The Chicago Code suffered from a pretty bad case of the pilots. Characters mouths were stuffed with dialogue that strained to engage the viewer, lay out their motivations and relationships, set the plot in motion, and establish the tone of the show. When I watched the pilot and suggested to Kevin that he watch it, this was his response: "You think you can change the way things are done? IN CHICAGO??!!?"
Well, this is what Kevin said after last night's third episode: "Okay I am on board."
Indeed. Last night was the realization of everything this show promised it could be: a propulsive hour long crime drama with top notch production values and an engaging cast that is capable of blending overarching story arcs that bring you into the world of the show with stand-alone cases to give each episode its own driving force.
The show comes to us from the team that just finished work on the late and lamented Terriers, the best show of the fall season. Much of the same DNA that made that show great is on display here, but what this show has that Terriers lacked is a great villain.
Delroy Lindo, who plays the corrupt city alderman at the center of the ongoing serialized investigation, has done bad things in the first few episodes, but it had always been with plausible deniability; in fact, his deniability was so plausible that you could make the case the series was setting him up as a red herring. Not after last night.
"Think about it. It must have been someone close to you. And I mean close. REALLY close."
In between serving up unwed teenage mothers and the evolutionary end-point of upper class Italian-American entitlement for the satisfaction of the national id, MTV will occasionally dabble in the teenage self-improvement genre. The most successful of these shows is "Made", which documents the transformation of, say, an unathletic dork into a basketball player through a combination of professional training and, no doubt, rehearsed on-camera dialogue with envious peers. Now comes "I Used To Be Fat", which takes that specific episode of "Made" - the fat teen who wants to be a thin - into a series.
The rhythms of the show are predetermined. We will watch the overweight teen in their natural habitats, either lounging in their bed or eating (in the episode I watched, these activities were frequently combined). We will marvel at their fatness. We will wonder: yes, she is 260 pounds, but how tall is she? A personal trainer will show up to berate her and her enabling mother. She will be dragged, kicking and screaming and eating, to the gym for some exercise. After no more than 45 seconds of exercise, she will be moaning, crying, sweating profusely, and threatening to vomit. AND IT WILL BE GLORIOUS
But as the title of this post would indicate, the show I really want to watch is called "I Am Fat", in which overweight teens are dragged from their beds, mocked for their weight, forced to humiliate themselves in the gym, and then sent home in quick succession. In the actual show, the teens overcome their adversity, improve their physical condition, lose weight, go shopping for new clothes, go out to a party, feel good about themselves, and bore me. WHERE IS THE NEXT FAT TEEN TO BE BERATED BY THE FORMER MARINE PLEASE.
This is also why I always watch the season premiere of The Biggest Loser, but never the finale.
With the holiday season starting earlier and earlier every year, the media crunch times that are the launch of the network tv season, the pre-Christmas gaming rush, Oscar awards bait, and peak musician touring times are overlapping more and more. And since I have far too much time on my hands, I'll be attempting to guide through the morass of garbage in hopes of finding the little good out there in American media. Starting with TV, since it's been a long enough time for shows to find their feet. Games and Music to come later.
This was an abysmal year for new shows on networks. Even if you liked the tired genres getting flogged, did anyone really need Outlaw or The Defenders or The Whole Truth? Networks had no new ideas, nor did they execute any of the old ideas well. That's not entirely fair, Fox had a single idea (Lonestar), but America rejected it like a failed organ transplant. Unfortunately it looks like the midseason replacements might be even worse, because NBC already gave full season orders to every single one of its terrible new shows except Undercovers, and even that they ordered more scripts for. Chase? Really? That show has sub-Jay Leno Show ratings, and is expensive to boot. In fact with the exception of Law & Order: LA, all its 9PM shows are doing worse than Leno.
The only 'hits' are CBS and William Shatner's dramatic retelling of a twitter feed and Hawaii 5-0, a rehash of an ancient property that I suspect thrives because the Alzheimer's patients that make up the CBS audience* think it's the original. Thankfully the networks have learned from the Shat and have already optioned multiple other twitter feeds for next season. This is not a joke, it is real and possible that there'll be a two hour block of comedies based on twitter feeds to compete with NBC's Thursday.
*seriously compare overall rating numbers vs 18-49 demographic numbers for CBS. Every old white person in America watches everything on it.
