Friday, July 30, 2010

Ellen Bows Out of American Idol -- Who Will Replace Her?

Simon Cowell Kara DioGuardi Ellen DeGeneres Randy Jackson American Idol judges panel leaving photos images pictures photos screencapsThe big news today is that the newest American Idol judge, Ellen DeGeneres, is leaving the show after just one year on the panel. AC's May Monten has all the details on Ellen's departure, and Ellen's declaration that it just wasn't the "right fit". I always thought it was something of a surprising decision on Ellen's part to join American Idol, considering her current success as both a comedian and talk show host--not to mention her lack of professional music knowledge and experience.

MSNBC has a great article by Craig Berman on why Ellen's reign failed. Despite all the criticism that Ellen received before the American Idol season even began, I had thought there was a chance she'd bring a lot of life to the party. In early interviews, she seemed ready to spar with Simon, and also determined to offer the contestants constructive criticism.

Unfortunately, as Berman points out, Ellen never lived up to her potential. There may have been behind-the-scenes drama, because Ellen seemed like a different person once she was up there on the American Idol panel. Though she started fairly strong, eventually her appearances were reduced to repetitive one-liners and bizarre flirtations with Simon. (Shouldn't she have been flirting with Kara? That might have gotten the ratings up.)

Ellen also seemed excited about doing the show with Simon, so her enthusiasm for the venture no doubt waned once he announced he was jumping ship. Most critics also agree that AI had one of its worst seasons so far, so it's not surprising that Ellen wants to leave. There've been some rumblings on the Web that it was a mutual break-up, since Ellen's popularity still didn't hold off the substantial ratings slip AI suffered this year.

ETA: News flash! MTV reports that Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler might be the next American Idol judges!

ETA2: TMZ reports that Kara is out, and Jennifer and Steven are in!

(previous conjecture continues:)There have been countless rumors floating around about possible new American Idol judges: People magazine lists Justin Timberlake and Elton John as possibilities, along with Shania Twain, Harry Connick Jr., and Chris Isaak. I'd be happy with any of these choices, though I think Justin is the least likely due to his current pop icon schedule. Shania and Harry have already proven themselves as entertaining guest judges and mentors on American Idol, and I suspect Sir Elton wouldn't be afraid to speak his mind to the contestants. Chris Isaak is talented, successful, respected in the industry, and has a fabulous dry sense of humor. (He's also pretty darn cute.)

Recent rumors also point to Jessica Simpson as a possible American Idol judge. I could only tolerate this if she would tone down the stupid act that she's played up in the past to fit her "airhead blonde" persona.

It will be interesting to see if American Idol sticks with the somewhat crowded four-person panel or goes back to a trio. Apparently Kara DioGuardi's contract hasn't yet been renewed, so there's still no official word on if she'll be returning. Will we get an all-new panel for next year's American Idol? Who would you vote for?

ETA: News flash! MTV reports that Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler might be the next American Idol judges!

ETA2: TMZ reports that Kara is out, and Jennifer and Steven are in!

PHOTO: The 2010 American Idol panel, Simon Cowell, Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi, and Randy Jackson ; c2010 Michael Becker, FOX.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Hot Guys, Hot Panels at Comic-Con

Nathan Fillion Comic Con Firefly Serenity Shiny Castle screencaps images photos pictures screencaps images screengrabs capturesComic-Con 2010 is going on right now in San Diego, a bonanza of geek girl and boy goodness no matter what genre you love. Checking out the schedule of offerings on the official Comic-Con International site is awe-inspiring. There are comic artist and writer panels, movie and TV series previews and Q&A sessions, artist spotlights, art tutorials, fanfiction forums, and plenty of geek fandom worship everywhere.

And there are lots of hot guys. Sure, girls can geek on fantasy plots, sci-fi glitches in logic, and thematic issues in manga, but just like the boys love Princess Leia in her slave girl outfit, geek girls love the handsome (and often buff) boy stars that turn up to pimp their latest and/or greatest works.

