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Thursday, March 11, 2010

We're moving against our will

Due to hosting issues related to Blogger, we've been forced to abandon this platform.

Either way, you can find the same great Channel Surfing content at at our new address.

We're working on having redirect everyone to our new blog, so we ask for and appreciate your patience while our online staff handles the request. In the meantime, follow the new link above and bookmark it.

Thanks, everyone!

-- Channel Surfing staff

Commercial interruption: Feeling 'Lost' and lethargic

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email of course, we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Beware of the rising black smoke. Thomas Rozwadowski and Adam Reinhard are about to tackle their disatisfaction with the final season of "Lost." Perhaps they aren't candidates after all.

Thomas: When we last left our “Lost” discussion, both of us were a bit squeamish about the wisdom of the flash-sideways device – which as some TV critics are now theorizing, may in fact be the show’s epilogue.

My brain always hurts after watching “Lost” … but usually that’s a good thing. This season, I haven’t been able to muster up much thought or inspiration about “what it all means.” In fact, I struggled to write a simple opening paragraph about Tuesday’s “Dr. Linus” because I didn’t seem to particularly care about any of the off-island developments (even though Michael Emerson was predictably brilliant) and the greater lesson that continues to extend to the post-Jacob island.

Honestly, I’m stunned there are only nine episodes left, because I don’t feel as though I’ve had anything affirmed about the past five years I’ve poured into this show. In fact, I feel as though I could’ve started watching last season and that might have been good enough considering how dominant Jacob and the Man in Black have been in shaping these final conclusions we’re supposed to reach.

Even a new character like Dogen – who I enjoyed watching – makes me question the wisdom of this final season. Why should I care about his purpose when I don’t even know Richard Alpert’s? Why should I care about Ilana when she’s been introduced so late in the game? Why am I so utterly unsatisfied by Claire (Emilie de Ravin is so not a bad-ass) and Sayid’s transformations? Why did Jack need to be convinced of anything from Jacob when he already decided to return to the same craphole island he had been trying to leave since day one of the Oceanic crash?

Oh, and if you’re not questioning time travel, why are you questioning whether some omnipotent being has been watching your childhood home? C’mon, man!

Am I asking too many questions, Adam? Do you have any sense of direction here? As cabin bound Jacob would once said … “Helllllpppppp meeeeeeeee.”

Adam: You'll find no bigger "Lost" apologist than me. I've never had trouble defending every half-cooked mystical curveball and metaphysical gobsmacker that the show decided to lob my way. As such I've gotten very good at coming up with excuses for any and all plot inconsistencies and logical conundrums, and trying to convince my more skeptical friends and family to stick with the show, answering every question with a hopeful, "Stick with it! They know what they're doing!"

But now even I find myself asking, well, do they know what they're doing? Have my five years of blind devotion to Team Darlton really led to this -- an aimless, wandering final season that continues to pile more questions on top of questions, willing to make up new rules willy nilly? (Where's Claire been all this time? Oh, she's just got "the darkness." Why has Richard lived so long? Oh, Jacob just "touched him," that's all. And Smoke Locke can apparently do magic and break chains off people with the flick of his wrist. They're called rules, people!)

Honestly, I feel like I've become Walter Cronkite, Team Darlton is Lyndon Johnson, and "Lost" is the war in Vietnam, and soon they're going to be sitting in their trailer in Hawaii, shaking theirs heads, saying, "If we've lost Reinhard, we've lost middle America."

I don't think I'm there yet, though. Because as unfulfilling and maddening as these recent episodes have been, I've seen definite glimmers of hope pointing to a possible satisfying resolution. Like how in this week's episode, "Dr. Linus," we've finally gotten a sense of who will end up of whose side: Team Smoke Monster, and Team Jacob (oh come on, really? How unfortunate.) We're seeing characters bump into each other in Bizarro L.A., and they're starting to seem less random (Rose interviewing Locke) and more like part of some master plan (Ben sacrificing his power play to become principal in order to secure a college recommendation for Alex.)

It's not much, but I'm sticking with it. Because, really, I've come this far.

