In addition to everything below, I did watch the first episode of Alcatraz, but not the second, so I declined to write about it. But if you watched it, feel free to sound off in the comments (in brief, for the first episode at least, I was intrigued by all the mystery stuff and surprised by the downplayed case-of-the-week stuff. We'll see if that holds up in later episodes, or if it just becomes another Person of Interest).
The Simpsons: The D'Oh-cial Network
If last week was The Simpsons at its latter day satirical best, this episode seemed to be phoning it in (pun intended). The satire here, in a loose parody of The Social Network, was much more toothless than last week's, and by the end the whole thing got a bit muddied as the episode seemed to suddenly switched gears from lampooning Facebook to lampooning modern cell phone usage. Nothing here was bad, and the episode was plenty funny, but especially after last week, the whole thing seemed rather tame. There's plenty to mock about both Facebook and modern internet culture; this episode tried to mock both but didn't go nearly far enough.
The longer lead time on The Simpsons (as opposed to live action sitcoms or animated shows like South Park) works against this episode; when it was written (probably just over a year ago), The Social Network was one of the awards season's buzziest films; now, this parody feels stale and dated (heck, The Simpsons already made a Social Network crack earlier this season, and I dinged it then for how dated it was). Then again, when someone watches this episode in syndication years from now and remembers The Social Network, they'll probably have no idea this episode aired a year after that film faded from the pop culture zeitgeist and just assume it was a timely episode.
I was also terribly distracted by the fact that Lisa's SpringFace social networking site was clearly intended to be a parody of Facebook, yet in the world of The Simpsons, Facebook exists, as Lisa met Mark Zuckerberg whilst trying to entreat Nelson to stay in school in last season's "Loan-a-Lisa". Yes, I realize I'm complaining about continuity on The Simpsons, but here we are.
That Edward Gorey-esque short at the end of the episode was delightfully random. I'm curious if the episode truly did come up short and they devised the short to fill the time, or if it was something planned entirely on its own and slotted in here.
Lisa: I kinda want to create my own thing; do you sell any just plain set.
Blocko Employee: No, we do all the imagining for you.
Lisa: Well, I'll just buy one of these and build something different
Blocko Employee: You do and you'd better build yourself a lawyer.
Mapple Employee: The lightest, most desirable computer in the world, for the next three weeks: the Mapple Void
Homer: I'll take it! Provided you charge me for services that Google offers for free
Mapple Employee: I already have!
Winklevoss: They're fat, they smoke, they started training a week ago, why can't we pull away?
Winkelvoss: Because we can't stop concentrating on that 65 million dollar Facebook settlement that somehow wasn't enough for us, even though we were rich in the first place!
Family Guy: The Blind Side
Brian episodes tend to be pretty good, and this was no exception. We've gotten plenty of "Brian dates a random woman" stories before, but this one worked especially well because it never lost sight (pun intended) of the fact that Brian can be kind of a jerk sometimes, especially if it means making himself look good. The fake mugging and fake Eiffel tower scenes were great examples of this. Along with that were some great sitcom-y hijinks involving Brian keeping the fact that he was a dog a secret, culminating in that dinner scene that applied Family Guy's trademark over-the-top-ness to the classic "the truth comes out" sitcom trope.
The B story was pretty slight, but I'll be damned if I didn't laugh every single time Peter fell down the stairs, no matter how predictable it was. Maybe I'm just an easy mark (well, we all know that I am...).
Stewie: Batman, Batman: they built a Lazy Susan for your nuclear car. That's something they consider conversation worthy.
How I Met Your Mother: 46 Minutes
For the most part, the Marshall/Lily side of recent episodes have been the strongest, but here, the Ted/Barney/Robin hijinks were the clear highlight. Though their reactions to Lily and Marshall moving out to the burbs was extremely heightened (I mean, what would they have done if the couple moved to LA or something?), I suppose that's what sitcoms do, and it did lead into the episode's best material, including two fantastic alternate renditions of the show's theme song. Meanwhile, the Marshall/Lily story was kind of a dud, due largely to the extended presence of Chris Elliot, an actor who's never done much for me playing a character that's always managed to fall right into the void between "too weird" and "not weird enough" to be funny. There were a few good moments here and there, but for the most part, it'd be nice if Lily's dad went back to being estranged.
