Spike’s Idiot Box: Charlie Parker, Lance Armstrong and the Loneliest Monk

What’s obsessing me in TV this week? Let’s fire up the old Idiot Box to find out.

HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire‘ is still one of the finest dramas on television. This season, Eli’s son Willie dropped out of college after his involvement in a tragic killing. Nucky and Eli are at odds over the best course of action, and the disagreement causes a lot of tension between them. Margaret is in New York City supporting herself with an office job, but her past haunts her after a meeting with Nucky and an encounter with a gangster at her workplace. Al Capone is on a violent rampage after the untimely death of his beloved brother. Chalky White is having a passionate affair with the chanteuse Daughter Maitland, who is also apparently with the sinister doctor Valentin Narcisse. As always, there’s an awful lot going on in this show, but it’s never difficult to keep up – though it does make me wonder how the writers will ever tie all the various elements together cohesively.

A zombie infestation broke out inside the prison walls in ‘The Walking Dead‘, most likely caused by a virus of some kind. The resulting mayhem resulted in a bloodbath as the group lost a lot of their own. The Walkers are almost swarming to the prison, and the hordes very nearly broke down the prison’s protective gates. Carol is secretly teaching the children how to use deadly weapons and force. Two bodies were burnt and disposed of, but we don’t know who might have performed the dirty deed.

In the latest season of CNN’s ‘Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown‘, our host has travelled the globe exploring culture, customs and cuisine. This time out, he’s visited Jerusalem, Spain, Sicily, New Mexico, Copenhagen and South Africa. It’s a lot like his old Travel Channel show ‘No Reservations’. I was a bit worried about Bourdain selling out after ‘The Taste’, the execrable foodie take on ‘The Voice’ that aired earlier this year, but he’s redeemed himself nicely on his new network with this show.

In ‘The Good Wife‘, Diane got married in a civil ceremony to her Tea Party boyfriend. They make a strange pair indeed, but it was entertaining to watch them attempt to interact with each other’s friends. Diane’s suspicions about Alicia and her role in the upcoming exodus were proven correct. The show ended with her revealing this treachery to Will. The next episode should be explosive!

I’ve been playing catch-up with ‘Hello Ladies‘, the new HBO comedy created by and starring Stephen Merchant. It’s unusual to see Merchant in anything without his nasty little troll sidekick Ricky Gervais. I’ve always liked Merchant, though, and I’m happy to report that I quite like this new series. Merchant plays Stuart, an awkward, lanky web designer trying to find love in Los Angeles. He’s in a platonic relationship with his roommate, Jessica, a struggling actress who can’t seem to find her niche. (This week’s column headline comes from my favorite line of the series so far, when Jessica responds to a question about her three favorite jazz musicians.) Also along for his misadventures are friends Nate and Kevin. In each episode so far, Stuart has failed miserably in his desperate efforts to impress and woo women. The show is skillfully put together and superior to most of the sitcoms currently bogging down the schedules of the major networks.

Schmidt has had more than his share of problems this season on ‘New Girl‘. The latest episode ended with him moving out of the apartment to strike out on his own. It’s getting to the point where it’s almost impossible to like this character, especially after the way he ended his relationships with two women. The plot this week centered on a stupid, lame bit about Schmidt having a lifelong pen pal friendship with Michael Keaton, who helps him through difficult times. Sometimes I really, honestly don’t know if I like this show or not. I do like Zooey Deschanel, though, and I suppose she’s the main reason I keep coming back to it.

Sons of Anarchy‘ gave us the return of the fantastic Walton Goggins as Venus Van Damme, Nero’s transsexual friend. Venus gets SAMCRO to assist in getting her son back from her family, who apparently have sinister intent for him. This particular plot arc was a bit heavy-handed, but it had a satisfying end, even though I find it pretty unlikely that a rough-and-tumble gang of bikers would behave so acceptingly and even affectionately toward someone like Venus. Tara continues to plot to get her kids away from Gemma and Charming. She hurts herself – and apparently her fetus – in an effort to frame Gemma and to get Jax to cut her out of their lives. Gemma is subsequently arrested as Tara’s plan comes to fruition.

