2010 Year End TV Review: Scott Malchus

2010 was another great year of television, despite the fact that most of the new fall network shows were forgettable. While the big four seem to have a handle on coming up with new comedies, they still can’t develop innovative dramas to compete with the cable channels. Fox made an attempt with their excellent “Lone Star,” but viewers stayed away and the series was quickly cancelled (despite support from the network president). With Lost leaving the airwaves, it seems that if you want to watch something other than a procedural, you’ll have to tune to AMC, FX or HBO. That’s not to say that there aren’t some great cop, lawyer or medical shows (“The Good Wife” immediately jumps to mind), but the TV landscape is wide open enough that stories about all walks of life should be able to survive.

Best Drama: Friday Night Lights (Direct TV/NBC)

There was a lot of great drama on television this year (“Southland” was exceptional, “Lost” went out in glorious fashion, “Men of a Certain Age” was moving and effective), but I would be remiss if I didn’t place “FNL” at the top of my list, just where it has been since the show premiered in 2006. It’s hard to believe that this will be its last season. No other show has me cheering and laughing and crying week in and week out. Even during the cringe worthy moments (Julie’s affair with the TA) I can’t bring myself to raise the remote and fast forward through them. I’ve stated time and again on Popdose that this show is the most realistic portrayal of small town life I’ve ever seen on television, with beautifully written and acted characters, smart direction, and perfect music selections to create the mood of each scene (not to mention W.G. Snuffy’s poignant score). I love the Taylors; I love the community of Dillon, Texas; and I love Friday Night Lights.

Best Comedy: Modern Family (ABC)

A tough category. There are so many strong comedies on television right now, including NBC’s Thursday night lineup and ABC’s Wednesday shows. Of all of them, “Modern Family” makes me laugh the hardest; so hard that my wife and I have to rewind to hear the second and third jokes of each scene. With a great cast and insightful writing, “Modern Family” is a modern classic.

Best Reality: The Biggest Loser (NBC)

I generally hate reality shows on network television, however there is something truly inspiring about “The Biggest Loser” that grabs me every week. Here is a series about people seriously having to take back their lives otherwise they could die. The money at the end never seems to be as important as the health benefits they receive. Unlike most of the reality competitions shows, the inspiration that comes from watching “The Biggest Loser” occurs from watching every contestant, not just a select few. Obesity has overtaken our country and the men and women of “The Biggest Loser” prove that you can take back your life and that you are in control of it.

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2010: A Look Back at a Lot of Interviews

At the end of 2009, I took a look back at 100 interviews I’d done over the course of the year, and it was exhausting…not only for me, but possibly also for you, the reader. Oh, I still think it was a heck of a piece, but I believe I made a mistake by numbering them. I mean, you get about 20 – 25 into the proceedings, and it’s, like, “Oh, geez, I’ve still got 75 left to go? Screw this, I’m out of here.” So this time, I’m not going to tell you how many quotes are in the piece. I’ll just say that I talked to a lot of really funny, fascinating, and decidedly forthright people during the course of 2010, and I’ll let you dive in. Hope you enjoy the chance to reminisce as much I did, and here’s to a great 2011 for us all!

Big Shots at the Box Office

“I was in Australia, touring with my films and live show, and I got an E-mail from my agent, saying that there was interest in me for Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ I thought, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’ I thought it would be for a day or two, maybe a few days or something, and I would’ve been very happy to do that. But then the offer came in, and it was for virtually the entire run of the film. I didn’t even know what part it was for, so I asked my agent, and he said it was for the Knave of Hearts. So I looked up the Knave of Hearts in the original book online and…it didn’t really seem like a character that would require the run of the film. I thought, ‘Something must be different.’ And then I got the actual screenplay, and it was extremely different. I could see that it was written as a sequel. But it was a great part, and I was ecstatic to be in it…and I’m still ecstatic to be in it!” – Crispin Glover, Alice in Wonderland

“They called my agent and said they were auditioning for (‘Inception’), so I flew myself back, I read for Chris (Nolan) once, and I left. I think it was later that day that I heard from my agent, saying, ‘They’ve cut everyone except you. Now, they’re going to go to London to see some people, and then we’ll know more after that. So don’t get your hopes up, but…this is great!’ Then I came back and read again, and I got the job. And then, as you might expect, I freaked out completely.” – Dileep Rao, Inception

