Friday, September 29, 2006

British, And Proud Of It

My colleague, Jon Heeter, who does the Bringing the Heet blog, points out that I review as many British-made shows as I do U.S.-made.

It's a fair point. But I just happen to enjoy them. And I think that quality is quality, no matter where it's produced.

Tonight is more examples of British quality. Viewers can meet the new "Doctor Who" (Sci-Fi, 8 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.) as David Tennant takes over the lead role from Chris Eccleston. Sci-Fi is showing two episodes, the special "Christmas Invasion" followed by the season premiere.

At 11 p.m., I will continue to pitch TV's best spy show in any country, "MI-5" (A&E, 11 p.m.)


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Kneel Before Zod!

Tonight marks the sixth-season premiere of the adventures of young Clark Kent, "Smallville" (CW, 8 p.m.)

One thing I've always enjoyed about Superman, in any of his film or TV adventures, is that the current project usually tips its cap to one of the previous incarnations. For example, the 1978 movie had the scene where the young Lois was riding the train with her parents when she sees the teenaged Clark outrunning the train. Lois' parents were played by Kirk Alyn and Noel Neill, the original Superman and Lois from the 1940s movies.

"Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" saw Phyllis Coates, TV's first Lois Lane, cast as Teri Hatcher's Lois' mom in an episode.

Neill, who later replaced Coates in the George Reeves' TV show, also played Lex's wife in "Superman Returns." Jack Larson, the original Jimmy Olson from that series, had a cameo as a bartender in the same film.

"Smallville" is full of actors out of Superman's past. Annette O'Toole, who plays Clark's mom, was Lana Lang in "Superman III." Terence Stamp, who played General Zod in "Superman II," provides the voice of Jor-El in the show. Superman himself, Christopher Reeve, had a memorable couple of guest appearances before his death on "Smallville" as a scientist mentor named Dr. Swann to Tom Welling's Clark. After Reeve's death, to continue that plot line, the producers cast Margot Kidder, the Lois to Reeve's Superman, as Swann's assistant Brigit. Michael Rosenbaum, "Smallville's" Lex Luthor, provided the voice of the Flash in the "Justice League" cartoons.

"Smallville" is a bit of a revisionist history of the character, combining both Golden and Silver Age mythos as well as changing some other elements from the comic book universe, but as a purist, I haven't minded much of the changes. The show started out a bit as "Buffy"-lite, but has evolved in interesting ways, especially once the character of Lois (the delightful Erica Durrance) was introduced two seasons ago.

Tonight's premiere picks up where last season ended, which General Zod back from the dead thanks to Brainiac (James Marsters) and inhabiting Lex Luthor's body. Clark has been imprisoned in the phantom zone and Metropolis lies in ruins.

The sixth season promises to have a lot of punch, with other DC heroes introduced in previous episodes such as Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash joining with Clark. Green Arrow will also be introduced this season.

OTHER HEROES: If "Smallville" hasn't given you enough of a superhero fix, NBC's "Heroes" has gotten a lot of positive buzz and good ratings in its debut this week. If you heard about the show but missed it on Monday or Tuesday, fear not. NBC's sister stations Sci-Fi is re-running the pilot on Friday at 7 p.m., while USA will re-run it Monday night at 11 p.m. (so you will have to tape episode 2 that night on NBC and watch the pilot first).

For what it's worth, a lot of people around The Telegraph's office have been talking about it the past few days, with very positive comments, so it's not just me praising the show.

THURSDAY'S BEST BET: One of last season's best, if unheralded, new shows was "Supernatural" (CW, 9 p.m.) which survived the demise of the WB. The show, which stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki, involves two brothers who chase down demons for a living, sometimes with their dad (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of "Grey's Anatomy" fame).

Last season ended with the Big Bad demon they have chased all their life possessing the body of the dad. All three were traveling in a car when it was t-boned by an 18-wheeler. Who survived? Is the demon still in charge? Tonight's premiere will hopefully answer some of those questions.

You also can't go wrong with "My Name is Earl" and "The Office" (NBC, 8-9 p.m.), TV's best hour of comedy. On "Earl," Joy has to ask for Catalina's help. It's part two of a continuing storyline that revolves around Joy's arrest last week. On "The Office," newly hired Ryan goes on a sales trip with Dwight.

Also making it's debut tonight is "Ugly Betty" (ABC, 8 p.m.), which wasn't previewed because of ABC's policy of leaving me off its screener list. No new show over the summer got more advance positive buzz than "Betty" did. Based on a popular Spanish-language soap opera and produced by Salma Hayek, it stars America Ferrera in the title role.

Oh, and based on the ads, "Survivor" (CBS, 8 p.m.) is apparently ending its social experiment/race war and merging the tribes. Someone will have to tell me how that works out for them.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Recaps vs. Re-runs

It used to be that networks would run a full season of shows, then show re-runs over the summer. This was good if you ever missed an episode, or if there was a series that got a lot of buzz the first time around that you skipped but wanted to check out later.

With the rise of great cable programming on networks like FX, however, networks can't afford to give away viewers over the summer anymore. In addition, with series now coming on DVD, networks don't want to potentially choke off a source of potential income.

So, re-runs are fewer and fewer. This is both a good and bad thing. In order to catch people up and attract the occasional new viewer, networks are doing more and more recaps, in which they boil down an entire season, or even series, into an hour-long clip show.