Nathan Fillion, of beloved Firefly and Serenity fame, is a favorite at Comic-Con. This year he's promoting crazy comic hero film Super as well as his current hit series Castle. The Comic-Con also has plenty of other hot boys whose characters include gladiators, powerful wizards, white collar criminals, male prostitutes, and of course, loads of vampires. Yum. You can read about the best of the best in full detail, in Hottest Guys, Hottest Panels at Comic-Con 2010.

PHOTO: Nathan Fillion at a Serenity convention, c2005 RavenU, Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Covert Affairs Pilot Review

Annie (Piper Perabo) and Auggie (Christopher Goram) discuss her mission
in the Covert Affairs pilot.

If you're considering whether to watch USA's new show Covert Affairs tonight, go ahead and make the leap. If the pilot is an indicator of future episodes, Covert Affairs looks to be an entertaining and sassy addition to the USA line-up of hits.

One of the big things that USA does right on their shows is the dialogue. My fave USA shows, including Burn Notice and White Collar, have a goofy charm but also snappy sarcastic conversation. These characters are not only fun to be with, they're smart. The reason the yin/yang of White Collar works so brilliantly is that Peter and Neal are each clever in their own way. Neal is sneaky, but Peter isn't a cliched bumbling FBI pursuer--he caught Neal (twice) because he's just as quick on the uptake.

This is the sort of trend I hoped would continue with Covert Affairs. There's a good chance a majority of the male viewers are tuning in for lead actress Piper Perabo's gorgeous porn star lips, but I think even they would prefer a good show over a bad one. Thankfully, an early scene in the Covert Affairs pilot showed instant promise: When Piper's CIA trainee character Annie Walker is immediately schmoozed at headquarters by CIA stud Conrad Sheehan (Eric Lively), she asks him if he typically hangs out at the front door to "chat up girls on their first day?" Conrad smoothly replies, "Absolutely. I'm both lazy and predatory." Bazinga.

Things improve from there. Perabo gets hooked up with tech genius Auggie Anderson (Ugly Betty's Christopher Gorham), her literally blind guide to the CIA. Gorham brings buckets of charm to the role, as the steady and practical balance to Annie's impulsiveness. He's also a bit of a rake, as the romance novels would call him, using his blindness as the best pick-up strategy ever.

Though her role was fairly ridiculous in short-lived series Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, I was riveted by Kari Matchett's performance in it. She just commands attention on the screen, with her sexy confidence and sultry voice. Here she's Annie's boss (see pic above), Joan Campbell, a determined woman who appears emotionless and in perfect control in her job. Things in her personal life are a bit more complicated and irrational, however.

While doe-eyed Perabo doesn't completely sell me on the tough CIA girl personality, she's plenty likable and is refreshingly convincing in the action sequences. I like that her fight with an assassin is rough and tumble, and she's realistically losing for most of it. She gets by with some self defense techniques, rapid movements and quick thinking, but Covert Affairs gets it right when she loses out to the sheer strength of her opponent. Though she should be in the hospital at the end of the scene instead of wincing from a slight bump on the head, at least she doesn't leap up three feet to punch a guy--and miraculously knock him unconscious--ala Holly Hunter's 80 lb. character on Saving Grace.

The Covert Affairs pilot delivers on action, fun, humor, sexiness, and intrique. There were a few mysteries I thought were telegraphed too obviously, but a couple twists did take me by surprise. The clever dialogue from all of the characters was the best revelation, and Covert Affairs boasts a talented cast that should be skilled enough to make up for any plot holes or silliness.

The most common comparison reviewers are making to Covert Affairs is Jennifer Garner's Alias. While I did love the latter show in the beginning, the hooker costumes and wigs and convoluted plot just got too cartoonish after awhile. Where Covert Affairs has the edge is that we already expect it to be a bit cartoonish, so all the focus on sexy costumes and flirting between missions isn't quite so jarring.

Watch Covert Affairs Tuesday nights on USA at 10/9c, and see for yourself!

