Morning Mixtape: ‘Troubled Man’ by John Mellencamp

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John Mellencamp just gets better with age. His current album, “Plain Spoken,” is terrific. His 2010 record, “No Better Than This,” was similarly great. I love Mellencamp’s early work. “Jack and Diane” is one of my all-time favorite songs. But I like this stripped-down version of Mellencamp, very straightforward and powerful. I hope you like it, too.

On TV: Review of ‘The Blacklist’ Season 2, Episode 2

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“The Blacklist” | Season 2, Episode 2: “Monarch Douglas Bank (No. 112)” |
Date: Sept. 29, 2014


“The Blacklist” marched on its dreary way in the second season of the series. I’m struck by how detached I feel from these characters, even Red, who is played sublimely by James Spader.

The PTSD storyline for Agent Ressler (Diego Klattenhoff) is a bore. It isn’t the PTSD that bothers me. Ressler is just a boring character. Everything that happens to him is boring by association.

Agent Keen (Megan Boone) is similarly uninteresting. Writers don’t seem to know what to do with her. Last week, they had her stand around in her bra and underwear for a scene. Later they had her look pensively out the window.

This week she tried to stand up to Red, who stole some money to give to the evil Berlin (Peter Stormare), who was holding Red’s estranged wife, Naomi (Mary-Louise Parker), captive.

I had the most sympathy for Parker, who spent the better part of her two-episode arc tied to a chair. Her character lost part of a finger and a molar. I guess if you need work, sitting in a chair for a couple hours on set isn’t so bad.

But Parker is a good actress. She could add more to the show than, “No, please!” and looking at the bad guy with terrified eyes.

Maybe she will contribute more, but I don’t know if I’m going to stick around to find out. I’m afraid David Letterman’s writers have “The Blacklist” pegged: It’s just a show about Spader taking his hat on and off.

On TV: Review of ‘Scorpion’ Season 1, Episode 2

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Scorpion” | Season 1, Episode 2: “Single Point of Failure” | Date: Sept. 29, 2014


The people who pitch shows to the network typically describe them in terms of other shows. I feel like the pitch for “Scorpion” was something on the order of “It’s ‘House, M.D.’ meets ‘The Big Bang Theory’ with about as much technobabble as an average episode of ‘CSI.'”

Maybe that’s harsh. I’ve been known to be harsh, especially about entertainment, which is probably a silly thing to be harsh about, but that is a philosophical argument for another day.

Anyway, I find “Scorpion” disappointing and obvious through its first two episodes. This week we learn super genius Walter (Elyes Gabel) is sad because his sister has MS. Then, surprise, surprise, the case of the week involves a sick young girl hit with a DNA virus.

We also learn Agent Doggett — er, whatever the hell Robert Patrick’s character is called — also had a sick daughter and died.

Toby (Eddie Kaye Thomas), a math guy and hypochondriac, had to steal records from a pharmaceutical company and ends up cutting through a biohazard lab to escape. He’s freaked out by the experience, but waitress Paige (Katharine McPhee), who is on the team to be an attractive woman, single mom and all-heart, calms him down by talking about how brave he is.

The girl lives, by the way, because this is a CBS show and the good guys always win.

There’s a scene of rooftop grilling at the end of the show to imply the team is bonding as a family. I say “imply,” but is was darned close to throwing up a cue card that read, “Hey, the team is bonding like a family.”

Based on the recommendation of a reader, I’m giving new shows three episodes this season before I cut them off my DVR. So far, “Scorpion” has done nothing to justify viewing beyond the contractually obligated third week.

On TV: Review of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ Season 2, Episode 2

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“Sleepy Hollow” | Season 2, Episode 2: “The Kindred” | Date: Sept. 29, 2014


“Sleepy Hollow” is like somebody used a high school Revolutionary War textbook to set up a Dungeons & Dragons scenario.

This mashup can be mildly amusing but not consistently entertaining.

For example, I find it very funny when Crane (Tom Mison) yammers on about the evils of banks and banking as extolled by Thomas Jefferson, whom, of course, Crane knew personally.

It’s like a topical joke twisted with historical perspective. Keith Olbermann would be proud if he weren’t such a jerk.