Fans looking to refresh themselves on "Lost" (ABC, 9 p.m.) or new viewers can check out tonight's recap of the previous two seasons. ABC did similar recaps for "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives," and other networks are getting into the act.

On the one hand, it's a good way to refresh your memory about where the last season left off; at the same time, especially with a serialized arc like "Lost," new viewers can lose a lot of the subtlety (not to mention literally hundreds of clues and red herrings) that regular viewers saw by checking out the entire series.

Still, hopefully recaps will have a more positive effect on a show than a negative one. The producers of "Battlestar Galactica" will air a recap of the previous seasons of the show before the new seasons kicks off next Friday. Hopefully, it will bring in new viewers to one of TV's best, if ratings-challenged, shows because someone jumping into the new season cold will not be able to follow what is going on.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BET: Fox has always seemed to have a history of knocking off good ideas by creating its own show with a similar theme, then airing it first. The Fox show tends to be not as good, and it kills momentum for the new series on the other network.

"Kidnapped" (NBC, 10 p.m.) is one of the best new dramas on TV, and tonight's second episode moves along at a steady pace as Knapp and the FBI look for Aubrey, Leopold's older sister who is away at college and apparently also missing. Is it part of the overall plot, or is it coincidental? That's the mystery.

"Kidnapped" had a rather lackluster debut in the ratings last week, and I attribute to the fact that Fox aired its own kidnapping show, the incredibly lame "Vanished" several weeks before "Kidnapped" premiered. I'm pretty sure people were turned off by the dense "Vanished," then saw the similar-themed-but-much-superior "Kidnapped" and decided against checking it out.

This is my main problem with serial shows. I'm intrigued to see how "Kidnapped" will work out, but I'm worried we won't get to see it finish out because of the ratings.

SPORTS ALERT: Fans of various Fox shows like "House" and "Standoff" will have to go cold turkey for the next month as my New York Mets and other teams battle in baseball's playoffs, beginning next week. On the one hand, I am eager to see my guys win their third world title; but if the unthinkable happens, it kind of sucks to have to watch the Yankees and not see any "House" until the end of October.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Accent on the Positive

Maybe it's because I'm half-English, but I've always had an ear for accents. For me, it can make or break a TV show or film if the actor can't pull off the accent he or she is trying to portray.

One of the reasons you have to love Meryl Streep is her ability to pull off accents. Gwyneth Paltrow did a great English accent in "Shakespeare in Love," but her Sloane accent in "Sliding Doors" was a bit grating. (She deserves part-credit, though, for knowing the difference.) Natalie Portman is a terrific actress, but her accent in "V for Vendetta" left a lot to be desired.

Don't even get me started on Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder in "Bram Stoker's Dracula." It makes me wonder -- couldn't Francis Coppola find English actors to fill those parts? For that matter, why is most of the principal cast of the new release "All the King's Men" -- Anthony Hopkins, Jude Law, Kate Winslet -- British?

TV has had its share of good and bad accents. James Marsters and Alexis Denisof of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" fame, both had great accents. In fact, Marsters sounds a little weird to me in his natural accent on "Smallville." On the other hand, David Boreanaz and Juliet Landau fell well short in their accent attempts on those same series.

But the best accent of all is Cote de Pablo's Israeli accent on "NCIS." (CBS, 8 p.m.) I've seen other actors try Israeli accents before -- it's a bit hit and miss in the recent movie "Munich" -- so I assumed the first time I saw de Pablo's agent Ziva David as a guest star on the show, the producers had recruited an Israeli actress. Needless to say, I was a little surprised to see that she had been born in Santiago, Chile and raised in Miami.

Not only is her Hebrew perfect, her English with the accent is as well. Even my dad, who lived in Israel for 11 years, was fooled.

"NCIS" is one of CBS' better procedurals, having a certain charm and humor that most of the many, many procedurals on the network lack. They've also shifted the dynamics of the cast recently, having Mark Harmon's lead character apparently quit. So it will be interesting to see which direction the show will go in.

TUESDAY'S BET: Notice how I left the word "best" out. I missed the pilot for the CW's new show "Runaway" Monday night on its normal slot, but tonight (CW, 9 p.m.) is a second chance for everyone who missed it. I won't have many opportunities, since it will run opposite "Heroes" -- for me, required viewing -- but the premise of Donnie Wahlberg as a fugitive who takes his family on the lam sounds interesting.

Making it's debut tonight is "Help Me Help You" (ABC, 9:30 p.m.) starring TV favorite Ted Danson as a therapist who is as screwed up as most of his patients. I'd love to have a review to tell you whether or not it was worth 30 minutes of your life, but ABC is leaving the TV Guy off their critics list, so either watch it or don't watch it.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Still heroic

I gave a positive review to "Heroes" (NBC, 9 p.m.) a couple of weeks ago, so I wanted to post a reminder to people that the pilot airs tonight.

Some critics complained the pilot took too long to get into the main story, but I disagree. The pilot ends with a neat twist that you don't see coming.

Since the review, I've seen episodes 2 and 3, and I am happy to tell you the pace picks up dramatically. We are introduced to a cop with the ability to read minds while the other characters' storylines are advanced in interesting ways. Hiro, the Japanese accountant, helps end the second episode with an absolutely inspired plot twist, while episode 3 ends with one of the neatest visuals you will see on TV for a while.

