Reviews of this episode have been fairly critical of it, especially the whole "gangsters turn out to be nice social workers" plot. While it certainly got ham-fisted at times, it didn't derail the entire episode, as there was plenty of other good stuff going on.
Such as the opening scene between Andrea and her sister in the boat. Or the discussion Jim's crazy/prophetic/weird grave digging led to about the role of personal liberty and communal responsibility. Or Dale's paraphrasing of Faulkner's Sound and the Fury in relation to time (and I didn't mention it in the last column, but I also liked Dale's comments about the meagerness of words in the last episode). Dale is in danger of becoming the "sage old man" cliche, and a little goes a long way, but so far, the show's been doling it out in little doses.
And of course, there was the great zombie attack at episode's end. What I liked about it was how unexpected it was. Obviously, the scene around the campfire just before the attack was ominous as hell, and as soon as Amy got up you knew something was about to go down, but thanks to the previous comment about Merle taking the truck in Atlanta, I was expecting a crazed Merle attack, not a full on zombie massacre. And I was genuinely surprised to see Amy go so soon (having not read the comics, some of the pre-show articles I'd read had made it seem like she was more of a main character).
After the last episode I wondered why Merle hadn't cut the handcuff chain with the saw instead of his hand; this episode provided an answer.
Guess that puts an end to the sticky moral questions surrounding Ed the Wife Beater.
The Simpsons: The Fight Before Christmas
Surprisingly, this is only the second time The Simpsons has applied their successful "Treehouse of Horror" anthology style to a Christmas episode, especially considering they've applied the style to everything from Easter to tall tales to women in history. Like the best Treehouse episodes, all of the stories had the feel of the holiday about them (and the framing sequence helped that along even if everything in the individual segments didn't) and like the worst Treehouse episodes, the episode as a whole was a mixed bag, but, the more I think about it, largely successful.
Bart's Polar Express-inspired dream was pretty good, with some nice gags about the current corporate climate, and the strongest segment overall. Lisa's wartime story was sweet but not terribly funny, and then devolved into a relatively random Inglorious Basterds parody, though I always appreciate Walt Disney/Hitler jokes, and Lisa waking up and saying that's the last time she goes to bed with a Dumbo toy and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich almost saved it. The Martha Stewart segment is probably the one I laughed at the most, and the one that came closest to the darker, more macabre sensibilities of a Treehouse episode, but I'll readily admit most of the jokes in that one were easy and/or far from timely.
There wasn't much to the final, much-ballyhooed segment, beyond the novelty of the Simpson Muppets and the awesomely-cleavaged Katy Perry mocking the whole Sesame Street debacle, but that was probably enough. It was fun to see the Simpsons as Muppets, and the brief segment did a good job of capturing the kind of zany chaos the Muppet Show often displayed (I especially appreciated the cutaway to Grampa and Jasper as Statler and Waldorf in the balcony). And frankly, I can't complain too much about any episode that ends with Muppet Moe going down on Katy Perry on network TV.
Marge: I could use some help!
Homer: Marge, I'm watching a rerun of an important bowl game.
Announcer: And that last touchdown makes it 67 to 13.
Bart: I may have been naughty this year, but by today's standards, naught's nothing. I didn't get anybody pregnant. I didn't Facebook a kid to death. Make with my dirt bike!
Santa: Kid, this company's bust. For years I've been giving away free toys and getting cookies in return. It's not a sustainable business model!
Marge: This tree reminds me of your father. Round in the middle, thinning up top and your hands get sticky when you touch him.
Homer: Someday, TV will be invented. And it will be free! Then it will cost money.
Marge: Martha Stewart! How did you get in here?
Martha: A picket fence, stood on its end, makes a sturdy and attractive ladder.
Glee: Special Education
While Will's Emma-spurred revelation about the varied strengths of the glee club made sense, it seems odd that he'd be able to switch things up so close to Sectionals (ditto to bringing in a new member on such short notice, though at least lip service was paid to that idea). I mean, isn't the Sectionals set list something they should have been practicing for weeks? Can he really just say "here's a song, Quinn and Sam, sing it" and expect them to be good enough to win in less than a week's time (also, coming up with choreography; doesn't it usually takes weeks to come up with a perfect that kind of stuff, at least if you want it to be good)? But I suppose this is another example of how our reality and the reality of Glee aren't the same.
