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The Daily Beast: "Damages Premiere: The Creators on That Twist, Julian Assange & The Final Season"

Watched last night's, uh, surprising season opener to Damages ? Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, " Damages Premiere: The Creators on That Twist, Julian Assange & The Final Season," in which I talk to the creators of the serpentine legal thriller Damages about the show’s final season, WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, and THAT shocking twist. (You know which one I'm talking about.) Damages, which began its life in 2007 on FX before moving to DirecTV last year, began its fifth and final season last night, promising a bloody final showdown between two adversaries, malevolent and dangerous litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her former protégé, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne). Season 5 revolves around a WikiLeaks-esque website and issues of corporate transparency, but what fans are really waiting for is for Patty and Ellen to finally throw down against each other. One of them, it seems, may not walk away from this five-years-in-the-making

Strength of Conviction: An Advance Review of Season Four of Damages

"If you have to ask the question, you already have your answer." - Patty Hewes Serpentine legal thriller Damages returns for a twisty fourth season of backstabbing and betrayal, though if you don't have DirecTV, you'll have to wait until the inevitable DVD release to check in with Glenn Close's Patty Hewes and Rose Byrne's Ellen Parsons. The show, which aired its first three seasons on FX, moves over to the satellite platform's The Audience Network (formerly called The 101 Network) for an exclusive run. (That's right, exclusive. You're not going to see it anywhere else.) Given its nature, Damages is one of those tense, labyrinthine dramas that's nearly impossible to discuss without spoiling the plot in some fashion, making it really, really difficult to review in advance. The first two episodes of Season Four ("There's Only One Way to Try a Case" and "I've Done Way Too Much for This Girl"), which I watched a fe

The Daily Beast: "Summer 2011 TV Preview: 15 Reasons to Watch TV This Summer"

We’re starting our summer at a bit of a disadvantage: there is no new season of Mad Men to look forward to this year, as we’ll have to wait until March 2012 to find out what happens to Don Draper and the other staffers at Draper Cooper Sterling Pryce. It’s enough to put a damper on anyone’s television-viewing this summer, but there are still some bright points amid a series of repeats and burn-offs like NBC’s Love Bites . (Seriously, avoid that one like you would the plague.) Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, entitled "Summer 2011 TV Preview: 15 Reasons to Watch TV This Summer," in which I round up what’s new and noteworthy on the telly in the coming months, from True Blood and Torchwood: Miracle Day to British period drama The Hour and the return of Damages and Breaking Bad . All in all, 15 reasons to come in from the warmth of the summer evening and sit down on the couch for a few hours. What are you most excited about heading to the small scr

The Daily Beast: "Goodbye, Friday Night Lights"

Yes, last night marked the end of Friday Night Lights and television--and perhaps the world--is a little sadder for its loss. I have two connected features over at The Daily Beast that tie into last night's series finale ("Always") of Friday Night Lights . The first is "Goodbye, Friday Night Lights ," a eulogy for the show, in which I examine the series' legacy and talk (briefly) to executive producer Jason Katims and series lead Connie Britton about the show's influence and its passing. The second is a fan-centric gallery-style feature , in which I talk to Katims and Britton about some of the more nitty-gritty aspects of the show. Just what was the deal with Hastings Ruckle? Why wasn't there a finale scene between Jason Street and Tim Riggins? Do they think the Julie/Derek storyline worked? Does Katims still stand behind Season Two's controversial Tyra/Landry plot? Was it tricky to play with the dynamic of Tami and Eric this season? How imp

The Ring: Endings and Beginnings on the Series Finale of Friday Night Lights

"Texas Forever." Those words have been spoken quite a few times throughout the five-season run of Friday Night Lights and each time they've been said with a slightly different meaning in mind. Early on, they represented the optimism and vitality of youth, of dreams for the future that were spoken by those who had yet to learn the lesson of loss. But here, they're some of the last words spoken in the series, a statement of freedom and happiness, yes, but they've been tempered by the experiences of the last few years for Tim Riggins. It's with a great deal of emotion that we've reached the end of the road with Friday Night Lights , which wrapped up its storylines and left the door open for the viewers to imagine the future ahead for the Taylors, for Julie and Matt Saracen, for Vince and the super-team of the Panthers, for Luke and Becky, and for Tim Riggins himself, finally able to build his house on his land. The series finale of Friday Night Lights (

