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Happy to Be Proven Wrong

By David Michael Wharton     February 21, 2005


Patricia Arquette stars in MEDIUM.
© NBC

If you've been following the column since I took over, you'll recall that I didn't think much of MEDIUM at first. The characters didn't engage me; the plots didn't thrill me; the dialogue didn't delight me. I never thought it was a particularly bad show, just nothing that stood out from the glut of similar shows that had come before, much less the highlights of the genre (MILLENNIUM and DEAD ZONE). But again, if you've been following the column, you've seen my opinion shift over the intervening weeks. The blessing and curse of writing a television column is that you have to watch a godawful amount of TV, a good portion of which is godawful. But every once in a while, sticking with a show that initially looks shaky pays off (call it the BABYLON 5 phenomenon), and MEDIUM has happily become one of those cases. But what is it that's changed my mind?


The Surprises - And not just the continually delightful opening teasers...although they're quite wonderful. Tender love scenes that end as necrophilic nightmares, counseling sessions turns into darkly comic bloodbaths; a conversation with a dead cop from within his casket both amuses and drops not one, but two, crucial plot nuggets. But even aside from the dark territory of the mind Allison explores before the credits each week, the writers have tossed out some crackerjack storytelling, demonstrating the skills to spin a twist with all the dexterity that M. Night Shyamalan showed with THE SIXTH SENSE and lost somewhere before THE VILLAGE. But perhaps the biggest surprise of all is how much I've come to care for Allison DuBois and her family. Which brings us to...


The Functional Family - Don't get me wrong: I'm all about wringing dramatic tension from dysfunctional family environments--like Tolstoy said, happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way--but there is something refreshing in seeing a still-happily-married couple, still very much in love, dealing with the trials and tribulations of raising a family. There are struggles, there are trying moments, there is doubt...but they make it work. And this coming from a guy who has seizures just at the thought of sitting all the way through an episode of SEVENTH HEAVEN.


Allison's Powers Don't Work for Her - It's a small touch, but a very effective one. For all the insight her powers grant her, they can't penetrate the blind spot over her own future. The scenes where Allison has to consult a fellow physic about her own worries was such a clever idea, I was surprised I'd never seen it done before. This limitation not only robs the writers of the easy outs near-omniscience might provide, but Allison's "weakness" also makes for a great metaphor: even the sharpest judge of character in others often can't honestly evaluate themselves.


No Fate But What We Make? - I'll give them credit; they fooled me last week. After Allison warned hubby Joe that his friend and coworker would soon be boarding the nonstop L-train to cardiac infarction, I wasn't surprised when Joe's warnings seemed to shift the future and save his buddy's life. After all, that was the way most shows would go; the happy ending; the Trek ending. But--all due respect to the guy from THE SINGLE GUY with the amusing hair--I couldn't have been more pleased when Joe's friend was dead on the slab only a few scenes later. Not that I had anything against the guy, but this opened the possibility that, within MEDIUM's cosmology, some things are immutable. Allison saw him dying. It was going to happen. So it did. And if the events in Allison's visions are immutable, then what does that mean for the poor teen girl Allison tried to warn about her decades-hence rendezvous with an overly friendly serial killer in "Coming Soon"?


The Week Rerun


Of Boars and Innocents - Bravo to LOST (and ALIAS and ANGEL and BUFFY...) writer Drew Goddard for producing one of the best-written episodes of the show so far. Any show that manages to take something as simple as a drinking game and produce a scene dripping with wit, character development, and artfully disguised exposition, already would deserve high regard. But when the rest of the episode manages quality that earns the goodwill purchased with that singular scene, you've got something truly special. From the opening scene of young Sawyer's horrors witnessed from beneath a bed to his closing choice to deny Jack the one piece of information that might ease his pain, "Outlaws" never once hit a sour note.


A Matter of Foreheads - Yet another sign that the passing of ENTERPRISE under Manny Coto's reign is a real shame: this past week's episode solved in one scene a problem that three previous series had been avoiding--the issue of TOS Klingons versus latter-day, bumpy-headed Klingons. Without going into details for those who haven't seen the episode yet, ENTERPRISE's solution was simple, logical, and directly tied into the continuity of both this season and Trek mythology in general. So much for Worf's curt "We do not speak of it," explanation in DS9 episode "Trials and Tribble-ations."


