by his friends and his country, who was just told by the one man he looked up to to stay away from him and his daughter forever. This was a pissed off, frustrated, self-doubting, loose-cannon who has just been pushed to the absolute brink. WELCOME BACK JACK F'N BAUER.

- Overall, this two-part finale inevitably had to deal with some of the same lame CTU and White House politics that have put a real damper on this season. Looking at the whole season, there were many lost opportunities. We lost good characters in Curtis and Graem Bauer - characters who really had zero opportunity to live up to the potential they showed to be staples of the 24 universe. In turn, we got a number of new characters who never panned out and failed to make us care about them in the least. Our main character, Jack, was introduced as having just endured years of torture and suffering, and yet, within MINUTES, he was back to business as usual, until the final moments of the season finale when the show FINALLY got back around to addressing what's been going on with the character. And the plot was a mix of retread devices, new threads that went nowhere, and endless revisitations of the same old stuff. How many times can Jack be taken into custody, CTU attacked, the President be compromised from within, or CTU infiltrated by a mole?

But as for THIS one episode - I enjoyed it. Great action, intense pacing, and an awesome ending that was beautifully shot and was on its own a great Jack Bauer character moment - something we've gotten way too few of as of late. Sure, there was no ZOMBIE ALMEDA as I had hoped for, and no twist ending a la last year. But this was solid stuff. Not save-and-redeem-the-whole season solid, but enough to elicit a respectable if not ear-splitting "DAAAAAAAAAAAAAMN!"

My Grade: A -

- Bring on SEASON 7.

- Just for the record, here is how I rank the seasons of 24:

1. Day 1
2. Day 2
3. Day 5
4. Day 4
5. Day 3
6. Day 6

- Tonight: the LAST EVER (?) Veronica Mars! If you have a soul, you will be watching!

STAY TUNED - After tonight's episode, check back here for a tribute to the great Veronica Mars, right here, on the blog.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"Don't Worry, That Was In Shelbyville" - The Simpsons' 400th Episode, Family Guy, King of the Hill, Smallville, and The Office -- reviewed! And MORE.

What up, loyal readers? Damn, it's Monday. But hey, at least I've got the 24, Heroes, Veronica Mars, and Lost finales to look forward to in the next few days ...

I had a great weekend, and a busy one at that. On Friday my friend Dan and I went to a Shabbat dinner in West LA, where we met some interesting people. The highlight for me was ... well, any of you guys see Season 1 of Beauty and the Geek? Well you may remember a short geek who was kind of like a young Woody Allen, Richard Rubin. Well a while back I posted about how Richard was actually friends with my good friend Mike Z from their days at Brandeis. When the show first aired, Mike enthusiastically called me up to tell me about how his friend was on this reality show and how I should watch. So anyways, who was at this Shabbat dinner but ... reality star Richard Rubin! I introduced myself and pointed out our Mike Z connection, and Richard remembered Mike having mentioned me and the two of us got to talking. Anyways, very cool but slightly surreal to meet someone who's reality TV exploits I followed and enjoyed. Saturday, the Xplosian and I celebrated the birthday of fellow NBC Page Class of January 05 member Adriana, as we headed down to somewhat sketchy downtown LA for a pirate / nautical themed dinner. Then, I headed from there to young Hollywood hangout Barney's Beanery for current NBC Page Rebecca R's birthday bash, which was a great time, with many friends old and new showing up for the festivities. (check me out on facebook / myspace for some new pics).

- How psyched are you all for tonight's 24 season finale? Okay, sure, this season hasn't quite been up to par but come on, this is a 24 season final we're talking about. Two hours of sheer gravitas! At least, that's what I hope. Just bring back the Soul Patch already! Can you imagine -what if, in their final confrontation, Jack's dad is killed - but before he dies he tells Jack that since Graem died he had to install a new head of his organization - Jack is like WHO IS IT, WHO!?, then in walks TONY ALMEDA and Jack's like - Tony, it's, it's YOU? And Tony's like ... "Yeah ..." Daaaaaaaaaaaaamn ...

