Christmas Challenge: The West Wing

WEST WING: 2.10 “Noel”

I’m sure you were wondering a) when I’d get to West Wing and b) which episode I would choose. Of course, this is a show that can’t be missed at Christmastime. I love it. Those episodes are always done so well. Let’s be honest: The entire show is always done well. Man, I love West Wing.

Anyway, I chose “Noel,” which is one of my favorite episodes of the series, let alone for Christmas. The entire episode surrounds Josh, who’s reacting very on edge, given the Christmastime atmosphere. Musicians in the lobby are getting on his nerves. He’s losing his temper with many people. And the worst thing? One of those people was the President himself.

Bradley Whitford does a fantastic job in this episode, as it’s shown during flashbacks as he describes the last few weeks to a psychologist. Turns out that Josh isn’t quite over his shooting that happened at the beginning of the season. He has PSTD, and he needs to be able to handle remembering the event without reliving it. But what makes him relive it? Music.

This episode so wonderfully incorporates music into the plot. We start with a brass quartet and move on the bagpipes — all in the lobby, and even as someone who hasn’t been shot, you can feel something building in the harsh tones. But what’s even more interesting is the song by Yo Yo Ma, which is juxtaposed next to scenes from the graphic shooting. Something so beautiful (and it is, I have the CD) with something so horrifying.

In the end, Josh agrees to get the help he needs, and there’s a fantastic scene between Josh and Leo, when Leo insists that as long as he has a job, so will Josh. But it doesn’t end there. As Josh and Donna leave, they walk past carolers singing “Carol of the Bells.” I think this episode made me fall in love with this song. Normally beautiful in its complexity, it suddenly become haunting, as even as a viewer, you start hearing the sirens in the background of the song. It gives you winter chills, closing off the Christmas episode.

Recommendation: A must-watch. I’d be happy watching this every year. You should, too.

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James Roday and Dule Hill talk ‘Psych’

Image courtesy of USA

It seems like this is a big week for USA. Not only is there the summer finale of Burn Notice on Thursday (check out a Q&A with Bruce Campbell and Sharon Gless, or the giveaway that ends tonight), but Psych and Monk both start their new seasons on Friday night!

In honor of the event, I was able to be part of a conference call with the great Psych duo–James Roday and Dule Hill!

So read below for another USA Q&A. They talk musicals, werewolves, weddings, music, merchandise, and more! I even got to ask a couple questions. See if you can figure out which ones!

I know that you’ve both played very different characters in other things. I know that Mr. Roday had actually played alongside to Maggie Lawson in Fear Itself and Mr. Dulé you had a wonderful part on West Wing for a while. So how do you feel now about playing comedy? Do you enjoy it better; do you like doing horror or drama more? How does it feel?

Dulé: I actually enjoy comedy; it’s a lot of fun. After doing seven years of drama on West Wing to be able to come and work with Roday and the rest of the cast has been a blast. It’s something different, especially working with Roday where he likes to improv a lot it challenges me to work on different muscles that I haven’t used before.

That’s wonderful. How about you, Mr. Roday?

James: Well, first of all I just want to thank you for reminding me that I did in fact appear in Fear Itself; I often forget that. Secondly, I would say I’ve actually done a lot more comedy than I’ve done drama. It’s weird the way that worked out, because when I came out of theater school I took myself way too seriously, so it’s kind of ironic that I ended up sort of going down the comedy path.

But I think what makes this role special compared to some of the other stuff that I’ve done is just the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to live with it so long and sort of watch it sort of grow and nurture it, not unlike you nurture a plant. And working with a great group and an unbelievable cast and sort of having the freedom to do what we do on the show sort of sets it apart from any role that I’ve played, comedy or drama. It’s just been a special ride. It’s been a special ride.

***

Basically, this is for both of you; the show is known a lot for its kind of fast-paced banter between your characters Shawn and Gus. And so what I want to know is how much sort of say do you guys get in what goes on in the dialog, particularly between the humorous segments and something like the nicknames that Shawn makes up for Gus? What goes on with those types of moments?

