Friday, November 17, 2006

movie meme, kind of

JJ tagged me.... and if I've learned one thing about this meme business, no matter how much I half-loathe/half-am-intrigued by answering them, I just can't say no. Besides, this one's about movies.... so I'll bite.

1. Popcorn or candy?

Candy, usually. I'm a fan of things gummy and sour. But, I don't renounce popcorn: I've learned some nifty tricks to ensure that the popcorn pump butter is evenly distributed throughout the length of the tub. It's all in the disposbale straws.

2. Name a movie you've been meaning to see forever.

Hmmmm.... I know there's one, it's just not coming to me. I've had The Grifters on my Netflix queue forever. Still haven't seen The Color Purple either.

3. You are given the power to recall one Oscar: Who loses theirs and to whom?

I could go on for days with this question.... but I am given only one choice. And the answer to that, HANDS DOWN, would be removing the Oscar from Opie's (aka Ron Howard) sentimentalizing hands for A Beautiful Mind and giving the statue to its rightful owner, David Lynch, for Mulholland Drive. No specifics necessary, that's just how it is.

4. Steal one costume from a movie for your wardrobe. Which will it be?

I have no idea. There are tons of cool clothes in movies. My answers would all be boring. Maybe I should say something a little more expected of a question like this.... Ghostbusters uniforms?

5. Your favorite film franchise is....

Star Trek. Yeah, that's right, don't knock it. I'm a screaming fan of everything Star Trek VI and onward (Star Trek: First Contact almost transcends the franchise on its own weight), and I don't have to be ashamed. Let's see.... if not Star Trek, I have an unusual affinity for the first two Jurassic Park movies....

6. Invite five movie people over for dinner. Who are they? Why'd you invite them? What do you feed them?

This question feels too much like I'm being tested. How about this for an answer: Last year I was at this small seminar where Philip Roth was coming to talk about whatever it was he felt was important to self-reflexively talk about with grad students. The windbag organizer of the event was so enamored with the possiblity of the students aksing Philip Roth earth-shaking questions of absolute poignancy that he scoffed at the idea we ask him anything not on par with preeminent genius. He said, for instance, that we should never ask him what it was like to have dinner with Nicole Kidman (Roth wrote The Human Stain, so I imagine his connection to the film adaptation of his novel which starred Nicole Kidman would be cause for at least one dinner together). I say why the hell not? That would be exactly the question I'd want to ask.

7. What is the appropriate punishment for people who answer cell phones in the movie theater?

Drawn and quartered. All of them. To be honest, I'm actually surprised that people dare do that. But they do. Medieval torture for all.

8. Choose a female bodyguard: Ripley from Aliens. Mystique from X-Men. Sarah Connor from Terminator 2. The Bride from Kill Bill. Mace from Strange Days.

I haven't seen Strange Days, so maybe I'm not totally qualified to answer this question. That, and Linda Hamilton is more Dante's Peak than Terminator for me. I'd say a tie between Ripley and The Bride.... they're both badass but for completely different reasons. Sure they're both tough and both irresistibly sexy, but both for different reasons too.

9. What's the scariest thing you've ever seen in a movie?

I'm sure there's something scarier, but I was genuinely and thoroughly creeped out by the long-haired demon girl from The Ring crawling out of the television set and ambling like some kind of reanimated sloth toward her prey.

10. Your favorite genre (excluding "comedy" and "drama") is....

Psychological thriller? That genre on its own sounds so disgusting.... I'm not talking movie adaptations of James Patterson trash. But hey, if you can give me a puzzle box of a mindfuck movie and intrigue me enough to want to figure it out (at least with the promise that it can be done, and done so without spoonfeeding), you win.

11. You are given the power to greenlight movies at a major studio for one year. How do you wield this power?

Wow. This is a power I have not asked for. I agree that too many crappy movies are being made.... definitely go for quality over quantity. The other thing would be to get rid of prefabricated casting.... let the movie come before the star. Stop writing movies for actors and actually have actors come and audition for the leads.

12. Bonnie or Clyde?

I'd have to agree with JJ on this one.... the two go together. You cannot have one without the other. Besides, it's less fun to only choose one person to shoot the hell out of something with an automatic rifle.

13. Who am I tagging to answer this survey?

Those who feel inspired. Besides, I'd love to hear which Oscars you folks would recall.

Friday, November 03, 2006


It's amazing to think about how much different (i.e. sedentary) my life was not two months ago. I hardly have time to check email anymore. Recent developments that have struck my radar:

1) "Lost" has gone completely bonkers. Why make the impetus of Season 2 about a whole new cast of characters only to kill ALL of them off? The producers spit things like "the actor didn't want to make a commitment to a series" or "we ran out of stories to tell with that character". So, ahem, why bother hiring them and introducing them in the first place?!? Idiot showrunners. In any case, the show has no narrative confidence whatsoever as we begin Season 3, and it so painfully shows. The only good thing they have going for them is the steely hotness of new cast member Elizabeth Mitchell. How do I type out a sexy growl?

2) I've been reading short stories like crazy, like it's my job. Funny, because it is kind of my job. Lorrie Moore (my new not-so-secret favorite writer) just had a story published in the New Yorker, which is amazing, and the first paragraph alone has some virtuoso language going for it. Could this mean she has a new story collection coming around the bend? Bring it on, Lorrie. We're waiting.

3) Mark your calendars for the Giada DeLaurentiis vs. Rachael Ray Iron Chef showdown. This is perhaps the best new thing the Food Network has on its schedule except for Nigella Lawson's amazing/hilarious cooking show where she cooks things very Britishly (more on this below). I'm putting my money on Giada, given the fact that she is an actual ordianed chef whereas Rachael Ray is now a part-time Food Network cash cow and obnoxious syndicated talk show host. When the Food Network has sunk so far, this is actually a trashy glimmer of hope. Rue be the day "The Next Food Network Star" comes around; their new "celebrities" make me want to vomit blood, in somewhere public.

4) The first time I ever saw Nigella Lawson, it was on the television screen in front of me on a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to San Francisco. This was maybe six, seven years ago. The woman is luminous, and she cooked bizzare things with cream and roasts of beef and gelatin. BUT.... her show was absolutely intoxicating, and I scoured the American airwaves to find it. No luck, we never had BBC. Now the Food Network has snagged Nigella (on the appropriately named "Nigella Feasts", which if you say it too fast, sounds like "Nigella Feets"), and she is so very watchable. Recent Food Network hotshot Ellie Krieger got too dull too quickly, so hopefully Nigella will bring a good burst of non-hallucinogenic/antidepressant-fueled energy to the programming. Of course, I've only seen one of her episodes, because I never have time to breathe anymore let alone watch TV.

5) I tend not to be too spontaneous a person, but suddenly I'll be spending my weekend in Boston reunited with a friend I haven't seen in awhile. This will be the perfect medicine, despite the fact that I want to hibernate in my apartment and never leave: the claustrophobia of NYC has reached a suffocating level.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

lit meme

A meme for books, the gauntlet thrown down by write procrastinator.

1 ) One book that changed your life:

Is this statement for real? Well, I guess if I really thought about it, I'm sure there are a few books that have changed my life, movies too. It just sounds so cheesy to say something "changed your life". In terms of content, I have no idea. But, there came a weird turning point where I started to really appreciate language and the construction of words together, in a way that I never had thought of before. Now, I'm obsessed with language.... it's almost as if the story doesn't matter in favor of nailing the language. One of the first books I read where this lightbulb went off was A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers (which I am a fan of, despite other detractors who jump on the Dave-Eggers-isn't-cool-anymore bandwagon).

2) One book that you’d read more than once:

No joke, I've read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton more than 5 times, at least. It's been awhile, but I have a deep affection for this book. It's also one of those books I read at a young enough age where I first realized that the original novel is almost always better than the movie adaptation.

3) One book you’d want on a deserted island:

It's got to be entertaining, redeeming, fulfilling. Part of me thinks I'd prefer to have a book of short stories because of the varying topics and the different world each story can create.... meaning that just one novel can maybe get a little suffocating. I'm totally smitten with Birds of America by Lorrie Moore right now, but I also have uneneding dedication to White Noise by Don DeLillo.

4) One book that made you laugh:

Most recently? Home Land by Sam Lipsyte.... it takes a lot for a book to actually make me laugh out loud (in public, reading on the subway no less), and parts of this book did the trick. Barbed and sardonic.... I love it.

