Feeling good about Fox

Until now, I'd been feeling so-so about this TV season. Still wobbling from the strike, networks have had weak line-ups.

Now, however, there's good news: Fox is on a roll.

Some of that was expected. "24" had a terrific debut Sunday and Monday (Jan. 11-12); "American Idol" is off to a good start tonight (Tuesday, Jan. 13, see the preview/review in my previous blog).

But that's just the start. I've just seen three of Fox's mid-season hours. Each is fresh, bracing, well-made and -- this is the good part -- really original. They are:

-- "Dollhouse," in which Joss Whedon ("Buffy") has crafted a wondrous showcase for Eliza Dushku. She plays an open vessel, someone who continually has her own memories wiped out and is given a personality melded from others. The opener requires a huge coincidence, but we'll forgive that. This is a fascinating hour, both visually and in Dushku's wide-ranging performance.

-- "Lie to Me," in which Tim Roth plays an expert on the body language of truth and lies. This gets creepy at times, but pulls viewers into an engaging mental journey, "House"-style.

-- And my favorite, "Glee."

You really don't expect a drama about a high school glee club, but this has been pulled off with the style and flair of "Pushing Daisies."

It also has a bonus -- a chance for Tony-nominated singers to become Fox stars. Matthew Morrison ("Light on the Piazza") plays the teacher; Lea Michele ("Spring Awakening") is his star student.

Both play immensely likable people who sing pop tunes . They do it beautifully, but the show also adds wonderful detours -- including one school doing a cheery, chirpy, glee-club version of "Rehab."

Moments like that add to a show that already had my attention.  For the rest of this season, Fox will be be fun to watch.




A peek at the "American Idol" opener

"American Idol" starts its eighth season tonight. What can we look forward to?

Well, a guy named Michael Gurr has a voice that's closer to "Grr." Lea Marie Golde looks so good in her pink shirt and pink cowboy hat that we really wish she could sing. Elijah Scarlett has a deep bass voice, but no idea what to do with it. Others are cruel to songs by Celine Dion and Carrie Underwood and Tears For Fears and more.

Then again, you always see a few such quirks. This opener from Phoenix -- 8-10 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 13, on Fox -- also has happy surprises.

There's a beefy Texas oil-rig worker with a sweet voice. And Cody Sheldon, a teen horror-film fan from Detroit who sings gracefully. And Scott MacIntyre, an almost-blind pianist (his range of vision is equal to about one piano key), who isn't used to being away from his piano, but sings beautifully.

These are the sort of people who keep the show interesting. Tonight's opener is typical "Idol" -- some laughs, some warmth, some bitterness, lots of slick and clever editing.

Kara DioGuardi fits in neatly as the show's new judge. The only problem is that this brings the total to four -- and Simon Cowell has the tiebreaker vote.

So one singer advances strictly on her peppy spirit, another (Katrina Darrell) strictly on her wardrobe choice. She chose to wear a bikini throughout the day; it wouldn't be a good choice for everyone, but worked for her.

It also worked with Cowell and Randy Jackson and, well, me.

DioGuardi protested that she's just a beautiful girl who can't sing. Hey, let's correct that: Katrina is not that beautiful and doesn't sing that badly; she also knows how to dress to impress. 

Golden Globe ramblings

Here are some random thoughts on the Golden Globes; please add yours. Bear with me, because I'm doing this while watching the West Coast telecast. It would be cheating to peak at the list of winners:

1) It should be mandatory to have one clever Englishman at each awards ceremony. Two years ago, Sacha Baron Cohen was delightful; tonight, Ricky Gervais matched that.

2) The comment Gevais made was true, incidentally. In a hilarious "Extras" scene, he had Kate Winslett insisting on doing a Holocaust movie so she could win an award. Now she's done one and won one.

3) Not all English folks are great at getting or presenting awards though. Please tell Winslett this: You could have thanked those people afterward, at the party.

4) This is the part I hate. The star of "Happy Go Lucky" spent most of her time crying.

5) As all those awards pile up, remember this: "John Adams" was a good miniseries, but far from a great one. It started wonderfully, then got dragged down in the lethargic nature of its lead character.

6) Then again, also remember: "30 Rock" IS a great show. It's erratic -- all comedies filmed without an audience seem to be -- but often wonderfully funny.

7) Tina Fey had the best line: "If you ever feel too good about yourself, there's this thing called the Internet." I won't prove that here. Fey is a good actress, a fine producer and a terrific writer.