James: Unlike, I think, the majority of shows on television right now we actually have a frighteningly high amount of say in what we do with the dialog. A lot of times it comes in great and all we have to do is say it, but any time we sort of recognize an opportunity to throw something in or add something or if we have a better name for Gus than the one that came in we just pull the trigger.

[Read more after the jump!] Continue reading

The initiation into ‘In Plain Sight’

IN PLAIN SIGHT: 2.11 “Jailbait”

Dear god. Can Francia Raisa possibly be in any show without taking her clothes off? I mean, sure, she was in lingerie in this one, and I can’t promise how much she’s actually taken off in Secret Life (I avoid that show at all costs), but either way, apparently this girl’s quite comfortable with promiscuity on television. Anyway…

I’m not sure if it’s an evil twist or just a coincidence that my first exposure to In Plain Sight happened to feature someone from one of the most detestable dramas on TV. But then again, we also had Carlos Gomez, who played one of the evil demons in Charmed. But I’ll ignore past associations so I can get to the real thing: the show itself. (Though I will say, Mary McCormack already impresses me since her appearances in The West Wing, so I’ve got a positive position already.)

You know, I really didn’t know what to expect with this show. I never really had a reason to check it out (thanks to my smart commenter who suggested I watch it, by the way), but I never had a reason not to either. I never really knew what it was about in the first season. I thought it was just another cop show. It wasn’t until the second season started that I found out it was about the witness protection program. And then, of course, I feared that I missed too much to catch up.

But it’s very accessible. And clever! The conversations outside the case really make you identify the character, and I really like the relationships. It’s something that gets lost pretty easily in many traditional cop shows. And while this might not fall in that category anyway, it’s an added bonus.

Anyway, this particular case didn’t grab my attention beyond the first few gunshots. I’m not entirely sure why. It might be because I found the daughter annoying (true, Raisa could act better than she does in Secret Life), but it seemed like the relationship between her and Cesar just didn’t seem to be all that important after her mother was gunned down in the street and the two were taken into witness protection. And the overprotective father bit? I mean, the scene where he was ready to kill Olivia’s friend for seeing her try on lingerie was funny, but by the time he was threatening Cesar, it just seemed forced.

However, the choice to say good-bye to her father forever or to stay with Cesar, that was a rough one. And it definitely made for an emotional scene in the end. It was something that you really didn’t think about as you watched things unfold. Now she’s lost both parents.

And in the end, they reconnect. It was brave of her to stand up against them, but I’m not 100% content. It seemed a little predictable, and a little too easy for Jesus once he sees her change seats. A true 180 in 60 seconds.

My question is this: What’s to prove that they still wouldn’t track down Olivia and kill her after his testimony anyway? Whether she’s with Cesar or not, she’s still in danger of being killed. With the menacing look between father and son, I could definitely see the father pulling Cesar’s puppet strings.

But hey, that’s what witness protection is for, right? I assume they have to go back in, even though they got their happy end. You can correct me if I’m wrong (I’m a newbie, remember?). Plus, even  Mary got a happy ending–and you know that suckered me in.

So my initiation? Successful. At least for another week (and maybe even checking out a few from the past season or so).

Oh, and the goat jokes? Loved them.

Gone swimming

GHOST WHISPERER: 4.13 “Body of Water”

My favorite episodes of GW are the ones that especially creepy. Now, I really haven’t seen many episodes of the show, but by far, I think my favorite one was “Weight of What Was” that guest starred Amy Acker and featured an underground city. It was really creepy and effective.

The previews of last week made this episode seem like it would be similar. Not the same storyline, of course, but just having many ghosts in a very creepy setting. This episode, while not that creepy, was still very good, so I must say I enjoyed it.

First, it was great seeing Arye Gross again. If you’ve read my blog from the beginning (which I’m sure most of you haven’t, but that’s ok–I had something like two readers at the beginning), you’d know that I’m a Wildfire fan. Arye played Charlie in the first season, and honestly, it was really sad to see him disappear. I’m surprised he never really came back.