5) One book that made you cry:

I'm not exactly a big weeper, so this question doesn't really apply.... Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates is so bleak but at the same time so wrenchingly beautiful, somehow I can't imagine people getting through it without a dry eye. It's hard to pitch this book and tell them to read it, because it is the polar opposite of a feel-good read.... but when you do read it, you realize you have perhaps read something perfect, one of the greatest novels of our time.

6) One book you wish you’d written:

Ah, the green-with-envy question. Well, I'm in awe of a lot of literature.... but I don't know if that necessarily means I wish I wrote some of it. I feel like that I'm learning so much from the short stories by Lorrie Moore, so I want to say that I wrote one of her books because her writing is incredible. But.... I have to admit that I'm a screaming Beatle-mania fan of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, only because it comes so close to virtuosity; I admire the structure and the style and the balls-to-the-wall ambition.

7) One book you wish had never been written:

One book? How about chick-lit as a genre. Most books I find cluttering the "New Fiction" shelves at bookstores all have pink covers and cartoon drawings of legs or purses. Meanwhile struggling quality lit-fiction writers out there are consistently being turned away by publishers.

8) One book you’re currently reading:

Well, aside from some of the not-so-interesting stuff I've been tasked to read for classes (including Washington Square by Henry James: my nemesis, he hath returned), I'm trying to get to books that I want to read instead. I've started to read Joe College by Tom Perrotta, but I'm not convinced I like it all that much.

9) One book you’ve been meaning to read:

The short stories of Raymond Carver in Where I'm Calling From. There's also Underworld by Don DeLillo, but let's be honest, I'm just scared of how damn big it is.

10) Tag, you're it.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

another one bites the dust

One of the least-coveted titles for a new television show is that of the first-canceled television show, across all networks. The (un)lucky winner this year: "Smith"


The show had such promise too. At this point it's only been "taken off the schedule", but headstones are already being prepared. If you look at the history of heist shows, though, they tend not to do so well.... so, "Smith" had an uphill climb from the start. I guess no matter how good the writing, acting, and production values are.... if your show doesn't pick up an audience, it's over. All this goes without saying, though.

It seems none of the new television shows this season are doing so hot. There doesn't seem to be one great standout of the new year.... Strange when critics and networks are heralding their own self-proclaimed renaissance of quality television.... it seems all the viewing public really wants is "CSI" and "Grey's Anatomy".... even "Lost" noticed a dip in ratings for its season premiere. This is no surprise either.... year after year after year, television viewing audiences prefer the kid gloves, not the challenging stuff. Dr. McDreamy et. al. are television fluff and an unstoppable juggernaut of female wish fulfillment drama.

Looks like now I'm gonna have to start watching "Heroes", just like everyone else in the country.

Friday, September 29, 2006

ruminations, and why good short fiction trumps all

Lately I've been busy. Too busy. A kind of busy I like, the kind of busy that far eclipses the not-busy boredom I was afflicted with regularly this summer. There's something to be said about boredom.... it's kind of a zen-state of procrastination, where things that need to get done do not get done because they are not pressing, undesirable, easily hidden. Funny that in those pockets of time where I now do not have something scheduled or planned or on the to-do list, I find myself crushingly bored. Things that need to be done come off as chores.

There's a glut of new TV shows out there that I'm trying my best to weed through. "Smith" is great, "Heroes" is good if maybe leaning toward stodgy. I have yet to see "Brothers and Sisters", but its soapy allure won't keep me far from it for too long. "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" might be better if it didn't come off as self-important, "Six Degrees" has a concept that ran out before the pilot episode was even finished, and "The Nine" (premiering next week) is uninteresting trash masquerading as nail-biting television. I wish some shows would stop with the bravado like the writers know what they're doing when it's clear they have a vague idea about what only one or two episodes in the future will be like. Poignant that ABC has scheduled the "The Nine" with "Lost" as its lead-in, when the two shows seem to share an obsession with information-deprivation (for all parties, including the writers).

So, with TV kind of an afterthought and/or casualty of me being too busy, I've been sifting my way through literature. I just read Haruki Murakami for the first time just a week or so ago.... my inital reaction to the novel I read is that I liked it (I still do), but I think it was most successful in the mood/tone department. He seems to be so wildly popular, yet the novel I read seemed to have some questionably gaping holes in the story that make me think that this guy has been given the carte-blanche publishing card just like Joyce Carol Oates has.

But what a comfort it is to melt into perfect short stories. she can film it posted recently about how finding really good short fiction is an experience worth waiting for. Of course, I feel her pain about wading through the slush piles from hell of really bad short story submissions for publication.... it's so so rare to find something that you want to stand up and scream about, so rare in fact that when you do find it, you do stand up and scream about it (or at least I do).

When I first heard about Lorrie Moore maybe four or five years ago, I had absolutely no idea who she was. But people gushed. They made her seem like she was the real deal. And then I sort of forgot about her.... her books weren't exactly littering bookstore shelves, nor were people always gushing about her work in my other classes. For the last year or two I've been keeping my eye out for her star-making book of short stories Birds of America and then finally found it at the Strand last month and felt like I had hit the lottery. And now I'm reading it, and it is amazing. The command of language is so clean and strong, but not minimalist or part of the minimalist craze of a lot of contemporary lit fiction. I haven't come across a story I have disliked, because everything hits true, everything rings all the right bells. Her fiction is very witty and amusing but isn't trying for laughs.... it's effortless and beautiful. It's the kind of fiction I want to bathe in, and a good road map (I think) for the kind of stuff I write. It's easy to lose myself in, it's easy to pine for.

Lorrie Moore tends to stick exclusively with short stories (her novels seem to be less-popular), so I'm probably going to be perusing bookstore shelves for her next book. Apparently Self-Help is a book of her short stories that are all written in the second person, a point of view that I love in writing perhaps because it is so dangerous and easily prone to failure.... but when it succeeds, the second person floors everything like a devastating shock wave, it can be that good. It irritates me that everyone and their mother associates second-person narrative with Jay McInerney (thanks to his dare-I-say-one-hit-wonder Bright Lights, Big City, a book I quite enjoy), like second person belongs to him or something. Feh.

More reporting to follow. I dream that one day I'll start writing really acrid-but-devastatingly-funny blog posts like they do on Defamer, my new favorite vacuous outlet to procrastinate on while at work.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Smith: what you should be watching

Thanks to the myriad wonders of the internet, I've gotten a sneak peak and a handful of pilot episodes for new dramas forthcoming from the television networks this season. I've already narrowed my list from what seems inherently interesting to what seems any good at all, because in this day and age where every moment is precious, I don't want to waste my time watching crappy TV.

The solution: Tune in to CBS this Tuesday night and watch "Smith".

Probably the worst thing going for the show is the title. Who tunes in to something called "Smith"? I wouldn't. In a typically unsurprising move on the parts of TV executives and TV writers, they have selected an unspectacular title that really doesn't mean much of anything. Why does this keep happening? At least it's not a gerund-infested gramatically incorrect maddener, in the style of "Judging Amy", "Watching Ellie", "Crossing Jordan", etc. The uninteresting title could ultimately be what hurts it most, but no matter. Shows with really poppy eye-grabbing titles (like "Desperate Housewives", for instance) sometimes turn out to be steaming clumps of loose stool.

So, get over the bad title and watch. You like heist movies? "Smith" is probably for you.... keep in mind it's not altogether uncommon to see caper shows pop up on the TV line up (for instance last season's offerings of "Heist" and "Thief", both of which I did not see, both of which did not make it). A few seasons back they had that caper-type show "Thieves" starring Uncle Jessie and Melissa George (who wasn't all that great in "Alias", but was successful as plot-keystone eye-candy in Mulholland Drive), but the show sunk under its own weight of episodic romantic comedy.

Which poses a potential problem: it's unclear after the pilot if "Smith" will be a boring caper-of-the-week episodic drama, or if it will develop and kind of build off its own heists in a serial story. The writers would be smart to play it the latter way; the idea of having a new thing to go steal each week would get boring really fast. Things certainly look shaped up to travel in the direction of serial.... or at least some of the way (like "ER" or "The West Wing" or a bunch of similar serial/episodic hybrids). Throughout the pilot we're introduced to Ray Liotta's character Bobby, the lead, who works as some kind of executive in a boring office atmosphere by day and as a slinky art thief by night. He's got a group of five or six henchmen to help pull it off with him (most exciting of which is Amy Smart, who rocks pretty hard and is undeniably sexy weilding a taser gun), and they set their sights on a museum in Pittsburgh to make their claim. Bobby gets his jobs from Charlie, played with such alluring nonchalance by the one and only Shohreh Aghdashloo (quickly rising to be my favorite actress), who seems to be an untouchable power broker. Bottom line: they get to Pittsburgh, they steal their paintings, and then narrowly miss getting caught, and one of henchmen ends up dead. Hence, the cops are on their trail.... and so begins the season.

