The best thing I watched last week was an airing of Ratatouille on ABC Family. This was the week in TV Land:
• I'll tell you right now: I didn't watch Mad Men. "BUT DAN," I can hear you shouting even though you're reading this at work, "it's amazing! Plus, you call yourself a TV lover. What gives?" Well, I'll tell you: I just never got into it. Gave it the college try in the first season, before it became a pop legend, but I just wasn't engaged. I have no qualms with slower storytelling, dark dramas, social commentary, etc.; the show just didn't click with me. I see how and why it works for a lot of people, and I really do think about getting the DVDs and diving into it one of these days, but who knows when that will happen. So tell me, Mad Men fans: Why do you like the show? And how do you think last night's season premiere went?
• So, Comic-Con happened. There's no point in pretending the annual event is anything other than a hype machine, one that runs on the hopes and dreams of a subset of geeks with mercurial standards and short memories. (These are the people who thought Jonah Hex looked good last summer, so read any coverage with huge chunks of salt.) On one level, yes, a certain amount of news was announced at the convention: Linda Hamilton will reached a deal guest star on Chuck as Chuck's mom, for starters. But much of the weekend is an endless slog through events and panels for mediocre offerings like The Vampire Diaries, and even those panels dedicated to quality programming like Community aren't going to offer attendees anything other than the chance to stand in line for three hours to sit in a room for seven hours to see Joel McHale for 45 minutes. There's a weird emptiness to the convention that feels like a cross between Las Vegas and an airport. It's like being inside a commercial for 72 hours, and it starts to mess with your head. If I find any TV news out of the convention worth mentioning, I'll let you know.
• Friday Night Lights is rapidly coming to the end of its fourth season, with just two more episodes to go. I've been impressed at the frankness with which the show has dealt with teen pregnancy in a major plot line this season, though the series is still as willing as ever to use some really easy wardrobe cues to broadcast someone's religious conservatism, i.e., Luke's mom's old sweater and slightly feathered hair marked her as a wingnut more than her stated beliefs. For better or worse, the show falls into the trap of having to tackle a lot of story in 13 episodes, and, well, it ain't The Wire. Still, it's got some great moments, and Friday's episode indicated that this season will (at least in part) lead up to a Lions-Panthers showdown.
• In what has to be the dumbest stunt-casting move of the century, Justin Bieber will appear this fall on CSI on the show's 11th-season premiere. Yes, CSI and the Bowl Cut One are indeed cultural phenomena, but their Venn diagram doesn't overlap. At all. CSI appeals to over-40 viewers with low standards for writing, acting, directing, etc., who just like to see flashy procedurals before drifting off to sleep. Bieber is a 16-year-old Canadian pop singer who appeals to 9-year-old girls. The whole point of casting a non-actor on a TV show is to generate buzz among the show's viewers. This is something that sci-fi shows are really, really good at doing, and the reason that actors from fan-favorite series pop up in guest roles on others. (See, just recently, Battlestar Galactica's James Callis' appearance on Eureka.) But promoting Bieber on CSI is an absolute failure to harness the popularity of either entity, resulting in a ratings grab more shameless than most and likely/hopefully doomed to fail. Anyway, now you know what to say when your parents call and ask who that weird lady is on the cop show with the letters.
• Last week, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Chris Isaak had met with American Idol producers about taking the judge's spot vacated by Simon Cowell, who has left to produce The X Factor and swim in his money like Scrooge McDuck. (They even tagged it as an "exclu," which means it was so exclusive that they didn't have time to type the word "exclusive.") I have nothing at all against Chris Isaak. He seems like a decent guy, I liked him in The Silence of the Lambs and That Thing You Do!, and the video for "Wicked Game" got me through 9th grade. But no one can replace Cowell on Idol. Regardless of whether you liked the show, it was Cowell's presence that defined it. Losing Paul Abdul was fine, but Cowell's exit is the beginning of the end of the granddaddy of reality TV. Isaak might do well, but it won't matter. It's just a matter of time before the curtains come down.
• If you love Lost and have trouble making wise spending decisions, have I got news for you: Profiles in History is coordinating an auction of more than a thousand items used on the show over its six-season run. The event will take place August 21-22 in Santa Monica, but you can also participate online. The company's site has a catalog of available items, so take a gander if you feel like throwing down some cash for a piece of history. A DHARMA van would look pretty badass in your driveway.
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• In what has to be the most awesome choice of euphemisms ever used in a press release, it was announced last week that Cinemax is ordering a late-night, half-hour series based on the men's magazine Femme Fatales that will "explore noir-style mysteries with strong female protagonists." The news item went on to state that, though the series will have a "strong erotic component," it won't be softcore porn. I am telling you this now: that is a lie. There is no way Cinemax orders that show inspired by that magazine with that set-up and that description and doesn't turn it into another thigh-humping extravaganza destined to capture the hearts of boys everywhere. Because why bother playing it straight? This is Cinemax, the movie channel people forget they have. There's no point trying to hide it. Just go back to making porny schlock and call it a day.
• USA Network announced at Comic-Con that they're working on a prequel TV-movie to Burn Notice that will revolve around the boozy character played by Bruce Campbell. So fans of the show, take heart. Put up with the dead-skin corpse of Gabrielle Anwar for a little while longer, and you get two hours of Ashy goodness.
• I totally forgot to toss out a free TV show for you good folks last week. Sorry about that. This week: Murder One. It's a solid Steven Bochco show from the mid-1990s that bucked the trends of the era by spending an entire season on one major story line. This was, of course, anathema to folks who wanted to turn on the picture box and watch pretty people make law talks, so the show suffered in the ratings and was significantly retooled with a new lead in the second season. The damage was done, though, and the series ended after two years. Still, it's worth a look, if only to remember just how hard it was -- and still is -- to tell a serialized story on network air: