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May. 24 2010 — 3:07 am | 608 views | 0 recommendations | 14 comments

In honor of ‘Lost’: Favorite TV Finales

I haven’t watched “Lost” regularly since they first discovered the hatch and the button that needed to be pushed at regular intervals or the island would blow up. Nothing personal; it was just that my TV dance card was full and Evangeline Lilly’s complaining about the burdens of fame after the first couple of seasons were, frankly, a turn-off. But I watched tonight, and even though I understood maybe a quarter of what went on, I have to say I was impressed. Despite my not knowing what the smoke monster was, I agree with my True/Slant colleague Caitlin Kelly that it had a lot to say about love and community, in addition to the series’ statements on good and evil and fate and the role of corporations. Now I may have to go back and watch the whole series. Dammit — one pop culture touchstone that I may have to atone for not having paid attention to.

But this, along with the “Grey’s Anatomy” season finale that I recapped the other night, got me thinking about farewells — both those that end the season and those that end a series and close a chapter entirely. And I came to the realization that beyond the truly legendary series finales, most of my favorites have been on cable. And now I have to ask myself if it’s just that what we’re getting on cable lately is just that great, or if my memory is that bad that I can’t go back too far.

The “M*A*S*H” series finale, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen,” is one of the first I remember really paying attention to, and now when you look back at the statistics — 106 million Americans tuning in — its impact is staggering. I don’t remember all that much about it, besides Hawkeye starting the episode in a psych ward and B.J. spelling “Goodbye” in rocks on the hillside as Hawkeye flew away in a chopper. But it was a great early lesson in the emotionality of TV.

“Newhart” — An absolutely fantastic take imaginable on the “it was all a dream” conceit.

“Seinfeld” — Since this show is on in syndication seemingly every hour of every day, it’s not hard to run into this one once in a while. I actually hate this one, but it does bring into rather stark relief how awful the characters of “Seinfeld” really are — and it gave me fresh justification for not liking Larry David.

“Friends” – I admit my viewing record wasn’t perfect in the last season or two, but regardless of how unrealistic the apartment or how unlikely it is that they’d all still be friends with a dope like Joey for so many years, it was a heart tugger, even if it didn’t set up the “Joey” spinoff at all.

“Sex and the City” — I’m sitting here re-watching the finale on demand, and am struck anew at how beautifully this series came to a close. Of course it left plenty of string to attach a movie to, but the two-part farewell seriously renders the “SATC” movie — or both of them — unnecessary. It also never lets you forget how immature, self-obsessed, and completely disinterested Carrie Bradshaw is about anything other than what’s directly in front of her (big, big hat tip) — she and Big deserve each other. I’m with my fellow True/Slanter Jeremy Helligar on this one. I realize the importance of going for the duckets while the going — and the duckets — are good, but come on.

After that, do you really need to watch these women flit around Abu Dhabi? Nope.

“The Sopranos” — I’ve had more than one argument about this one, but I cling steadfastly to my belief that this is pure genius. It’s singularly fantastic; a perfect television representation of a sentiment: “I’m David Chase, and you’re not.”

“Six Feet Under” — To those who argue that this is the best television finale to date, I heartily agree. After running off the rails a bit in seasons 3 and 4, it came back so utterly brilliantly in the final season that it could restore the faith of even the most cynical viewer. When the song accompanying the final scene randomly pops up on my iPod, I can’t help but tear up and remember that wistful hopefulness, and the genuinely comforting notion that not only that we’re reunited with our loved ones when we die, but even more importantly that they’re there to help us cross over. I met Alan Ball once, and completely embarrassed myself by going fan-girl over this show — and I’d do it again.

What’s missing from this list? What shows would you vote into your all-time top five (or ten) series finales?

May. 13 2010 — 12:26 am | 108 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Mr. and Mrs. King put their marriage back together again

Larry King

Image by cliff1066™ via Flickr

A few weeks back, a bomb went off in the marriage of Larry and Shawn Southwick King, as they filed and counter-filed for divorce amid allegations of infidelity and downright tawdry behavior. But before things went to DEFCON 1, the Kings managed to let sanity prevail (as it came out that they have no prenup), and they came back from the brink. You had to know something was up when they managed to behave remarkably civilly toward one another at their sons’ baseball game just a day or two after their lawyers filed. And five days into their very public marital crash-and-burn, they decided to put their divorce on hold.

Now, not quite a month later, the Kings have declared their love for one another, and more importantly, declared a truce — calling off their divorce. Earlier this week, TMZ reported that they’re back under the same roof in Beverly Hills.

