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<p>Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle)&nbsp;and his Anna (Joanne Froggatt)&nbsp;in season 2 of &quot;Downton Abbey.&quot;</p>

Mr. Bates (Brendan Coyle) and his Anna (Joanne Froggatt) in season 2 of "Downton Abbey."


Credit: ITV

Review: 'Downton Abbey' returns to PBS for season 2

Class barriers start to come down, but the storytelling gets soapier
It happens all the time: someone will ask me to suggest a new show to watch, and I'll name a title and start describing it, and about 10 seconds in, the other person's face will curl up and they'll say, "Oh, I'm sure it's great, but I don't want to watch a show about high school football," or "I don't want to watch a show about a guy who cooks crystal meth," or "I don't want to watch a show with spaceships and robots and clones." And I'll shake my head and lament that they won't be able to see what I saw in "Friday Night Lights," "Breaking Bad" and "Battlestar Galactica."
But even I'm not immune to that line of thinking, as I discovered last year when PBS' "Masterpiece Classic" debuted "Downton Abbey," a drama about the masters and servants at a large English country estate in the years leading up to World War I. The social mores and problems of the landed gentry have never held any interest for me, and when faced with a crush of other material to watch with more appealing subject matter, I passed on "Downton" and moved on. Even rapturous reviews from most of my fellow critics wasn't enough to sway me, and I imagine they would have looked at me the same disappointment I feel at the people who didn't want to get to know Coach and Mrs. Coach.
Then on a whim one sleepless night a few months after the series debuted in America, I put on the first episode just to see what I was missing. And I kept watching all through the night and into the next day, eventually coming to three conclusions:
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<p>Max (Adam Pally)&nbsp;wears an embarrassing outfit on &quot;Happy Endings.&quot;</p>

Max (Adam Pally) wears an embarrassing outfit on "Happy Endings."

Credit: ABC

Wednesday night TV open thread, pre-press tour edition

What did everybody think of Wednesday's sitcoms?

Last night was mostly devoted to packing for press tour, and the only TV show I even half-saw was "Happy Endings," where Max's outfit for the bet gave me a prolonged, loud laugh.

I'll have reviews of some upcoming shows posting throughout the day today, but if anybody wants to discuss last night's "Happy Endings," "Modern Family," "Suburgatory" or "The Middle," here is the place. Just do me a favor and mention the name of the show you're going to talk about before you start talking about it, for the benefit of people who might have seen some but not all just yet.

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<p>This, of course, is the iconic cover of his recent smash hit CD release of traditional folk songs, 'Feelin' Kinda Rudd'</p>

This, of course, is the iconic cover of his recent smash hit CD release of traditional folk songs, 'Feelin' Kinda Rudd'

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Paul Rudd and Kristen Wiig star for Errol Morris in true-life cryogenic comedy

Some strong players join forces to tell an intriguing story from the '60s

There are days when there is just a torrent of news you're interested in, and other days where there's nothing at all.  It's almost funny when one news story has about a dozen names you're interested in, all working together, a collision of many different interests all at once.

We talked yesterday about the needless panic about the prospect of a sequel to "Bridesmaids" happening without Kristen Wiig, and one thing that renders that question moot at this point is her schedule.  She's busy nine months of the year with "Saturday Night Live," and then she's got, evidently, 40 movies she's making in those other three months.  Those better be some well-scheduled months, but I think it could be worth it.

After all, who wouldn't want to be part of the second narrative feature film from acclaimed legendary documentary filmmaker Errol Morris?  True, his first shot at making a fiction film was the adaptation of Tony Hillerman's "The Dark Wind," a 1991 film that barely got any distribution after a troubled post-production process.  Even so, this is one of those guys whose voice is so strong and who has so much to say and who has been so consistently interesting since the amazing "Gates Of Heaven" in 1978, and if anyone deserves the benefit of the doubt as a storyteller, it's him.

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"Top Chef"

 "Top Chef"

Credit: Bravo

Recap: 'Top Chef' - 'BBQ Pit Wars'

It's a barbecue challenge, and it sends one chef to the hospital

So, we're down to just nine chefs, but that doesn't mean we're going to be low on tension, interpersonal conflict and really dumb moves in the kitchen. I would have hoped that at this point we wouldn't be seeing the kind of mistakes usually associated with "Hell's Kitchen" (Too salty! Overcooked! Undercooked!), but then, the chefs on "Hell's Kitchen" never have to cook for hundreds of people in insane Texas heat. The fact that we haven't had more chefs passing out, throwing up and/or getting speedy trips to the hospital is really a surprise, honestly.

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<p>B&eacute;r&eacute;nice Bejo in &quot;The Artist.&quot;</p>

Bérénice Bejo in "The Artist."

Credit: The Weinstein Company

The Long Shot: Backlash to the future

Most Oscar favorites face a 'backlash' at some point, but is it all in our heads?