Wildfire aside, he did a good job on GW, too. The plot itself was rather creepy to think about. First, something from a lake grabbed a girl, only to find out that the lake was full of twenty-something bodies (in fact, the scene where they were pulling them out of the water was very close to a scene from the horror flick Cabin by the Lake). The idea that when someone requests cremation and doesn’t get it–their body left in a deep lake–was really just haunting in and of itself, let alone with the water-logged corpses staring at Melinda.

I think boiling down the entire episode to shame was a little much. I agree that maybe Carl was ashamed and that he shouldn’t move into the light if he wasn’t ready. In fact, finding out more about these messengers that keep appearing to Melinda was very interesting, too. And yes, maybe the wife not identifying her husband’s body was shameful–I don’t know–but I don’t see how the idea of shame would reach to everyone else’s families that discovered their cremated loved ones weren’t so much cremated. It just seemed odd to mention at the memorial.

But overall, good episode and interesting premise. Of course, for you Jim Sam Sam  Jim fans out there, you know that’s not it.

You might have recognized Nikki. I sure did. That was Teri Polo, better known as the new First Lady of West Wing (well, if it were still on the air, that is). And in this show, I definitely didn’t like her. Ok. I didn’t like Nikki. Teri was fine.

And that was on purpose because she was stealing Jim Sam Sam Jim! To be honest, if it were up to me, I would have had Jim Sam Sam Jim head off into the sunset with Nikki (though the entire time she was talking to Melinda before she left, I was thinking, “That *itch!” But anyway…). I know you all are hating me for saying that, but hear me out.

If Jim Sam Sam Jim had left with her, we’d have a great episode or two of Melinda dealing. What should she do? Assume Jim’s gone? Left and only Sam now? And then what?

I’ll tell you what. Jim Sam Sam Jim would then return. He’d realize Nikki isn’t the woman he was remembering and just come back to the one he wants. I feel that would have been more effective.

But perhaps that would just be too mean to the viewers, so we’ve kept Jim Sam Sam Jim with Melinda; he’s staying. It was a big turnaround, as I’m sure most were convinced by Nikki’s speech. Which just made me feel terrible. I thought she was a terrible *itch when in fact, she was just being genuine and nice. And getting her heart stomped on. Poor girl.

So we have yet to see where things go with Melinda and her beau, but things are looking good. He even remembers wanting to have a kid with her. Are you all feeling better? I wonder how long we’ll keep this going, or whether he’ll ever find out her secret. I think he suspects something–no one’s that good of a person, sadly enough–so maybe by season end he might just confront her. But I guess there’s time to see. At least he’s sticking around.

Are the networks devoid of smart?

It’s not really a new question. In fact, people have asked it a lot. And in the void of new episodes of TV, I was thinking about it.

I remember when The Sopranos started on HBO. Now, I’ve never had HBO, so I never saw this series or Sex and the City until they were syndicated many years later. So it would bug the crap out of me to watch the Emmys or the Golden Globes and find all the awards going to shows I’ve never seen. And it still happens with HBO series and Showtime, too!

But now it’s spread a little further. If you look at the most recent list of Golden Globe nominees, you’ll see that the four basic networks–ABC, NBC, CBS, and FOX–aren’t nearly as represented as HBO, Showtime, and even TNT.

And why is that the case? Well, it seems to me that the four basic networks just don’t really have the time or money to spend on “smart” TV.

But let’s backtrack. What do I mean by “smart”? Well, I don’t mean “creative,” though there have been a number of cancellations for creative shows. I never watched Pushing Daisies, but you can’t disagree that it had a creative background and premise. Eli Stone, too. So it’s not necessarily creativity that I’m looking at.

Take a look at Studio 60. It was a very “smart” show. You really had to tune in and pay attention to really enjoy the show because there were a lot of storylines that fell below an episode’s plot–like Danny’s past addictions or Tom’s brother at war. It provoked thought.

