Busy week, and I'm already posting late. Let's get right to it!
The Simpsons: Moe Goes From Rags to Riches
The idea of an episode built around Moe's sentient bar rag, voiced by Jeremy Irons, is the kind of thing that could be ridiculously fun or just awful. In the end, it turned out to be neither, which is pretty much the most disappointing outcome.
The episode started out strong, as I'm enough of a history nerd to enjoy some of the historical jokes (like Medieval Homer fighting in Flanders), but lost focus as it became apparent that the bar rag's tale would have to jump huge swathes of time (I could have used less of the 1001 Nights segment) before ending up in Moe's hands in the most random way possible (he's the son of a Mt. Everest Yeti). Then, the episode suddenly shifted into Moe searching for the rag after it was stolen, and because the episode was almost over, it turned out to be Marge who stole it, and the whole thing could have been avoided if she'd just left a note. The episode ends with the Simpsons affirming their friendship for Moe, and it could have been a sweet moment, except for the fact he'll go back to being an unliked troll the next time the plot or a joke demands it. With a high concept like this, you hope for something clever and fear something awful. What we got was, unfortunately, neither.
Family Guy: Livin' On A Prayer
Reading the synopsis for this episode, I worried Family Guy was going to try to once again tackle a sensitive subject with out of place seriousness or preachiness, but instead, they turned out a pretty solid, largely humorous episode that managed to make light of its subject matter without being too offensive. A lot of that came from the fact that while Lois was the driving force of the plot, Peter was along for the ride, and managed to keep things light, with his Peterang ("Just for the record, I was at the hospital for a brief moment"), his Harry Potter disguise, and the various action movie check point Peters (my favorites were the van Peters, upside down Peter, and the Peter who didn't answer because something went terribly wrong). In the end, Lois made some pointed and rather intelligent observations about how perhaps modern medicine is the result of the prayers of Christian Scientists, and they shouldn't turn up their noses at it just because it isn't "miraculous" in the obvious way that managed to be less preachy than some of Family Guy's other statements about religion (then again, you have to wonder to whom the show was preaching: I already agree with Lois, and I doubt many people who don't are watching Family Guy), but it definitely helped that all the religious commentary was couched in a rather funny episode .
I absolutely loved Stewie's disdain for Brian's efforts to integrate He-Man into the Transformers world, as that was exactly how I was when I was a kid.
The opening sequence mimicking Little House on the Prairie was random, but pretty funny.
Stewie: What was that? Did you just growl? What robot growls?
Stewie: If you could hear yourself right now, you would not stop throwing up. You can't just put He-Man in Transformers world. Alright, he wouldn't be able to get to Cybertron because he lives in Eternia, and Eternia is in an entirely different dimension. Brian: He could just take his rocket ship.
Stewie: Get...get out of here.
Mayor West: Mr. West is my father, call me John Mayer. Your body is a wonderland.
American Dad: Stanny Tendergrass
Good old reliable American Dad. This is a tough show to write about it, because it's so consistently entertaining. Some episodes are better, some are worse, but they all tend to cluster around a pretty solid median. This episode centered around a Stan/Roger conflict, which is always good for this show (and the revelation that there is at least one character of Roger's that each family member can't recognize was probably the highlight of the episode), with Steve caught between them for good measure, and also involved Stan getting into something way too much. And then the whole thing ended with Stan and Hulk Hogan beating up rich people, and that's never going to be not awesome. The Francine subplot was the kind of slight, random thing she tends to do when Stan, Roger and Steve are involved in the A plot, but her failed attempts and growing exasperation at crafting a catchphrase were pretty funny too.
Steve: You were Alicia Witnner? But we went on seven dates!
Roger: Nine. I roofied you twice.
Roger: I know you have a lot of questions so I’ll just answer ‘em. The dean closes down the campus pizza shop and the Ninja Turtles. Do. Not. Take. It. Well.
Once Upon a Time: Fruit of the Poisonous Tree
Once again, a Storybrooke plot that is pretty by-the-numbers is buoyed by a fairyback that offers up some interesting takes on an established fairy tale (this time, the genie) and fleshes out that world a bit (plus, it had Richard Schiff). It wasn't actually a surprise that the Queen never loved the genie and was only using him to kill Leopold, nor was the genie's final wish backfiring and trapping him the mirror a shocker (though the idea of the Magic Mirror being the Genie is pretty clever), but it was still fun to see another character interacting with the Queen/Snow corner of Fairy Tale Land, and see how some more pieces fit together. It was also nice to see a side of Regina that wasn't "raging bitch".