With the critics' awards largely played out and the industry awards beginning to idly rev their engines, we're at that point in the season -- a point prematurely frazzled Oscar pundits might call the halfway mark, surprising sane laymen who think the race hasn't even started yet -- when certain terms start flying around the blogosphere with all-too-casual abandon. "Overrated" (translation: "I don't personally think it deserves as many awards as it's getting") is one. "Underrated" (translation: "Forget critical reception, it's not winning enough awards for my liking") is another. And somewhere in between lies the Oscar-watcher's favorite alarm word for loosening semi-cemented races, if only in their own imaginations: yes, the trusty old "backlash."

A "backlash," you understand, can describe anything from perceptible public resistance to a once-favored film or artist (the post-"sugar tits" Mel Gibson, say) to a strategized protest from a concentrated political or cultural faction with a sizable audience (the conservative anti-"Brokeback Mountain" bloc, say) to bored journalists and bloggers talking about how too many people are talking about a certain popular phenomenon -- and it's this last, most tenuous and tail-eating, form that "backlashes" in the realm of awards analysis usually take.

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<p>PBS President &amp; CEO Paula Kerger</p>
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PBS President & CEO Paula Kerger

Credit: Rahoul Ghose/PBS

Press Tour: PBS chief defends Big Bird against Mitt Romney's commercial plan

Paula Kerger sticks up for public broadcasting against the Republican front-runner
In a public appearance last week, Republican president candidate Mitt Romney expressed support for PBS, but also support for completely overhauling the way that PBS stays afloat.
"I like PBS. We subsidize PBS. Look, I'm going to stop that. I'm going to say, ‘PBS is going to have to have advertisements,'" Romney told Iowa voters, according to ABC. "We're not going to kill Big Bird, but Big Bird's going to have to have advertisements, all right?"
This, of course, would be a total upheaval of the way that PBS does business.
Speaking with reporters on Wednesday (January 4), the first morning of the Television Critics Association press tour, PBS President & CEO Paula Kerger offered her somewhat partisan take on Romney's plan.
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Thanks, America!
Thanks, America!
Credit: AP Photo/Evan Agostini

LMFAO is still sexy on Billboard's Hot 100

Does Katy Perry get any closer to setting the record?

LMFAO is still sexy as “Sexy and I Know It” spends its second week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Not only is the duo sexy, it’s hot as “Party Rock Anthem” climbs 9-6 this week on the back of a Christmas sales surge.

Former No. 1, Rihanna’s “We Found Love” featuring Calvin Harris, remains at No. 2, while Katy Perry’s “The One That Got Away” stays at No. 3 and Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain” holds at No. 4.

Flo Rida’s “Good Feeling” ticks up one spot to No. 5, while Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Ni**as In Paris” falls two to No. 7.

Like LMFAO, Adele takes up two slots in the Top 10 as third single “Set Fire to the Rain” is No. 8 and former No. 1 “Someone Like You” is at No. 9.  Both songs are on Adele’s “21,” which was 2011‘s top selling album.

Rounding out the top 10 is Gym Class Heroes’ “Stereo Hearts” featuring Adam Levine, which sneaks up on from No. 11. 

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<p>I have a feeling it's not going to be all 'pretty dresses and happy dwarves' when Lily Collins stars in the upcoming remake of 'Evil Dead'</p>

I have a feeling it's not going to be all 'pretty dresses and happy dwarves' when Lily Collins stars in the upcoming remake of 'Evil Dead'

Credit: Relativity Media

Lily Collins steps in for Bruce Campbell as star of 'Evil Dead' remake

The new film widely avoids using Ash, so what do they have planned instead?

Speaking of remakes…

Even though "Carrie" is considered a classic of the genre and was both a critical and commercial hit, there seems to me to be enough flexibility to allow for a new interpretation.  That story can be retold in new ways to find new resonance.  That's one sturdy central metaphor they're dealing with.

I'm not sure the same is true of "Evil Dead," which isn't particularly built on theme and subtext in the first place.  "Evil Dead" was a purely visceral experience, terrifying because of how stark and ugly and isolated it was.  Thanks to the much-larger success and visibility of "Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn," many people define the "Evil Dead" series with a sense of humor.  "Army Of Darkness," the third film in the series, pushed it even further, and for many fans, that was their first "Evil Dead" in a theater, meaning there are many different groups of fans who have many different ideas of what "Evil Dead" even means.

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The Year in Numbers: Adele leads the album and singles pack
Credit: Columbia Records

The Year in Numbers: Adele leads the album and singles pack

Who else is in the top 5 as industry sees first uptick since 2004?

Unless you’ve been under a rock—and perhaps, even then— it will come as no surprise that Adele’s “21” is the best selling album of the year.

The British singer’s second set sold 5.82 million copies in the U.S. during 2011, according to Nielsen SoundScan, making it the best-selling album since Usher’s “Confessions” sold 7.98 million in 2004. The title is in its 14th non-consecutive week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 this week.

Adele is a double winner in that “Rolling In the Deep,” the biggest cross-format smash in two decades, sold  5.2 million copies, making it the top selling single of 2011.