Speaking of Will, his portrayal in this episode is what makes it easier to tolerate his skeeviness in other episodes. I liked that he took Emma's advice, admitted to being somewhat hypocritical when it came to practicing what he preached, and telling Rachel to shut it when she started going off. I'd much rather see more of this Will, the confidant, caring teacher and less of the Will who seems unwilling to grow up.
Glee is no Lost, but sometimes I wonder how much of the season long plot, such as it is, the producers have mapped out in the long terms. Once Kurt transferred to Dalton, a tie at Sectionals was more or less a foregone conclusions. But I wonder if they already have a plan as to who will win at Regionals, and how, and whether or not the team will go on to Nationals, and what will happen there, or if they're truly just making it up as they go. I'd think they kinda have to have SOME idea of where things are going, but if Lost taught me anything, it's TV writers rarely think the same way I do about this stuff.
Rachel and Finn breaking up? Eh. It's not like I loved them as a couple, but the whole break-up/make-up routine gets tiresome, especially when it seems artifically constructed just because TV producers hate to have couples together and happy for very long. Yes, I know, drama comes from conflict, but perpetually conflict gets boring too (I did really like that Puck said no to Rachel, not wanting to hurt Finn in the same way twice).
Loved it when Joe Mauer signaled Kurt to cool it with the theatrics during his tryout.
Puck's random pride in being Jewish is one of the things that's great about his character.
Also, I enjoy Glee's quiet recurring gag of having mid-level government functionaries as judges at all these choral events.
Emma: Aren’t there some great songs about betrayal or something? I’m pretty sure there are some Eagles songs.
Favorite Brittany Line: I thought it meant being stupid, like being
Favorite Song: "Dog Days" was pretty good, but I enjoy Dirty Dancing way more than any straight man should, so I'll go with "I've Had the Time of My Life". Sam's kinda goony, but it was nice to see Quinn get the spotlight.
Running Wilde: Mental Flaws
Well, this has been officially canceled, and Fox will runoff the remaining episodes (there's...six more, I think) in the next month or so, apparently.
Frankly, it's not much a loss, as while the show definitely had it's moments (basically anything involving Fa'ad) and some potential, it never, even seven episodes in, quite found its groove. The main problems from the pilot (Steve is too aloof and bizarre to be likeable, Emmy is too shrewish and serious) were never adequately dealt with and too often, the funniest material existed in spite of the episode's given plot, not because of it.
Still, I'll miss Fa'ad and his hawk and his surprisingly good acting skills, and I'll miss the kind of show Running Wilde wanted to be and almost was.
Steve (on Fa'ad): How does he even get in here?
Steve: Robin Williams is at our table, and that guy won't stop until everyone's pretending to laugh. (I'm a sucker for jokes poking fun at Robin Williams).
Top Chef All Stars: History Never Repeats (Season Premiere)
Seriously you guys? This season is going to kick ass.
By bringing back past contestants, the show manages to neatly sidestep the two issues that make the early episodes of each season kind of a drag: we don't know anyone, so it's harder to root for or against anyone, and the show has to go through the motions of culling the weaker chefs.
With the all star format, we already know (or vaguely recall) the contestants, the ones we liked and didn't like, and, theoretically, the contestants all range from above average to awesome, so the early culling episodes are more intriguing (though I definitely feel like the Season 1 and 2 contestants, as well as the contestants who were cut before the finals, are a step behind everyone else).
Because most of the fun of this episode was seeing these characters again and being reminded of what we liked and didn't like about them, let's just run down the list of contestants with my thoughts on each of them:
Stephen: Seriously, I love Stephen. His unjustified arrogance, his suits, the fact that he showed up this season with an umberella tucked into his briefcase like he was on his way to interview Mary Poppins for a nanny job, I love him. I don't expect him to win (I thought he was a goner in this episode) but I hope he sticks around for awhile. At least long enough to toss out some random Sommelier knowledge.
Tiffany: Top Chef's first Bitch, I vaguely remember hating her when she was battling it out with Harold, but time has softened my impressions of her. I'm sure she'll do something bitchy in no time and bring it all rushing back. Henceforth to be known as Original Tiffany.
Elia: Never liked her. Glad she's gone.
Marcel: Oh, Marcel. Yes, he's a dick. He's arrogant. Immature. He doesn't know when to leave well enough alone. But he didn't deserve to be treated the way he did (both up to and including the infamous hazing incident). I love him. He's like a basement-dwelling nerd that just doesn't know how to function in the real world. Also, I hate douchebag Ilan with the passion of a thousand suns, so I end up liking Marcel by default.