“I was actually down at my ranch in South Texas, and my guys called me and said, ‘Hey, we’re trying to get you a meeting with Sylvester Stallone. He’s casting a movie called ‘The Expendables.’’ Several months went by, and he’d already cast ‘The Expendables,’ but he still wanted to meet me for potentially playing the part of Dan Paine. So I went in to meet Sly, it was the first time I’d ever met him, and I’m a huge fan. I remember watching ‘Rocky’ back in ’76 or whenever it was, then getting up the next morning, drinking eggs, and running down the street…and now here I am meeting with this guy!” – Steve Austin, The Expendables

“I was privileged and honored to work side by side with Sly (Stallone in ‘The Expendables’). Most of my scenes take place with him, and I’m telling you, man, he took me under his wing, and it was a brilliant thing. I don’t know what else to say. ‘Rocky,’ ‘Rambo,’ just everything he’s done is iconic, and it wasn’t lost on me. I love the man, and I can’t wait to do another one, ‘cause Sly’s the king of the sequels…and in my whole career, I’ve never done a sequel to any one of my projects. So I’m, like, ‘Sly, I’m ready for ‘Expendables 2,’ okay?'” – Terry Crews, The Expendables

“Jessica (Pare) was just about to disrobe…we were in the (hot) tub…and they were, like, ‘Ready!’ And she took off whatever was covering her in the tub. And somebody asked the boom guy a question just as she was disrobing, and all he could say was, ‘Yesssssss…’ He could only whisper. I didn’t make a joke about it, though. I was just, like, ‘Okay, Craig, keep it cool, keep it together…’” – Craig Robinson, Hot Tub Time Machine

“I made the mistake of using one term loosely and saying (filming in 3D) was a tedious process, and somebody made it sound really bad. The bottom line is that it took a little longer, and the one that suffered more than anybody was (director Kevin Greutert) and the camera guy, because they have to get it right. You know, calibration and being specific with lights and all that stuff. For me, it was a good excuse to go play with the crew that wasn’t on set and crack a couple of jokes, so I got to socialize a little bit more.” – Costas Mandylor, Saw 3D

“Usually, when you’re coming in completely blind with who you’re working with, you don’t know if you’re going to get along, nor do some people put the time in to try to get along. We were all in Pittsburgh, and we did do, like, two weeks of rehearsal before we started shooting (‘She’s Out of My League’), and in those two weeks, we hung out a lot…and, luckily, it went good rather than bad. Because sometimes it’s just awful, and you’re going, ‘I can’t stand that guy!’ So we were lucky. I know a lot of people always say this when they come off work, because they’re kind of trained to say it, but with this one, we all really got along, and I think that’s what helps our chemistry on screen so much: we thought each other were funny, we even liked to hang out afterward, and that played well. ” – Nate Torrence, She’s Out of My League

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Fox: What’s New for Fall 2010

MONDAY

Lone Star (Mon., Sept. 20 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly” (CBS), “The Event” (NBC), “Gossip Girl” (The CW)

Starring: James Wolk, Adrianne Palicki, Eloise Mumford, Bryce Johnson, Mark Deklin, Jon Voight, David Keith

Producers: Christopher Keyser (“Party of Five”), Amy Lippman (“In Treatment”), Kerry Kohansky and Paul Weitz (“American Dreamz,” “Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist”)

Network’s Description: a sophisticated and provocative drama set against the sprawling backdrop of big Texas oil, about a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has entangled himself in a deep, complex web from which he can’t break free. He’s caught between two very different lives and two very different women.

The Buzz: Critically, I feel like it’s tracking higher than anything else out there, but it’s a thinking man’s show and it’s on Fox. This is traditionally not a combination that equals ratings success…or a second season.

Pilot Highlight: Ostensibly, the money shot is supposed to be when we realize that Bob has two families, but since there’s no way Fox won’t give away the premise of the show in the commercials, then it’s his reaction during a backyard barbeque when he has an abrupt attack of guilt over the hurt his actions are going to cause.

Bottom Line: It’s an intriguing premise for a drama that takes a lot of interesting turns in its first hour, which is probably why it feels way more like an FX series than a Fox series. As such, it hhasn’t much hope to make it to the end of the season, let alone beyond…and that’s a real shame, because – drum roll, please – “Lone Star” is the best drama of the season.

