FOLLIES AT THE AHMANSON: This was one of the best pieces of theatre I’ve seen in years. I’ve never seen this particular Sondheim show before and I was completely blown away by its melancholy, sadness, regret and honesty. The performances are all terrific and you’ll recognize many of the songs as they’ve become classics since the 70s, when the show first debuted. If you have the chance to see this show, run, don’t walk to the Ahmanson. It’s a beautifully written, heartbreaking musical, and I mean all of that in a good way.
GIRLS: The episode where Hannah visits her parents is perfect from start to finish. I’m not sure if that aired last Sunday because I watched a screener. Lena Dunham continues to amaze me with her specificity of place, time and experience. It’s her intelligence that’s most appealing and it makes me forgive the selfishness of the characters. She outlines her characters well and they become more shaded with each passing episode. It’s a very well-constructed show and she’s also getting great performances out of the entire ensemble. Peter Scolari and Becky Ann Baker are again terrific as Hannah’s parents who vacillate between wanting to help her with money and knowing she needs to make it on her own. The show keeps getting better and nothing makes me happier than saying that about a show.
VEEP: The show isn’t making me laugh out loud but I like the generally nasty attitude of most of the characters. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is tailor-made for this role and she seems to be having a lot of fun at work. I loved the episode with VP Meyer’s daughter and how that entire visit was awkward, uncomfortable and not fun for anyone.
REVENGE: I’ll say it now: I’m watching the show for Nolan and Victoria. The last few episodes of the season weren’t as strong and it was a really cheap move to kill the dog to get to the Jack/Emily kiss. I’m sure I’ll return to the show next season but I’m fine with taking a break from the show for a bit.
SMASH SEASON FINALE: “Bombshell” – This episode contains the best acting they’ll ever get out of Katherine McPhee and sadly, that’s not saying much. Putting Derek at the center of the show could be a huge plus and maybe new showrunner Josh Safran will consider it as he retools the show for season two. Also, though they made it look like Ivy was about to pull a very Marilyn-like move with a bottle of pills, I refuse to think she’ll take herself out of the show. I liked, but didn’t love, the “Don’t Forget Me” final number. It did the trick emotionally but I wish the song was stronger and more of a showstopper. I’d probably like it more if Ivy sang it. With all of SMASH’s faults, I’ll be back next season for the Broadway of it. I guess part of me wants to run away and join the chorus.
SCANDAL SEASON FINALE: Talk about a not-so-guilty pleasure of a show! Romance in The White House between the leader of the free world and his professional fixer Olivia Pope, a nefarious VP Chief of Staff who has no hesitations about offing people to protect – wait, what exactly was he trying to protect again?? No matter, it’s always nice to see Matt Letscher on my TV screen and he’s been working non-stop lately (BENT). Now Shonda Rhimes has thrown in a mystery about Quinn Perkins, who until now, was the most uninteresting character in the show. As goofball as it is, I’ve come to love Huck, Olivia’s unstable yet loyal muscle guy who is willing to actually kill people for her. The guy who really knows how to steal a scene is Jeff Perry as the President’s Chief of Staff Cyrus Beene. Perry excels at the tough talk and his scenes with Tony Goldwyn as emotionally wayward President Grant have been highlights of the show’s short first season. SCANDAL has stolen the “gimme more” nighttime soap crown from REVENGE.
SUBURGATORY SEASON FINALE: This was my favorite show at the start of the 2011 TV season and it remained a favorite throughout the season. This season closer threw so much in the pot in order to seed a second season but for me, nothing got lost in the mix. The Shays provided their usual lunacy – this time with guest star James Ingram as one of Sheila’s old flames – and then a wonderful emotional moment for Lisa Shay, as she discovered she’s not the adopted child in the family. Allie Grant has been giving a wonderful performance as Lisa all season long; whether it’s sarcasm, morose resignation, or the heady teenage euphoria of being Dahlia’s friend for a minute and a half, Grant never misses. Jane Levy as Tessa brings the perfect mix of teenage insecurity mixed with trying to grow up and lead a life outside suburban Chatswin. Tessa has also developed a very sweet friendship/mentorship with Dallas and in this finale, it’s clear Tessa liked having someone like a mother, since her own mother didn’t stick around to raise her. I don’t think the show needs Eden as the surrogate for Noah and his wife; the show has plenty of story to handle but I have to confess that I laughed at the horribly inappropriate endangered wild animal nursery Noah put together. It was so awful, I cringed while I laughed. The final moment of the show where Tessa met her maternal grandmother was especially good as Tessa told us, “I saw a way out” as the camera zoomed around and up and away from Chatswin. Showrunner Emily Kapnek said she and the show’s four writers worked all season to seed these ideas and build toward a second season (smart!). Kapnek also isn’t concerned with having everything pay off quickly; she likes to let things simmer and that definitely worked in the show’s favor this season. I’ll be back for season two of SUBURGATORY.
COMMUNITY SEASON FINALE: I watched two of the three episodes last night. The video game episode was strange and great (“Troy and Abed shooting lava!” and Abed’s relationship with video character Hilda); at one point I thought all the writers might’ve been high when they wrote it but that doesn’t even matter. It was imaginative and offbeat and still stuck to the characters’ established relationships and issues. The Ocean’s 11 episode in which the Greendale 7 plotted to get the real Dean Pelton back from Chang’s evil clutches, was a tonally perfect takeoff of OCEAN’S 11 and it made me smile for the entire half hour. The more Jim Rash is in the show, the more in awe of his acting I become; he never fails to make me laugh and his commitment to the Dean’s sartorial changes is awe-inspiring. It was reported that Dan Harmon will not be the showrunner next season. He’s got to continue as a consultant because this show is his voice and all the voices in his head. Here’s hoping a good deal is struck so Harmon is there to contribute next season.