Now, we take a look at shows like 90210 and The Office, which are basically spin-off/remakes of older, fresher favorites. Don’t get me wrong, I like The Office, but we’ve moved away from subtle humor in past seasons, and we’re now to the slapstick variety and cardboard characters.

And yes, there are exceptions. Lost is clearly a smart concept, though again, I haven’t seen it (sorry, I missed the first season and never caught up). But other shows have tried to keep mysteries throughout a series and they’ve fallen flat with few viewers: Hidden Palms and Reunion are just two.

Other shows have brought about the smart in the viewers; Numb3rs is  a huge example, where the show is actually bringing about mathematical ideas into a show that would otherwise be just a basic crime show.

But overall, there seems to be a lack of smart. When The West Wing, ER, and Gilmore Girls started, there were random quips and stronger storylines. However, people followed them. I know it seems odd that I included Gilmore Girls in there, but honestly, the fast-talking pop-culture basis really carried a smart feel–a feel that really declined in later seasons.

So what’s bringing this about? I’m afraid to say it (though I already have), but time and money. But whose?

Without viewers, shows can’t last. So if viewers won’t give a show like Studio 60 a chance because they don’t want to put that much attention to an hour-long program, then what can the networks really do? But then again, Pushing Daisies did have viewers. So what happened there?

Clearly, some of the fault lies in the networks. How long is long enough to decide? Four episodes (Drive)? Nine episodes (Reunion)? Fourteen (Firefly)? Twenty-five (Tru Calling)?

[Ok, I wasn’t trying to only pick FOX shows there, but hey, look what happened. You get a prize if you can figure out what else all of those shows have in common.]

And you have to admit, the networks do have more problems with money. Unlike HBO, they don’t have a subscription basis, which means they can’t put all their money into one show. Cable series have had this advantage. They have much tighter budgets, and if something doesn’t make money AND QUICK, it can’t be on TV.

So true, they are at a disadvantage, but why do they have to go to reality TV before putting together something quality? Raising the Bar could have easily been shown on any network other than TNT, but it wasn’t. Possibly The Closer, too. Instead, we have too many competition shows and game shows–and Jay Leno’s getting his own nightly talk show at 10:00 pm!

What’s disappointing is that now I watch TV, and I’m bored. I want the smart back. I’d like to know that our basic networks aren’t free due to bad programming.

But anyway, what do you think? Viewers’ faults for not watching? Networks for not giving shows a chance? Or cable for being bullies? All opinions welcome.

Christmas Episodes for a Merry Christmas

To go along with my Non-Christmas Christmas Favorites, I’ve compiled a list of favorite Christmas episodes. Now, this is hard. And I don’t know how I did. I think in the end, it all came out a wee bit random, except for three of them that I knew just had to make the list. I think you’ll recognize one in particular.

But it was hard. With old sitcoms, there are a ton. Especially when by “old sitcoms” I mean the 1980s and 1990s. And the other thing is that I probably don’t remember a ton when I was little and since some haven’t been in syndication, I’m probably missing some killer episodes. And I’m skipping a lot of favorites that involve people dressing up as Santa and elves–there are just too many to keep up with. I mean, even Sliders had an episode where they dressed up like elves.

So first, some honorable mentions. As much as people would hurt to hear it, I have to call out Lizzie McGuire‘s “Xtreme Xmas”; I mean, it ended with Steven Tyler singing in a Christmas parade! Plus, there’s The Office‘s “Christmas Party” (not to be confused with this year’s terrible episode for Christmas). And The X-Files‘ “How the Ghosts Stole Christmas.” Enjoyable. Oh, and there’s the Home Improvement where they misspell “Noel” as “Leon.”