Meanwhile, in Storybrooke, Emma and Sydney's attempts to expose Regina were about as predictable as you would expect, right down to Regina turning Emma's accusations around and making the town love her even more. I'd say that Sydney working for Regina all along was surprising, as I can't deny that I never entertained the notion that he hadn't turned on Regina, but at the same time, as a result of the way this show is written I never gave his newfound allegiance to Emma a second thought: the fact that his motivation for turning on Regina occurred off camera between episodes might have been a red flag, but that's how this show does things, especially in the Storybrooke plots: it isn't afraid to do some telling in lieu of showing. So I just chalked Sydney's change of heart to that and took everything at face value.
While the fact that Regina was using the town's money to build a playground was apparently good enough to get her off the hook with the rubes of Storybrooke, the fact remains, she did use public funds for a personal project. Just because the project benefited the children of the town doesn't mean what she did wasn't illegal. If she wanted to build a playground, go about it through the usual, legal, methods.
Which is my long-winded way of saying the people of Storybrooke are kinda stupid, and the worst kind of small town denizens who let their elected officials do whatever they want, and hopefully that's because the curse makes them so.
This show desperately needs to give Emma an adult ally against Regina, even if said adult doesn't entirely buy Henry's story. Just when the Sheriff was positioned to be that aly, he was killed, and now it turns out Sydney is still in Regina's pocket. Maybe the Mysterious Sexy Writer?
Speaking of the Mysterious Sexy Writer, he got a hold of Henry's book. I've seen some speculation that he could be a Grimm (the writer ones, not the Vampire Slayer-esque ones from Grimm) and/or the author of Henry's book. Other speculation pegs him as Henry's father (which seems unlikely at this point), the person who found infant Emma, or someone connected to Emma that is similarly knowledgeable about and unaffected by the curse.
The Agrabah vipers was a nice nod to Aladdin.
Alcatraz: Cal Sweeney
This episode gave us, I think, our most extended flashback, spending a fair amount of time on Alcatraz in the sixties, and in the process, offered up a possible explanation for what Mr. Shabadoo might call the "Smallville Kryptonite Syndrome" that has all of the cons' MOs developing as a result of some childhood incident (of all the cons we've seen thus far, I thought Cal Sweeney was the most tenuously motivated by his childhood; certainly, he's the con least-affected by SKS thus far). The psychologist's belief that the cons are motivated by their childhood memories, and that if those memories are deleted or changed, their behavior could change as well, suggests that this is actually going to be a thing on the show. I don't think I'm terribly crazy about that, as it will get very repetitious very fast, but I do appreciate that the show is either tying the criminals to their childhoods intentionally or is at least self-aware enough to comment on it.
In the present, the whole "Sarah has to bust a bank robber out of a failed heist" plot turned out to be much less of an issue than the commercials suggested. I appreciated that neither Doc nor Sarah objected to the notion that they had to get Sweeney out of the bank before the regular cops caught him, as well as the fact that the reason why was never spelled out for the audience (as it's pretty obvious). Also, Hauser joining, "that jurisdictional pissing contest" to cover for Sarah was great, especially when he slipped into full on "stereotypical Fed in that situation as presented by action movies" mode. Finally, like the first two cons (but not Kit Nelson) it seems like Sweeney was sent to the future to accomplish something (retrieve another key like Jack Sylvane did), presumably for someone, as well as indulge in his psychosis. That pattern can't be a coincidence at this point.
Hauser has a science team on present-day Alcatraz; odd that we haven't seen them before, and that they were introduced so nonchalantly.
We got another reference to Doc's past, as he apparently hasn't driven a car since he was eleven (the same age, I believe, of his child abduction-esque experience alluded to last episode).
I liked how Sweeney robbed safety deposit boxes because they weren't federally insured and thus, robbing them wasn't a federal offense. I find little details like that fascinating.
Perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention, but the whole business with Sweeney going to houses and nail gunning that guy still doesn't make sense. Was that just supposed to add to his character, or were seeds being planted for some future story?
For whatever reason, I remain fascinated by the Warden, who seems creepy in everything he does. He's one of my favorite characters thus far.
It appears the episode titles are the names of the cons featured that episode. I wonder if that means we'll never have an episode that doesn't feature a new con?
