Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Commercials with Issues

OK, there are two commercials that have been in heavy rotation lately. One of them is funny to me, one is way freaking creepy.

There's an ad for, I don't know, VCast or something, where it's like a first-person point of view and the camera walks into a gym. You know that one sweaty guy who's way excited to see the assumed you that the camera represents? He's all into the Fallout Boy song? Yeah. That is the single gayest guy I have ever seen on television. A wise man once said "Not that there's anything wrong with that", but this guy is so gay that it feels like the commercial should have backstory. And then when his phone rings he says "That's my lady." First off, totally fronting. It's almost like Verizon was alarmed by all the gaiety and tried to fix it in post. Second of all, no straight man has described a woman as 'my lady' since about the time women started voting. It's one of those phrases that Stan Lee used to use in old issues of Amazing Spider-Man, when he tried to approximate teen-speak. (Not a slam at Stan, by the way. It's just that not only is he the hippest old man alive, he was also the hippest old man alive back when he was in his twenties.)
Seriously, it totally feels like an ad targeted at gay cellphone users. Which, you know, great idea. Just be honest about it. Halfway there doesn't make anyone happy.

And then there's the creepy ad. I think this might be a local thing, given the production values, but there's an ad for the tanning chain Midnite Sun & Cruise. A woman, in the seediest bathroom I've ever seen, looks in the mirror and sees, at the back of the room, a man in a leather coat, lurking. You know, sort of the way they'd see the Carver in the mirror first back in Season Three of Nip/Tuck. It's visual shorthand to set you up for a sex crime, is what I'm saying. And the only way this particular dude could look more like a sexual predator is if he were actually stroking his visible erection.
Anyway, there's a cut where it seems like the woman is waking up, and now there are red letters scrawled on the mirror that read 'MEET ME AT MIDNITE'. The whole thing is so creepy I have to get up and walk around after seeing it. Sure, it's a bold choice to go with rape-themed advertising, but I'm not sure society is ready for it.

The Black Donnellys -- Wait, are they Irish?

I guess it's a good sign that I was kind of enthused about the premiere of The Black Donnellys. It means that I'm not completely dead inside. Sure, "Crash" did its best to sour me on the work of Paul Haggis forever and ever. It wasn't even enough that it was badly written, but it was badly written in such a way that not liking it could be taken to mean you were pro-racism. But Haggis' collaborations with Clint Eastwood let to "Million-Dollar Baby", "Flags of Our Fathers", and "Letters from Iwo Jima". Of course, those first two were adaptations, and the third was actually in Japanese, and I have to assume that his credited (Japanese) co-writer removed a lot of the "Allow me to state my motivations directly, because viewers are confused by nuance" moments in the translation.

According to my sister, on the commentary for "Million-Dollar Baby", Haggis says that Clint shot from his first draft. He mentions this as a point of pride, "My first draft was so good, they didn't want me to change anything." I have to think it's because his first draft was close enough to FX Toole's original story that further drafts would just get Haggis all over it. Paul Haggis seems to have a pretty good grasp of story structure, and he is good with the adaptations, at determining what can stay and go when the time comes to make the movie. (I believe "Million-Dollar Baby" is a combination of two Toole stories, but I can't remember anymore.) And if that's all he has to do, everything will be fine. Especially if it passes through the filter that is Clint Eastwood.

See, Paul Haggis doesn't trust you as a viewer to figure out anything. And he doesn't trust the actors to convey anything. I'm not saying he's incapable of subtlety. More like, he doesn't think anybody else in the whole word understands the concept, so he has to break it down for us. Take the scene when Jenny arrives at the hospital. She confesses to Tommy that she was afraid he was the beaten Donnelly, because she loves him, even though she's married, and she thought she'd never have a chance to tell him.

First off, feel free to rely on the viewer to remember that Jenny is married. We can remember things that happen earlier in the episode. And then, when Jenny arrives, she hugs Tommy. Maybe she's crying, and all she has to say is: "I thought it was you." And scene. C'mon Haggis, check your "What Would Clint Do" bracelet before proceeding.

During the breaks, my sister and I were coming up with ways Paul Haggis could have ruined "Million-Dollar Baby" by directing it himself. ("Is it clear that she hits her head on the stool? Maybe we should establish her fear of stools. Maybe she should trip over a stool on her way to the fight, look at her bruised shin, and say 'I hope that never happens to my brain stem'.") Anyway, Jane thought he'd really want to make it clear in the final scene that Clint Eastwood owned the diner, so instead of a shot of the diner with the narration, Haggis would zoom through the window, and show Clint wearing a hairnet and frying something. That cracked me up, until the scene where Jimmy gets arrested and the cop says something about being tipped off. And we know Tommy called the cops on him to save him from the mob. We know it! And it's actually kind of a nice payoff to the almost forgotten B-story about the stolen shirts. But then the cop looks up and we actually see Tommy (from a street level shot) standing in the window of the hospital, watching. Just so, you know, we actually get what happened. (Plus, as Jane pointed out, Tommy seems to be about a thousand stories up, but the sign by the elevator insists he's on the fifth floor.)

And when he does manage to pull off a nice emotional scene, he blows it on the directing. (Yes, Haggis wrote and directed the pilot.) For some reason, he hates actors. If it's a scene where they're not actually clearly stating their feelings and motivations, and are instead conveying emotion through the craft of pretending to be a character, he invariably pulls the camera way the hell back. There was a scene in the hospital hallway where he pulled so far back, you couldn't actually tell what the characters were doing.

So much for the stylistic problems. What's possibly an even bigger problem is that Haggis never met an ethnic stereotype he didn't like. There's a self-aware gloss on it, but damn, if you forget for a second what ethnicity any of his characters are, they are going to remind you. I mean, we've actually got an Irish bar where a wake turns into a barfight. Depending on where the camera is, at any given moment anywhere between one and three neon shamrocks are clearly visible in the shot. The Irish remind you that they're Irish, the Italians remind you that they're Italians, and then they remind each other. You remember in "Titanic" (when was the last time anbody but Michael Scott referenced that movie?), there's an Irish guy in steerage. And he's, like, WAY Irish. We named him 'Lucky', because his every line is about how Irish he is. And if you keep your "Irish Stereotype Checklist" handy, I do believe you'll have BINGO by the time the iceberg shows up. Anyway, every character in this show is Lucky. (One hundred dollars says we see somebody actually eating Lucky Charms before the show is cancelled.) The Irish love their drinking and fighting, don't they? Make sure everybody has a crucifix and ready access to a shamrock, and you're all set.