What can Team Darlton and "Lost" do next week to help you keep the faith, Tom?

Thomas: That's the hardest question of all. What do I want from "Lost"

Look, I don't need the four-toed statue to make sense. I don't even need Richard Alpert's backstory on the Black Rock to be all that satisfactory. But I do need some time consuming plot points from the past to be resolved: for instance, the importance of children, particularly Walt. The inability to have a baby on the island. Something, anything being pinned to Desmond as more than just coincidence

But you're right: if everything is explained away in mystical terms -- it's Jacob's “touch,” the Man in Black can blink and free you from chains, it's "the sickness" -- frankly, that blows. I never thought "Lost" would be distilled to a war between two supernatural beings, no matter what greater thematic significance they represent in the end. I thought what separated this show from others of the sci-fi ilk was that it didn't deal with metaphysical properties and hocus-pocus. I continue to want to be wrong about that.

Yet even the human elements off-island -- Ben as mild-mannered history teacher, Jack as attentive father, Alex as Yale bound nerd, Keamy as egg-eating debt collector -- just aren't doing it for me. I don't care enough about new realities that stray from the old ones I'd come to already know. I understand that the timelines will likely be resolved in the end, but I want it all to matter on first viewing, not a second one once I have the answers in some big bang finale.

I suppose starting this week with Charles Widmore's arrival, we'll see some old plot threads get renewed life. That's a good start. Seeing the formula so far, I'm not confident anything off island can get me to care about the alterna-existence. So Ben as a history teacher chooses Alex's future at Yale just as he should have chosen her life as his daughter on the island? Yawn. Way too on-the-nose for me. At this point, I just want some consistency with the old characters and less focus on the newer ones. Like Miles. He only seems to be around so he can make wisecracks and advance any and all plots involving communication with dead people. Has he just been "blessed" with a power, perhaps because Jacob touched him? See ... that doesn't satisfy me. Or why Hurley can see Jacob and communicate with him. Is there an actual purpose to that, or is it simply because someone has to and Hurley asks the fewest serious questions.

I'm still in it, too. I still look forward to each new episode. But upon being unable to reconcile how Ben can summon the smoke monster in one season and it suddenly becomes the Man in Black in the next, I find my faith waning. Perhaps I need to be touched by Jacob.

What would you like to see starting next week?

Adam: ABC keeps promo-ing each episode in very dire terms: "Only 9 episodes left before the series finale!" -- which is all well and good and hysterical, so then why not actually give us some sense that the end really is near? A little taste of the endgame, perhaps? A glimpse of some giant ribbon towering over the horizon, on its way to tie this whole glorious package together?

What that will entail, I have no idea. But I know what it shouldn't: No more character development (and no more blasted new characters! Submarine navigator, I'm talking to you!) for people we already have a pretty good grasp on. No more mysteries like Richard's inability to kill himself (side note: Is this why Michael was unable to off himself in Season 4?). No more dialogue along the lines of "I can't tell you that right now," (tell us right now!), "You wouldn't believe me," (try me!), or "Jacob said so" (did he say why he's such a enigmatic poopyhead?)

Nine episodes? Not a lot of time when you think about it. Get it together, "Lost." Jacob may love you, but you're really trying my patience.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, and Adam Reinhard,

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If you have HBO, watch Tom Hanks' new WWII miniseries "The Pacific" (and invite me over, please)

If HBO's new World War II miniseries "The Pacific" is half as entertaining, powerful or enthralling as 2001's "Band of Brothers" was and is, it'll be an instant hit.

"Band of Brothers," a 10-episode miniseries co-produced by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, is the premium cable channel's biggest DVD success to date. Based on the Stephen Ambrose book of the same name, it followed one company of soldiers (Easy Company of the 101st Airborne Division) through the European theater of World War II. Thanks to countless reruns on the History Channel -- reruns I almost always watch despite having seen the series through several times -- the miniseries has become the definitive visual centerpiece of World War II history. (Besides, it proved that New Kids on the Block alum Donnie Wahlberg actually had some acting chops).

