Monday, December 18, 2006

Golden Globe Nominations: Part Four

We've reached the end, at last--Part Four of my four-part blog on the Golden Globe nominations, which were announced on Thursday. For nominations in the film categories, see Parts One and Two; for the television comedy and drama categories, see Part Three. Part Four consists of the nominations for miniseries and for supporting actor/actress. Enjoy!

Best Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television
Bleak House
Broken Trail
Elizabeth I
Mrs. Harris
Prime Suspect: The Final Act

If you needed more proof of Helen Mirren's dominance over all things award-related, here it is. Not only has she received three nominations this year, but just about every project with which she was connected has been recognized by the HFPA. I won't even pretend that my personal favorite in this category, Bleak House, has a fighting chance. Elizabeth I basically swept the Emmys earlier this year, and I have every reason to expect a repeat. It's the Mirren Factor, baby.

Best Actress - Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television
Gillian Anderson, Bleak House
Annette Bening, Mrs. Harris
Helen Mirren, Elizabeth I
Helen Mirren, Prime Suspect: The Final Act
Sophie Okonedo, Tsunami, The Aftermath

This is such an impressive group of actresses, you have to wonder what went wrong in the Best Comedic Actress (TV) category. There are certainly plenty of talented women on television, so why is Marcia Cross nominated exactly? I'd count Annette Bening out right away, since she's nominated in another category and because Mrs. Harris has been mostly ignored at awards shows. Gillian Anderson was wonderful in Bleak House, but hers was a supporting role; I would have liked to see the series' lead actress, Anna Maxwell Martin, nominated this year. Having just finished Part One of Tsunami, The Aftermath, I must say that Sophie Okonedo would be my hands-down favorite in any other year. She gives a heartbreaking, understated performance as a mother who goes mad with grief and takes another person's child after her own daughter goes missing and is presumed dead in a tsunami. Many actresses would overplay this role in a Lifetime-movie fashion, but Okonedo gives the character dignity. This is Helen Mirren's year, however, and there's no stopping her transition into the Galactic Emperor of Dramatic Acting. Coincidentally, Ian McDarmid appeared in Elizabeth I with Helen Mirren. This woman is the new Kevin Bacon. Normally I'd predict that Mirren would split her own vote, but in this case, the HFPA will probably just declare a tie between her performances and give her two awards. Just watch and see if I'm wrong.

Best Actor - Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television
Andre Braugher, Thief
Robert Duvall, Broken Trail
Michael Ealy, Sleeper Cell: American Terror
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tsunami, The Aftermath
Ben Kingsley, Mrs. Harris
Bill Nighy, Gideon's Daughter
Matthew Perry, The Ron Clark Story

Is there some reason that seven actors made it into this category, but only three non-Mirren actresses made it into the Best Actress category? I call BS. With so many nominees, it's hard to predict how this one will go. Andre Braugher, one of my all-time faves, justly won the Emmy this year for his performance in Thief, and he has a fighting chance for the Golden Globe. I've heard that Sleeper Cell is insanely awesome, though, so Michael Ealy could pop up and take the award. After watching the first part of Tsunami, The Aftermath, I owe Chiwetel Ejiofor a huge apology. The man is a tremendous actor, and I'm a lamewad for not knowing who he was. He plays Sophie Okonedo's husband in the miniseries, and he has an impeccable scene when he realizes that his wife has gone batshit crazy and has replaced his possibly dead daughter with another little girl. He doesn't say a word, but the expression on his face is deserving of several awards right there, apart from the rest of his amazing performance. If Chandler from Friends beats him, I will swear off the Globes forever. By the way, I frequently make idle threats.

