Thursday, September 25, 2008

episodes: tuesday night dramas

I know, I'm a little behind on these. But, despite popular opinion, I do actually have a life.

House: (And yes, that is the entire episode above.) Fox is trying, what I think is, a clever marketing strategy by introducing a new character named Lucas (played by Michael Weston) on House with the potential of having his own show. It's clever because the network and producers can see if the characters is liked by the audience members. But here's something they probably weren't banking on... I love the new character, but I only love him with House. Season 4 reminded us that the show was in fact based in reality and that it made no sense for Cameron, Chase, and Foreman to stay with House forever (especially since he's a bit of jerk), despite the fan backlash about how little screen time their favorites were getting. In all honesty, I don't watch the show for them; they're actually quite boring and I think they served their purpose. I don't particularly care for the new batch of doctors either. I don't hate or even dislike them; I just don't think they're interesting. But I don't watch the show for them -- I watch it for Hugh Laurie. I watch it for the atheistic misanthrope whose sarcastic retorts are always the highlight of the episode. ("Your comments are always sexist or racist." "That top makes you look like an Afghani prostitute.") So now Fox has introduced the character of Lucas, a private detective hired by House to spy on Wilson as well as dig up information on his patients. This is endlessly fascinating in that it's Lucas's job to pry, so now we don't have to have the obligatory moment in every episode where one of the doctors says, "But House, breaking and entering is illegal." So now that'll stop, and it'll allow for the writers to become much more creative with the background of the patients. But what makes Lucas work is his manipulation of the human condition. He can read House, and I think it both comforts and annoys House. I don't know why everyone loved his friendship with Wilson so much because House was a jerk and Wilson had no backbone, so I love this new push with Lucas where there is a dominant controller in the relationship, and if there is, it's definitely Lucas. He's quirky without being irritating, and he's able to manipulate the greatest manipulator. ("How many friends do you have?" "17." "What? Do you have a list?" "I just picked a number because it didn't matter and now you can get back to your point.") It's fascinating and it made for good TV. But would I follow Lucas to a new show? Perhaps, but I really enjoyed the bantering relationship with House. My favorite line of the night? Cuddy asks, "Why did it cost $2300 to fix a coffee machine?"

Fringe: Sorry, J.J. I may be hanging this one up. I cannot stand any of the leads -- ANY -- but I'm always fooled into coming back because Joshua Jackson has one or two good lines. Walter picks up a crown of thorns (not literally, but the Biblical allusion is there) and says, "This brings back memories." Jackson's character replies, "Of what?" But it's not a good show. The pacing is all wrong -- any moment of revelation lacks momentum, and it reminds me of the scene in Lost where Locke is revealed to be in the coffin. Get to it, already. The plots are always ridiculous, and tonight's case was resolved by a man with unintentional ESP (due to an experiment Walter did on him years ago), and Walter rewires his brain so that his telepathic VISUALS are translated into AUDITORY conversations over cell phones. I'm sorry but... no. And then they electrocute the brain (or something) which bothered me because, as my mother pointed out, brains don't have nerve-endings. And at the end of the episode, someone says, "Dunham, don't you ever smile?" and then she walks around with a creepy forced smile that creeped me out. If it's between this and The Mentalist vying for the 9-10pm timeslot...

The Mentalist: ...I'm choosing The Mentalist. (You can watch the Pilot here.)

Finally! A fantastic premiere with engaging characters and a hypnotically charismatic lead. I love me some Simon Baker. Is it the greatest show ever? Well, no. (That would be Battlestar Galactica.) Haven't we seen shows like this before? Yes -- House, Monk, Psych, Raines. But those shows all had gimmicky characters, whereas this show has Simon Baker playing a character named Patrick Jane who used to be a fake celebrity psychic who now just uses his fantastic skills of observation to help the police solve crimes. There's a season-long (possible series-long) arc involving a serial murderer named Red John, who killed Jane's wife and child years ago because he was parading the murders on television for entertainment value. First of all, this show's opening is absolutely wonderful. After a woman shoots her murderous husband, the police walk in and Jane throws his hands up and says, "Seriously, it's not as bad as it looks." What makes this show work is that Baker plays Jane with such a subtle grace that you really can tell that he's a tortured character -- without the obvious "I'm a tortured soul" markers. He's closed off to people, but he's still charming. He's not a jerk. He never exposes his true thoughts as a way of guarding himself and as a way of protecting those around him. He completely carries his burden on his shoulders and he knows it's his problem. When speaking with a psychiatrist, he talks about making his brother do his chores and then one day his brother sawed off his arm and bled to death. The psychiatrist responds, "That's what happened to Johnny Cash." Jane responds with a smile, "Oh... is it?" With this model of social behavior, I think this show can really pace itself with how much they are willing to reveal about his character. You don't find out about the wife and child until near the end of the episode, and what's more, the very last sequence shows Jane entering his house (the same one his family was murdered in), and it's furniture-less. He walks into a furniture-less bedroom and sleeps on a mattress on the floor underneath a symbol Red John left for him. It's an incredibly telling visual without being overly sentimental or creepy or too foreword. I also enjoyed the supporting cast -- including Robin Tunney who plays a cop that is not too masculine and not too feminine, but is only concerned about getting the job done -- and I look forward to discussing future episodes.

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