There's an amazing flashback where they show the murder of Pa Donnelly at the hands of the Italians. In true Haggis style, we're told that the Italians hate the Irish, so they killed him. This led the junior Donnellys to hate the Italians. And yes, they actually tell us this. They say it. I was unclear as to the motivations until the narrator told us "The Italians killed their father, so they grew up hating Italians." Slow down, Haggis, you're going a mile a minute here.

Strangely, the Italian mob has some pretty liberal hiring policies. Unless the Puerto Rican actors are actually playing Italians. Hmm... Kirk Acevedo is 'Nicky Cottero', so I'd say that's a 'yes'. I'm all for colorblind casting, but when the ethnicity is actually a key part of the role, it seems weird. Remember that episode of Ed where the judge ruled that it wasn't discriminatory to insist that a white kid play Abraham Lincoln in the school play, just as they were justified in requiring the kid playing Martin Luther King Jr. to be black? All that, and a baseball-playing monkey.

If we all ask nicely, my sister might put something up at her blog about Paul Haggis and race. She's got a lot to say there.

There's a few real leaps in the story where it all falls apart, too. Tommy, with no history of violence or gunplay, singlehandedly wipes out the entire mob? Really? Granted, after the first couple of shots, the mobsters pretty much stood there and waited to die, but still. And the big ending revelation, where Tommy's the one who ran over Johnny's leg? (First off, Johnny is the worst limper ever.) It's not a good idea to peg your big dramatic revelation on a shot of a seven-year-old driving a stolen car. It's a funny visual anyway, and then when you think we're going to get all emotional about it, that makes it even funnier. Plus, there's the insistence that Tommy could have gotten out of the neighborhood and made something of himself, but he stayed out of guilt. Considering he was a car thief at seven, that's a pretty bold statement. I'd say you're on as wrong a path as you could find.

I will say, I like the idea of the unreliable narrator who inserts himself into the action. The problem is, they need to commit to that. We drift between what actually happened and Joey Ice Cream's version of events without rhyme or reason. If you've established that we're seeing what the narrator tells us, you can't have the action contradict the narration when it's convenient. You made the rules, you better play by them. I also liked Kevin Donnelly, who didn't do much at all, but he had the three best scenes. He gets beat at cards by a bound hostage, which was funny. He casually shoots two of the Italians, which was also funny. And best of all, when Jenny bears her soul to Tommy, there's Kevin, eating a sub. I think the actor brought his own sandwich, since there was no reason for him to be in the scene. Sort of like Jack Nicholson bringing his own dildo to the set of "The Departed", only less creepy.

Lot of negativity the last couple of days. I'd better do an "I Heart Supporting Characters" just to happy the place up.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

"Why are you thinking in Japanese?"

I don't have much to say about Heroes last night, because 'Awesome' is only one word. Such a good show. I just wanted to mention that I was actually shocked to see Hiro's father working with the Organization. Like, I actually spilled my drink. I didn't see that one coming. And Little Hiro is just adorable.

The Black Donnellys however, was not so good. Sure, it's probably not as bad as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, which has actually created a wormhole that sucked quality from Aaron Sorkin's earlier work. Seriously, there is the very real chance that Sports Night is ruined for me forever. I don't think I'm going to be be able to go back without seeing the origins of Sorkin's overused themes that have gone from 'quirky' to 'boring and/or offensive'. I don't want to think of Sports Night as the birth of 'Stalkers are actually quite charming and if you pressure a woman enough, she will eventually fall in love with you' or 'All women are actually emotional wrecks hiding behind a veneer of professionalism and they don't know what they really want until a man tells them'. And the Mary Sues, sweet Lord, the Mary Sues. It's like Sorkin crawled into that tunnel in 'Being John Malkovich', only it was the Sorkin Hole, and now all he sees is Sorkin, and all he hears is 'Sorkin. Sorkin, Sorkin?'

And yes, he's made it perfectly clear on three different series now that he doesn't care what people on the Internet think. Dude, it's not 1991 anymore. It's not just 300 grad students on the 'net. (Granted, Sorkin was banned from a West Wing message board for being an asshole to the other posters, so that may color his opinion.) At the very least, he needs to realize that the Internet can be a powerful tool. Look at Joss Whedon -- the man has never had a commercial success, but he's able to mobilize a rabid fan base through, yes, the Internet. I mean, I know I'm just a guy on the Internet, but it seems to me like Studio 60 is going to need some fan support sooner rather than later. I don't anticipate any sort of Internet mobilization when you've characterized people who write about TV shows online as being socially retarded.

Sorkin, I want to like you. I really do. I want that warm feeling I used to get from Sports Night. And you've said that the only opinion that matters is that of professional comedy writers. Last year, I made $50 opening for Fancy Thermos, so in the most technical way possible, I'm included in that. I want to like you, but you make it so damn hard.

I'm way too exhausted to talk about The Black Donnellys now. We'll try again later. Suffice it to say, Haggis is getting an earful.

The 24 Virgin -- Part Two

In this installment, episodes 9-12.

There were some actual surprises this time around, even with five years of spoilers behind me. I didn't know Jamey was going to kill herself, for starters. That was authentically shocking. I'm a little confused at how that investment banker suddenly became Serbian. Was he a double, or did he spend decades establishing a cover that made him a multi-millionaire? Because if it was the latter, he might have been better off just sticking with his cover story.

Twelve hours in, and no actual torture. A couple of interrogations and the threat of torture, but so far Jack's just slapping people around.

I like the way people are always mentioning Chappelle. Do we ever see him? Or is he like Principal Lazarus on Welcome Back, Kotter? (I think it's time to retire the Vera/Maris reference for an unseen character. Principal Lazarus is the new Vera.)

