A couple quick notes. First, the snazzy new logo on the top of the post comes compliments of my brother Ian. I've long wanted some kind of image to lead off these posts every week, and he came through marvelously to spare you all from my pathetic MS Paint efforts. Second, this week and next (and probably the one after that) will be a little goofy, as things got busy this week (so I haven't yet watched this week's Once Upon a Time) and next week I'll be traveling for work and thus unable to watch much TV. So expect some double show or delayed posts as I catch up where I can. Hopefully, things'll be normalized again by the time Walking Dead returns in February.
But enough blather! On to the TV!
The Simpsons: A Test Before Trying
An episode more amusing than funny, with most of the humor coming from quieter, subtler background or sight gags (like the William Devane Divine Deveiner). The main plot was vaguely reminiscent of an older, better episode ("Bart Gets An F"), but not as egregiously as some latter day episodes. And while, on the surface, it's tempting to label the idea that one test could shut down a school the kind of high concept preposterousness recent episodes of the show like to traffic in, the sad fact is its probably closer to current reality than we'd like to think, with the end result being a nicely satiric look at modern public education
Bart: Looks like Mr. Vanilla just grew some chocolate chips.
Bobs Burgers: Nude Beach
Plot-wise, this was a pretty common sitcom premise, so much so that the beats of the entire episode were obvious within the first few minutes: remind viewers of Bob's disdain for Hugo, introduce the new inspector that makes Bob happy, gradually make the new inspector worse than Hugo, end with Bob forced to convince Hugo to come back. What made the episode work, though, were the uniquely Bob's Burger's touches, like Bob's always-entertaining "sane man in a weird world" weariness and the subplot involving the kids, which nicely upended expectations by having all the paying kids end up oddly entranced by the otherwise normal and unexciting nudity on display (plus, any plot that opens the door to several offhand looks into Tina's unique take on sexuality is a-ok).
Hugo: I’m a lawful man.
Louise: Falafel man.
Gene: Waffle man.
Tina: Omelettes. Am I doing it right?
Gene: We played with fire and this is what we get! Fire in our eyes!
Tina: I think Dad looks pretty good considering he's had three kids.
Family Guy: Brian's Play
I love pretentious Brian (almost as much, but not quite, as Dog Brian, which this episode also had a fair amount of), and the period of this episode following his success and before he read Stewie's play, were fantastic. In the end, this was also a surprisingly touching episode, not only for Stewie's ultimate sacrifice on Brian's behalf, but for Brian's very realistic grapple with his own mortality and notions of success. Thankfully, those elements didn't become too overpowering, leaving enough room for the show to still be funny.
Stewie's mid-episode berating of Brian for his common-denominator success (ie how good can it be when “Chris and the fat man could follow the plot"?) takes on an interesting resonance when you remember that scene is essentially Seth Macfarlane talking to himself.
After Brian's reaction to first reading Stewie's play, I thought they might be going for a straight-up Amadeus parody episode, but the similarities turned out to be more thematic than anything else.
Brian: You know, Stewie, I have seen your play and it is exhilarating to me. A child’s play is one of the most beautiful things in the world. Continue to play, little one. You are our future.
Stewie: What the f*** are you talking about?
Stewie: May every person that laughs at your sophomoric effort be a reminder of your eternal mediocrity, and pierce your heart like a knife.
Ketchup: Listen, we’ve been at this for fifteen minutes. I don’t think anything’s coming out.
Woman: I’m fine. I can keep going.
Ketchup: I’m just tired.
Woman: What if I stuck my finger in your hole?
Ketchup: Yeah, that only works when I’m already close.
American Dad: The Adventures of Twill Ongenbone and His Boy Jabari
Like Bob's Burgers, the beats of this plot were pretty obvious - as soon as the conflict was revealed to be Roger seeking Francine's approval for genuine effort, you knew his elaborate discovery was going to turn out to be an elaborate ruse, but that the effort he put into deceiving her would be enough to earn her approval. So it all comes down to the details, and, thankfully, Roger posing as an Indiana Jones style archaeologist is funny enough that the rote plot isn't a hindrance.
The Stan/Steve B plot was similarly routine, but the gag that Stan was uncomfortably open and hilariously deadpan on the the phone was pretty funny, especially the sequence in which Steve's friends silently quiet Steve so that Stan keeps talking about Francine.
The runner with Stan's odd respect for Cuba Gooding Jr. was deployed just enough to be funny without becoming repetitive or lame.
Great title on this one.
How I Met Your Mother: Band or DJ
Ted's reaction to Barney and Robin getting married is something this show probably had to deal with, not only because this is ostensibly Ted's show, but also because of his history with both Robin and Barney & Robin. That said, hopefully this was the show acknowledging that and dealing with his reaction, and that we will not be subjected to a half season of whacky Ted antics and more rides on the Ted/Robin merry-go-round as he slowly comes to terms with their relationship.
If you haven't heard, the show is very close to being picked up for another season (everyone's on board, they're just hammering out the details) though what this means for the show's endgame is unclear. Creators Bays and Thomas have always (frustratingly) seemed intent on taking the show's title literally (meaning we likely won't meet the mother until the very end of the show), but at the same time, wheels are already in motion to end this season at the wedding where Ted meets the Mother (this episode, with its "four months later" coda, suggests it may be difficult to stop this particular train, unless they decide to REALLY slow down the narrative).
The Ted/Lily friendship is one that usually gets short shrift, but their blisteringly-honest conversation on the roof was a nice reminder of their closeness.