- If you haven't already seen this, and consider yourself a fan of action movies, esp those of the oldschool 80's variety, you MUST check this out ASAP. Look, I thought that Rocky Balboa was the pinnacle of 80's Stallone nostalgia / awesomeness, but this looks off the chain, and gory as hell - so now, sez I: Bring on John Rambo!

- Been reading about possible casting for WATCHMEN. Hmmm ... Jude Law I guess I can see as Ozymandias, though their is something slightly bland about Law that I can't put my finger on. On the other hand, Keanu Reeves as Dr. Manhattan? This could be problematic ...

- Lots of DARK KNIGHT news of late. WB unveiled the first face shot of Heath Ledger as the Joker, and I have somewhat mixed feelings. It looks very dark and horror movie-esque, but to me it's a little too grotesque. Call me a traditionalist, but the Joker is an evil clown and therefore should look like one - not like some dude whose mouth is bleeding. I think of the great images of the Joker from the comics - Brian Bolland, Alex Ross, Jim Aparo, and though they are cartooish to some extent these are still the images I want to see brought to life, not something that looks to have been designed by Rob Zombie. I mean, this is Batman, not the new Saw flick. But I'll give it a chance and put my faith in Nolan and his team. I do love the prospect of Anthony Michael Hall appearing somewhere in here as well. I could see him as a great fit for any number of potential supporting roles. Dr. Kirk Langstrom, Edward Nigma, Arnold Wesker, Jeremiah Arkham, or even Julian Day - the Calendar Man. All would be cool as hell to see pop up in Dark Knight.


THE SIMPSONS 400th Episode Spectacular:

- Two episodes of The Simpsons last night to close out the show's EIGHTEENTH season and to mark its historic 400th episode. Unbelievable - I've been watching this show practically my whole life! Of course, the show has now, after eighteen years, been only decent to mediocre almost as long as it's been good. And yet, the show holds such a revered place in my TV cannon that realy, nothing can tarnish how great and influential the first ten or so seasons of the show were in my mind. And of course, every so often the show churns out a diamond in the rough - think last year's brilliant Ricky Gervais-penned episode, or this season's gem where Moe becomes an unwitting literary giant. Would last night's double feature be another return to form, or just more of the same old subpar Simpsons?

Overall, it was a mixed bag. I can't bring myself to be anything other than disappointed though, as a whole. There was SO much potential in a Simpsons / 24 crossover. The obvious precedent is in the X-Files episode from several years back, which was an instant classic and took full advantage of guest-starring Mulder and Scully ("I bring you love!"). This time, Kiefer Sutherland was relegated to a small cameo, and the show never really took full advantage of having Jack Bauer as a guest-starring character, never having him interact much with the denizens of Springfield. The show at times was clever in its parody of 24's style, but again, never took full advantage of the potential to satirize the show. That being said, this episode was the funniest the Simpsons has been in a while. I was cracking up at Skinner's "enhance, enhance, dehance!" line towards the beginning. And man, Jack Bauer at the end there was hilarious, when he diverted all of CTU's resources to find Bart, only for a nuclear bomb to go off right outside ("Don't worry, that was Shelbyville.") - classic. Homer in a dumpster was kind of amusing as well ("We're dumpster folk now, Milhouse"). But Marge's bake-sale subplot was kinda weak, and, I don't know, the 24 tie-in seemed totally tangential and not integral to the plot at all. In terms of animation, all the split screen stuff was done really well.

Overall - this was probably one of the better Simpsons eps in a while, and had some of the funniest lines of the season. But I was hoping this would be GREAT, and it asn't, just pretty good, so I can't help but feel let down.