I find the show works better in big chunks. I like to send a big whopping load of 24 straight to my brain -- so far I've watched three discs in three sittings. Also, now that Jack has stormed the compound and rescued his wife and daughter, I find myself thinking it must be close to the end, but there's still 12 hours to go. Maybe the Palmer family drama will start to pay off, because right now, it just seems to be a way to fill screen time when Jack has to pee.

And I think I'll have to retract my complaint about the violence towards women. It's not like I'm suddenly cool with slapping women around, but it's really jsut a violent series. Basically, everybody on the whole damn show has been the target for violence. I think Tony's the only person on the whole series to this point who hasn't been attacked or threatened in some way. I wonder if he's jealous.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscar Wrap-Up

Huh. I don't have any real complaints about this year's Oscars. I liked enough of the nominees that I couldn't get angry about anything. (Still, some love for Borat would have been nice. Nobody really expected that, though.) Absolutely thrilled to see Scorsese finally get an Oscar.

I'd anticipated Eddie Murphy winning for Supporting Actor, but I was happy to be wrong. Alan Arkin is so many kinds of awesome that you'd need some kind of computing device. Here's the thing: I can't see myself ever giving a crap about Dreamgirls. Musicals are a hard sell for me anyway, I don't like Motown, Jamie Foxx irritates the hell out of me, there are so many reason I wasn't interested. And then there was the hubbub where it was only released in 8oo theaters, and that meant the studio was trying to bury it. No point in working out the economics, but that's not an unusual release strategy for an Oscar contender. Why don't you ask Clint Eastwood how many screens Letters From Iwo Jima opened on? My guess is he would have been thrilled to hit 8oo. If I recall correctly, Clint just got New York and LA for the first month. And then when Dreamgirls did open wide, the box office take didn't improve at all.

The really ridiculous bits were the complaints that Dreamgirls didn't get nominated for Best Picture because of Academy racism. You know, it really might have been that it wasn't really the best movie released last year. Yes, I know it's never happened that the movie with the most nominations wasn't nominated for Best Picture. But three of their eight nominations were in the Original Song category. Add in the one for Sound Mixing, and half of their nominations were sound-related. That's sort of an unusual circumstance. Also, and I'm not saying this is necessarily fair, but do you know what would make me not support a movie? Jamie Foxx acting like a complete buttlick and complaining in public about how I'm not going to support it before the ballots are even due.

That kind of exhausted me. I'm happy for Forest Whittaker. That's a guy who's always amazing, whether he's playing Idi Amin or doing a guest spot on ER. And he gave a decent acceptance speech, too. At some of the other shows, he's been really..... let's be nice and call it awkward. I've seen him interviewed where he's more at ease, so maybe it's just nerves.

Ellen DeGeneres was a good host. She's consistently funny, but not as interesting as Chris Rock or Jon Stewart. Still, she got the job done, and was occasionally really funny. The bit with Clint Eastwood was quite good, for example.

I'm starting to think I need to see Pan's Labyrinth. I'm not cool with that guy with eyes in his hands, though. That kind of stuff freaks me out.

It Turns Out, I Have No Self-Respect

I was downtown this weekend, which is not something I like to do. I have hobo issues, for one. But we'll save that for another day. There was a local-art hoopla at a coffee shop. Becky had a painting showing, and Sam was providing music, so it was a swell show. Also, and I realize Art is subjective, but Becky's painting made all the other ones look like piles of puke. That aside, I had to park blocks away because I don't know where anything is downtown, and I am unable to parallel park. If I find a spot anywhere, I have to take it.

So, as I was walking back to my car, a car pulled up next to me. There were three women in the car, probably college-age, and all three reasonably attractive. The one in the passenger seat asked if she could have my shoes. I responded with something predictably witty like 'What?' Then she offered to trade shoes with me. Her friends kept trying to shut her up, like they were sort of embarrassed by her, then one said 'Sorry', and they drove away. It was only when they left that I realized that I was holding my shoes in my hands. That's right. A strange woman asked for my shoes, and in 30-degree weather, I took them off right then and there. And I did it without consciously realizing it. That was my honest, unfiltered reaction.

Sometimes, I make myself sad.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The 24 Virgin -- Part One

I've never seen a single episode of 24. Check that, I've never see a single minute of it. It's unusual for me to be completely out of the loop on a show that popular and critcically acclaimed. (I've also never seen an episode of any incarnation of Star Trek, and I don't plan to change course on that one anytime soon.) I can't remember why I didn't watch it -- I suspect it was a time slot conflict, or maybe I just didn't feel like embracing a show about terrorism in the fall of 2001. Probably that last one. By the second or third season, everybody was talking about the torture, which made it sound like right-wing propaganda.

Anyway, we're six seasons in, and a co-worker loaned me his Season One box set. Now, just through general pop-culture awareness, I know most of the story points going in. I know who the mole is, I know Jack's wife dies at the end of the finale. Still, I don't like to look a box set in the mouth. Over the next week or so, I'm going to bomb my psyche with 24 and see where it goes.

Today, episodes 1-8.
First off, and this is more of a general point, don't cultural references from six years ago somehow seem more dated than a reference from the 80's or 90's? Seeing a Coldplay poster on Kim's wall felt somehow more jarring than if it had been Duran Duran. Was there really a time when we cared about Coldplay? I feel like there must have been, only I feel it in that way where I believe the footage of the moon landing was real. I can't verify it, so I'm just going to embrace Occam's Razor.

Anyway, Kim Bauer is possibly the most irritating character on television. That's what everybody was saying years ago, but I assumed that hotness would make her more bearable. It does not. Plus, in the first ten minutes, she actually decribes herself as 'hot'. In order to get away with that, you need an almost unmeasurable level of hot. Otherwise, you just look like an ass.

With eight episodes in, it's hard to tell what's important and what's filling time so that they make it to the requisite 24 episodes for the season. The drama with the Palmer family doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and I'm not entirely certain why they had to blow up a plane to kill one guy, other than to get America all uncomfortable. And there's a level of violence towards women which is really bothering me. Palmer's wife is the only female character who, at this point, has not been the victim of any sort of physical abuse. And I know where she ends up, so that's just not cool.