If there is one show worth comparing it to, it's "Lost" in its ability to interwine the lives of seemingly regular people, yet have a bigger story playing out in the background that will affect everyone. What's also neat is that every one of the featured characters ends up with a sidekick, all of whom playing key roles in advancing the characters' stories.

While "Studio 60" (NBC, 10 p.m.) may be the best-acted and best-written new show of the season, I actually have higher hopes in the potential of "Heroes." With "Prison Break" (Fox, 8 p.m.) going through an excellent sophomore season, Monday's may be the best night of the week for TV.

MONDAY'S BEST BET: I'm not sure this is the "best" viewing option, but "The Class" (CBS, 8 p.m.) is an interesting leadoff hitter for CBS' Monday comedy lineup.

I watched the pilot last week, and considering it came from the same people who created "Friends," it was a little uneven. It did, however, show enough potential to give it a second chance. It's not nearly as good as "How I Met Your Mother," which follows it, but "Class" may end up as a solid companion show.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Numb3rs, please

Procedurals, thy name is CBS.

NCIS. Without a Trace. Criminal Minds. CSI times three.

There's nothing wrong with procedurals. Considering in this day and age that most networks pull the plugs on shows too quickly, it's a lot easier to watch a procedural, which focuses on the case of the week, rather than a story involving a season-long, multi-episode arc, a trend in which TV seems to be turning thanks to the success of shows like "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives."

Fans of shows like "Reunion" had a mystery that was supposed to be played out over a season, only to see the show cancelled midway through.

One of my favorite procedurals is "Numb3rs" (CBS, 10 p.m.), which kicks off its third season tonight. Rob Morrow stars as Don Epps, an FBI agent who often consults his genius brother, Charlie (David Krumholtz), a math professor at a Cal Tech-like university. We often see Don and his FBI team going through conventional methods to solve a case while Charlie and his math colleagues devise various formulas to help solve it.

I always worry for writers on TV shows about ideas eventually running thin. One does wonder how much math is out there that can be applied to FBI cases (or why the real FBI doesn't have its own math genius on payroll) but so far, the show has held up pretty well.

WEEKEND"S BEST BETS: "Grey's Anatomy" fans who somehow managed to miss last night's season premiere can catch it again tonight (ABC, 8 p.m.) followed by the new Anne Heche series, "Men in Trees," which I have not seen. Apparently, it's a "Northern Exposure"-style show.

CBS has the season premieres of "Ghost Whisperer" and "Close to Home" before "Numb3rs" comes on. Sci-Fi channel wraps up its two "Stargate" series tonight as well. The pick of the night, however, is "MI-5" (A&E, 11 p.m.) which concludes its two-part premiere.

Georgia fans can catch the Dogs play Colorado Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on WGXA.

"Desperate Housewives" (ABC, Sunday, 9 p.m.) kicks off season No. 3 on Sunday, picking up six months after the events of last year's finale, in which Mike (James Denton) was run over by Orson (Kyle Maclachlan), who has proposed to Bree (Marcia Cross). Rumor has it that series creator Marc Cherry has more of a hand in the writing this season, so hopefully the show won't suffer the creative funk it went through last year.

"Brothers & Sisters" follows "DH" at 10 p.m. This ensemble drama, starring Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths and Ron Rifkin among others, has been one of the most written about during the offseason, because of various troubles the show has gone through. The pilot was completely re-shot, with Sally Field joining the cast as the show's matriarch. Marti Noxon ("Buffy"), a very talented writer and producer, was replaced and ABC has been reticent to show the revamped show to critics.

CBS airs the season debuts of "Cold Case" (9 p.m.) and "Without a Trace" (10 p.m.), following "The Amazing Race." (I'm pulling for the triathletes or the beauty queens, hate the Alabama moms and the male models).

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Grey Area

I really tried to stick with "Grey's Anatomy." I really did.

But in the end, it was just too soap opera-y for me. In the end, I heard the phrase "McDreamy" one too many times.

But I do know that some people watch it, since it gets boffo ratings. "Grey's" fans will get a treat tonight, since ABC airs a recap of last season at 8 p.m., followed by the season premiere at 9 p.m., in which Izzy deals with the consequences of Denny's death from the end of last season.

I'll be watching "My Name is Earl," (NBC, 8 p.m.), followed by "The Office" (NBC, 8:30 p.m.). I've seen the first three episodes of "Earl," which actually follow a story arc. Joy buys a $3,000 TV unit, then tries to return it to the store. Earl, who never took Joy's side in an argument when they were married, has the opportunity to cross something off his list and take Joy's side, even though she is dead wrong.

Needless to say, Joy's scheme goes awry in a big way. Prominent guest stars in the first three episodes include Burt Reynolds, Marlee Matlin and Judy Greer.

NBC didn't send me a copy of "The Office," so I can't tell you if last season's cliffhanger between Jim and Pam is resolved. By the way, go to and check Dwight's blog, written by actor Rainn Wilson in Dwight's voice.

DVD Picks of the Week: What the heck, I missed them when they came out last week, but the second seasons of both "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Office" hit the shelves last week. At this point, you either watch those shows or you don't, so it's up to you if you think they are worth the money. Dwight's Mussolini-inspired speech as salesman of the year in "The Office" alone makes that set worth the money.

TV News: For all of the hockey fans in the area, both of you can tune into TurnerSouth for 61 Thrashers games to be broadcast this season, beginning Oct. 5. JP Dellacamera returns for his third season to handle the play-by-play duties while Darren Eliot is the color man.

