Still playing catch-up. I did watch last week's 30 Rock and Parks and Rec (the Batman pastiche where Jack was mugged and the one where Louis C.K's Dave returned to Pawnee), but haven't had a chance to write about them, so feel free to sound off in the comments (and I'll get to Glee eventually, I swear).
The Simpsons: At Long Last Leave
500 episodes is one heck of a milestone, but at the same time, how can this show celebrate it? It's not like the writers can try to make it extra good; for all the talk of declining quality, I have no doubt the various writers, directors, cast, etc. of each episode believe they are always turning out the best possible product. And for a show like The Simpsons, which rarely allows for long term changes in the characters or the status quo of the series, it's not like the 500th episode can feature some radical new direction or the introduction of a significant new character. And so we're left mainly with a brilliant couch gag that celebrates the history preceding it, and an episode that, like every before it, does the best it can.
To the episode's credit, the inciting incident, in which the town, fed up with the Simpsons' antics, kicks them out, has a nice milestone-y feel to it. Yes, it's a very similar premise to one of the plot points of The Simpsons Movie, but that's not a bad source to crib from, and for the 500th episode, it at least feels a little like the plot is built on the show's history. What follows is a rather average episode, not terrible, not great, a decent representation of the usual latter day Simpsons episode. It has a zany, often times outlandish premise (the family relocates to a nearby unincorporated wasteland), a few good gags (I liked all the Maggie: Road Warrior stuff, Homer and Marge as Burns and Smithers, and the crack about the old Walter Mathau voice Dan Castellaneta used to use for Homer) and an abrupt ending (the Outlands appeals to other townspeople, and the episode ends with the implication that the entire town is just going to relocate itself again). Had this been the 499th or 501st episode, it probably wouldn't have warranted two full paragraphs, simply because it was neither awful enough nor good enough to garner much analysis. You want any milestone to be a celebration, but for any show, and especially this show, that's hard to pull off, and perhaps handing in a workmanlike episode that, for good and bad, represents the state of the show at 500, is the best celebration of all.
Chief Wiggum: You want I should spray some of my Jerk Off on ya?
Jimbo: I think I heard a pair of underpants being picked up off the ground...big ones!
Family Guy: Be Careful What You Fish For
Ricky Gervais as a talking dolphin who moves in with the Griffins is one of those nonsensical ideas whacky enough for Family Guy but not so whacky it goes off the rails, and the result was a funny episode that more or less existed just for goofy fun (any episode that ends with Quagmire and Joe masquerading as Aquaman and King Triton works for me, and not surprisingly, I enjoyed all of Billy's fish/ocean puns). It was also helped along by a B-plot in which Stewie enlists Brian's aid in reforming the terrible daycare he's been placed in, but Brian relents when the negligent provider is a hottie. After "Dog Brian" "Self-Centered Horndog Brian" is one of my favorite iterations of the character, and I enjoyed how transparent his ignorance of the daycare conditions being a result of wanting to get laid was. All in all, neither plot featured anything transcendent or revelatory, but a fun episode nonetheless.
American Dad: Old Stan in the Mountain
Like most American Dad episodes lately, this was solid, very funny, doing what American Dad does best, and as a result is, difficult to write about. So I'm not going to. Good episode. Funny stuff. That's all you're getting.
(Okay, two more things: Roger's escalating series of lies was classic Roger and very funny, and it was nice to see Haley involved in the main plot (this was, I believe, an episode that was completed a while back and only airing now).
Roger: Francine, I haven’t been entirely truthful with you
Once Upon a Time: What Happened to Frederick
The David/Mary Margaret plot, against my better judgment (or perhaps due to a dearth of other stories) has remained the Storybrooke-centric storyline that has engaged me the most, so devoting an episode to the next step of their relationship (the illicit affair coming to light) worked for me. Indeed, between that and Emma's interactions with Mysterious Sexy Writer, aka August Wayne Booth (which is pretty writerly sounding name, in that it seems completely made-up), this was the rare instance where events in Storybrooke were more engaging than events in Fairy Tale World. The story of Charming defeating an evil siren, once the early initial surprise that Abigail didn't want to marry him any more than he did her was established, was a pretty rote, by-the-numbers fairy tale, perhaps because it wasn't inspired by a specific existing story, but while it wasn't terribly engaging, it worked by highlighting the differences between Charming and David. Back in Storybrooke, the Kathryn/David relationship finally came to an end, but the twist (usually relegated to the FTL story) was that David went about it in such a moronic fashion that in the end, he was left with neither his wife nor his would-be lover. That Charming is, well, charming, risking his life for someone else's love while David is kind of a wishy-washy douche is fantastic. The Storybrooke/FTL relationship hasn't always been this effective when it comes to comparing and contrasting the two different iterations of a character (Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin is probably the only other pairing that works this well), but the show would be wise to use this episode as a model moving forward.
