Thursday, January 31, 2008

LOST Returns to a Grateful Nation

I have a hard time blogging at end of the month due to my work schedule, but I have to assume we’re all very excited about tonight’s Lost premiere. Last night’s repeat of the Season Three finale whipped me into a frenzy, which I suppose was the intent.

However, those ‘onscreen facts’, as ABC called them, blew hard. I was expecting insights, but other than the anagram that we already figured out, and the fact that the surgeon in the flash-forward may be related to Bernard, there was nothing. A lot of recapping of the season, a few lame jokes, and an occasional incorrect statement. “Jack’s not much of a drinker.” Really? What was he doing when we met him? Oh, yeah. He was begging the stewardess for more alcohol! Sure, he’s not a drunk like his dad, but we’ve seen him drinking often enough that you can’t go the ‘not much of a drinker’ route.

I liked the character-specific montage ads they’ve been running, which mostly serve to remind me just how much I like these guys. I object to using “Crazy” as Locke’s theme music for his ad, but when you run all those clips together, he doesn’t really look the opposite of crazy. Between the blowing things up and the orange peel, you could certainly make a case. I’d fight you to the death, of course, but you could make a case.

My recap and analysis will be on spunkybean tomorrow, along with plenty of other piercing pop-culture commentary. The spiffy new site design should be live, too. There’s probably more to say, but my employer insists on me getting actual work done. Stupid job. If only I could get paid for blogging. Anybody want to sponsor me? I’ll wear your logo on my clothing at all times…

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Overthinking Chuck

--For those of you who don’t study my comments section, the Mighty Colleen is going to be hanging drywall with Salt n’ Pepa for the next couple of days. Let’s all hope that she does something camera-worthy so that she makes it on to their reality show. I recommend picking a fight with Salt. Pepa was on Oz, after all. She stood up to Schillinger – she’s totally metal.

--I meant to mention this earlier, but I didn’t think anybody would care. And then I remembered that this whole blog is stuff that nobody but me cares about. Last Thursday, NBC aired two episodes of Chuck, which is always a happy time. I tend to think that the two episodes were out of production order, and should have been shown earlier in the season.

First off, there’s no mention of the new Intersect and Casey’s impending orders to kill Chuck. In fact, it seems unlikely that they’d even bother relocating him if he’d already outlived his usefulness. It seems like a fairly major plot point like that would be referenced. Also, Anna doesn’t appear in either episode. She’s not a regular or anything, but the second episode spent a lot of time at the Buy-More, and with her increased profile in the previous episodes, you’d think she’d have a scene or two.

I have a feeling they were pulled from the order just to make sure that the Christmas episode closed out the first batch of episodes. (Not every show wants to be like House and air their Christmas episode a month late.) These two episodes were mostly stand-alone, so they would be fairly easy to hold off and run later. I think they were supposed to air right after Harry Tang’s departure, but before the Rachel Bilson episodes.

The only hitch is that Ellie and Captain Awesome got engaged in the second episode, and I don’t remember that being mentioned anywhere else. Of course, if it had been mentioned, I don’t necessarily think I would have noticed. It’s not like they had discussed not being engaged, so I would have just accepted it.

Anyway, this has no bearing on anything, but it’s the sort of thing I think about all the time.

--My DVR tells me that there’s no new Project Runway this week. Why is that? It’s maddening. They already took three weeks off for the holidays. Are they trying to get the finale to match up with the actual Bryant Park show? Is it possible that they started airing the season before they’d gotten down to the finals? Why must Rami wait all this extra time just to win?

--Actual conversation I had yesterday:
CO-WORKER: Dude, Monday night. Gladiators.
ME: Sweet.
It was only later that I realized that neither of us was joking. I am enjoying American Gladiators more than I can really justify. I can’t tell whether my standards have been lowered by the Writer’s Strike or not, but I’m watching it every week.

Also, Crush is totally my new TV girlfriend. There. I said it. Shut up.

Monday, January 28, 2008

They Don't Hate Women.... They Hate Everybody!

I’ve been a little uncomfortable with Nip/Tuck this season. It’s still the best sleazy fun on television, of course. Once you’ve got Eyebrows hooked on crystal meth, you’ve got my attention. (Eyebrows McNamara – worst meth dealer ever. Walter White – best meth dealer ever.)

Still, this season’s made me uneasy. At the best of times, they walk a very thin line. Nip/Tuck is often accused of misogyny, but it usually seems like it’s on the part of the characters, not the show itself. I’ve got no problem with characters who have unpleasant opinions or do awful things; I just don’t like when it seems like an editorial comment on the part of the show. To me, that’s the difference between South Park and Family Guy.

Entourage has to strike a similar balance. Clearly, the male characters all sort of hate women for one reason or another. As long as the joke is on the characters, everything’s fine. With the most recent season, women became the butt of the jokes and the series started reinforcing the characters’ attitudes, and then it just wasn’t funny anymore.

And Nip/Tuck really seemed like it was going to a bad place lately, especially with the casual cruelty in the treatment of Paula Marshall’s character. But last week, with the horrifying scene where Christian drops Gina off the balcony so he won’t be tempted to sleep with her, I finally got it. Yes, women are generally portrayed negatively on the series, but so are men. It’s not misogyny, it’s misanthropy! There are absolutely no positive characters on the show anymore. Even Sean, formerly the moral center, is a mean SOB on a good day and a statutory rapist on a bad day. In fact, I’d say the only character who has anything resembling a moral code is Liz. She’s as close to positive as we’re going to get.

I’m far more comfortable with that. I’ve got no problem at all with a dark view of all mankind. It’s entirely possible that something is wrong with me.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Insert Ironic Use of 'Bad' Here

--Heath Ledger. Damn.

I don’t really have a lot to say, but it feels like I should say something. It’s sad when somebody dies young like that, but sometimes you sort of feel like you could see it coming. It doesn’t make it less sad, but it feels almost inevitable. I’m obviously not going to mention names, because that’s just ghoulish. Regardless, he wasn’t one of those guys. He was a talented guy, and it’s just a tragedy.

(My favorite Heath Ledger movie: “The Brothers Grimm”. At least until “The Dark Knight” comes out.)

