The Simpsons: Donnie Fatso
What started out as a rare New Years episode turned quickly into a fairly standard mobster/mafia movie parody. As a result, the best stuff was, as usual, in the first act (the New Years stuff, Homer's tickets, Moe on the set of Wicked) before the main plot kicked in and the story started hitting all the expected beats. For a moment, I wondered if the show was going to do one of its rare continuity changes by replacing Fat Tony with Fit Tony, but I did enjoy how they showed us the reset button by transforming Fit Tony into Fat Tony II instead of just bringing back Fat Tony in a later episode with no explanation.
FBI Agent: You will be known as Nicky 'Bluepants' Altosaxophoni.
Homer: Can I keep the name after I'm done?
FBI Agent: No. It belongs to the government.
Fat Tony: I hope Heaven's outer room is painted that eggshell blue you could never achieve on Earth.
Family Guy: The Road to the North Pole
Okay, so the whole "Seth MacFarlane's dad is the narrator" thing did little for me (aside from the comment at the beginning that Kenny Rogers was supposed to be there, but he might be dead) and the extended scene inside the house in which Brian and Stewie attack a family was unsettling (intentional) in a not-so-funny way (unintentional). Also, if the catalyst for the story was that Stewie was spurned by the mall Santa, the episode never provided a rationale for why this led to a trip to the North Pole instead of back to the mall the next day.
But everything else was pretty dang good. I especially liked how the show worked the increasing sophistication of toys into the story. So often in Christmas stories we see Santa and his elves making relatively simple toys when most kids these days are asking for cell phones or Xboxes. The whole nightmarish scene at the North Pole brought on by the increased population and demand for ever more complex gifts was great. And while the "attack the family" scene was a bit much, I laughed the hardest as Stewie and Brian left the house, realizing they couldn't make all their deliveries since they'd spent an hour and half in the first house and it had been a complete disaster.
Other bits I liked: Gillian wanting lots of painted eggs for Christmas, the Aurora Boreanaz, the constantly-escalating robots Stewie left behind to cover for his and Brian's absence, and that, like any good "very special Christmas episode", it ended with everyone learning a lesson.
Santa: It just got out of hand. The world's population just kept growing and growing. Kids wanted more toys. Fancier toys! We used to make wooden choo-choos and rag dolls. You ever try to make an iPod? I've got orders for millions of them!
Stewie: Oh, that reminds me, I need a new version of Quicken.
Santa: I don't even pray for them anymore. Seems pointless. What God would allow this?
Stewie: This is in none of the songs or poetry!
Peter: Joe, did you get any Christmas presents?
Quagmire: Me neither!
Mort: I got eight mediocre things.
American Dad: For Whom the Sleigh Bell Tolls
American Dad has always had a tradition of strong Christmas episode, and while this one didn't top last year's "Rapture Delight" (in which Stan fought beside the Nazarene against the Anti-Christ in a post-apocalyptic Earth) it still managed to continue that tradition. Steve accidentally killing Santa with his early Christmas present ("Happy Wednesday!" Stan said, skirting his promise to Francine not to give Steve a gun for Christmas) was unsettling, but once it became clear he had killed the real Santa, and that Santa survived to swear revenge on the Smiths, the hilarity and over-the-top action scenes commenced.
Stan: Steve, shooting a gun is like being intimate with a woman. First, you inspect, to make sure it's clean. Then you grab it on the butt and jam the magazine in. If it doesn't fit, make it.
Steve: Ah! Almost shot my eye out!
Stan: You're doing it son!
Steve: Is it weird to have a boner?
Stan: It'd be weird if you didn't!
Francine: I think he just has to get used to the idea of Jeff living in the house. Remember how hard it was for him to get used to Roger? Not to mention what's-his-name.
Klaus: My name is Klaus Heisler.
The Walking Dead: Wildfire
So, Zombiepoc protocol question for you: where do you fall on the issue of handling the deceased? While Glen's empathic plea that their people get buried, not burned, was a nice bit of character development for him, I'm of the opinion that the dead are dead, and whatever is quicker, safer and less likely to lead to zombies is the way to go.
Similarly, Andrea's vigil over her dead sister's body was well acted and well shot (lots of tense horror movie moments waiting for the inevitable "wake up") but also frustrating in that it seemed an awfully dangerous way for Andrea to handle her grief (though a nifty way to show us, the audience, rather than tell us, roughly how long it takes for someone to come back as a zombie after dying; ditto's Jim infection).
