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Wednesday, Jan 13, 2010

American Idol, the phenom that helped to forever define musical milieu and cultural temperature of the aughts, returned Tuesday night for its first episode of the teens and hit the ground running in hopes of proving that the show still has legs amid steadily falling ratings, the disappearance of its worst but most car-crash-fascinating judge and, just announced this week, the end-of-season skedaddle of head judge Simon Cowell. The show shakes things up this year—Randy Jackson promises “interesting wrinkles”, quite a commitment, but one of them, of course, is Paula’s replacement, the sweet and likeable Ellen Degeneres, whose experience evaluating music mostly involves dancing in the aisles during her talk show.


Bringing in Ellen is like having Dennis Miller provide color commentary for Monday Night Football, and part of the fun this season will be in seeing if her seat at the table turns out to be the payoff the show badly needs. Ellen hasn’t arrived yet, however; Tuesday’s airing gave us highlights and humiliations from one of the show’s massive auditions, this one in Boston. Instead, an emaciated Victoria Beckham, sat in as a fourth judge, cocking an odd stare at contestants. She was a fairly good Paula stand-in, offering the same sort of sympathetic support that Paula was famous for, perhaps because both Paula and Posh suffer from the sneaking self-awareness that they themselves can’t actually sing.


Tagged as: american idol
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Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010
As I continue to look back on the best TV of 2009, these are the ten best episodes...

Note: Only one episode per series.  Sorry,  Mad Men.


10. True Blood – I Will Rise Up
Okay, so I watched True Blood in a marathon last month, and I honestly have a hard time singling out an episode as the best in the season.  I enjoyed the season a lot – a very fun, guilty pleasure – and the cluster of episodes toward the end (8-10 of 12) were where things really came to a head.  The Dallas storyline and the Fellowship of the Sun storyline came together nicely and concluded in this episode. The highlight though, of this episode and of the season, is the Sookie-Eric dynamic, which took an important turn here.  And, of course, like every episode, it ended with a fantastic cliffhanger.


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Monday, Jan 11, 2010
'American Idol' has always had an uncomfortable relationship with its gay contestants. Maybe that will change now that they have the woman who had the most dignified public coming out in the history of TV at the judges table.

The most popular TV show in America is back this week. There are two things I know about this season. First, Ellen DeGeneres will be joining the panel as a judge starting Hollywood week. Second, some of the participants in this singing contest will be gay. If past history is any guide, those contestants will stay officially in the closet while on the show. 
 
It started on season one when Jim Verraros removed any mention of being gay from his show profile. Clay Aiken took second place in season two, but did not talk about his sexuality until five years later. During season seven, we had David Hernandez, whose exit coincided with pictures of him stripping. And, of course, last season gave us Adam Lambert. None of them were ever out on the show itself.


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Saturday, Jan 9, 2010
Thoughts on Big Love as its fourth season kicks off on HBO.

The fourth season of Big Love began on Sunday, January 10, and, as I sat down to watch the season premiere, I realized, unexpectedly, that I was very excited.  Perhaps it is because of the brutally cold weather outside, or because nothing “real” has aired since mid-December, but I was really, really excited.  The surprise I felt was due to my ambivalence toward the first two seasons of the show; however, after a strike-lengthened hiatus, last year’s third season was easily the best.


From the first episode, Big Love’s cast immediately stands out as a major reason to give it a chance.  Bill Paxton gives a career-best performance as Bill Henrickson, and his wives – played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chloe Sevigny, and Ginnifer Goodwin – are even more compelling actors.  I found the plotting of the first two seasons often ponderous, and I really doubted the ability of showrunners Mark V. Olsen and Will Scheffer to tell a coherent story.  The third season, though, found the show cohering in a way that it never had before and upping the stakes considerably, tackling topics such as abortion, ex-communication, divorce, and murder in ways that had noticeable consequences on the characters.  By finally allowing things to happen – rather than showing how all the characters remained the same despite the turmoil surrounding them – the show took important steps forward and, significantly, allowed its characters to start to grow and change in realistic ways.


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Thursday, Jan 7, 2010
Before Xena, before Buffy, even before Emma Peel, there was Annie Oakley, TV's first female action hero.

Long before Xena, long before Buffy, there was Annie Oakley. In 81 episodes made between 1954 to 1957, the TV series starring Gail Davis stood in stark contrast both all other contemporary Westerns, all of which starred men, while all other shows with female leads had none who were especially heroic. The show’s Annie Oakley was based only very loosely on the real life Annie Oakley, an Easterner who grew up outside of Cincinnati whose prowess with a rifle gained her a spot as the star performer with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.


The show was actually fairly pedestrian, with stories that never rose above standard Western fare, though in fairness they were no worse than the vast majority of B Westerns. Set in the town of Diablo, the only major recurring characters were Annie, her little brother Tagg, and deputy Sheriff Lofty Craig. Tagg’s main purpose was comic relief and as a catalyst for advancing the plot of most episodes, his mischievousness creating situations where Annie had to save him (think of the famous line from Buffy: "Dawn’s in trouble, it must be Tuesday). The plots invariably consisted of some problem that Annie had to resolve, either a mystery to resolve, or a villain to apprehend, or an innocent to absolve of guilt. The show was targeted at kids so the good guys always won and there was no such thing as moral ambiguity. The series is memorable exclusively for Annie. Without her there would simply be no reason to remember or watch the show.


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