Thursday, March 30, 2006

Terrible Tuesday

Tough to say who had a worse night on Tuesday, Andre Braugher's character, Nick Atwater, in "Thief," or the contestants on "American Idol." If you taped or TiVOed "Thief" and haven't watched it yet and, like Frank Costanza, you like to go in fresh, then I suggest you stop reading (yes, this means you, Greg).

"Thief" began as you would expect, with Atwater leading his gang in a bank heist. Like all the protagonists of F/X dramas, he is exceptionally proficient in his chosen vocation and lives by a certain moral code, but his personal life and his job keep colliding until they combust. So, while he seemed relatively content and unruffled by little blips on the radar screen for the first fifteen minutes of the show, his life got flushed faster than a junkie's stash after the first commercial break.

Over the course of the one hour episode, Atwater's loving and lovely wife is killed in a car accident (at least we think it's an accident, but don't be surprised if we find out later it was a hit), Atwater shoots and kills a member of his gang (he shot in self-defense, but his teenage stepdaughter saw him do it), and unknown to Atwater, an Asian underworld crime boss has sent an ruthless enforcer halfway across the country to seek vengeance on him for stealing his money, even though Atwater returned it. Oh, and a corrupt local cop played by Michael Rooker will be helping the enforcer do his dirty work. Rooker, who I remember best as Ellen Barkin's homicidally jealous husband in "Sea of Love" and in the title role of "Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer," is going to be a lot of fun to watch in this role.

So, I am locked on to "Thief" for the remainder of the season, even if it seems like the writers went a little overboard already. I mean, even Andy Sipowicz got to spend at least a season married to Sharon Lawrence before they whacked her. Then they killed off Jimmy Smits and Andy, Jr. just when father and son were finally getting along, but after that, the "NYPD Blue" writers went soft, gave Sipowicz the hot blonde girlfriend and even let his cute kid survive until the show went off the air.

Speaking of cute kids, the performances on American Idol made me remember why I never watched the show before my offspring made it "must-see-TV" in our house. I found myself nodding in agreement every time the even more dyspeptic than usual Simon Cowell opened his mouth. I wonder at what point, if any, the producers will tell Simon to stop badmouthing every single contestant. Before I get into specific performances, let me say that I think the one-hour format really worked against the contestants. Once you made time for commercials, intros, critiques and Simon-Paula and Simon-Ryan catfights, each singer was left with maybe two minutes to actually sing, not nearly enough time to take a song through any kind of emotional continuum.

Lisa was fine but as usual nothing special, and Simon almost made her cry. Kellie eschewed my suggestons of Faith Hill or Shania Twain and twanged her way through something called "Suds in a Bucket" by someone named Sara Evans. Now, I used to be quite the country music fan - I've got the Farm Aid 3 tape to prove it - but I have never heard of Sara Evans or any of the eight albums she has released. Next, Ace took a shot at Train's "Drops of Jupiter," a song that was so overplayed even the deaf community got sick of it. Ace's limited vocal ability (my younger son asked, "He's not going to do that squeaky voice is he? I hate that." Well said, my boy, well said.) sounded even worse when he pulled his shirt aside to show a scar as he sang a line about, yep, a scar. We can only hope that next week he doesn't choose to sing Chuck Berry's "My Ding-a-Ling" (although, Paula might be interested). The Big Three (in my book anyway) Taylor, Mandisa, and Chris, failed to wow me, probably because the dog started barking during Taylor's song and wouldn't let up until I took her out while Chris raged through yet another hard rock number. I've never been a Katharine fan, and her performance didn't change my opinion. She has a nice voice but has obviously been taken to the limit of her ability by her mother the voice coach. Just as people like to say that Duke basketball players don't succeed in the NBA because Coach K maxes out their potential (an erroneous theory, but that is for another day), Katharine cannot get to the next level. Bucky settled hard into his comfort zone with Tim McGraw, but mumbled as if his hat were covering his mouth and not just his eyes. Simon crushed him by saying this would be the point where he would walk out of the concert; or, turn off the television, I said to myself. And while I am sure there are some seventeen-year old girls who could handle Beyonce's "Work it Out," Paris is not one of them. Her cutesy persona and heliumized voice are more than her substantial singing voice can dispel to make this kind of material happen. Maybe I would be more willing to accept her if she started hanging with 50 Cent. Elliott wrapped it up with the second song of the night that I knew, but of course I know the Bo Bice version from last season's American Idol CD, not the original by Gavin DeGraw. So, if you took the under on my over-under of four in the "songs that I would know" bet, go ahead and cash that ticket.

On Wednesday, the surprise was not Lisa's exit, about which she seemed more relieved than upset, but Katharine's presence in the bottom three. At this point, I see Ace, Katharine, Bucky, and Paris going out in order before America has to make some tough choices. Bucky might even beat Paris because America likes country music more than most of us are willing to admit. A few years ago, when Billboard reconfigured its ratings system to reflect radio play and sales, country music artists took a quantum leap up the pop charts. By the way, for those of you who have been wondering exactly what a FitzFact is, go back and read that last sentence. An authoritative statement that sounds plausible in its explanation of some phenomenon and is not easy to disprove unless someone who hears it happens to be an expert in the field and calls the speaker on his complete lack of real knowledge on the topic, yes, that's what we are all about here at

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