I think I'm endeared to the pilot episode because it threw in some very creative twists and turns that I didn't see coming. The structure of the epsiode shows you the aftermath of the mess in Pittsburgh first, rewinds to show us how they got there (and deepens the cast of characters with backstory here and there), and then replays the art heist in more detail (and with some surprising and badass additions we didn't get to see the first time around.... *ahem* taser gun). We see bits and pieces of how this group of art thieves tripped up, which could lend much needed clues to the cops (and thereby gives us a linked serial sturcture between episodes). The fantastic addition of Virginia Madsen (luminous) as Ray Liotta's wife is a lot of fun too.... what we see first is a cheery soccer mom, but as the episode plays out we get a great twist that suggests she might be more privvy to her husband's nighttime escapades than we (the viewer) was allowed to think at first. Good stuff.

I've stayed out of the way of reviews of this show, in hopes that it won't tarnish my high. I'm invested to see where it's going, in hopes it turns out to be as good as the pilot promises. It's beautifully filmed, all on location it seems, and it all feels very solid: directing, editing, acting, writing. The end of the episode kind of sandwiches in a law-enforcement-hot-on-the-case angle which, to be honest, I could take or leave; the episode succeeded just fine without it, but it kind of fits hand-in-hand with the whole used-to-be-on-parole background of Ray Liotta's Bobby. But what good caper show doesn't raise the stakes with the cops after them? This too could be the lynchpin to the entire series, telling us little by little more about Virginia Madsen's past, more about Amy Smart's showgirl day job and her power over others who rely on her (some for drugs, it seems), more about why that dude from "The Guardian" is a cold-blooded killer with a sniper rifle, and more about why Virginia Madsen's character and Shohreh Aghdashloo's character apparently don't get along.

So, yes. This Tuesday. CBS. 10 pm. Go to it.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

the novel that shocked the nation

Our entertainment media has gotten too tame lately. People seem offended too easily, or maybe it's just a few people who scream too loudly when they see something they don't like. There’s all this talk about values, and punishment for those who don’t hold them. Certainly on television things have been racier and edgier than ever before, and once they flirt with too racy or too edgy the FCC descends from somewhere and slaps fines based on rules that aren’t published anywhere. And then the taming happens.

The last great medium where there are no rules: the written word. One of the myriad reasons why I like it so much.

Heard of Peyton Place? Yes, it was a movie, and yes, it was a television show.... but first and foremost it was a novel, and it had everyone talking. It was a wildly successful blockbuster, but since its heyday it seems to have disappeared off the radar. The movie version came along a year after its publication, and was nominated for nine oscars, five of those for performances.

I’ve owned the book for years and tried reading it awhile back and put it down. I just picked it up again and blazed though it.... and you know what? I rather like it. It's kind of like a refreshing breath of air if you're searching for some quality shock value, the only problem is that you have to put yourself in a 1956 state of mind to appreciate it.

Peyton Place is probably floating around at the top of the list that inspired or borne the modern genre novel, but because its roots go back so far it kind of falls into the literary canon, I guess. Don't get me wrong, the quality of the writing is nothing special (I emphasize this.... at times it was downright bad) and would have loads of lit snobs putting the book down after the first page.... but this is not a book you read because of its command of language; you read it because it is a master juggler of multiple storylines, a trait that I think the novel has given up on.

The book is all soap opera, and doesn't disappoint. Written by Grace Metalious, apparent young hotblood of the literary scene in the 1950s, we learn about the denizens of the New England hamlet of Peyton Place and all their dirty laundry. Metalious probably got her ideas from the tradition of radio serial and newfound television soap operas, and she pulls out all the stops. Want nudity? Check. Incest? You got it. Campy threats, murder, historical intrigue, and adolescent anguish? You've come to the right place.

Because the book takes place in the 1940s, it's interesting to witness the mindset of characters and how they manipulated people that would never work (or at least not seem as threatening) today. One teenage girl gets herself pregnant by the son of the most powerful man in town, and thinks that she can leverage her pregnancy to be married and set for life.... so the town patriarch bribes her father to keep her mouth shut. She thinks she can tussle, and comes storming into the patriarch's office all pissed about the bribe. He doesn't bat an eye though, and threatens to have her taken to court: "Do you know how many witnesses it takes to testify against a girl and have her declared a prostitute in this state?" he asks her. "Only six." And he reminds her that he employs quite a bit more than six men.

Some other wacky stuff happens.... a grizzled housekeeper hangs herself in her employer's bedroom, a teenage girl has her arm snapped off by a defective carnival ride, and there are a handful of steamy sex scenes that probably got a few people blushing back in 1956. A girl who had been abused by her stepfather beats him to death with a hot poker from the fire. All in a sleepy New Hampshire town.

Metalious tells her story very calmly, and I think this is what I like most about it. She's not out to keep you interested in the arc of one character; she wants you to watch everybody and judge for yourself. At any one time we're learning about five, six, or seven different stories, and we see how they connect to one another and we know that not all of them do. The town is connective tissue enough. (Are you hearing this, TV studio executives? Why not look back to the model of what it means to be a serial program and find your roots back at the soap opera? I think a modern day Peyton Place on television would set a good example.)

Novels don't traditionally try to pull off the multiple storyline feat.... but I'd be happy for someone to prove me wrong. Dual narratives seem to be a perennial favorite, though. Jennifer Egan's Look at Me walked away with a National Book Award nomination a few years ago, and the entire novel is like a tennis match between two completely separate storylines. Zadie Smith took on more than just two with White Teeth (which in its own right could be described as a post-post-modern British Peyton Place, and this is in every way a compliment), and despite torpedoing the last quarter of the book, it launched for her a very successful writing career. Both of these novels juggle their multiple storylines more or less in real time.... i.e. the action of the story moves forward as we learn about each story. Metalious does the same thing, but her stories seem to have been equalized somehow, and this, in part, makes them more interesting to me. Although I rather liked Look at Me and White Teeth, some of the stories that I had to read through were downright uninteresting in the face of the much poppier material they had earlier. Look at Me is about a supermodel who had her face destroyed in a horrific car accident.... so why do I spend half the novel learning about a teenage girl in the midwest falling in love with a terrorist? By keeping the tension high and the same emphasis (more or less) on the events of what happens in the town of Peyton Place, no matter how different they are, the novel of the same name remains equally interetsting throughout.

And, I have to say it, this is exactly what makes some serial television shows more watchable than others. Are you listening, TV executives?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Vanished: better off vanishing from primetime

Knowing ahead of time that I will practically have no time to watch much new TV of the 2006-2007 season, I'm trying to do my best by getting a preview of new shows that exhibit some promise. Fox's latest offering "Vanished" is not one of these shows.

I only feel compelled to write about it because it misses the mark on so many levels, it's kind of maddening to think about why it was greenlighted. Basic premise: Senator's wife disappears, FBI gets involved, Senator's wife has shady dealings revealed (surprise, surprise), mystic symbols somehow relating to the disappearance start appearing in all the right places at all the right times.

Let's see how "Vanished" plays up to bat.

* Identity crisis: Is this a serial drama or an episodic drama? It seems to be a procedural that wants badly to be a serial. Each episode provides a high body count for a convenient FBI autopsy. Each episode gives us new FBI tricks to deepen the investigation (ATM camera with high-tech digital imaging quality, all within the hour; high-tech call center with instant-access organizational charts at the press of a button). Each episode features the Senator's teenage brood in some kind of trouble. But hold the phone.... we get random Celtic-like symbols at crime scenes! The senator has an ex-wife in town who's talked about a lot but apparently hasn't been casted yet! Keep tuning in viewer, questions will be answered! STRIKE ONE.

* Serial television tunnel vision. "Vanished" is all based around the disappearance of the Senator's wife. So, what happens when she's found? Show's over, plain and simple. No getting around that fact. They can't possibly drag this out for more than a season, two at its biggest stretch. Why are networks greenlighting serial shows that don't have a prayer for longevity? STRIKE TWO.