And who wouldn’t enjoy a lengthy fight on horseback between an axe-wielding headless horseman, a armored dude with a flaming sword and a monster assembled from dead soldiers sewn together by Benjamin Franklin. (They actually called him “Franklinstein.”)

But the plot? Meh. I lean on the fast-forward button when they start talking about the plans for this demon or that demon to take over the world, or Crane’s desire to reunite with his beloved wife, Katrina (Katia Winter), a witch.

On TV: Review of ‘Gotham: Selina Kyle’

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Gotham” | Season 1, Episode 2: “Selina Kyle” | Date: Sept. 29, 2014


The ratings for “Gotham” are decent. The critical praise is there. What are people seeing that I’m not?

This show strikes me as campy as the 1966 “Batman” TV series or one of the Joel Schumacher films with nipples on the costumes. (OK, that’s going too far. Nothing is that bad.) But all I see is the brightly colored sets of 1966 painted turd brown, gray and black. The hammy acting remains untouched.

I mean look at Camren Bicondova. She plays Selina Kyle, who will one day become Catwoman. She runs round wearing goggles in her hair that look like cat’s ears. And she’s chosen the nickname “Cat.” This isn’t really a character. It’s an echo of a character, a shadow of something else.

Donal Logue steals a lot of scenes as Det. Harvey Bullock. He’s trying to be Vic Mackey. But this is a 7 p.m. show on a network. Not even Fox has the guts to let a cop be really dirty in prime time, where the Society of Mommies Who Hate Fun are ready to pounce at any sign of people enjoying themselves.

Robin Lord Taylor plays Oswald Cobblepot, better known as the Penguin in DC Comics lore. I admire, at least, an effort to remake the Penguin, a rolly polly villain remembered for his umbrella gags and bird squawks, something other than a cartoon of himself. But this Penguin redux is no Heath Ledger remodel of the Joker.

There’s a reason why stories take place at certain times during events. That’s when the most interesting thing happens. Gotham City isn’t interesting without Batman. An emo Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) who is burning himself and getting nagged by Alfred (Sean Pertwee) in a cockney accent isn’t doing it for me.

On TV: Review of ‘The Big Bang Theory: The First Pitch Insufficiency’

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The Big Bang Theory” | Season 8, Episode 3: “The First Pitch Insufficiency” | Date: Sept. 29, 2014


“The First Pitch Insufficiency” was “The Big Bang Theory” at its worst: playing to stereotypes about intelligent people and threadbare romantic comedy tropes.

Howard (Simon Helberg) is invited to throw out the first pitch at the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game. But Howard is a nerd. He has no physical skills. So there’s several minutes of bad physical comedy as he practices pitching.

Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Amy (Mayim Bialik) go on a double date with Penny (Kaley Cuoco) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki). Sheldon says he’s scientifically ranked the relationships in their social group and Penny and Leonard’s is the weakest.

Penny freaks out because she’s nervous about the wedding. Leonard freaks out, too, because he’s constantly afraid Penny will leave him for a dumber, prettier person more befitting her background and experience.

Oh, good. We’re doing the wedding anxiety plotline. How original.

You know what would be fun? Penny leaves Leonard. Leonard hooks up with Amy, his intellectual equal. Sheldon admits he’s gay — or at least asexual — and couples with Raj (Kunal Nayyar).

But we’ll probably do some more break-up-make-up-marriage stuff. Because that’s always fun.

I swear. The first one to have a kid is when I delete this show from my DVR queue.

On TV: Review of ‘Madam Secretary’ Season 1, Episode 2

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Madam Secretary” | Season 1, Episode 2: “Another Benghazi” | Date: Sept. 28, 2014


Though many shows have yet to debut, but “Madam Secretary” is quickly becoming my favorite of the new network season.

The strength of the show so far is the believability of the characters and plots. “Another Benghazi” deals with an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. Secretary McCord (Téa Leoni) wants to pull the ambassador out, but he is reluctant to leave.

A cheapskate Senator won’t approve funds for a military guard. McCord is forced to use a private security company she once denounced during her academic career.

On the homefront, McCord’s elder daughter, Stevie (Wallis Currie-Wood), makes headlines when she leads a protest on campus. Stevie quits school rather than endure the pressure that comes from the Secretary of State’s daughter.

Stevie tries to play her mom against her dad (Tim Daly), but the parents see through the manipulation and decide to let her drop out of school for a year — but Stevie has to get a job.