Now, for my favorites:

5. Eight Simple Rules: “All I Want for Christmas”

Why this episode? Katey Sagal sings. I love it when she sings. But the episode in general is great: Bridget deciding what is a fair gift for Kyle. Kerry trying to get puppies adopted. And Rory wanting…a chemistry set for a change. Meanwhile, Paul just tries to get everyone to come together for Christmas–the one thing teenagers don’t want. Very true to life, even for a sitcom (well, except maybe for everyone trying to help adopt dogs, but it’s still sweet).

4. Full House: “Our Very First Christmas Show”

I’m sure a lot of people out there know what it’s like: getting stuck in an airport for Christmas. But they make the best of it, and since it’s early in the show’s lifetime, it’s actually funny. Plus, Santa even arrives and gives everyone presents in the end. Sweet. And the old school computer add just that old touch.

3. Scrubs: “My Own Personal Jesus”

I get the impression that the first Christmas episode of any show is always the best. But this one’s great, mostly because of Turk’s religious journey throughout. It really has the feel of, well, Christmas–along with some fantastic Scrubs jokes.

4. The West Wing: “In Excelsis Deo”

While all the West Wing is getting ready for the holidays (including having the President sneak out of the White House to buy presents), Toby finds himself caring for a late veteran who is found in a park. The message is bittersweet, and I love hearing the story of Mrs. Landingham’s sons, even if it is so sad. It’s just such a great message at the time of Christmas to make your heart feel.

5. Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip: “The Christmas Show”

You know this one would make it on here. Not only is it hilarious (Nazi Santa?) but it reaches out to all those who suffered with Katrina in New Orleans. The final song of the show is just so beautiful. (Again, courtesy of YouTube–and they even took out the spoken parts for you.)

Non-Christmas Christmas favorites

It’s the night before Christmas Eve, and I don’t know about you, but I need some good television! Sure, there are movies galore on tomorrow, but what about those TV episodes that you just want to get in the spirit with?

Well, those are coming, but what I really want to point out my favorite non-Christmas Christmas favorites for your viewing pleasure. What do I mean? Well, what about those holiday favorites that really mean a lot, but might not completely surround themselves with Christmas cheer?

More so, the plot itself might not be Christmas-related, but the episode is and the non-Christmas plot just really stands out in its fantastic nature, juxtaposed with the Christmas feel.

Ok, that might not explain it well either, but maybe my suggestions might make more sense.

1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “Amends”

And then it snows. I love this episode. I really do. It’s really about a conflicted Angel, with Buffy there to help him along. More so, it foreshadows what we’ll see all over Season 7, but as a stand-alone ep, it’s solid. Buffy fights for Angel, and Angel almost gives up. The fact that in the end, it’s fate who decides what happens–just with the falling of snow–is fantastic.

2. The West Wing: “Noel”

I have trouble deciding on my favorite episode of The West Wing, but this is definitely up there. Christmas is everywhere, except in Josh’s head. The entire show moves around Josh’s description of the last three weeks, leading up to the discovery of his post-traumatic stress disorder based on his recent shooting. The best parts, though, are Leo’s hand to help him out of a hole and the beautiful, haunting “Carol of the Bells” at the end of the episode. Oh, and Yo Yo Ma guests. Who couldn’t love it more?

3. Ally McBeal: “Nine One One”

In the wake of a fictional mother’s death and the real tragedy of 9/11, there is Ally McBeal. The beauty of this episode (in my eye) is the final song, sung by Josh Groban. Groban plays Malcolm, who is unable to sing in his father’s church for Christmas service after his mother passed away. Ally, a close friend, tries to reach him, while the Biscuit ponders what everything means after tragedy. And through it all, it’s Christmas. Just the juxtaposition (yes, I’ve used this word twice in my post now) of putting Josh Groban’s song in church with the Christmas party and finally, the memorial parade just relays so much. Maybe I’m just a sap, but it touches me. Here’s a video of the final song from YouTube (given that it doesn’t get yanked!):

Any others? Non-Christmas Christmas episodes, that is. I might mention some tomorrow in my Christmas episodes to watch (ones that maybe I think are more directly Christmasy than others), but I’m always open to hearing more!