* Trashy smash cuts between scenes. Dear Fox: Computer generated cuts do not make good TV, they waste screentime. They're not good for "Prison Break", and they're not good for "Vanished". This is a kind of unfortunate afterbirth from "CSI", with its "let's follow the bullet as it entered the body!" sequences in flashback, giving us a gory pin-hole trajectory through a body coupled with gooshy sound effects. Maybe it worked for "CSI"'s first season way back when, but it's really old now. "Vanished" goes for variations on a theme, like computer-generated cuts as we follow the data as travels through the internet! We follow telephone calls as they travel through the wires! We also get white noise dissolves to commericals, as if we're looking through television static. Très artsy, now please stop. This is all a minor gripe, but still a gripe, and one that lessens the quality of the show. BALL ONE.

* (side note: Any show that relies on the audience to read emails sent to a character who is mentioned but never seen, or to read text messages between characters, is in dire danger. This violates the very tenets of screenwriting. Visual writing is paramount: what is seen must be written, and to maintain high energy there must be movement. Forcing the viewer to piece together overtly ominous plot points by watching some kid write e-mails to his offscreen may-or-may-not-be criminal mother is the opposite of energetic writing with movement.)

* Who's story is this anyway? The viewer is being asked to follow a couple of different storylines that don't gel together very well. Unfortunately, this makes their characters misguided, too. "Vanished" has three compartments: the FBI investigation into the disappearance, the Senator and his family issues, and the media coverage of the disappearance. Now, all good serial dramas balance multiple storylines with a large cast of characters that don't exactly always interact with each and every one another. "Vanished" goes to pains to try to keep each of these stories on the same track, all pointed in the direction of tracking down this missing wife.... thereby eliminating much room for growth. This seems to be a problem of a lot of serial television concepts, tying right back to the impossibility of multi-season longevity. This is something they're going to have to hammer out, and hammer out soon, so they get a pass, with strong suggestions to get in shape. BALL TWO.

* The cast. Some things look good on paper, such as Ming Na as a spunky FBI agent. Too bad she seems more content taking orders rather than carving out an interesting character for herself. Rebecca "The Noxema Girl" Gayheart plays a sexy/take-no-prisoners/predictably-smarmy television news reporter. Unfortunately she doesn't have the poise of an actual television news reporter and delivers each of her lines like an actor. At least she'll always have Urban Legend.... which she rocked in. The other characters are swimming through stereotype (the lead FBI agent guy plays the hardened officer committed to his cases, barking orders and slamming things around, but damn it he wants to get to the bottom of this! The senator character kind of bumbles around in shock over his goodie-goodie wife's apparently intricate past, just like we'd expect him to). Didn't the writers have a plan to write about anybody interesting? The characters are the key to the show, and if they suck, your show sucks. STRIKE THREE.

This show blows.

And bad news: "The Nine", forthcoming from ABC, isn't all that great either, and falls prey to the same serial television tunnel vision problem. But that's for another post.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

emmy diarrhea

I got home from a short weekend trip out of the city later than I expected because the bus I was on decided it would be more fun to take an obscure tour of central New Jersey and stop at a creepy abandoned gas station with a broken vending machine rather than just stay on the turnpike and give us a shiny well-lit rest stop with fast food and a Starbucks.

So I get home and turn on the TV and unpack, and what do I find but the Emmys. Unfortunately for the Emmys, I could care less. Those awards mean nothing to me because they don't tend to reflect much of the small percentage of true quality television; I lost interest long ago. The only passing interest I had remained in whether or not "The West Wing" would sweep its nominated categories as a pat on the back for a final season well done -- it didn't. I also was curious if Ellen Burstyn would walk away with an emmy for a 14 second performance for the TV movie Mrs. Harris (watch the performance in its entirety here) -- she didn't.

So, I started flipping back and forth between NBC (a station I never seem to watch, so all those promos for their forthcoming fall shows I probably won't watch caught me off guard) and the old-standby Food Network. Sunday programming on the Food Network tends always to be competitions and reruns of "Unwrapped" that I have absolutely no interest in.... but last night they featured the "Food Network Challenge: Bartender Battle". At first it seemed kind of cool, because I find the trait of spinning liquor bottles around in your hands and actually making a drink in the process kind of sexy. The problem? The contestants didn't really show off their bartending skills all that well. They should have had a bouncer round or something. I don't want to ruin your view of tricky bottle-twirling, but the realm of "entertainment flair bartending" (or whatever they call it) is just glorified juggling at the end of the day. Not even glorified, really.... just juggling liquor bottles. One guy juggled empty liquor bottles. Where's the fun of spilling booze on people? Bottom line: I wanted Coyote Ugly, and instead I got a low rent circus act with dirty-ish Las Vegas bartenders. I think I'm sworn off Food Network weekend programming forever now, (except of course for the morning block of real cooking shows).

So then I ended up flipping back to the Emmys, where the Charlie's Angels came together after some long standing feud I didn't know existed. They held hands and paid tribute to Aaron "stroke of genius" Spelling. Farrah Fawcett, who used to be plastered to the tank of a toilet in the house I lived at in college, looks like she's hiding gravity's wrath with a big blond wig. Thanks to what I can only guess is generous plastic surgery, Kate Jackson looks disturbingly like an alien from the original Star Trek now. I remember watching her in some TV movie in the early 1990s about the bubonic plague breaking out in modern day New York City, and I decided at my young age that I liked her voice. At that age, the movie was scary and captivating too. That's all I have on Kate Jackson.

What little I saw of the Emmys was just like every other awards show on the planet. They're always the same, and yet no one has quite clued in to the monotony it seems. Part of me is thankful there aren't fourteen different awards shows for television like there are for movies, though.

Also: another Aaron Spelling tributeer, Joan Collins, doesn't look half bad at all. Strange though: she looks pretty much the same as she did in "Dynasty" twenty years ago.... and let's keep in mind she wasn't all that young then. This leads me to believe that she perhaps is the real-life version of Death Becomes Her.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

a pink slip of celestial proportions

Well folks, the astronomers have deemed it true. Pluto is no longer officially classified as a planet, pass it on.

There's not much to say really, except this is a pretty big piece of news to report. It kind of awakens the little kid in me that loved space. It's not everyday when people just go and reclassify heavenly bodies. I'm interested, really, why the controversy over what exactly a planet happens to be is just now making news. So, with Pluto's "demotion" what becomes of its legacy? Now grade school kids have eight planets to count about instead of nine. Pluto has always been a gimp planet to begin with, with its tilted orbit and the fact that it makes its way into Neptune's orbit during its year (i.e. its own orbit around the sun), which comes to about 248 Earth years. (Doesn't saying "Earth years" sound like you're in some corny 1950s space movie? I've always wanted a ray gun.) Because of this, Pluto can actually be closer to the sun than Neptune ever gets, sometimes. The fact that it swerves into Neptune's orbit makes it possible for Pluto to collide right into Neptune, doesn't it? When (if?) that happens, talk about a celestial shitstorm.

Planets now have a checklist for official classification, so a bunch of those chunks of frozen gases way the hell out there in our solar system no longer appear to be even tinier planets. Part of me remembers that Pluto had a bunch of moons (three "official" moons, and a lot of other space junk orbiting it too).... I guess those are nameless non-lunar lumps of ice now too. I'm curious to know if our solar system has more stuff orbiting it than your average solar system.... maybe the typical solar system out there only has three or four planets? We have a big old asteroid belt too. I'm surprised that objects as far away from the sun as Pluto et. al. actually maintain something of an orbit. All that stuff way out there now classifies as "trans-Neptunian". Pretty cool name, I think. I'm no astronomer, but maybe all things floating in space have to be in the orbit of something....? You can't just have rogue rocks kicking around out there, can you?

Saturday, August 19, 2006

never one to turn down a challenge, the meme edition

I won't lie and say I enjoy filling out online surveys for all to read. More often than not the survey questions are written by thirteen year olds, designing questions that not so subtly allow them to brag about themselves to their MySpace friends.

Loyal reader write procrastinator tagged me, and it would be impolite of me to ignore him. This survey-style meme seems not terribly invasive, so here goes nothing.

* 10 years ago:
Not one of my better years. Still learning that humans are naturally evil.

* 5 years ago:
Being brought to my knees in my physical science classes became pretty commonplace. I was cooking dinners weekly for sixty people. I started having a lot of fun.

* 1 year ago:
Temporarily living in Virginia and about to move to New York, blindfolded.

* 5 songs I know all the words to:
I could really embarrass myself with this category. But I won't.

