Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Jumping on a bandwagon here, but it's a fun bandwagon, so I make no apologies.

If you want to burn off those extra holiday calories, try a round of Kirbycise.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Bad Thing About Complex Serials

TV dramas with a complex continuing storyline are great when they work. But when they fail to connect with a big enough audience, they get moved around or just plain cancelled without warning, leaving those viewers who enjoyed the show with a lot of hanging threads. Shows I watched this season that have been cancelled in just such a fashion: Vanished, The Nine, and now Daybreak.

Which confounds me, because Daybreak was an awesome show. Taye Diggs made a compelling lead, the mystery was deep (and for once, than goodness, not a comment on our current political landscape), and the show found some new twists to the Groundhog Day formula. The article I read about the cancellation says that thirteen episodes were produced (and since the premiere stated that the mystery would be solved in thirteen episodes, it looks like the story may be complete). ABC is planning to make subsequent episodes avaiable on-line, but it didn't specifywhether it would offer the entire rest of the series or just the next couple of episodes.

This is one show that deserves the Firefly DVD treatment.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Sky High

Finally saw Sky High over the weekend. It was a fun little movie, although I think it's interesting to contrast this movie's approach with The Incredibles. Both are superhero movies, and both are ostensibly for juvenile audiences, but both try in their own ways to appeal to adults as well.

The Incredibles did this by having a storyline that would appeal to the emotions of parents: the drudgery of work, the temptation of the affair, the terror of kids in danger, the primal bond when the family works together. This was a story that appealed to adults, on different levels, just as much as kids.

Sky High, on the other hand, takes a different tack. The story is a by-the-numbers coming of age story with a little good girl/bad girl romance thrown in. But the movie is designed to appeal to parents on a nostalgic level. The entire soundtrack consists of covers of Eighties New Wave. Off the top of my head, I remember songs that were originally performed by English Beat (2 of 'em), Modern English, The Cars, The Go-Gos, Devo, Thompson Twins. And the supporting cast contains a bunch of familiar faces: Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall, Cloris Leachman, Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman herself).

So it's a shallower film, but still a fun one. I ended up watching it a couple of times through.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

This Is Sad

Joe Barbera has died. Like a lot of kids, I grew up on Hanna-Barbera cartoons. They were often cheap and crude, but we loved them, and I'm sorry to see Joe go.

Future Combat

This looks like one of those pie-in-the-sky "what the future might look like, but won't" articles that Popular Science thrives on. The basic idea is cool: using suborbital space transports to deliver Marines quickly anywhere on the globe. It's freakin' step one to a Starship Troopers dropship.

But if you read the article, you start to see two big flaws. One is dealt with at some length: the transport gets the troops in, but then how do you get them back out? The other is barely mentioned at all: the transport as envisioned will only hold 13 troops.

Keep in mind that the event that inspired the whole idea, according to the article, was a planned insertion of 500 Marines. In order to carry out that mission, they would need 39 of these things dropping out of space, which is doable, but would be insanely expensive. Then you'd have 39 small groups trying to link up across hostile terrain. Then, unless the landers had some sort of conventional propulsion to fly out with, they would have to either destroy them in place or guard them until the U.S. government could come to retrieve them.

I think that until you have a design that can somehow carry enough fuel to get up to its desired altitude twice without refueling, or use some sort of mass-driver launch device to get it up to suborbital altitude without using any fuel at all, allowing it to carry only the fuel it needs for its return trip (plus attitude adjustments for the initial landing), this won't be a practical alternative.

Monday, December 18, 2006


Archie Comics are (at least temporarily) abandoning their distinctive house style for a more contemporary, realistic style. I hate to be that guy, the old fart who opposes all change, but really, the Archie style was what gave them their own distinctive identity.

Perhaps even worse, the change in art style is accompanied by a change in the stories as well. A few years ago, I was reminiscing about the economical storytelling in Archie comics. I was telling my wife how they would tell these awesome, complete stories in only eight pages. Then one day I ran across an old Archie digest and discovered something amazing. Those eight page stories I was reminiscing about, those marvels of compact, economic storytelling, weren't eight pages long.