My complaints notwithstanding, I am actually enjoying it. I like the relentless pace (other than when any member of the Palmer family appears onscreen), and I find Jack to be rather compelling. The twists and turns have thus far been clever. I was authentically surprised to find out that the guy with Terri was not actually Allen, for example. There's still 2/3 of the season to go, so it may all come crashing apart. (I apologize for that. How does something 'crash apart'?) It skirts the edge of believability constantly, but I'm generally willing to give a pass for that. Fine, Jack's cell phone works everywhere. If it makes for a better show than Jack walking around, looking for a signal, I'm all for it. Not everything has to be cinema verite.

I am disappointed that there's no Chloe this season, but I'm told I can bum another box set after this. So far, it's not making my personal Top Ten, but I'm enjoying it much more than I thought. (The original clause at the end of that sentence read "but it's making my top 24", and then I realized I'm not actually Gene Shallit.)

Friday, February 23, 2007

"There was no room to cuddle"

The finale of The O.C. threw off my regular viewing schedule, so I wasn't able to watch NBC's Thursday lineup with my usual group. That left me feeling somewhat empty, as Griz and Dotcom really need to be shared with the ones you love. ("Griz' job is to sit on me when I get overstimulated.")

The benefit of watching The Office alone this week, however, was that I could avoid being publicly embarassed on the whole Roy thing. See, I really bought into the whole 'Roy has changed' thing. I was still defending him as recently as, oh, early yesterday. (Not that I think he's better for Pam than Jim. I will, however, die inside when Karen gets her heart broken. Having Roy as a viable suitor at least holds off on that for a little while.) Dude, Roy's still an asshole. In fact, he's the scary kind of asshole now, where it's not immediately obvious until they get violent. Back in the old days, you at least had some warning. You knew you were on a minefield. Now, you don't know anything until the shrapnel takes your legs off.

(By the way, David Denman, who plays Roy, is awesome. He does such a great job, and if you've ever listened to the DVD commetary tracks with him, he is not at all Roy-like. In fact, his love of the show and ability to recall minutiae would probably make him one of my best friends, were we to meet.)

Jan seems to be going down a dark path, doesn't she? I'm sort of worried about her. We can debate endlessly as to whether dating Michael is the cause or the symptom, but it seems to me like dating Michael is sort of ideal for a woman who's suffering from depression. Sure, you would have to never ever see him when there were other people around, and ideally, you'd want to be sure that the two of you didn't know any of the same people. But beyond that, Michael's not complicated enough to play any games. It's just pure, undisguised adoration.

More insight into Creed's life, too. "I run a fake ID business out of my car." I love the fact that it's run out of his car. Like he just parks somewhere and waits for the students to show up. And Toby is seriously breaking my heart. (Props to Becky Kenny who was the first to call Toby's crush on Pam.) I like the way they're playing it, where it's not even a Jim thing. He just completely gets crushed out of the gate every time. And there's no malice to it whatsoever, at least as I read it. Pam is good at remaining oblivious, after all. She doesn't really seem to have friends outside of work, and if you take away Jim, her co-workers are either actively disinterested in socializing (Stanley, Ryan) or are basically crazy. Pretty much it's Toby and Oscar if you want to talk to somebody. Paul Lieberstein just plays that downtrodden thing so well.

Toby wrote this week's episode by the way. And it was directed by Alias/LOST creator J.J. Abrams. Can you imagine how excited Dwight must have been?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Scarlett Johansson NUDE!

That title is my attempt at increasing web traffic. In the week or so that the Swear Jar's been up and running, I've found that my Spam folder has been picking up more and more porn. I assume that's because my address is right on the page, and then something happens with science, and I get Spam.

But this is very exciting, because for the last two years, my Spam folder has been almost entirely impotence cures. It was more than a little disheartening to see that the Internet assumes I can't satisfy a woman. Most people at least meet me before they jump to that assumption. But now, the ratio's shifted, and these days the Internet assumes that apparently I masturbate 24 hours a day. That's somewhat less insulting than the impotence thing, so I'm going to consider it a step forward.

The Time I Met Bruce Campbell

If we could take a break from TV for a while (and this is only marginally a break), here's the story of the time I met Bruce Campbell. Future installments will include "The Time I Met James Earl Jones" and "The Time I Almost Met Lynda Carter, But Wussed Out".

For those of you who aren’t nerds, Bruce is the awesome star of the Evil Dead movies, the “Brisco County” TV series, ‘Xena’, and about a billion other things. He’s sort of a god in the world of B-movies, and he’s very entertaining. If you’re only sort of nerdy, you know him from both Spider-Man movies, notably the second where he plays ‘Snooty Usher’. If you’re not at all nerdy, you still saw him on ‘Ellen’ or a couple of different Coen Brothers fims. Plus, his portrayal of an elderly Elvis Presley in ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ is heartbreaking. The only reason his name didn’t come up during award season is because ‘Bubba Ho-Tep’ also features a Cowboy Mummy who sucks people’s souls out of their asses.

It was July of 2005, and Bruce was doing a signing to promote his book at a local theater. I went with Sean and friends, and man, that was a long line of nerds. Sean proclaimed me to be the Alpha Male of the group. Seriously, I could have been a bully over there. Could have stripped the entire line of its lunch money. All I brought were Bruce’s books (If Chins Could Kill, and the New York Times bestselling Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way), but these guys had Ash busts and Army of Darkness comics and action figures and all the nerd accoutrements.

Eventually, I made my way to the door of the theatre. Then, there was another line. See, I’ve been to good book signings and I’ve been to shitty book signings. And I’ve been to a book signing where I was removed from the premises. (Mitch Albom, and it’s a long story.) And the shitty signings, they always do the same thing. They have you write your name on a sticky note, and take the jacket off the book, so that the signer can whip through the line as quickly as he can without having to acknowledge you. (The late great Hunter S. Thompson used to sign plain stickers beforehand, and then at signings he’d have an assistant put the stickers in the books. Thus, he could do a four-hour signing and never stop drinking.)