I know this isn’t exactly breaking news today, but I just wanted to tear myself away from the “America’s Next Top Model” finale to marvel to marvel at what a rare and lovely thing this is. How many times do any of us do something or strike out, only to regret it later? Like them or not, care about them or not, you have to hand it to the Kings for putting their kids and their marriage first. Mazel tov, Kings — here’s hoping everything works out for you.

May. 7 2010 — 11:15 pm | 657 views | 1 recommendations | 7 comments

‘Friday Night Lights’: The reason I can’t quit NBC


Mr. and Mrs. Coach, how I love you. Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Dear NBC,

You and I have had our differences lately. First, there’s the Conan O’Brien thing. Then there’s the abominable “Marriage Ref” — which is a whole other post, because it’s (a) utterly inexplicable, and (b) seriously not funny, regardless of what anyone says. “Heroes” has gone into a deep slide, and I’m not even getting into “Minute to Win It.” And while I’m still a fan of Thursday nights and I love that you’ve brought Lorelai Gilmore back into my life with “Parenthood,” I’ll still continue to watch you because of one thing: “Friday Night Lights.”

It’s one of the best shows on television and the one that can both break your heart and restore your faith week after week. Truly, it’s little short of a television miracle, and the fact that you continue to (at least partly) bankroll its production — despite the fact that you don’t throw nearly enough marketing dollars behind it — leads me to believe that somewhere, deep down, you’re operating on the side of the angels. I’d almost argue that a network that produces “Friday Night Lights” doesn’t deserve to be in fourth place. Almost. In a perfect world, where troubles melt like lemon drops and I’m the $266 million lottery winner.

This isn’t just blind devotion, either. I have my reasons.

1. It’s believable. Eric and Tami Taylor live in a cute ranch house in Dillon — which looks like a house that a couple of middle-class professionals might actually own in central Texas. Not like Monica and Rachel’s apartment. It celebrates people just trying to make it from day to day, the way most of us live. Yet it never feels plodding and boring, nor does it often have the rhetorical flourishes of a Bruce Springsteen song.

2. Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton. First of all, look at them. I mean, come on — these people are not hard on the eyes. But even better than that, they both have fantastic acting chops, and their chemistry is palpable. This feels like a real, working marriage — certainly the best portrayal of marriage on television. I aspire to having this marriage. By no means are the Taylors perfect, and over the past three seasons they’ve had their crosses to bear. But they manage to stick together, and to treat each other with kindness even when they’re annoyed or when things are going wrong. They have each other’s backs, and getting to watch that week after week is magical. And any kid would be lucky to have teachers and coaches who care as much about them.

3. Taylor Kitsch. Lordy me, Tim Riggins. When the show premiered in 2006, the Washington Post’s Tom Shales wrote about the “unusual number of strikingly beautiful young women in the cast,” but it wasn’t just the young women who are beautiful. It helps too that Kitsch can act, and it’s exciting to see that he survived “Snakes on a Plane” and got discovered by the comic book world to play Gambit in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.” Not much ever seems to go right for Tim Riggins — he’s his own worst enemy for sure, but life hasn’t exactly done him too many favors either. Kitsch makes you care about him even when you’re frustrated with his antics. And, as my pal Korbi Ghosh notes, the three seconds he’s shirtless in tonight’s episode are glorious.

4. The football. There’s not enough of it, really, in terms of action and games, and in a show about a small Texas town’s obsession with high-school football, that’s odd to say the least. But its genius lies in capturing the high-school football culture, and the way it permeates everything in Dillon.

5. It’s funny too. “Friday Night Lights” never loses its sense of humor in the midst of its grounded-in-the-good-Texas-earth sensibility — which makes it a treat. But it’s funny in context, which makes it really hard to cite an example except to say that when Landry’s band, Crucifictorious, embarks on their debut Christian speed metal tour, I’d want to be in the front row. The humor comes from who the characters are, and it has a sweetness that doesn’t have to rely on mockery.

“Friday Night Lights” isn’t perfect. It took an uncharacteristic turn off the rails during season 2, though thankfully it recovered after being interrupted by the writer’s strike. The antics of both Buddy Garrity and Tim Riggins can wear a little bit thin sometimes. The bad-guy set-up with Joe McCoy and his increasingly bratty son J.D. is a little bit obvious. And the odds just seem way too stacked against Coach Taylor as he tries to mold his ragtag band of East Dillon Lions into a decent team. But I can’t wait to see how this season pans out.

Thanks again — for this season and for picking up a fifth.