Eighteen Years: The Holy Grail on Friday Night Lights

It's nearly time to say goodbye... This week's penultimate episode of Friday Night Lights ("Texas Whatever"), written by Kerry Ehrin and directed by Kyle Chandler, moved the pieces into place for one final emotional sucker punch as we prepare to say our goodbyes to this remarkable and intelligent series. It was no surprise that, going into the series finale, things would look so dark and grim, as the future of the Dillon Lions was called into question even as the team prepared for the state championship. In fact, everybody's future seemed up for grabs-- from Tami and Eric Taylor to Tim Riggins, from Luke and Becky to Billy and Mindy Riggins--as the episode offered up a sense that anything was possible as these characters considered their own paths, even as we get ready to see them walk off into the sunset next week. The result was a beautifully realized episode that was a shining example of the kind of deeply nuanced storytelling that Friday Night Lights does

The Broken Door: The Price of Victory on Friday Night Lights

Each episode of Friday Night Lights brings with it the double-edged sword of satisfaction, delivering another impassioned and poignant installment but also bringing us ever closer to the precipice itself: the end of the line. This week's beautiful episode ("The March"), written by Rolin Jones and directed by Jason Katims, painfully reminded me of why I love Friday Night Lights in the first place, setting up conflicts both internal and external, transformative events and those quotidian moments that add up to a life in the end. For the characters of Friday Night Lights , victory on the field doesn't translate to personal glory, as this episode showed in no uncertain terms. The March of the title might be that towards the state championship, but it's also the march that each of us endures in our own way: one day turning to the next, a broken-down door, a conversation with a spouse, a misunderstanding, a tear-filled goodbye, a brawl between brothers. While life

Homecoming: Where the Heart Is on Friday Night Lights

The end is almost here. While I've felt the looming end of Friday Night Lights throughout this season, never have I felt the urgency as keenly as I did with this week's eloquent installment ("Don't Go"), written by Bridget Carpenter and directed by Michael Waxman, which began to move the pieces in place for the series' ending in a few weeks. At times lyrical, at times somber, the sensational "Don't Go" had me wiping away tears freely throughout the episode as the concept of home was revisited several times throughout. Just what is home? Is it the place where we hang our hat? Is it the place where we're surrounded by our loved ones? Or is it the place where we choose to be, in spite of the opportunities elsewhere? This week, Coach Taylor considered a fantastic position in Florida, one that would give him free reign to recruit and a massive budget. After struggling to make ends meet with the Lions, it seemed like the answers to his prayers,

Coming Undone: The Safety Net on Friday Night Lights

It's human nature to lose your way and even the most steadfast among us can sometimes become rudderless. On this week's superb episode of Friday Night Lights ("Gut Check"), we saw three characters become directionless for a number of reasons. Creating three largely parallel stories, the writers offered up varying portraits of just why we come undone, whether in the face of adversity, due to bad advice, or simply because we're running from something that we can't--or won't--deal with head on. For Julie, Vince, and Epyck, their struggles took them to some different places within the context of this week's installment, each straining to find their path in life while others attempted to coax them towards their full potential... or whispered some half-truths in their ears. Of the three, it seems it might be Vince who truly realizes just how far off the path he's wandered. Listening to the advice of his father Ornette, Vince has been transformed from

The Knock at the Door: Connections and Completions on Friday Night Lights

Things fall apart. That would seem to be the message of this week's powerfully moving episode of Friday Night Lights ("Fracture"), written by Bridget Carpenter and directed by Allison Liddi, but that's not really what's at play here. A beautifully nuanced episode about fracturing relationships and imploding teams, it was also a portrait of the way in which connections can occur and fractured relationships can knit themselves back together. Just as the Dillon Lions seem to be at their lowest point, things get even worse for them. A fight breaks out between Vince and Luke as they prepare to take the stage at a pep rally. Coach Taylor is forced to utter a lie about victory even as he sees his team struggling to be a unified front. Julie turns her car around once more. But it's the little moments that offer some hope: the way that Becky leaves the note for Luke on his windshield, the blossoming of the bond between Tami and Epyck, that final knock at the doo

