The TV season is in full swing, we've got a new group of pickups, and I've already seen two Christmas commercials. This was the week in TV Land:
• What are the odds that 30 Rock and The Office would both explicitly reference The Sting on the same night? Even more boggling: What are the odds that The Office would produce a funny episode that didn't devolve into a soul-draining slog? Watching Liz Lemon analyze her sexual deficiencies and their very real consequences made for a strangely gripping A-plot on 30 Rock, with the wackiness relegated to the enjoyable side story involving Kenneth and Jenna running a bakery con with Kelsey Grammer. Jenna's been able this season to play some fun but integral roles in a variety of plots (her freakishly successful one-episode run as a gifted producer was awesome), and turning her into a low-level criminal was right in line with her personality.
Yet it was The Office, surprisingly, that came up with a solid episode for the first time in months, maybe years. So often the show runs off the rails and becomes an awkward, hate-filled, masochistic exercise ("Scott's Tots," I can never unsee you), so it was great to see an episode that dealt hilariously with a threat to the sales team but didn't make you hate yourself for watching. Timothy Olyphant was great as an A-list salesman eventually wooed into working for Dunder Mifflin, a role that will let Olyphant pop up every now and then without bumping too badly against his Justified work. It was rewarding to see Michael make a smart play and actually stand by his call, especially given the shake-ups we the audience know are going to happen with Steve Carell on the way out. Plus, come on: Andy's geeky jam session was perfectly done, achieving a believable charm without going too far. Episodes like that one remind me of the show I used to love.
• President Obama is all up in your TV. He's going to appear in a segment on Discovery Channel's Mythbusters (airing Dec. 8), in which he'll talk about the importance of science in coded messages designed to prove to our nation's children that he's a socialist antichrist. (He's done it before!) If that wasn't enough to upset people who classify all Americans as either pinheads or patriots, Obama's also going to tape a segment for the October 27 episode of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. That's this Wednesday. He's doing it to hopefully energize the younger voters that watch Stewart, but if the commander in chief of the armed forces has to drum up support on basic cable, you know his party's in trouble. Still, I and others will tune in to see a sitting U.S. president appear for the first time on the show. I wonder if he'll bring Biden or hire a sitter.
• Some classic TV personalities died recently. Tom Bosley, known to generations of viewers as just Mr. C from Happy Days, died after battling a staph infection. The show was often cheap and took a nose-dive toward the end -- when your series is responsible for the phrase used to describe all creatively dead shows, you hold a sad place in history -- but it's impossible to say anything bad about Bosley's relentlessly positive and endearing portrayal of the head of the Cunningham clan. The guy was born to be a dad to legions of viewers. On the other side of the family, Barbara Billingsley, aka June Cleaver, died as well. Yes, she had a long career that included everything from speaking jive to caring for animated Muppets, but it was as the quintessential mid-century TV mom on Leave it to Beaver that she had her most lasting role. Like Bosley, the vehicle that carried her to viewers was far from perfect, and would come to represent the white, repressed view of the 1950s in which superficial idylls were held up as virtues while class divisions and racism were just glossed over. Still, she was a warm and constant presence for a lot of people, and losing her and Bosley in one week makes for a weird kind of closure on a part of TV history.
• In pickup news, NBC has given full-season orders to Chase and Chuck, satisfying legions of nerds with the latter and your uncle with the former. They've also ordered more episodes of Undercovers and given full-season orders to Law & Order: Los Angeles (predictable move), The Event (lamentable move), and Outsourced (unforgivable move). I don't know yet how the pickup for Outsourced will affect the midseason return of the vastly superior Parks and Recreation, or what their Thursday will look like, but for those out there who watch Outsourced: Why?
Meanwhile, in a move that signals an almost arrogant commitment to low-quality programming, CBS has given full-season pickups to all of its freshman shows: The Defenders, in which Jim Belushi and Jerry O'Connell lawyer themselves up a storm; Hawaii Five-0, which makes CSI look like The Wire; Blue Bloods, which stars Tom Selleck's mustache; Mike & Molly, which is in no way reductive or demeaning; and Dollar Sign Hashtag Asterisk Exclamation Point My Dad Says, which not one person has honestly enjoyed. For the last time, people: we have to start taking away TV sets from the elderly and indifferent. It's not too late.
• Patton Oswalt, who is hilarious and wonderful, is developing a sitcom at Fox in which he'll star as a man whose wife leaves him after 20 years of marriage, forcing him to re-enter the dating world and experience what will probably be moderate to severe levels of hijinks. On one hand, this is Fox, a notoriously trashy network that pulls the plug on anything that isn't an instant smash; on the other, given the success of Louie on FX, maybe now's a good time for other nets to experiment with format and make another daring series starring a comedian playing a loosely fictionalized version of himself. As long as one episode has him interrupting an orgy, I'm set.
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SighFie SyFy Channel seems to be coming around to the fact that Battlestar Galactica remains their best title ever and the only thing that briefly elevated them from being a low-ranked net famous for intentionally bad movies and, inexplicably, wrestling. In addition to expanding the franchise brand with the prequel series Caprica, the network recently announced another prequel series: Battlestar Galactica: Blood & Chrome. (Maybe they're trying to ride the laurels of Starz's Spartacus: Blood and Sand.) The new show will be set during the Cylon War that preceded the first series and will follow a young William Adama as he fights robots that may or may not be sexy. David Eick, who was an executive producer on BSG, is returning for the new series, but creator Ron Moore isn't. On one hand, props to SyFy for playing to their strengths. On the other, though, isn't a prequel series inherently a waste of time? No matter what happens, things have to line up to play out the way we've seen, so it's not like the young Adama will ever be in any real danger. That kind of saps all the dramatic tension.
• Jon Stewart showed up on Larry King Live the other day to promote the Rally to Restore Sanity and also to read King a bedtime story. CNN has video:
• Coming up this week: More of the same. HBO's In Treatment returns Monday night at 8, as well, though that's a series I tend to admire more than enjoy. Also, the World Series begins Wednesday night on Fox, with Game 1 between the Texas Rangers and San Francisco Giants starting at 6:30. I doubt I'll watch, but I'm sure Twitter and Facebook will tell me what happens.