--Remember how I said AMC was the new HBO? If it pleases the court, I’d like to present Exhibit B, Breaking Bad.

Bryan Cranston plays Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who’s diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer just after his 50th birthday. Walter turns to selling crystal meth to give his family (including his pregnant wife and his teenage son with cerebral palsy) financial stability, and it’s fantastic.

Right off, people are going to compare it to Weeds. The tone is substantially different, though. Also, Bad provides the character with an acceptable and interesting motivation, which was my main problem with Weeds. I can’t sympathize with a character who’s jeopardizing her family by selling pot instead of getting a job, but I’m interested in a dying man who wants to provide for his family.

Cranston is terrific. I wasn’t a big fan of Malcolm in the Middle, but I always loved his performance. And we all remember him as Tim Watley, the dentist, on Seinfeld. So many of his sitcom performances have been funny, but with this real air of menace just beneath the surface. I think he’s really going to knock people out with his work here.

There are some bold choices here, beyond the obvious. I mean, Walter killed two people in the first episode. In self defense, but still… Breaking Bad isn’t going to try and convince us he’s a saint, which is another refreshing change from Weeds. And I’m not sure, but I can’t think of another primetime series that’s featured a character with cerebral palsy before. I don’t know if the actor actually suffers from it, or if it’s just a really good performance. Either way, they’re avoiding the easy road of making him a little angel who represents all that is positive. He’s not a bad kid, by any means, but he’s got a little bit of an obnoxious streak. It was interesting to see his interactions with his parents, which is rarely something I say about young people on TV.

I’ll have more in a couple of weeks, I’m sure. Sundays at 10 on AMC. You should be watching it. Trust AMC, folks.

Actually, I’m kind of wondering if this was originally pitched to HBO. Like Mad Men, the quality is right there with HBO’s Golden Era. But in this particular case, the first episode was sixty minutes without commercial interruptions, which is in line with HBO. I also noted a few censored f-bombs and some blurred-out breasts. It may well have been an artistic choice, and there’s really nothing else he could have said in the car wash. I just have to wonder if the intent was to sell it to HBO all along. If so, HBO blew it. Again. It’s what they do these days.

--I’ve got some “Cloverfield” talk over on spunkybean, and Don’s all up in the American Idol grill. Check it out and join the cool kids.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Gives with One Hand and Poos with the Other

On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see all the Oscar Love thrown to “Juno”, nominated in four major categories. Plus, favorites like the Coen Brothers and George Clooney did all right for themselves. I’m happy for them. I really am. And do you know why I can’t enjoy the nominations?

The “Animated Feature Film” category shut out “The Simpsons Movie” altogether!

Now, I can’t even go so far as to say that it should win the category. “Ratatouille” deserves to take it. But come on! Not even a nomination? Do you know what took their slot? Seriously? “Surf’s Up”. Yeah.

I’m too mad to talk about American Gladiators now. I’ll get back to you later.

I mean, absolutely the best of luck to Diablo Cody and everybody associated with “Juno”, but I need some time here. Freaking “Surf’s Up”? It’s not like I’m asking for an “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” nomination here. We’re talking about a universally well-reviewed movie. We’re talking a cultural phenomenon. Beat out by another entry in the “Hey, Penguins are Awesome” category. (I mean, they are awesome, but that’s beside the point.)

Stupid Academy.

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Million Dollars Can Buy a Lot of Knit Hats

--That was the most satisfying Amazing Race conclusion I’ve seen in a long time. I like when people who are sweet and funny and generally awesome get rewarded. TK and Rachel (Team Otto’s Jacket) ran the most mellow race I’ve ever seen. That’s not to say they didn’t try, but they were patient with each other, and they didn’t get blinded with bloodlust, like some people with butt-like chins that I could name. (The people, not the chins. I guess I could name the chin, if need be.) I think it’s adorable that they’re ‘recently dating’ and they still work together like that. Way to go, you crazy kids!

What I really like was how things turned out for everybody. Ron really did change over the Race, and I think maybe he and Cristina are going to have a much stronger relationship. Myndi was properly horrified that Ron said something about how, for the first time, he could mean it when he said he loved Cris. I don’t think he meant it quite as bad as it sounded, though. He’s a guy who says weird things. Remember ‘real truth flavor’? Remember when he talked about he was the kind of guy who’d tell you when you have boogers in your nose? I’d like to think that he meant that now he knew her as a person, and you always love your kids, but now he loves her as the person she is, rather than the general idea of a daughter. I may be cutting him too much slack, but I’d like to think that’s what he meant. Still, I feel like he really worked to shed the “A-hole Dad” label.

I’m fascinated with Don and Nick, and I think I would have been just as happy to see them win as I was Team Otto’s Jacket. If it weren’t for them leaving their supplies behind, I think it would have been close. Well, they weren’t the first team to misread a clue, and they won’t be the last. I really liked them, though. Congratulations to Don for being the oldest person to finish the race (Is it possible that Ron is the second oldest? I think he might be.), and also for being the only person calm enough to make small talk at the Roadblock. That, my friends, is comedy. TK and Ron are seriously sweating, and Don’s just keeping up the chatter. Those two are just nice people, and I liked watching them. (And I loved the montage at the beginning of Don referencing his past occupations that directly related to tasks on the Race.)

That final task was great, too. I like when they have the memory tasks at the end, and that one was insanely complicated. It almost would have been worth seeing Nate and Jen in the finals just for the epic meltdown. They would still be at the Roadblock right now.

All in all, a fun season. Some of the tasks weren’t exactly visually interesting, but at least they were new. I’ve seen people bungee jump and ride ziplines for eleven seasons now. Gutting a fish, that’s a nice change of pace. (Besides, Conan O’Brien has pretty well dominated the zipline game, now that he’s used one to save Abe Lincoln’s life.)

And who knew that the city of Anchorage had a Salmon Hooker? If you didn’t see it, it sounds like exactly what it is. A large mounted fish, dressed like a prostitute. And everybody in town knew where it was. They’re very proud of their Salmon Hooker.