My Grade: B+

As for the second SIMPSONS ep of the night, the big 400th episode ... well, things started out with a nice tribute to the show's history, but ... man, what happened from there? Nothing about this ep other than the intro felt big or special in any way at all. The big cameo was from Luddacris, in an semi-funny appearance, but nothing too stand-out. Worst of all, I looked at the clock when the main plot kicked in - in which Kent Brockman had coffee spilled on him and uttered an expletive on the air - it was 8:45! On the 400th episode, I did not expect the Simpsons to pull this kinda crap. It's a shame too, because the premise here was actually great. I love the conecept of Kent Brockman quitting his network news job and becoming a maverick internet journalist. Man, there is SO much potential in that, and yet this ep barely scratched the surface, since it was too concerned with filling up half the episode with random tangents. Some of these tangents were decently funny (Homer eating the one-millionth ice cream cone, then wanting it in a cup ...), it was a shame to see so much wasted time, that detracted from any feeling of specialness the ep might have. Like I said, there were the beginnings of some great concepts here - like some great jabs at the FOX network - that ultimately went nowhere. Man, I hope the movie is great, because this was a decent but ultimately pretty lackluster 400th episode of a show that deserves better.

My Grade: B -

- On the other hand, I can't tell you how happy I am about last night's FAMILY GUY. Welcome back, Family Guy! This was easily the best episode of the season, and the most I've laughed at this show in a long, long time. There was a clever plot that was a pretty hilarious riff on Back to the Future. There were some classic random cutaways (Peter losing his top while riding a mechanical bull ... lol), and just the right amount of crazy, absurd humor mixed with a plot that actually was a lot of fun and had some substance to it. Even the 80's references seemed funnier than usual (Krull!). Awesome - please tell me this is the beginning of a return to form for Family Guy, which at one point, what seems like forever ago now, was the funniest thing on TV.

My Grade: A-

- Meanwhile, what can I say about KING OF THE HILL. What an amazing, amazing show ... and of course, a show of this superior quality is the one that FOX is once again sticking at a crappy 7 pm timeslot. WTF.

- King of the Hill had two episodes last night, which I believe served as the show's season finale. The first ep was just classic King of the Hill. No other show has the ability to pick a random segment of society, in this case bodybuilders, and just capture that niche with so much humor and truth. Bill recruiting a bunch of muscle-heads to train him for his army physical was so funny. I mean, whoever thought to cast Randy "Macho Man" Savage as the voice of the group's leader was a genius. They even let him do his trademark "Ooooh yeah! Dig it!" Now that is awesome. But I am just continually amazed at how much heart and soul each episode of this show crams in between the laughs. A great ep.

My Grade: A -

- But then, holy lord ... I don't know if the writers of KING OF THE HILL thought that this second of two new episodes was their last, but it felt like it was almost conceived as series-ender. I mean, wow, they went all out on this one - not only was it a great episode, but I'd go so far as to call it an all-time classic. I loved everything about this one. For one thing, how great is Tom Petty as Lucky? Lucky is the rare character introduced late in a show's lifespan who just 100% fits in with the show and its world. Him wanting to sue Strickland Propane to get money so he and Luanne could have a fancy wedding - with Hank caught in the middle - was a classic King of the Hill plotline. The final scenes of this ep, with nearly every character that's ever been on the show making a cameo at Luanne's wedding, were wondefully done. And the final scene, with Hank and his pals standing outside drinking beer, was so good that I don't know if you could write a better ending for the show ... (don't get me wrong, thank god KOTH is coming back next year). This closing line just about sums it all up:

Bill: Wow, you just gave away a bride, Hank.
Hank: I know, I've got, uh, well, I guess you'd call it "emotions."


My Grade: A+

To flash back a bit to last week:

- SMALLVILLE, as I said, usually comes through in its season finales. For whatever reason, the show just seems to step up its game for the big episodes, even when, as with this year, the show has suffered from a long string of subpar installments plagued by sloppy writing and little to no movement in the overarching plot. So, once again, this sixth season's finale was one of the few standout episodes of the season - an exciting, action-packed, surprise-filled hour that was the most enjoyment of gotten out of Smallville in a while.

First - the bad. Like many, I'm sick already of Lionel Luthor's back-and-forth flip flopping between being an ally and enemy of Clark's. Lionel has always been great as a villain, but the show has sent so many mixed messages about his true motives that the character is just a mess. How am I supposed to care about him one way or the other if every week he changes sides? The other big annoyance here was just how anticlimactic Clark's reveal of his true identity to Lana was. This is a moment that the show has been building to for SIX YEARS. And while it was a huge relief to finally, FINALLY see Clark put all his cards on the table for Lana after years of angsty secret-keeping, the moment could and should have been a bit more memorable and dramatic - maybe have Clark take Lana on a quick flight, or something!