PHOTOS: Piper Perabo as Annie Walker, Christopher Gorham as Auggie Anderson, Kari Matchett as Joan Campbell; Covert Affairs "Pilot" screencaps, c2010 Dutch Oven, Universal Cable, USA Network.

Friday, July 9, 2010

How 5 Actors Deal with Dyslexia

Patrick Dempsey Ellen DeGeneres McDreamy Grey's Anatomy February 11 2010 screencaps images photos pictures captures screengrabs dyslexia actors
What do a dreamy doctor, sci-fi hero, toy octopus, and two sexy pirates have in common? They're played by actors who haven't let dyslexia get in the way of their success. You may be startled to find out your favorite stars have struggled with school, had trouble reading scripts, and floundered through auditions. What's amazing is how they've worked around these difficulties and been successful both creatively and financially.

As you can see from the pic above, one of those successful actors is none other than Grey's Anatomy hottie Patrick Dempsey, aka Dr. McDreamy. You can read about his life experiences as well as four other major stars in How 5 Actors Deal with Dyslexia. Each actor offers their own unique perspective and wisdom on dealing with a disability that may affect up to 20% of school kids.

PHOTO: Patrick Dempsey on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, February 11, 2010; c2010 Time Telepictures Television, NBC.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

5 Best Woman TV Characters

Julianna Margulies Alicia Florrick The Good Wife screencaps images photos pictures screengrabs captures
The role of women on TV has varied over the years, from housewives and girlfriends, to nurses and schoolteachers, to policewomen, lawyers, and doctors. While women's characters often start out promising, an all-too-common progression is to eventually reduce them to a romantic interest, or turn them into idiots to be ridiculed. And though it has always been worse on the big screen, the small screen has also had its prejudices against any woman over 25. These five TV characters, and the amazing actresses who portray them, are an admirable attempt at breaking the worn-out conventions of female characters on television.

Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) -- The Good Wife
It seems hardly a day goes by when there isn't some new political sex scandal, and often the focus is as much on the wife as it is on the man who lied and cheated. The burning question on so many minds is how a woman can "stand by her man", and The Good Wife tackles that question in a real life way. The short answer: It's complicated. That's what makes the show so captivating to watch. We see the multiple responsibilities, pressures, anger, confusion, longings, fortitude, and sacrifices of Alicia as she deals with the saga of scandal and the imprisonment of her husband.

Alicia is forced to move out of her large house and into an apartment with her two children. She goes back to work as a junior associate in a law firm, starting out at the bottom with young, ambitious recent college grad Cary (Matt Czuchry). Alicia is subjected to rude comments, insinuations, and the humiliation of Internet videos of her husband in compromising positions with hookers. Her boss, Will (Josh Charles), a former law school buddy, starts as a friend and evolves into a love interest that further complicates issues for Alicia.

Her family life is tough, with her two teenage children finding it difficult to work out whether to be mad at their father, their mother, or both. Alicia also has to rely on her mother-in-law for child care, and thus has to deal with the woman's meddling and completely blind adoration of her son. There are also the stresses of court cases, politics in the office, paying the family's mounting bills, and the very real threats from her husband's political enemies.

While the multiple intricacies of Alicia's life make her an interesting character, the way Julianna Margulies plays her has also been fascinating to watch. Her extremely understated portrayal makes her something of an enigma, even though so much of her life is laid before us to examine and witness.

While we are meant to sympathize with her, we do see darker shades of her personality as well. Not all of her decisions fit the mold of "a good wife", and some may fit that definition more than we'd like. As described in  The New York Times: "...the intelligence and the subdued emotionalism of Margulies's performance lets you know that there is no neatness in Alicia's life. She doesn't always say much, and there's no edge to her words when she does. But in every situation you can feel what she's going through, and the sacrifices she's continually forced to make."

Alicia Florrick doesn't fit any cookie cutter mold, and her depth and mystery make her one of the finest woman characters on TV to watch.