--Reality shows made me happy this week. A satisfying Race finale, the elimination of Gene Simmons – what more could you ask for? (By the way, check out spunkybean for my Celebrity Apprentice recaps. They’re gigantic.) As for Project Runway, now that my early favorite, Steven, is gone, the only thing important is that Rami and Jillian make it to the finals. Actually, I’ve really been impressed by Chris for the last couple of challenges, too. I mean, I liked him initially, but his designs have been significantly better since his return and the unfortunate French hooker outfit. So few people on this show ever really learn how to edit their designs. The ones who go over the top are usually delightful people, but you spend the whole season knowing that they’re going to send something crazy down the runway. Nice job, Chris!

--I liked “Cloverfield” a whole lot, and I’ll review it later this week. Let me just say, I was delighted to see that Marmaduke from Carpoolers played Hud (The cameraman). In the early scenes, he was really channeling Marmaduke, too. “I’m documenting.” And while it’s not officially an adaptation of the Rampage arcade game, it’s not the opposite of a Rampage adaptation, either.

--Still looking for a Wire friend. I need to talk to somebody here. I’m pretty much horrified by McNulty’s fake serial killer, but the fact that Lester is involved really shocked me. My reaction was exactly the same as Bunk’s, come to think of it. We both thought Freamon was going to talk some sense into that fool. It’s not necessarily out of character for Lester, but it’s still surprising. In fact, Lester’s support suddenly makes me think it’s not the absolute wrong that I believed it to be. It’s easy to disagree with McNulty. Lester, not so much.

I’m worried about Omar, too. It’s pretty much a given that he’s going to meet a violent end, but I don’t want to see it happen. I got the feeling from his scene that he was out of the game and was living peacefully. Of course, it’s entirely possible that he would be back on the street as soon as the money ran out. In fact, it’s likely. But even if we accept that Omar’s crimes will catch up with him, it’s depressing to think that it would be because of Chris and Snoop. Omar robs from the dealers, but violence is limited to self-preservation or revenge. He leaves the taxpayers alone, though. If you’re not dealing drugs, Omar’s not going to hurt you or rob you. Chris and Snoop are legitimate psychopaths, and I hate to think Omar’s end will come at their hands.

--That’s all for today. I swear, I’m really going to get that Cashmere Mafia pilot reviewed.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The All-Pilot Project -- Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
FOX, Monday, 9 PM

THE PREMISE: It’s a spin-off of the “Terminator” films, only without James Cameron, cool liquid metal effects, or any of the stars. You like things that have characters who have the same names as characters in things that you like, right?

THE PERSONNEL: Lena Headey, of “300”, stars as Sarah Connor. Thomas Dekker plays John Connor. You may remember him from Season One of Heroes – he played Claire’s friend who was gay, and then not gay, and then gone. Lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, as I understand it. Also, Dean Winters (of Oz and 30 Rock) plays Sarah’s fiancĂ©e. Two points right there, bro. And some more points for having Sonya Walger in a small role. You know her as Penelope on Lost, and she was also on Tell Me You Love Me. Where she was naked.

THE REVIEW: Here’s the problem. The whole “Terminator” franchise hinges on time travel. So far, time travel has been handled in an aggressively stupid fashion. I’ve tried writing this a couple of times now, and I think I’ll save my nit-picking for the end.

The episode starts in a 1999 that looks an awful lot like 2007. (Also, I think this makes a total dog’s breakfast of the timeline established in the movies, but I could be wrong.) Sarah and John Connor keep on moving from town to town, staying one step ahead of the evil future robots. Sarah’s gotten a little too comfortable in their current hometown, shacking up with the Beeper King and everything.

Long story short, there’s a teenage girl who’s a benevolent Terminator, and she’s come to the past to bring John and Sarah to the year 2007. (You can see where this was supposed to be a fall series, as they really ladle on references to September of that year. I picture Homer Simpson gasping “That day’s like this day is”.) In the present, they’re supposed to put a stop to SkyNet. You know, like in the second and third movies.

There are cool action scenes, and Lena Headey rocks this world and two or three others. John Connor, however, is one of the most irritating characters in pop culture. He sucked in “T2”, he sucked in whatever the third one is called, and he sucks here. He’s a whiny brat, no matter how you slice it. Cameron, the good Terminator, is a little too, I don’t know, moist? Her quirkiness seems more like she’s actually an alien than a robot. Not all inexpressiveness is created equal, you know? I’m having a hard time explaining it because it’s this visceral thing.

The dialogue is not great, and the interaction between John and Cameron will have you longing for West’s sparkling repartee. (That’s right, I compared somebody unfavorably to Flying Boy. I’m shocked, too.) And of course, there’s this awful line: “You changed the future – you just didn’t change it enough!” That’s the kind of thing that makes me rethink my support of the Writer’s Guild.

Now come the time travel problems. I’m going to skip over the inherent paradoxes that cripple just about everything on the subject except for Bender’s Big Score. (If you exist to prevent somebody from altering history and erasing you, clearly your very existence is proof that he failed.) I’ll even ignore the basic flaw with this franchise in particular. (Hey, did they mention that only organic matter can travel through time? Yeah, they did. Well, except for those robots.) Even with all of that aside, there are several examples of boneheadedness at work here. First off, why does the Resistance keep moving their time-altering attempts farther into the future? According to Cameron, 2007 is when SkyNet goes active. Why cut it that close? Why wait until it’s all finished and then try to stop it? Killing the guy who came up with it right before it goes online isn’t helping anybody. Send somebody back to 1970 and kill him before he ever develops an interest in computers. That’s one. Number two: Why jump John Connor forward eight years? Why not just get the John Connor of 2007? He’s acclimated to the world of 2007, and he’s less likely to be a snotty punk. And even if you save John Connor the moment before his death, why not hole up in some other decade and spend some time training before you go for the big show? Finally, why doesn’t Future John Connor just go back and do it himself? We keep hearing about how great he is in the future – why doesn’t he just go back in time and take care of business? Dude keeps delegating to robots. Come on man, prove you’re as awesome as everybody says you are.

I know this is pretty pedantic, but it grates on me to no end. “Our best hope is my 15-year-old self.” “Or, how about this, you, at your peak, can go back there and accomplish what may be too much for you as a teenager.” “Shut up!”