So when they did that at the Bruce signing, I was a little disappointed. Sure, he had a big line of nerds to get through. Sure, he had been at Schuler’s since noon. But this is Bruce. My friend Brian and I have had unhealthy man-crushes on Bruce Campbell since high school. Realistically, I understood that he probably but had to move fast, but on some level I needed him to be cooler than that.

And then, I got to the signing table. It turns out, the reason for all the time-saving maneuvers was that it freed him up to actually talk to people, rather than having to ask how they spell their name and whatever. He chatted with every single person, probably answering the same question 600 times that day. (“Is it true that they’re going to make Freddy vs. Jason vs. Ash?”) So when I got there, I decided I would mention my favorite work of his. (Also, the work that’s probably least known among his fan base.) That’s right, I mentioned his “Homicide” episodes. And he got really excited, because nobody ever mentions “Homicide”. And he told me some stuff about pitching the character, and what a weird dude Richard Belzer is, and it was great. I’ve found that if you want to make a celebrity happy, ask them about ‘Homicide’. It made James Earl Jones happy, it made Bruce Campbell happy. I’m two for two.

LOST 3-9 "Stranger in a Strange Land"

I think I'll be shorter than usual this week, as I took much fewer notes this time around. Which is not an indictment of the episode, but for the first time in this run, the flashbacks weren't really directly related to the happenings on the island.

By the way, fellow LOST fan and celebrity gossip maven Rachael says that's Matthew Fox's actual tattoo. If he got a big 5 on his arm because he was on 'Party of Five', we're going to have to make fun of him.

The episode title comes from Robert Heinlein's seminal sci-fi novel, about the only survivor of the first manned mission to Mars. He is raised by Martians, and then returns to Earth completely ignorant of our ways. He forms his own Church, wackiness ensues. Although the title is obviously meant to refer to Jack, the novel seems to relate to both Alex and Benry, in their own way. However, before this book goes on your LOST reading list, keep in mind that the impartial narrator in the book states that when a woman is raped, it's partly her fault. This has nothing to do with LOST, and more to do with why Robert Heinlein completely drove me away from science fiction when I was in high school, but there you go.

This episode made it pretty clear that the Other Suburbs we saw back at the beginning of the season are actually on the main island. Also, I have to say I was surprised that Ethan was their surgeon. Nothing he said to Claire when she was kidnapped indicated that, but it didn't contradict it, either. And let's remember that he killed Steve (or was it Scott) by breaking every single bone in his body. That sounds like something a psychotic surgeon could do. Karl said that Island #2 is 'just where we work'. What sort of work do you suppose The Others do? Other than training polar bears, of course. We saw them working in the fields to no clear end, which is sort of what I always picture cults doing. (A depressing amount of my knowledge about cults comes from that one episode of "The Simpsons". Perhaps Benry has a bicycle-powered UFO stashed away.)

By the way, Jack's flashbacks are said to take place in Phuket, which is located in Thailand. Interestingly, Thailand has its own language, but the characters on Jack's arm are said to be Chinese. I don't think that's a mistake, because every drunk girl at the bar has a Chinese character somewhere on her. Note also that Jack can't figure out the food dispenser in the bear cage. The polar bears can outsmart both Jack and Sawyer. Maybe Kate would be happier with a polar bear.

Hey, it's Cindy the Stewardess! I've mentioned elsewhere that she actually appeared in the pilot, and we saw her several times in airplane flashbacks during the first season. Then she ended up with the tail section, but disappeared shortly before Ana Lucia shot Shannon and the world wept. She's actually referred to as "Stewardess #2" in the credits of the first episode. She tells Jack "We're here to watch" -- what are they watching? Him? It's the first time we've seen children on Island #2, so clearly they either thought Jack would be way interesting, or something else was going on. (And they never came to watch Kate and Sawyer during their stay.) The little girl asks about Ana Lucia, so she clearly was one of the kids from the tail section. (Look at that, Goodwin was telling the truth after all. I hope Ana Lucia feels bad about impaling him.) We even saw a kid with a teddy bear, which may well have been the teddy bear the Others were dragging through the jungle.

Karl doesn't know about the Brady Bunch. Either that was just a joke about Sawyer being out of touch with young people, or he's spent his whole life on the island in the cultural void. I'm pretty sure Benry's the only one with access to the mainland. I doubt the rest of the Others know that the Red Sox won the series.

Every season, a character has told Jack "Your bedside manner leaves something to be desired." In Season One, it was Hurley (though he phrased it differently), Season Two was Jack's Dad, and now Benry. I think this is probably Jack's first flashback that wasn't centered on his father or Sarah. Does anybody remember if we saw his tattoo in his other flashbacks? Is it possible this is, chronologically, the earliest Jack that we've seen?

Bai Ling, who played Jack's girlfriend/tattoo artist freaks me out, and I found her very hard to look at. She identified Jack as 'A leader. A great man. Lonely, frightened, angry." I seem to recall somebody else referring to Jack as 'a great man' recently. Benry, maybe? And yet, his tattoo actually says "He walks amongs us, but he is not one of us." When Sheriff Isabel translates it, Jack is literally walking among the Others, which was a nice touch. I can already tell that the theories that Jack is already dead are going to spread like wildfire, but I'm not going that way. Juliet was also marked to similar effect. (Her brand resembled an asterisk with an extended top line. Has that marking appeared in LOST before. I keep thinking it was on the map, but I didn't have time to confirm.) It's all very reminiscent of the mark of Cain in the Book of Genesis. Although Cain's mark was meant to both shame and protect him, Jack got beat up from the get-go. It looked to me like his tattoo consisted only of the Chinese characters at that point, but it may have just been the angle. Five guys beat him up at that point, so if he added the '5' later, Jack's tattoo is only slightly less silly than Matthew Fox's. (Seriously, remember how Neve Campbell was supposed to be the breakout star of Party of Five? Seen her lately?)