TUESDAY

Raising Hope (Tues., Sept. 21 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS), “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Life Unexpected” (The CW)

Starring: Lucas Neff, Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Cloris Leachman. Shannon Woodward, Skyler Stone

Producers: Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl”), Kim Hamberg (“The Middle”

Network’s Description: a sweet, offbeat comedy which follows Jimmy Chance, a well-meaning screw-up trying his best to raise his infant daughter with the help of the eccentric family who did a less-than-stellar job of raising him.

The Buzz: Not that the competition is all that strong, but most critics have pegged this as the best comedy of the season. Plus, while having Cloris Leachman in the cast isn’t quite as impressive as, say, Betty White, it ain’t half bad, either.

Pilot Highlight: The moment when Jimmy learns a very valuable lesson about his daughter’s car seat. Hand on heart, it has probably been two years since I laughed so hard at a moment in a sitcom.

Bottom Line: The ghost of “My Name Is Earl” seriously haunts the show, but the pilot has several laugh-out-loud moments, and a baby allows for a new spin on the sweet-natured white-trash comedy in which Garcia specializes.

Running Wilde (Tues., Sept. 21 @ 9:30 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS), “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Life Unexpected” (The CW)

Starring: Will Arnett, Keri Russell, Stefania Owen, Peter Serafinowicz, Robert Michael Morris, Mel Rodriguez, David Cross

Producers: Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely, (“Arrested Development”), Eric Tannenbaum and Kim Tannenbaum (“Two and a Half Men”), Peter Principato and Paul Young (“Reno 911”), Will Arnett

Network’s Description: a romantic comedy series in which a spoiled filthy rich playboy desperately tries to win the heart of his humanitarian childhood sweetheart by helping raise her 12-year-old daughter.

The Buzz: Pretty crappy the first time around, actually, and it didn’t take long for word to get back to the show’s producers. As I recall, there was some serious squirming going on when Arnett turned up to welcome critics to the Fox day of the TCA tour and asked us what we thought of it. For my part, I didn’t have to fake appreciation, as I kind of liked it…but, then, I even laughed at Arnett in “Let’s Go to Prison,” so take that opinion with a grain of salt. Still, they’ve switched things up a bit since then, adding David Cross to the mix as a recurring character, which certainly increases the show’s value for “Arrested Development” fans.

Pilot Highlight: Peter Serafinowicz successfully steals every scene he’s in (though we should probably give his horse part of the credit of that), but the moment when Arnett’s and Russell’s characters are reunited – pay attention to the music playing behind them, as it’s a payoff to an earlier joke – is both sweet and silly at the same time.

Bottom Line: Don’t get too excited about Cross’s contribution to the pilot (it plays exactly like the last-second addition that it was), but casting Arnett as a spoiled man-child of a character certainly finds him playing to his comedic strengths. “Running Wilde” isn’t going to a rash of “The ‘Arrested Development’ magic is back!” headlines, but if Hurwitz and Vallely can quickly find the balance between the sweet / silly vibe that pops up in the scenes when the Arnett / Russell relationship is the focus and the poor-little-rich-boy aspect of Arnett’s character, things could start looking up.

  

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles 2.13 – In this world, we’ve got to find the time for the (death) of Riley

So this is how the second season of “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” was supposed to end.

It’s the 13th episode, which is all they were originally supposed to make when the season began. And this is how they were going to end it…with three episodes that practically stood still. The episode fades to black with Sarah passing out from a gunshot wound, but then they follow it with scenes from the show’s second half (it relaunches in February), and we see that Sarah is very much alive. Exactly how she’s alive, I’m not sure, since she went into that warehouse by herself and didn’t tell anyone where she was. It reminds me of something someone said to my wife when she was trying to carry a bunch of luggage through the London tube station by herself: “You are either very brave, or very foolish.” Sarah’s tough, but this was just dumb.

We finally get Riley’s back story, and man, what a disappointment that was. She goes from feral street rat in the future, to undercover mark assigned to seduce John Connor, in what seems like a matter of weeks. I can see why Jesse would choose someone that doesn’t fight for the resistance (thus making it less likely any fellow Resistance members would recognize her), but surely there was someone more appropriate for the job, right? And would Riley really go from having doubts about the assignment to committing suicide in John’s bathroom? Really? We all knew that Riley was going to die sooner or later, but suicide? That’s just lazy. I would rather have seen Riley try to confess everything to John, only to have Jesse kill her before Riley could rat her out. It’s cliche, but that would have been much more tragic. As it is, John’s only take-away from this is, “Man, that Riley was a crazy bitch.” Methinks the Future John is now even more into Cameron than he was when Jesse and Riley traveled back in time in the first place.