Returning to albums, Michael Buble’s “Christmas,” which came out in mid-October, covered a lot of territory quickly to claim the No. 2 spot with sales of 2.45 million albums. It sprinted past Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” which sold 2.1 million.

Rounding out the diverse list of  top five album sellers for 2011 were Lil Wayne’s “Tha Carter IV” at 1.92 million units and Jason Aldean’s “My Kinda Party” at 1.58 million.

Overall, album sales were up 1.3% in 2011 over 2010, reported Billboard. Modest as it was, the growth marked the first annual uptick since 2004.  Album sales tallied 330.6 million compared with 2010’s 326.2 million. 

Though much was made of the demise of the physical CD, with many reports claiming that some major labels would quit manufacturing the discs in 2012, it looks like the CD has a little life left in it yet. Yes, digital sales continue to climb, and for the first time, digital album sales and digital track equivalents (when someone purchases 10 tracks from an album) surpassed the 50% mark for the first time this year, yet 49.7% of all album sales are still from physical goods.  The industry isn’t about to walk away from those kinds of numbers any time soon. In fact, when the fan decided to purchase an entire album (excluding track equivalent albums), the physical CD percentage soared to 68.7%.

Digital track sales saw an 8.5% gain over 2010, with total numbers reaching 1.27 billion. Think we aren’t totally living in a singles world? In 2011, 112 tracks scanned more than 1 million units, compared with 80 in 2010. Only 13 albums sold more than 1 million copies last year, the same number as 2010.

Following “Rolling in the Deep,” the top digital single sellers were LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” at No. 2 with 5.47 million copies, Katy Perry’s “E.T.” at 4.83 million, Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger” featuring  Christina Aguilera at 4.11 million and Pitbull’s “Give Me Everything” featuring Ne-Yo, Afrojack and Nayer at  3.87 million.

Follow me on Twitter @HitfixMelinda

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<p>From &quot;July&quot;</p>

From "July"

Watch: Youth Lagoon tackles suburban decay with 'July' video

And you thought Arcade Fire's bummed you out

Bundle up. It may be "July" in Youth Lagoon's world, but wherever you are tonight, i just got a little colder.

Youth Lagoon mastermind Trevor Powers' 2011 album "The Year of Hibernation" wasn't named for nothing. It hypnotizes on the whole as it warmly mellowed and "July's" no exception. Where it gets messed up is the pristine pacing as bodies seize with the ambiguous (and literal?) hurt of our least-favorite memories of the suburbs.

"For my whole life I've dealt with extreme anxiety," said Powers in a release, on "Hibernation." "I sometimes feel like I'm literally being eaten up inside. So I started writing these songs. Not just songs about my anxiety, but about my past and my present. Songs about memories, and all those feelings that those bring. I know that if I can be honest about what is inside my mind, there will be others that will be able to relate to it."

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<p>I don't want to turn this into a contest, but I'm pretty sure my prom was worse than this.</p>

I don't want to turn this into a contest, but I'm pretty sure my prom was worse than this.

Credit: MGM/UA Home Video

'Boys Don't Cry' director Kimberly Pierce may direct new version of King's 'Carrie'

Can the story withstand another interpretation, and why try again?

Since it was the first major thing he published, little wonder "Carrie" has had a longer and more robust multi-media life than almost any other Stephen King novel.

It was a novel, and then obviously a very well-liked Brian De Palma film with Sissy Spacek, and then a much-much later sequel that no one remembers, a huge terrible infamous Broadway musical bomb, a TV remake, and now, if MGM and Screen Gems have their way, another remake.

And oddly, I'm not opposed to the idea.

There is a reason "Carrie" keeps coming up, a reason people keep returning to the material.  There is something potent about the idea of the outsider looking for acceptance and getting snubbed, something rich in the notion of the cruelty of teenagers, and something brilliant in the concept of budding sexuality tied to the unleashing of terrifying powers.  King hit the jackpot with that book, and De Palma's film benefitted greatly from the collision of a hungry young filmmaker, the right material, and a cast that was loaded with budding movie and TV stars.

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<p>Are these three of your acting Oscar frontrunners? &nbsp;Or are they three other contenders?</p>

Are these three of your acting Oscar frontrunners?  Or are they three other contenders?

Oscar's Acting Races: Who's in and who's out?

it's likely down to the wire this year for all four categories

As awards season enters the last week and a half before Oscar nomination ballots are due, the "great settling," as its been called, isn't yet upon us.  This magical few days or weeks when the collective Academy consciousness coalesces to determine one best picture winner (whether they know it or not) usually occurs before the nominations are announced, but not always.  Yes, "The Artist" is clearly the frontrunner this time around, but its hardly the lock "Slumdog Millionaire" or "The King's Speech" were in recent years.  That could easily change over the next few weeks as guilds such as SAG, PGA and DGA determine their own year end winners.  What's much more intriguing this season, however, are the acting races. 

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