So what's worth watching? Let's take it night by night in a followup to Jesse and Jim's now month old but still only half posted conversation.
You are thinking, "Oh, here we go, some man bitching about how is wife makes him watch House Hunters when there are real manly things on that he could be watching, like sports, or maybe something involving trucks and/or guns." Like I said, you are wrong.
I used to enjoy House Hunters. You could even call me a fan. Sure, maybe I was suffering from some kind of repetitive trauma Stockholm Syndrome (it wouldn't be the first time, I'm sure), but the point is, I didn't hate it. In fact, when I saw a few weeks ago an episode set in Houston, I actually got a little excited. So excited that I recorded it so I could watch it later (I was leaving the house at the time).
The fact that it was recorded allowed me to go back later that week and make sure that I had seen what I thought I saw: yes, the guy in the House Hunters episode was, in fact, the guy who just joined my softball team. I played softball with the guy from House Hunters! I could ask him all my questions, like how did he get on the show? How do they pick the houses? Do they really only look at 3 houses before buying a place? Do they get paid to appear on the show?
I asked the questions, and I got the answers. If you enjoy House Hunters, and want to continue enjoying the show, then here is where you should get off the train. Because answers are coming, and they are going to ruin the show for you forever.
The camera holds frame as a tall, dark man in a cowboy hat and boots walks away from us, as if he's stepping into the frame out of another picture entirely. The edges of the screen fill in with the scene around him: a South Beach pool party scene straight out of a Michael Bay movie. We follow him across the pool, cowboy boots smacking against the concrete. He sits down across from another dark man, this one slicked back and slippery. The slick man looks nervous but tries to hide it as the cowboy approaches. He invites the cowboy to join him for lunch.
The cowboy tells him there is still time. He's given the slick man 24 hours to leave town, and he's still got two minutes left. But if Slick is still in town when the 24 hours are up, he'll shoot him on sight.
I don't think I've ever been hooked on a television series faster than I was in those two minutes.
Timothy Olyphant stars as Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshall who starts out of the Miami office, but quickly finds himself transferred to Kentucky near the town where he grew up. That first scene is out of a different, but
equally fascinating show. It would have been a twist on the fish out of
water: Marshall Givens might look like he's out of place, but his
supreme cool tells us the real story: he isn't a fish out of water. He's
still in the water, and everybody else has been thrown in there with
him. It was not to be: Givens is not long for Miami, and finds himself
back in his old Kentucky home before the second act of the pilot. Before
the first hour is through, he'll once again find himself in a showdown
facing a deadline to leave town.
I've seen Olyphant in a few roles - about 15 minutes of that video game adaptation where he is bald, the ineffective villain in Live Free or Die Hard - and never felt I'd seen him in anything that suited him. That is, until I saw him in a cowboy hat.
I can't be sure that the show will live up to the promise of this first episode. What I can be sure of is this: think of the best combinations of actor and role of the past decade. I'm thinking Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House, Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer, Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan. Individually brilliant creations that shine in spite of the varying quality of the show surrounding them. Whatever happens around the periphery of Justified, I believe Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens is now on that list.
I'm not, by nature, a LOLer. I smirk, I smile, I'll occasionally chuckle, but LOLing is an atypical way for me to express enjoyment of a TV show. (It is to Suzi's great ire that I watch 30 Rock, a show that she hates the way Larry Platt hates sagging pants, without laughing. "If this stupid show is so fucking funny, why aren't you laughing? WHY AREN'T YOU LAUGHING??" she screams.) So it was with great surprise that I found myself LOLing like a motherfucker while watching an Archer marathon last Wednesday night on FX.
Archer is an animated sitcom from the creators of SeaLab 2020 and other things nerds like. Despite its spy trappings, it is ultimately a workplace comedy, punctuated by intense (but brief) acts of violence. In this case, the workplace is ISIS, the International Secret Intelligence Service. The title character, Sterling Archer, is a master spy in the James Bond mold, if the mold had been left in a hot car on a Sunday afternoon. That is to say, he is warped.
The pilot lays these concepts out in a brilliant bit of plotting: Archer, having padding his expense reports with money spent not on work related items but rather gambling and hookers, has to break into the ISIS mainframe to cover up the mess.
The show is, in the best tradition of The Simpsons and South Park,
equal parts literate and profane. Consider: ISIS, the organization for
which Archer works, was worshiped by the Greeks as the ideal mother.