One odd thing here was the inclusion of J'onn Jones. This potentially cool-as-hell character was given little to do, and it begged the question - why introduce the Martian Manhunter into the Smallville mythos as a recurring character, only for him to do approximately jack squat?

My other big "???" moment came when Lois appeared to be a goner, only for Chloe to rain magical tears on her cousin that apparently revived Lois, only to, in turn, kill Chloe! Now, this to me is potentially kind of a cop out. If Chloe is truly dead, then this was sure a lame way to kill her. If she's still alive, then what, exactly, happened to her? I don't know, this whole plot development came off as a bit out of nowhere and lame-ish for my tastes.

All that being said, there was some really great stuff here. Is it any surprise that Lex Luthor yet again provided the episode's best moments, with his chilling confrontation with Lana, and he and Clark's climactic showdown? I also liked the stuff with Clark and his mom - Martha Kent going to Washington should be an interesting twist for the show, hopefully leading to semi-adult Clark not being such a momma's boy anymore and striking off on his own a bit more and having more adventures not rooted in Smallville.

Finally, the last battle between Clark and the Krptonian Phantom was very nice - some of the best action we've yet seen from the show. To top it off, the show threw in an unexpected but fanboy-pleasing curveball, having the phantom absorb Clark's DNA and take on the visage of comic book (and Jerry Seinfeld) favorite - Bizarro! Bizarro am back! Me no like Bizarro! Sweeeet - finally, a REAL supervillain for clark to throw down with!

As fun as this episode was, it couldn't fully mask some of the faults that have been there on the show the whole season. This was a huge step up, but at the same time, not QUITE as good as past year's finales. As one of the few returning show's for the CW next season, let's hope that Smallville can turn things up a notch in the fall.

My Grade: B+

- As for THE OFFICE's season finale -- well, I really enjoyed it! I thought that the humor wasmuch sharper than the previous week's ep ("Beach Games"), and at the same time there was some nice character stuff and a few surprises to boot.

I haven't been a huge fan of the Michael - Jan relationship. To me it's forced Michael's character to go off in some odd directions that didn't seem to me to be keeping in line with Michael Scott as he was originally presented. But when Michael and Jan are written as hilariously as they were in the finale, then hey, I've got no problem with 'em at all. Michael's fascination and inability to argue with Jan's new, um, enhancements, was drop dead hilarious. Meanwhile, Dwight's temporary rule as manager of Dunder-Mifflin's Scranton branch was pretty funny, and provided some great comedic moments. You've also got to love the supporting character's bits, like when Kevin compares the hotness of Pam and Karen, or when Creed talks about how he likes his women floppy! Yikes!

I liked the Pam-Jim-Karen stuff a lot better this week, where it was kept subtle and down to earth. Still, there were moments that seemed a bit overdone. For example, I liked when Jim saw the note from Pam placed amidst his papers as he waited for his interview. But I thought inserting a flashback to their conversation at the beach was total overkill. For one thing, this show should never use flashbacks. And also, that could have been cut and the same effect would still have been felt, only more nuanced and less hammy.

Overall- what a year it's been for The Office. The finale was yet more evidence that the show is the reigning king of comedy on network TV.

My Grade: A -

- Alright, I'm out - final thoughts: Sorry to see the Suns go - they should have won that series and its too bad they likely lost a game due to a dumb ruling that kept out Amare at a key moment in the playoffs - and: here's hoping for 24 to rule it tonight!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Out With VERONICA MARS, in with FARMER WANTS A WIFE?!?! Plus - LOST reviewed!

Today is a sad day for people with good taste.

