Mess With Texas

The first casualty of the 2010-2011 network television season is Fox’s Lone Star.

Critics loved the hour-long drama about a double-life-leading con man (that seems redundant, no?), but viewers didn’t show up. Its first episode only pulled a 1.3 in the demo, and its second episode drew even fewer viewers.

I was one of only 8 entrants in the Ted Marshall Open to have put Lone Star on my TV Death Pool list. Why did I choose it? Simple. It’s a show about a guy from Texas… but look at that belt buckle.

With As The World Turns wrapped and Lone Star killed, yours truly is currently leading the TM Open.

Review: ‘Outlaw’ on NBC

Jimmy Smits in NBC's Outlaw

It pains me to say this as a fan of Victor Sifuentes and President Santos, but the new Jimmy Smits drama Outlaw could be the worst new show of the 2010-11 TV season. In this NBC series, Smits plays the most conservative jurist on the Supreme Court, who has a crisis of conscience after the death of his liberal civil rights activist father and quits the court to represent the wrongly convicted downtrodden.

The pilot asks you to accept all of the following as possible:

  1. A Supreme Court justice in his 50s would believe he could do more good as a defense lawyer in private practice.
  2. A Supreme Court justice can be blackmailed using a threat of impeachment by senators.
  3. Gambling and womanizing are sufficient grounds for impeachment.
  4. Supreme Court clerks would quit the best job in the country for a young lawyer to follow a justice who quit.

I couldn’t take any more and bailed on the show only 30 minutes into the first hour, believing I could do more good elsewhere. Washington Post critic Hank Steuver writes, “The show is so ludicrously dumb that your eyeballs will hurt from rolling so much.”

Slightly under 25% of the players in the TV death pool have picked Outlaw. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.

Mad Men: ‘The Summer Man’

Alan Sepinwall on Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, The Summer Man:

Peggy respects Joan, and has always wanted Joan to like her, and in telling off and then firing Joey, she’s doing what she thinks is right, but clearly also something that she thinks might please Joan. … Had she gone to Joan instead of Don (or gone to both), Joan would have shut it down. It’s interesting, though, to see how Joan carries herself while she explains her reasoning in the elevator, because I do think Joan has come to both like and respect Peggy, even if their approaches and goals are different. The season one version of that lecture would have been cruel; here it was blunt but polite, and Joan’s not insincere when she wishes Peggy a good weekend.

Sepinwall’s got a strong handle on this show, but here he completely goes off the road, bursts through the guardrails and plunges into the ravine. When Joan wished Peggy a good weekend, it was only seconds after calling her a “humorless bitch.” It wasn’t remotely polite.

I’m enjoying the current season, but I find it tougher to love the series when Don and Joan — the two coolest characters — can’t find their mojo. Freed from Betty’s soul-sucking unhappiness, Don’s burying himself in the bottle and striking out with attractive young women who are biding their time until the sexual revolution. He’s been looking like a sad sack who won’t be able to handle a less tailored decade. Soon to be freed from Doctor Daterape, Joan is being treated like an old matron and a third wheel at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, when she used to be the person in the office who secretly held all the power.

I’d like these two to still be at the top of their game a while longer before sideburns and go-go boots come along.

Review: ‘Nikita’ on The CW

Maggie Q as Nikita on The CW

The new action series Nikita, based on the 1990 French film Le Femme Nikita, premiered Thursday night on The CW. It’s the second series based on the film, following a syndicated Canadian TV series that aired from 1997 to 2001. This time around, Maggie Q plays Nikita, Shane West plays her handler, Lyndsy Fonseca plays her protege and the secret government agency is called Division instead of Operations.

There have been a lot of shows in which model-thin women kick ass, going back to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and continuing through Alias, Dollhouse and Covert Affairs. Maggie Q, the Honolulu-born actress who plays Nikita, is 5-foot-6 and 103 pounds. If she was a boxer, she’d be classed as a strawweight or mini flyweight. This does not stop her from taking down wave after wave of burly male assassins in hand-to-hand combat. Once in the pilot, she does it in an evening gown and heels. The male operatives always work in packs, so it ought to be possible to simply rush her as a group and use their considerable size advantage. Fortunately for Nikita, this does not occur to them and they attack one at a time like the bad guys in a kung fu movie.

