Critics' Picks

What you need to see, read, do this week: Luminous acting on "Lost," vintage O'Reilly, Sarah Jessica Parker's awkward adolescence.

By Salon Staff
May 17, 2008 3:00PM (UTC)
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The acting on "Lost"
ABC's "Lost" is known for its gorgeous locations and maddening mysteries, but except for Terry Quinn's Locke and Michael Emerson's Ben, so far the performances have been pretty standard television fare. Highly serialized dramas can be enthralling for viewers, but all those twists and turns can confound even great actors -- especially when their characters turn out to have big secrets that the actors themselves didn't know about. (Lili Taylor was reportedly furious with the writers of "Six Feet Under" for deciding that her character had been conducting a secret extramarital affair before she died.) Now that "Lost" has an end in sight (Part 2 of the season finale airs Thursday, May 29), and its final two seasons roughly mapped out, the series' principle performers seem to have found firmer footing, too. Matthew Fox (Jack) and Evangeline Lilly (Kate) have had the chance to play something other than scared, confused and angry (the prevailing emotions, understandably, among the castaways) in this season's flash-forwards. Their fragile happiness in a Southern California condo, raising a child not their own, has been luminous and startlingly touching.-- Laura Miller

Vintage O'Reilly clip on YouTube
"We'll do it live! Fuck it! ... Fucking thing sucks!" Long before Bill O'Reilly was shouting down guests on his Fox News program, he was eviscerating the crew of "Inside Edition" -- and if you haven't yet watched the YouTube clip of him going ballistic because he didn't know the meaning of the phrase "play us out," you really ought to now. Turn up the volume (not advisable if you're at work), or turn it all the way down ... it's equally galvanizing. Was O'Reilly having a bad day? Who cares? He requires no context: The violence that simmers just beneath his skin is essential to his allure. Stephen Colbert has already made merry with the clip, a YouTube wagster used it for a mockumentary linking O'Reilly to Hitler, and there's even a catchy musical remix. But there's no need to gild this particular lily. Give me Irish Bill straight up, with a chaser of rage. -- Louis Bayard


Duffy's "Rockferry"
When Duffy's "Rockferry" was released in the U.K. in March, the 23-year-old Welsh singer was lauded as the reincarnation of Dusty Springfield. As flattering as that may be, it's also a heavy mantle to drape on any young singer: I can already hear thousands of R&B purists protesting that Duffy can never match the passionate, go-for-broke heartache inherent in Dusty's voice. Technically (if it's even possible to be technical about such things), they're right. But Duffy's throaty, honey-soaked voice has its own charms, and the material here, tilted heavily toward sultry but muscular ballads, suits her beautifully. Duffy may be part of the soul revival initiated by Amy Winehouse, but like Winehouse, she's also a reminder that "revival" isn't the same as "imitation": A revival can also be a mix of homage and reinvention -- in this case, the sound of a young performer discovering the pleasures of the past for herself. -- Stephanie Zacharek

"Square Pegs: The Complete Series" on DVD
For most people, the likeliest draw of CBS's short-lived 1982-83 sitcom will be the pleasure of seeing "Sex and the City's" future glamour queen as a frizzy-haired, bespectacled dork. But Sarah Jessica Parker's gawky depiction of adolescence is only one of the charms of "Square Pegs," available at last on DVD on May 20. As Patty Greene, Parker negotiates the pecking order of Reagan-era high school with her socially ambitious best friend and fellow outcast Lauren (Amy Linkler), failing spectacularly, again and again, to penetrate the cool cliques. The DVD includes all 20 episodes (including a droll turn by Bill Murray as an out-of-work actor turned rabble-rousing substitute teacher), "Weemawee Memories" from the original cast, and enough eyeliner to paint the Brooklyn Bridge. Awash in miniskirted Valley girls, tight-lipped preppies, and rat-tailed New Wave boys, "Square Pegs" runs broad and sometimes shticky, and gags about Pac Man and Devo may be lost on the "Gossip Girl" generation. But with its sharp writing and sweetly endearing ensemble of losers, it's still one of the breeziest series ever to be canceled too soon. A lighter "Freaks and Geeks" crossed with "My So-Called Life," it's a candy-colored reminder that, as Lauren says, if we want to learn that life is cruel, we can go to gym class. -- Mary Elizabeth Williams

"Hiding in Hip-Hop: Confessions of a Down Low Brother in the Entertainment Industry," by Terrance Dean
Shady behavior and half-truths are stock in trade for men on the down low, or, as white folks call them, closeted gay men. It's no surprise, therefore, that former MTV production coordinator Terrance Dean's written-in-a-week and trashy-trashy-trashy memoir, "Hiding in Hip-Hop," comes tantalizingly close to outing the gays of color he has known (mostly biblically) in the entertainment industry, but without naming names. Full disclosure might damage their careers, you think, but he's probably more worried about lawsuits, not to mention his own future if he plans to return to the biz. With this tell-not-quite-all, Dean has created an exciting new form -- the book-length blind item -- and multitudes are already falling for it. Indeed, the conventional fags-to-riches autobiography he relates alongside his sexual exploits holds no fascination compared to the widespread speculation his dangerous liaisons have already raised. Who is "Charles," the "very, very sexy" bisexual R&B singer, or "Lucas," the "megastar" in a relationship with married actor "Kareem"? Who is "Sheena," the "award-winning female rapper/actress" who "attacks" her girlfriends? And how many "award-winning female rapper/actresses" are out there besides Queen Latifah? -- James Hannaham


Elbow's "Seldom Seen Kid"
Wandering all over the sonic map, Elbow is so flexible they can be hard to peg. On their latest album, "Seldom Seen Kid," sometimes they sound a little like early Genesis ("Weather to Fly") or Coldplay ("The Bones of You") or even Roger Waters ("Some Riot"). Somehow, though, they manage to do it all without sounding derivative. Guy Garvey's voice is both scratchy and soaring, slipping effortlessly from angry, almost-bluesy complaints ("Grounds for Divorce") into more melancholy, mournful tones. Not every single song is a winner ("The Fix" in particular sounds like a jazzy group number from the musical "Damn Yankees"), but at least half of these tracks are evocative, lovely and endlessly repeatable. "Seldom Seen Kid" is an inspired album punctuated by bold choices (Horns! A chorus of voices! Odd syncopated rhythms!) and fueled by unapologetically raw emotions. -- Heather Havrilesky

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