I totally thought Kathryn was going to be able to leave Storybrooke, and it would serve as a big indication that Emma's presence is weakening the curse, but in the end, it seems like her desire to leave in the first place only serves that purposes, as her car mysteriously went off the road before she could leave town. Then again, the next episode looks to deal with her disappearance, so perhaps there's more to it than meets the eye.
The town's reaction to Mary Margaret and David's affair was a little over-the-top for me. I get that it's a small town and small towns gossip, but really, is the first time someone's had an affair? And, not that it excuses it, but I don't even think they slept together. Plus, it takes two to tango, yet everyone seemed to be endlessly harassing Mary Marget while David doped around town (apparently, Regina painted "tramp" on Mary Margaret's car, as indicated by the quick appearance of a can of spray paint in her desk drawer later in the episode, a detail I missed but someone pointed out online; still, Regina wasn't behind the rest of the town giving Mary Margaret "whore!" eyes).
Learning Mysterious Sexy Writer's name didn't offer up much in the way of answers about him and his intentions, nor did the whole "washing Henry's book, presumably getting it back to him" routine do anything more than add to his cryptic nature.
So Regina really does have a key to every house in Storybrooke. I appreciated that she burned the letter she took from David's house, which is the right thing to do (when you're a super-villain), as opposed to locking it away somewhere to be found at an inopportune time (which how super-villains usually handle this stuff). That said, what about the letter Kathryn wrote to Mary Margaret?
I love that "true love's kiss" is just a thing in FTL, like, "oh, he's cursed? Did you try true love's kiss?" "What, you have a headache? Did you try true love's kiss?" "Need to lose weight?" etc. It helps create the sense that FTL is an actual society, with rules and conventions and guidelines just like ours.
How I Met Your Mother: No Pressure
Well, credit where credit is due. They handled that whole "Ted still loves Robin" thing pretty well. Narratively speaking, we're no further along than we were before, but it seems like this episode did a lot to move the characters (Ted, Robin and Barney) forward without falling back on already-covered ground, and that's a good thing. This wasn't a perfect handling of the situation, but it was pretty close. I especially appreciated that the whole situation was handled with a minimum of histrionics; Ted and Barney had an honest discussion about their respective feelings for Robin, and neither resorted to shouting or cartoony reactions; Ted accepted Robin's decision with minimal fuss, no grand gestures or vows to win her over. Everything was handled with a deft touch, and it's a relief to see that last episode's cliffhanger was setting up a (seemingly) one-off situation meant to move the characters forward rather than the beginning of an ongoing plot that would have had to work very hard to not be a complete retread of material already covered. This has been an uneven season of HIMYM, but it's good to know the show can still pull something like this off.
Things I didn't like: while the whole "Marshall/Lily bet on their friends" bit was, for the most part, pretty funny (I appreciated the flashes back to the Stella episodes and Barney rocking out with headphones in the back seat), I thought Lily rooting for Ted to fail with Robin just to win her bet was a bit too malicious for her (Lily can be manipulative and kind of evil at times, but its usually with someone's best interests at heart; this time, it was just selfishness). I'm also a little disquieted by the fact that Robin was offscreen for most of this episode, making it feel like the other characters were deciding her fate without her involvement. I'm not sure how else it could have been handled, especially since this is, at the end of the day, Ted's show, but it almost felt like a further marginalization of a character who already gets relegated to the sidelines too often (though that's changed a bit recently).
Also, I'm choosing to read Marshall's reluctance to concede the Ted/Robin bet as a sign of stubbornness and his own romantic nature thinking there might still be a chance for them, rather than a serious hint that Ted/Robin may not be done for after all.
Speaking of Marshall, I really liked his response to Ted's request to meet with him alone, as well as the scene between him and Robin, when he told her what Ted couldn't and she already knew. The relationship between Ted and Marshall was a big part of the series early on, and it's nice to be reminded of just how good of friends the two are.
When Barney raced out of the bar to find Marshall and Lily's sex tape, that goony tall guy he ran past was indeed Conan O'Brien in a blink-and-you'll-miss-him cameo he won via a charity auction. He requested that the appearance be nothing more than a quick cameo.