As of this morning, it appears pretty clear that VERONICA MARS is done. While there was no official announcement and no great fanfare, it appears that the CW has unceremoniously dumped one of the very best TV shows of the last 5 years, as it retools its network lineup for next fall. Now it may be that in a few weeks there will be some surprise announcement about a retooled version of the show or whatever, but the chances of that happening now seem slim to none. In fact, I could barely contain my frustration this morning as I kept hitting "refresh" on TV Guide's website, reading Michael Ausiello's breathless quest to get to the bottom of what was up with VM's future. The worst part is that CW prez Dawn Ostroff kept sending mixed messages. She all but declared VM dead, yet at the same time kept hinting that there was some ambiguous plan in the works to bring back the show in a new form. So Ausiello forwarded a quote from Ostroff to VM showrunner Rob Thomas, to get his take on the idea that he, Ostroff, and series star Kristen Bell were all working on something together. Thomas replied, saying that he had never had ANY conversations with Dawn, and that at this point most of the show's writers and actors had already resigned themselves to accepting that the show was over and done with, and had begun the process of moving on to new projects (for her part, Kristin Bell is already provifing narration for CW's Gossip Girl). So barring a miracle, Veronica Mars, perhaps the best drama on television, is being kicked to the curb with none of the class or respect it deserves.

I mean, if talking to Thomas and Bell is such a low priority for Ostroff, then that certainly does not bode well for an eleventh hour miracle. Mid-June is still, apparently, the absolute cut-off date for an announcement either way. But the damage has been done. People are angry, and it's these same people who are the same passionate, hardcore fans who can make or break a fledgling network like the CW. I mean, talk about a show with prominent fans. People like Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith were so passionate about Mars that they volunteered to guest star and help attract some new fans to the show. Go online, read any news report about today's CW upfront - the headline news isn't the new fall shows, no, CNN and Yahoo and TV Guide's headlines are about the future of Veronica Mars!

Ostroff needs to get on the ball here and level with the fans. She committed another blunder today when she quickly menitoned that she was sad to see Gilmore Girls go, only to quickly rave about how Beauty and the Geek did even better than Gilmore in the ratings when it came to attracting young adults! Is that any way to show respect for a show that helped launch your network and had a critically-acclaimed and beloved seven year run? Look, I applaud the CW for some of the pilots it picked up. ALIENS IN AMERICA is a comedy that has the potential to be great. REAPER is a fun, lighthearted show that reminded me of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure with its goofy sci-fi comedy. But can these shows replace two of the best dramas of the decade? The truly depressing thing, though, is that yes, CW has a few promising new shows on tap for the fall. But it also has crap on a stick in the form of "Pussycat Dolls Present," "Crowned: The Mother of all Pageants," and here's the kicker - "Farmer Wants a Wife." Yep, it's out with Veronica Mars and in with FARMER WANTS A WIFE. And we descend ever closer to the seventh level of hell ...

All I know is, Gilmore, amazingly, was able to go out with a great finale despite so much uncertainty about its future. I can only hope that Veronica Mars will be able to pull off the same trick this Tuesday - if any show deserves to get the royal sendoff - this is it.


- This week's LOST featured no disembodied voices, no shocking revelations about the identity of "Jacob," and no great mysteries about who was on who's side. With most of its cards laid on the table, Lost this week instead delivered a 100% solid episode that told a great story and was filled with fun moments, top-notch characterization, and a cool ending that left me dying for next Wednesday to get here already. This was good stuff.

Really, there's not much to critique here. This was essentially a Charlie story, a fairly personal one, about our favorite former hobbit coming to terms with his seemingly impending death as foretold by the prophetic visions of Desmond. As usual, Lost did it's typically amazing job of buiding up tension throughout the ep - once again, they had me hanging at the edge of my seat to see Charlie's ultimate fate. But since this was a personal ep with clearly defined storytelling, there was no room for one of Lost's typical underwhelming endings - the show's hand was forced, and it delivered with a great final sequence, in which Desmond offers to take Charlie's place as underwater scout on a potential suicide mission, only for Charlie to clock him with a paddle and take the dive (literally). We then got a tension-filled scene straight out of Tomb Raider, with Charlie desperately diving beneath the Other's sunken hatch, scrambling to hold his breath as he searched for an entrance into the compound. The build up and emotion of this episode had me all but convinced that Charlie was a deadman, so I was surprised that he surfaced and seemed to make it into the hatch unscathed. Next thing you know, the lead singer of Drive Shaft is cornered by two heat-packing femme fatales, cut to black, and business has just picked up. Nice.