--"Let Down", Radiohead
--"Don't Come Around Here No More", Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
--"Soldier's Poem", Muse
--"Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego" (dare me, I know those lyrics)
--"Super Trouper", ABBA (I will not hang my head in shame)

* 5 snacks I love and wish I could eat:
To be honest I'm not exactly the biggest snacker. But eating out, oh baby bring it on.
--burritos at Gordo, my favorite branches in Berkeley on College or in San Francisco in the Outer Richmond at 19th Ave & Geary.
--turkey burgers at Bongo Burger, all branches in Berkeley. (my heart burns for their hummus or onion rings with low quality ranch.... *drool*)
--sushi at Pink Godzilla in Capitola.
--fondue. (how about the Fondue Festival on Van Ness?)
--Texas barbecue. (brisket and smoked turkey breast at Stubbs BBQ in Austin, TX.... *drool*)

* 5 places I would run away to:
--the Bay Area.
(more specifically: San Francisco, Santa Cruz County, Stinson Beach, Berkeley, Half Moon Bay)
--the Pacific Northwest.
(more specifically: Portland, Mt. St. Helens, the Columbia River Gorge, Seattle)
--Piano di Sorrento, Italy.
--somewhere hidden in the mountains, like Montana or Wyoming.... for a little bit.
--somewhere tropical with white beaches and warm water.... for a little bit.

* 5 things I would never wear:
This happens to be one of those stupid MySpace-style survey questions. Omigod, what would I never wear!? Who the hell cares.

* 5 favorite TV shows:
Why not have a five favorite movies question? Perhaps for another meme. There happens to be a handy-dandy list sitting over in the righthand column that addresses this very question of TV shows for all to read at any time. Read carefully, folks, the following are quality television:
--"Twin Peaks"
--"Once and Again"
--"Star Trek: The Next Generation" (that's right, I said it; it's sentimentality factor)
--"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (I'm serious, folks)
--"24", the first three seasons and the first half of the fourth season only, though

* 5 greatest joys:
--urban hiking in San Francisco
--beaches during winter storms
--watching thunderstorms
--vaguely, beautiful language in the written word
--vaguely, the confluence of excellent filmmaking in movies and TV

* 5 favorite toys:
--my laptop, delivery system of the internet and my music collection and word processing for all this silly writing I do
--my shiny new hassle-free iPod shuffle
--my beautiful new 8" Wüsthof chef's knife
--my digital piano
--my TV, an appliance I sadly cannot live without

Apparently I have to tag someone to carry on this chain letter survey business. Because my sitemeter indicates that this blog is read by all two of you and occasionally somebody from Brazil, I don't know if tagging is the best way to spread the chain letter.

UPDATE (08/22/2006): I hereby rescind this tagging business. Consider it a gift. But, if you (yes, YOU dear reader) want to adapt this meme for your own blog, please do. Maybe you'll learn something new about yourself.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

shore leave, part II

I won't be complaining about some Caribbean beach time.

How does that lime in the coconut jingle go?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

phoning it in on your own food network show

I suppose it's only a matter of time before all single-genre television networks start running out of ideas. Lately the Food Network has been sagging under its own weight (which could explain the rash of peripherally-involved cooking shows that keep popping up), and my patience as a viewer is growing thin. This could be a symptom of my changing taste, or perhaps my irritability at things I really like turning sloppy before my eyes. But this isn't group counseling.

Ultimately I love cooking shows because they offer pure escapism. I watch because I want to hold on to the artifice that I'm in these chef's kitchens and I'm watching them prepare food that they've had time-honored recipes for. I watch because I believe they're showing me a trick of their own trade; I'm stepping into their kitchen for them to show me their own skills and culinary prowess to provide food that just maybe I could learn to cook for myself.

Lately though, doesn't it seem like the Food Network personalities are just phoning it in?

It's becoming clear that Paula Deen's arsenal of recipes is actually not all that impressive, now that her shows have resorted to trying out recipes culled from her viewers' letter writing campaigns. Probably no surprise.... with a show that originally specialized in down home cooking (i.e. "Southern"), there are only so many times she can brag about her fried chicken. I don't tune in to "Paula's Home Cooking" to watch her bumble through some recipe she's never cooked before, nor do I have much desire to hear her engage in some borderline-psychotic-event one-way dialogue with the author of the recipe she's trying to get through. Yesterday's episode involved a paltry menu of "Mexican" dishes that in some way resembled the same "Mexican" dishes one could get from the grocer's freezer. The woman was on some kind of frantic auto-pilot; she'd never even thought of making what she was on camera before she woke up and the producers told her what was on the schedule. Further evidence of her producers running out of ideas: creative culinary stretches, such as Paula's blind stabs at French cooking. If the Food Network one-hour special of sending Paula Deen and her Santa-Claus-meets-Hell-Angels husband to Paris wasn't enough, the viewer has to suffer through Paula pretending that she's had French meals up her sleeve all along. I don't buy it. So, when it comes down to it, Paula is on the air solely because of her charm and original promise of cooking ability.... I just wish she was better at bullshitting her way through recipes to make it seem like she just maybe would prepare them for her own family from time to time.

I have a little more faith in Rachael Ray, and I do somewhat believe that she maybe has test drived her wacky recipe canon on her unsuspecting new husband. What concerns me is just how wacky her recipes are starting to become. Maple Chipotle Chicken? Whatever kind of bizarre Latin-Vermont fusion that is, I have no idea; insult to injury comes when she keeps mentioning how it looks just like Chinese takeout. If this recipe really is her own doing and not from the two-beer-buzz imagination of a Food Network test kitchen staffer, she could at least pretend that she's familiar with the ingredients she's using. I'm tuning in on the false pretense that this is her kitchen (re-labeled food and million dollar 1950's-design appliances and all), so when she opens her pantry and is surprised at what she finds inside, it's all too clear that she's practically coasting on cue cards. Besides, she's got a syndicated talk show to plan for; this "30 Minute Meals" crap is old hat to her by now.

The Food Network feels like it's losing some of its homey-ness and natural attitude in favor of something more fast-paced and a kind of labotomized user-friendly. Sandra Lee's valium-hangover sunniness and instant pudding mix-based recipes come to mind. Their cavalry of personalities seem to have been annointed infallible, and thus we get to watch them stretch the bounds of what it means to have a cooking show. Is it so much to ask that maybe they take a cue from the more cozy cooking shows of PBS's Saturday morning instead? Or maybe that's just a bygone era now.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

heat wave

I visited New York City for the first time just about this week three years ago. I remember wandering the city in a blaze of tourism, which meant I spent most of my hours outdoors in the soupy heat. The hostel I stayed in didn't have air conditioning, and I believe that has been the closest I've experienced to the heat of hell. I thought it was hot then.... but I would have to say the current state of weather has trumped that. Keep in mind I live here now, have a better grasp and appreciation of the city, and am smart enough to spend all available hours (while not in transit somewhere) in zones of air conditioning. The weather is so miserable now, and happens to be everywhere in the country except for minor oases of Pacific marine layer, I can't even put it into words. Everybody feels this way here in the city too; people sweat through their clothes in helpless misery on the subway and on the street. People are dropping dead with heat-related ailments across the country. I wonder what it was like before air conditioners out here.... particularly when waiting underground for the subway, which is a minor hell of its own in this heat. It's funny to see the train arrive in the station, packed with people, and then one car will pass that is absolutely empty. Empty, of course, because it isn't air conditioned. What did people do before the subways were air conditioned? I can't even imagine.

So, some "cold front" is apparently coming in tonight, which will bring the New York City metropolitan area down to a frigid 90 degrees opposed to hovering at three digits of Fahrenheit as it has for the past three days.

A friend of mine recently moved to Tucson, Arizona. I'm not even sure how they can bear the heat there.... but I am reminded that west of the Rockies humidity isn't even a factor in hot weather, and I'll take a dry heat wave over a humid heat wave any day of the week. So, when observing the mere two or three degrees difference between New York City and southern Arizona right now, I am at pains. So is my air conditioner, struggling.

So, with this massive heat wave and nationwide record-breaking temperatures, of course my mind wanders to the subject of global warming. If there's one subject that makes me uneasy about events beyond my control it's this one. Video footage of glaciers cracking apart induces a strange fight-or-flight response from me, and I feel helpless and antsy. I rant to people about the benefits of public transit. I rant to people about the benefits of soy fuel (which, to be honest, I find kind of a funny prospect.... but hey, it works and it's better for our environment than the alternative), or buying hybrid engine vehicles, or refitting diesel engines to run on canola oil. At this point, it's probably cheaper to go to Costco and stock up on palettes of Wesson than to go fill up with gas. I have no energy to stand on a soapbox about what we need to do to help our environment and all that; I think it's becoming more aware in the American consciousness now. Sure it's a worldwide issue, but we have to start somewhere. That said, I must plug Al Gore's terrific and entertaining (yes, entertaining and important) documentary An Inconvenient Truth, which is a must for everyone to see. Everyone as in you. Have you seen it yet? Well, you might as well go tonight. Bring some friends. Bring neighbors if you see them fanning themselves on the porch. Don't pout, or be afraid.... It's not some doomsday vehicle at all; it's actually quite hopeful. I wish that my undergrad chemistry classes had such informative and understandable presentations. I'll leave it at that.