Kalinda Sharma Archie Panjabi The Good Wife photos pics

Kalinda Sharma (Archie Panjabi) -- The Good Wife
The Good Wife is so good, it gets two slots in the Best Woman TV character list. Kalinda, an investigator for Alicia's law firm, is another gem of a complex woman. In each episode, we get to see Kalinda in action, bending the rules to get the information necessary to help the firm's case. She flirts with witnesses, breaks into apartments, calls in favors, and seduces mildly sleazy cops. With her large, beautiful eyes that seem always to hold a note of challenge in them, her stoic poker face, sultry voice and sexy clothing, Kalinda intrigues and entices, and gets people to spill everything without ever revealing anything herself.

While the series may go a bit overboard in its interest in Kalinda's sex life, they still present an interesting character for what is on the surface a TV law drama. The question of Kalinda's sexual preferences is in constant flux, while there's a distinct possibility that Kalinda merely uses sex as a tool to get what she wants, no matter the gender of the person.

Kalinda is fiercely intelligent, bluntly honest to those she trusts, and operates in an ethical gray area much of the time. The beauty of Kalinda is that she's not a caricature--we get glimpses of her personal honor code and the faintest whispers of vulnerability when something truly unsettling happens. Despite her foxy superhero investigator vibe, she still comes across as a real person.
Archie Panjabi is brilliant at portraying the character, combining all of these elements into a person who evokes both admiration and fear. The fun of Kalinda is her cleverness, bravery, and secrets--she's a mystery we hope never to solve.

The Closer Kyra Sedgwick Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson photos pictures images screencaps gag reel

Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) -- The Closer
Kyra Sedgwick and her feisty turn as an L.A. detective with a lilting Georgia twang and a domineering attitude started a wave of TV shows with woman characters in their 30s and 40s. The Closer has proved that the TV viewing public find women over 25 perfectly compelling, thank you--thank you, very much. Though sadly Brenda stands alone in a sea of men on this TNT drama, her relationships with each are as complex, frustrating, and rewarding as those we encounter in real life.

Take a look at movie posters and photo ads for TV. Very often you'll see the male characters in the foreground, and the women in the back--even if you'd consider them an equal in character status on the show. The promos for The Closer, however, put Brenda Leigh front and center. She's the boss of a team of expert detectives, and when she takes charge of high profile murder cases, those on the scene aren't always happy about it.

Brenda gives us a woman TV character who is smart, and very, very good at her job. Her powerhouse personality is hidden inside a petite, blonde, feminine woman in flowy skirts and bright lipstick. The Closer covers Brenda's cases in vivid detail, following her every step of the way, while she navigates dealing with both coworkers, criminals, and victims. As added challenges, she faces the politics of work, the ambition of those around her, and of course, sexism. The fun thing about Brenda, though, is that she's far more likely to offend someone by her rudeness and rule breaking than she is by being a woman in a "man's job".

Brenda is a character study that shows you can't be all things to all people. While Brenda is a bulldog at work, fighting hard for justice and using every facet of her intelligence and cunning to catch criminals, she often falls apart when it comes to her personal life. The Closer isn't afraid of a little humor when it comes to Brenda's foibles, like her chocolate addiction, the way she's constantly losing belongings like her phone or purse, and her inability to navigate her way around the city's winding streets. As Kelly West on Cinema Blend writes: "Just as Sedgwick shines in her ability to play both the good cop and the bad cop, she's equally amusing to watch when she's freaking out over her cat issues."

What sets Brenda apart from many other woman TV characters is that she's in a stable relationship. When The Closer premiered, Fritz (Jon Tenney) was already an established love interest. Although there's often been a little added intrigue with Brenda's boss, and former lover Chief Pope (J.K. Simmons), the drama in their relationship is about real life issues like buying a house and separating work and home life.

Nominated for multiple Emmys and winner of a Golden Globe for The Closer, Kyra Sedgwick takes all the conflicting traits and quirks of this TV character and makes her a flawed, yet appealing woman to watch.