There were also a lot of fun threads picked up on here. Rose and Bernard made a welcome return. Jack and Sayid had some nice exchanges that sounded like real, actual dialogue rather than riddles answered with mysteries. I got a kick out of Karl's scenes with Alex Rousseau and his subsequent arrival on the castaways' beach, screaming "they're coming NOW!" like some crazed kid out of a vintage Twilight Zone episode from the 60's.

On a quick tangent, it's funny that two recurring characters from Malcolm in the Middle, each of them quirky, funny teen girls on that show, are now costarring in two of the biggest scifi dramas on TV in Lost and Heroes.

But yeah, there was a lot to like here, and I found all the Charlie stuff to be well-handled and well-acted. Claire had some of the best scenes she's had in a long while, which was nice to see, and Desmond has quietly become Lost's coolest character over the last several episodes. Might Henry Ian Cusick's haunting performance as Desmond Hume put him in line for an Emmy nom, brother?

So yeah, great stuff from Lost last night. Can't wait for next week's finale.

My Grade: A

- Alright, I am out. I'm upset about the SUNS' loss last night to the Spurs - what a devastating loss. I hope Amare comes back tommorow with a vengeance. And yes, I watched the Price Is Right Special on CBS last night, and yes, I hope to catch their Bob Barker tribute tonight before The Office's season ender. What can I say, I really like Plinko.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A Goodbye to Gilmore ... plus: Veronica Mars and Heroes - reviewed.

On the GILMORE GIRLS series finale:

I think most fans of this show realized that this season was probably the last. And I think that most fans were okay with that, on one important condition - that the show went out with a fitting series finale that felt like an ending that the show deserved after such a long, great run. Well, I don't think there's a single fan out there who could find much to complain about with last night's superb finale. For me - this episode, both as a standalone and as a series-ender, was darn near perfect. I honestly can't think of a single thing to complain about, and for me, that's saying something.

About five minutes into the episode, from the moment Rory walked into her grandparents' house with the announcement that she had gotten a job to follow Barak Obama on his campaign trail on a beat for an online magazine, they totally had me. From that point on, I was right there with the characters in Stars Hollow, just another one of Rory's admirers wishing her well as she rode off into the great wide open. That's how great and alive the characters and world of this show have always been. In my post yesterday, I talked about how this vividness serves to magnify all of your emotional attachment to everything that goes on in the world of Gilmore. Because the characters are so beloved, when you laugh at them and with them, it's a deep laugh that has you laughing until you cry. All the great little funny and quirky character moments that have made this show what it is were on full display last night - but the humor was so entangled with the happiness and sadness and emotion of the story that you really didn't know quite when to laugh, when to cry, and when to smile.

There were so many great, wonderful little moments. My personal favorite may have been Emily's constant nagging of Loreali about converting the Dragonfly Inn into a spa. For a while, you can't help but be frustrated with Emily - always such a pain in the ass at the most inappropriate moments! But Emily is such a great, well-acted, well-written character, Gilmore fans quickly knew what was up - the nagging was her way of coping with her life falling apart around her - she's such a stubborn old coot that she could never bring herself to actually ask Lorelai to spend time with her just for the sake of spending time. Lorelai finally caught on, as her mother went on about setting up appointments to discuss the spa idea (right in the middle of Rory's party!), and then there was such a great, sweet little moment that would make anyone with a pulse well up a bit. Lorelai just smiled, and reassured her mother that they'd discuss the idea - at their usual Friday Night dinners. With one line, and a rare moment of understanding between mother and daughter, a whole swarm of emotions and characterization came together. Emily had secretly feared that Rory was the lynchpin that had for all these years given her any kind of relationship with her daughter - with Rory leaving, might that delicately held-together relationship fall apart? It's just one more example of Gilmore having some of the best, most complex, most REAL depictions of family ever seen on television. Sure, the moment is sentimental and makes you smile - but its so nuanced and realistic and in character - it's no wonder it makes the most hardened cynic go soft.

