A Case of the…. Thursday Night TV – Smallville & ER

Well the writers’ strike has certainly made it difficult to write some columns, hasn’t it?

I still support what the writers are striking for (I do have a beard, after all), but I also continue to get annoyed by the union tactics and their overall childish, self-centered behavior. Case-in-point: Huckabee crosses the picket line to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, stating that he erroneously believed that the strike had been settled (hence why the show is back on the air). The WGA’s response is essentially saying (paraphrasing here), “If he doesn’t even know that the strike is still going on, he wouldn’t make a very promising president.” I mean, really… Do you think that a man who is trying to become the next president of the United States might, just might, have matters of a bit more importance on his plate than whether or not the writers’ strike has been resolved?

This past Tuesday I attended the Conan O’Brien taping, and I must say that after viewing a taping of that show I really do believe that there are a number of people more crucial to the production of that show than the writers. I think that Conan has done a phenomenal job without his writers (the footage of him hiding while set tours are going on were absolutely hilarious), but you could really see that the show’s crew is a very well oiled machine. It really is amazing to see how quickly they can completely alter the set, amongst other things. I also learned that Donald Trump’s hair is even freakier looking in person.

There was a new episode of Smallville on a few weeks ago that I never had the opportunity to comment on, which I’d like to do now. For a moment, I thought that they might go the entire episode without Clark appearing (continuing the storyline that Jor-El had punished him for disobeying him yet again), which I think would have been a pretty cool idea. It would have been neat seeing resourceful characters like Chloe and Lois – one who knows Clark’s secret, and one who doesn’t – take center stage, without having the crutch of Clark there to save the day. So, in a way, I was disappointed when Clark made his return, however the final sight, that of Bizarro hugging Lana, more than made up for it. That was, quite simply, an awesome ending. It also helped make more sense of earlier scenes, like Clark’s overly aggressive desire to put Lex behind bars. It also seemed like Clark flew to save Chloe in the elevator, which was curious since Clark doesn’t yet have the ability of flight (get on that, by the way).

This also brings up an interesting query: Why would Bizarro save Chloe? Clearly he recognizes that she is an important resource, but what exactly does he want to use her for? This brings up some intriguing possibilities.

I am hopeful that the show continues for a few weeks with only the viewers knowing that Clark is actually Bizarro. It’ll be reminiscent of the end of the second season of Lost, where the audience knew that Michael was setting up the other characters, but they still trusted him. It could be a really fun ride if the writers and viewers are patient enough.

I also enjoyed the reveal that Lex’s brother is actually a clone. This particular story is being told at the perfect time. After his divorce from Lana, the complete deterioration of his friendship with Clark, and his estranged relationship with Lionel, Lex truly is alone, more so than he’s ever been in the history of the series, so it makes perfect sense that he’d try to recreate the one genuinely caring and loving relationship in his life: the one he shared with his late baby brother. I’m also a firm believer that every scene between Lex and Lois is absolute gold. These two are awesome together.

I must admit that I really enjoyed this week’s episode of ER. All around, it was just mightily touching. One of my best friends is in medical school, and I often ask him to critique various medical shows (ER, House, Grey’s Anatomy, etc), and he usually says that ER is in the realm of accurate (relatively speaking), but that one of the most unrealistic aspects of it is the way that the doctors get involved in the patients’ lives. It may sound cold, but patients really don’t touch the doctors’ lives. I’m sure there are some exceptions, but that’s just the way it is (oh, and for what it’s worth, according to many people I have talked to in the medical profession, Grey’s Anatomy is the most pathetically unrealistic medical show in the history of the universe). All of that said, I’m willing to let that creative liberty slide. Sure, it may be a medical drama, but it’s still driven by characters and relationships.