THURSDAY'S BEST BET: I'll be checking out "Shark" (CBS, 10 p.m.) tonight as it makes its debut. James Woods stars as a former hotshot defense lawyer now working as a district attorney for Jeri Ryan.

Plot wise, "Shark" has been compared to "House" except for its courtroom setting, in that Woods' character lacks social graces but makes up for it with professional skills.

It will be interesting to see how "Shark" stacks up against Fox's "Justice," which hasn't been bad, but is starting to come off as a bit formulaic.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

How I Didn't Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

I've never been much of a fan of post-Apocalyptic drama.

When all the other parents had to stop their kids from watching "The Day After" in 1983 because they were worried about the effect it might have on them, I already had no desire to watch anything about the world ending because of nuclear disaster. I guess being a child of the Cold War made me this way.

I've never seen any of the Mad Max movies all the way through; I've seen the original "Terminator" just once. Nightmares of futures in which the human race has nearly wiped itself out and the remaining few struggle just to survive has little appeal to me.

I had to read the book, "Alas, Babylon" in eighth grade (thanks a lot, Mr. Wong). Had a few nightmares because of that, too.

So, it was with great trepidation I tried to download the pilot of "Jericho" (CBS, 8 p.m.) off Yahoo! earlier today. A weekly drama about a midwestern coping after the rest of the world has apparently been wiped out via nuclear war was not very high on my to watch list.

What was on Yahoo! was a little misleading. I thought it was going to be the whole pilot; instead, it was selected scenes and half the time, my downloads didn't work (though the blame may lie with my work computer), so I can't really give you a positive or negative review.

Skeet Ullrich, Ashley Scott and Gerald McRaney are among the survivors in the town who now must band together after being cut off from the rest of the world. You may want to give "Jericho" a shot; me, I have enough trouble sleeping as it is.

WEDNESDAY'S BEST BET: I reviewed the pilot of "Kidnapped" a few weeks ago, and I highly recommend you catch the pilot (NBC, 10 p.m.).

Jeremy Sisto stars as a private detective who specializes in rescuing kidnapping victims. He is hired by a wealthy couple (Timothy Hutton, Dana Delaney) after their teenage son is abducted. Delroy Lindo also stars as a veteran FBI agent who ends up on the case.

The cast is first-rate and the story is well done. "Kidnapped" is much better than the similar-themed but badly done "Vanished" on Fox.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


I always enjoy movies and TV shows about heists, cons and the like. Recently, the airwaves have been filled with them.

While some, like AMC's "Hustle," have really shined, others, such as FX's "Thief," have not. I had high hopes for "Thief," in part because it starred Andre Braugher, but it really fizzled thanks to its deliberate pace and irritating characters. "Heist," an NBC show that ran at the same time, had a little bit more charm to it (and I thought a more clever crime) but didn't find an audience and ended its six-episode run with an unresolved cliffhanger.

The latest entry in crime-on-TV is "Smith" (CBS, 10 p.m.) starring big-time actors Ray Liotta (Goodfellas) and Virginia Madsen (Sideways). Liotta plays a seemingly normal guy with a wife and family who is the leader of a gang of thieves in reality. Some of Liotta's gang includes Simon Baker and Amy Smart.

I have yet to see a pilot (thanks for the DVDs, CBS) so I can't say whether or not it's worthwhile, but I will be checking out tonight's episode at least.

TUESDAY'S BEST BET: So much TV, so little time. Oscar-winner Joel Grey guest stars on tonight's "House" (Fox, 8 p.m.), which is followed by "Standoff" at 9 p.m. If you want to watch "Smith" and don't want to change the dial, CBS airs the season premieres of "NCIS" at 8 p.m., followed by "The Unit." ABC kicks off its new run of "Dancing with Stars" (8 p.m.), which I might find myself missing. "Law & Order: SVU" makes its season debut tonight (NBC, 10 p.m.) as well.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Here's To Mothers

Last week, I called "My Name Is Earl" one of the two best new sitcoms from last season.

The other one, "How I Met Your Mother," airs its season premiere tonight (CBS, 8:30 p.m.) The show revolves around a guy (voiced by Bob Saget) telling his kids in the year 2030 how he met their mother. Of course, a season has passed and we have yet to meet the mom, but that's beside the point.

The series is essentially a flashback to the present, when we see the younger version of Ted (Josh Radnor), and his quest to end up with Robin (Cobie Smulders), with whom he apparently doesn't end up with in the future.

I find the Ted-Robin relationship a little dull, especially since we already know it's been destined to fail. What makes the show really worthwhile are the supporting cast, Ted's engaged roommates Marshall and Lily (Jason Segel, Alyson Hannigan) and his best bud Barney (Neil Patrick Harris, revitalizing his career). Much like "Cheers," where the Sam-Diane and Sam-Rebecca relationships fell to second fiddle with the emergence of the supporting cast, Ted's trio of pals are worth the half-hour of viewing each week.

Tonight's episode picks up after last season's finale, in which Ted and Robin finally get together just as Lily breaks off her engagement to Marshall.

Also worth checking out is "The New Adventures of Old Christine" (CBS, 9:30 p.m.), the role that earned Julia Louis-Dreyfus a post-"Seinfeld" Emmy. Christine is a single mom trying to re-establish her life in her 40s while her ex-husband (Clark Gregg) is dating a younger woman, also named Christine (hence "new Christine).

