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This and That Friday

By RD Heldenfels Published: May 12, 2006

I should be watching "10.5: Apocalypse,'' since I have to write a brief column for the cover of Channels about it, but the TV sirens keep calling. I've got review copies of the season premieres of ''Rescue Me'' and ''The Closer,'' for starters, and I really, really want to see them. I've been trying to sample outside my usual viewing, mainly with potential guilty pleasures like ''My Super Sweet 16,'' ''Next'' and ''Date My Mom.'' I'm going to see more of ''Sweet 16'' but ''Next'' and ''Date My Mom'' are interesting only as part of the dating-show genre, which to me probably peaked with ''Love Connection.'' OK, and ''Blind Date.''

On top of that, the DVR has been backed up with things that I either wanted to watch or felt I should, what with the end of the season looming and the networks' fall announcements coming next week.

So last night and today I've gone through the most recent telecasts of ''Alias,'' ''My Name Is Earl'' and ''The Office'' and felt as if I had gone one-for-three. The one was ''The Office,'' which was once again funny and squirmy, with Michael juggling two dates, and with the Jim-Pam saga reaching a big crossroads. Since this was its season finale, I'm already feeling frustrated about summer; I really want to know where this one goes next. But ''The Office'' is good because it doesn't just focus on Michael, or on Jim/Pam, so the finale was able to give us a really nice performance by Melora Hardin (as Michael's sad boss/sometime love interest) and Kevin's band and other glimpses into the characters.

There have been weeks when, back to back, ''My Name Is Earl'' seemed better than ''The Office.'' But, having gone through full seasons of each, I have to concede that ''The Office'' was stronger overall, and ''Earl's'' season finale paled next to ''The Office's.'' ''Earl'' was ambitious -- dealing with the first task on Earl's list, karma and the long journey of his lottery ticket. But while it was all right, it wasn't as terrific as the show could sometimes be -- and not nearly as funny as ''The Office.'' Still, I'll be tuning to ''Earl'' next season, at least at the beginning.

''Alias,'' meanwhile, is keeping me going with little things -- Jennifer Garner as Anna-playing-Sydney and, this week, as Sydney-playing-Anna-playing-Sydney. And while I have repeatedly argued that no one really dies on ''Alias'' (and so felt smug about Vaughn's return), I think it's a safe bet that the bullet between the eyes did Anna in. Beyond that, though, I'm just watching to see how the series will end. I can't be very serious about a show that still believes that a ghost has to appear with spooky wind sounds.

I've been meaning to write something based on last week's ''Saturday Night Live'' (with Tom Hanks hosting) and ''Grey's Anatomy.'' This is it:

About a week ago I wrote a column about how important writers and directors can be for actors -- how, as a recent PBS documentary pointed out, John Wayne was made better by working with John Ford. In the piece, I also noted that Patrick Dempsey, for one, experienced a career revival because Shonda Rhimes has done such a great job making ''Grey's.''

But watching those two shows over the weekend reminded me that the collaboration cuts the other way, too. That, if you're ''Grey's,'' you want to keep casting good actors, even in guest roles, to help sell the material -- so you get someone like Frances Fisher for a relatively small part because it will make the show better. On the other hand, a not so good actor can drag you down. Dempsey did well last week, but Ellen Pompeo -- who plays Meredith -- did not make as much of the ''You don't get to call me a whore'' speech as was possible. It was especially noticeable when I watched the scene a second time; the first time, the writing carried her through.

And what does this have to do with Tom Hanks? Well, for one thing, he is a great host for ''SNL" because he is fearless in what he will do, and how silly he will be. Screaming ''Ma!'' over and over, he forces a laugh out of you because he just won't let up -- and even makes ''Ma!'' sound different from yell to yell. At the same time, he is so good that he makes it all the more evident how lame the writing was on ''SNL'' -- because, with Hanks there, it should have been a lot funnier.

And I don't think I can put off ''10.5'' any longer.

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