Best Supporting Actress - Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for Television
Emily Blunt, Gideon's Daughter
Toni Collette, Tsunami, The Aftermath
Katherine Heigl, Grey's Anatomy
Sarah Paulson, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds

The HFPA needs to divide this category up, if only to give it a shorter name. It's difficult to say if the nominees even give comparable performances, which doesn't mean they aren't great at what they do. How do you choose between a charity worker from a super-serious tsunami miniseries and a suburban mom from a TV show about pot-dealing? To use the same criteria to evaluate performances on completely different planes is well, silly. I'll be rooting for either Emily Blunt or Toni Collette, since neither actress is going to win in the film categories in which they are also nominated. Try diagramming that sentence.

Best Supporting Actor - Series, Miniseries, or Motion Picture Made for Television
Thomas Haden Church, Broken Trail
Jeremy Irons, Elizabeth I
Justin Kirk, Weeds
Masi Oka, Heroes
Jeremy Piven, Entourage

Yata!! Hiro did it! I'm thrilled that my favorite part of Heroes (besides Adrian Pasdar's chest, teeth, and voice) got some love from the HFPA. I'd be floored if Masi Oka won, but the nomination is a nice acknowledgment of his work. This category is another weird grab bag of performances, and it's a tough call. Jeremy Irons, due to his proximity to Helen Mirren, won the Emmy for Elizabeth I earlier this year, and I'd say he's the front runner. Jeremy Piven's coming off of his own Emmy win, however, and he's been nominated for a Golden Globe for the previous two years, so this might be his turn. I'm just curious to see what sort of bizarre cravat he wears this time.

See you on January 15th, suckas!!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Golden Globe Nominations: Part Three

Now we come to Part Three of my ginormous four-part blog about the Golden Globe nominations, which were announced yesterday. Check out Parts One and Two for the film nominations. Today's blogs are all about the nominations for Television, which I was more than happy with (for the most part, Housewives excluded). Let's start things off with the drama and comedy awards, shall we?

Best Drama Series
24
Big Love
Grey's Anatomy
Heroes
Lost

While it's fantastic that my new favorite drama, Heroes, got a nod, I'm less than thrilled about the other nominees. A bunch of doctors freaking out about how many people they've slept with at work isn't so much dramatic as it is pathetic. Every time I catch a snippet of Grey's Anatomy, someone is looking mopey or oversharing with a co-worker. Not compelling television. Big Love is a well-made and well-acted show, but I can think of several HBO shows that deserved the nomination more. The Wire and Deadwood are complex, gutwrenching dramas that are in a class apart from just about every show on this list. Show Omar some love, you feel me? I'm betting that the HFPA will either reward the novelty of Heroes or the old mainstay, 24.

Best Actress, Drama
Patricia Arquette, Medium
Edie Falco, The Sopranos
Evangeline Lilly, Lost
Ellen Pompeo, Grey's Anatomy
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer

Awards shows do not know how to spot the truly kickass actresses on TV, and this category proves it. Instead of picking actresses like Deadwood's Robin Weigert, who add new layers to their characters with each episode, the Globes acknowledged the work of Evangeline Lilly and Ellen Pompeo, two actresses who can barely master the pouty extressions that their characters require. Both Lilly and Pompeo's characters provide only the most superficial of conflicts to their shows: which hot guy do I want to sleep with? Kate and Meredith Grey aren't exactly Lady Macbeth and Blanche DuBois, if you know what I mean. Patricia Arquette's consistent nominations still confuse me--when is her show even on? The two real contenders are Edie Falco and Kyra Sedgwick. As I was watching the second and third episodes of The Sopranos' most recent season, I knew Edie Falco would be nominated. She's had the best scenes in an otherwise lackluster season. The award will likely go to fresher face Kyra Sedgwick, however, and I don't mind one bit. I want to see the cutaway shots to her adorable husband, Kevin Bacon, when she makes her acceptance speech.