“Hi, I’m a slightly unstable, combat-ready paranoid who sees these three dots everywhere. Oh, and I’m going to get you killed before all is said and done.”

Sarah, meanwhile, is hanging out with a cross-dressing Man Who Knows Too Much, in a blind pursuit of the three dots. She finishes her quest, of course, but not before getting both the cross-dresser and the hypno-therapist she recruits to open his mind killed in the process. Wouldn’t you have thought, after the first attempt on their lives at his/her storage facility, that Sarah would have realized that taking Abraham into the city was not a good idea? Nope. Instead, she brings him back for an “emergency” session with the clearly busy therapist. Who does that? “Excuse me, I need you to fix my car.” “Well, we’re very busy, so you’ll have to make an appointment.” “Nope. It’s an emergency.” “You heard the man, get these cars out of here and get to work on his problem.” Uh, sure.

Ellison and Cromartie/John Henry finally return, and while it has the makings of an interesting dynamic, I’ll stop short of saying that thie will actually lead to something interesting. This show has been nothing but missed opportunities, so there is no guarantee they will follow through on this one. Still, they did hint in the previews that John Henry eventually figures out that Catherine is a machine, which means that Ellison’s concern that John Henry will grow far too powerful to be controlled may will indeed come to fruition. Speaking of Catherine, she had the episode’s best line: “Cows are more powerful than humans, but I’d still rather be the farmer with the rifle.” Curious choice of phrasing, since you could argue that in her mind, we’re the cows, and she’s the farmer with the rifle. However, if the show doesn’t get its ass in gear in February, “Terminator” will be the cow, and Fox will be the farmer with the rifle.

Reports indicate that when Fox brings back “Terminator” in February, it will be moved to the Kevorkian death slot of Friday night. If that is indeed the case, this will likely serve as my last blog on the show. Thanks to everyone who read my rants (quickest way to hate a show: start blogging about it), and here’s hoping that the producers of the show finally get it right in the new year.

  

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Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles 2.12 – Sydney saved my life tonight, sugar bear

Remember the scene in “Animal House” where Pinto takes the checkout girl to the Delta Tau Chi toga party? She gets drunk, they fool around, and then she passes out right when Pinto reaches under her bra and realizes she’s artificially padded her rack with a bunch of tissue?

“Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” is the checkout girl.

The last two shows have been nothing but padding. Enough, already. If you have a story to tell, then tell it; please don’t waste our time with these episodes that completely ignore half of the cast to focus on people who will not likely be seen or heard from again. Yes, Terminators are coming back to kill people besides John, we get it. You’ve made that abundantly clear. Now for the love of Jebus, start pushing your story forward. If we’ve hung in there this long, I think we’re entitled to some kind of payoff. Lord knows, we’ve been patient.

Outside of showing “When Derek Met Jesse” in the future, the only important takeaway from this week’s episode is that John Connor is not the only savior of the resistance in the future. John might lead the resistance, but a girl named Sydney – still in the womb when tonight’s episode begins – gives the humans a huge advantage when she turns out to be immune to a biological agent the machines use to wipe out a compound. Derek and Jesse save Sydney in the future, and then her blood saves them both from dying from the virus. Cut to our present, where Derek is helping Sydney’s mother deliver her before she dies, and realizing that Sydney’s sister Lauren is the one who gave him the antidote. Sweet and surreal, yes?

And completely pointless, in the current economic climate. If the story arc at season’s end hasn’t given up a little sumpin’ sumpin’, they’re getting canned, and they’ll have no one but themselves to blame for being so prudish on the front end. Sorry, but that’s just the way society works these days. Blame Lindsay Lohan.

In fairness to the uber-conservative show runners, there is another takeaway from this episode: Cameron gets the bejeezus kicked out of her by the Triple-8 assigned to kill Sydney, and is even knocked “unconscious” at one point. They’re setting up that ‘faulty chip’ plot device, to be sure. God help them, then, if they do nothing with it in next week’s final episode of the year.

  

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