But sketch comedy shows are the exception. Something about the holidays brings out the best -- and frequently the most acerbic -- in comedians, which is why I'm actually excited to watch the 'This Hour Has 22 Minutes' holiday special (CBC on December 13 at 8PM). As cast member Mark Critch explains, "Christmas is about being together as a family even if the family hates each other. There's a slow build from forgetting to put out your sister's potato salad to your father yelling, 'I drink because I hate you!'"
Over the six seasons I've been watching 'Dexter,' I have at times been frustrated that the show insists, season after season, on setting our man up with a double -- a partner, a lover, an enemy. Like other fans, I've bemoaned the predictability of it. But on the other hand, there is something to be said for a show that consistently tackles the fascinating idea of how others affect our view of ourselves.
With that said, let me begin.
The premise of 'I Hate My Teenage Daughter' is this: two moms -- best friends -- were nerds growing up, and they spoil their daughters in an attempt to provide them with the perfect youth they didn't have. Instead, they've raised monsters. The show gets going when both women are called into school because their daughters have locked a wheelchair-bound fellow student in the bathroom.
For once, the rule of ratings has worked out in our favor as NBC managed to convince the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to invite Ricky Gervais back to host the Golden Globes in 2012, for what will be his third and -- he says final -- time. Last year, Gervais ridiculed Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp and the then-president of the HFPA. But he also managed to improve the ratings over the previous year by 2 million viewers, for a total of 16.9 million viewers. The controversial show also made a huge impact on Twitter, where for 34 hours Golden-Globes-related hash tags were in the top 10.
But series star Zooey Deschanel has become a bit of a lightning rod for pop culture criticism and I'm always curious to know how others are interpreting what I see as 22 minutes of light entertainment. Sometimes seeing fiction through an insistently critical lens can ruin all the fun, but with 'New Girl,' the ideas being tossed around by writers at blogs like Jezebel make the show that much more interesting. Here's a quick guide to some of the themes the show is exploring, and how they're being discussed by critics.
It would be really unfair to say that CBC's skating-with-the-stars show 'Battle of the Blades' is failing -- yet that's the word I'm hearing about the show from fellow critics. Unfair because the show is still one the highest-rated on the network, and it's not the CBC show in the worst shape (almost every returning CBC show has fewer viewers this season). But 'BoB's diminishing returns most Sunday nights is worrying, and it's not like the CBC is having an easy time in other quarters: massive budget cuts, vaguely threatening remarks from Conservative politicians and ominous 'Save the CBC' petitions give one the impression the network is under siege.
It's always tempting at this time of year to look for patterns where perhaps none exist. With four confirmed cancellations ('Charlie's Angels,' 'The Playboy Club,' 'How to be a Gentleman' and 'Free Agents') and several on-the-bubble new shows ('Pan Am,' 'Prime Suspect,' 'Body of Proof'), the only real theme (besides being awful) is a tendency to take themselves too seriously. I do take some satisfaction from seeing all the nostalgia shows die an early death. Apparently the one thing 'The Playboy Club' team didn't look up about 'Mad Men' were the ratings -- a couple million viewers. It was also the only thing they were able to duplicate.
Quietly growing its audience from week to week, this reality series is surprisingly effective considering the tools in its arsenal are pretty familiar. It retells scary and unexplained stories using a mixture of reenactments, interviews with actual people, archival audio and video and lots of spooky sound and lighting effects. So basically, things 'America's Most Wanted' wasn't doing. But the show transcends the sum of its parts, and I think it comes down to great writing and great casting.
I had to pull out my zombie pillow within the first ten minutes of the season two opener of AMC's 'The Walking Dead' this past Sunday. What, you don't have a zombie pillow? Allow me to explain. It's large enough that when held tightly in your arms at waist level, the top edge is about eye level, where it can easily be shifted into a view-blocking position in times of particular stress. If your zombie pillow can be made to smell like vanilla or warm pie through the miracle of scented oils or room sprays, so much the better.
I hear Rosie O'Donnell has leagues of devoted fans, but I've never met one. I hope for Oprah Winfrey's sake that she asked her staff to produce evidence of these throngs of Rosie-lovers before she gave Rosie five live hours per week on her network.
Me, I never had very strong feelings about O'Donnell, at least not while she was enjoying her reign as the Queen of Nice. I admit I enjoyed the schadenfreude of her unmasking as not-that-nice, not-that-beloved and definitely not-that-into Tom Cruise, but the truth is I didn't pay her much attention. It was only in researching her recent history that I discovered just how many accusations of breach of contract and unprofessional behavior she leaves in her wake as she joins the OWN team.
I actually warmed to the show on second viewing, but I was overwhelmed by the number of details included that seemed to contradict each other, or just confuse the issues. Besides the bone structure and eating habits of the local dinos, I wonder how much the writers really know about the monster they've created. Here are some things about 'Terra Nova' that just aren't sitting right.
The highlight of the fall premiere season for me so far is 'Ringer' - and I'm so glad. I wanted to like it and was worried I wouldn't, but the pilot impressed me. I like the film noir feel, the fantastic cinematography and the (admittedly plot-heavy) set-up for a cracking good thriller. Like so many others, I loved Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy, but I've been underwhelmed by her film roles, and began to doubt if she could anchor anything without Joss Whedon's writing to guide her.
But it turns out she's perfectly cast as a recovering addict who is exhausted and run-down, but still has glimmers of spunk. Gellar's Bridget is a nice person, but weak. She doesn't make choices so much as she lets circumstances wash over her. It's frustrating to watch, and she's not the easiest character to sympathize with.
Maybe I've become complacent as medicine has progressed and diseases that used to be terrifying -- cancer, AIDS -- have become survivable. Even though actor Andy Whitfield had, for a second time, bowed out of his lead role in 'Spartacus: Blood and Sand' to fight non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, it never crossed my mind that he would die at 39. Too young, too fit, too strong. I think of a lot of TV fans were shocked.
The first time Whitfield left the show, the series went to a short-run prequel focused on different characters. When it became clear Whitfield couldn't take up the mantle of Spartacus again, the role was recast and the series was set to return for a second season in January 2012.
I keep expecting this whole 'Eddie Murphy hosts the Oscars' thing to be a faulty meme, but now that the news is confirmed, I guess I'll have to come to grips with it. Okay -- done. After all, Murphy is one of the highest-grossing movie stars of all time, can be very very funny, and has proven he can still be funny without using swears ('Shrek'). He has been nominated for "The Statue." (And who can hold it against him if he left the theater shortly after he lost it to Alan Arkin?)
Truth is, the most shocking thing about this whole whirlwind of a story is that Brett Ratner is co-producing the Oscars. Has the Academy looked at his resume lately? What am I saying? These are the same people who thought James Franco and Anne Hathaway were the answer to their problems.
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