Best Actor, Drama
Patrick Dempsey, Grey's Anatomy
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Hugh Laurie, House, M.D.
Bill Paxton, Big Love
Kiefer Sutherland, 24

Michael C. Hall's nomination notwithstanding, meh. How hard can it be to play McDreamy, honestly? Ditto Bill Paxton's polygamist character in Big Love. The brilliant Hugh Laurie won last year, but he's stuck with a character that says and does the exact same things in every episode: belittle everyone, make snarky comments, and occasionally depict a weakness for pain medication. Laurie does a wonderful job with his character, but there isn't much for him to add to Gregory House in each episode. Past winner Keifer Sutherland is the front runner, but I'm hoping that Michael C. Hall stages an upset. I can't describe how awesome Dexter is, and how perfectly Hall plays Dexter Morgan. How many actors could make a serial killer sympathetic, funny, and relatable? Start watching this show ASAP.

Best Comedy Series
Desperate Housewives
Entourage
The Office
Ugly Betty
Weeds

It's never a good sign when I both groan and cheer at the announcement of a category. Entourage is one of those comedies that is funny in the moment, but doesn't hold up to repeat viewing. Perhaps I don't find it funny because I'm not a spoiled, lazy young man with a bogus sense of entitlement--you know, like the characters on the show? Word has it that Weeds is very deserving, but Desperate Housewives has never belonged on this list of nominees. Call me crazy, but the frozen, plastic faces of Marcia Cross and Teri Hatcher don't inspire laughter, at least not in a comedic sense. Choosing between The Office and Ugly Betty is like choosing between Chips Ahoy and Oreos, and I can't bear to do it. I'll be ecstatic if either one wins.

Best Actress, Comedy
Marcia Cross, Desperate Housewives
America Ferrera, Ugly Betty
Felicity Huffman, Desperate Housewives
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

I can't believe that we haven't moved on from this Desperate Housewives trend already. The first person who can give me a decent explanation why these women are funny will get a million dollars'...worth of free blogging advice. Mary-Louise Parker gives off this huffy "too cool for school" vibe, which looks even worse next to the humility and gratitude of Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Find me one actress who's more thankful to have steady work, seriously. That said, America Ferrera has to win. The sweet, slightly goofy tone of Ugly Betty is totally dependent on Ferrera's performance, and she delivers like Domino's.

Best Actor, Comedy
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Zach Braff, Scrubs
Steve Carell, The Office
Jason Lee, My Name is Earl
Tony Shalhoub, Monk

That's what I'm talkin' about!! 4 out of 5 nominees actually belong here. I'm still a little miffed about Tony Shalhoub beating Steve Carell at last year's Emmys, so he's out. If Best Comedy was like choosing a cookie, this category is more like choosing between different types of chocolate. I don't think Zach Braff's ever won an award for his portrayal of J.D., and it would be nice if Scrubs got the teensiest bit of kudos. Jason Lee brings a lot to the dopey role of Earl Hickey, but I don't see it happening. 30 Rock lacks the popularity or exposure of The Office, and Steve Carell's just too hilarious to pass up. Perhaps Carell will celebrate his win Michael Scott-style, with dinner at Chili's and drinks at Hooters.

Part Four--coming soon!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Golden Globe Nominations: Part Two

This blog entry is Part Two of a four-part series on the Golden Globe nominations, which were announced early this morning. Part One, containing the nominees for film directing and acting, can be found here. Parts Three and Four concerning television will follow. Now we get to the second batch of film nominees: those recognized for Best Original Song, Best Original Score, Screenplay, and Best Picture. Here we go!

Best Original Song
"A Father's Way," from The Pursuit of Happyness, Seal & Christopher Bruce
"Listen," from Dreamgirls, Henry Krieger, Anne Preven, Scott Cutler, & Beyonce Knowles
"Never Gonna Break My Faith," from Bobby, Bryan Adams, Eliot Kennedy & Andrew Remanda
"The Song of the Heart," from Happy Feet, Prince
"Try Not to Remember," from The Painted Veil, Sheryl Crow

I didn't realize that Bryan Adams had resurfaced! Good for him. He's been nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his soundtrack work, but never won. I think he could use the career boost, but it's a competitive category. This award often goes to a celebrity nominee, but there are several this year. Of all the nominated songs, I've only heard Prince's contribution to Happy Feet, and it's nothing to sing home about. Dreamgirls has popularity on its side, so I'm choosing Beyonce and company over Seal and Cheryl Crow. Not that I would mind seeing Seal for an extended period of time...