THE VERDICT: I don’t know. It’s stupid, and the lack of logic is going to make me crazy, but stuff does blow up. In a world without a Writer’s Strike, this wouldn’t have a prayer. Still, I recorded the second episode. Haven’t watched it yet, but even after being irritated with the first one, I went to the effort to put it on the DVR. I can’t even tell what I like and what I don’t like anymore.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This Must Be How it Feels... When Doves Cry

--If you guys really want to be impressed, check my comments for some American Gladiators talk. My brother and sister both possess a freaky amount of knowledge about the original series. I mean, I feel like a larger portion of my brain than is strictly healthy is full of Gladiators factoids, but those two are nuts. It’s sort of like the way somebody who’s mildly interested in Lost must feel when they talk about it with me. (They remember individual Gladiator injuries!)

--So, those of you watching The Wire are hopefully very excited on my behalf. See, last night, Reporter Scott was writing a story about the Baltimore Orioles Opening Day, and he couldn’t find anybody to give a good interview. So, he made up a story about a kid in a wheelchair, and it was really hilarious and ludicrous. Best part is that he claimed the kid would only give him his nickname. That nickname? EJ! That’s right. I have never heard my name spoken on television before, so it was this really weird sensation.

I’m sure people with normal names hear them all the time, but there aren’t a lot of EJ’s out there. (By the way, that’s my actual name. It’s not like I’m trying to be all cool and mysterious.) Most people probably work through this when they’re four years old and the Romper Room Lady sees them in the Magic Mirror, but it’s all new to me. I think a certain Swear Jar reader who noticed a long shot of a box labeled ‘Haberkern’ in the Heroes season premiere might know how I feel.

In other Wire related thoughts, I am not even sure what to make of McNulty right now. There’s too far and then there’s too far. Making up a serial killer to get overtime is definitely too far. McNulty’s not coming back from this, and it makes me sad.

Seriously, does anybody want to be my Wire buddy? We can talk all the time, and we’ll laugh at each other’s references, and it’ll be great.

--My new Celebrity Apprentice recap is up over at spunkybean. I think you should read it because it’s funny. And I’m not really a fan of my work, so that’s saying something. By the way, we’ve made it easier to post comments over at the ‘bean, so let’s hear some chatter!

--I can’t believe I have mentioned “Cloverfield” yet. I’m pretty much JJ Abrams’ , so it’s pretty much a given that I’m excited. I’m avoiding all news and discussion about it, because I want to go in fresh. I really like the premise and the style of the trailers, and I will probably obsess unduly over finding connections between the movie and Lost or Alias. (By the way, Lost and Alias exist in the same universe – at a party in Season Four of Alias, Sydney had Driveshaft’s album on the stereo. Awesome, right?) This weekend shall be the weekend of “Cloverfield”, friends.

Also this weekend, my local theater is showing “Wristcutters: A Love Story”. I have been geeked about this for a year. I understand it involves a cult of suicide victims, but that’s really sort of secondary. Get this: Tom Waits plays the cult leader and Swear Jar Hall of Famer Will Arnett plays the Messiah. Can you even imagine how much I am freaking out right now? Think about your favorite move for a moment. Now, imagine how much that movie would be improved by the addition of Tom Waits and Will Arnett to the cast. I think you’ll agree that your favorite movie would be improved immeasurably.

--Yes, that’s two straight days of short bits. Don’t judge me.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Eye! I'm Not Supposed to Get Pudding in It!

--Anybody want to give me a high five on the elimination of Nate and Jen on last night’s Amazing Race? And on her birthday! Awesome!

I will miss the way that Jen took it as a personal affront whenever any team was better than they were. I mean, they were the first team in Race history to ask another team to let them come in first. What kind of crazy is that?

I’m not a big fan of Roadblocks where the Racer basically sits there while someone else does all the work, but at least their reactions were funny. (Ron actually made me laugh! What’s wrong with me?) Also funny was the ‘walking on stones’ challenge. It wasn’t the most exciting challenge, but watching TK bound across the rocks was just great. He’s part mountain goat, I tell you.

I really do think Ron is trying to change – he’s definitely putting forth more effort. I give him credit for that. I actually won’t be upset if any of the teams win this time out, unless Ron has some kind of meltdown and reverts back to his original personality. I’m not sure if the current pleasantness of all three teams will make the finale satisfying or boring. If history is any indication, I’ll end up yelling at the TV for the last fifteen minutes no matter what happens.

--For the most part, there’s just not enough ‘meh’ in the world for how I felt about the Golden Globes this year. Too many ridiculous omissions, love affairs with stuff that I just don’t get, I just wasn’t feeling it. And then, of course, the ceremony was cancelled. Still, a couple of awards made me happy: Mad Men for Best Drama, with Jon Hamm also winning Best Actor. Tina Fey won Best Actress in a Comedy, and Extras won Best Comedy. Of course, The Office wasn’t even nominated, so it’s a hollow victory. Still, congratulations to the people I like for winning shiny trophies.

--Speaking of Extras, the complete series is out on DVD this week. The two season sets have been out for a while, but this new release will also contain the Christmas Special finale from last month. I thought the first season was pretty good, but the second was phenomenal. I’m eager to go back and see if maybe the first season is better than I remembered. And of course, I can’t wait to see how the series ends. Gordon Ramsay apparently appears on the finale, so you can imagine my excitement there.

--For those of you who are mad at me for never writing about American Idol, you should start reading spunkybean religiously. Mysterious Don will be posting his awesome write-ups, and you will want to read those.

--Yes, I know I have to review the Cashmere Mafia pilot. It’s waiting for me, exuding estrogen and mocking me. I feel like this could be the one that breaks me.

--That’s all for today. Work is busy and my eyeball hurts. I can’t determine why my eye should hurt, since nobody’s poked it lately. Did I look at something too hard and pull a muscle? I don’t know, and it worries me.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ready to Have Your Mind Blown?

So there I was, Googling around, trying to find places where I am mentioned. (As it turns out, this is pretty much the only place.) Anyway, I ended up on Amazon, where I found this incredibly early solicitation:

Flight of the Conchords 2009 Calendar

And it's available for pre-order right now! In January!

Great calendar, or the greatest calendar?