Everything with Luke, I thought, was handled to perfection. Sure, the character has been down this road before - quietly showing how much he cares for Lorelai without wanting any undue attention or credit. Luke is always the guy standing in the back of the room, arms folded, trying to hide a smile in the name of preserving his crabby exterior. Any guy can relate to this. Guys don't give big speeches or talk endlessly about their feelings. Luke is a character that any guy can relate to - someone who believes in honest work and small dreams. So yeah, even though Luke's often done these grand gestures while trying to be modest and whatnot - that's just how the character is, it's what he does, and it was gratifying to see Lorelai finally be completely won over by that.

As for Rory's journey ... I feel like everyone can relate to this on some level. Everyone leaves their bubble and has that moment of freaking out when things happen suddenly and without warning, and all the careful planning and strategizing that goes along with having great expectations placed on your shoulders falls apart when you're in the real world - things just tend do happen - and that is both exciting and terrifying. Coming from a small Connecticut community, I can't help but see a lot of Rory in myself, and I couldn't help but think of how suddenly found myself going from sitting around in CT one moment worrying about my post-collegiate future to running around like a madman preparing to embark on a journey to California and the next phase of life. Rory's dealing with her new job and her future was handled beautifully - it was rushed but that was part of the point. There was the excitement, the panic attacks, the regrets, the goodbyes. Of course, most of us don't have an entire town come together to throw a party in honor of our leaving, but Stars Hollow has always been a great representation of all the quirky, weird, beloved, annoying, supporting characters that populate all of our lives.

Again - so many great little moments. Rory and Lane's goodbye. Sookie and Luke plotting the party, and Sookie's enthusiastic reveal of Luke's involvement to Lorelai. The town meeting scene was vintage Gilmore - hilarious yet filled with so much heart. Every little side character - Taylor, Kirk of course, Ms. Patty, Babette, Lulu - they all had their time to shine. Zack was a lot of fun as always - again I couldn't help but think that his and Lane's story has been so strong as almost a show within a show that it could very well be its own show. Richard Gilmore is one of those amazing characters that can make you laugh and cry in the span of one sentance. His speech to Lorelai, along with the previously mentioned moments between her and Emily, were memorable, sad, funny - classic Gilmore.

And that final scene of Lorelai and Rory in Luke's diner, a small slice of vintage Gilmore, was the perfect way to end things. That last shot, of Rory and Lorelai chatting endlessly about whatever random topic they happen to broach, with Luke quietly preparing their food in the background, as dawn breaks in Stars Hollow ... artful, classy, and a great ending to a wonderful episode.

In a world of crass reality shows, soulless dramas, and ineffectual comedies, Gilmore went out the way it came in - a show that felt real even as it was whimsical, that presented moving drama without ever being melodramatic, that elicited deep laughter without ever failing to be clever, witty, and classy. A great finale to one of the great shows.

My Grade: A+

- And isn't it a shame, that the CW's Tuesday night lineup is all but disappearing next season? When Gilmore was on its game, paired with Veronica Mars, this was perhaps the best one-two punch of TV anywhere on the network schedule. To think of it replaced by reality shows or generic soaps is truly depressing. And as of this morning, there is STILL no definitive word about Veronica's future, though it does seem to be looking pretty bleak ...


