Spike’s Idiot Box: Out of the Game

Halloween-themed episodes did nothing notable to raise the profile of struggling and middling sitcoms last week. See the mediocre results proffered in ‘The Goldbergs’, ‘Trophy Wife’, ‘The Millers’ or ‘Back in the Game’ (which just got its cancellation notice). Or better yet, DON’T see them. They’re all forgettable. It’s too bad about ‘Game’ getting the axe, though. Compared to most of the other new fall sitcoms, I thought that one had at least a little potential. It’s hard for me to see how it merited cancellation while ‘Dads’, ‘Super Fun Night’ and ‘Mom’ march on.

I finally got around to watching the first five episodes of ‘Masters of Sex‘. This is the story of Dr. William Masters and his assistant Virginia Johnson, two pioneers of sex research who revolutionized their field. Frankly, I don’t see why there’s so much fuss about it. It’s good, sure. But the show by no means re-invents the wheel. It’s a bit slow and uneven, but it hit its creative stride in Episode 4 with the introduction of William’s intrusive mother and Virginia’s deadbeat ex-husband to the cast. The series provides Showtime a vehicle for lots of gratuitous nudity and sex, which is a high priority for the network, clearly. The recreations of time and place are as good as ‘Mad Men’ and invite inevitable comparison (‘Mad Men’ in Midwest academia!), and the characters are layered and nuanced. I like it, but I’m a bit disappointed because I expected to love it. I’ve had this disappointed feeling with a LOT of Showtime original programming over the past couple of years.

Last week, we found out that Carol was the one who killed Karen and David on ‘The Walking Dead‘. The virus wreaks havoc among the group. If they don’t find an antidote soon, their numbers will be devastated. Jack Osborne and Marilyn Manson were on the after-show panel for ‘The Talking Dead‘. Was it just me, or did Manson seem drug-addled and mumbly to the point of incoherence? [Ed.: It wasn’t just you. –JZ]

The Good Wife‘ has always been great, but it somehow just keeps getting better and better. This season’s chaos, betrayal and desperation have been riveting. Things came to a head last week with the firing of Carey, Alicia and their group when their treachery was uncovered. Watching the characters spew venom at one another while desperately trying to win Chum Hum was pure delight. This battle is far from over, and the real winners are the fans!

I’m still enjoying ‘The Blacklist‘ on Monday nights. I couldn’t help but notice its production similarities to ‘The Good Wife’, though. It’s downright derivative in the opening credits, music selection, rhythm and attitude. That isn’t a bad thing per se, but it’s fairly blatant. The continuing plot involving the shady, questionable past of Elizabeth’s husband Ryan is getting interesting. A bit more is teased out of this each week. Hopefully, we’ll have some answers soon, but I have a feeling they won’t bode well for Elizabeth.

Marie Laveau conjured up zombies to invade the witchcraft school at the end of the Halloween episode of ‘American Horror Story: Coven‘. I don’t usually have a lot of bad things to say about this show, and I guess it’s to be expected that zombies would eventually show up in this potpourri of all things beastly, but I found the zombies to be a pale imitation of those on ‘The Walking Dead’. As a plot device, it also felt weak to me. I was particularly irritated at the zombie who had a mental flashback about LaLaurie. Zombies don’t think or have mental flashbacks! They lumber around and eat brains! Still, I jumped for joy at the return of Frances Conroy as Myrtle Snow, the elegant, severe head of the Council of Witchcraft, who has a bone to pick with Fiona.

On ‘Parenthood‘, Kristina comes from behind to win the Berkeley mayoral debate by connecting with the audience over her experiences raising a child with Asperger’s. She‘s now in serious contention for the position. Joel and Julia struggle with their marriage, and Crosby adjusts to the horrors of driving a minivan. This is a dependably solid show, although its efforts to extract tears from the audience are manipulative and kind of annoying.

In ‘Dracula‘, Grayson takes a lover in Lady Jayne, who apparently has connections with the Order of the Dragon. Jonathan Harker is offered a lucrative position with Grayson, but doesn’t realize that he’s making a deal with the devil. Jonathan doesn’t encourage or support Mina’s efforts to become a doctor, which she finds intolerable. Dr. Van Helsing collaborates with Grayson in his effort to defeat the Order, and is working on a solar vaccine in hopes that he’ll be able to expose himself to sunlight. I’m still enjoying this show. If it stays this good, I’ll commit to the entire ten episode season. It’s promising!

How I Met Your Mother‘ has been well past its prime for some time now. This last season, though, has really done a disservice to its legacy, if you ask me. It seems like the sweetness has been replaced by obnoxiousness for the most part. And the storylines are regrettably unlikely and absurd. This week’s awful Halloween episode illustrates my point perfectly. The gang all call in “No questions asked” favors on one another as Marshall attempts to get a message deleted from Lily’s phone. The resulting flashbacks defy credulity in the most painful ways. I hope this once-decent show can get back on track. It would be a shame if it keeps moving in this direction.

Saturday Night Live‘ was awful this week. I always watch this show. It’s a tradition that goes back to the ’70s for me, but stretches like the current one make me question my loyalty. Kerry Washington hosted, and she did OK with the material she was given. Unfortunately, that material was pretty bad. Eminem was the guest musician, and I found his Billy Squier tribute to be like fingernails on a chalkboard – and I’m NOT an Eminem hater. A music video parody of “What Does the Fox Say” was called “What Does My Girl Say.” I almost liked it, but not quite. This season’s parody videos make me long for the excellent ‘SNL’ digital shorts and the parodies done by Andy Samberg and Lonely Island.

I’ve got ‘Homeland’ on my must watch list for the coming week. I plan to devour all six episodes this week between all my other TV viewing. I’m very much looking forward to it, as I’ve been a huge fan of this show since the beginning.

As always, feel free to join the conversation in the Comments below!


  1. The Marilyn Manson episode of Talking Dead was borderline surreal. It was enormously annoying to watch him continually derail the conversation with his incoherent gibberish, but at the same time, Chris Hardwick’s escalating frustration and futile attempts to get things back on track were kind of hilarious. It was slo-mo train wreck television.

    I wonder what went on during the commercial breaks. Did the producers rush in to beg Manson to shut the hell up, or did everyone just sit there staring at the phones, trying to pretend that nothing was happening, and praying to god for the nightmare to finally end?

  2. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    It was just painful to watch. Not that booze and/or drugs would be a huge surprise for Manson. I’ll be the producers regret signing him on, though. Compare that to professional wrestler Chris Jericho last night, whose exuberance, enthusiasm, knowledge, and likeability were simply a joy to watch.
    Neither here nor there, but I actually thought Manson’s cameo in last night’s Eastbound and Down was pretty hilarious. It was just for a few seconds, but it cracked me up.

  3. Scott Hunvald

    I think Jericho was one of the best guest so far on this season of talking dead. His opinions and insight were very interesting

  4. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    I totally agree, Scott. Best Talking Dead guest ever. Better even than the host, in my opinion. I hope they bring him back.

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