The head of ISIS is actually Archer's mother and is a woman for whom
(as the end of this clip shows) Archer clearly has complicated - and
yucky - sexual feelings about.
Here are the rules for the "This Old House" drinking game*.
Take a sip whenever:
1) A contractor says "Kevin". 2) The homeowners are pressed into manual labor. 3) Kevin does actual work. 4) Somebody has a horrible Boston accent. 5) Tom uses a ridiculous power tool (e.g. a portable power slot cutter) 6) Tom looks down over his glasses while pushing a piece of wood through a saw.
Drink half whenever:
1) Some household doodad or other is declared as "energy efficient." 2) The show kills time by taking you somewhere off-site. 3) You see somebody under the age of 40. 4) A contractor has an awesome mustache.
Finish your drink whenever:
1) You see a black person. 2) You see an Asian person.
*If you actually start watching This Old House, you'll look back on this game and say, "Wow, this is hilarious!" You will! Srs.
I'm going to give an early "watch" recommendation to ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series. Consisting of 30 hourlong docs, each directed by a different filmmaker, the series is produced by resident ESPN loudmouth Boston sports fan, Bill Simmons.
So far three episodes have aired: Peter Berg's take on the Wayne Gretzky trade, Barry Levinson's film on the Baltimore Colts marching band, and Mike Tollin's autopsy of the United States Football League.
I'll be honest, Berg's film, Kings Ransom, really didn't grab me. It was good and everything, but I know so little about hockey, that I wasn't aware that Wayne Gretzky had played for a team other than the LA Kings. As a documentary, it wasn't the best film either -- it doesn't do a good job of transcending the story... or really framing the story for those of us who don't follow hockey or remember the trade.
The strength of the next two installments more than makes up from the weakness of the Berg piece. Barry Levinson's The Band That Wouldn't Die swooped in to show the true potential of the series. In 1984 the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis -- quite famously, actually, without warning, in the middle of the night. Levinson turns his camera to the team's marching band, who kept performing in hopes of convincing the NFL to award a new team to Charm City. Of course, any fan of the Cleveland Browns -- or the New York Giants for that matter -- can tell you that they did. The story of the Colts' move and the band are even more interesting that the memory of the Ravens trouncing the Giants in the Super Bowl.
The third film in the series, Mike Tollin's Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?, cleared the bar set by Levinson's film. Tollin, who actually worked as a TV producer for the short-lived sprint football league, gave us a documentary that featured The Donald as a villain and The Bandit as a hero. Alright, Burt's not in it that much, but when he is, he shares the screen with a giant stuffed bear. I'd be remiss in not recommending any series that gives us even a frame of Burt and his stuffed bear. Anyhoo, the USFL documentary was fantastic -- great vintage footage of the league, a compelling narrative, a bad guy, cancer, Burt, it has it all.
And coming up in the future? The next installment is directed by none other than Albert Maysles, one of the most respected documentary filmmakers ever. His resume already includes Salesman, Grey Gardens, and Gimme Shelter. Tomorrow he adds Muhammad and Larry, following an aged Muhammad Ali as he gets prepared for a 1980 title bout against Larry Holmes.
There are also films by Steve James (who gave us Hoop Dreams -- he's doing a documentary on Allen Iverson), Barbara Kopple (Harlan County USA) is tackling George Steinbrenner, Ice Cube (NWA) is going to take a look at Al Davis moving the Raiders out of LA, John Singleton (Boyz n the Hood) is going to take a close look at Marion Jones. They're even going to let Steve Nash direct a film -- I expect it to score a lot of points and lose in the playoffs.
Give "30 for 30" a chance. It airs at 8pm on Tuesday nights on ESPN, and I'm sure that the other ESPN channels rerun it incessantly. Because that's what ESPN does.
In describing Community, the new NBC comedy on NBC starring Joel McHale, I must define the comedy space. Comedy space is two-dimensional. Along the x-axis is humor. More funny to the right, less funny to the left. We'll define the y-axis as the sincerity axis; the opposite of sincerity is sarcasm. A comedy may be funny and sarcastic (30 Rock); it may be unfunny and sarcastic (Parks and Recreation). Community, while not lacking moments of biting humor, is on the whole funny and sincere.