Tre: His early elimination still stands as one of Top Chef's greatest injustices. It'll be interesting to see if he can stick around longer this time, or if he'll end up justifying his previous removal.
Dale: Henceforth to be known as Puffy Dale, it always seemed like he made it to the finals by being one better than the worst contestant in any given episode. But unlike other contestant's who do the same thing but manage to be infuriating in the process (like Season 4's Lisa), Dale was always a nice enough guy that I never minded him sticking around. Still, I don't think he'll last too long.
Casey: She remains the hottest contestant this show has ever had. I hope she hangs in there again.
Dale: Like Tre, Dale's elimination (in favor of stupid Lisa, the one contestant that managed to piss me off to near Ilan-like levels) was a great injustice. I'm glad he's back.
Spike: One of those guys who bugged me during his season, now I'm like "oh, Spike, I missed you and your hats". More than anyone (except maybe Fabio) he seemed to pop up in later seasons more than any other eliminated contestant (and even moreso than some winners (except Ilan, who apparently has nothing better to do); when was the last time anyone saw Stephanie?). Despite his relatively early dismissal in Season 4, I have a feeling he might be a surprising force this season.
Antonia: Kinda like Puffy Dale in that she was nice enough and I didn't object to her making the finals, but it's also hard to get too worked up about her (for good or bad).
Richard: Like all those American Idol runner ups who now are more successful and well known than the people who beat them, EVERYONE who follows Top Chef more or less considers him the real winner of Season 4. And while I always liked Stephanie and didn't mind her win, I also always liked Richard, who did a pretty good job of walking the fine line between confidence and arrogance, usually backing it up when he talked smack. Most people have him pegged as the guy to beat this season. Also, he seems to have lost a ton of weight. Maybe Puffy Dale took it.
Jamie: She was always a cutie, but had an annoying habit of talking smack and then failing to deliver (which still holds true, judging by this episode). As a result, I alternately found myself rooting for and against her, and that still seems to be holding true as well.
Fabio: You know, I really liked Fabio back in Season 5, but his schtick is quickly wearing thin. Still, it'll be fun to see him fight it out with Bourdain and come up with more Top Chef-isms for as long as he lasts.
Carla: She kinda bugged me early in her season, but then I started to like her just as much as everyone else. Honestly, I don't think they could have done an all star show without her because everyone would have been like "where's Carla?" I'm glad she came back and I hope she hangs in there like last time.
Mike Isabella: Another guy I started out hating but then grew to like just as he was eliminated. There's just something oddly charming about how unabashedly douchebag-y he is that makes it hard for me to hate on him. He stuck around longer than anyone expected in Season 6 (a strong season) but I doubt he'll last too long in this, another strong season. I think he stole some of Richard's weight too.
Jen: Overshadowed by Kevin's Beard and The Brothers Voltaggio, I'd also forgotten how much I liked Jen. She manages to be frank and confident without being too bitchy or arrogant (a line Original Tiffany has never managed to walk).
Tiffany: My favorite contestant from a weak season. It'll be curious to see how she fares (both in terms of cooking and personality-wise) against some of the stronger contestants this time around.
Angelo: Man, I couldn't stand Angelo last season, and was exceedingly happy he lost, but like Original Tiffany and Spike, time (even the relatively short amount between the end of his season and this episode) has warmed me up to Angelo. Now I'm just remembering all his goofy quirks (like mumbling to the ingredients or his Tony Robbins daily affirmations) fondly. When he won his $10,000 this episode, Mrs. Teebore said, "now you can bring your weird Russian mail order wife over." Clearly the most talented chef in a weak pool during Season 7, it'll be interesting to see if he can stay on top amongst this group.
Seasons 3,4 and 6 are generally considered by the Internets to be the strongest seasons in terms of the talent involved, and so far, Season 4 at least as lived up to that reputation.
The elimination challenge was a great one (hopefully, future challenges will similarly play off the "all star" angle) though definitely unfair. Those contestants who made it to the finals had an edge over those who didn't: there's a difference between a dish that sent you home and a dish that just wasn't good enough to win.
Anthony Bourdain used to bug the piss out of me, but he's grown on me. And after such lackluster 4th judges as Bourdain-wannabe Toby Young and the bland Eric Ripert, I'm glad he's sticking around. Yes, his incessant mugging for the camera and "aren't I clever?" bon mots get tiresome, but unlike Toby (who did the same stuff) at least Bourdain also throws in some intelligent, constructive criticism along the way. And is also, usually, funny.