The sitcom itself is a little pedestrian, but Louis-Dreyfus makes the most of her role and is surrounded by a good cast.

TV NEWS: USA has renewed "Psych" and "The Dead Zone" for new seasons. After a decent beginning, "Psych" dropped off each week as it tried to stretch its already thin premise. My brother is a big "Dead Zone" fan, but tells me the show has also dropped off in quality in recent years.

MONDAY'S BEST BET: The TV Gods have truly smiled on the TV Guy.

With the summer's best new show, "Life on Mars," ending last week, my Mondays at 10 p.m. were looking very open (except for the oodles of poker I play at that time).

But fall's best new show, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (NBC, 10 p.m.) makes its debut tonight. In case you didn't catch my earlier review, if you are going to watch one new show this season, make sure it's "Studio 60." Not only does it boast TV's best cast, it also has the best writing on the airwaves.

Passing the pilot DVD around the office, most of the rest of The Telegraph's staff agrees. As Webmaster Ryan Gilchrest pointed out, it's a shame that Judd Hirsch won't be back after he begins the show with 10 of the most electrifying minutes you will ever see on a TV tube. And Reel Fanatic Keith Demko pointed out that Amanda Peet stands out in this great cast as a network executive.

For me, Peet may be the true discovery of this show. I like her well enough in her movie roles, but she seems to get cast in the same parts as beautiful, somewhat icy women. In "Studio 60," Peet takes her game to another level and is likely the heart of the show to Matthew Perry and Brad Whitford's soul. Peet should be a virtual shoo-in for a Golden Globe (I'd say Emmy as well, but who the hell knows with the way they vote.)

With a huge wave of new and returning shows hitting the airwaves this week with new episodes, Mondays are a great way to start the new season.

Friday, September 15, 2006

TV's Best Spy Show

I used to love A&E when it ran shows made by the BBC. Then A&E switched over to a reality format, making series about airports and tattoo parlors and I stopped watching it.

Tonight marks the return of the best spy series on TV, "MI-5" (11 p.m., A&E) and the return of the network to quality television.

"MI-5" (named for the British intelligence service charged with domestic espionage, sort of like our NSA) is everything "24" isn't: gritty, realistic, well-acted and well-written. Whereas in "24" you have the superheroic Jack Bauer defying realism and logic as he singlehandedly defeats terrorists and L.A. traffic, "MI-5" follows a team of British agents who go deep undercover in order to root out problems facing Britain.

These agents don't shoot 100 people per episode. They don't face ridiculous plots that can't possibly happen in the real world. They don't have cell phones that can work while on a helicopter flight. Sometimes, these agents fail. Sometimes, they even die.

(I'm all for the escapist nature of TV and film, but writers have to follow the rules of willing suspension of disbelief. Characters have to stay true to a realistic nature. "24" falls well, well short of these themes.)

Tonight marks the start of Season 4, picking up with the events of the Season 3 finale, in which one of the agents sacrificed himself to save his partner. Incidentally, Season 5 of "MI-5" (or "Spooks as it's called across the pond) is starting up soon, so hopefully it will be here before too long.

"MI-5" was created by Tony Jordan, who also created "Hustle" and "Life on Mars," two of the best shows you can possibly watch, and "MI-5" is a worthy partner.

CASTING NEWS: The uber-talented Amber Benson ("Buffy, the Vampire Slayer") joins the cast of "Supernatural" in a recurring role as a vampire. (Joining her in recurring status is Linda Blair, as a cop). Benson is a multi-talented woman who is also a top-notch writer and a tremendous singer.

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: Speaking of "Buffy," the WB bids farewell to its fans with a Sunday lineup full of the pilots of some of its best series.

The pilot for "Felicity" begins at 5 p.m., followed by "Angel," "Buffy" and "Dawson's Creek." The WB goes off the air the next day, and will be replaced Monday by the CW, a hybrid of the WB and UPN.

TV's best reality show, "The Amazing Race" kicks off its 10th edition with a 90-minute special (8:30 p.m., CBS - time approximate because of football). "Race" suffered two editions ago with the ill-fated family version that turned some people off, and struggled to regain its foothold in the ratings. Now back to the familiar two-person team format, here's hoping the new night will revitalize the show.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

DVD Picks: My Name is Earl

I usually don't recommend buying sitcom DVDs. After all, how many times can you hear the same joke over and over?

But if you want to rent one, "My Name is Earl" was one of the two best freshman sitcoms from last season (the other being CBS' "How I Met Your Mother.")

Want a preview? NBC is re-running the pilot, followed by the season finale, tonight beginning at 8 p.m. The concept involves Earl (Jason Lee), a lifelong loser who suddenly buys a winning lotto ticket. But before he can claim the money, he is hit by a car and loses the ticket. While recovering, Earl watches Carson Daly on TV and learns about karma. He resolves to change his life by making up for past misdeeds, and suddenly regains the missing ticket.

Along with his dimwitted brother Randy (Ethan Suplee), Earl makes a list of all his past wrongs and resolves to fix them, one at a time. Sometimes he is aided, but more often opposed, by his scheming ex-wife Joy (Jaime Pressly, in a star-making role). Eddie Steeples and Nadine Velazquez round out a good cast.

Though the plotting of "Earl" can seem a little repetitve, and you wonder how much juice the writers can get out of the concept, the sheer charm of the actors makes "Earl" a worthwhile lead-in to TV's best sitcom, "The Office."