Speaking of that sex tape, Lily as was particularly...fetching in the flashback to her and Marshall discussing the filming of said tape. Yowza.
Not so much in the flashback to the day their betting habit was born. This show usually does a great job with wigs when it comes to the flashbacks, but Lily's hair in that scene was awful and way too mom-ish.
Love that Barney has a cleaning crew on standby.
At the beginning, when Ted told the Mother he loved her for the first time, the theater they were standing outside of was showing The Wedding Bride III. The Wedding Bride was the movie Stella's husband wrote about Stella and Ted's relationship, in which Ted was presented as an obnoxious, insensitive character played by Chris Kattan.
Alcatraz: Paxton Petty
Another solid episode, featuring a criminal not explicitly motivated by his childhood while continuing to explore the show's mythology. We learned that Hauser's affection for Lucy dates back to the 60s, even before Hauser became a guard, when he worked with her on the bombing case of the titular Petty. We also received confirmation that the time traveling cons had no idea they were going to be time traveling (which begs the question, why do they all seem to go about their business, crime-wise, after waking up in the present? Why aren't they wandering around in a daze marveling at their situation?), that they don't all materialize in the present on Alcatraz and, confirming Guy Hastings experience, that the transit from '63 to 2012 is more or less instantaneous from their perspective. And in the episode's cliffhanger, Hauser hands Lucy over to Dr. Beauregard, traditional medicine having failed her, and implores him to do...something to her. I have no clue what it might be, but Hauser clearly views it as a necessary last resort.
Petty was a fun villain, his sneering grin so infuriating that I wanted him to get more comeuppance then a shot in the leg.
Madsen doesn't know why he's constantly having blood removed.
Lucy's methods, while certainly different than Dr. Beuaregard's, are equally draconian in their way.
Top Chef: Culinary Games
Okay, now this is just getting ridiculous. This has been, for the most, a more gimmicky season that usual, with challenges even very late in the game that had very little to do with actual cooking. But this episode pushed that to the extreme with an escalating series of gimmicks had increasingly little to do with deciding who was the top chef. The structure of this challenge, having a series of challenges in which the winner of each is awarded money and moves on to the next episode until it comes down to two chefs facing off against each other, isn't bad. I wouldn't mind seeing that structure used again, only with challenges that are more fitting for a cooking show. In this episode, each round gets more ludicrous.
The first round, cooking on a moving gondola, is fine. It's the kind of "well, we can't just let them cook" condition that works on the show, one that simply takes advantage of the environment to throw a wrench at the chefs (like cooking on a beach, or with a specific ingredient). Then the second round gets more ridiculous, asking the three remaining chefs to chip their food out of an ice block. Again, having the chefs work with flash frozen food in a limited amount of time would be a suitable obstacle given the location, but what, exactly, did having the chefs hack away at ice blocks add to the proceedings? Finally, we're left with a last round in which Beverly and Sarah have to ski and shoot and then cook, because sure, why not? I get the Olympic theme, but jeez, if you're a bad shot or hate cross country skiing, that somehow means you're not worthy of being a top chef? What a joke.
I get the show needs the chefs to do something besides cooking both to make the competition difficult and entertaining to watch, but far too often this season, it seems like the producers came down on the side of "entertainment" (or perceived entertainment) instead of just throwing some clever but realistic obstacles at the contestants and letting us watch them cook. That's why we watch Top Chef, to see these people cook, not to see chefs half ass a biathlon.
I'd have liked Beverly to beat Sarah at the end, just cuz I don't like Sarah and Lyndsay, but I also can't get real worked up about it. It's really hard to care about these finalists, and even my support of Paul is born more of "eh, he's obviously the best chef, let's just hope the show gets it right" than anything else.
I did love that Paul essentially undercut the challenge by helping Sarah and Beverly and saying the challenge "is about the food and not about how many ice blocks you can smash."
Why should the contestants, or the viewers, care what a random assortment of Olympic athletes think about their food? #GuestJudgeFail.
I have no problem with the show resorting to more gimmicky challenges or guest stars for Quickfires; because no one is on the line for elimination, that's the place to do the more goofy, fun stuff (like cooking out of a vending machine or one handed). But the elimination rounds should be more about inspiring the chefs within set limitations. This whole episode felt like a big long Quickfire, which is kind of sad for the third episode from the end.
