November 28, 2005

Your gain

Tonight was the "fall finale" of Prison Break, imho the best new show on television, where we learned, among various plot points, that there won't be new episodes until March.


Now that that's out of my system, I should observe that my pain might just be your gain. If you haven't watched this show, or if you've watched it but not regularly, my guess is that they'll run the entire fall sequence from Jan to March, to give all you come-latelies a chance to catch up.

Anyhow, PB is a mix of 24, X-Files, and even Lost to a degree. Here's the story. Michael Scofield is an architect/engineer whose brother (Lincoln Burrows) is framed for the murder of the Vice President's brother. But Michael is the person who designed the prison that Lincoln is sent to, and so he fakes a bank robbery and gets himself sent to the same prison, with the idea that he will break them both out before Lincoln can be executed. And in the meantime, Veronica Donovan, an ex of Lincoln's, is trying to figure out what happened from the outside, trying to uncover the plot. There are three main plotlines at play: Veronica's efforts, which are hindered by some mysterious gov-types; Michael's plan for the break, which he converts to mnemonics that are tattooed all over his body; and the prison network, where Michael's plan must be executed.

One of the really fascinating things to me is the interplay between the intricacy and order of Michael's plan, with the messiness of the prison population. Michael has to balance various alliances to get the equipment and assistance he needs to execute the plan, all without getting himself killed in the process. It reminds me of 24 in terms of its heavily developed plot arcs, X-Files for the shadowy gov't conspiracy elements, and Lost for its large ensemble cast and sometimes clashing characters. Trust me when I say that it's worth a look.

That is all.

January 11, 2006

Positively Wonderfalls

So my question is this: if the gift is purchased via consultation with one's Amazon Wishlist, then what's the proper distribution of giftly credit? Granted, I didn't actually buy this for myself, but I'd like to imagine that I deserve some credit for having selected it in the first place...

The next highlight in my 1st ever Blog Parade of Holiday Engiftiture is the DVD boxed set for the series Wonderfalls (IMDB). You might rightly ask "Hunnnh?!" for this series lasted all of four episodes, and while I have a vague recollection of hearing a little critical buzz about it, I never personally saw an episode myself the first time around, and I'm betting most of you didn't either.

That, however, was a mistake. Think Joan of Arcadia, but instead of God inhabiting the bodies of extras to prod Joan, it's a series of stuffed, mounted, and/or cartoon animals that offer rather oblique advice to the lead character Jaye, and a great deal of mileage comes from questions of whether it's God, Satan, or her own psychoses speaking to her through these animals. The show takes place in Niagara Falls, and Jaye is a disaffected 24-year old with a philosophy degree from Brown who works retail (in a kitsch store) and lives in a trailer.

The show is really, really quirky, and I mean that in the best of all possible ways. It's both easy and unfortunate to see why the show itself was unsuccessful in its brief run on FOX, but that shouldn't stop you from queueing it up through Netflix or taking a gamble on it the way I did. I've been watching an episode or two a night (the set has 13 episodes), and have been thinking about spreading them out a little more so that it's not over too soon. It's that good. The episodes themselves are almost Seinfeldian in their plot structure and the way seemingly unrelated events and/or characters come together. In all, it's made me conscious of how difficult it is to sustain good programming on television--if a show isn't picked up by the viewing public pretty quickly and heavily, it doesn't stand much of a chance.

Oh, and the theme song is written and sung by Andy Partridge of XTC fame, which is either a good or a bad thing. Good for me.

That is all.

January 18, 2006

Love Monkey

I should start by saying that, to an extent, I drank the KoolAid when it came to this show. All day long, although I'd forgotten the specific reason, it occurred to me that there was something on tv tonight that I'd planned to watch. And when I got home tonight, and scanned the guide, it hit me. I thought I'd give Love Monkey a go. I must admit to being underwhelmed, enough so that I will review the show almost entirely in the form of lists:

    5 opening lines to imaginary reviews of Love Monkey
  1. It's hard to believe that, at one time, Tom Cavanagh did John Stewart better than John himself.
  2. At last we have the answer to the question of what would result if High Fidelity and Jerry Maguire married and had a child: Love Monkey.
  3. Love Monkey wants you to believe that it's a mix tape, but in the end it's more like Now That's What I Call Hipster!
  4. Love may be a marathon, but Love Monkey was more like a sprint, as they gave away more plot points in the final five minutes of the pilot than most shows do in a season.
  5. Jason Priestley fans who have been wondering what he's been up to lately now have a reason to watch television again.
    5 characters from Love Monkey that I'm pretty sure I've seen before
  1. Agent with the heart of gold (and apparently, as several characters attested to, a "golden ear") who's in it for the "right reasons" (Cavanagh)
  2. Gal pal who secretly pines for our hero (Judy Greer)
  3. Married guy pal who repeatedly tries to win admission from single buddies that it's okay for him to be married (Priestley)
  4. Ex-jock guy pal who pretends to play the ladies, but is secretly gay (Christopher Wiehl)
  5. Slimy ex-boss whose only interest is the bottom line (Eric Bogosian)

Okay, those are the only lists I could come up with, but I think you get the idea. If there's nothing else on, I might give it another try, but by and large, I can't imagine that it'll last too long. Here's a bad sign: the show opens by contrasting the "perfect day" that he "tells his parents about" with his actual days. Problem is, he's supposed to be in his mid-30s, and this conceit works better with someone in their early 20s who's trying to make it. The show feels like it's written by 30- or 40-somethings trying to imagine what it would be like to be in their 20s again. The disjunct isn't all that jarring, but it was off enough to be offputting for me.

Oh, and #4 in the first list was really weird. They did this closing montage where they literally gave away plot points left and right, all stuff that the main character himself apparently doesn't know. It's the kind of thing that you put into a pilot for the network execs, but you take it out if you expect your show to last more than 6 episodes. At least, that what I would think. Otherwise, you're undercutting your point-of-view character as everyone around him knows more than he does. It's a losing strategy.

But hey, that's just me. I hoped for more.

February 17, 2006


It's always difficult for me to come off a few days/entries in a row where I feel as though I've "gotten serious." Does it somehow take some of the starch out of my collar to then post something frivolous? Should I try and gradually work back in by taking the serious down a notch each day until I'm back into my regular range? Do I just break the ice of seriousness with a big ol' goofhammer? I'm opting for goofhammering today.

So here are two utterly frivolous observation/comments:

Is it totally mean of me to suggest that perhaps Lindsay Jacobellis should have waited until after the race to check her board and make sure that her Visa Check Card wasn't missing? Yeah, probably so.

And speaking of mean (but still somehow completely hilarious), I should preface this by noting that while I'm really not much of a reality TV fan, I have gotten into Project Runway on Bravo over the past two seasons. Yes, this is a guilty pleasure. One of the contestants this season, Santino, does a spot-on imitation of Tim Gunn, who's kind of the fashion coach on the show (he doesn't judge the candidates, but tries to help them here and there, keep them on task, etc.). Anyhow, there's a video snippet on the Bravo site, where one of the other contestants has Santino do his Tim impersonation to sing NIN's "Closer to God." If you watch the show at all, it is sooo worth your time to download the (<1 MB) MP3. Really. It is priceless.

That's all.

September 21, 2006

A Tale of Two Telecities

A couple of the more attractive ensemble shows debuted this week, and I made time to catch them. Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and JJ Abrams's Six Degrees both started out pretty well. I'll withhold judgment until I'm a few shows in, but one difference stood out to me.

At the end of 60, NBC explains that if I missed any of tonight's episode, I can go over to the NBC site and catch a "two minute recap." Contrast that with ABC's approach, which also requires me to visit their site, but offers me the entire episode, and for free. Heck, just for kicks, I may go watch the episode again. The two minute recap? I've already seen next week's "two-minute recap"--it's called the tease for the next episode.

NBC already embarrassed themselves by taking on YouTube, so it doesn't surprise me too much that they would demonstrate again their utter unawareness of what the Web might do for them. What's unfortunate is that someone like Sorkin--whose episodes are probably among the least effectively reduced to a 2-minute tease--has to suffer for the network's shortsightedness. They're jumping on the "season arc" bandwagon with some of their shows, but they still don't get that making the first few episodes as available as possible will only pay off in the long run, a long run that the shows themselves require. Ah well.

That's all. I need to blog Scott McCloud's visit, and I'll try and do that tomorrow...