Maybe it's just because I've always lived in the suburbs and you had to drive somewhere just about anytime you wanted to hang out with friends, but Marshall and Lily moving away doesn't seem that terrible to me. I am glad the show addressed their moving out to the 'burbs though. That said, I kinda hope, moving forward, the show just falls back on conventional sitcom logic that allows the characters to be hanging out as much as usual, with perhaps an occasional absence from the group thrown in.
Stripper Lily is always a welcome addition to the cast.
Loved Ted's "We Built Chip City" song.
Ted: It's like they cancelled Party of Five for the second time … I mean, like they cancelled sports.
Barney: Let’s declare our independence with an on da peen dance.
For a Will-centric episode, this could have been a lot, lot worse. And for the most part, his material was pretty bad. From "Moves Like Jagger", which was just an excuse to let him dance (and it's always creepy when Will dances) to him asking Finn to be his best man (he seriously has no adult friends? Even Burt would be better) to him actually asking Emma's whack-a-doo parents for permission, to his whole douchenozzle speech to Emma before her ended up proposing to her, to the stupid top hat when he did propose (the white suit was fine; the top hat, too much), it's amazing that this episode didn't suck more, and won't go down in history as one its worst.
The saving grace, as it has been most of this season, is that all the stuff with the kids was pretty good, and here, Glee's overstuffed nature worked in this episode's favor, as enough time was spent away from creepy Will to balance everything out. The Becky/Artie subplot was suitably random, but sweet and well-handled, and I'm glad that more wasn't made of it (when Becky sent Artie that picture, I feared we were going down some awful road where Artie gets hauled into Figgins' office because a spurned Becky accused him of taking advantage of her). It's nice to see Mercedes in a storyline that doesn't involve her being a diva.
And the Finn material was the best stuff of the night. Though it would have been nice to see his decision to join the army leading to the revelation of how his dad truly died leading to his proposal to Rachel play out over several episodes, that's Glee, and each of those beats was well-handled in this episode. Here's the thing about that proposal: it's beyond ridiculous, but it's exactly the kind of thing some lovestruck kid in Finn's situation, especially one as dopey as Finn (and I mean that in a good way), would do. It fits Glee's aesthetic of presenting a heightened reality because to teens, reality is heightened. I'm not advocating the two get married and settle into a life of domestic bliss, cuz that would be stretching reality too far, but compare the two proposals in this episode: Will deciding to propose to Emma felt like it came out of left field, a writer saying "well, I guess that's the next step for the characters" without us having seen any real development of their relationship towards that point. Finn's proposal, while ludicrous and doomed to failure, felt like the kind of thing that character would do in that situation. Despite being ridiculous, it felt genuine, whereas the Will/Emma proposal felt crafted. And that more or less illustrates the difference between how Glee handles its adult characters versus the teen ones these days.
The whole "Bieste eloped" reveal was the kind of random swerve that made this show insufferable in season two; that said, I can't say I'm sorry to see the potential "Bieste and Sue fight for the affections of the catcher who always overthrew the pitcher in Major League II" plotline nipped in the bud.
For all my beefs with Will proposing to Emma, the actual proposal was sweet and delightfully over-the-top in the best fashion of TV (I'm a sucker for TV and movie proposals). That said, while Mrs. Teebore didn't read it this way, I thought it was funny that the kids were singing that Will and Emma "found love in a hopeless place", when the hopeless place in question is the kids' school.
Speaking of that proposal, I wouldn't mind if the glee club decided to join the synchronized swimming team, as the gals were all particularly fetching in their old-fashioned halter top swimsuits. I'm just saying...
This was a good Sue episode, featuring the more reined in version of the character from the Christmas episode. Her scene with Artie was a great example of how the character should be handled: she offered genuine, helpful advice, but still snuck in a few snarky comments. Still, I won't stop expecting her imminent return to maniacal super-villainy until we've gotten at least three or four episodes in which she's consistently portrayed this way.
I thought bringing in Helen Mirren as Becky's voiceover was hilarious and added a nice poignancy to her story. I wouldn't want to see the show manipulate its gimmicks like that too often, but for Becky's character, it definitely worked.
I appreciated Finn's offhand remark that he got a credit card in order to buy the ring for Rachel; it's a little "reality"detail the show probably would have overlooked in earlier seasons.
Mrs. Teebore and I both abhor Grease in general and "Summer Lovin'" specifically, so it took everything we had not to turn off this episode entirely as soon as it became clear they were heading in that direction...
Favorite Song: "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face" was probably the best performed and directed song of the night, but I'm not terribly familiar with it (this was the first time I heard it) whereas I rather liked Rachel's slightly downtempo rendition of "Without You".