The pilot of the series doesn’t waste much time setting up the story. She wants to bring down her former employer, which has a fancy office, Big Brother technology and a bunch of prospective assassins who spar in gray sweats and look like they wandered over from Dollhouse. It’s clear from the start that Nikita, despite being on her own with no resources, has Division completely outgunned. I felt sorry for them.

Nikita doesn’t play as young as other shows on The CW. Lead stars Q and West are in their early 30s and the series feels like something on the USA Network. I liked West as the rock-and-roll doctor on the final seasons of ER. Here, he gets to play an enigmatic spy in middle management with divided loyalties. Q is more of a fresh face, coming to American TV after starring in Hong Kong action thrillers and taking more minor roles in the films Mission Impossible III and Live Free or Die Hard.

Only three people picked Nikita on the TV death pool: returning players Janine Flood and Buster Phil and somebody named Susanne who might be Susanne Dinan. I avoided the show because I couldn’t pick up a comic book the past three months without seeing an ad for the series. The pilot scored a 1.4 rating, beating the finale of Rookie Blue and summer repeats of CSI and Fringe and getting stomped by the NFL season opener between the Saints and Vikings. The show is up against Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), CSI (CBS), Fringe (Fox) and The Office/Outsourced (NBC). After watching the pilot I’d give it a 50/50 chance of survival, a number that would be much lower without The CW’s ridiculously low ratings expectations.

Review: ‘Hellcats’ on The CW

Aly Michalka in Hellcats on The CW

The new fall TV season began Wednesday night with Hellcats, the latest series on The CW aimed at the 16-year-old girl in all of us. The drama stars Aly Michalka and Ashley Tisdale, two products of the Disney Channel ingenue factory, as college cheerleaders in Memphis. Michalka plays a law student who scoffs at cheerleaders until she loses her scholarship, a fact overlooked by her boozy mother (played by the buoyant Gail O’Grady). Fortunately, the plucky young woman has a hidden reservoir of gymnastic and erotic dance talent that wins her a spot on the team.

Ashley Tisdale plays the captain of the team, a single-minded obsessive who writes motivational phrases on people’s bodies. The two women clash briefly, with Michalka calling Tisdale a “groupie” and Tisdale calling Michalka a “goth,” but they quickly end up as roomies. There is, unfortunately, no sexual tension in their relationship.

Though the show is based in college and chock full o’ sexy cheerleaders, the pilot for Hellcats was as squeaky clean as an Archie comic book — aside from one scene where a black male cheerleader dropped his towel and asked other male cheerleaders to visually inspect his nether regions. He did this as a bonding moment with Michalka, who was hiding nude in a bathroom stall and needed to borrow a towel. I was surprised, but not displeased, to learn that college cheerleader locker rooms are coed.

There’s no chance I’ll watch this series unless O’Grady starts wearing cheerleader outfits, but I am so far out of the target audience as to constitute a separate species. There’s a remarkable lack of dramatic potential outside of the standard plot that the team must win nationals or be disbanded by an evil school administrator.

Kaitlin Graham is the only former TV death pool winner to put Hellcats on her list. I kept it off mine because it’s on The CW, where it’s impossible to tell how low a series must be rated to be cancelled. The pilot finished third for the hour among women 18-34, the demographic the network cares about, so I’m feeling cheery about my decision.

LOST FAQs

The series finale of Lost was on last night, and judging from the millions of confused Tweets by die-hard fans, there were a lot of loose ends.

In an effort to help you rabid Losties, here are the answers to some of Lost’s Unanswered Questions.