30 ROCK SEASON FINALE: Kristen Schaal fits into the TGS gang nicely as she has no trouble adopting the veneer of slight lunacy like the rest of the characters. The Liz/Criss story has grown increasingly sweet and when James Marsden showed up in a suit in one scene of last night’s season closer, I think I gasped a little. I’m glad Jack and Avery are no longer together – not that I’m hoping for Jack and Liz to get together — that should NOT happen because their mentor/mentee/big brother relationship is too good to ruin. I’m hoping Jack goes back to dating high profile women like Condi Rice or high-maintenance actresses. Hearing Jack talk about his exploits is always better than actually seeing them. Finally, I have to cheer any comedy that can work in a guest shot for Dr. Cornel West and I truly loved his scene with Tracy Morgan as the good Dr. West tried to counsel Tracy Jordan about being a role model. The capper had to be Tracy realizing at the Black History Museum that Tyler Perry would be his role model. Ha!
FRINGE SEASON FINALE: The show was all over the place this season but I really love that it closed on a true note of hope and love for Peter and Olivia. The show will return with 13 episodes in the fall to close the series. They already brought William Bell back; who knows what they’ll cook up for the final run of episodes. I’m sure we’ll see more of Bell, right?? I hope we also spend time in the alt-universe.
NETWORK UPFRONTS: I watched some upfronts via webcasts as I was unable to travel to NYC this year. Brief thoughts for now, with more to follow next week. I have not seen finished pilots yet.
CBS gets high marks for the most professional presentation (both Les Moonves and Nina Tassler have honed their stage presence nicely) and a really creative animated opening about all the network shows. CBS is so adept at using their research to crow about their audience strength and number of hits. Their season-to-season consistency is to be admired and though other networks won’t admit it, they’d love to emulate it. I wasn’t crazy about all of their new shows, but it was crystal clear why they picked them up and how the shows fit into their schedule. The show that impressed: ELEMENTARY starring Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu
NBC - I didn’t see the upfront but I heard they did an opening sketch that had some of their shows as musicals, a la SMASH. I’m loving the idea of that and it shows a nice sense of humor. Bob Greenblatt did a solid job of presenting the schedule last year and I have every reason to think he did just as well this year.
ABC - The presentation seemed looser than usual and a little scattershot, except for Jimmy Kimmel, who is so comfortable onstage when he’s mocking the other networks, it’s a pleasure to watch. While ABC has shows with solid potential, will REVENGE and SCANDAL be the next long term hits like GREY’S? Paul Lee makes everything sound better with his British accent but even the accent wasn’t enough to cover for some of the weaker new offerings like THE NEIGHBORS. One of the most interesting points about ABC’s upfront: they’re going to do one deal with advertisers that covers (they say) a multimedia audience: “One deal. One CPM. One guarantee. Every screen. In a world of fragmentation, we offer you aggregation.” I’m really curious to know if other networks are doing this as well.
FOX – They did their parade of Fox stars at the top of the show which I’ve always liked. Ryan Seacrest hosted and turned every intro into an AMERICAN IDOL bit which didn’t really work. Kevin Reilly is preppy, polished and jovial in his delivery of the schedule presentation, though I think they might want to vary their adjectives for the shows from year to year. I’m happy for Fox because they’re making an all-out effort to program live action comedies, which they had previously hit a wall with before NEW GIRL. Now they have RAISING HOPE and NEW GIRL and I think their next breakout hit will be Mindy Kaling’s show THE MINDY PROJECT. I usually don’t like to judge from the pilot scripts and upfront cutdowns but I don’t think I’m going out on a limb about Kaling’s show. The show most likely to give me the willies: the midseason show from Kevin Williamson THE FOLLOWING starring Kevin Bacon and James Purefoy (purrrrrrrr).
THE CW - The presentation felt off this year. It began with a performance by FloRida that was so bad, it was funny. He had a female singer with him who looked like a bad Rihanna wannabe. I felt bad for Mark Pedowitz for having to follow that performance. The great thing about Pedowitz is that he has real enthusiasm for the network and how the shows connect with the audience, even if the ratings aren’t gigantic. The CW excels in the digital arena and they know how important the digital element is to many of their viewers. They also know the value of nostalgia and they capitalize on it; see 90210 and the new midseason show THE CARRIE DIARIES (Carrie Bradshaw, the early years). The disappointing part of the upfront: seeing so much of the network’s talent appear at the end of the presentation. They had all three VAMPIRE DIARIES leads there and we saw none of them during the upfront. Puzzling as TVD is the network’s buzziest and most popular show, yet they didn’t think to incorporate Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev or Paul Wesley into the proceedings.
USA NETWORK did not do a webcast; I’m hoping the NBC Universal folks get with the times next year and do webcasts of both the NBC and USA upfront. USA had all their talent present their new projects; no executives were part of the presentation.
I’m not sure if Turner (TNT/TBS) did a webcast. From the online reports I read, Conan O’Brien provided most of the laughs, which makes sense as he’s their marquee star.
Tonight’s season finales: WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? with Paula Deen and GRIMM (NBC), SHARK TANK (ABC) and NIKITA (CW)
Saturday: Mick Jagger hosts SNL with musical guests Foo Fighters, Jeff Beck and Arcade Fire — Mick will also perform.
Sunday: CELEBRITY APPRENTICE season finale – it’s down to Clay Aiken and Arsenio Hall. Also Sunday, the BILLBOARD MUSIC AWARDS on ABC, KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS has its season premiere on E and MRS. EASTWOOD AND COMPANY premieres on E. That’s Clint Eastwood’s wife Dina and all reports say Clint will not appear in the show.
That’s a wrap for now.