"The Pacific" is a companion piece to "Band of Brothers" that focuses on the other major battlefront in World War II. Starting this Sunday on HBO, the 10-episode miniseries will track the stories of three Marines from the time they land on Guadalcanal to when they return to the States after V-J Day. Although the series does have the benefit of its predecessor's popularity, it also has the advantage of a $250 million budget and the advance of special effects in the last decade. But anyone who watched "Band of Brothers" can tell you -- it isn't the action that made it gripping television, it's the characters and the moments between firefights that solidified its status as the leader of the the World War II-movie/miniseries pantheon.

Reviews so far from critics give the miniseries high praise. Hal Boedeker of the Orlando Sentinel calls it a "stupendous miniseries that re-creates World War II with gut-wrenching power" and the San Francisco Chronicle's Tim Goodman says it "it offers a resounding yes to a nagging question: Do we really need another movie about World War II?" One of our favorite critics here at Channel Surfing, Alan Sepinwall, says although it isn't quite "the ripping adventure yarn "Band of Brothers" became at times," it's "more visceral and relentless, but as rewarding in its own way."

Even if war movies aren't your thing, any fan of serious drama who can afford HBO shouldn't pass up the opportunity to catch this epic miniseries (and, if you do have HBO, please invite me over). Here's the trailer for "The Pacific":

"The Pacific" premieres on HBO this Sunday at 8 p.m.

--Malavika Jagannathan,

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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

De Niro to play Lombardi in ESPN movie

You talkin' to me, Tom Landry? You talkin' to me?

He's no Dan Lauria. But hey, Robert De Niro is a pretty good get as Vince Lombardi.

ESPN announced this afternoon that the legendary actor of "Raging Bull" and "Taxi Driver" fame is set to play coach Lombardi in a motion picture to be released on the weekend before Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. The film, titled "Lombardi," is to be produced by ESPN Films, Andell Entertainment and the NFL.

"There are few actors who could accurately portray the fire, passion and grit of Lombardi and we're thrilled to have Robert De Niro on our team," said Charles Coplin, the NFL's vice president of programming.

ESPN also said that screenwriter Eric Roth has joined the project, "which will chronicle Lombardi during the years he transformed the Green Bay Packers from the worst team in the National Football League into five-time NFL champions."

For more on the film, check out our previous post about the initial announcement from July.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Friday, March 5, 2010

"Idol" watch: Girls shine, but talentless contestants keep hanging on

Because no one else wants to do it -- or in Punishment Pool fashion, has been forced to like some Guantanamo-style form of Channel Surfing torture, Press-Gazette graphics editor Eric Ebert is stepping in with a weekly "American Idol" recap. We don't know whether to applaud or mock him for this extra shot of CS content. On second thought, we choose to mock.

A week after a series of forgettable performances from both the men and women of “American Idol,” the males continued their march into obscurity, while the women showed some glimmers of … do I dare say … talent.

Four women dominated the week in both performances and headlines. Lilly Scott continued to impress with a fresh take on Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” while Katelyn Epperly made a splash with a self-accompanied piano version of “The Scientist” by Coldplay.

The biggest showstopper came from the mouse-y Siobhan Magnus, who belted out an unforgettable rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Think.” The petite Magnus displayed pipes that would make most gospel singers gush, dominating the classic soul song with ease.

But judge-favorite Crystal Bowersox was the talk of the nation. After her last-minute hospitalization forced the men to go a day early, Bowersox returned Wednesday with a flawless version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “As Long as I Can See The Light.”

Meanwhile, the men turned in sub par performances for the second week in a row. And the judges’ terrible picks for semifinalists continue to pay dividends.

Talent-less musical hack Tim Urban continued his streak of sucking this week by turning in an unbelievably karaoke version of Matt Nathanson’s “Come on Get Higher.”

But a week after using his airy falsetto to murder OneRepublic’s “Apologize,” Urban had nowhere to go but up. His boyish good looks and an endless supply of tween voters again saved him from elimination Thursday night.

Not so lucky were John Park, Jermaine Sellers, Michelle Delamore and Haeley Vaughn.

Again, good riddance.