Now, we had some controversy about that boat in the distance when The Others evacuated. Without any perspective, it could have been a cruise ship that was really far away, or just a sizeable boat that was reasonably close. I finally decided, after Zaprudering the footage, that was the same boat they were seen to be riding in the very last shot. They had to take the row boats out to the big boat. Which leads me to wonder, why hasn't somebody made off with the big boat? Oh yeah, they're sort of brainwashed and they think Benry is Jesus.

More mention of Benry as Alex's dad. Still a question of whether it's true, or if not, who exactly believes it to be true. Jack, remember, doesn't know that Alex is Rousseau's daughter. Claire figured it out, and Kate might have put it together, but they didn't put that in the Island Newsletter.

Huh. That was actually a VW bus on the island during the preview. Next week's going to be a mite weird, I think.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I Heart Supporting Characters: Creed

If there's one thing I love, it's a minor character. These secondary or even tertiary characters may not have the lines or the screen time as their top-billed co-stars, but they knock it out of the park every time.
We should take a moment every so often to celebrate these supporting characters. Let's begin with a look at The Office's Creed.

Let's begin with the fact that an actor named Creed Bratton plays a character named Creed Bratton. Further, the real Creed was in "The Grass Roots", an influential 60's band. In a cut scene from Season 2, TV Creed explains that he was in "The Grass Roots", and shows a picture of himself with Janis Joplin. So basically, Creed is playing himself.

What else do we know about Creed? He steals. He may or may not be homeless (either way, he eats dinner at a homeless shelter). He grows mung beans in his drawer. Thanks to his drug use, he can't focus for more than 90 seconds or remember his co-workers' names. And he's never owned a refrigerator. You know what that is? Comedy Gold!

Creed doesn't really show up until Season 2, when Michael has to fire somebody. That's when we meet Creed and Devon, just to give us some cannon fodder. And Creed actually talks Michael out of firing him. It's like a crazy Jedi mind-trick. Poor Devon's out the door, which just leaves more room for Creed.

His every line is a new window into a profoundly disturbing world. He gave Jim one of his old shirts for Secret Santa. He took a picture of a breastfeeding Hannah and then made it his screensaver. And in one of the funniest lines of Season Two, when he hears that Jim has a crush on Pam, he responds 'Which one is Pam?'. Beautiful!

And with the recent bat crisis, he found a compatriot in Dwight. Only too willing to whittle a mop handle into a stake or construct a makeshift flamethrower, Creed's your go-to guy in any crisis that can be solved with violence.

Basically, when you see Creed, you always know that he is going to contribute something very funny, deeply disturbing, or both. There's no way around it, I Heart Creed.

"I steal. A lot. I basically just stopped caring."

"I'm a Kayak, Hear Me Roar"

People already know this about me, but I'm going on the record. I am a man, and I am also an unapologetic Gilmore Girls fan. I take a lot of abuse for that, but I soldier on.

After last night's episode, I have to ask once again, how is it that Lauren Graham is not absolutely loaded down with awards? She should be like Jay Sherman on that episode of "The Simpsons", just dropping Emmys and Golden Globes with every step. And yet, still no nominations. I seem to remember at last year's Emmys, four of the five Lead Actress in a Comedy nominees were actually in cancelled shows, three of them after less than a season. I'm convinced they pull these names out of a hat every year.

I mean, I actually went and saw a Diane Keaton movie because she was in it. Diane Keaton, people!

Are You a Fan?

So, here's a weird thing that's happened to me three times now. I buy "Entertainment Weekly" every week. In the last year or so, LOST has been on the cover three times. And each of those times the cashier asked me "Oh, do you like that show?"

Now, I didn't get that question about any of the other covers. Obviously, the answer is 'Yes', but that's actually a completely separate fact, unrelated to my purchase of the magazine. I'm buying it because I do so every week. But I don't really want to get into it with the cashier, so I just say 'yes'. One of those cashiers was also a LOST fan, so we talked for a while. (Sidenote: Can you imagine what it's like for somebody who casually mentions LOST to me? Sometimes I really wish I could have normal conversations with co-workers about last night's television, without having to do a sidebar on the writings of Edmund Burke or the origin of 'Hieronymous'.) Two of them, however, responded with 'I never really got into it.' So why did they care whether I watch it?

I don't get that question when I buy an issue with Justin Timberlake, or Grey's Anatomy, or American Idol on the cover. If I did, I could answer 'No, but I enjoy "Entertainment Weekly".' It's a weird phenomenon. Even weirder, last time it happened, I also bought a copy of "Wired", solely because there was an interview with John Hodgman featured on the cover. And did anybody ask if I was a John Hodgman fan? They did not.

I don't know what to make of this at all.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Somebody actually read this!

So I see that my profile has been viewed nine times. That's very exciting to me. Not that you can learn much beyond my astrological sign, but still, it's kind of awesome.

I enjoy validation, so if you've stumbled on this page and you don't actually know me personally, post a comment here. I look forward to getting a reader who's not actually on my Christmas card list.

Heroes: The Next Generation?

I tend to be wrong about things when I conjecture, but it seems to me that on "Heroes", there are two types of super-people. We have the ones who've manifested their abilities within the last year, and those who've had their powers for fifteen years.

Invisible Claude has made reference to the supers he's met over the last fifteen years. Claire's birth mom (who I still think of as Gina from 'Nip/Tuck') caused the fire that destroyed their home fifteen years ago, and I assume that Baby Claire survived because of her invulnerability. This is actually a tricky one, because she seemed surprised by her regeneration in the flashback episode. Either her power flared up once and then disappeared until the next power surge, or else she spent fifteen years not badly injuring herself. (The latter is plausible enough, but given that she can't seem to cross a football field without accidentally dying, it could be unlikely.)

Matt, Radioactive Ted, Isaac, Hiro, Google Girl, and pretty much everybody Sylar's killed have all manifested their powers only in the last six months. The jury's still out on some of them -- I assume the Haitian has been wiping people's minds for a long time, and Nathan seemed surprised when he flew out of his car, but not as surprised as you might expect.

I wonder if there's some sort of significance to the waves of Heroes. Or else I'm just obsessing, which is quite likely.