In similarly giddy merchandising news, I have spent most of the day playing "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law" on the PlayStation 2. I'll do a review later, but since the series was animated in Flash, the game looks exactly like the show. The only disappointment is that Stephen Colbert didn't return to voice Reductor and Phil Ken Sebben. The rest of the cast is there, though.

What more do you want from me on a Saturday?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Big 300th Post! Eat it, Everybody Else!

--That’s right, this is my 300th post! I’m the Dave Sim of blogging! Sure, I went crazy earlier, and to a lesser extent, but it’s an apt comparison. Now, I’d like to talk to you about the Female Void… (Sponsored by the Department of Jokes that Only EJ Finds Funny)

--You know the best thing about spunkybean? Besides how it helps me score, that is. It’s when somebody writes something that I couldn’t have come up with in a million years. You should read the analysis of men’s facial hair in popular culture.

--Just some quick thoughts on the Season Premiere of The Wire.

Man, McNulty’s not only drinking again, he’s a freaking drunk. Again. And sending him back to Homicide is only going to make it worse. That’s a guy who excels at ruining his life, and it’s hard not to feel like he deserves it. Stupid McNulty – you were happy! You were sober and happy, and you blew it! Of course, the cell phone bit was really funny, so there’s that.

I didn’t notice Bunny or Prez in the opening credits – I hope they still appear this season. Surprisingly, that’s all I have to say on the topic.

They’re kind of bringing Season Two back this year. For a long time, Season Two’s storyline has been kind of forgotten. The dockworkers didn’t really fit into the overall thematic scope of the series, and the characters introduced that season have mostly disappeared. (Other than Brother Mouzone, but he was a part of the ongoing Barksdale story and uninvolved with the docks.) But with this season, the cops who aren’t getting paid are a pretty clear parallel to the stevedores. (Oh man, is McNulty going to turn out to be the Western District’s Ziggy? I can’t handle that!) Plus, we have the return of Boris, whose actual name I can’t recall just now. I can’t figure out why he’d be of any interest to Marlo. This is puzzling me, and I’m sure I’m overthinking it.

I like the media angle this season. The press has always been sort of an unseen force in the series, influencing the politicians and the bosses. Rawls and Burrell never make a move without considering how to spin it for the press, and Carcetti’s been alternately fighting and exploiting the media. Still, other than the guy who sat on Hamsterdam in Season Three, there haven’t really been any characters who are actually members of the press. And once again, as with all institutions on The Wire, the newspaper business is in a potentially unsalvageable state of disrepair.

Who’s up for another season of insurmountable social problems and bleak reality?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The All-Pilot Project -- American Gladiators

American Gladiators
NBC, Monday, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: Seriously? Dude, it’s American Gladiators. You know the premise!

THE PERSONNEL: The new hosts are the utterly humorless Hulk Hogan and Laila Ali. All the Gladiators and play-by-play guys are new. I miss Larry Czonka. By the way, my sister is sort of an expert on the original American Gladiators, so I’m hoping that she’ll have something to say on this topic.

THE REVIEW: You know, it doesn’t matter how old you get or how refined your tastes become. There’s always going to be something satisfying about two people hitting one another. And I don’t mean like boxing, where people get badly injured and visually, it’s mostly two guys standing there and punching. No, this is the kind of televised violence where they have appropriate padding and safety measures and everybody is swinging on rings and hitting each other with paddles and getting tossed off of big foam pyramids and SWIMMING UNDERNEATH FIRE.

There’s a single-minded sense of spectacle to American Gladiators that’s really entertaining. Pitting (theoretically) regular people against behemoths in order to win prizes – what’s not to like? Well, now that you mention it…

With the first episode, the crowd reaction and excitement seems too manufactured. It’s the first episode – fans can’t possibly have a favorite Gladiator. Nobody made signs at home proclaiming their love of Wolf or Toa. I realize it’s a big studio and the whole spectacle is a key part of the process, but wait a couple of weeks. An audience full of people cheering when somebody gets tossed off a wall is effective enough without handmade signs. (I picture Kenneth from 30 Rock having to make all those signs himself and then pass them out to the crowd. Dear Tina Fey: Can I come work on your show now?) The announcers are playing along too, referring to “signature moves” and such.

I’m not thrilled with the banter and the catchphrases. The male Gladiators especially all have to do their trash talk, and they’ve all got their little acts they have to do. Wolf, you’re a freaking giant with crazy hair and lunatic eyes. You don’t need to howl before every event to seem scary. The Gladiators of old (American Gladiators of old, that is. Not actual gladiators.) seemed more like friendly giants. Sure, they’d try to flatten you in the Gauntlet, but after all was said and done, they’d be more than happy to give you a ride or lift something heavy for you. The new Gladiators seem more like thugs. I realize that’s all packaging, but I find it kind of tiresome.

Still, it’s dumb fun. It’s certainly watchable, and would probably be a heck of a lot of fun to watch in a group. I’m planning on watching it back-to-back with The Wire for the season, so I can sort of cleanse my palette. After watching stupid McNulty ruin his life yet again, I need big people hitting each other so I can unwind.

THE VERDICT: Pointless but fun. I’ve promised my sister I’ll write about it on a regular basis, so I’ll have more to say later. Plus, it’s a show that I can watch while I’m busy writing about other shows. Sometimes you just need to see dudes hitting each other with sticks.

And just to amuse everybody, up until this year, my sister believed that character actor Bill Nunn was one of the original Gladiators. You know, Pip from The Job? Robbie Robertson from “Spider-Man”? That guy! Wrap your mind ‘round that one, folks!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

My Muggles Confusion

I went to the grocery store the other day, and I saw a car with a vanity plate that read “MUGGLES”. My first thought was: “Oh. A Harry Potter license plate. Nerds.” My second thought was “Oh! The dog from Heroes! That license plate is AWESOME!”

My geekiness is incredibly particular, and to the untrained eye, largely arbitrary.

The All-Pilot Project -- Dance War

Dance War
ABC, Monday, 8 PM

THE PREMISE: It’s sort of like American Idol meets Battlebots. Actually, that would be a much better show. Hand-picked singing and dancing troupes compete, and somebody gets sent home and maybe the viewers choose? One would think the set-up could have been adequately explained in two hours.