THURSDAY'S PICK: I admit, I haven't watched "Survivor" (8 p.m., CBS) since its second season, and I don't intend to watch it tonight. But the promise of setting race relations back a half-century in this country might make others tune it. This time around, the tribes are broken up into four different ethnic groups who compete against each other for the prize money.

Of all the clever ideas in the world, this isn't one of them.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A Neat Quiz

I found this in Wednesday's Telegraph and took it.

You answer a survey of questions and the computer calculates your answers and tells you which "Star Trek" character you are most like.

Me? Sadly, I graded out at 95 percent at being a redshirt -- one of the no-name security guys who beams down to the planet with Capt. Kirk and gets killed in the opening teaser. I would point out that in second place, at 70 percent, I was Capt. Picard.

What are you? An android? A singing communications officer?


Lifetime is re-airing "The Fantasia Barrino Story: Life is not a fairy tale" (9 p.m.) Somehow, I managed to miss this gem the first time around, and I will be missing it tonight.

I'm going to take a wild guess and say that since Fantasia is producing and starring in her own life story, it likely won't be a dispassionate, even-handed look at her life. Just guessing here. I mean, seriously, you have to wonder about your own biopic with you as the star. (I'm sure the Phillip Ramati Story will star Brad Pitt.)

I never watch "American Idol," so I can't say honestly if Fantasia deserved to win, though everyone seemed to jump on her bandwagon. I did, however, very unfortunately, catch her rendition of the National Anthem at baseball's all-star game that year. Now, being a professional sports writer for 12 years, I have heard more than my fair share of anthems.

Fantasia was the worst. Bar none. No one was even close. (Yes, I've heard the Roseanne Barr and Carl Lewis renditions, but the difference is, they weren't professional singers and they weren't even trying). Fantasia approached it like a performance, and my ears bled. For a brief moment, I actually envied the deaf.

So, please, watch something else tonight.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 TV

By now, if you saw the first half of ABC's "Path to 9/11" on Sunday, you'll know more about the documentary than I do. You'll know whether or not the controversy surrounding this show, whether facts have been distorted, has any merit.

The problem with any historical event that has been dramatized is inevitably the need for the writers and directors to make it "more dramatic." This often leads to a distortion of events. Of course, if the producers of these movies wanted it to be a documentary of what happened, not a drama, then they would make a documentary.

ABC has already made several cuts and changes to the film over the weekend after former Clinton administration officials protested how certain events were portrayed. The fact that ABC seems to be defending the film by calling it a dramatization doesn't say a lot for the film's content, at least for me.

Part 2 of "Path" will actually be interrupted by Pres. Bush's speech at 9 p.m., then continue, according to TV Guide. Other programs dealing with 9/11 themes include "Dateline" (8 p.m., NBC), which deals with Flight 93; "Primetime" (10 p.m., ABC - time may vary because of the Bush speech), which reports on where we are five years later; "America Rebuilds II" (9 p.m., PBS), a return to Ground Zero; and "Countdown to Ground Zero," (10 p.m., The History Channel).

MONDAY'S BEST BET: If you haven't taken my advice and watched the coolest show of the summer, "Life on Mars" (10 p.m., BBC-America), then you really shouldn't even be reading this blog. Tonight is the season finale, in which time-lost (or insane, or comatose) detective Sam Tyler investigates his father's link to crimes in 1973.

SUPERMAN LIVES: I try to leave the movie stuff to my Reel Fanatic colleague, Keith Demko, but I'm going to cheat a little bit and recommend "Hollywoodland," about the death of TV Superman actor George Reeves. A terrific cast (Adrien Brody, Bob Hoskins, the always wonderful Diane Lane — God, I love her — and Ben Affleck in his finest role in years) examines the many theories behind Reeves' supposed suicide. The movie has drawn criticism for not doing more than offering theories to the crime, but really, since the case has never been solved to anyone's satisfaction, what conclusions can really be drawn?

Friday, September 08, 2006

A Worthless Plea

Since this plea will fall on deaf ears anyway, I'm not sure the point of writing it, but here it goes:

Please, ESPN, stop the multi-shot screens you debuted Monday night in the Florida State-Miami game. It's bad enough hearing Colin Cowherd on a TV broadcast, but watching nine different frames on one screen was just irritating.

Is it too much to ask that Saturday's Georgia-South Carolina broadcast (7:45 p.m., ESPN) have relatively normal camera angles to go with your mediocre broadcasters?

The "entertainment" comes before the "sports" in the ESPN letters, but the worldwide leader seems to fall short in both areas in most of its aspects over recent years.

WEEKEND'S BEST BET: Sunday marks the debut of the 18th season of "The Simpsons," one of TV's all-time great comedies. In the opener, Lisa befriends mobster Fat Tony's son. When Fat Tony is shot, Homer assumes control of the crime family.

To give you an idea of how old I am, I remember the minute-long Simpsons cartoons from "The Tracy Ullman Show" when they were first broadcast.

Though in recent years the show hasn't been nearly as sharp as it was during its first decade or so, 70 percent of the Simpsons is usually better than most shows at 100 percent.

My favorite episode? When Homer joins the company softball team, only to have the team replaced by a bunch of Major League all-stars for the big game.

My favorite bit of dialogue? From the monorail episode:

Marge: I've brought someone to help.
Homer: Is it Batman?
Marge: No, it's a scientist.
Homer: Batman's a scientist.
Marge: It's not Batman!