Also, of the relatively small number of people who have powers, isn't it weird that we know of at least two hook-ups? The odds of that seem quite small. Unless the creepy agency is actually trying to manipulate events to throw them together to produce a new generation of Heroes. Presumably the offspring of two super-powered individuals would be more powerful than either parent. I'm kind of hoping this is addressed in the near future.

"Heroes" People, "Lost" People

I would imagine that the crossover audience for "Heroes" and "Lost" is pretty high. However, in my social circle, everybody watches one or the other. (Other than me, one person watches both, but I'm going to consider her a statistical anomaly.) The weird thing is, my "Lost" friends are all connected. We often watch together, and everybody knows each other. My "Heroes" friends are scattered far and wide, and they're only connected through me.

So, my "Lost" friends are an interconnected group, and my "Heroes" friends are socially and geographically disparate, spread out across the country. Kind of fits in with the shows themselves, really.

More importantly, I really need some crossover between the two groups so I can impress people with the Gannon Car Rental reference.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Favorite Finales

In honor of the final episode of "The O.C." this week, (Yes, I watch it. Who are you to judge?) I thought it would be appropriate to look back at some of my favorite final episodes.
To clarify, these are all actual finales. Not 'the last episode before it got cancelled', these are episodes where they knew it was the final episode when they made it. Because otherwise, this is just going to turn into a list of my favorite cancelled series.

ALIAS -- Sure, the ending is kind of sappy. And the scene in the ice cave is where ABC actually refused to stop paying for the show and you can tell that the whole set costs about twelve dollars. And the whole Rambaldi mythology completely falls apart at the end. But there's that scene with Sydney and Jack, where they both know he's not going to make it, and neither of them can admit it. It chokes me up every time. Not to mention he gets the best final words of all time -- "You beat death, Arvin. But you didn't beat me." And then the most evil man on television has to spend his immortal existence pinned under tons of rubble. It hit all the notes it needed to, with a couple of flats mixed in. Sort of appropriate, really.

THE KIDS IN THE HALL -- Every sketch in the finale was about the series ending. The continuing characters wrapped up their stories and the Kids themselves paid tribute to their influences (most notably Satan) and then they were buried alive. Forget Clarabelle Clown on the final episode of Howdy Doody. "So long, kids" will forever be eclipsed by the last line of the episode, the only line ever spoken by Paul Bellini. "Thank God that's over."

THE OFFICE (UK) -- The series proper ended with more cliffhangers than "The Empire Strikes Back" and the Old Testament combined. When the Christmas Special brought the characters back, David Brent was desperately trying to cash in on his negligible celebrity. Dawn had moved to Florida with her fiancee, and Gareth ruled the Slough brance of Wernham Hogg with an iron fist. It's amazing how you're rooting for Brent by the end -- he was never as sympathetic as the US version's Michael Scott. David Brent was more malicious. But still, he's so broken down by the end that you have to bleed for him. And the Tim and Pam conclusion is just so perfectly set up. Dunder Mifflin can only hope for such a happy ending when the time comes.

HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET -- Thanks to the magic of DVD, I've been able to reassess the final season, and it's not as bad as everybody remembers. Sure, it's not as consistently brilliant as the early days, but it remained a consistent series which still managed to achieve excellence with some regularity. If you can get past the occasional Paul Falsone blowjob (Couldn't at least one character have thought he was a dick? The viewers all did...), it's a fine season of television. And the finale just brings it all home. The fact that the series ends with the same line with which it began is the kind of thing that makes my nerd heart flutter. But it's the Tim Bayliss exit that really sells it. Depressingly, and in keeping with the theme of the show, Tim leaves as a fallen man. There's an amazing montage near the end, and amazingly, even with Andre Braugher gone for a season, his Frank Pembleton remained the emotional core of the series.

FUTURAMA -- This one's debatable. Comedy Central (bless their souls) will be resurrecting the crew of Planet Express in time for the holidays. Still, until we actually see new material, "The Devil's Hands are Idle Playthings" remains the series finale. The thing I love about Futurama is how petty the characters actually are. You know that ultimately Hank Hill or Homer Simpson is going to do the right thing even if it takes a while to get there; but there was never any such assurance with Fry. And you could count on Bender actually doing the wrong thing consistently. There's such a deep cynicism in the Futurama Universe that their forays into sweetness really stand out. Here, Fry trades his hands to the Robot Devil so that he can craft a symphony to express his love for Leela. It all climaxes in an operatic conclusion that has Fry giving up his one chance at happiness. The final scene is beautiful, and the episode is consistently hilarious throughout. "They keep touching me in places!"

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT -- My love for Arrested Development knows no bounds, and the world is emptier without it. Still, it had an absolutely perfect finale. Structured as an inversion of the series premiere, "Development, Arrested" wraps up the series in the maze of continuity, entendre, and twisted logic that we all loved so, so much. (Trivia: The final episode is the only time that Maebe and Buster speak to one another.) "What do you say we leave them with no but to keep themselves together?" It was such a perfect ending that it actually took some of the sting from the cancellation. (Booze and "The Office" also helped.)

Anybody else have a favorite finale? Please note that history indicates that nobody will actually read this, and this may just be the most masturbatory thing I can do, short of actually masturbating.

Friday, February 16, 2007

"What they do -- that's not art."

Now, as much as I'd like to gush at length over each and every episode of "The Office", I think I'll try to maintain a measure of dignity. Otherwise, there'd be a weekly post where I write "I love the part where..." and then recount every single scene in the episode. Still, I'm thinking about something this week, and I thought I'd ask around. (Of course, it's highly likely that everybody who's reading this was actually in the room with me when I watched it last night. Still, allow me my illusions.)

Why didn't Jim come to the Art Show? It seemed like Pam was just telling individual people about it, rather than making an announcement or sending out a mass e-mail. She talked to both Toby and Kelly in the breakroom instead of at her desk, so it seems like she didn't want Jim to know. Because, really, what outcome is she hoping for there? It doesn't seem like she'd be completely happy if he came, and she'd be hurt if he didn't show up. Better not to invite him and not deal with it. (Personal experience: Prior to the recent Notable Sawyer Comedy Extravaganza, I couldn't decide whether to invite the girl I like. If she didn't show up, it would make me sad, but if she came, then she'd be there....watching me.)