Fire and Ice
This episode featured a challenge more befitting of the finals, asking the chefs to create a meal within a wide open theme, and then just letting them cook. It was a little low key for a finals challenge, but I won't complain: no goofy physical challenge, no last minute twist, just cooking. The Quickfire was interesting, using the tag team approach the show has done before but pairing the chefs up with Top Chef: Masters alums, which, I'm sure, got into their heads and made things trickier.
In the end, the editors really tried to generate some drama by making it sound like Paul had a good chance to go home (seriously, Tom would not shut up about that arugula), but all the artificiality stood revealed once Paul was announced, albeit somewhat offhandedly, as the winner of the challenge. Guess the arugula wasn't so bad. Or at least less egregious as things on the other dishes. And in the end, Lyndsay goes home, and I don't really care, because she was kind of annoying. So it's Paul vs. Sarah in the "no, seriously, this time it's the finals, we swear" final episode. Yawn. I mean, Sarah kinda bugs me too, but it's not like I care that much. I'll be shocked (and shake my head sadly at Top Chef) if Paul doesn't win this thing, which doesn't make for the most exciting of finales.
Padma was sporting a nice leather dominatrix tunic during the Quickfire.
Was it just me, or did Sarah spend the entire episode talking to the camera?
Dirty pool, Padma, making us think Sarah was going home. I'm sure it depressed her until you flipped the script, and then it depressed us once you did, because we were so happy she was eliminated...
Saturday Night Live: Maya Rudolph & Sleigh Bells
Maya Rudolph's return to SNL was a triumphant one, which somehow managed to both showcase the deficiencies of the current cast while also bringing out the best in them. This was another solid episode, with several strong sketches and no obvious clunkers (though, obviously, some stuff worked better than others). This episode also pointed out how woefully un-diverse the current cast is, especially the women, as Rudolph tackled a variety of characters that simply couldn't have been featured without her (it's pretty sad that the only time the show can work Michelle Obama into a sketch is when they can get Rudolph on the show...). But race aside, Maya Rudolph is a tremendously talented actress who is obviously very comfortable in this setting. She brought her A game, and the rest of the cast, for the most part, rose to the occasion.
Cold Open: One of the best cold opens of the season, and kudos to SNL for cobbling this together so fast. I especially liked the bad Kung-Fu movie overdub of the Lin interviews. "Soon we battle Dallas and I will try my tiger claw technique."
Monologue: Another song, but this one was livened up by Rudolph's energy and the tour of the building, leading to random cameos by Paul Simon and Stefan, with a pretty solid gag throughout.
Bronx Beat: This was never a favorite sketch of mine back when Rudolph was on the show, but it was fun to see the great chemistry between her and Poehler once again, and while the sketch was longer than usual, the sudden appearance of Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg near the end kept it from feeling too long.
Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Laughs: Clearly the highlight of the night, and I'm still laughing when I think about Maya's enunciation of "whimsy".
Beyonce/Jay-Z: The customary "excuse for celebrity impressions" sketch. Nice to see Taran Killam's spot-on Brad Pitt impression again, and I greatly enjoyed Wiig's Taylor Swift (partially because it was entirely silent, but still) and JT's Bon Iver, who managed to put himself to sleep.
Weekend Update: If you get Poehler to come back for the night, you can't not throw her into Weekend Update, and we got a particularly-strong "Really?!?" segment out of the deal.
What's Up With That?: I am a self-professed fan of this bit, even though I know full well I shouldn't be and it's the same gag every time, but Jason Sudeikis in his track suit just cracks me the hell up.
Super Showcase: The dud of the night, though it wasn't terrible. It was more or less saved by all the breaking, which isn't professional, but in small doses, is tremendously funny. Take away Wiig and Rudolph (and even Hader!) laughing at themselves, and this would have been a lot less enjoyable.
Obama Cosby: This didn't quite know how to end, but I love me some Cosby Show parodies, and Joe Biden in a Theo sweater was inspired.
How's He Doing?: A nice bit of political humor, and not nearly as weird as the usual last sketch of the night material. Good to see Jay Pharoah getting more screen time (he was around a lot this episode).
Favorite Sketch: I Know Why The Caged Bird Laughs, but I did appreciate the return of What's Up With That?.
Cornel West: Sister Maya, was this an act of malice?
Maya Angelou: No, Brother West. It was an act of whimsy.
Bon Iver: I was just wandering barefoot in the woods of Wisconsin. I fashioned this guitar out of a canoe.
Episodes Featuring a Game Show: 5/15
Episodes with a Monologue Featuring a Song: 7/15