Joel McHale stars as Jeff, a lawyer with a law degree from Columbia who goes back to community college so that he can get one from America. As an effort to get a pretty girl on a date, he invites her to his Spanish study group, which doesn't exist until the moment the invitation is extended. Instead of the intimate one-on-one time Jeff expected, word gets around and we are introduced to the cast of characters.
If the laugh track-free, edgy sitcoms of the late aughts had a baby with the classic audience sitcoms of the late eighties, that baby would be Community. While it adopts the style of the former, it has the heart of the latter. Even thought last week's episode found the laughs coming a little less frequently than I would usually tolerate, I enjoyed the show from beginning to end. Its just fun to spend time with these guys.
I watch lots of television, and not all of it is good. Did you know I watch American Idol? I do. I watch that shit. Did you know that I watch The Hills with the Suze, and I actually enjoyed the last episode? Sure, I enjoyed it because somebody finally got punched in the goddamn face, but still. The point is, while I watch some of this shit, I need to be careful with what I recommend. If I actually recommended that you watch American Idol, would you ever listen to a word I had to say again? Of course not. You'd be a fool to.
So some shows come on my radar, and I watch them, but they don't quite reach the level of a "Watch" recommendation. Heroes, even in its pretty good first season, never reached that level. House never reached that level. Jim and I wrote sloppy love letters to 24 earlier this season, but I never officially christened it with a "Watch" recommendation. There is a whole history of shows that I have watched, but never even considered recommending.
(Note: I am going to be swearing an entire fuckload in this article. Be forewarned, cocksuckers.)
Eastbound and Down is a comedy for those who think that swear words are, in and of themselves, fucking hilarious. A former major league pitching phenom with a mean streak (think John Rocker, except with the world's best mullet ever) falls from grace and is forced to move back to his shithole hometown and live with his brother's family and work at the local elementary school as a gym teacher.
Kenny Powers, as played by Danny McBride (owner of the aforementioned mullet) deals with the horrible failure that is his life by pretending it is no failure at all. Fat, foul-mouthed, addicted to drugs, and no longer able to bring the heat, Kenny nonetheless sees himself as a star on the way back to the majors, momentarily gracing the dickweed residents of Shelby, North Carolina with his presence. Residents that are sometimes played by Will Ferrell in a blond wig.
While we're on the topic of abusive relationships with game consoles, I've been profoundly disappointed with the Xbox 360's crappiness at streaming video. The original Xbox, after you got it modded, was the greatest media center known to man, so going from that to no streaming anything ever sucked ass. Oh all the technology was there, but you could only stream .WMV files. Raise your hand if you've ever willingly downloaded a WMV file. Ok, you're a Microsoft employee, stop reading this blog and go play with your Zune. And fix user control caching in AJAX UpdatePanels too!
But those of us who aren't owned body, heart, and soul by Bill Gates download divx/xvid Avi files. And to get them into a 360 readable format required a several hour long conversion process, and the result looked like you were trying to watch over the air TV with a broken antenna. Then TVersity came out, which basically converted your stuff to WMV on the fly. It worked, but it raped your computer's CPU and looked even worse than manual conversions. And you couldn't fast forward or skip around at all.
Then they announced that the 360 dashboard was getting an update to play divx files! Except you needed a Windows Media Extender, and you had to do it through Media Player on your computer, which was a huge pain in the ass. It took me over 4 hours to do it, and I actually knew more or less what I was doing. It worked ok but Vista's firewall would keep blocking it so you had to do a lengthy process every time you wanted to use it.
Then last Thanksgiving came around. Another dashboard update, but this time it would let Netflix subscribers use the Instant Streaming feature directly to your 360. And sweet zombie jesus, it works! And it works perfectly. It's trivially simple to use, has a slick enough UI, and the video quality is great If your internet connection is fast and stable it's roughly DVD quality with minimal buffering times. It not only lets you skip around easily, but remembers how much you've watched. So if you load up a TV show, it'll show a list of titled episodes with synopses and show which ones you've watched and which you haven't.
The selection is pretty good, and getting better every day. I think there's also a similar deal with Sony so you can probably do it on your PS3 too. I'm a horrible netflix user, I've had Krzysztof Kieślowski's Colours trilogy out for almost 9 months while still paying fees. But this retroactively makes all that money I've blown worthwhile.
And what's the first thing you should watch?