While ER typically focuses on one or two patients that guide the episode, this episode really stood out, because pretty much every patient played a factor in developing characters or relationships. Kayla, the man with the burnt face, the woman he rescued, and Mrs. Small all provided genuinely tender moments that truly gave me a deeper appreciation for the characters involved. It was also nice that the episode didn’t suffer from the fact that things were so spread out. Consider that Gates was closely involved with Mrs. Small and the man with the burnt face, however the former acted as a means to drift him away from Julia, while the latter drew him closer to Sam. The two cases also revealed his possible lack of faith and his tolerance of people that are different.

I’ve been somewhat critical of the Abby storyline, but I thought her return was absolutely fantastic. I loved the beginning, with her sitting with the board of directors. For one, it was really nice seeing Pratt and Haleh in an authoritative role, and it was also important to see Abby take full responsibility for her past actions. The powers that be were also just the right mix of being strict and lenient, and Abby was the perfect combination of wanting to salvage her job and her family. The tone was just perfect from everybody involved.

I also thought that the end of the episode, with Abby coming clean to the staff, was equally well scripted. I especially enjoyed Sam’s reaction, and Abby’s silent response to that reaction, and the lack of closure we got from it. To tell you the truth, I would have been a bit disappointed if Abby and Sam had discussed the matter right there and then. The way it was handled allows the viewer to wonder what happened in Sam’s past to prompt that sort of response, and the fact that it wasn’t immediately resolved leaves the door open for future conflict between the two. Of course, there’s also the added irony that Sam told Abby she’d be there for her if she needs to talk (when she thought Abby and Luka were having marital difficulties), yet her reaction was the coldest when Abby did come clean. However, perhaps the highlight of the episode for me was Abby’s two scenes with Neela. Their first scene together was rightfully awkward, given the things Abby had said last time she saw her, and the final scene was truly touching, with the two friends making up.

Despite enjoying the Abby scenes, I do still have issue with the fact that seemingly nobody had known she was an alcoholic. Wasn’t it fairly common knowledge?

Harold remains one of the shining stars of this series, as he’s got awesome chemistry with Neela and Morris. Morris treating Harold as a little brother was great, but the two weeks of them as courting competitors were equally hilarious. Oh, and Neela doing a double take of Harold in the shower was, quite simply, golden.

I’d also like to briefly talk about Jeanie’s return a couple of weeks ago. While I really enjoyed the episode and her performance, it echoes the point I made a few weeks ago, when I stated that writers seem unable to make a character happy unless it happens off-screen, when they are written off of the show. When Jeanie left the show several years ago, she finally achieved the happiness she deserved (for the most part, she was one of the very few genuinely good people on the show). She got married, adopted a baby, and was seemingly willing to leave her job to make her new family the biggest priority in her life. She was living a happy life, off screen, as far as the viewers were concerned.

However, after returning for just one episode, we learn that she’s going through a divorce due in large part to her workaholic lifestyle, her son probably has AIDS, and her ex-husband is dead. This really accentuates my earlier point, which is that the writers only seem capable of making somebody interesting if they are going through a life crisis or conflict.

That criticism aside, I really appreciated Jeanie’s guest appearance. In a lot of ways, she was the perfect person to make a brief return, as she was never one of the major characters, but she was always somebody the audience cared about. If somebody like Peter or Doug or Carol or Carter were to appear, it would take away from the current cast, but with Jeanie the past and the present could share the spotlight. I also really enjoyed her reunion with Haleh (who has really been an MVP supporting player the past two weeks. And by the way, if IMDB is accurate, she’s now appeared in as many episodes as Anthony Edwards, who was the star of the show for eight years), and appreciated her preference to have Weaver care for her son, as their friendship was a highlight for both characters. Nobody brought out Weaver’s softer, more human side like Jeanie. One thing this episode sorely missed, though, was a scene with Jeanie and Anspaugh. What made matters worse was that Anspaugh was IN THE EPISODE! A meeting between these two would have been great, especially considering the tragic condition of Jeanie’s son. How poignant would it have been for Anspaugh to be a shoulder for her to cry on, after all that Jeanie had done for his son before he died?