Best Original Score
Alexandre Desplat, The Painted Veil
Carlo Siliotto, Nomad
Clint Mansell, The Fountain
Gustavo Santaolalla, Babel
Hans Zimmer, The Da Vinci Code

Rather than pretend I'm familiar with a majority of the nominees, I'll come right out and pick Gustavo Santaolalla for Babel. He won last year in the same category, and won an Oscar for Best Original Score for Brokeback Mountain. The man knows how to set the mood, and setting the mood for a Ledger-Gyllenhaal love scene is a precarious task. Seriously, the man is talented, and deserves to beat Hans Zimmer's Ron Howard-loving ass. Loyal readers will recall my intense hatred of all things Da Vinci.

Best Screenplay
Guillermo Arriaga, Babel
Patrick Marber, Notes on a Scandal
William Monahan, The Departed
Peter Morgan, The Queen
Todd Field & Tom Perotta, Little Children

I'm ashamed that I haven't seen any of these movies, all of which have great reputations. Movies like The Departed seem especially reliant on building suspense and believable plot twists, which a good screenwriter would have to provide. Previous winners indicate that the HFPA likes emotional, dialogue-centered films, which means that The Queen and Babel are strong contenders. I'll go with Babel, if only for the way Guillermo Arriaga skillfully handled four overlapping international storylines.

Best Animated Feature Film
Cars
Happy Feet
Monster House

If I've learned anything from my two-year-old nephew, it's that Cars was the best animated movie of the year. There's no arguing with a two-year-old. Besides, penguins are so 2005.

Best Foreign Language Film
Apocalypto
Letters From Iwo Jima
Pan's Labyrinth
The Lives of Others
Volver

This is a very interesting category. Volver was a Golden Palm nominee at the Cannes Film Festival, and Letters From Iwo Jima has gotten lots of critical recognition. The third big name, Apocalypto, is doing well at the moment, but the HFPA may not have completely forgotten about Mel Gibson's drunken ramblings. Part of me wants Mel Gibson's movie to win, but it's the part of me that picked Apocalypto in my Fantasy Moguls league. I'm going with Volver, since the gifted Pedro Almodovar got snubbed for Best Director. Maybe the Hollywood Foreign Press will throw him a bone.

Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical
Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Dreamgirls
Little Miss Sunshine
Thank You For Smoking
The Devil Wears Prada

I don't think enough people over the age of 18 liked Borat enough to give it the Golden Globe. The Devil Wears Prada was entirely owned by Meryl Streep, and the movie will be recognized via her win. Hopefully TomKat's reach won't extend to the awards circuit (Thank You for Smoking), because I don't think I could take it if Katie Holmes continued to get everything she wants. Little Miss Sunshine would be a fitting choice, since it 1) was hilarious, 2) had an incredible ensemble cast, and 3) had a family striptease number. Classic.

Best Motion Picture - Drama
Babel
Bobby
Little Children
The Departed
The Queen

Bobby and Little Children are in over their heads. I'm sorry, but there's no way an Emilio Estevez picture wins anything. Did you see Men At Work? Case. Rested. The Departed and The Queen will probably get more acting awards than anything else, so look for Babel to be the winner.

Parts Three and Four Coming Soon!

