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Laid-Back Monday: ''American Gothic,'' ''SNL,'' ''West Wing,'' Halloween and DVD

By RD Heldenfels Published: October 24, 2005

When I go on vacation, it usually takes me a couple of days to start relaxing for real; naturally, by then I can see the end of the vacation and begin agonizing over all I'll have to do when I get back. I am, in other words, not a good vacationer. A day off -- like today -- comes with an undercurrent of dread over all the things I will have to do when I go back to work. And, just as it is with a vacation, it can take me about eight hours to feel that a day off is a real day off. Right about at the eight-hour mark today, I was finally cruising into nap-land. Of course, the phone rang.


But, as I have said before, there is no true day off when you watch TV for a living unless you turn off the set. And I didn't entirely do that today or during the weekend just done.


-- I watched some of the ''American Gothic'' DVD; I didn't love the series as much as I did when it first aired, but that was 10 years ago and the TV landscape was very different. Still, it's a cool show and I will put it in a list I'm working on of Halloween-suitable DVDs of TV shows. Some other contenders: ''Point Pleasant,'' ''Alfred Hitchcock Presents,'' ''Carnivale,'' ''Tales From the Crypt,'' ''Kingdom Hospital'' and -- for the younger set -- maybe a Scooby-Doo cartoon or two. The list is still building in my head. And it may not be based purely on what I like but on what others may find of interest -- ''Kingdom Hospital'' for the Stephen King fans, for instance, although ''The Stand'' and ''Storm of the Century'' were much better TV, and ''Storm'' some of the scariest stuff King ever put on video.


-- As I mentioned here, I had hopes that the return of Tina Fey would give ''Saturday Night Live'' a boost. And it was nice to have her back in the update segment, which provided a couple of the night's chuckles. To wit: "Last week, Hurricane Wilma grew into the most intense Atlantic storm ever recorded, a Category 5 with 175 mile-per-hour winds.  Or what's known around FEMA as 'Casual Friday.' '' And "Madonna made a surprise appearance at New York's Hunter College on Wednesday as a guest professor.  The course was 'Fake English as a Second Language.' ''


But beyond that, what a sad sack of a show. Sketch after sketch was endless and aimless. It seemed as if they decided that having Catherine Zeta-Jones speak in different accents was funny by itself, then never came up with actual gags to go with the accents. A disappointing season lumbers on.


-- Well, we've seen yet another step in the dismantling of the old ''West Wing,'' with Toby summarily fired after he confessed to leaking secret information. Wish I could say I cared more. As interesting as ''WW'' became when it focused on the new presidential campaign, the last couple of weeks have felt clumsy. As I said in an earlier post, the show has had a problem dealing with the sprawling cast in the White House and in the campaigns, but neither group of characters has been well served lately. Oh, sure, I'd watch Richard Schiff silent and devastated on almost any occasion. ''West Wing'' is loaded with people who can get to you without saying a word: the great John Spencer, naturally, Janney, Hill, Sheen ... Still, once they speak, you want them to have something to say.


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