Top Chef: Fit For an Evil Queen
Just as the food suddenly got better, we got one of the best episodes of this season when all the team-oriented, Texas-inspired BS was put aside in favor of giving the chefs a theme and letting them cook, with minimal constraints. Tom seemed surprised at how good all the food was, and he shouldn't be: every season, the show reaches this point, where the number of contestants is small enough that the show can do away with all the gimmicks and just let the chefs do their thing, and suddenly the food is better. Not surprisingly, the contestants can turn out good food when not forced to work on a team with specific ingredients all night long.
I pretty much rolled my eyes at the idea behind this episode during last week's preview, and while the extended commercial for Snow White and the Huntsman got a little annoying (as well as the judges' hamming it up along those lines, and I'm a guy who appreciates a good pun), the chefs seemed to take to it with gusto, and we ended up with much more well-constructed plates than I was expecting. I'm still not terribly interested in any of these contestants (Paul remains my default favorite), but at least this episode was fun to watch.
It was tough to see them send anyone home for this challenge, since everyone seemed to be raving about everything, but I'm still surprised Beverly got sent home, just because, in Heather's absence, she's the closest thing the show has to a villain now, inasmuch as the other contestants, especially the women, don't like her (but I know a lot of people watching are probably bummed that she's gone).
That quickfire was a lot of fun, and it's nice to see them coming up with new ideas this late in the show's run. I especially liked the way someone was clearly dicking around with Chris. I'd like to see this one used again, maybe even earlier in the season.
I have never liked Eric Ripert's appearances on this show, and this one was no exception. I have no doubt he's a phenomenal chef, but he has this stuffy French air about him such that he finds no humor in anything food related. Which is fine if he's going to judge one of the finales or a fine dining challenge, but to ask him to judge this goofy ass Quickfire or a challenge where the chefs are asked to be especially creative brings out the worst in him in that regard.
Tom kinda looks like he's losing some weight, doesn't he?
30 Rock: Idiots Are People Two
This is, of course, the episode based off of Tracy Morgan's infamous anti-gay rant from last summer. 30 Rock has always been a show that's not afraid to be inspired by the reality surrounding it, and while the notion of Tracy Jordan organizing a protest of idiots after Liz blames his rant on his being an idiot (and while this plot line will seemingly be continued in the next episode), the stronger material here surrounded Jack and Liz. Following up on the revelation of Liz having a secret boyfriend last episode, Jack proceeds to get in her head, forcing her to see all the little faults that ordinarily would have driven her from such a guy, and watching as Liz's blinders were forcibly removed was lots of fun. The Jack/Liz relationship remains the core of this show, and as long as it's clicking (as it was this episode), everything else seems to fall into place.
The Jenna/Kenneth/Pete plot was rather inconsequential, worth a few chuckles but not much more (I did enjoy the visual gag of Jenna's bad lighting making her look like Kenneth).
Loved Anne Curry's super-specific comment about Tracy's rant on the Today show: "...annoying co-workers who are perhaps lingering over breakfast this morning with a new lover."
Also, Jack's pie chart showing how idiots form the core of TGS' audience was great, as was Liz's disdain for certain people on House Hunters. "Why can't people see past paint color?!?"
People forming the idiot protest: Parrotheads, frat guys, anti-vaccine activists, people who won’t shut up about scuba diving, and Denise Richards.
Jenna: Imagine what the Internet would do with this. Maroney found in closet with unconscious married man and inbred virgin…again.
Parks and Recreation: Campaign Ad
Leslie's campaign has met its opponent, and he is Paul Rudd. Bobby Newport, heir to the Sweetums empire is one of this show's best new characters, a hilariously clueless and spoiled man child played to perfection by Rudd, and I hope we see more of him as the season progresses. This episode was all about Leslie reconciling her childhood expectations of running a campaign with the reality of running for office, centered around the conflict of whether or not to run an attack ad against the 70-point favorite Newport. In the end, compromise won out, but the larger question remains: can Leslie stay true to her principles and win without becoming the kind of politician most politicians are, even when confronted with the vast resources of her opponent? In reality, unfortunately, I'd say no, but even given the stupidity of the people of Pawnee as presented thus far, I think this show is capable of realistically giving us a Leslie win that doesn't sacrificing her core Leslie-ness. And if that means we get more of Rudd's delightfully dopey Bobby Newport along the way, much the better.