McCord’s move to use private security ultimately rescues the Ambassador to Yemen. She’s further redeemed when the head of the private security firm she was once critical of tells her speech inspired the company to reform its training and tactics.

There’s an ongoing mystery into the death of her friend, a CIA agent who warned her the previous secretary of state was murdered and of a potential conspiracy within McCord’s office. After he told her, he ended up dead in a car crash.

I really like this show so far. The acting is top notch. The writing is smart. It feels real. I hope it is met with great success.

On TV: Review of ‘Family Guy’ and ‘The Simpsons’ cross-over

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Family Guy” | Season 13, Episode 1: “The Simpsons Guy” | Date: Sept. 28, 2014


Apparently there is a rivalry between “The Simpsons” fans and “Family Guy” fans. “Simpsons” fans accuse “Family Guy” of being derivative — if not blatantly plagiarized — from “The Simpsons.” “Family Guy” fans set themselves up as outsiders, mocking the established, long-running “Simpsons.”

The two series made good sport of this in the hour-long premiere of the 26th season of “Family Guy.” The Griffins find themselves in Springfield after Peter offends women with a series of cartoons he published in the local newspaper. As a paragraph stacker myself, it warms me that newspapers can still be used for comedy bits beyond a homeless guy sleeping under a Sunday edition.

The characters pair off for adventures. Lisa helps Meg find self-esteem through saxaphone playing. Maggie shares her pacifier with Chris. Stewie and Bart bond over skateboarding and rebellion. Peter and Homer go drinking.

The cross-over episode poked fun at the series’ similarities in characters and their differences. Perhaps the starkest contrast came in subplot involving Bart and Stewie. Bart is bullied by Nelson. So Stewie kidnaps and tortures Nelson. Bart discovers this. He reacts appropriately: “Stewie, you’re kind of freaking me out.”

How strange it is to think that in 1989, Bart’s cavalier attitude — which amounted to a slingshot, some sassy one-liners and disinterest in school — caused schools to ban “Simpsons” T-shirts and the National Organization of Busybody Parents Who Hate Fun to protest, howl and moan about the decline in moral values.

A quarter century later, it’s Bart telling Stewie to take it easy. Stewie, who has killed people, including his mother at one point, regularly wields all forms of weaponry and is portrayed as sexually active at 1.

I found the animation in this episode to be particularly well done. The computer assistance available to animators during the life of these shows is truly amazing. A scene in which Homer and Peter host a parody of a cheerleading car wash fundraiser was particularly eye-popping.

The crossover proved largely entertaining if unsurprising. Both “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” are mature shows that have little room for growth. Their tropes are well-established and all-too predictable.

On TV: Review of ‘The Simpsons’ Season 26 premiere

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The Simpsons” | Season 26, Episode 1: “Clown in the Dumps” | Date: Sept. 28, 2014


“The Simpsons” need to retire. It’s as simple as that. They’ve done everything there is to do. Twice. Probably three times. Maybe 50. That’s going to happen. A show with 600 episodes is bound to repeat a few gags, recycle plots and …

I can’t do it. I can’t be generous to “The Simpsons” anymore. I just can’t. It’s dull. And I watched the premiere of the 26th season Sunday night. I chuckled once or twice.

The plot involved Krusty the Clown being depressed and in a rut. His jokes are weak. (Oh, maybe the writers were being clever and ironic about their own show. But I doubt it.) He goes to see his dad, who dies.

There’s a roast of Krusty on TV. A couple of guest voices show up to say mean things about Krusty. Krusty is depressed and quits showbiz.

I feel like this has happened before. There are people out there who have written multiple volumes of episode guides. They could probably tell me exactly how many times Krusty has quit showbiz and Bart encouraged him to stick with it.

I could probably even research it myself, but I just don’t care that much. “The Simpsons” is like the last years of Derek Jeter on the Yankees. He couldn’t hit for high average or field his position. “The Simpsons” can’t hold their timeslot. The series’ average viewership has declined for at least 10 consecutive seasons.

Leaving with dignity is out of the question. We’re 12 seasons beyond that. “The Simpsons” are second term of Ronald Reagan, when the dementia had set in so badly he was signing things in green crayon.

This show doesn’t need retirement. It needs euthanasia.