Your pal,


May. 5 2010 — 3:12 am | 18,182 views | 1 recommendations | 5 comments

A dozen reasons why I’m an ‘Iron Man’ convert

Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man

Credit: Marvel.com

I just got back from a screening of “Iron Man 2″ (in IMAX, which I highly recommend). I have embraced my inner nerd, and I don’t care who knows it.

Let me start by saying that in no way am I the target demographic for this movie — nor was I for the first one. But take a look at this trailer and tell me there’s any way to avoid getting turned on.

Good lord, take a look at the tux on Robert Downey Jr. That alone is almost cooler than anyone has a right to think they could reasonably pull off.

And that’s the thing about the “Iron Man” movies. They make you feel cool just for watching them. They’re funny, sly, and fresh, and the “update/reboot” thing never for a minute feels like it’s stretching things or going too far. You walk out of the theater feeling sated, like your entertainment needs have been fully met. And I don’t spend one iota of energy thinking about things like “story clarity and momentum” — even though this smartly written Chicago Tribune review does — because the ride is so much fun.


1. Robert Downey, Jr. I ran out of superlatives for this guy a long time ago, and saying he’s one of the most copiously talented actors of his generation just gets boring after a while. He’s nearly equally brilliant in this role when he’s focused and when he’s a complete loose cannon, and that element of danger in never knowing what he’s going to do next is downright intoxicating. He’s also blissfully articulate and more than a little dirty. And while I know Robert Downey Jr.’s packed a whole lotta living into his 45 years, he remains just ridiculously handsome. They’re playing up the whole dead-sexy thing here (it totally works), but he’s got it in spades. Whatever he’s doing, if it’s sensory deprivation chambers or an all-soy diet or drinking the blood of werewolves by the light of the full moon, it’s working.

2. Mickey Rourke. Rourke is another exceptionally talented actor, which he demonstrated with a vengeance in his 2008 comeback, “The Wrestler.” It doesn’t matter all that much that he’s largely unintelligible, or that I desperately want him to take a nail brush into the shower with him. His sullen intensity (it’s awesome that his character is a brilliant scientist too) is a great match for Downey’s rogue. And watching them together, you can’t help but be reminded of how both of these guys have made extraordinary comebacks to their craft.

3. I don’t want to punch Gwenyth Paltrow. I often do. Well, that’s not entirely fair — she’s a fine actress, I’m delighted that traveling with Mario Batali re-introduced her to the joys of pork fat, and I keep my blood pressure lower by staying away from Goop. As Pepper Potts, she manages to avoid a lot of the smart-woman-sidekick traps by not being too disapproving or too fawning.

4. The technology. The only word I can come up with that does it justice is “spellbinding.” From the transparent screens and the 3-D scans to Paul Bettany-as-the-computer walking Robert Downey Jr. through a scientific breakthrough, it feels like a tool that’s being used to drive the story, rather than the story serving it.

5. Don Cheadle. He replaces Terence Howard as Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes. And in general I just pretty much love Don Cheadle.

6. Sam Rockwell. He brings it with a vengeance — and the self-tanner stains on his hands are a fantastic touch.

7. Scarlett Johansson. I couldn’t care less about the supposed feud between her and Paltrow. She kicks major ass, takes no crap and looks awesome doing it. ‘Nuff said.

8. Samuel L. Jackson. He damn near steals every scene he’s in, injecting a heightened bit of intrigue whenever he’s around. Plus, there’s the eye patch.

9. John Slattery. He’s not in it for long, but I also love that Slattery seems to be getting re-branded as a kind of go-to mid-20th-century guy (here it’s 1974, but close enough). And I always love getting to see Roger Sterling in any capacity. What the hell, here’s a gratuitous shot, just for fun.

John Slattery and Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"

10. AC/DC. They’re a big part of the soundtrack, and they set a fantastically raucous tone for the whole thing. In my book, any movie that plays AC/DC under its last scene immediately goes up 20 points. In fact, I’d urge Tim Burton to use them when he brings the Jane Austen/Seth Grahame-Smith tome “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” to the big screen. Elizabeth Bennet and “Back in Black”? Hells yeah.

11. The scenes at the end. Very few people left during the credits tonight, glued to their seats by the knowledge that the post-credits scene with a hint about the next Marvel/Avengers movie was coming. It’s so much better than a secret decoder ring.

12. Jon Favreau. No, not President Obama’s speechwriter. This guy. The director. Who I first saw in “Swingers” and who’s both done great work and survived stuff like “The Break-Up” and “Couples Retreat.” Turns out he’s a pretty good director too. You’re money, baby!

Welcome to the first big summer movie — its international box office already tops $100 million. After this, I’m looking forward to what’s ahead. Or at least dreading it a little bit less.