Update: Okay, clearly I need to just take all of this back, and pull my head out. Sorry about that. I was totally wrong. I'm not sure why they would just plug the 2-minute replay instead of the full episode, but both are available on NBC's site, even for the crappy shows.

October 4, 2006

unsavory light?

I've watched the first two eps of Heroes, and while it's early yet for me to comment, I did want to note in passing the epic lameness of this:

Turns out that "Emerson filed a federal lawsuit in St. Louis on Monday, seeking to block the NBC television network from rebroadcasting the pilot episode of the new show "Heroes," which depicts a woman damaging her hand in a garbage disposal made by the company."

Wait. It gets better: "The suit also says the scene 'casts the disposer in an unsavory light, irreparably tarnishing the product.'"

Ah well. Who doesn't long for those halcyon days when the In-Sink-Erator was viewed, by all of us, in a savory light?

Lost tonight, Collin's delight.

November 2, 2006

Nary a hair

I was turning back and forth last night between various shows and the opening night NBA matchups. In addition to watching the first installment in Chicago's sweep of Miami (Bulls d. Heat last night, Bears d. Dolphins this weekend), I noticed a little something as I was catching half-time and post-game on TNT. They're all bald.

Doubtless this has something to do with EJ's health problems, but all the same, Magic, EJ, Kenny, and Charles are all sporting domes. I realize that there's a lot less stigma attached to a lack of hair than there used to be, but even so, it was kind of surprising to see them all side-by-side in a studio show like that.

I don't really have more beyond that observation. TNT's studio show is one of the best things about watching the Association and that, combined with the fact that the Bulls seem to have finally turned the corner on their rebuilding, means that I may be watching a little more ball this year. We'll see.

That's all. 2 down, 28 to go.

November 7, 2006

Turnitinica Mars

It was probably only a matter of time, what with Veronica Mars headed to college and all, for plagiarism to find its way into the plot of at least one episode. And tonight it did, as Veronica's paper for her Criminology class is "lit up like a Christmas tree" by the "plagiarism scanner" used at Hearst College to police its students. Don't read on if the episode's sitting on your TiVo...

Continue reading "Turnitinica Mars" »

January 28, 2007

Top Critic?

One of my guilty pleasures is the series of game shows on Bravo: Project Runway, Top Chef, and now Top Design. I'm really looking forward to the latter, much more than Top Chef, truth be told.

Not that I haven't enjoyed the ongoing "Get Marcel!" quality of season 2, but the problem with TC is that I have no real basis to agree or disagree with the judges. I can't try the food, and so I don't really know whether they're any good or not. I'm looking forward to TD for exactly that reason--agree or not, I'll be able to decide along with the judges what I dis/like. And unlike Project Runway, which walks a fine line sometimes between taste and style, I feel like I have a decent enough eye for design to be able to really enjoy the new show.

D and I were wondering what it might look like to have a show (blogcast, perhaps?) that took this model and tried to apply it to academia, and as silly as it may sound, I find it kind of intriguing:

You could start with 8-10 contestants, and start with some of the shorter genres--book reviews, dictionary entries--and eventually arrive at a full-blown critical essay. Some weeks, we could constrain the topic, and others, require the contestants to make use of a particular text or thinker, and each week, bring in guest judges according to those constraints. The big prize could be a healthy chunk of cash, and the final essay placed in a good journal. And of course, the title of Top Critic!

You know, this isn't exactly compelling television material, to be sure (lots of shots of typing??), but it's not as absurd as it might seem at first blush, either. It'd be kind of fun to put on, and it'd make for interesting reading, over a summer, say. So if there's anyone out there with a whole bunch of extra money lying around...

February 17, 2007

You are watching a clever commercial. Cancel or allow?

Yes, I am a hardcore Mac enthusiast, but to be honest, I find the Mac vs. PC ads hit or miss. Part of it is that Justin Long (Mac) is a little too smug, and I think that John Hodgman (PC) is high-larious. But the new Vista commercial makes me laugh. It's a simple concept, and in a few lines, they manage to boil down a difference between the two operating systems in a really clever way. I'm certain that it's more complicated than that, but I almost don't care. Nothing in the commercial is wasted, from the visual minimalism to the final, mournful "Allow..."

Anyhow, I spend (it seems) an entry a month bemoaning the idiocy that passes for marketing these days, so it seems only fair to point out the good on the rare occasions that I come across it.