1. Michael Lynche: I don’t know if he’s the best, but he’s been the most consistent of the men, and he blew up the stage Tuesday with James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World.”

2. Casey James: Not so hot vocally this week, but another good performance and excellent guitar skills make him a frontrunner.

3. Lee Dewyze: After two mediocre performances, this is the judges’ frontrunner? He’s somewhat talented, but he’s nowhere near the best, even this season.

4. Andrew Garcia: The early favorite is quickly sinking off the radar. Can he recapture his Hollywood week genius, or will he fall by the wayside?

5. Alex Lambert: I know what you’re saying, “another Lambert?” Well, this Lambert is nowhere near as good as season eight’s Adam Lambert, but he is far and away the best male voice — mullet and all.


1. Crystal Bowersox: Although extremely talented, she is not my favorite, but a performance that had the judges gushing moves her into the top spot this week.

2. Lilly Scott: Still the most formidable opponent. Her flawless consistency is her ticket to success with or without "Idol" status.

3. Siobhan Magnus: Probably the most vocally talented female on the show, this awkward, tiny thing is quickly making her presence known.

4. Katelyn Epperly: Off the radar last week, she stunned me with her soft performance and raw talent this week.

5. Katie Stevens: This 17-year-old may not be polished, but she has some pipes.

Agree? Disagree? Add your own "Idol" comments below. Or just mock Eric for actually caring. It's what we're going to do.

— Eric Ebert,


Fallon brings the cast of "California Dreams" back together

Regular Channel Surfing readers will recall how I breathlessly wrote about the theme song to T-NBC's "California Dreams" back in December of 2008.

I was actually making a point about the show being a total "Saved by the Bell" rip-off, but nonetheless, conceded that its transcendent theme song reached into my soul like no other Saturday morning sitcom ever could.

"Surf dudes with attitude" ... yeah, you're swaying along right there with me.

Anyway, having failed in his efforts to reunite the cast of "SBTB," Jimmy Fallon got the REAL band (not those bloated Zack Attack lip-synchers) back together by unexpectedly inviting the cast of "California Dreams" to play its memorable theme song on last night's show.

While laughing at something insanely cheesy and nostalgia-based is an easy joke to pull, Fallon has worked some serious magic with it in the lone year he's been on late night. There's a certain charm about Fallon sharing the same pop culture touchstones with a 20-to-30-something audience that had Conan O'Brien's creativity ripped from them and may not relate to David Letterman. Jay Leno? I won't even go there.

So while I may not have been a huge Fallon fan when he was hired to replace Conan, I love the ridiculously random energy he brings to his late night experiment. You have to pick your spots with little viral bits that'll get losers like me talking about your show the next morning. Reuniting the cast of "California Dreams" is certainly one of those moments.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the following clip as much as I did last night. Fallon is downright giddy about the appearance. Kelly Packard (Tiffani Smith) looks ridiculously hot. A nervous Jennie Kwan (Samantha Woo) can barely get her words out. And Michael Cade (Sly Winkle) steals the bit by overselling his latest projects, mentioning a porn company and of course, unbuttoning his shirt to reveal the same six-pack abs he had in 1994.


-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Thursday, March 4, 2010

TV Potpourri: Favre on "Tonight," "Breaking Bad" marathon and "The Office" baby no one cares about

AMC's "Breaking Bad" still doesn't get as much love as the network's other award-winning drama, "Mad Men" ... but no worries. Its fans are a devoted bunch, as evidenced by recent voting for a six-hour viewers choice marathon to air March 19 at 7 p.m.

The winning lineup includes two episodes from a strike-shortened Season 1 -- "Pilot" and "Crazy Handful of Nothin'" -- along with four from Season 2 -- "Grilled," "Peekaboo," "Better Call Saul" and the "ABQ" finale. The marathon will also feature interviews with creator Vince Gilligan, Bryan Cranston (Walter White) and the rest of the cast. It'll then be repeated (minus interviews) on March 20 starting at 10 a.m.