Too Much Continuity...Head Hurting - Seriously, last week's JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED episode damn near required some sort of annotated guide and/or website just to keep up. It not only featured huge developments in the steadily building confrontations between the Cadmus project and the League, but it set up Lex Luthor's candidacy for President (an event that certainly didn't end well in the comics world), featured a smack-down between Doomsday and Supes (as opposed to Justice-Lords-continuity Supes), and tossed out character and continuity references all the way back to the original BATMAN animated series. I mean really...who thought we'd ever see Dr. Milo from "Moon of the Wolf" again? And yet again, the writers prove that just because it's animated doesn't mean it has to be simple or childish--whereas most kids' toons would never even consider the possibility that the League might be looked upon as a threat by those who live below, this series not only acknowledges it, it has one of the League's founding members (Batman, natch) express deep concern over it.


So what brought you the televisual joy this week? Drop me a line at inhetet@hotmail.com. Keep your head and hands inside the television, folks...


MONDAY, FEBRUARY 21


BATMAN RETURNS (5:50 PM CST, Starz) And since Batman doesn't even BEGIN until this summer, I think we have a paradox on our hands.


24 (8 PM CST, Fox) Marianne (otherwise known as "This Season's Evil Black Woman"...although, to their credit, at least they've scaled back to one) gets the interrogation treatment, while Jack tries to rescue Behrooz and Tony returns to CTU for the first time since those meddlesome treason charges.


LAS VEGAS (8 PM CST, NBC) "To Protect and Serve Manicotti." Sly Stallone takes a time out from whatever it is that he's doing these days to appear as an old associate of Ed's. Meanwhile, Joe Rogan guests as himself, prompting several of the girls to try and work their way onto FEAR FACTOR.


MEDIUM (9 PM CST, NBC) "Lucky." Apparently those darned visions run in the family, as we learn when Allison's bro, Michael, comes to visit. I bet their family reunions are a mess.


CSI: MIAMI (8:30 PM CST, CBS) "Nothing to Lose." An extra half-hour means three separate plotlines tonight, including tracking a killer who escaped from a prison fire brigade.


TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 22


THE ARRIVAL (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Charlie Sheen fights a conspiracy of backward-kneed aliens.


GILMORE GIRLS (7 PM CST, WB) "Jews and Chinese Food." Rory bonds with Marty over Marx Brothers movies.


PHANTOMS (7 PM CST, Showtime) It's da bomb, yo.


HOUSE (8 PM CST, Fox) "Sports Medicine." A major-league pitcher who suddenly develops brittle bones insists it isn't due to steroids, despite the accusations of Jose Canseco.


SCRUBS (8 PM CST, NBC) "My Roommates." J.D. gets kicked out by Turk and Carla, and Cox's competitive spirit is rekindled by a visit from an old friend.


VERONICA MARS (8 PM CST, UPN) "Ruskie Business." Veronica continues trying to track down Logan's missing mom, and things get more complicated when Logan's sister blows into town (much-missed ex-Wiccan Alyson Hannigan).


GET SHORTY (8 PM CST, USA) Prepare for the impending release of BE COOL by brushing up on then early adventures of Chili Palmer (even if this one does lack the PULP FICTION magic of John Travolta dancing with Uma Thurman).


THE 4400 (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) If you missed this X-FILES-meets-RISING STARS series when it aired on USA last year, here's your chance to catch it again.


LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT (9 PM CST, NBC) "Ghost." Cabot returns from witness protection long enough to testify against the assassin who tried to kill her.


NYPD BLUE (9 PM CST, ABC) "Bale to the Chief." The head of a Russian prostitute ring becomes the focus in the hunt for Bale's shooter. No, not Christian Bale. He's Batman; he can take care of himself.


WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 23


THE SECOND ARRIVAL (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) Same aliens, same funky knees; only the Charlie Sheens have changed.


LOST (7 PM CST, ABC) "...in Translation." The burning of Michael's raft sets the Islanders against each other, and we learn a bit more about Jin (say, maybe Wolfram & Hart is behind the plane crash...).


SMALLVILLE (7 PM CST, WB) "Sacred." Clark deals with the death of Dr. Swann as a letter from the scientist leads him to a message from Jor-El.


WES CRAVEN PRESENTS: THEY (7:30 PM CST, Showtime) And by "presents," we mean "once ate lunch in the same studio commissary as the screenwriter."


THE WEST WING (8 PM CST, NBC) "Drought Conditions." C.J. tries to wrangle a deal with a lobbyist over plans to deal with a Western drought.