Back to when I first visited NYC: I was with two of my friends, both who lived in New England at the time, and I told them, while sweltering underground waiting for a local subway train that took too long to arrive, that I would take an East Coast winter over an East Coast summer in a heartbeat. I was guessing, of course, having grown up on the beach in California. They both said in unison, "No you wouldn't." Three years later, I'd still pick the snowy winter, hands down.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

tv showrunners talk too much

It's probably not unreasonable to say that I do too much reading about television happenings (i.e. gossip) online.... but lately I've come across a disturbing trend.

Producers and showrunners talk too much. They should spend more time coming up with challenging storylines and aiming for good writing than gloating about how great their show is. The last two weeks or so have given a cavalcade of upcoming fall season previews by the major networks for television critics. At every reception and gala and panel they have proud television executives and producers and writers and the occasional star all showing up with bright smiles to talk about their next big hit. Of course, this is their job: to plug their show, to make sure people watch, to make money. Whether the show is actually good or not is an afterthought. (And sometimes, this question sneaks in on the faces of those smiling folks onstage).

But there comes a point when this goes a step too far. For instance, producers dropping tidbit after tidbit after vague tidbit after mannerism so that feverish geeks (i.e. me) can look up what they said/intuited in transcripts posted online. Let's take for instance The Powers That Be behind fans-are-foaming-at-the-mouth smash hits like "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives". "Lost" is already starting to flirt too heavily with advertising addenda, with junky 'mobisodes' and fictional commercials and myriad self-sponsored websites (opposed from independent fan sites) and podcast after podcast of the producers talking in circles about their vision for the show or whatever. Similar leakage is happening with the creatively putrefying "Desperate Housewives", with the showrunner admitting that this last season sucked really bad and how he has a brilliant plan to bring it all back, and opening bags of breadcrumbs to give us gratuitous hints of what he has in mind. I say don't worry, dear showrunners, your shows are unstoppable right now, and will be well into the next season.

My gripe: when you talk too much about your show, when you talk about the goings on behind it, when you talk about the process, it destroys the whole allure of the show in the first place. In a way, it's breaking the contract with the viewer to have the story remain self-contained. Someone who I think agrees with my line of thinking is Shonda Rhimes, the showrunner of another foaming-at-the-mouth hit, "Grey's Anatomy". She's garnered a reputation for herself among TV critcs and gossip raggers as a spoiler nazi, keeping the behind-the-scenes planning of her show under close watch and out of the loose lips of the critics and columnists. But.... isn't that her job? So far it's working.... "Grey's Anatomy" (despite the disturbing and potentially naughty title) is white-hot.

Yes, I understand that all that extra stuff (podcasts, mobisodes (?), trick websites, "The Lost Experience") is an advertising goldmine.... but as it rakes in cash, it starts eating away at the integrity of the show and of the canon of the story. All this isn't anything new, though.... networks have paraded their shows with fearless plastic stoicism since the beginning of television. They've all tried advertising gimmickery many times before.... it's inevitable for any hit, really. But keep in mind, the networks are in it for the money, not for the art. Sure they want the show to be successful on an artistic/storyline level, but only if it's successful in raking in revenue for the network (hence why truly fantastic television sometimes gets unceremonoiously canned). It's the job of the writers and showrunners, not the executives, to keep the integrity of the story alive and not to dangle morsels of gossip like meat on a hook to their greedy audience. In the end, that audience might be more grateful if things were kept under wraps, and the surprises to come would feel new and organic; that the show can stand on its own, and not planned and plotted and bragged about for everyone to read about.

Monday, July 17, 2006

food network programming déjà vu

So far this summer when I'm not working or reading in Riverside Park or excessively loitering in bookstores or touring happy hours at my-kind-doesn't-belong-here swanky bars throughout the city, the television is likely on in my apartment. When it is on, it's usually tuned to the Food Network. Since I sacrificed my cable (and regained $40 a month), the basic package left behind mercifully includes the Food Network, aside from the other standard big 4 and a surprising number of Spanish-language stations, but that's about it. I don't really watch much TV currently because there's nothing to watch during the summer.... so for now it's serving mostly as a conduit for background noise. I've noticed, though, that if there's one thing the Food Network doesn't have, it's variety in its commercials.

With their commercials comes relentless advertising for a slough of new programming. Why, oh why are there so many travel-'n'-eating shows on the Food Network? What happened to good old cooking shows? It looks like the Food Network is slowly changing along the same lines as what happened to MTV, where MTV slowly shed everything that had to do with music to programming things only tangentially related to music (and now, not even that, I guess). Worse yet.... all these shows seem to be re-hashes of shows past. Out with the old, in with the new?

If the opening volley of Rachael Ray travel-'n'-eating shows from the past few years was a hint, now it seems like you can't watch a show without somebody traveling somewhere and relating it to food. The network is no stranger to this kind of show (citing now-golden oldies like "The Best Of..." and "Food Finds"), but I think they're approaching some kind of overkill. Keep in mind I haven't seen any of these new shows, because their commercials are already enough for me and I only like traditional cooking shows anyway.

Paula Deen's hunky sons get to tour the country on the Food Network's dime with "Road Tasted" (who gets paid to name these shows anyway?). They travel in a likely-it's-not-theirs vintage convertible and eat in mom-'n'-pop joints from coast to coast and tell you (yes, you!) the viewer how you can get these tasty treats at home. Wait a minute.... didn't the Food Network already have this covered with "Food Finds"? What's the matter.... Sandra Pinckney suddenly lost her charm? Also: has any one else noticed that the Deen brood's accents tend to be a bit uneven? That southern charm is part of their contract, people.

I'm not sure why Bobby Flay seems to be so popular; he must be testing extremely well in whatever markets the Food Network analysts are zeroing in on. Alas, "Throwdown with Bobby Flay" is yet another show where he gets to gloat about his cooking skills, and this time challenge you (yes, you!), America on how you cook your own down-home dishes. Doesn't Bobby Flay just seem mean? Maybe it's the perma-grimace. Maybe Food Network doesn't want to buy him out of his contract. A less invasive cousin of this show was in "Tyler's Ultimate", a relatively enjoyable variations-on-a-theme cooking show where Tyler Florence (gone extremely low profile as of late) globetrots and learns how real Italians make lasagna, real Spaniards make paella, and then sees how he matches up to par in is million dollar Manhattan kitchen.

Now for Alton Brown. Sometimes "Good Eats" can be charming and quite informative, but more often not it's like the Anal Retentive Guide to Cooking. Sometimes he just gets so tightly wound on how you (yes, you) MUST do what he says in the kitchen, and then goes overboard with self-consciously kitschy skits, that I can't stomach the show for weeks on end. Hopefully this won't be the case for "Feasting on Asphalt" (again, how much does this person get paid to come up with a sucky title like that?). Alton Brown tours the country on a motorcycle and acts as a one-man wikipedia on what food-related items he comes across. Food Network's first video blog, maybe?

Meanwhile, Rachael Ray's non-Food network talk show is picking up advertising steam; armchair cook cracks me up about this. I don't believe the Food Network is obligated to promote this future syndicated gabfest, so they don't.... but that doesn't stop local ABC networks from advertising how you can be a part of the show! (and with Rachael Ray suddenly calling herself "Rach") I just can't seem to warm up to the idea.... something about it is ringing fake all over the place for me. Maybe it's the fact that all talk shows ring fake. Maybe it's the promotional photographs of her in front of a wind machine mounting a motorcycle anchored to a sound stage.

Friday, July 14, 2006

most badass disney villain ever?

Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.

Think about it:
* Not motivated by inadequacy or jealousy or fear.... Sleeping Beauty doesn't have anything that she wants per se; she's just motivated by plain old hatred.
* How to stop Prince Charming from getting to the castle? A forest of thorns, that's how.
* She turns herself into a motherf-ing dragon.... because she can.