Of course, while I'm firmly convinced first-timers would be hooked watching six of the series' best episodes in easy-to-digest marathon form, you really should indulge in the full experience. Season 1 -- again, a scant seven hours of viewing because of the writers' strike that year! -- is already out on DVD. Season 2 will be released March 16, just in time for Season 3 to debut March 21 at 9 p.m.

Whew. That's a lot of dates to digest. Get further up to speed at the official Breaking Bad Web site -- one of the more comprehensive I've seen for a TV show. You can enjoy tons of extras and Season 3 trailers, along with this hilarious Web site from Walt's sleazy lawyer Saul Goodman, played by the amazing Bob Odenkirk of "Mr. Show" fame.

And baby makes three: Hour-long "Office" episodes aren't anything new. Unfortunately, they also aren't very good, either.

Following an Olympics-related hiatus, "The Office" returns tonight ... except with a new face showing up. That's right: Jim and Pam are bringing Baby Halpert into the world.

This probably should be a bigger deal -- alas, until I saw Mindy Kaling's Tweet this morning, I forgot that it was even happening -- but frankly, "The Office" has lost so much of its mojo in recent years, I just can't work up a fresh doody in the ol' diaper.

However, noted TV critic Alan Sepinwall has already seen the episode, and while acknowledging the show's recent slump, says, "A baby isn’t going to kill 'The Office,' either. As the title suggests, this isn’t a domestic comedy. We spend a lot of this hour on Pam getting ready to have the baby and then on the couple’s awkward first few nights as parents in the hospital.

"But going forward, the baby won’t have any more physical presence on the show than Phyllis’ husband, Bob Vance (Vance Refrigeration). The characters will likely be complaining of fatigue and the other headaches that come with a newborn, but the baby’s not going to be working at Dunder-Mifflin.

"So, no, the baby isn’t the problem, no more than Jim and Pam’s relationship was. Rather, what’s hurting 'The Office' this year is a clear lack of direction."

Preach on, brother.

That Favre guy: And finally, if you aren't sick of Brett Favre or Jay Leno (and really, shame on you for being so tolerant), the two will talk about the secret to undermining others on NBC's "Tonight Show". Also, we really hope they wear matching denim shirts.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Favre agreed to be on tonight's episode since he was already going to be in Los Angeles after his daughter was invited to attend the season-finale taping of the Disney Channel's "Hannah Montana Show."

Favre is scheduled to appear as the second guest following Matthew McConaughey. According to an NBC employee who spoke to the Pioneer Press on condition of anonymity, Favre will be asked about "his future, as well as how he liked playing in Minnesota, if he's ever missed a game and what he does in the off-season."

Seriously. How can you even think of going to bed before 10:35 p.m. tonight?

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Russian-American version of "Jersey Shore" is the greatest idea ever

Do svidanya, "Jersey Shore." Privet, "Brighton Beach!"

As a closet fan of the MTV reality-trash show "Jersey Shore" -- go ahead, roll your eyes -- and a lover of all things Russian, the news that producers of a copycat version of the "show" featuring Russian-Americans are auditioning for participants just made me about as excited as Vladimir Putin curtailing freedom. According to that venerable news institution, The New York Post, the show "aims to be a cross between 'Jersey Shore' and 'Anna Karenina.'" (Ummm, unless the Russian Snooki throws herself under a train, I'm not sure how the "Anna Karenina" comparison works, but I'll allow it).

However, the rest of the description of "Brighton Beach" from co-creator Elina Miller seems to take direct inspiration from "Jersey Shore": "There will be plenty of vodka, techno music and guys wearing Adidas pants, leather jackets and gold chains, and driving souped-up cars. There will also be a lot of hot, decked-out Russian girls." Though the producers of "Brighton Beach" are still shopping around for a cable network, the show will mirror its MTV counterpart and feature a group of young partiers living in a house in Brighton Beach, a part of Brooklyn that has long been home to Russian and Ukrainian immigrants and is often dubbed "Little Odessa."