But it seems like if Kelly and Michael both knew, there's a pretty good chance it would have spread around the entire office. I mean, Michael can keep an actual secret for only about 45 seconds. And Kelly, well, if it's in her head, she verbalizes it. Still, Jim's a sensitive guy. He probably gets what the issue is, and I'd like to think he could have put it together in his head. If she'd actually invited him, he would have been there. And of course, there's the resentment about Roy. I can't decide if Jim's justified in being angry there or not. That's probably the subject of a whole different posting.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

LOST 3-8 "Flashes Before Your Eyes"

Well, let's kick this off with the sort of obsessiveness I'm known for. I have a LOST e-mail group where we get completely covered in nerd juice. Here's the e-mail that went out this morning.


Interestingly, the first thing I wrote in my notes is "Charlie is needy." That seems about right.

The whiskey that plays an important role in the plot is "MacCutcheon's". According to Google, there is no actual 'Anderson MacCutcheon', or an 'Admiral MacCutcheon'. There is, however, a chess opening called a 'MacCutcheon'. I'm not quite willing to ascribe any significance to this, as LOST has invoked backgammon on multiple occasions, but I can't recall chess ever being a theme.

I have another e-mail list, where I let people know what's happening on new episodes of shows that my friends and I like, with the added benefit of jokes and obscure references. Anyway, this week the LOST listing read as follows: "Charlie and Hurley try to figure out what's wrong with Desmond. Good to see the Lostaways are putting their finest minds on that one." I liked that joke, especially as our buddies actually seemed kind of surprised that getting Desmond wasted led to him getting aggressive and uncooperative.

Now, that was a very cool way to do the flashback. Or dream. Because we seem to have Desmond flashing back to something that happened just after he turned the key, or else he's flashing back to what went through his head at that moment. Up until a certain point, I thought that it was a Billy Pilgrim thing, and Desmond was actually reliving his life. (In the Kurt Vonnegut book 'Slaughterhouse Five', the character Billy Pilgrim becomes 'unstuck in time' and lives his life non-chronologically, although his perceptions seem to remain chronological, if that makes sense. Not unlike Desmond, actually.) However, the lady at the jewelry store seemed to clinch things as a dream. I mean, I'm willing to accept some of the coincidences (the numbers, meeting Charlie), but I can't believe she was actually real. I still believe that he started seeing the future when the hatch imploded, and what we saw was the altered version of reality that he dreamed while unconscious. A couple of times during the flashback, Desmond experiences flash-forwards, but they all show scenes that had happened prior to turning the key. This will bear further discussion, I think.

The numbers 108 and 815 appear in the flashback/dream. Also, there's a polar bear painting on the wall of Widdmore's office. Note that Desmond probably doesn't know that there are polar bears on the island, but they do appear in the Orientation film that he probably watched a thousand times. The meeting with Charlie is interesting, as it's one of the things that lead me to believe that what we saw was a fantasy. First off, Charlie's singing the Oasis song 'Wonderwall'. Driveshaft is actually based on Oasis (a band fronted by feuding brothers with substance abuse problems, one of whom is named Liam), so I think that's Desmond's subconscious editorial comment. Would the real Charlie ever sing an Oasis song? You know full well he'd be singing 'You All, Everybody', and would probably get mad if anybody even requested Oasis. (In the view of the UK music scene presented on LOST, Driveshaft and Oasis appear to be rivals, sort of like Oasis and Blur in real life.) Further, Charlie's sign identifies him as 'Charlie Hieronymous Pace'. Now, I don't think Charlie's middle name has come up before, but I don't really believe that it's 'Hieronymous'. The first reference I thought of was Hieronymous Bosch, the artist famous for his depictions of demons and torture. However, it turns out there's also a UK pop band called Hieronymous, so we're back to Desmond projecting. I like the idea that he's vaguely familiar with Charlie, but can't quite place him.

The song on the jukebox prompting Desmond's flash-forwards is 'Make Your Own Kind of Music', which is the song he was playing in the hatch when we met him. Also, I noticed a lot of stripes in his scenes. All sorts of background characters are wearing stripes. I don't think that's significant, but when I start noticing a wardrobe theme, that probably means it's time to tone it down.

So, here's the thing about that race around the world. Per our flashback, it's announced before Desmond enters the military, and yet he can still enter it after a discharge and prison time. Either it became an annual event, or it took a significant amount of time to execute. Or we can't completely trust the flashback, which would be a disturbing turn of events. Also, it just now occurred to me that Desmond and Juliet have both been on LOST Island for a little over three
years.

The man with the red shoes being crushed is a visual reference to "The Wizard of Oz". With last season's appearance of Henry Gale and his balloon, we may have the makings of a motif.

We still don't know why Desmond wakes up naked, so there's some lost time (or Mittelos, as I like to call it) to account for.

The universe wants Charlie dead? I have to say, that was a surprise. Could it be that he's effectively raising Claire's child, which per Roger the Fake Psychic and possible Dharma Agent, could mean great devastation to the world? It's rare that reality has to kill somebody in self-defense, but Charlie is on dangerous ground here.

I'm interested to know what you guys think. The idea of an untrustworthy flashback disturbs me. I have a feeling that I'm actually going to have to read 'A Brief History of Time' now. Next week, Cindy the Stewardess is back! Have to say, more than a little surprised at that turn of events.

Love Me, Dammit!

And here's the beginning of what I like to call my desperate plea for attention. I don't actually have anything prepared just now, because it turns out that setting up a blog doesn't take nearly as long as I'd anticipated. I thought I'd be here all day...

In the meantime, I'll shamelessly self-promote:

My compatriots and I have merchandise for sale at:
www.sammyshirts.com
And you can download my recent stand-up performance at:
http://somethingtv.com/EJ/ej_standup_0128_2007.html

Please note, it won't work on dial-up, and it contains occasional swears.

I'll have more later, once I've adjusted to life in the blogosphere.