In Plain Sight U.S. Marshal Mary Shannon Marshal Marshall Mary McCormack

U.S. Marshal Mary Shannon (Mary McCormack) -- In Plain Sight
Cable network USA's slogan is "Characters Welcome", and Mary Shannon is definitely a character. With unrivaled bluntness and cynicism, Mary plays the bad cop role to her more sensitive partner Marshall Mann's (Fred Weller) good cop. At least, that's the way it seems on the surface. As gruff and unapologetically rude as Mary gets, over time we see the fierce loyalty and sense of justice that drives her. Mary has her own sensitive side, but it's buried under years of parental neglect and family alcoholism.

The joy of watching Mary is the waiting with anticipation to see what she'll say or do next. Whether she's kicking down doors, shooting at a suspect, or giving her witness protection program protectees a piece of her mind about the realities of life, Mary is full of spark and wit. The barbs she trades with intellectual Marshall and their long-suffering boss Stan (Paul Ben-Victor) is akin to watching those great 40s movies like Cary Grant's His Girl Friday, with the rapid fire dialogue that is both passionate and hilarious.

Mary Shannon is an unusual woman TV character in that she's often not sympathetic. Even though she's our heroine, she's often a bully and a jerk to the people who care about her the most. Her unrelenting negativity can be exhausting, and In Plain Sight viewers can feel like giving up on her at times.

The good news is that just before we reach our breaking point, someone or something gets through to Mary and she bounces back from that dark place. A new showrunner in 2010 brought about some needed changes for In Plain Sight, which brought us a better balance between Mary's emotionally destructive home life and the sense of purpose she finds in her job.
A typical show would also give partners Mary and Marshall a constant "will they or won't they" sexual tension vibe, but with Mary and Marshall it's much more complex and understated than that. Sometimes we get a sense Marshall has some stronger feelings for Mary than just as coworkers, but it could just be genuine affection for someone whom you face life and death situations with every day. If you think pigtail pulling is a sign of love, you could construe Mary and Marshall's constant bickering and put-downs as a form of flirtation. It may be that to these two Marshals as well, but they don't necessarily think it means a darn thing.

Mary Shannon is definitely not one to fit into a typical woman TV character mold, and Mary McCormack brings the character to life with studious attention to all the stuff going on underneath. As mean as Mary might be on the outside, McCormack lets us see the anguish or fear or insecurity that's driving her personality from the inside. So while we enjoy seeing the criminal cases and the struggle to protect witnesses with a variety of personal issues, we also love to see the progression Mary makes in her own life and with her own demons.

Divya Katdare Reshma Shetty Royal Pains photos pics hot pink top

Divya Katdare (Reshma Shetty) -- Royal Pains
I was pretty skeptical when USA's Royal Pains first premiered, with an episode full of young Barbie doll types surrounding two regular guys. At the introduction of Divya, who pretty much pressures Dr. Hank (Mark Feuerstein) to hire her for his private practice as a physician's assistant, I had a small hope there would be more to her character than just being a pretty face. I've been pleasantly surprised with her development as a character.

Royal Plains is, on the surface, a fairly fluffy summer show that makes for great guilty pleasure viewing. While it's certainly not Law & Order, USA has always had a knack of giving viewers a basically light-hearted show but injecting it with real issues and emotions. With Divya, we get her struggle with keeping up appearances to her parents, who don't know she's running around town helping a concierge doctor treat the eccentric rich of the Hamptons. We also see the prejudice she receives from certain clients, who assume (either because she's young, a woman, Indian, or all three) that she's somehow incompetent or merely Dr. Hank's appointment taker.

While trying to forge her own career in secret, and work her way through issues of the family's expectation of an arranged marriage, Divya also has to deal with Dr. Hank's brother Evan (Paulo Costanzo). The blatant flirtations and obnoxious attitude towards women in general makes Divya crazy, but she never backs down from telling Evan just what she thinks of him. The continual hostile exchanges with Evan have turned into a worthwhile friendship, and Reshma Shetty's charm as Divya has somehow made the annoying character of Evan more appealing.

While viewers can thank the writers of Royal Pains for giving Shetty an actual character to work with, the actress must also be congratulated on taking what could have been a small background role and making the most of it--bringing us a woman's TV character we want to keep learning more about.


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