I’ve been away from the blog for a week now, though it should be noted that I haven’t been away from the computer for a week and I most definitely haven’t been away from pop culture for a week.

   Part of my absence can be explained by a simple fact: I had a hella busy week at work and when I came home, I didn’t even want to look at my computer. I put it in a corner facing away from me and told it not to make a peep while I watched my stories.

   But another part of it was that, after a hectic month of horror movies – and an even more hectic month of writing about horror movies (and you should expect a suitable wrap up to the “Discovering Fear” series coming later this week) – I was kind of burned out. But towards the end of this past weekend, I found myself both unable to reach for the computer and put something down for the blog while simultaneously really missing the blog a lot. So now I’m back, and I wanted to make sure to put down some of the things that made an impression on me while I was away:

  • “Glee” aired two episode’s while I was away. One was pretty good. One was probably the most frivolous, inessential the hour has aired yet. The saga continues with this show. Which show is this? Is it the cluttered satire that wants so bad to get up in everyone’s grill about issues and be crrrrazy?!?!?!? Or is it this sweet little Midwest drama with a heart of gold? Sometimes it works best when it takes a little bit of both and mixes them together, but there are a few things the producers should be noticing by now. 1) The best episode’s do not include Sue. Period. 2) The best episode’s do not include crazy plot contrivances meant to incentivize fake drama like a second glee club or Quinn’s horrible anti-Shelby crusade. 3) The best episodes are almost never about exclusion. They are about inclusion, but in a subtle way, not a “Born This Way” way. 4) The best episode’s almost never pander to iTunes with the exception of “Don’t Stop Believing” which no one would have believed would have been a big-seller anyway. 5) Sadly enough, lately, the best episodes and the best moments have very little to do with New Directions proper. (By the way, I think that name is a little outdated by now. Perhaps “Kind of Familiar Directions Repeated Ad Nauseum”. Or, better yet “Aimlessness.”)  “Pot of Gold” commits every crime in the book. It is aimless, insulting, Sue-heavy and asks us to care deeply about a choir we haven’t had a stake in for along time. It has the most inessential musical number this show has seen since Rachel and Puck sang “Need You Now” to the football players for no apparent reason. (Seriously Blaine said “We all seem down, Ima sing a Katy Perry song!” and I about flipped out at the television.) It preaches exclusivity and it is mean-spirited. And it features the three dumbest “Glee” plots we have on the books currently – the absurd Quinn-Shelby-Puck love triangle (ew…), Sue’s run for Congress, and the second glee club. Fortunately “Glee” recovered with “First Time,” an episode that seemed to remember that this is a show with characters and not talking Legos you can jam into each other to make fun plots. Where “Pot of Gold” was callous and snarky, “First Time” was sweet, thoughtful, and used music intelligently. It also had no Sue, no second Glee club and no Shelby-destruction. At one point Rachel even asked all the girls to come together and ignore the fact there was another club so they could all give her advice. When you have to have your characters explicitly ask you to ignore plot points that are stupidly driving wedges in your show, you know something must be wrong. Right? “Glee” writers? Are you listening? Sigh.
  • The A.V. Club has started a new season of TV Club Classic. I’ve been following Entertainment Weekly for years, but I didn’t come to the A.V. Club until about a year ago when the 4th season of Mad Men premiered and I realized that there are a lot of sites out there that do way better recaps and pop culture criticism then my beloved EW. And so, as the A.V. Club bites into some new old shows, I’m going along for the ride. It’s a lot of fun to start from the beginning with shows you know pretty well. One thing I’m really loving is starting the first season of “Survivor.” I was 11 when “Survivor” premiered. I don’t think I watched the first episode or two, but as the season went on, I, along with most of America, got caught up in the show. I remember watching it with my family and rooting for, of all people, Gervase. (I think it’s because, even today, Gervase reminds me, with his big frame, shaved head, and determined scowl, of Miami Heat center Alonzo Mourning, who was my guy growing up.) “Survivor” was one of my first television experiences where I felt like I was staying up to watch something that all the cool older people liked. (It turns out that, since I was watching old Looney Tunes shorts when I wasn’t watching “Survivor,” I was already watching what all the really cool older people liked.)
  • I’ve also been catching up with the first seasons of “Scrubs” and “Cheers” on Netflix in accordance with new TV Club features on both shows. These were probably my two favorite comedies growing up. I think we all like to be too hip to be square, but I am pretty ready to admit I can be sort of square. I can be totally square, and so I’ve always seen J.D. as a special sort of kin. I am sincere and goofy like J.D., quicker with a hug then with snark. That bond helped me to stick with “Scrubs” long after most people inexplicably decided it always sucked. I am left to wonder how a show that is so enjoyable to watch and that changed the game so much is always left off the list of essential shows from the past decade. (No, not even I watched the ABC season.) Sacred Heart Hospital (and Cheers, thanks to Nick at Nite) have always felt like a strange home away from home for me. Watching them now from the beginning feels like a homecoming of sorts..