Feel free to respond with your favorite "Simpsons" episodes and scenes.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

DVD Picks: Finding "Lost"

This week's pick was pretty easy.

I've never been a fan of the phrase "post-modern." To me, it's always been one of those non-sensical, pseudo-intellectual phrases that one usually drops into conversations at parties to make one sound cool.

But if there was an example of a post-modern TV show, "Lost" would be it. It's a series that can't be appreciated with just its weekly viewing Wednesday nights. The Internet sites — both those produced by ABC in relation to the show and those created by fans — and multiple viewings either through reruns, downloads, and now DVD, is practically essential to appreciate fully what the writers pack into each episode.

One can view "Lost" once a week and enjoy the series, but odds are a lot of key clues and visual moments are missed. This isn't an episode of something like "CSI," in which what you see is what you get during the initial viewing.

So for "Lost" fans or those trying to catch up with one of TV's best series, Tuesday's DVD release of Season 2 comes at a perfect time with the Season 3 premiere rapidly approaching. The DVD set contains seven discs, with the final one being mostly extras.

Season 2 was full of hits and misses. You have to admire the way the show's producers took chances, introducing new characters and continuing to extend the show's mythology. My lone concern is that "Lost" will go the route of the "X-Files" in which the mythology collapsed under its own weight because the writers tried to continue to raise questions and throw in twists without ever solving the show's initial questions.

It's possible "Lost" may go that route, but right now it remains pretty flexible in terms of what it is doing. The producers introduced new characters, some of whom were terrific and stuck (Mr. Eko, Desmond) and some of whom didn't (Ana Lucia, Libby). Characters that had outlived their usefulness (Boone, Shannon, Michael) found their way off the island one way or another. What's left are some of the deepest-drawn characters on TV.

FRAK-TASTIC: If you can't wait a month for the season premiere of "Battlestar Galactica" (and I sure can't), you can tide your appetite with "webisodes" of the series produced specifically for Series regulars appear in these 4-minute installments that bridge the gap between last season's cliffhanger finale and this season's opener.

Like the "Lost" DVD, it isn't essential viewing in terms of keeping pace with what is going on, but it certainly enhances the experience.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Heroic Effort

There were three new series I was really looking forward to this season: ABC's "The Nine" and NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" and "Heroes."

I've already reviewed "Studio 60," which is TV's best new show, and ABC has neglected to send me any press materials whatsoever despite the very nice e-mail I sent them (beware, I have a long memory, ABC).

That leaves "Heroes," which I viewed over the weekend. The result? Not quite as good as I expected, but not bad, either.

"Heroes" follows several people around the planet, all of whom seem to be developing unique powers and abilities. A high school cheerleader in Texas (Hayden Panettiere) is seemingly invulnerable to all forms of harm, a fact which she documents on video camera with repeated suicide attempts; a Vegas stripper (Ali Larter) talks to herself in reflective surfaces and seems to possess telekinetic abilities; a nurse (Milo Ventimiglia) has visions that he can fly, and tries to convince his politician brother (Adrian Padsar); a drug-addicted artist (Santiago Cabrera) paints visions of the future; a Tokyo programmer (Masi Oka) can bend the space-time continuum to his will and teleport himself anywhere.

Meanwhile, an Indian professor (Sendhil Ramamurthy) is tracking the phenomenon of people with super abilities when he learns his father may have been murdered for similar work.

"Heroes" carried a rather darker tone to it than I thought it would, with the exception of Hiro, the Japanese programmer. He's sort of the ultimate comic book geek and is a lot of fun.

The pacing of "Heroes" is a little slower than I would have liked, but the producers are taking their time in building up the background of the characters. The pilot does contain two clever twists at the end, and we slowly see the connections between the characters.

"Heroes" has been compared to both "X-Men" and "The 4400" in terms of theme. It's similar in the sense that everyone has a different power and struggles to use it correctly. But "X-Men" was about using powers correctly and working within a group. "The 4400" is a little closer comparison, in that both shows talk of an impending disaster that only the super-people can stop. "The 4400," however, is told mostly from the point of view of the Federal agents assigned to police these beings. "Heroes" is only from perspective of the people directly involved with having powers.

The pilot of "Heroes" was a bit underwhelming, but the series shows tremendous potential and is worth a second look.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

House Calls

Sorry about the lag in posts, but between the holiday, a sick dog and many, many hands of poker, I was a little bit occupied.

Tonight marks the third season premiere of one of the best shows on TV, "House" (8 p.m., Fox). Viewers who watched last season's finale may remember that our anti-hero, Dr. Greg House (Hugh Laurie) was shot by the disgruntled husband of a former patient. Most of the episode takes place as an illusion in House's head, and it ends with him being wheeled into an operating room.

Tonight's opener takes place about two months later, with a very different House undergoing both physical and emotional changes. Or has he? Not only has House been saved from the bullets, but his chronic leg problems and the constant pain that goes with it seems to be cured. A healthy, pain-free House also seems to mean a less grouchy, possibly kinder House. But are these changes permanent? House's colleagues struggle with the answer as House tackles two cases revolving around the use of a patient's legs.

I've watched Laurie for years, from his appearances as a twit in "Blackadder" to his unbelievably accurate portrayal of Bertie Wooster in the BBC adaptation of the P.G. Wodehouse "Jeeves" books years ago. He shifts gears really well to drama in "House," yet still manages to maintain a comic twinkle in his eye. Laurie's omission from this year's Emmys was among the biggest crimes on that farce of an awards show, and the supporting cast on "House" complements him perfectly.