February 23, 2007

Chains of love

It's one of those weeks where my waking moments are filled with thoughts best left unblogged, for any number of reasons. But I've been meaning for the past couple of days to link to an entry over at Tim's joint. He's speaking mostly about the whole Edwards campaign kerfuffle, but for a paragraph, he references a conversation over at Laura's about whether or not she planned to continue blogging. It motivates some reflection on the double standard operating in some folks' conceptions of blogging. On the one hand, they want what happens in blogspace to matter in the larger world; on the other, they don't always seem to want to be held accountable by that larger world. But I was especially interested in the finally paragraph (gently pruned for your consumption):

This is not just about blogging: it’s about history. The more you write, the more your writing is both burden and expectation, a second self whose permission is required before you do something new–or whose betrayal is necessary should you wish to be free of your shadow....When I write it–even in a blog–it has, and ought to have, some greater weight. If that weight becomes like Marley’s chains, forged in life, it’s up to me to do the hard and complicated work of unlocking, not to complain that what I wrote was read.

I mentioned in the comments thread at Laura's that she'd articulated something that I've been experiencing lately as well. And I think that it's that notion of what I write here as a second self. When I'm feeling especially transparent, the blog doesn't feel all that separate from what I do. I don't feel like I have to police it for polysemy, worrying about whether or not what I say will be taken up in unintended ways. Which isn't to say that it's weightless--I hope that there is some weight to what I write, at least on occasion. But when it becomes a second or a third self--if my private and public meat/selves are the first two--it takes me that much more energy to tend to it. And that much self-maintenance can wear me out after a while. Right now, I'm feeling that fatigue. Part of it's the weather, part of it's the time of the year, and part of it's just the junk that happens.

What prompted this entry tonight was a conversation with D about last night's ep of Lost, which didn't jazz me quite as much as the week before. I'm worried that the writers of that show have decided not to "do the hard and complicated work of unlocking" their narrative, opting instead for more plot, more characters, and more distractions (assuming that Jack's tattoo was one of the "big mysteries" solved last night), and hoping that those of us who loved the show through the first two seasons will simply let it slide. Lost is no longer the must-see it was for me those first two seasons, and while I'm willing to ride it out a while longer, I'm beginning to feel a bit betrayed by the fact that I've watched regularly, closely, and with interest. I wonder how much the writers are longing to be free of the shadows of those first two seasons.

That's not to compare my humble blog to a show like Lost. But I had a much more concrete sense after that conversation of how even a labor of love can begin to feel like a unshakeable shadow. That's all.

And that's really all I have to say tonight.

August 16, 2007

Top Chef, Season 3

It's a slow summer for my various telefetishes, and thus best suited to picking up disc by disc of shows that didn't make first cut. For example, I've knocked off one season of Bones and two of Weeds over the past month or so.

But thanks to Bravo, the summer's not quite a wasteland. The only show I watch right now religiously is Top Chef which, along with Design Star, according to Laura, "should be required viewing for people who must work in teams or committees because they often reveal quite clearly how and why teams work or don't work." I couldn't agree more, but partly because I too am hooked on shows like that.

I've blogged before about how much tougher it is with TC, given that we can't actually taste the results, and have to trust the judges' decisions, but I've had less problem this season. Not sure why that is, but I wonder if it's not that the challenges aren't designed a little bit better.

For instance, last night was the Restaurant Wars episode, where the 8 folk left were put into teams of 4, given a garage space, and then given about 6 hours to plan, design, and prepare a 30-person service. At first, I was a little shocked at how little time they had to do it, but the difficulty of the challenge really made it obvious where the teams' weaknesses were, and that clearly translated to the judges' disappointment with both teams. This season's challenges have been less about sitting back and creating a pretty plate and more about things like timing and planning (and the pretty plate doesn't hurt). The result is that it's easier to tell who's excelling and who's not.

We'll see if they can keep it up this season--last season's 4-person finale was really poorly edited, such that it was really difficult to tell why the winners won and the other didn't, and I hope that that's not the case this year.

That is all.