Golden Globe Nominations: Part One

The nominations for the Golden Globe awards were announced early this morning, and I couldn't be more excited about this year's show. The Golden Globes are often seen as a warm-up for the Oscars, but I happen to like this awards show more. Presenters and acceptance speeches are way funnier, and you get the movie and TV folks together in one place, like when two of your favorite TV shows do a crossover episode. Surreal, but nice. There were a lot of pleasant surprises this year, especially in the TV categories. After hearing the film nominees, it became clear to me that I've become a total homebody, unable to roll off the couch to even go to movies. I haven't seen a lot of the nominated films yet, but I will do my best to provide some decent criticism. Part One of this megablog is reserved for the film acting and directing awards, with Parts Two, Three, and Four to come later. Enjoy!

Best Director:
Clint Eastwood, Flags of Our Fathers
Clint Eastwood, Letters From Iwo Jima
Stephen Frears, The Queen
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Babel
Martin Scorsese, The Departed

It's very likely that Clint Eastwood will split his own vote, although Clint is to major awards what Larry Hagman is to livers--just try not to give him one. Flags of Our Fathers isn't nominated in any other categories, so I'd count it out. Letters From Iwo Jima has already won several awards, but it may win for Best Foreign Film instead. Babel has the most nominations of any of the other films, but my bet is on Stephen Frears for The Queen. Martin Scorsese is doomed as far as major awards are concerned; he's been nominated for six Golden Globes and won only once. And the Oscars? Don't ask.

Best Supporting Actor:
Ben Affleck, Hollywoodland
Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls
Jack Nicholson, The Departed
Brad Pitt, Babel
Mark Wahlberg, The Departed

It's hard to understand why the Hollywood Foreign Press Association combines the supporting actor and actress categories. I've always thought it was a little unfair to treat the lead and supporting roles differently. So-called supporting roles are often more memorable than the leads. There's no way that I'm ready to live in world where Marky Mark or Butt Affleck beats out Jack Nicholson for a major award. Brad Pitt is a movie star, but he's not in the same league with the great dramatic actors of our time. I'd root for Eddie Murphy, but he's been a total cad to Scary Spice lately. Jack it is.

Best Supporting Actress:
Adriana Barraza, Babel
Cate Blanchett, Notes on a Scandal
Emily Blunt, The Devil Wears Prada
Jennifer Hudson, Dreamgirls
Rinko Kikuchi, Babel

I think it would be hilarious if American Idol reject Jennifer Hudson won this award. From what I hear, she should have been nominated for Lead Actress, but she has a better chance here. I haven't heard much about Notes on a Scandal yet, so I can't really go with Cate Blanchett (although I can't wait to see what she wears). Emily Blunt is nominated in the TV Miniseries Supporting Actress category, and that seems more like her weight class at the moment. Between the two Babel actresses, I've heard more raving about Rinko Kikuchi, so I'm picking her to win.

Best Actor, Comedy or Musical:
Sacha Baron Cohen, Borat
Johnny Depp, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Aaron Eckhart, Thank You for Smoking
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kinky Boots
Will Ferrell, Stranger Than Fiction

Any other year I would have gone with Aaron Eckhart's slick performance in Thank You for Smoking, but this category has Borat written all over it. Cohen is the only actor whose portrayal was so convincing as to deceive real people. Hopefully the crude parts of the film don't overshadow the genius of Cohen's character. The buzz around Will Ferrell ended quickly, and Captain Jack Sparrow is already a faint memory. Poor Chiwetel Ejiofor, I have absolutely no idea who you are.

Best Actress, Comedy or Musical:
Annette Bening, Running With Scissors
Toni Collette, Little Miss Sunshine
Beyonce Knowles, Dreamgirls
Meryl Streep, The Devil Wears Prada
Renee Zellweger, Miss Potter

If I'm not ready for Marky Mark to win an award, then I'm 100% not prepared to see Beyonce "bootylicious" Knowles beat out Meryl Streep. Knowles will look gorgeous on awards night, but the nomination is her award. Toni Collete is fabulous, but she was the least interesting character in the equally great Little Miss Sunshine. If Zellweger was going through one of her preying mantis phases during her film, she has no shot. This race is between Annette Bening and Meryl Streep. I'll root for Meryl Streep, who is guaranteed to give a better acceptance speech than the one Bening gave for her role in Being Julia. Plus it's Warren Beatty's time to shine (he's getting a lifetime achievement award), so Bening shouldn't steal his thunder.