Year in TV: The 10 Best (and 5 Worst) TV Shows of 2010

It's that time of year when we bid farewell to the last twelve months and start looking toward the future, but it's also a chance to reflect, to catalogue, and to reminisce as well. My selections for the Ten Best (and, cough, five worst) TV shows of 2010 have now gone live over at The Daily Beast . The series selected represent the very best that television had to offer the past twelve months and include such shows as Mad Men, Community, Terriers, Parks and Recreation, The Good Wife, Fringe, Justified, Boardwalk Empire, Friday Night Lights , and Modern Family. It wasn't easy to whittle down the competition to just ten shows as, despite the overall drain in creativity this calendar year, there were quite a lot of fantastic series. (In fact, one of the very best of the year didn't even air on American television at all: Season Three of BBC One's Ashes to Ashes --including its breathtaking and gut-wrenching series finale --would have made this list if it had been o

Blinded by Anger: The Loss of Grace on Friday Night Lights

What defines a man and a player? Is it grace in victory as well as defeat? That's always been the view of Eric Taylor, a coach whose love of the game has often meant that he has allowed his team's opponents the ability to score a few points so they don't walk off the field at zero. Or who tells his team, after a particularly brutal victory, to "take a knee" rather than unnecessarily run them into the ground. There's no gain to be had from kicking a man when he's down. Unfortunately, the Lions--or at the very least, Vince, under the guidance of his crafty father Ornette--doesn't see things quite that way. His decision to make a 65-yard throw and win the team another touchdown, acting against the instructions of Coach Taylor, was an opportunity to not score another goal or even conquer the Panthers, but rather to put the spotlight squarely on himself. While there might not be an "i" in team, Vince is trying his hardest these days to squeeze o

Crossroads: Truth and Consequences on Friday Night Lights

And that's how you do a pitch-perfect episode of Friday Night Lights . I've been on the writers' case this season for the handling of the Julie Taylor storyline, or more specifically from the, er, swerve it made into the territory of cliche. I can only hope that it was a case of taking a shortcut to get Julie to the here and now as quickly as possible because the ramifications of Julie's actions have proven infinitely more exciting and provocative than the actual commission of her affair with married head TA Derek Bishop. This week's fantastic episode of Friday Night Lights ("Swerve") delivered an installment that offered a look at the sacrifices and frayed bonds of family, contrasting the fallout from Julie's transgression--and its effects on Eric and Tami--with the way that Vince handled his own plight, turning to Ornette for help out of a terrible situation. The way Ornette may have handled Vince's situation might not have been what Vince ha

Kingdom Come: Fry Bread and Breakdowns on Friday Night Lights

"Julie Taylor is a slut!" Let's be honest about this: we all knew that Derek Bishop was bad news and we all knew that it would come to this, a screaming match in a crowded college setting in which his wife railed at Julie for sleeping with her husband. Or at least, it's what I've suspected--and dreaded--for some time now. I've been upfront about my dislike for Julie Taylor's storyline this season and the way that her college experience, summed up by her relationship with doctoral candidate/TA/fry bread-addict Derek has veered sharply into cliche, which is something that Friday Night Lights doesn't typically do. Julie's arc thus far this season has seemed to be the means to an end: the way to get Julie back to Dillon without her just dropping out of college, despite her ambition and her smarts. Enter the crazy wife of Derek, with a well-timed rant (even if I found it hard to stomach that this PhD candidate would mispronounce "cliche"

Fathers and Sons: Conflict and Compassion on Friday Night Lights

After last week's Julie Taylor-related catastrophe, I was extremely pleased that this week's episode of Friday Night Lights ("Keep Looking"), written by Bridget Carpenter and directed by Todd McMullen, fell back into the pattern of greatness that the series is known for. This week's episode offered an examination of the often contentious relationship between fathers and sons, summed up in the juxtaposition of Vince's struggles with his ex-con father Ornette and Buddy's attempts to drum some tough love into his angsty teenage son Buddy Jr. In this case the dynamics were flipped on their head, with Vince struggling to determine whether he could trust his father, and laying down the law now that he's reentered his and his mother's lives. While his mom is happy to dwell on the more rose-colored memories of the past, Vince can't let go of what his father's absence meant to the family, the missed birthdays and moments, and the fact that he bl