Similarly, the handling of Jim later in the episode raised some sticky questions. While Jim certainly has the right to choose to die instead of sticking with the group, one could question Rick and company leaving him behind to turn into a zombie, making them somewhat responsible for any non-Zombie Jim might then attack. At the same time, I certainly can't blame them for not executing Jim in cold blood, and Jim's logic for not being left with a gun (they'll need it more than him) is sound, so there really is no easy answer.
I won't get into this much since I imagine that the finale I haven't watched yet will, but I'm excited now that we've gotten to the CDC to find out a little more about the origins of the zombie virus specifically and the Zombiepoc in general.
How I Met Your Mother: The Mermaid Theory
This episode was problematic for two reasons: the unreliable narrator, and the continuing problem of Zoey.
As far as the Bob Saget narration goes, if its used in service of a funny bit, it's never a problem. But when it's not very funny, as was the case here, it causes problems. The conceit of HIMYM is that the events of each episode are actually stories Future Ted is telling to his children. This conceit suggests a lot of questions: are the details we're seeing on screen being recounted by Future Ted? Is he repeating the dialogue we're hearing to his kids? How does he know what's happening between characters when he's not around? Does he make his stories more age-appropriate for his kids (I mean, do they really want to hear about Dad sleeping around)?
Now, for the most part, it's pretty easy to ignore these questions. This is a sitcom after all; we're not dealing with Lost. But whenever the narration pops up, I'm reminded of these questions. If the narration is brief, or funny, the questions aren't an issue. But when it's not funny, I find myself thinking about things I shouldn't be thinking about. Like, if the events between Lily and Barney depicted in this episode actually took place in a different time than the events of the rest of the episode, what were Lily and Barney doing while Ted was on the boat and Robin and Marshall were hanging out?
The second issue in this episode is Zoey. She has yet to click as a character, and yet the show keeps trying to shoehorn her in. Only last episode was it established that Ted and Zoey buried the hatchet; now she's part of the gang and Ted wants to hang out with her husband. It felt far too earlier for that step, like we missed an episode featuring Zoey tagging along with the gang for a zany adventure. In general, Zoey's character development has involved a lot more telling than showing, and that was definitely the case here.
We know Zoey's not the mother, and I'm perfectly okay with Ted being involved with women we know from the outset aren't the mother (I'm firmly in the "journey, not the destination" camp when it comes to this issue on the show) but it so far, it seems like the writers like Zoey a lot more than we do. If Ted's relationship with Zoey (romantic or otherwise) is going to be the arc of the season, then the writers need to do something to make us care about her ASAP.
That said, the introduction of Zoey might be worth it just for Kyle MacLachlan's Captain, who cracks me the hell up.
The Event: Your World to Take
Just a couple quick thoughts. I'm glad that Sean and Leila are at least tangentially involved in the overarching plot again, though I totally figured the Hired Goon was after Leila and not the little girl after the show went to such lengths to not show us the piece of paper he was given by Hal Holbrook.
Speaking of the little girl, her parents were an example of another one of the plot devices that drives me nuts: characters who are uncharacteristically obtuse or withholding of information simply to keep the main characters (and the audience) from finding out too much too soon. Those parents might have had a good reason to keep Leila from talking to the little girl (other than ensuring Leila and Sean don't learn too much, too fast), but if they did, the show never gave it to us.
The aliens/time travelers are pretty much the most interesting aspect of the show at this point, so I was pleased to spend some more time with them. I expected the gun Sofia gave Isabella to be empty or loaded with blanks, so it was pretty surprising when she did actually shoot herself. Sofia's harsh! Amongst all the other questions surrounding the aliens, I've become particularly interested in learning more about how Sofia came to power and what she did to become so feared/respected.
Glee: A Very Glee Christmas Episode
Let's just get this out of the way: I'm a sucker for Christmas episodes, and I quite liked this one, but that business with Artie walking at the end was pretty ridiculous. Apparently Coach Bieste is secretly a millionaire? I just felt like it undercurrent the theme of the episode, which is that Christmas can be a sad and bittersweet time, but you just have to make the best of it and do what you can for others (which is also more or less the theme of the show as a whole). It's not like I wanted the whole Santa thing to come crashing down for Brittany, but having the episode end with her accepting there are limitations even to Santa's power would have fit the show's aesthetic, both in this episode and overall, better.