Seasons 1+2 of 30 Rock, naturally, available in HD!
For once, I am determined to get the word out about a show before it is canceled or the season is already half over. The second season of Damages, starring Glenn Close at the top of a top-notch cast, starts tonight on FX.
Damages has two greats: great acting and great writing. Do those things interest you? Hmm?
Okay, so you want to know what the show is about. Glenn Close plays Patty Hewes, a cutthroat attorney. Rose Byrne is a new lawyer with her firm. Ted Danson is Arthur Frobisher, and he is being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars in a class action lawsuit represented by Hewes. He doesn't want to lose his money or his company, but he refuses to sully his name by settling. Things get a little... messy.
Season 1 framed the action of the previous 9 months with flashes of the
"present", all colliding at a pivotol moment; the grisly murder of
Rose Byrne's fiance. The only word to describe the plot is
"unwinding". You start picking at the edges, and with each new episode
you circle in
on the truth of what happened and what is going to happen. Each new
flash of the present changes the context of what we've seen, sometimes
in incredibly unexpected ways. It is the tightest writing of any show
currently in production. I could give you examples but I don't want to
ruin anything if you missed season 1. It is much too much fun to watch
it all unravel for yourself.
Glenn Close and Rose Byrne are the headliners, but the standouts from season 1 were Ted Danson and Zeljko Ivanek. Zelljjjko plays a man who is clearly from Eastern Europe that has a crazy southern accent for some reason, and is Ted Danson's lawyer. He's the guy next to Glenn Close and her incredible sunglasses in the picture above. Does he look like a man who should be talking like the KFC Colonel? No. He does not. It is glorious.
Ted Danson is great for a reason other than a ridiculous accent. He is the bad guy, but he's not a bad guy, if that makes sense. What I mean is he isn't a mustache-twirling villian, if you'll excuse the cliche. He's created a character that is driven to do the wrong things, and maybe even for the wrong reasons, but you still completely understand him. That is some fine work, if you ask me.
If you plan on keeping up, DO NOT MISS the season premiere tonight. This show got terrible ratings last season, most likely because missing one episode was like trying to speak English missing 6 or 7 letters. You could do it, but a whole lot of stuff was not going to make any sense.
I have no idea what is in store for season 2, but the cast, which was great in season 1, is swelling up with talent. William Hurt, Timothy Olyphant, and Marcia Gay Harden are joining what was already the best ensemble cast this side of Pushing Daisies. If you missed season 1, do not wait and catch up on DVD. Watch it now.
I no longer watch The Price is Right when I am home on a weekday. I have closed the book on that chapter of my life. Instead I watch Maury. Maury has three specialties: out of control teens (send 'em to boot camp!), unfaithful spouses (send in the sexy decoy!), and men who may or may not be the father (take a paternity test!). Today is the best kind of Maury: the paternity test. There is even a catchphrase:
"DeShaun: when it comes to the case of two-year-old Clarence... YOU ARE THE FATHER!!"
The reveal of paternity is, in most cases, the anti-climax. The best part are the testimonials by each party, alternately assigning or denying paternity of the child in question. The women are typically between 100 to 1 million percent sure that he is the father. The man, for his turn, will accuse the woman of having unprotected sex with friends and neighbors.
The question of the baby's appearance will also feature prominently in the discussion. The baby does or does not have his nose, or his eyes are squinty like a Chinese person, or his skin is too light/too dark. Michael, in his denial of Alicia's three children, hit the trifecta:
"The oldest girl? She looks like a Mexican. The second one? We wasn't even together then! And that third baby? He must be a space alien!"
Before revealing the results of the test, Maury will, in his smug,
faux-caring manner, demand that the father agree to "step up" and "be a
man" if the result is that he is the father. Maury behaves as if he believes what he is doing is actually helping bring these families together and helping these children. Maury is, as you imagine, completely full of shit.
The only time that the reveal is not an anti-climax is when it is revealed that the man is... not the father! The woman, publicly shamed as a trollop, will begin to sob and streak to the recesses of Maury's backstage while a cameraman trails her to get every last tear of camera. Meanwhile, the man, cleared of all charges, will strut around the stage, arms raised in triumph, reveling at his accomplishment in not impregnating a woman he was nonetheless foolishly having unprotected sex with.
This show is like a 72-car pile-up of humanity, and I'm just another rubbernecker observing the damage.