September 4, 2007

Rules for Restaurants

As luck would have it, there was a mini-marathon of Ramsay's show on BBC America on Monday, and so I put it on in the background for a few hours as I read. And as a result, I am now prepared to offer to you the 5 Golden Gordon Rules of Resuscitating Restaurants:

1. A restaurant is a business, not a family, a hobby, a lounge, a home, or anything other than a business.

2. Quality is far more important than novelty (I suspect that Ramsay wants to kill the person who coined the phrase "Wow factor").

3. Traffic, traffic, traffic, traffic. Oh, and traffic.

4. Five adjectives that should describe the food: local, organic, rustic, clean, honest.

5. Finally, in a bad situation, there is almost inevitably one or more persons whose talent is going unexploited, and one or more persons whose talents are wildly overestimated. Kitchen nightmares are made, not born.

That comes close to summing up most of the episodes I've seen, only with a lot more swearing and bleeping, although BBC America doesn't, apparently, find "shithole" a necessary bleep. More than one episode demonstrates this fact.

That is all.

September 13, 2007

So long, Miami

I neglected to mention last week that I had a Top Chef dream. I don't remember much of it anymore, except to note that I was a Season 3 contestant, but somehow got bailed out of totally misunderstanding a challenge by Season 2's Elia.

Anyhow, my top picks keep losing. At the beginning of the season, if I had had to pick who I thought would make it to the final 4, I would have chosen CJ, Tre, Lia, and Hung. And as I mentioned to Derek today, if you gave me Tre, Lia, and CJ, I'd put that team up against any combo of the folk who are left.

It's been a weird season, and no one's rise to "success" has been more symptomatic of that than Brian, I think. You'll recall that, during the after-party challenge, he spent most of his time grabbing customers. During the 2 weeks of restaurant wars, he was in the front. And on the boat, he was coordinating most of the time. What saved him last night from elimination was the Dread Broccolini. By my count, that's like 4 or 5 episodes in a row where he hasn't exactly earned the right to stay on the show. And now he's one elim away from the final 4? Hmm. It's not that I don't like him or anything, but I'd have a tough time arguing that he's a better chef than those who've packed up their knives and gone.

We'll see, I suppose.

September 14, 2007

NBC's love for me is begrudgingly requited

You have to understand that, for whatever reason, I think of NBC as my "home" channel. When I go back to Iowa to visit, we still watch the NBC affiliate for local news. KWQC cares for me, after all.

Anyhow, I don't know that they're necessarily any denser when it comes to dealing with cable and net than the other biggies, but I seem to notice it more quickly. And so, when they do something right, it's only fair that I point that out too. To my surprise this week, I discovered that the pilots for all of NBC's new fall shows were being offered for free on one of our OnDemand channels. So I've already seen the first episodes of Bionic Woman, Chuck, and Life, and I'll probably give Journeyman a try this weekend.

The only one I was guaranteed to watch was BW, which is done by the same folks who brought us the BSG reboot, but after having seen the others, I might give one or two of them a try as well. And that's how it's supposed to work, I think.

October 5, 2007

A shadow of doubt?

Yes, I must admit that being down 2-0 has somewhat affected my personal conviction that the Cubs will win the World Series this year.

Yes, I must admit that I thought that Hung would win, even despite all the transparently mercenary bullshit about soul and love he was trotting out during his in-game interviews. And I must admit as a corollary that Dale appeared to be a better chef than I was ever capable of crediting. But I have to ask: what chef, knowing that the final is in Aspen, doesn't understand that cooking is different at high altitudes? In a competition for 100K, that's a detail that I wouldn't expect a top chef to overlook.

Yes, I must admit that Pushing Daisies will either be a really intriguing show (Seuss noir) or another in a long line of half-season DVDs added to my collection.

Yes, I must admit that that is all I've got today.

January 23, 2008

10 things that would make "Southwest Airlines" and "productivity enhancement" a little less oxymoronic for me

1. Less than 2 hours waiting in terminal
2. Seats wide enough to accomodate typists whose arms don't originate in their rib cages
3. Tray tables capable of holding more than 1.6 lbs.
4. Leg room enough to lower said trays
5. Outlets, outlets, outlets
6. Sad bags of peanuts replaced with free office supplies
7. Spill-proof beverages
8. Replace in-flight advert-zine with copies of Getting Things Done or bound archives of 43 Folders
9. Merlin Mann is my co-pilot
10. Enough with the stupid commercials