It's been 20 years since the end of the Cold War, so what better way to show our love for our Russki comrades than by perpetuating stereotypes, right? On the show's Web site (yes, I did look it up), sample questions for interested participants include "What percentage of your friends are Russian?" and a caveat that the producers would, quote, "love to meet your grandma." Awe-some. Side note: I really hope they cast a babushka on the show -- nothing speaks more about the Russian culture like an old, nosy woman who tells young people to wear hats so they don't catch a cold. Bet you won't see THAT on "Jersey Shore."

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Enter our Oscars contest, join our chat, read our Tweets and more ...

Forget Ryan Seacrest. The Green Bay Hub has all the bases covered for the 82nd annual Academy Awards on Sunday.

Sure, it's not the Kodak Theatre in California. But we can still give you a taste of the red carpet in our luxurious Wisconsin winterland.

You pick ’em: There’s a reason you ate all that artery-clogging popcorn in the theater, right?

Do you have what it takes to outpick Adam Reinhard in the major Oscar categories? Beat him and admission passes from Marcus Theatres (we've got 12 to give away!) could be yours.

To read the rules and see Adam's picks, head to his Down in Front blog.

To acquaint yourself with the nominees, scroll through our Oscar photo gallery.

Red carpet Tweets: Who are we kidding? The real fun of Oscar Night is watching what goes down on the red carpet before the awards ceremony starts -- the dresses, the couples, the awkward Seacrest questions, the bad updos. Follow the Tweets of our Oscar junkies, Amy Bailey, Malavika Jagannathan and Kendra Meinert, beginning around 5:30 p.m. Sunday on the Hub. If you want to follow us on Twitter now, click here.

Monday morning chat: Join Malavika Jagannathan, Kendra Meinert and Adam Reinhard for a live online chat at 11 a.m. Monday on the Hub to hash over all of the night’s big winners and losers, best speeches and memorable moments that only Oscar Night can deliver.

Oscar snubs: We know hindsight is 20/20, but with such a big deal being made of the Best Picture race, we started thinking about favorites that should have taken home the top prize from Academy voters. You might be surprised to see what landmark films got robbed. Check out our photo gallery of “10 Nominated Movies That Should Have Won Best Picture at the Academy Awards."

More coverage throughout the week: If going to see “Avatar’’ for a third time or trying to get your hands on a copy of The Hurt Locker’’ this weekend aren’t an option, allow us to get you fired up for all things Oscars with our full coverage of this year’s nominees and broadcast at the Hub and in Saturday’s TimeOut! section of the Press-Gazette.

The 82nd annual Academy Awards with hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on ABC. Presenters include Sean Penn, Kate Winslet, Penelope Cruz, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Lautner, Tina Fey, Sacha Baron Cohen and Ben Stiller.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

To Watch Or Not to Watch: NBC's "Parenthood"

With a sudden revival of family-centric shows like "Modern Family" and "The Middle," it might be the right time and place for NBC's "Parenthood" to make its debut. But the question remains: should you watch?

More than two decades after Ron Howard's film premiered (followed by a not-so-successful attempt to remake it for television starring Ed Begley, Jr. and Leonardo DiCaprio), Howard, co-producer Brian Grazer and "Friday Night Lights" producer Jason Katims take a second shot at turning the movie into a dramedy about modern parenting.

Better late than never, right?

Even so, the show has already faced its share of challenges with Maura Tierney dropping out of the main role after being diagnosed with cancer, pushing the fall premiere back as producers searched for an adequate replacement.

As luck would have it, though, that meant producers could tap Lauren Graham, aka the-world's-greatest-TV-mom, to fill Tierney's big shoes (as a side note, can I just say I'm soooo glad they didn't go the Helen Hunt route, no offense to Ms. Hunt). Now, though, comes the biggest challenge of all -- to convince a fickle television audience already bogged with choices that a one-hour dramedy about parenting and family is worth watching.

Reviews in general have been good with LA Times critic Mary McNamara calling the show nuanced and Alan Sepinwall calling it "smart and warm and knowing" even if it's not an instant classic. With this in mind -- and given a talented cast that includes Graham, Peter Krause ("Six Feet Under"), Craig T. Nelson, Monica Potter and Erika Christensen -- I think it's worth giving this show a shot.