Trust me, I honestly don't sit around everyday thinking of these things.... somehow they just happen to come up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

snippets of conversations I had at the Apple store today

(at this store, actually. The store is underground, and smaller than you would think. Lots of people, lots of greasy fingerprints on merchandise. Imagine the picture during daylight and with an exodus of people milling around outside)

Sales Representative (#1) with stained Apple Store uniform T-shirt: What seems to be the problem, sir?
Me: My iPod is broken.
Sales Rep #1: Have you....
Me: My computer won't read it. I've tried resetting it. I've tried putting it in disk mode.
Sale Rep #1: Well just go ahead and sign your name in the computer here.
Me: Do I have to use my real name?

Sales Representative (#2), cleaner, with clipboard: I'm sorry sir, have you checked in yet?
Me: The guy [points to sour cream-like stain] told me to stand over here.
Sales Rep #2: Well, they won't call your name to the Genius Bar unless you double check with me.
Me: Looks like I'm double checking now. We're double checking.

Sales Representative (#3), curly hair, curly beard: What brings you in to us today?
Me: My iPod is broken.
Sales Rep #3: Have you....
Me: The computer doesn't read it, it won't reset, disk mode does jack.
Sales Rep #3: Ah, it looks like your hard drive is on the way out.
Me: [curious if this Sales Rep needed a perm for that hair] Out where?
Sales Rep #3: Well, starting to fail, I mean. This particular model has been known to have these problems, especially if it gets jarred around a lot. Do you go running with it every day?
Me: No.
Sales Rep #3: Well, jogging I mean.
Me: No.
Sales Rep #3: Biking?
Me: No.
Sales Rep #3: Have you dropped it a few times?
Me: I suppose I could now, right?
Sales Rep #3: I don't think there's much we can do for this guy then. Sorry.
Me: Bummer. Can I use this exit, or do I go for the glass ceiling?

Friday, July 07, 2006

the emmys: more than just your typical hack awards show

I have a bone to pick with the Emmys. The 2006 nominations were announced yesterday (the list of popular nominations to read at your leisure), and people are crying foul.

But first let me say this: I find it hard to really respect any awards show because I have lost faith that they can actually honor the best of a field, now that they have turned into marketing spectacles that tend to shift their accolades toward mediocrity and popular opinion. The Oscars have reserved a bit of fun and surprise, but oftentimes disappointment follows in its wake too. (I know as little as possible would argue that in some sense this is part of the fun and anticipation of the Oscars, and it's true that I kind of agree.)

The Emmys are in fact the grand poobah of hack awards shows; the Golden Globes come in a close second, mostly for their unabashed starfucking and also because they tend to be an accurate precursor of the Oscars and therefore kind of fan that flame. The Emmys carry no respect or any indications of awarding the best that television can offer, and have in fact historically settled for less. The question always remains: does the television academy actually watch television?

So, I have no build up or excitement for Emmy nominations, because in the end I could care less. Why? The last nail in the coffin: Susanna Thompson was flat out robbed of a rightful nomination in 2002 for "Once and Again"'s third season. I won't go into too much lush detail, but this woman pulled off perhaps the most heartwrenching story arc in recent network television history, and was ignored when Emmy nominations came around. Her performance was so affecting that it's an insult that she wasn't recognized.... isn't the point of the Emmys to award the best aspects of television in the year? The unfortunate story involved here is that a) "Once and Again" had been canceled and was receiving zero support from ABC for an awards campaign, b) viewership of the show dwindled so severely thanks to ABC's mistreatment of the show, and c) the Emmys traditionally didn't herald nominations from canceled shows. (A trend that ended with this year.... but more on that in a bit.)

This year, though, the Emmy nominations seemed to pull a more widely-perceived upset. Out of the gate with some kind of new-and-improved nomination system (out with the mass ballots and in with a top-secret panel of judges to handpick from a list of potential nominees), it looks like there was some kind of weird backfire. Oddly missing from the line-up: "Lost" scored no major acting nominations, nor one for Best Television Drama. In a year when "Lost" was red-hot, this is strangely of suspect. Also conspicuously missing from major categories were expected heavyweights like "Desperate Housewives" and "The Sopranos". I for one am tired of "The Sopranos" walking away with wheelbarrows of awards when the show is kind of loopy and misguided. As for "Desperate Housewives", good riddance. It's about time someone stepped up and publicly bitch-slapped this overrated drek, pointing out that the only thing going for the show in the first place was a suspiciously aggressive marketing campaign, becoming the first watercooler hit of ABC's programming renaissance before it even hit the air. The phenomenal Alfre Woodard gets the last laugh though; despite how underwritten and misused her character was on the show (she left at the end of the season), she walked away with "Desperate Housewives"'s only acting nomination.

So people were expecting this new nomination system to finally bring underdogs like "Gilmore Girls" (why?) and "Battlestar Galactica" to the light of Emmy attention.... but it didn't. In fact, it seemed to pull some obscure nominations out of the hat, many of them from already canceled shows (for instance a nod to "Commander in Chief" for Geena Davis). This is an interesting development, almost like a slap in the face to the networks that canceled shows that are now being nominated as the best in the field.... including triumphant (and very well-deserved) nominations to the dearly departed "Arrested Development" (for both Best Television Comedy, and to GOB for Best Supporting Actor in a Television Comedy). Too bad "Once and Again" couldn't have taken advantage of the new system when it needed it.

But, just like every Emmy year, too much non-challenging material is showered with praise: [insert vapid sitcoms here]. The Emmys also tend to show love to the same actors over and over again (Blythe Danner racked up three acting nominations last year for three different performances); thus Stockard Channing walks away with a nomination for some forgettable sitcom this year when she had already swept the decks clean with numerous historical "The West Wing" nominations and wins. Thankfully gone, however, are entire categories partitioned off by nominations for the same show (*ahem* "The Sopranos" and "The West Wing"), as seen in the past and jilting more deserving shows and performances of eking into a slot.

Award shows with respect to television always seem to jump the gun, unloading on the first seasons of promising shows nomination after nomination.... and in some cases impulsive wins, such as the usual Golden Globe win for actors on a show that has spent no more than two months on the air (see Jennifer Garner for "Alias" in 2002 and Geena Davis for "Commander in Chief" this year). They also tend to follow along with the yes-men nodding of high ratings and glowing reviews (hence a massive influx of HBO/Showtime programming stepping up to the plate in recent years). In a year where every damned article mentioning "24" has to gush about how the 5th season was its best, when in actuality it was its most bland and predictable, it seems the Emmys could only reciprocate. So, with enough gushing and enough prodding and lauding, "24" walks away with the most nominations of any show this year. Don't get me wrong: I'm happy that Jean Smart picked up a Best Supporting Actress in a Television Drama nomination for her eclectic (and enjoyable) performance as the First Lady, but somehow I can't help but think that another actress from "24"'s past deserved a nomination in the same category a few years ago.

So, some people think that this year's nominations are a total hack because the usual suspects didn't make an appearance, and others were holding out for the Susanna Thompsons of this year to land a surprise slot. What they don't understand is that the Emmys have always been a hack, and this year it's just been dragged into the light. I for one and am intrigued (and not exactly disappointed) that "Lost" ended up with diddly squat (and it should give something for those grandstanding podcast-happy producers of theirs to suck on for awhile) and that this "new" nomination system has dredged up some unexpected choices, as well as exposed a flaw in the networks' terminating of shows that had some more juice left in them.

Friday, June 30, 2006

no wining

I've had my eye on this tasting room/wine bar in SoHo for a little over a month now. Somehow I convinced myself that I would make the perfect tasting room pourer, and I have targeted this place to be my new employer. They sell and serve only New York state wines. I've driven through North Fork Long Island wine country before; it's beautiful, but has nothing on Sonoma County. I don't know where the Finger Lakes are (just the name makes me want to go), but apparently they grow grapes up there too. This tasting room thing seems like an exciting detour: I'll pour wine for yuppies, sure. I really want to, strangely, and have accrued a strange amount of determination about the fact.... so much so that I bought Wine for Dummies rather impulsively. Some say that the Wine Bible is really the right choice, but that book didn't look exactly like light reading. Now if only I can stroll into the place when an eager manager happens to be on their shift.

I'm not really an expert on wine, and it's not like I've had a lifelong passion for it. I find it tasty most of the time, but I'm not terribly discriminatory.... meaning it's not unlikely to see me holding a glass of Carlo Rossi or Franzia from the box if the event I'm at happens to have it sitting on the refreshment table for all to have. I can appreciate all the wine-talk and searching for varying degrees of flavors (from tropical fruits to woods used for funiture all the way to cat piss.... no joke). That said, I have had wine that tasted like licking a basement. So I don't know.