By the way: Michael was the father of the space alien and the baby born via immaculate conception. However, the oldest girl may indeed be Mexican, as it was not his.
The date was December 2004. In a quiet, snow covered fraternity house in upstate New York, all were preparing for initiation/finals/binge drinking. In those days the TV was mostly used for Law & Order reruns, and due to the TNT advertising blitz, we were soon made aware of a wonderful event coming the next weekend: a TNT original movie! This was no ordinary made-for-TV film, however, it was a groundbreaking work of genius, starring such luminaries as Noah Wiley, Bob Newheart, and Kyle MacLachlan.
The story is timeless: Noah Wiley, a lovable nerd with a heart of gold, has 23 degrees but can't manage to find a suitable job or romance. His mother worries. Then one day, a magic letter totally different than the ones in Harry Potter arrives! His wide array of knowledge lands him the job: Librarian at a secret, undercover archive where all the magic artifacts throughout human history have been kept. One of these is the Spear of Destiny, an artifact that gives unparalleled power, and for that reason was broken into thirds. Even still, Hitler rose to power with just one piece!
Soon enough the spear is stolen by a sexy Asian assassin and a ridiculously scenery-chewing Kyle MacLachlan, and a world-spanning chase not at all a blatant ripoff of Indiana Jones follows. It climaxes in Bob Newheart's only fight scene, as he rips off his tie, shouts "Semper Fi" and starts punching ninjas.
We watched, entranced, as TNT played the film three times in a row. By the end, something like Stockholm Syndrome had taken over, and to this day The Librarian: Quest for the Spear is cherished. An inferior sequel followed, and honestly I don't remember a whole lot about it aside from not having the same love interest from the first movie. It was also more toned down and a little less silly, which was a bad call.
But this weekend, The Librarian: Quest for the Judas Chalice debuts! Noah Wiley vs Dracula. They're going there, and if you appreciate fine film, you'll be there too!
Ned the Pie Maker has a unique ability: he can bring dead things back
to life. Touch a dead thing once, and it is alive. Touch it again,
and it is dead again, permanently. If he brings a dead thing back for
more than a minute, something else dies permanently in its place. Got
Pushing Daisies is built around a high-concept plot device with a
visual style to match. The first thing you notice when you turn on the
show is how it looks. Yes, obviously: but I mean you really NOTICE
it. It screams at you with saturated colors, stylization, ridiculous
sets and costumes that know how to treat a woman's shape. (For those wondering, the way to treat a woman's shape is to show as much of the breast as possible.)
From week to week, the show is set up as a murder-mystery. In addition to making pies, Ned has hooked up with a private investigator named Emerson Cod (as played by the fantastic Chi McBride). Emerson uses Ned's ability to solve cases by talking directly to the victims of murders.
Everything about this show just... works. The narration by Jim Dale. The engaging lead performance by Lee Pace. The musical numbers. Oh, the musical numbers. Consider the following scene from last season: Olive Snook (yes, all the characters have names like this) is the waitress at the Pie Hole, and is also in love with Ned the Pie Maker.
Maybe it's cruel to bring you into this terrific show at this point. Three episodes into its sophomore season, there is a good chance that
Pushing Daisies won't make it. It is routinely losing in its timeslot
to Knight Rider 2: Knight Rider-er and Old Christine's Retarded New
Adventures About Being a Whore. Whatever, America: you can keep your
stupid TV. It is no exaggeration to say that, in all my (extensive)
television watching, I have never seen a show anything like it.
McCain's people MUST have known about Stephen Colbert's "Make McCain Exciting Challenge." In case you didn't: McCain gave a speech in front of a green screen earlier in the campaign. Colbert grabbed the footage, threw it online, and let Colbert Nation have their way with it. Well, have their way they did.
McCain's people must think that, by getting his face onto The Colbert Report, he will benefit from the Colbert bump. He wouldn't be the first one.
The Colbert bump is very, very real. Mike Huckabee rode that bump, after a series of appearances on the Report, all the way to brief front-runner status early in the campaign.
(Holy Jesus, he's in front of a blue screen now. Does he know that they can use those too?)