May. 2 2010 — 8:46 pm | 1,209 views | 0 recommendations | 26 comments

Conan O’Brien: No regrets. Is anyone really that healthy?

I just watchedConan O'Brien talks to Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes" Conan O’Brien sit down with Steve Kroft “60 Minutes,” and I really have to hand it to the CBS News publicists, because I didn’t necessarily see a whole lot in the interview that I hadn’t expected.

We did get to see a little behind-the-scenes action on the “Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour,” and that was interesting, but with “60 Minutes,” even when there’s a walking-around-the-manse shot (nice spread, by the way, Conan), it’s all about the interview.

Which was 90% over by the time Steve Croft even mentioned the TBS deal. “I do not look down my nose at cable,” O’Brien said. “And I think anyone who does isn’t paying attention to television these days.” Which I completely agree with, and which my friend Matthew Greenberg made well a couple of weeks back when the new show was announced.

Though still looking a little shellshocked, O’Brien came off as a straight shooter throughout, and made a point of saying more than once that no one should feel sorry for him. You’re going to read all over the place that he was slamming Leno and NBC, but I didn’t feel like it got that extreme — a wise move politically, given that the entertainment business is only so big. And their paths are likely to cross again — at the least, surely his kids go the same school as the kids of some of the NBC executives, and hello, awkward Christmas pageant night.

I was pleasantly surprised to note that O’Brien and I share the same ability to find a worst-case scenario — the weirder the better — in just about any scenario. Which makes it no more fun when that worst-case turns out to be on the tame side of what really happens. The thought of Leno taking the show back, he said, seemed like a stretch even for his active imagination. When the tone of the NBC negotiations turned from take your time with this difficult decision to let’s get a move on here, it started to go south. Faced with the very possible notion that they just didn’t want him around anymore, he said, he couldn’t stay.

Kroft’s run at explaining how Leno was thinking — i.e., that he was still on top when the deal that was done five years before was coming due and he felt pushed out — took it to an interesting place. There’s clearly no love lost between O’Brien and Leno, who he said hasn’t been in touch, and whose actions he said he wouldn’t have taken if the roles were reversed. It also caused O’Brien to laugh at the notion that Leno got screwed. “Jay’s got the ‘Tonight Show’. I have a beard and an inflatable bat. And I’m touring city to city,” he said.

But O’Brien offers that even he didn’t get screwed either. “I’m happy with my decision,” he said. “I sleep well at night. And I hope [Leno's] happy with his decision.”

He does seem to accept the notion that the scenario that led to him quitting was about business — it was simply cheaper to pay Conan O’Brien to go away than it was to pay Jay Leno to go away. With respect to the NBC brass, he took issue with the notion that “The Tonight Show” was losing money (“I don’t see how it’s possible that the “Tonight Show” was losing money.”), and said he should’ve been given more of a chance. But the show wasn’t a failure. Both O’Brien and his wife, Liza, made the point that it would’ve been interesting to see what the show could’ve become with the full backing of the network.

Here’s where it got tricky. Because no matter how much the guy says, quite rightly, that he’s just fine, there’s really no way that any conversation about NBC doesn’t come off even just a tiny bit as sour grapes. I kep thinking about winski, who left a comment on my post last week about this interview:

Sorry Lisa…Ain’t buying it.. O’Brien is a 45-million dollar richer WHINE MACHINE that can’t just shut up and go his merry way. Time to find something else to amuse your minions with, like picking your nose or something…

Go away….

I understand this feeling entirely, and I think it’s really hard to try to separate how fortunate someone is from feeling bad that something rotten happened to them. And interviews like this don’t make it easier. I’m inclined to keep an open mind — and I will watch the TBS show, if only because I can still stay up that late.

What did you think of the interview? Did O’Brien seem genuine? Is it possible for someone with such deep Catholic roots to be that emotionally healthy? Are you over it already?

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    About Me

    I've always been obsessed with pop culture and celebrity, even as a political reporter by day at washingtonpost.com and ABC News. Even after leaving journalism for media relations and consulting (Need help with press releases, brochures, annual reports, or media strategy? E-mail me -- lisa.celebjungleATgmail.com.), I pretended to be mildly appalled by the antics of the beautiful and famous -- then gobbled up tabloids and all the gossip I could find. To date, I've preserved my amateur status as a celebrity news analyst so I could compete in the gossip Olympics, but now I've decided to go pro. As a recent transplant to Los Angeles, or Celebrity Ground Zero, I'm learning to live among them as they roam unfettered over the landscape -- while praying that a behind-the-wheel Lindsay Lohan stays out of my neighborhood.

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