Best Actor, Drama:
Leonardo DiCaprio, Blood Diamond
Leonardo DiCaprio, The Departed
Peter O'Toole, Venus
Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness
Forest Whitaker, The Last King of Scotland

There may be another instance of vote-splitting in this category, which is unfortunate for the hardworking Leonardo DiCaprio. He's not my favorite actor, but he makes an effort to be involved in great projects. Peter O'Toole hasn't gotten much buzz, and Will Smith simply does not belong. I prefer reruns of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to any of his movies, and that show was effing obnoxious. Forest Whitaker is far too talented not to get this award. He is consistently brilliant in everything he does, and will likely give a sincere, humble acceptance speech.

Best Actress, Drama:
Penelope Cruz, Volver
Judi Dench, Notes on a Scandal
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Sherrybaby
Helen Mirren, The Queen
Kate Winslet, Little Children

I imagine that this year's showdown between Dames Helen Mirren and Judi Dench will be like that scene in the third Star Wars prequel when Mace Windu and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine battled it out, and Palpatine totally handed Windu's ass to him. In this scenario, Helen Mirren is Palpatine, in case you hadn't figured it out. Helen Mirren is unstoppable. She's dominating the royal biopic genre at the moment, while Dench was relegated to another Bond film. The other nominees should just stay out of this one, lest they go the way of Samuel L. Jackson.

Stay tuned for Part Two!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mid-Season Finales (contains spoilers)

It's early December, which means that most of my favorite shows are already on hiatus for the next couple of months. It's going to be a long winter without my stories. This year there was a lot of emphasis on having winter/midseason finales with some sort of payoff or cliffhanger. Were the networks as good as their word? Let's examine this further.

Lost: This was the earliest finale, and Lost will apparently have the longest hiatus of all the big series. As usual, I was not impressed with this Kate-centric episode. Kate has always been the most disappointing character to me, and she has some decent competition--hello, Locke! With her criminal past, she has the greatest potential for an exciting backstory, but her flasbacks always leave something to be desired. I get it, writers: Kate can't settle down, she likes to run away, and, like virtually every Lost character, has Daddy issues. On a side note, can't some of the blame be shifted to the characters' mothers? A cranky aunt? Anyway, the only interesting thing about the episode was that Jack finally grew a pair and threatened to kill Ben, aka "the artist formerly known as Henry Gale." Of course, he used his leverage for something pointless like saving Kate, but it was still fairly entertaining to watch. The Kate-Sawyer cage sex seemed like more of a ratings ploy than a significant storyline, and made no contribution to the episode. I really wish that the writers would provide a more exciting gimmick, like maybe in every 12th episode they could actually answer some questions! Grade: C-

Jericho: I know, this show is on CBS and it is scientifically inaccurate, but Wednesdays are slow now that Dancing with the Stars has waltzed out of my life. The writers of Jericho have clearly learned a thing or two from Lost's mistakes and give a little bit of payoff when it counts. You'd think a post-nuclear attack show would have a little more death, and it finally came to Jericho's suspiciously wet streets. Two, count 'em, two murders. A crowd of survivors walk into Jericho like backup dancers in the Thriller video, one of whom is Emily's fiance, Roger. Dun. Dun. Dun. I could have done without the nonexistent chemistry between Skeet Ulrich and Ashley Scott during their Sinead O'Connor dance of forbidden love, but that's a minor detail. Plus it was nice to see that Hawkins is in some trouble with his secret apocalypse buddies. That final message on the monitor, "See you soon," was eerie enough to keep me intrigued until after the hiatus. Hawkins definitely needs more screen time, as does Stanley's bare chest. Grade: B+