THE PERSONNEL: Hey, it’s Bruno and Carrie-Ann from Dancing with the Stars. They’re the ones picking their dance troupes, and it’s said that “Their friendship is on the line”. Really? That seems like a good excuse not to do the show, you know? (Also, we found out that Carrie-Ann used to be a Japanese pop star. Try and take that in.) The host is DwtS Season Two Winner, Drew Lachey. He’s a mite cheesy, but he’s a likeable guy.

THE REVIEW: Right off, I’ll say that this would have benefited from a one-hour premiere. Two hours is just a little too long, especially when it’s taken up with audition rounds and a whole lot of footage of people we will a) never see again, or b) not recognize when we do see them. I’m not interested in watching people audition anyway, and I’m really not interested in watching fifteen people do their own individual freestyle at a time.

As for the singing auditions, well, here’s the thing. I honestly can’t tell the difference between the people Bruno and Carrie-Ann love and the ones who are subject to mockery. The whole vocal style they’re looking for is not one that’s pleasing to my ears – a lot of runs and glory notes and every syllable has seven different notes. I can’t really tell the difference between good singing and bad when it’s in a style that I hate. And that’s what really keeps me from enjoying American Idol, if I may go on a tangent. The thing is, there’s not a single album I love that’s recorded by somebody who wouldn’t have been laughed off the stage in the first round of auditions. And I’m not a music snob or anything. I don’t really care what music anybody likes, and I don’t care if they don’t like what I do. But Tom Waits wouldn’t have made the cut. Elvis Costello would have made it to the Hollywood round, where he’d be told to lose the glasses and get that sneer out of his voice. I just think that there are a lot of unique voices being silenced because of the homogenization factor. And I don’t think American Idol is evil or anything. Kelly Clarkson is always going to sell more albums than Leonard Cohen. To me, it’s that audition round where anybody who doesn’t fit the ‘potential superstar’ mold is ridiculed that ruins the whole thing. Young Tom Waits must have known he was never going to top the charts, but I can’t help but feel if that Young Tom had been humiliated on national television by people with a very binary view of music in which “marketable” equals “talent” and “weird” equals “untalented”, he’d have grown up to be a plumber and the world would not have “Frank’s Wild Years”. No offense to Mysterious Don, whose American Idol write-ups are awesome, and make me wish I was capable of enjoying the show. Also, this has almost nothing to do with Dance War.

I’m a little confused by what they’re looking for, as some of the dancers they like best are simply doing cartwheels, or are just really good-looking and walk across the stage. I sort of like the way they’ll each be grooming their troupe, though. (They haven’t even picked teams, but I already know I’m rooting for Bruno’s team.) I think future episodes should be more entertaining, once we get mildly familiar with the people we’re going to see for the next six weeks. A two hour episode made up of auditions and selection footage is just too much.

THE VERDICT: Ordinarily, I’d pass. It’s Monday – I should be watching Heroes, How I Met Your Mother, Chuck, and 24. Given the reality of the situation, however, I might as well keep watching. Man, that’s a ringing endorsement.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Soccer Robots!

--If you’re like me, you were a wreck at the end of Amazing Race. Team Otto’s Jacket dropped out of the episode entirely, and I would have bet a finger that this was an elimination leg. They always have a non-elimination leg when they’re down to the final three! They even got the “Talk about your feelings” edit in the last few minutes, so I was prepared to be devastated when they hit the mat. Way to keep me on an emotional roller coaster, Phil!

Also, if you pass up the chance to play robot soccer while in Japan, I think something is actually wrong with you. “Hey, there’s a detour. We can either make robots play soccer…” “That’s the one!” “But the other option is to eat a hamburger. And we can eat it in the cab on the way to the Pit Stop!” “Robot Soccer!” This is just fair warning to any of my future Race partners. I also can’t drive a stick shift and don’t have any beneficial skills. Basically, I’m Flo from Season Three. (I know that she and Zach actually won, but current rules require each partner to do half of the Roadblocks – Flo did none at all.)

--I really enjoyed David Letterman and Conan O’Brien last week. Dave had his writers back, but he still had this uncharacteristic spastic, nervous energy. Plus, he’s good and angry. I think he’s done a really good job of explaining it to the average viewer, who probably hasn’t lost sleep over the Writer’s Strike and just wonders why he hasn’t seen The Office in a while. Whether he’ll admit it or not, Letterman is the new Johnny Carson. All the other hosts are going to follow his lead, and he’s going to be their mouthpiece.

Conan without writers has been just plain lunatic fun. Hassling NBC’s pages, climbing the catwalk, disrupting a game of “Rock Band”, he’s some kind of comedy machine. I mean, he sang “Sabotage” as Edith Bunker! That’s what I call entertainment, you know? He’s much more a natural performer than the other late night hosts (except for maybe Stephen Colbert), so this is really showing his strengths.

Really nervous about Stewart and Colbert tonight. I don’t know how they’re going to pull it off, especially since there’s a question as to whether or not Colbert is allowed to perform in character. As a Guild Member, he can’t generate new material for a character. And since the show hinges on the difference between Stephen Colbert and “Stephen Colbert”, he is considered a character. Still, he figured out a way to get around federal election law and have Doritos fund his campaign. If anybody can figure it out, it’s Stephen.

And I’m irritated with Jay Leno for not growing a Strike Beard. Dude, just because you’re a lame duck host doesn’t mean you can’t make a stand.

--Have you been checking out spunkybean? I have a (long) piece on Celebrity Apprentice. It’s really long. Seriously, you might have to call in sick tomorrow to get through this thing. There’s a lot of great stuff on there right now, and we just brought on some swell new writers who are much more well-rounded than I and talk about things like music. (My two CD purchases last year – Swear Jar Buddy Sam’s CD (not technically a purchase, since he gave it to me) and the Flight of the Conchords EP.) Don and Myndi have some truly bizarre pieces showing up this week which will tickle and delight you, so it’s clearly time to hop on the bandwagon. Remember our motto: “spunkybean – Now with 50% fewer fully nude banner ads!”

--I didn’t get to watch The Wire last night, so I’ll have more to say tomorrow. I did, however, squeal girlishly when I saw that Clark Johnson joined the cast. I actually thought he’d given up acting for directing, so it’s quite a surprise. You know how I love to see my Homicide buddies onscreen. And Johnson’s Meldrake Lewis has the first and last lines in the entire series, so he’s especially close to my heart.