Thankfully, they didn't end the episode with the scene of Artie walking (and what are the odds, that like Professor X's mechanical braces that allowed him to walk briefly, we'll never see this contraption again? Pretty good, I'd say), but instead with a nice moment between Sue and Will in which we learn Sue's heart grew a few sizes but she still hates Will. This was the kind of Sue episode I like: she's still over-the-top and jerky enough to be funny, but manages to become somewhat human without sacrificing what makes her a unique character. It's a tough line to walk, but I thought this episode walked it well.
It was also another good episode for Will. His speech about the true meaning of "Gift of the Magi" was well done, and they did a good job of making his solo Christmas plans sad but not pathetic.
I remain bored as ever with the whole Rachel/Finn breakup, though the moment in the tree lot where Rachel tells Finn he has to forgive her now was so wonderfully in character I had to smile. It just bugs me because obviously they're going to get back together at some point, and for now it just seems like manufactured drama.
The teacher throwing the shoe was completely over-the-top and unrealistic, but the show clearly knew that, and it worked for a one-off gag (I wonder if she was in the teacher's lounge at the end...).
Continuity Things I Shouldn't Worry About on a Show like Glee: So if the Glee kids are such pariahs in the school, how did Rachel convince the AV Club to rig up the snow in the auditorium? And are the Glee club band members as ostracized as the singers?
Favorite Brittany Line: Can I be honest? I don't understand the difference between an elf and a slave.
Favorite Sue Line: And as satisfying as it to have been gifted enough rotisserie ovens to roast an entire hobo...
Favorite Song: "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" (the Island of Misfit Toys song) was pretty apt, and the Joe Mauer/Kurt duet on "Baby It's Cold Outside" (another favorite Christmas song of mine) was pretty good, but I think I'll give the nod to "Last Christmas." Yeah, I know I said I'm sick of the Rachel/Finn stuff, but I thought they brought a different energy to the song that I really liked.
Top Chef All Stars: Night at the Museum
Wow, I'm surprised Jen went home already. But then, I suppose this season is going to be like that; anyone who goes home in these early rounds (except for Mike and Stephen) will be a surprise. I loved how in-your-face Jen got with the judges (whether she was right or wrong is irrelevant). Hopefully we'll see more of that. One of the added bonuses of the All Star seasons is that all the contestants know the judges better now, and clearly aren't as afraid to speak their mind.
Also, they brought back the Katie LeeBot! I was totally surprised to see the old Season 1 host back as a guest judge, but I probably should have expected it. I just figured if she was ever gonna come back, she would have already. Also, the version of this episode which played in my head had her and Padma sniping with each other over Katie's presumption that Padma stole her job. It was awesome, especially when Padma started to say "Pack your knives and go" and then Katie joined in over her.
I was once again reminded of how much I love Stephen when he was bitching about the sleeping conditions at the museum. Never change, Stephen, never change.
Oh, and I think I figured out what bugs me about Fabio. His schtick reminds me of that guy who used to tell "In Soviet Russia..." jokes, except instead of Soviet Russia it's Italy. "In America, you milk cows, but in Italy, cows milk YOU! Haha, give me a show..."
The Big Bang Theory: The Alien Parasite Hypothesis
I don't have much to say about this one. It's basically what's become the standard BBT episode: Sheldon and/or Amy find themselves in a humorous but somewhat implausible situation (Amy really needed Sheldon's help to figure out she was horny?), Sheldon seeks and/or receives advice from Penny regarding puzzling Hu-Man behavior, Raj and/or Howard get involved in some funny but light hijinks in the sub-plot and Leonard flirts around the edges of one story or another expressing weariness regarding his wacky, nerdy friends.
It clearly works for the show and I'm not saying I didn't laugh at times (I thought the Howard/Raj stuff was particularly good, I enjoyed all the Star Trek bits mainly because Sheldon's geeky interests humanize the character, I shouldn't have laughed at the forced "Who's on first?" schtick between Sheldon and Amy but I did, and Leonard does do the weariness well), it just didn't spark much in the way of thoughts worth writing about.