Robin sounded especially husky throughout this episode, like she had a cold. Or was that just Cobie Smulders way of playing Robin's malaise?
The reaction Bays and Thomas were likely expecting from the episode's coda: "OMG! The Mother is in the band at the wedding! We learned a smidgen more about her even though we haven't 'met' her yet! Squee!"
The reaction I gave: "'tevs."
That said, I decided that, if Bays and Thomas really are going to take the title literally, I would love a series of three or four episodes towards the end of the show where Ted tries to meet the Mother only to find his way blocked by an increasingly-ludicrous series of obstacles that prevent him (and us) from ever seeing her directly (like thinking he's going to see her face, only to have it blocked by a picture of another woman).
Also, it's worth noting that the flashforward to Ted watching the Mother at Robin and Barney's wedding revealed that, despite Robin's cold feet (as shown in this season's premiere), it appears she will go through with the wedding, as she was dancing with her dad, presumably after the ceremony (though I suppose the show could go the route of Barney and Robin amicably deciding not to get married, but still having the party. But that would be lame).
As someone whose father-in-law likes Jimmy Buffet (and who, once upon a time, could seem as scary as Robin's dad), I also got a chuckle out of Robin's dad saying "James Buffet".
I also laughed way too hard when Marshall was doused in, um, confetti.
Top Chef: Restaurant Wars
So yeah. I'm trying to resist hyperbole, but that really seems like one of the worst eliminations in the history of the show. Not only was it asinine to eliminate Kristen for, essentially, a failure of leadership while keeping Josie, despite botching her food (and remember, the judges always say the food comes first), but it also set a dangerous precedent: any remaining and future contestants can now see that in any situation in which a leader clearly defines themselves, the underlings can phone in their food, safe in the knowledge that the leader will be sent home for their failure. Furthermore, this elimination yet again illuminates one of the fundamental flaws in the judges' approach. I've often railed against the judges' ridiculous notion that they judge each contest on its own merits. It doesn't take a genius to look at Kristen and Josie's outputs and say "Kristen failed in terms of leadership, but has been putting out excellent food all season. Josie has been turning out one subpar item after another. Time to go." Instead of guaranteeing that the best contestants make it to the finals, this method creates a situation where someone who is consistently the second worst can make a run at the title. It's a methodology that has always bugged me, but maybe never more than in this episode.
Tom's blog on this episode points out that when judging, the judges are not privvy to what we see in the episode (until they watch the episode after the fact along with us), which, while true, is just another flaw in the show's setup (in the blog, he commends the show of character it took for Kristen to assume ultimate responsbility and and not throw Josie under the bus, yet that character got her eliminated. The contestants shouldn't have to make that choice. Solution: the judges need to be informed of what happens in the course of a challenge by someone other than the contestants. At the very least, they should be given enough information to directly ask knowing questions to the contestants).
Also, I'd question whether the judges actually needed to see the footage of Josie lying and dragging her feet, or for Kristen to speak up, to send Josie home. The only dish they got late was Josie's, and they know Josie has a history of falling behind on her dishes. Plus, at judges' table, Josie was all excuses and explanations, while Kristen was calmly taking responsibility. The writing was on the wall, yet they chose to send Josie home.
Gail has said online that the decision over whom to send home was split, which makes me think the producers may have stepped in and saved their new villain.
Why the hell was Padma arguing so vehemently for Kristen to go home?
I like Stefan and all, but he sure seemed a likely candidate to go home. I know they won't eliminate someone off a winning team (another rule that bugs me) but Sheldon really deserved to be in the elimination conversation.
Josie says she doesn't like to rush things...which is what leads to the "Josie show" and repeated appearances in the bottom. But whatevs, Josie, just keep skating by...
At one point Kristen said she'd have preferred one of the dishwashers to Josie...not that I think Kristen should have been eliminated, but maybe she shouldn't have picked Josie in the first place. Had she not, she'd probably still be in the game, and still the front runner to boot.
Apparently Kristen knocked CJ out of Last Chance Kitchen, which ordinarily might bum me out (CJ's run sounds pretty impressive), but now I'm just hoping Kristen comes back in and wins it all, showing the judges what morons they are.
30 Rock: Game Over
The impending end of the series helped give this latest battle in the war between Jack and Kaylee a touch of finality, as this was likely the last such confrontation between the two (though I remain doubtful that Jack will succeed in his ambitions). And even though I suspected that Jack's alliance with Devon was a setup from the start, it was nevertheless the fun to watch him pull the con (as it always is).
While I'm always happy to see more of Homonym, that was an odd resolution to the season long "Jack and Liz are trying to tank NBC" plot. I'd blame the short season, but Tina Fey and company knew what they had to work with going in, so I'm not sure why this ended quite this abruptly.
Dr. Leo Spaceman's presumed final appearance, on the other hand, was absolutely perfect.
The Tracy plotline was, like many of his this season, surprisingly touching, as he gained a greater respect for Liz as a result of having to deal with his own Tracy Jordan, in the form of the delightfully-cast Octavia Spencer.
I loved that Spencer wanted Harriet Tubman's name changed to Harriet Tubgirl, and the fact that she has a Tracy Jordan-entourage of her own, featuring Mizz and Dot Com.
Dr. Spaceman: That’s a series wrap on Leo Spaceman, suckers!
Liz: I played Frederick Douglass in a one woman show the University of Maryland Diamondback called “Too confusing to be offensive.”