Q: Why did the Others want Walt?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: What is the meaning of the numbers 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: Who built the statue of the foot with four toes?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: What happened to all the people who were on the island who didn’t crash on the Oceanic flight but were living normal lives in the “real” parallel world?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: What happened to Miles’ dad? And what happened to Cindy the flight attendant?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: What’s the deal with the black horse?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: Why don’t Richard or Jacob age?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: What Happened to the Man In Black and Jacob When Juliet detonated Jughead?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: What’s the deal with “the infection”?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: Who sent Kate the letter telling her that her mother had cancer?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: Why did the Smoke Monster kill the pilot? Why did it kill Echo?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: Who was “R.G.” from the bracelet?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Q: What is the significance of the Egyptology references?
A: It doesn’t matter. Everyone’s dead.

Lost (Spoiler Alert)

In the series finale, they finally kill Kenny for good.

Seriously though, I hate to say “I told you so” but, like, 5 years ago I totally said the island was a place that they all made together so that they all could find one another and that the most important part of Jack’s life was the time he spent with these people.

Leno Breaks Down

Yeah, I know — cheap headline.

On Sunday, blogger Ted Soqui posted a story about driving by late night leader Jay Leno getting towed. Apparently the fuel pump on his 1963 Porsche gave out.

Conan Sings

I saw Conan at Universal Studios last Saturday. No, not the Tonight Show — it was Conan’s traveling stage show at the Gibson Amphitheater (“Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Televison Tour”).

First, a word about the audience. The crowd was so devoted, I was surprised that the concession stands weren’t selling Kool Aid. The girl sitting in front of me handed out orange glowing wristbands to everyone in our entire section. Jim Jones aspired to this kind of loyalty.

I wondered how Conan would fill two hours since he isn’t a stand-up comedian by trade. After a 15-minute delay, the show began with stand-up, but not by Conan. Comic Reggie Watts didn’t really tell any jokes; he sang songs. Watts is a very talented guy — great with accents and characters. He did about 20 minutes.

Then there was an intermission. And then a filmed comedy bit: Conan’s gotten fat and bearded… he has to get back into shape for his tour, etc. Like most of Conan’s filmed pieces, he would benefit from saying the following thing to his editor: “I think this bit is perfect. Please edit out half of it after I leave the room.”

And finally… Conan!

The Irishman gave a long monologue, pacing about the stage Chris Rock-style. As the stand-up segment drew to a close, I thought: There’s still a lot of time to kill here. Now what?

There was a filmed piece by Triumph The Insult Comic Dog. And another comedian (Conan writer Deon Cole) did another half hour of stand-up. But other than that, the evening was mostly filled up with songs.

Conan strapped on a Stratocaster and sang song parodies. It seemed like an odd choice — Conan Becomes Weird Al. But the crowd loved it.

And then a line of stars came out to pull the Walker Texas Lever — John Hamm, Jonah Hill, the guy who plays the page from 30 Rock and a comedian from Parks & Recreation. This was the funniest part of the show, and that includes the surprise duet Conan sang with Jim Carrey.

In the end, TBS is the perfect place for Conan. He wasn’t a big enough star for NBC, and networks just aren’t patient enough to water slow-growing plants. TBS will be thrilled to draw Conan’s small-but-rabid audience.

Why TBS? Two Words

The conventional wisdom was that Conan O’Brien would go to Fox. But the reasons he didn’t end up there are the same as why he was booted from NBC.

1. Ratings. Conan lost to Dave. This doesn’t mean he’d always lose to the Late Show — it took Leno two years to overtake Letterman — but precious few people working in television think long term.

2. Affiliates. The NBC affiliates wouldn’t stand for anything less than Leno at 11:35 p.m. The Fox affiliates couldn’t be thrilled with the idea of turning over control of their time slot to a late night show hosted by a performer who had a proven record of losing to David Letterman.

So that takes care of “Why Not Fox?”

As for “Why TBS?” well, there are many answers for that — ownership is towards the top of that list. But if I were Conan, the one thing that TBS could have done (and I’m guessing did do) in order to entice me to put my show on their channel is this: no notes.

I hardly recognized the Conan O’Brien who hosted The Tonight Show. I don’t know if the changes he made in himself and his show were all his own or if he got focus grouped to death (probably a combination), but I’d bet dollars to donuts that TBS told Conan that he could do his show however he wanted.

And that siren song of “no notes” is impossible to ignore.

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