In just a few years, Colbert has gone from second (or third) banana on The Daily Show to one of the most influential people in the world. Don't believe me? Well, don't take my word for it.From Vanity Fair:
"There's no denying the growing stature of
his 30-minute faux evening talk show. This year he asked Hillary
Clinton for audio/video-technician tips, and queried Michelle Obama on how "hope" and "change" fit into the Obama household discussions (as in "I hope that you will change
the cat litter"). According to one study, the "Colbert Bump"--originally
a self-deprecating gag--actually exists. After Democrats appeared on The Colbert Report,
they saw a fund-raising jump of 44 percent the following month. Even
Republican Mike Huckabee tripled his approval numbers when he went on
Influential, intelligent, quick-witted, and oh so good looking. What's not to love? Oops - I think I've got a little Colbert bump of my own. If you know what I mean.
I don't want to come across as a stalker, but Simon Pegg and I should probably be best friends. We have so much in common! He likes zombie movies. I like his zombie movie. He's British. My wife likes British accents. And I can't go anywhere without getting into fake gunfights.
This show proves, much like Seinfeld did, that sitcoms can be great as long as the com is good, no matter how stupid the sit. Two strangers in need of a place to live meet, and pretend to be a couple so that the landlady will rent them a "flat". As far as premises go, it's not particularly compelling.
And Spaced would not have been as good if it was on American television. Nothing on American TV looks, sounds, or feels anything like it. The guys behind this show are incredibly pop culture literate, and they filter all their geekiness into every frame. Where would something like this be on the air in America?
Anybody can make jokes about Star Wars, though. Star Wars jokes are easy these days. There has to be something more. And this show has it in a cast of characters that you get to know in a relatively short amount of time. They only made 2 British-sized seasons of the show, meaning you get barely 8 hours of screen time with the cast. Spaced makes the most of its short run time with incredible economy. Consider this scene, which introduces the character of Tyres. The music, dialogue, editing, and direction tell you everything about the character within 30 seconds.
This brings me to my favorite part of Spaced: the way it looks. The combination of shot-on-video cheapness and the incredible cinematic direction of Edgar Wright creates the feeling of something made by a very well talented group of friends, rather than a professional television production. A group of friends that I should hang out with. But I'm not a stalker or anything.
99 times out of 100, I wouldn't take a second look at a game of water polo being played on my television. I probably wouldn't even stop flicking channels if I saw two chicks fencing. And if I saw a game of handball going on, I might stop long enough to say "what the fuck game is this?" before switching over to TNT for another episode of Law and Order.
But now is that special, 1% of the time when they slap a country next to each player's name, give out medals, and call it the Olympics. And that is a magical combination that makes me care about who wins a women's beach volleyball match between China and Greece (go Greece! WOOOO!)
And it isn't just the sport, either. While I hesitate to call myself unpatriotic, I do not usually react well to flag waving that isn't done by Steven Colbert. But last night, some American swimmer not named Michael Phelps was competing in a 400m medley heat, and when he qualified for the final, I was genuinely excited. The Olympics turns me into a flag-waving, French-hating, Arab-waterboarding American asshole.
And for two weeks every 2 years, it feels kind of good.
How to describe Generation Kill? It documents the first days of the Iraq invasion, but it is not a documentary. It is about a war, but there isn't a whole lot of fighting; so far (2 episodes have aired, but I've only seen the first one) there hasn't been any fighting at all.
Did you see Jarhead? Do you remember Jarhead happened? Did anyone see Jarhead but me? Shit, this analogy is off to a rocky start. Anyway: this show is what Jarhead wanted to be. It is Jarhead crossed with The Wire - which makes sense, because it is brought to us by David Simon and Ed Burns, the masterminds behind that show.
It's a war show that depicts the horrors of war, but not just the horrors we're used to. It is the horror of following orders that don't make any sense; of going to war in a Humvee you had to pay to fix yourself because the Army didn't have the funds to do it (or give you maps and body armor for that matter); of trying to do the right thing, but not being allowed to do it.
I'm going to describe three scenes from the first episode. If you don't want to be spoiled, then leave and take this away: this is a great show, but it isn't for everyone. They bury you in military jargon and don't explain any of it. There is not any typical war action. This show demands the viewer to pay attention, and to invest themselves in the show. If that doesn't sound like something you are interested in, then go watch Law and Order reruns. No, seriously, do that. I love Law and Order reruns.
(I'm not kidding: I really love them.)