  • Hell on Wheels: No network has had a stranger year than AMC. NBC is in the middle of some surreal nightmare, and yet nothing compares to the wild ride AMC has taken in the year since “Rubicon,” its third dramatic series, premiered. It’s been a series of diminishing returns ever since, and now people have grown extremely weary of a network that was once universally worshipped for going all of two for two. (In retrospect, that may have been too soon, yeah?) Since everyone overhyped “The Killing” and then hated it, and everyone overhyped “The Walking Dead” and then hated themselves for overhyping it, I think “Hell on Wheels” now gets to bare the brunt of a critical backlash which this show’s producers, writers, cast and crew did not create and don’t really deserve. And so I think “Hell on Wheels” is being dramatically underhyped as part of an overall trend I think we’re seeing with quality television this decade. We all gorged out so much during the last decade, which was television’s “golden age,” that we now approach anything that looks and feels like “Hell on Wheels” or “Boardwalk Empire” with a wary eye. We’re full. We want a mint. These shows are like a giant tiramisu we’re getting gratis. You’re doing too much AMC and HBO – I can barely get up out of this chair after how much “Breaking Bad” and “Sopranos” you gave me. I think we’re criticizing the cooks in the kitchen for not knowing how to pace their meals rather then taking show’s on a case by case basis, and a really great show is going to slip under the radar. Is “Hell on Wheels” that show? Hell if I know at this point, but its probably way better then a lot of the feedback on the show is leading you to believe. It’s entertaining, dramatic and tense in a fun way and while I think there’s still a lot of stuff to work out with, say, the character Common is playing and how on-the-nose he is, this show is heading in the right direction and not the wrong one. (Note: I could be totally wrong.) I’m searching desperately for the second episode online since “Hell on Wheels” airs at the same time as “Pan Am,” and I gots to watch my Pan Am.
  • Page Eight: I really enjoyed this British spy drama even though I was at times baffled by it. I saw it last Sunday when it aired on PBS during the “Masterpiece: Contemporary” slot. I don’t know whether I’d call “Page Eight” a masterpiece (which is, I guess, more a criticism of the entire idea of a “Masterpiece: Contemerary” programming block… like, shouldn’t we wait a bit… at least a year?) but I found it suitably moody and diverting and liked the way that every word dripped with so much dire meaning and import. And that every word was so charmingly British. It was kind of fun to watch a movie where the bad guys are bad guys because they work with that dreaded menace across the sea… the Americans! Yuck, Americans. Nice change of pace that. I thought Bill Nighy was great in this but I think I agree with the two major complaints here: the B-plot about a next-door neighbor looking for closure on her brother’s death never fit into the story very well no matter how cleanly it tied in at the end, and the ending seemed unsuitable considering the stakes that had been set up. Both of these things tied into a desire on the part of “Page Eight” to be a little bit cooler and more sophisticated than your average spy thriller, but it made the pacing feel strange. One other thing that threw me – I thought this was going to be a miniseries just based on past experience with PBS. About an hour and fifteen minutes in I realized this would not be the case, and this threw me for a huge loop. Just thought I’d throw that in…
  • Speaking of PBS, I am loving the new PBS miniseries called “America in Primetime.” Each week, the show focuses on a different television “type” – the independent woman for instance, or the misfit – and riffs on that type for an hour. This sounds like a really strange way to structure a series like this but it works oh so well. Me praising this is either a sign of really great taste or a sign that I’ve gone really far down the rabbit hole with my TV obsession. You decide.
  • Last night there was a joke on “The Simpsons” where Lisa plays a game, styled after “Guitar Hero” called “Marching Band.” I laughed really hard at this because it is so true. Eight years in marching band summed up by those writers for me in thirty seconds. So “The Simpsons” can still tell a joke people…
  • I actually thought last night’s episode of “Family Guy” was really smart and really funny. (And yes a little controversial since it all banks on erasing 9/11 which is still a bit more then taboo ten years on.) The entire thirty minutes is basically a way for the show to comment on how much it’s changed since it premiered and how people view it now. This could have been a nightmare scenario, but Seth McFarlane handled it deftly. I’ve now used the words “Seth McFarlane,” “Family Guy,” “smart,” “funny,” and “deftly” all in the same paragraph so you either really hate me right now or you don’t. I feel like I’m revealing a lot about myself in this format.
  • While I’m on a Fox kick – “Allen Gregory”… yes, it’s still finding its footing but based on last night’s episode alone – in which Allen’s father makes it so boys can only ask boys to the school dance, you know, just because… – it’s not the disaster I thought it would be . It reminded me a good deal of a show people would say it should not remind me of, which is “The Critic.” So I don’t hate “Allen Gregory,” and it barely even registered to me that it was Jonah Hill doing the voice, even though I knew it going in. So this is me complimenting the show and hoping it becomes the sort of off-beat, well-animated comedy I see hiding in there.
  • My favorite moment of the week: The “Kiss From a Rose” montage on “Community.” Absurdity piled on top of absurdity until I couldn’t breathe anymore. The moment I broke: when the hitchhiker who claimed to be Jesus sang about drinking blood. I just lost it. By the way, Allen Gregory’s father Richard and Dean Pelton are like the same character. They even sound liked they’re played by the same guy, though they’re not. (Jim Rash plays the Dean and French Stewart voices Richard.)