Veronica Mars: It's been an inconsistent season in terms of quality, but I thought this finale was a good way to wrap up the Hearst rapist mystery. Mercer and Moe as the villains actually made logical sense, and viewers can go back to previous episodes and see that the clues were there all along. Even though I love Veronica and Logan, I had been waiting for their inevitable breakup for some time, and it was tastefully done. Nothing against our girl, but V is kind of a sucky girlfriend. Don't get me wrong--I think she and Logan could make it work if Veronica could learn to trust and appreciate him a bit more. We got to see more of Mac, and she was wearing a hilarious "Ask my about my STD" t-shirt. Hopefully Tina Majorino, Chris Lowell, Percy Daggs, and Julie Gonzalo will get more attention after the break, especially now that the Logan-Veronica relationship of doom arc is done for the time being. With such fun actors, ensemble is totally the way to go. Finally, the show featured some of my favorite things: the music of Fatboy Slim, bad dancing, and a guy's leg being stabbed with a toy unicorn horn. Ed Begley, Jr., will be missed, but I look forward to seeing how his murderer gets caught in the next arc. Grade: B+

Ugly Betty: Another outstanding episode from the cast and writers. This holiday special had it all--huge laughs, tender romantic voiceovers, and a little bit of soapy drama. Betty and Henry could not be cuter, and I was devastated when it turned out that whinypants Walter, not Henry, gave Betty those thoughtful gifts. When it's not right, it's not right, and more than one character learned that lesson the hard way. Amanda's discovery of the engagement rings let her know that she and Daniel were not to be. I thought the old "ring stuck on the finger" bit had been done to death, but that's my only nitpick for this episode. Daniel is finally able to commit to one woman, but I still don't trust this relationship. It seems like Sofia is doing a Down With Love-style exposé on taming playboys or something. There's no way this ends well, especially since Sofia is taking Betty away, thus eliminating the whole concept of the show. Evil Marc had too many perfectly hilarious lines to mention, and I loved the music. "Mambo Santa Mambo" by the Enchanters is now on my iPod for the long haul, even after Christmas is over. Fake snow for everyone! Grade: A

Heroes: The much-hyped finale of Heroes aired, and the big death was not quite as shocking as I expected. Eden was never that compelling, although she's still a step up from the Niki/Jessica snoozefest. Did Sylar's powers work because Silent Haitian hottie wasn't present? If so, isn't that kind of dangerous? I love how the writers keep making HRG Bennet more complex. After last week, I thought he was just a nice teddy bear of a Dad, but he went back to being bastardish after erasing the memories of Claire's brother and her only friend in the world. At least the Silent Haitian guy screwed him over and let Claire keep her memory. By the way--I laughed when the Haitian told Claire that he'd wiped Mrs. Bennet's memory many times, because...well, it explains a lot. You have to wonder how he handled the dog, though. As always, the episode needed more Hiro and Ando. Those guys should have their own late-night talk show where they talk about sci-fi and other geeky stuff. That future-painting of Hiro and the T-Rex is very promising, as was Peter's dream that he was the exploding man. How is that going to happen? What is making Peter so sick? Since this isn't Lost, there is actually a chance in hell that these questions will be answered. I look forward to next year's episodes. Grade: A

The Wire: This is a season finale that I saw early on HBO OnDemand, but The Wire's "Final Grades" episode was heartbreaking in a way that I've never seen on television. It hasn't aired yet, so I won't give too much away, but wow. David Simon has to be the biggest pessimist of all time. Out of the 4 schoolkids, only a couple of them turned out the way I thought, and only one ended up with a decent future. It was incredibly difficult to watch these children take on the same bleak existences that the adult characters have. The final montage set to music was a little mainstream for this show, as was the "don't miss the first five minutes" moment in the opener, but as a whole the episode was beautiful and brutally real. If you have HBO, try to watch it this Sunday night. Grade: A+