I've been surprised this year by shows I didn't really expect to like. Shows like "The Good Wife" and "The Middle" seemed like they weren't necessarily reinventing the wheel (and let's be honest, they didn't), but good acting and interesting stories more than made up for the lack of originality in the premise. I am hoping "Parenthood" falls into that category of unexpected must-see TV.

"Parenthood" premieres tonight on NBC at 9 p.m. CST.

Are you planning to watch? Let us know with a comment below.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

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Monday, March 1, 2010

How could anyone not like "The Marriage Ref"? Um, easy ...

Even after all his "Bee Movie" overexposure a few years back, Jerry Seinfeld is the rare comedian who remains immune to any major criticism. After all, you don't help create one of the most legendary TV shows of all time and not get a free ride afterwards ... yada, yada, yada.

As anyone who has seen his recent stand-up act can attest, an aging Seinfeld has also become a much wiser Seinfeld. He's married, has kids, so naturally, he riffs on the new things he gets to observe -- for instance, the size of kids' heads -- through his role as husband and father. So it's no surprise that a fight with his wife, and the subsequent need to bring in an unbiased friend to settle the dispute, launched NBC's new primetime show, "The Marriage Ref."

Making its high profile debut last night following Olympics coverage, "The Marriage Ref" can be broken down a few ways. First, its debut comes on the heels of the failed "Jay Leno Show" experiment at 9 p.m. The fallout means that NBC is scrambling to populate its schedule with meaningful programming again, and a name like Seinfeld is expected to deliver not just laughs, but ratings.

Second, critics have naturally jumped on the "Can Seinfeld Save NBC" bandwagon -- which is just as unfair to Seinfeld as it was to Leno. Third, this is Jerry freakin' Seinfeld. There's no way his newfangled spin on non-scripted programming with high profile guest stars like Alec Baldwin, Tina Fey, Madonna, Ricky Gervais and Larry David won't succeed, right?

Um, have I told you lately how much I love "Seinfeld" reruns?

"The Marriage Ref" could work -- and might work -- given the right material. Granted, the TV audience probably isn't looking for Divorce Court meets Jerry Springer here. But last night's two "arguments" -- a dispute over a stuffed family dog and a husband's wish to put a stripper pole in the bedroom -- felt way too canned, way too Jay Leno-y.

Even worse, Seinfeld, who was a panelist with a super-energized Baldwin (not laugh out loud funny, but amusing) and Kelly Ripa, seemed like more of a distraction than the star attraction. That's unfortunate, because as funny as "Marriage Ref" Tom Papa might be to Seinfeld, he's not the guy viewers are tuning in to watch. If this in his vehicle, and Seinfeld is merely a passenger as executive producer, "The Marriage Ref" has already failed.

It would have made more sense to have Seinfeld open with some standup about marriage difficulties -- and do so each week -- before introducing each couple and their supposedly funny dispute. Clearly, NBC and Seinfeld are looking to keep things family friendly, so you're not going to get an all-out battle over a husband's porn obsession or anything that would cross over into John Wayne Bobbitt territory. Even so, if the joke is solely on the "quirky" couple's cheesy argument, then we're entering "America's Funniest Home Videos" territory here.

Then again, I can't imagine Larry David or Ricky Gervais not being hilarious, even in the face of a minor couple's quarrel over not replacing the toilet paper roll. In fact, watching David and Gervais try to be funny on a very bad show might be even more exciting ... so there's that to look forward to.

That said, while my expectations weren't super high, given Seinfeld's track record, I expected something a little bit richer here. Seinfeld has never been an edgy or mean-spirited comedian, so this isn't like comparing Chris Rock's standup to Chris Rock in "I Think I Love My Wife." And while Seinfeld has already said that "The Marriage Ref" isn't supposed to be serious business, since marriage is, it might be wise to dig beneath the surface a little bit so that you don't come off looking like a really lame "Saturday Night Live" skit.

"The Marriage Ref" airs at 9 p.m. Thursday on NBC. Panelists are Tina Fey, Eva Longoria Parker and Jerry Seinfeld.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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