Incest, racism and bestiality were all served up in last week’s ‘American Horror Story: Coven‘. The episode begins with Madame LaLaurie (Kathy Bates) watching President Obama on television. She weeps, disconsolate at how low her country has sunken that it would elect a black President. Fiona condemns her racism and makes her a slave to Queenie. This won’t end well! Zoe returns Kyle to his mother, who it turns out is an incestuous monster. Even though her son is clearly not himself (literally), she has her way with him before he savagely kills her. Fiona takes Madison under her wing in an apparent effort to have her take over as Supreme, but in the end murders the girl for her own evil purposes.

The League‘ and ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘ had a tandem plot device this week in the episodes ‘Flowers for Taco’ and ‘Flowers for Charlie’, respectively (a nod, of course, to the literary classic ‘Flowers for Algernon’.) In ‘The League’, Taco becomes brilliant when he stops smoking pot. In ‘Sunny’, Charlie likewise becomes brilliant after a lab experiment goes awry. By the end of each, the status quo prevails and things get back to normal.

Does the world really need another ‘Dracula‘? I think the answer is no, but I was still intrigued enough to watch NBC’s newest take on the story Friday night. Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays American industrialist Alexander Grayson, who travels to London ostensibly on business. Grayson is actually Dracula. We soon discover that he’s out to destroy an ancient secret society known as the Order of the Dragon, who have wronged him mightily in the past. He meets Mina Murray, who he believes was his lover in a previous life. The settings are lush and opulent and the production is very well done. So far, it’s a bit of a bodice ripper, what with all the heaving bosoms, six pack abs and period costumes. But I liked it enough to continue. I’ll give NBC credit for at least taking chances. Hopefully, its Friday night slot doesn’t quickly condemn this show to the ash heap.

This week I also binged on the third season of ‘Web Therapy‘, Lisa Kudrow’s Showtime comedy that aired earlier this year. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I think it’s hilarious. Kudrow plays the detestable Fiona Wallace, a would-be web entrepreneur who gives extremely questionable advice to customers via Skype as she maneuvers uncomfortably through a world that is very much resistant to her so-called charms. This show is at its best when the vignettes are actually web therapy sessions with clients. Unfortunately, most of the first half of this season was weighed down with interactions between Fiona and the characters involved in the twisted wreckage of her personal life. Fortunately, I was happy to see a return to more therapy in the last episodes. The parade of guest stars on this show is kind of amazing. Steve Carell, Alan Cummng, Megan Mullally, Lena Dunham, Matt LeBlanc, Sarah Gilbert, Billy Crystal and a host of other stars look like they’re having a blast improvising their scenes with Kudrow.

Please join the conversation below in Comments if you have any thoughts to add or if I didn’t include your favorite shows of the week.


  1. I’m glad you mentioned the basically-identical storylines on Sunny and The League last week. In addition, the Sunny episode was guest-written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss from Game of Thrones.

    Personally, I thought The League did a better job with the premise, but that may be because I watched the two shows out of order and started with that one. I will admit, though, that Charlie’s big reveal of his spider/mouse communicator was probably the biggest laugh I had of the night.

  2. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    I thought they both did a fine job, really. I give the edge to Sunny, though, because I loved how stupid the gang became when they took on Charlie’s janitorial role. Not to mention that Charlie’s life as an intellectual is just freaking hilarious in general.

  3. William Henley

    Any idea why Bourdain jumped networks? He was one of Travel Channel’s most popular shows. If Parts Unknown is still a traveling / drinking show, it doesn’t seem like it would fit into CNN’s network image.

    I don’t have cable anymore, so I can’t watch. I will have to look and see if its on one of the streaming services.

  4. Michael Spike Steinbacher

    I’d heard Bourdain had a history of animosity with Travel Channel execs. Over things like editing, product placement, and things like that. He also thinks that having CNN credentials will give him better access to countries like Libya and Congo.
    The show is a lot like No Reservations. Perhaps with ever so slightly more focus on culture and geopolitics than before. It isn’t an organic fit, natch. But it’s still pretty good.
    Google “anthony bourdain adweek” for a brief interview with him on why he made the move.

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