The thing is, I know The Wire can’t end well. As long as there are drugs and failing schools and institutional racism, there won’t be a happy ending. I just want some of my guys to go away happy. The “McNulty is drinking again” ads make it pretty clear that he’s managed to blow the nice little life he had last season. And even getting what you want on The Wire doesn’t mean that you’re happy. In fact, as Carcetti’s arc illustrated last season, winning a victory just takes you to an even more futile battle.

I have this theory that Bubbles and McNulty are living parallel lives. I think their battles with addiction rise and fall in concert with one another with McNulty representing somebody who was lucky enough to be born on the right side of the tracks, where his addiction (alcoholism) is inhibiting but not crippling. Bubbles, on the other hand, ended up on the wrong side, where even getting completely clean means he’s still homeless. I think that’s the significance of the repeated image of the train tracks, but it’s usually McNulty and Bunk by the tracks, not Bubbles. This is a fairly new theory, so I may be forgetting something. Last season they were both on the upswing, right up until Bubbles attempted suicide. I think they’re both going to hit bottom this year, but I’m hoping not. I’m also quite certain that Omar won’t make it to the end. Realistically, as a man who takes insane risks on a daily basis, he can’t live forever. More importantly, though, Wire creator David Simon is well aware (per Bunk and Omar’s Season Three conversation) that Omar could be seen to glamorize a certain lifestyle, and I can’t believe he wouldn’t carry it through to its logical conclusion.

I’ll probably be talking about this season a lot, because it’s the best show on television and none of my friends watch it. I think it should be one of the key things I look for in a relationship. “Can you identify Stringer Bell and explain his significance? If not, well, good luck in your future endeavors.”

Friday, January 4, 2008

Actually, the head injury explains a lot...

Now, ordinarily I’d be all over Celebrity Apprentice by now, but I’m writing a recap for spunkybean, so you can look forward to that next week. That’s right, you should be looking forward to it. Anticipate!

We’re now headed into Project Runway talk. There are spoilers, so my sister should stop reading now. (By the way, we watched the season to date over Christmas, so I’m sad all over again about the loss of Steven.)

Those models don’t have to do much this year, do they? In other seasons, there’d be maybe one episode with substitute models, and this season’s had two in six weeks. That would have to suck to get cut after a week in which you weren’t even on the show. Yeah, that’s right – I just found myself feeling sorry for models. Poor things. It must be awful to never pay for your own drinks…

I’m always amazed at the challenges they come up with for this show. I don’t even understand the ability to go into a Hershey’s store and say “Yes, I can make clothing out of this stuff”. That’s just freaky. That’s like the ability to breathe underwater or the ability to meet women. I can’t even fathom it! Does it exist outside of cartoons? I am sort of surprised that nobody made a dress out of stuffed bears – there seemed to be a lot of them in the store. Chris had to go and start exercising judgment this week… (And the funniest bit of the whole lead-in was Kit’s horror that Tim Gunn saw her in her pajamas.)

Hey, Project Runway, no fair trying to make me feel bad for Elise. I’m already committed to my opinion, and I’m not changing it just because she spent five days in a coma. And I may be a bad person for saying this, but I don’t totally believe her story. Elise is what we call a theater girl. Theater girls plan their quirkiness very carefully, so as to make sure they draw the maximum amount of attention. Also, they lie. Sometimes they embellish to add dramatic impact, sometimes they omit facts to cast a more favorable light on themselves, and sometimes they just flat out make things up. And if you can’t believe somebody would make up a story about being hit by a car and spending five days in a coma, buddy, you don’t know theater girls. I’m not saying she’d definitely lying, I’m saying my reaction is one of skepticism. If I had to put money on it, I’d say that ‘mild concussion’ is more correct than ‘five-day coma’.

And just what’s up with her describing her outfit as, alternately, ‘sexy’, ‘macabre’, and ‘something my little daughter would love’? Is her daughter Vampirella?

Is it just me, or is Rami the most drama-free contestant this show has ever seen? You don’t really see him much during the challenges, and he doesn’t show up in the sound bites very often, but he’s one two of the four individual challenges and was on the winning team for one of the group challenges. He’s never been within sniffing distance of the bottom, and his designs have been really nice and often quite intricate. I feel like he’s going to win this thing without breaking a sweat.

I admired Jillene’s moxie in making a dress out of Twizzlers. (Is that how you spell her name? I feel like it’s appeared on screen with multiple spellings. Her name will probably be ‘Kynt’ by the time all is said and done.) It really did work out well, but clearly she was on the edge of disaster. I’m guessing that dress lasted another thirty seconds after Heidi told her she was safe. I loved that Chris spoke with great authority as to how difficult it is to make a dress out of food. Honestly, if you had to guess which designer had attempted that previously, I think everybody would call that one. (In all fairness, Chris’ dress was really nice this time around. He’s capable of good work when he gets out of costume mode. Plus, he’s funny. That gets you a long way with me.)

And what a satisfying elimination. I’m glad to see Elise didn’t skate through to the finals on the kook factor. I should have known the Project Runway producers wouldn’t bone us thusly. It’s not like I wish her harm or anything, but she’s really not a very good designer. Add in the annoying factor, and she’s not somebody who needs to be on my TV.

And now for a phrase that rarely comes up in a discussion of Project Runway: Remember, The Wire starts on Sunday! So excited, even though it will depress me every week. I’m complicated like that.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Real Truth Flavor

Let’s talk Amazing Race, shall we? That’s probably a better move than talking about David Letterman’s beard. That beard was, let’s face it, terrifying. It places a solid second place in the Crazy Guy Beard Sweepstakes, taking the silver from Nathan Petrelli’s Season Two beard, and knocking Future Jack’s Lost beard down to fourth. Still uncontested is Alias’ Jack Bristow with his Season Three premiere beard. That beard contained all other Crazy Guy Beards, even those that hadn’t yet been grown.

