Film and TV

D-FW On DVR: Dallas, Hating-Loving NBC, Louie and The Newsroom

The tense moments came fast and furious during the fourth episode of the new Dallas this week, making us salivate - no, downright drool - for the moment that J.R. finally reclaims control of Southfork Ranch. We're supposed to be rooting for the bad guy, right? Because it's a hell of a lot more fun (UPDATE: Fun enough to warrant a second season, even).

Consider the "heroes" in the bizarro TNT version of our fair city: Bobby Ewing looks weird in a cowboy hat, whispers too much, and refuses to call in an extra hand or two when a pregnant cow is about to 'splode on his barn floor. He'd rather stick his hand up it, because he's a Ewing, goddammit. His adopted, Christopher, spends way too much time obsessing over alternative-energy studies and pretending to fix fences in too-stylish clothing. And he's so worried about his secret undying love for the cook's daughter, Elena, that he's totally oblivious to his new wife, Forgot-Her-Name, being a femme fatale.

John Ross, on the other hand, is becoming quite the delicious character. Despite the fact that big daddy J.R. is secretly cutting him out of the double-backstabby-Southfork-acquisition deal, li'l Jo-Ro's showing a few street smarts of his own. He's managed to charm his way back into Elena's business portfolio, all while blackmailing Forgot-Her-Name because he actually knew enough to hire a private detective to help him figure out that it was she who sent the now infamous eeeeee-mail. Oh, that e-mail. It keeps rearing its ugly subject line, don't it?

Anyway, one, two, skip a few plot lines (including Sue Ellen's extremely toothy governorship ambitions), and we come to the cliffhanger moment of the episode: J.R.'s about to stroll into the Southfork BBQ, eyebrows first, and take over dat shit. Meanwhile, Femme Fatalia might come clean to Christopher about a few thangs. Stay tuned....

Back to reality: Have you caught NBC's Phelps-centric primetime Olympic swimming trials this week? Exciting stuff. The rivalry between our returning butter-face champ, Michael, and his much more model-licious teammate, Ryan Lochte, will no doubt have us staying up late and walking like zombies in August. Can't...friggin'...wait. But here's what I really love about Olympic swimming: Rowdy Gaines' commentary. The more excited he gets about a race he's calling, the more helium he sucks in. When he hits Billy Mays (R.I.P.) levels, you know somebody's about to touch the wall. Get Rowdy, y'all!

And just when we were beginning to like NBC: Look, Ann Curry's often hard to watch on Today. When she used to read the news headlines, she said the word "morning" so much that we began to think her target audience consisted only of people who forget every few seconds what time of day it is. Then, when she graduated to co-host and Matt's top b., her interviews and anchorin' switched, dramatically, between forced zaniness and forced seriousness. She was no natural when it came to modern-day morning-show energy.

Think about it, though: Do any of us really enjoy that kind of energy in the first place? All week, in the wake of Curry's mishandled Today dismissal, I've read pieces about how she just couldn't handle the peppiness required of a morning host.

Why do people have to be peppy in general? Peppy is fucking stupid. We're smart enough to know that it's morning time. We have this invention called coffee. All that's needed from a good morning show is well-organized, relevant news and information delivered in a way that doesn't make us want to poke our own eyes out. And, despite its confounding popularity, the first few hours of Today fail miserably at that task. Lauer's a glib asshole, Roker's more trite than Willard Scott at a jelly convention; Natalie Morales and just-announced Curry replacement Savannah Guthrie are virtually interchangeable in their blah-ness. When your entire news operation is upstaged by a fourth hour in which half-drunken Kathie Lee and Hoda talk about reality television, you're in trouble.

So, while I didn't always enjoy watching Ann Curry, I respect her more than I do those other clowns, and feel sad that she was forced out for not being mediocre enough.

Not that Today's shake-up affects me that personally; I've been waking up to CBS' morning show ever since Charlie Rose, Gayle King, and Erica Hill took over and brought a roundtable with 'em. Like Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes, it's a smart, classy production that deserves many more eyes. Maybe one day America won't be so stupid....

I didn't mean that last sentence: I was only referring to one of the many rapid-fire lines uttered by characters on HBO's new Aaron-Sorkin-helmed show, The Newsroom. Primetime cable news has come to the point where it's either watered down to ineffectiveness or consistently fueled by political-party talking points. And both approaches are rendered completely useless when the "Firsties" disease invades - consider those fuckin'-wrong-ass breaking news heds put out by Fox and CNN after the SCOTUS ruling yesterday. So, yeah, Aaron Sorkin has a strong case for the level of Thomas-Newman-scored idealism that's ever present in The Newsroom. And those of us who hung on every line in The West Wing and The Social Network are thrilled to get more dialogue ear candy every week, especially when more profanity is allowed this time around. It's a bit off-putting, though, to see the male-pattern whiteness of Sorkin's TV protagonists. Will McAvoy and President Bartlet are both begrudging beacons, and it's everyone around them who must constantly remind them of their beacon-ness. It'd be nice to see Sorkin flirt with a different formula in his next show, or even in future episodes of The Newsroom. Mix in some harsh reality with your idealism. Can't hurt.

Some things, on the other hand, are too real: Take the Season 3 premiere of Louie. Unlike Louis C.K.'s howlingly funny live act - which is coming to Dallas and people can't stop Facebooking about it zomg - his half-hour FX show can go minutes without an outright laugh. Last night's episode saw the partly-fictional version of the comedian go through an awkward coffee shop break-up, a mini-mid-life crisis that led to an embarrassing motorcycle crash, and a couple of head-splitting conversations with the women in his life. It was funny because it was so true to life and man-dom, but it wasn't laugh-out-loud funny. And that's why it's one of the best shows on television. Nothing much happened, but everything happened. Series-record now, if you know what's good for you.

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Hunter Hauk