- I really enjoyed last night's ep, though I think I was still wiping my eyes from the Gilmore Girls finale for much of it and therefore couldn't give it 100% of my attention. Hahahaha ... um, seriously though ... This week's ep was much like last week's - a great ep of TV, but ultimately Veronica Mars-lite. There were no legitimately high stakes, no dark, noirish grit, and Veronica herself was never really in any danger. Still, for what it was, this was good stuff. I enjoyed the mystery of the Ugandan author at Hearst college, and as always this show is the best in the biz at weaving a compelling standalone mystery story that involves you in its plot twists and keeps you guessing until the end. As for the character stuff - I loved the reunion of Dick Casablancas with his skeevy father - man, was that ever a long time coming, and we finally got a bit of a bookend to Season 2's shocking ending. You gotta love Ken Marino as Vinnie Van Lowe, and his race against Keith to be Neptune's sheriff is a nice subplot with a mix of humor and darker intrigue. Parker is another character that has grown on me and Mac is of course great - it's just that their respective subplots are emblematic of how the show has gotten a bit too soapy, which isn't always bad, but that soap has replaced the overarching mysteries to some extent, which isn't an even tradeoff. I'm still not sure how I feel about Piz - I've been a fan of the character, but I like him as an every-geek who is fawining over Veronica. This episode, he seemed to slip a bit too easily into the typical boyfriend role. And I also wish we could see more of Wallace - the character has been woefully neglected after being so well-featured in Season 2. Still, I recognize that this season has seen its share of interferenct from the network, and I still have complete faith in Rob Thomas and co that they know what they are doing. If next week really is the series' last episode, and even if it isn't, I fully expect it to go out with one hell of a bang - the talent behind this show is way too good for it not to. As for this episode, a nice mystery, the usual stellar dialogue (Keith had a few classic lines here with his P.I test schtick) ... it's just you can tell the show is a bit schizofrenic as it waits to hear its ultimate fate. If there's any justice in the world, it will be back.

My Grade: A -

- I also caught Monday's HEROES. One word can describe why this episode kicked some ass: Sulu! George Takei friggin' ruled it in this ep, and his campy sense of melodramatic timing made his scenes with Hiro unbearably fun to watch. When Hiro asked "What do you know about killing?" only for his dad to whip out a samurai sword and wield it like freaking Ninja Gaiden, any geek worth his or her salt was smiling from ear to ear. And by the way, nice to see the show acknowledge some of the guys who made its premise possible, with the action centered at KIRBY plaza, and Micah looking through some old Silver Surfer comics. Hail to the King, baby.

Unfortunately, some aspects of this episode still felt contrived and just plain off. Nathan Petrelli still feels like a hollow shell of a character to me. If he is complicit in nuking New York, that would make him a sociopath mass-murderer, but there's nothing we've seen from his characterization that would indicate that Nathan would REALLY be willing to go this far. Sure, he's been shown as slightly sleazy and underhanded, that I'll buy. But mass-murder? It just seems way outside the realm of plausibility for this character as he's presented.

With Nikki / Jessica, the show seems to be all over the place. I couldn't remember if they were separated, merged, or what, and now it just seems like Ali Larter goes back and forth between compassionate Nikki and ruthless Jessica at the drop of a hat, without any real explananation. Does she or doesn't she care about her son or about DL? This aspect of the show is pretty frustrating, especially in Monday's ep.

Finally, like I said last week, the buildup to the Nuke in NYC has been kind of boring. Everyone could see that Sylar would absorb Ted's powers and go on to try to become a human bomb, so everything leading up to that just becomes a matter of aligning the chess pieces so that our Heroes are all in place for their big "Save the World" finale. They could have thrown in some clever twists to counter our expectations, but instead everything pretty much just proceeded as we were led to believe it would, with character bumping into each other seemingly at random in order to set things up for the finale. The Mexican standoff between Mohinder, HRG, and Professor X, I mean, Molly - was similarly contrived with no real logic as to why all these guns were being waved around.

Of course, I do have to give props to Malcolm McDowell, one of the greats, as always doing a nice job as Linderman. I was shocked to see DL lobotomize him in such gruesome fashion though - kind of excessively violent for a show like this, in a way.

So yeah, I'm excited for next week's finale, and enjoyed this ep primarily for the awesomeness that Takei brought to the table alongside Hiro and Ando, who once again gave this episode its only real moments of heart and soul. Still, I just don't like the feeling that I'm watching a show simply spin its wheels to get from Point A to Point B, without this progression coming via the depth of the characters and the cleverness of the story.

My Grade: B+

- Alright - leave your Gilmore love here as well as any other thoughts. And also, congrats to the Jazz - but, please let the Suns beat the Spurs though, who wants to see a Jazz vs. Spurs Western conference final?