The B story, meanwhile, was played for straight comedy, as April and Andy run a gauntlet of doctors and healthcare professionals in an attempt to fix up the accident-prone Andy once and for all (he broke his thumb on the way to the hospital). There's little substance to it and it's played entirely for laughs, but that's okay when it features things like Andy calling his skull a "brain helmet" and letters on an eye chart "peanuts". In the C-story, Chris is grooming Ron as a possible replacement for Ben, which is a smart idea with lots of story potential. The abrupt transition from the office to lunch, and Ron's bewilderment by it, was this plotline's highlight ("Next thing I knew we were at lunch. Did he drug me?").
Saturday Night Live: Daniel Radcliffe & Lana Del Rey
Daniel Radcliffe was clearly excited to be on the show and game for anything, on an almost Melissa McCarthy-like level, but whereas a similarly game Charles Barkley benefitted from some strong writing last week, Radcliffe was let down by some pretty mediocre sketches. His energy and enthusiasm helped keep the episode from being a complete bore, and there was nothing awful here, but it would have been nice if the material rose to the level of the host.
Cold Open: Another talk-to-the-camera, toss-out-some-jokes political sketch. I like Sudeikis' Romney, but like the Santorum open last week, there's not much to these bits beyond a few jokes.
Monologue: A nice use of the cast, as the various Harry Potter parody characters walk on and off stage. Radcliffe was the best part of this episode, and his monologue made his energy and enthusiasm apparent (loved the bit about how Hugh Jackman played him the best).
Ricky Gervais Ad: More screen time for Sudeikis, and his Ricky Gervais was spot-on.
Target Lady: This is one of the few Kristen Wiig characters I enjoy (mainly because I once worked with a woman just like the Target Lady), but I never want to see this sketch as the first of the night. I don't like the character that much, and this sketch tried too hard to recreate Justin Timberlake's goofy character from a past Target Lady sketch.
“You Can Do Anything”: For some reason, we cut right from a commercial into this sketch, missing the very beginning. The idea behind it became clear enough (and is a good source of laughs), and Radcliffe's Irish jig was hilarious, but maybe because it was cut short for us, I never quite got into it.
Spin the Bottle: One of the better sketches of the night, earning laughs from Radcliffe's reactions, the escalating hobos/homeless bozos, and the various other characters repeated bits (I loved Abby Elliot's frustration that Radcliffe wasn't landing on her).
Delaware Boys: Hey, I love a good dig at Delaware, and there wasn't anything awful here, but there wasn't anything to get real excited about either.
Harry Potter 2020: The promised Harry Potter sketch, and while it's one joke was pretty funny (Harry's life peaked at 18 so now he just hangs out reliving past glories) it was pretty much just that one joke. But I really enjoyed it, mainly because I've often thought the same thing would happen to several fictional characters in the wake of their big climatic battles.
Weekend Update: Seth had some good material here (I liked his opening remark about Romney) and thought Radcliffe as Casey Anthony's new dog was the highlight of the night. Great material, great performance ("Dogs can be sarcastic too. It's not just for cats"). Armisen and Bayer's "friends of a dictator who whisper bad things about him" characters are those rare Weekend Update characters that neither crack me up nor piss me off.
Future Play: Probably the best sketch of the night, and easily the best written, both for the play itself and the audiences' reaction to it. Clever and unique; more of that, please.
Jay Pharaoh Show: That was oddly...metatextual, with Jay Pharaoh hosting a talk show as an excuse to do impressions, which has kind of been his entire role on SNL. I really hope he wrote that sketch, or else some writer is totally fucking with him.
Political Ads: I usually like this recurring political ads, but for whatever reason, these didn't work for me. Maybe it was Kristen Wiig, maybe it's because they were all oddly clustered at the end of the show (instead of sprinkled throughout), I dunno.
Exit Poll: The odd relatively-normal Kristen Wiig character, there was, again, nothing terrible about this sketch, but there wasn't was any of the characteristic whackiness that usually makes the last sketch of the night either hilarious or a trainwreck.
Then there was the commercial for Headz Up, which covered similar ground as this week's Simpsons episode, but felt oddly placed at the end of the show. Did they run out of sketches before they ran out of show?
Favorite Sketch: The future play, just for doing something a little different, and doing it well.
Seth Meyers: Target just announced a deal to feature in-store Apple shops. In response, Walmart introduced their new "Dell computer bin".
Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 3/12
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 5/12