ALIAS (8 PM CST, ABC) "Echoes." After receding from the spotlight for the beginning of this streamlined new season, Rambaldi returns to the forefront, as do nemeses Sark and Anna Espinosa.


JACK & BOBBY (8 PM CST, WB) "And Justice for All." Jack learns the identity of one of his attackers and enlists Marcus' help for a confrontation. If he'd wait 40 years or so, he could just have Bobby send in the Marines.


LAW & ORDER (9 PM CST, NBC) "License to Kill." A string of murders all seem to be connected somehow to the deaths of a hunting party in upstate New York.


CSI: NY (9 PM CST, CBS) "Hush." Half a human torso is found underneath a shipping container on a flatbed trailer, prompting the cops to call in either Elliot Ness or Brian Michael Bendis (possibly both).


THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 24


THE O.C. (7 PM CST, Fox) "The Rainy Day Women." Who cares about THE O.C. tonight? Everybody's just killing time until STARS WITHOUT MAKEUP comes on at eight...


PETER JENNINGS REPORTING: UFOS: SEEING IS BELIEVING (7 PM CST, ABC) This just in: ABC now thinks it's The History Channel.


CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION (8 PM CST, CBS) "Big Middle." A gunshot victim found dead in a canyon and a man found crushed to death in his hotel room occupy the team's time this week.


BLACK BOOKS (8:30 PM CST, BBC America) "He's Leaving Home." A beard-loving photographer lures Manny away from the bookstore.


WITHOUT A TRACE (9 PM CST, CBS) "Manhunt." Martin is determined to rescue a young boy who is kidnapped in broad daylight, right in front of him. Not a very effective cop, is he?


FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 25


JOAN OF ARCADIA (7 PM CST, CBS) "Shadows & Light." Joan tries to help Stevie get a Social Security number, but even God doesn't want anything to do with government bureaucracy.


STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE (7 PM CST, UPN) "Divergence." Trip returns to the Enterprise to help out with their warp drive troubles, while the Klingons continue to pressure Phlox to help destroy the plague.


STARGATE SG-1 (7 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Reckoning." Part one of two as the Jaffa resistance prepares to attack Ta'Kara. Isaac Hayes guests. No, seriously.


STARGATE ATLANTIS (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Brotherhood." The team travels to the planet Dagan in search of a device that could protect Atlantis from the Wraith. They should skip Dagan, head to Daxam, and pick up Mon'El.


EASY RIDERS--RAGING BULLS (8 PM CST, Trio) An in-depth look back at the filmmaking world of the '60s and '70s. Not to be confused with the in-depth look at steroid-addicted bikers and sexually promiscuous cattle, RAGING RIDERS--EASY BULLS.


MEDICAL INVESTIGATION (9 PM CST, NBC) "The Black Book." Dalliances with D.C. prostitutes come back to haunt several politicos (and not in the form of low voter approval).


NUMBERS (9 PM CST, CBS) "Sabotage." Charlie tries to crack a mysterious code left behind by a saboteur responsible for several train wrecks over the past three years.


MONK (9 PM CST, USA) "Mr. Monk and the Election." So many hot-button jokes to make here...I'll just bow out.


BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (9 PM CST, Sci-Fi) "Flesh and Bone." Starbuck plays bad cop as she grills a Cylon who claims to have planted a nuke somewhere in the fleet.


SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 26


EVENT HORIZON (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) The bit where Sam Neill claws his own eyes out was based on actual audience reaction to an early test screening.


PLANET OF THE APES (7 PM CST, Telemundo) Pare el planeta de los monos, yo desean bajar! (Incidentally, if that makes no sense, blame babelfish.)


ALIEN SIEGE (8 PM CST, Sci-Fi) A bunch of slimy aliens want to turn humans into a serum to help their dying race! Are we humans going to stand for that? Hell no!


DEEP BLUE SEA (9 PM CST, TBS) Features the best conclusion to a Sam Jackson speech ever.


SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 27


RESIDENT EVIL (6 PM CST, Sci-Fi) It's an all-too-familiar story: kickass video game becomes craptacular movie. But hey: Milla Jovovich in a miniskirt.


ACADEMY AWARDS (7:30 PM CST, ABC) No outstanding, geek-friendly contender on the order of the LORD OF THE RINGS films to root for this year, but at least we've got Chris Rock to keep things interesting.


CARNIVALE (8 PM CST, HBO) "Outskirts, Damascus, NE." Justin and Iris throw their support behind a local politician, and Ruthie struggles with her visions. This concludes our broadcast.

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