Considering the plot contortions necessary to make some of the previous theme episodes work, this theme episode was downright elegant. There was definitely some forcing of the issue, and some odd song choices along the way (cough "Ben" cough), but for the most part, it worked. Best of all, the ongoing narrative wasn't shoved aside to make room for the theme, as the main plot of the episode centered around a New Directions/Warblers rivalry that makes sense given the post-Sectionals focus on Regionals (or is that the other way around? I can't keep track...) and elevated the smarmy Sebastian to full-on mustache twirling villain mode. That said, perhaps the theme ended up being a bit superfluous, as there was little that occurred in this episode that needed a Michael Jackson song accompanying it, but I'd much rather see a cohesive narrative than one that struggles to integrate a random musical theme.
Much like the Madonna love, it seems terribly convenient that everyone adores Michael Jackson as much as they do, which is why I appreciated Rachel's (small) voice of dissent.
The scene between Kurt and his dad, when Kurt learned he was a NYADA finalist, was great, but at the same time, maybe save it for when he actually gets in to the school? Also, Kurt's whole dramatic speech about how this was a crossroads of his life was overly-dramatic, but in a good way, since that that's exactly how a teenager finding out about the school of their choice would feel.
So Finn is basically badgering Rachel into marrying him. Awesome. And she accepted. Look, we can all see where this is going: she accepted because she thought she wasn't going to NYADA, now she might, and she'll probably break it off with him even though she doesn't have to. There's really no good way for this to end.
Quinn is going to Yale, which, assuming that holds, seems like she's unlikely to stick around after this season. I could see the show continuing to follow Rachel and Kurt's pursuit of their dreams post-graduation, and Finn following along as well (especially if he's still with Rachel), but shunting Quinn off to Yale seems like the perfect way to write her out. Which makes sense, but is still a shame, especially considering she's never been given the best material on this show.
Artie's rage at the system putting them down was justified, but felt a little too much like it was inflated to setup "Scream".
So I'm all for the kids taking the high road and not resorting to vigilante justice against Sebastian, but once Santana scored some proof, I'm sorry, it's no longer taking the high road to not turn him in to the authorities, be they police or school. You're going to settle things via song? Fine. Unless you have proof. Then bust his ass.
That said, I did enjoy that by the end of "Black or White" the non-Sebastian Warblers got on stage. Cheesy, but it makes sense, since the Warblers whole deal last season was being Tolerance Narnia and I was starting to wonder if Blaine was their Aslan whose absence allowed the White Witch Sebastian to move in and turn everything cold and evil. I mean, Kurt explicitly transferred there to escape bullying, and now they're throwing rock salt in people's eyes? I can buy that from Sebastian, but not the rest, so it was nice to see them break ranks from him in the end.
I remember when that whole morphing thing at the end of "Black or White" was a big deal for how expensive it was, and now it's so not a big deal a TV show can do it. Ah, progress...
Santana was awesome this episode, from being the club's go-to heavy to getting Sebastian to confess to talking about her underboob.
Seriously, "Ben"? It's about a rat; they know that, right (which isn't to say I don't like the song, I actually do; it seemed an odd song to sing to Blaine)?
Favorite Song: Though the cello players were a bit over-the-top, "Smooth Criminal", which is my favorite MJ song of the ones featured in this episode, was pretty awesome and Santana more or less kicked its ass.
Top Chef: Bike Borrow & Steal
First of all, Pee Wee Herman was awesome. In terms of the non-chef guest judges, definitely one of my favorites (even though the judges who stick in character throughout tend to bug me). There was just something surreal and fun about watching Pee Wee discuss food with Padma, crack jokes with Tom, and sit in judgment of the chefs when he clearly had little idea what he was talking about.
That said, was this really the best time to bring in Pee Wee? I get that next week is the big "Last Chance Kitchen integration" episode and it will probably serve as the "real" version of this episode, but for all intents and purposes, Pee Wee Herman presided over the challenge that determined the finalists. Having a less-than-serious judge at this point in the competition is one thing, but the constraints of the final, "these are your finalists" challenge was way more gimmicky than it should have been, with most of the obstacles thrown at the contestants having little to do with food (what does riding a bike or reading a map have to do with being a chef? What would they have done if one of the chefs didn't know how to ride a bike?) Granted, it was kind of fun watching the chefs dorkily bike around San Antonio and it was hilarious to see Lindsay get kicked out of her restaurant or Ed make eggs for the B&B, but it seemed like the kind of gimmicky challenge that belonged a few weeks earlier, when at this point, the contestants should just be asked to cook good food with minimal constraints. Earlier in the season, this could have been a fun, albeit goofy, challenge. Here, this close to the end, it just seems like a waste.