I think we were all happy to see Kent and Vixen go. (No, I’m still not going to dignify their fake spellings.) As noted, I do like Vixen, but Kent was just too much to take. I am not entirely convinced that he wasn’t actually Andy Dick – they had the exact same voice. Something’s going on there, people. Their relationship was just so weird. They didn’t really seem that comfortable with one another, and there’s that other thing… You know, I don’t think I could say it better than Master Billy Quizboy in A Very Venture Christmas: “One: You’re totally gay. Two: She’s hot and you’re an albino. Three: You’re totally gay.” Also, if you’re dumb enough to not U-Turn the team that you know is behind you in favor of a team that might actually be past the U-Turn, you deserve elimination.

Right now I like two of the teams a whole lot. TK and Rachel (AKA Team Otto’s Jacket) are just adorable. They’re just so sweet to each other and good-natured. I certainly wouldn’t have guessed they’d make it to the final four, as she’s the size of an action figure, and he’s not exactly a spitfire, but they’ve been rocking most of the tasks. And when they screw up, they cooperate and stay focused and then they get back on track without ever once screaming at one another. It’s as if they like each other, or something crazy like that.

Then there’s my other favorite team, Don and Nick. They coasted by on good will for a while, because grandfathers are awesome. Borderline crazy grandfathers who get down to their skivvies to pole vault are even more awesome. Other than that, they hadn’t really impressed me, but in recent weeks, they’ve gotten more likeable. Grandson Nick has actually done some roadblocks, and I like the way they work together. They’re really calm and supportive, even if they’re not gushing with warmth. My theory is, like most people, Nick has a fun grandfather and a crusty grandfather. Don, clearly, is the crusty grandfather. And let’s face it, to go on the Race with crusty grandfather indicates a pretty close relationship. But being crusty, he’s got a limited emotional palette with which to express that relationship. He killed fiddy men, dammit! In my mind, Don takes Nick to all these old people places like diners at 4 PM and the Elks Lodge, and they don’t talk much, but they’re really happy. (I’ve put a lot of thought into imaging the lives of people I will never meet.)

I’m ambivalent towards Ron and Cristina. Still can’t stand him, still like her. At this point, I still don’t have a feel for her, but she seems pleasant. Still, when your most notable trait is ‘long-suffering’, it indicates you might be a tad boring. I’d hate to see them win, because in Ron’s mind, it would validate so many things about himself, and it would turn into a moral victory. Of course, he did give us the line “I’m optimistic with the real truth flavor”, so he can’t be all bad. Plus, you know, it’s not like he smacks his daughter around or anything. Emotionally, maybe. And I guess he really sort of smacks the universe around emotionally. Did you know Ronald Hsu knows how to do everything better than you? Seriously, ask yourself “What Would Ronald Hsu Do” before you make another move.

And that brings us to Nate and Butt-Chin. (Ever since Myndi christened her thusly, I can’t think of her in any other way.) These two just make me so tense. You know how when you’re friends with a couple who are having relationship problems and whenever you see them together it’s so strained and stressful that your sphincter clenches up hard enough to snap a pencil? (If one were in there, which is not recommended.) That’s what watching them is like, only I’m not friends with either of them. I feel like they can’t possibly have other friends because nobody wants to be around the two of them as a couple. And when you’re with them one-on-one, they just complain about the other one, and maybe Butt-Chin takes a break once in a while to talk about how she used to be a Clippers dancer. Even worse, the possibility that they might win really bothers me. Sometimes you get a good villain, like Team Guido, or Evil Dr. Will, or Santino. You root against them, but you’re sort of OK with the possibility of them winning. They work hard at being sneaky and evil, but they can also take their lumps if need be. Nobody laughed harder than the Guidos did when they turned out to be about 6000 miles behind at the end of the Race. And hey, sometimes the bad guy needs to win. It was satisfying when Evil Dr. Will won Big Brother 2.

Sadly, Nate and Butt-Chin aren’t villains so much as tools. It would be upsetting if they won, because they’re just unpleasant. Like the Weavers or Mirna (Charla was actually pretty cool) or Ivette. They’re just lame and unlikable and exhausting. I’d rather see the bad guy win than a couple of tooly tools. Of course, even if they win, they’re stuck with each other. They clearly hate each other, but they stayed together despite Nate cheating. These are two people who are holding on to one another just to inflict as much misery as possible.

Project Runway discussion tomorrow, where I can put it in its own post so my sister can avoid spoilers. See you there!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year, Same Old Blog

Welcome to the Brave New World of 2008! I’m approaching this year with guarded optimism. Let’s face it, I managed to make a dog’s breakfast of 2007, so having a new number on the calendar fills me with a sense of renewal. In general, I find that even-numbered years work out better for me. And this isn’t a numerology thing or astrology, or anything like that. It’s just that the hard times come in odd-numbered years – having to look for work because my employer went out of business. Yes, it’s happened more than once, and it’s always in an odd-numbered year. Would I get dumped during Dancing with the Stars in an even-numbered year? Hasn’t happened yet, that’s for sure. Plus, you know, there’s a new Batman movie in 2008.

2007 was the first year in which I actually made money at both writing and stand-up comedy. Not a lot of money, mind you. Especially when you factor in the sheer number of hours I spent on both pursuits this year. On that scale, sweatshop kids did slightly better than me. Still, it’s really gratifying to actually make money off of doing things that I did only because I enjoy them. It’s long been my dream to be able to support myself creatively, and even if that’s off the table, I feel like this is the first time I’ve actually made progress.

This year, I hope to increase readership without resorting to cheap Google-bait. Sure, it’s all well and good to use out –of-context phrases like “Michelle Ryan Naked” or “Dancing with the Stars Orgy” or “Spider-Man 4 Spoilers”, but that’s not the kind of thing we do here. Let’s keep it classy, people. I’d also really like to score an interview for spunkybean. Everybody else on that site knows things about marketing and has contacts, and I’m pretty much just bringing boner jokes to the table. It’s starting to get embarrassing at the staff meetings.

Beyond that, it’s another year of trying to make everybody proud of me. Given that the only things I have to write about in the coming weeks will be Celebrity Apprentice and American Gladiators, that may not be an easy task.

I hope everybody out there had a Happy New Year, and shares my desire to make 2008 kick ass while the flaming wreck of 2007 looks on.