8) Also, letting Tracy Morgan do the acceptance speech for "30 Rock" was a master stroke.

9) Rumor Willis has the rare distinction of being Miss Golden Globesfor two straight years. She was chosen last year, but the strike scuttled everything. NBC's dim-witted presentation, hosted by Billy Bush and Nancy O'Dell, was one of the awful moments in TV history.

10) It's easy to make fun of those Miss Golden Globes people over the years, assuming they are dull, big-globed heiresses. Let's not be so sure, though. Laura Dern -- a brilliant and gifted actress who just won her second Globe -- was Miss Golden Globe in 1982.

11) If I understand this correctly, Don Cheadle has gone from "Hotel Rwanda" to "Hotel For Dogs." This is not, presumably, an upgrade.

12) The comments by Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese were terrific, as they urged people to avoid the easy, mainstream way. Still, let's remember this: In all of Hollywood history, Spielberg is absolutely the finest craftsman of popular, mainstream movies.

13) Let me recommend a couple of the non-winners in the movie-comedy category. "In Bruges" isn't quite a comedy, but it is interesting and original. And "Burn After Reading" is a delight.

14) Things get kind of quiet when anyone mentions "In Treatment"; reaction to Gabriel Byrne's win was muted. Very simply, not many people have seen the HBO show. It will be back soon; the first season was subtly written and superbly acted.

15) Hey, "In Bruges" did win something after all. Colin Farrell didn't have to do a lot of acting in it, but he was perfectly cast and gave a neatly subtle performance. It was good to see a former bad-boy type being honored for good work.

16) Winslet won again and was just as bad the second time. She's a great actress, but now she's on my no-more-awards list.

17) You can probably do well, just by predicting upset wins by Anna Paquin. She did that 15 years ago at the Oscars for "The Piano" and did it again now for "True Blood." She's just right in a terrific show.

18) Mickey Rourke AND Colin Ferrell both won? Two self-destructive, crumbling guys have turned it around. Comebacks are great.

19) OK, I get the message. I promise to watch "Slumdog Millionaire" as soon as it gets to town.

20) Last year, "Mad Men" won and nobody was watching. Maybe this year will make a difference. In its own oddly restrained way, this is a fine show.





Hollywood still lures them

Maybe this is re-assuring: We may shrug off Hollywood, but others -- even sophisticated English folks -- still consider it magical.

I've found that during my first few days of Television Critics Association interviews in Los Angeles. Consider:

-- Claire Foy, 24, with all the proper credentials. She's an Oxford grad and a "Masterpiece Classic" star, with the title role in the upcoming "Little Dorrit." She was delighted that the intervews are at a hotel across from Universal City. "I want to go on the rides," she said. "I want to go to a theme park."

-- Aaron Paul, 28, who's terrific as a small-time drug dealer in "Breaking Bad." Poolside, he nodded toward the Universal theaters; that's where he worked after his leap from Idaho to Los Angeles. "I was the guy who would take your ticket at the movies."

-- Luke Pasqualino, 18, who's a charming sort in the upcoming season of "Skins," on BBC America. "I was a huge 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air' fan," he said. "Now I'm actually in L.A. and I saw Bel Air on the map ... I might get in a car and go down there and check it all out."

-- Sharon Small, 41, already a PBS favorite (via the Inspector Lyndley mysteries) and now in BBC America's upcoming "Mistresses." For her, it was a thrill to drive past the Hollywood sign -- or to be driving at all. She's usually in London; "we can drive, but it's quite a mess."

-- And Foy again, with her one complaint. On her first night in Los Angeles, she grumbled that she couldn't find "the big row with the palm trees on it."

Helpful gentlemen soon gave her tips to find palm trees. When you're young and wide-eyed and look like Keira Knightley, gentlemen are helpful and Hollywood is magical.  



A joke, courtesy of RuPaul


I really don't pass along enough jokes from RuPaul, so here's one.

You may recall that RuPaul is the towering drag-queen star. He was in Los Angeles today to talk about "RuPaul's Drag Race," the reality competition show that opens Feb. 2 on cable's Logo Channel. Anyway, here's his joke:

"A black guy walks into a bar with a parrot on his shoulder.

"The bartender says, 'Hey, where'd you get that?'"

"The parrot says, 'In Africa. They're everywhere there.'"