Film and TV

The Week In TV: Idol's Grip Slips, Regis & Keith Quit

The rains have come, the midseason's begun, and fish meat is practically a vegetable. This was the week in TV Land:

• It's taken us 10 seasons, but maybe, just maybe, we as a society are getting ready to move on from American Idol. Wednesday's season premiere drew 26.1 million viewers, which, yes, is still a huge number way beyond anything else on TV, but it's also a drop from the 29 million that watched the 2010 opener. Maybe Fox overestimated our collective desire to watch Steven Tyler creepily hit on 15-year-olds while J. Lo phonetically sounds out her bland praise for various singers and Randy Jackson makes his thinking face. I feel bad for Pete Vonder Haar, who's been given the brain-sucking task of recapping the show this season. I was in those trenches last year, and I saw things I can never unsee, things that will haunt me forever. Maybe this will finally be the year the show dries up and withers away. A man can dream, right?

• Thursday night saw the blessed return of Community and Parks and Recreation, as well as the rest of NBC's comedy block, now expanded to three hours. (I wasn't able to recap Community because I was down for the count after surgery. Email me for pics.) Community continues to buck expectations: When Jeff ran through the rain and wound up at a mystery door, the question wasn't whether he was running to Annie (he wouldn't), but who he'd gone to instead. Having him turn to Rich was a great twist, and a moment of legit growth for the character.

But the real news: Parks and Recreation got off to a fine start, especially considering how many plot lines it tried to juggle (government recovering from shutdown, various relationships). The episode acted as a kind of catch-up for those who didn't tune in often or at all last year, but it was still loaded with hilarious character moments, like Ron Swanson's Pyramid of Greatness and the callback to his love for Bobby Knight. Damn, did I miss this show.

• It's been quite a week for Ricky Gervais. There was a lot more blowback to his jokes this year hosting the Golden Globes than there was last year, so much so that Gervais has said that he wouldn't host the show again even if they asked him. (Which it looks like they don't intend to do anyway.) But he'll be back on NBC soon no matter what, since it was announced last week that Gervais will appear on Thursday's episode of The Office as David Brent, his character from the original. How Brent and Michael Scott inhabit the same narrative universe is somewhat mind-bending; one wonders if the two men will ever learn that their offices are near mirror images of each other, right down to character names. Unfortunately, rather than dig into the ontological mindfuck of the whole thing, the scene will just be a brief cameo designed to remind people that Gervais started this whole thing, and to get him another few bucks. Producer Paul Lieberstein has said the meeting will be so quick that "if you blink, you'll miss it." Shame.

• It was a big week for old guys quitting TV, too. (Weird theme, I know, but go with it.) On Tuesday, Regis Philbin announced that he'd be leaving Live! With Regis and Kelly after this year, ending the 28-year run Philbin has had on the program. The show started as The Morning Show in 1983 with Philbin and the certifiably insane Kathie Lee Gifford, a local New York show that went national in 1988. On Tuesday's show, Philbin said, "Everything must come to an end for certain people on camera -- for certain old people." It was a reminder that, for all his cranked-up energy, the guy is 79 years old and has been doing talk shows since the Johnson administration, so he's earned a break.

On cable, Keith Olbermann abruptly left MSNBC. According to The New York Times, Olbermann's departure had been orchestrated for several weeks, but it was still a surprise for most viewers when the host announced on Friday night's Countdown that he would be parting ways with the network. His separation agreement includes provisions about how soon he can host a new TV show and when he's allowed to speak about the details surrounding his departure, so there will likely be a Conan-like hiatus in public appearances before Olbermann sets the record straight. Olbermann could be cantankerous and preachy, but beneath the piety there was a guy legitimately trying to figure things out. It'll be interesting to see where he goes from here.

• Antoine Dodson -- the "Bed Intruder" guy -- is getting his own reality show that will revolve around Dodson's move from Alabama to West Hollywood. Later episodes will hopefully deal with his gradual fade into pop culture oblivion, with a reunion show in which we as a nation ask ourselves just what we won't turn into a reality show.

• MTV's Skins, a remake of a BBC show, has come under fire for its portrayal of teens as sexually active young people, which no one has ever done before and which is so clearly a fiction (teenagers having sex? Crazy talk!) that it's a wonder anyone's willing to watch such a surreal program. Yet in addition to the usual outcries from the wet turds at the Parents Television Council, it looks like Skins might wind up running afoul of federal child pornography laws, which are defined as the visual depiction of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct. Most of the cast members are between the ages of 15 and 19. Yet it's not as if the kids are actually getting it on; it's simulated TV sex. Any lawyers out there who know if that's enough to get the network in trouble?

The Wire is many things: riveting drama; Greek tragedy built from the remnants of the American dream; best TV series ever made; source of the quotes your friend keeps using but that you can't recognize because you foolishly haven't bought the DVDs yet. It's also a brilliant observed sociological portrait of economy and race created by David Simon, a former Baltimore Sun crime reporter with enough time in the trenches to know what he's talking about. A few days ago, Baltimore police commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld let loose a tirade against the show, claiming that it was "a smear on this city that will take decades to overcome." Weirdly, Bealefeld seems to think that Simon was making up whole swaths of the show, perhaps going so far as to plunge certain neighborhoods into poverty all on his own to make the location shoots that much more realistic. Maybe Snoop wasn't even a real gangster!

Not one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, Simon fired back a cutting response. His withering essay talks about the systemic corruption and ineptitude in city management that originally led to the conditions profiled on The Wire, and it does so with a force you really think Bealefeld would have known would be his to reap. Money quote: "Others might reasonably argue, however, that it is not sixty hours of The Wire that will require decades for our city to overcome, as the commissioner claims. A more lingering problem might be two decades of bad performance by a police agency more obsessed with statistics than substance, with shifting blame than taking responsibility." Your move, Bealey.

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Daniel Carlson
Contact: Daniel Carlson