Okay, three scenes from the opener:
The Marines are still in camp, when a string of white vehicles is seen driving up to the gates. They turn the corner, and we see a Pizza Hut logo on the side. They are getting a pizza party! The men are excited, but a couple of Marines are suspicious. They realize they aren't just getting pizza for the hell of it. It means combat operations are about to begin. They are being primed for battle with the same prize you used to get for doing well in middle-school magazine drives.
On the road to Iraq, the Marines chatter, get on each others nerves, have a sing-along, and basically act like they are on a family road trip.
As the marines are camped near some railroad tracks, a group of Iraqi refugees come to surrender to the platoon. This includes former members of the Republican Guard, who will be shot on sight for desertion if they are found by anyone still loyal to Saddam. The men are told by their superiors to turn the refugees away. When they protest that, according to the Geneva convention they are required to accept and protect anyone who surrenders to them, they are told to "un-surrender" the men and send them on their way. So we are left to watch, in the final shot, as the Iraqis turn back to walk back down the train tracks, out into the desert and, most likely, to their death.
Okay, I'm as surprised as you are. Obviously, I started watching this show because the Suze wanted to watch it. It was clearly conceived by the producers of American Idol as another way to cash in on the reality competition formula.
Audition shows where you get a "ticket to vegas" (instead of hollywood)? Check.
Vegas Week (instead of Hollywood Week), where the competition is whittled down to a top 20 (instead of a top 12)? Check
10 weeks of eliminations, losing a boy and a girl each week, until a champion is crowned? Check and check.
Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with the formula, and this time they nailed it. And honestly? I think the producers themselves were a little surprised by the show they ended up with. So how did they get it right this time?
Instead of smarmy Ryan Seacrest, the show is hosted by the charmingly British (and leggy) Cat Deeley.
The auditions take place in awesome theaters instead of a cheesy room in a convention center.
The judges, except for the token brit (producer Nigel Lythgoe) are a rotating panel of talented dance choreographers that keeps the commentary fresh and interesting. This may not sound important until you've heard Randy Jackson tell another contestent that for me, for you, that was a little pitchy dawg.
But this is all window dressing. The real reason this show works is that good dancing is inherently watchable.
Without exception the people on this show are talented. The "bad" dancers are the ones that can only do one type of dance incredibly well; the show requires that you succeed in a whole range of styles. Oh, and did I forget to mention that girls who dance are all pretty much really attractive?
Look, it's summer. we all know the networks are going to be filling their schedules with unscripted programming, which usually gets a bad rap. But if they are going to do it anyway, we should at least take notice when one of these programs actually succeeds at entertaining us.
Battlestar Galactica is the best show on television that you aren't watching. (In the unlikely event that you are watching Battlestar Galactica, then 30 Rock is the best show on television you aren't watching. If you are watching both of them, well, wanna be best friends?)
In general, there are two kinds of science fiction - the kind that uses the framework of sci-fi to reflect and comment on our own society, and then there are Halo novelizations and Star Trek slash-fic. BSG is the first kind, except is also has special effects better than some feature films and sexy robots. Really, really sexy robots. I haven't been this attracted to a robot Rosie from the Jetsons.
A few thoughts on the Season 4 premiere of Battlestar Galactica from last Friday. If you haven't watched before, go buy or Netflix the DVDs from the first three season and watch them. I'll wait. All done? Okay, great.
- I now have SciFi HD for the first time. This show looks frakkin' spectacular in HD. Edward James Olmos' face used to look like the surface of the moon, but in HD he looks like an English muffin.
- Yes, I'm going to use frak in place of all swear words when talking about BSG. Suck it up, toaster-lover.
- Baltar may look like Jesus, and be worshipped like Jesus, but he sure gets alot more hot space-ass then Jesus.
- As good as this episode was, it answered zero questions that came up in the last season finale. I'm fine with this, but: there better be some answers this season. How is Tigh a Cylon if he was fighting in the first Cylon war? What was with the Bob Dylan song in the finale? And, after 3 seasons, will we finally find out what the hell is up with Baltar's Head Six?
- Of course, I have complete faith it will work out, but even if it doesn't, it won't change how much I have loved this show.
Well, now that The Wire has ended, its time to watch something else. Oh, hey, what's this? South Park started last night? Oooh yes. But, hey, is South Park still good, you are asking? Yes it is. Are you sure?