Grayson's elimination seemed very odd. Based on how Judges' Table was edited, she essentially went home because Tom doesn't think squash and tomatoes go together. And while, granted, everything about the judging is a matter of taste, that seems to be even moreso a matter of personal taste than under cooking chicken or under seasoning eggs. Maybe they had a better reason to cut her or keep the others, but we sure didn't see it.
I'm not sure why, but the thought that the contestants still in the running know nothing about the Last Change Kitchen never occurred to me. I guess I just figured it was something that was covered during all the legal stuff I assume goes on before they start shooting a season. Also, I'm torn about who I want to return: Beverly coming back would totally freak out Sarah and Lyndsay, but it seems like Grayson got a raw deal in this challenge, and I'd like to see her compete in a real final challenge (then again, Grayson coming back would really make next week's episode feel like an alternate reality version of this episode).
Not to beat a dead horse, but the Charlize Theron episode from two weeks ago, where the judges had to nitpick to find someone to send home, is what the "episode before the finale" should be. Swapping that challenge with this one in the production order probably would have made both episodes better.
30 Rock: Idiots Are People Three
Though the inspiration for the title and this two-parter's main plot, the "Tracey Jordan does what Tracy Morgan did over the summer" plot got as little attention in the second part as it did in the first. Once again, the main focus, and the strength of the episode, was on Jack and Liz, and Liz first breaks up with Criss to Jack's glee then decides to ignore Jack (and her own issues) and get back together with him. This plot also featured two great gags: Jack's pronunciation of "Criss" with two "s" sounds and the "disapprove" and "probation" cards he issued Criss (neither of which Criss cared about).
Meanwhile, in the episode's funniest plot, Jenna's fixer, Kelsey Grammer, arrives and stages a one man biographical play about Abraham Lincoln in order to move Pete into the comprising position in which Liz found him at the beginning of the last episode. It was sheer lunacy, of the kind 30 Rock does oh so well, and I hope Grammar doesn't wait too long to return.
Also nice to see Will Arnett's Devon Banks, just as it is always fun to see Jack in his element, first glad-handing the private school guy and then putting Banks in his place through pride in his daughter.
Criss: Wesleyan is the Harvard of central Connecticut.
Jack: Yale is the Harvard of central Connecticut.
The Ballad of Kenneth Parcell
Let's just get this out of the way: the best part of the episode was the Marin Luther King Day trailer; the episode itself wasn't bad, but it was all downhill from there. The Liz/Jenna plot was fine (I particularly enjoyed the Sex and the City spoof) but nothing terribly groundbreaking. Jack once again got the best plot, as Kenneth and the pages got replaced by the Not Kenneth computer that spouted bits of hilarious NBC trivia, along with an appearance by the always-appreciated Ken Howard, while the Tracey C plot was the usual inconsequential stuff he tends to get when relegated to the C plot.
Rachel Dratch was the voice of Not Kenneth.
Knob Kardashian also elicited some laughs from me; I'm a sucker for just about any Kardashian joke.
Jack: She’s bigger then Malik Pancholy on Whitney. Possibly the funniest to joke to come out of Whitney.
Parks and Recreation: Bowling for Votes
Another episode centered around Leslie having to accept the reality of running for office as opposed to the idealized version of it she's imagined for so long, as Leslie spends the vast majority of a "get out the vote" party at a bowling alley trying to win over one specific voter (who prompted the bowling locale in the first place). While the overall plot hit some of the same beats as the previous episode, this succeeds thanks to the old sitcom trope of sending your cast to the bowling alley. So in addition to Leslie's efforts, we get Ron's horror at Tom's girly (but effective) bowling style and his appreciation for the limited menu at the bowling alley. Meanwhile, everyone else is working the phones raising money for Leslie, and we get Chris involved with the rest of the cast for a change, and he was funnier than ever. Even better, his relationship with Jerry's daughter came to an end, a plot that felt like a non-starter and usually ended up painting Chris as creepier than I think it intended.
Ben decking that guy was pretty sweet, and I thought Leslie did a nice job of spinning it to her advantage in a way that probably wouldn't work in real life, but was close enough to reality in a TV world to work.
This was a particularly strong episode for April, who is slowly becoming more human and thus a more well-rounded character. I'd worry she'd lose her inherent April-ness, but the scene at the end with Chris showed that she can be nice and still fundamentally April.