TUESDAY'S BEST BET: I admit up front, I've never been a fan of "Nip/Tuck" but I know it has its own devoted following. Tonight is the season opener (10 p.m., FX) and I feel obligated to promote "Rescue Me's" former timeslot.

Viewers may also want to check out "Standoff" (9 p.m., Fox), a series I reviewed earlier but makes its debut tonight. The plot of the pilot wasn't especially realistic, but the chemistry between the two leads (Ron Livingston, Rosemarie DeWitt) is outstanding. It's very similar to another Fox show, "Bones," in that respect, where you watch more for the interaction between the leads than the case of the week.

TIME TO TUNE IN: Tonight marks the single-most important broadcast in the history of network television news, possibly the most important broadcast in the history of television itself. It's possibly the most important event in the history of the world.

I speak, of course, of Katie Couric's debut as anchor of the CBS Evening News (6:30 p.m.) If I seem to be over-hyping this, well, I can't be doing any worse job than EVERY SINGLE OTHER MEDIA OUTLET IN THE FREE WORLD, which has done nothing but promote this ever since Couric signed on the dotted line for her $15 million payday.

My question is, who cares? And I don't mean to single Couric out, because when was the last time network TV news was significant? People keep harping about the death of newspapers, but as a print journalist, I can point out that we still the most accurate and detailed account of things. Yet pundits and Wall Street keep telling the world newspapers are dying.

Yet, in the age of the Internet and 24-hour news networks (the things supposedly killing newspapers), how useful is it to have a half-hour news broadcast that no one watches for content any more? Surely that $15 million for Couric (and the millions given to anchors on the other networks) to sit and read headlines off prompters to news that most people have already heard could be better spent.

So, good luck and good night, Katie and CBS. Much like the rest of America, I could really care less.

Friday, September 01, 2006


"The Apprentice," which has already been taking hits in the ratings over its past few installments, lost one of its best elements Thursday.

Carolyn Kepcher, my favorite of Donald Trump's right-hand people, was fired from his company this week. Carolyn was sharp and witty, and it was usually priceless to see her reaction to some of the more misguided attempts of various candidates.

Carolyn's best moment came when she dressed down one female candidate a few seasons ago after the woman tried to augment her street-corner promotion by -- I don't kid here -- flashing her g-string to customers by lifting her miniskirt. After Carolyn, who probably has encountered her fair share of glass ceilings along the way, demolished the contestant in the boardroom, there wasn't much left for Trump to fire.

I'm not sure what office politics led to her departure, though one tabloid reported that she was self-promoting too much based on her success from "The Apprentice." Personally, I just don't think Trump likes anyone being more popular than him. What it means is Trump's kids, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, will now get more air time as his right-hand men. Neither offspring adds much to the boardroom sessions.

Carolyn, you will be missed.

RETRO-EFFECTS: CBS announced this week that it will digitally remaster "Star Trek" in honor of the series' 40th anniversary. Included in this is new CGI effects and sharper images and sound.

Please, please, please, Hollywood, stop doing this crap. We didn't want colorized movies from Ted Turner in which Humphrey Bogart's skin tones came out orange, we didn't want 17 versions of "Star Wars" so George Lucas could add that one extra shot of a stormtrooper dying in some scene, and we don't want this.

Part of "Star Trek's" charm is the cheesy effects from the 1960s. The special effects were much better in all of the "Star Trek" spinoffs, which is how it should be. CGI technology was developed in the 1990s and lousy effects wouldn't have been tolerated on one of the spinoffs.

By the way, "Star Trek" debuts on TVLand next Friday with a mini-marathon of four episodes: ‘‘The Man Trap,’’ ‘‘City on the Edge of Forever,’’ ‘‘The Trouble With Tribbles’’ and ‘‘Plato’s Stepchildren.’’

ONE MORE DVD: Something that should have been added to Thursday's post for DVD picks is season one of "Hustle," one of the best shows airing on TV. Co-produced by the BBC and AMC, it follows the adventures of a team of five con artists and the various heists they pull.

Much like the remake of "Ocean's 11," the series has charm, wit and excitement, without suffering the lameness of "Ocean's 12."

WEEKEND'S BEST BETS: Sean Bean ("Lord of the Rings") reprises his role of British soldier Richard Sharpe in "Sharpe's Challenge" (Saturday and Sunday, 9 p.m., BBC-America), the first new TV movie involving the character in nine years.

Sharpe is based on the books by historical novelist Bernard Cornwell, and BBC-America has been re-airing the previous installments periodically. This time around, Sharpe, a British officer during the Napoleanic wars, is stationed in India.

Fans of the excellent A&E series based on the Horatio Hornblower novels (back when A&E was actually airing quality TV, not the reality junk it shows now) should enjoy this.

If British historical dramas aren't your thing (and why not?!?) college football has kicked off this week and the most anticipated game on the slate is Notre Dame at Georgia Tech (Sat., 8 p.m., ABC). For Tech fans, it will be an opportunity to see the No. 2 ranked Irish and their Heisman candidate quarterback Brady Quinn. Georgia fans can watch the Dogs battle Western Kentucky (Sat., 12:30, Fox-24) and will have the opportunity to see Tech stomped by the Irish and their Heisman candidate quarterback Brady Quinn.