I always found it funny that if you order a bottle of wine at a restaurant, the server will pour for you a tiny glass to taste to make sure the wine hasn't gone bad or something. Is it some kind of high society thing to taste the wine and send it back because it's lost its luster? Where exactly do you draw the line with sending back wine? Imagine if I sent back the bottle on principle, or just because. How would the restaurant know? That said, I drink Franzia and Two Buck Chuck, so I'm not likely to be sending back any bottles of wine in the near future.

When I was back at home in the Bay Area, she can film it and I went up to Healdsburg where we got a quick tour of this upscale winery that her sister works at. The wine tasting came with food tasting too, little vittles to change the flavor of the wines here and there. The tuna tartar was delicious, and so was this little cornbread cracker with a dollop of some creamy cheese. The duck pâté thing was going a little far though. We weren't a fan of that.

Flash forward a week and I'm camping in Mendocino County just outside of the Anderson Valley wine country (if you haven't been to Boonville, read the book and you'll get a over-the-top-wacky but at the same time somewhat accurate depiction of hippie California mountain towns.... I was assured by one Anderson Valley tasting room employee that most events and characters in the book actually are not fiction, despite the book's insistance that they are). So my friends and I decided wine tasting was in order. Seven or eight wineries later I'm reenacting scenes from Sideways and slurring my words and pretending I know the difference between the ages of oaken barrels and making bourgeois jokes like "what kind of people actually drink wine that comes from stainless steel barrels?" I think I may have said "I'm not drinking any fucking merlot!" with too much vigor at one poor tasting room employee offering up the selection. In the end I had a great time and decided that maybe five wineries would have been plenty, dessert wines are quite tasty, and that I didn't have enough room in my suitcase to pack the four bottles I had purachsed.... so I got my hands on a tote bag to make carry-on #2.

So back to the tasting room job propsect. How does one get a job at a tasting room in the city anyway?

Thursday, June 29, 2006

a different View

1. I am not a pop culture prostitute.
2. So, Barbara Walters gave Star Jones a public spanking after Star decided she was leaving "The View" before "The View" kicked her gastric bypassed ass out the door. I don't know much about Star Jones except that she's a lawyer (verified only by Tracy Morgan's hilarious performance as her in "The View" spoofs from mid-90's SNL) and that she did commercials for Payless Shoes. I don't know much about "The View", really, except that I really enjoyed those skits from SNL and think Cheri Oteri (who has disappeared) is a comedic genius. I think I saw Joy Behar on the street once when I first moved to New York.
3. Forever now Payless to me will be known as Star Jones Shoes.
4. It's too bad Barbara Walters and Star Jones couldn't have an actual spontaneous catfight onscreen.... "Dynasty"-style, with shoulder pads and fountains and all. That would have made good TV.
5. Barbara Walters would probably fight dirty and go for the eyes.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

shore leave

Sometimes I'm just tempted to put up photos and have them speak for themselves. Maybe not a bad idea while I enjoy the little time I have back at home.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

mark of the beast

So today is the mythic date of 06/06/06.... which is considerably less-mythic once you realize it happens every 100 years. Even to boil down the date to the Lucifer-heralding "666", you need to drop a bunch of zeroes and a two, so the whole superstition about today's date is hogwash. So, the only date this actually would work on would be in the year 6 A.D., but that year wasn't even established until the modern Christian calendar was developed sometime in the fifteenth century, or maybe even more recently than that. That said, it doesn't stop the local news from playing their cute little segment about it every half hour, getting reaction from people on the street. I must admit, though, that even I stop and think for a moment when my lunch across the street from work costs me $6.66.

So, I didn't have any idea what the 666 sequence even meant until I saw the actually-it's-really-bad-but-somewhat-enjoyably-campy Stay Tuned (1992) (hey, does anybody remember this movie?). Starring John Ritter (and Mindy from "Mork & Mindy") as a man who gets caught in his television after he buys a satellite dish from the devil (hence the occasional play on 666), and is forced to live as a part in hellish (ha) programming like "Northern Overexposure" and "Driving Over Miss Daisy". One can argue that such programming in our own real world probably isn't too far off.

Sticking with the devil theme, "The Simpsons" knocked one out of the park a few weeks ago when they aired an episode about creationism versus evolution being taught in schools. Some say that the show has lacked its spark for years now, but if I catch a new episode they reliably always have at least one joke that genuinely gets me to laugh out loud. This creationism episode was so much like the glory days of vintage "Simpsons", and they had some very smart and very barbed comedy: an exhibit about the "Myth of Creation" at the natural history museum with the hand of God sparking down against the earth, springing up fig-leaf clad Adam and Eve; the elementary school playing a video paid for by the Christian right, comparing the Bible with Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species written in dripping blood.... and then Darwin makes out with Satan. Absolutely brilliant. May "The Simpsons" remain on television forever.

So, whatever mythological Christian hooplah it is that has branded "666" as the "mark of the beast" I'm not sure, but to this day that term seems to me most appropriate for my high school Spanish 4 teacher.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

bee fever

I am totally mystified by the recent overwhelming popularity of spelling bees. There's been an influx in the last few years of books and movies about all things bee. Why? Have spelling bees ever been this popular? I knew that every year they televised the national spelling bee, held in Washington DC to make it seem more important and/or somehow affiliated with the government. This year interestingly enough, instead of banishing the televised national competition to some dark corner of ESPN2 weekend programming, it got a front seat in primetime on ABC tonight.

There was that oscar-nominated documentary Spellbound (2002), which I haven't seen but seems like it would be more about the stage parents instead of the stressed-out prepubescent spellers themselves; next, Bee Season (2005) about a girl and her dysfunctional family and how she gets through it by "seeing" the words or whatever; and then most recently the Starbucks-produced vehicle Akeelah and the Bee (2006) about another phenomenal girl speller with some family issues and the stock adult figures who either a) believe in her or b) don't and think spelling is a waste of time. An interesting and perhaps valid argument when it comes to the drama of a screenplay, but I digress. (Continuing with that digression, why can't Angela Bassett seem to get herself a nice juicy role on screen? We could use more of her.) Hell, there is even a deleted scene from Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) that brings up an uncomfortable family showdown at a spelling bee.

I seem to recall spelling bees being reserved for the smart-kid/nerd lot.... like I was/am. When I was in fifth grade I made it to third place in my school's spelling bee. The word that got me out: epitome. Be sure that I know how to spell that thing now, but I remember so well standing at that podium, having never heard that word in my entire life. Even the definition they provided to me was shrouded in mystery. Luckily they provided us a notepad to attempt to visualize the word (an advantage not provided to the national spelling bee-ers, it seems); I remember trying to spell the word with too many d's and m's, ending it with a y. I felt like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland.
(For the record: I may not have won my fifth grade spelling bee, but I did win the geography bee that year, which I remember wasn't so difficult for me. I don't remember the winning question, though.... which is interesting, because I think the question one fails to answer stands out more than the question one succeeds with.)

The recent surge in spelling bee popularity is of suspect.... because the subject matter tends not to be the most thrilling. But lo and behold, they're able to construct entire movies around spelling bees, so there's an argument out there that spelling bees do have the right kind of narrative drama. I just don't see it.

But.... when it comes to airing it on television, I see an interesting trend. I guess most would consider the televised national spelling bee to fall in the same category as, say, sports programs. Like sports for the mind. But I see through to what those television executives are seething over: spelling bees are an untapped resource of reality television, and at a low cost because the people on screen don't have to be paid. Spelling bees aren't all that fun to watch anyway, but people do, likely, for two reasons:
1) they want to see all these crazy words they've never heard and never will hear again, and
2) they want to watch these kids fail,
because ultimately reality television is breeding a culture of competition and failure made for others' enjoyment. Do people really watch "Survivor" to see the trials or whatever the contestants play? Do people really watch to see the bugs they eat? No: they watch to see who gets voted off, who falls on their face, who fails. Same goes for the unstoppable juggernaut of "American Idol", except with that show emotionally unstable judges are thrown into the mix for theatrics. Tonight's bee still carried with it some level of expected respect that the whole reality television angle hasn't been able to tarnish and make trashy yet. However there was a gaggle of off-screen commentators (including my "Good Morning America" crush Robin Roberts), not surprisingly I guess, all assuming the holier-than-thou disapprovement likely learned from those horrible ice skating commentators.

The winning word tonight: ursprache. Yeah, I don't know it either. I'm all for understanding cognates between languages and all, but this word seems blatantly lifted straight from the Merriam-Webster German dictionary.

So, why are these competitions called spelling "bees" anyway? They'd be much more fun to watch on television if they actually introduced live bees into the mix.

above: one of my favorite scenes from Adaptation