They were usually only three or four!

Amazingly, in a time when it seems virtually everybody is bemoaning the short attention spans of our fast-twitch, MTV-ized, You-Tube culture, Archie Comics are ditching a storytelling style that seems perfectly suited to such short attention spans in favor of longer, more complex stories.

I give it a few years at most, then I predict a return to the old-style stories, only this time thy'll be pitched as retro-cool.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Survivor Finale Tonight

It's been a weird season of Survivor this year. I thought the race angle would make the show jump the shark, but it actually wasn't that bad. But it's weird to see someone who is one of, if not the best, player ever in the history of the show, get blindsided by Jeff Probst at Tribal Council. I'm speaking of Yul, who has been strong in challenges, both physical and mental, and is also one of the strongest players on the social side.

In Thursday's episode, Yul brought Jonatham's hat to Tribal Council. He set it on the bench before the jury came in, so this was clearly not the same sort of jury bribery that Richard tried to pull back in season one, when he waited until the jury was seated to offer Jenna some shells. But after the jury was seated, the first words out of Probst's mouth were something to the effect of "Yul brought your hat back, Jonathan. This is one of the boldest attempts to influence the jury vote that I've ever seen." He then proceeds to grill everybody on the jury about the intention behind Yul's gesture and its possible effect.

I want to see Yul win. I wouldn't mind if Ozzy won, but he got on my bad side early on when he purposely (and obnoxiously) threw an immunity challenge so his tribe could dump Billy. Yul hasn't done anything quite that scuzzy, so I'm rooting for him, but I'm not sure he'll be able to win the vote when he gets to the final three (which I'm pretty sure he'll do).

We'll see tonight.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oh God No

Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson of SD is in critical condition following brain surgery. He suffered "stroke-like" symptoms, but the senator's spokepeople deny that it is in fact a stroke.

What makes this significant is that the Democrats won a one-seat majority in the Senate, and the governor of South Dakota is a Republican. If Johnson dies or has to step down, the governor appoints his replacement, and there is no rule that says he cannot appoint a Republican to that seat. If he appoints a Republican, the balance is 50-50, with Dick Cheney holding the tiebreaking vote. Republicans get the barest sliver of control back.

So let's see: Democratic senator. Mysterious unknown medical condition. Governor from other party. Balance of power at stake. Let the moonbat conspiracy theories begin.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Preserving The Holiday Spirit

I'm not a big fan of the Christmas holidays, but some people love them. Some people think they're a wonderful reminder of what's really important in life, and that everyone would probably be much happier if they would just get into the holiday spirit.

Of course, you make it a little tougher for the rest of us when you lawyer up and threaten to sue. Just sayin'.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

On Hiatus

Not me, although from the frequency of my posts lately, you'd think so (and don't even ask how I'm progressing on my rewrite - haven't touched it in a couple of weeks). No, Heroes and Studio 60 finally hit their fall finales, so now virtually every show I watch is on pause, except for Survivor and Daybreak.

Heroes continues to come together frustratingly slowly, although they have finally introduced us to Sylar, as well as hinting that Sylar is not the one who blows up New York City in the future. Apparently, it's Peter, mimicking the powers of Radioactive Guy (last seen in the custody of the FBI, before he blew up the car he was being transported in). This is such a frustrating show, because they tantalize us with hints of surpassing coolness (the prescient painting of SuperHiro, sword drawn, facing down a dinosaur was awesome), but the action sequences are little blips between ponderous chunks of dialogue. I would love to see this as an animated show, so that occasionally they could let loose and do something huge without busting the budget.

Studio 60, meanwhile, is still same-same: alternately charming and preachy (this week: Christmas is a myth! New Orleans needs help! The FCC sucks!), with an astoundingly unfunny comedy show-within-a-show. Although curiously, they're turning the unfunny into a feature: Matt hires a comedian who bombed on stage to write for the show; Harriet can't tell a joke; Matt brings in a guy without a sense of humor to help the struggling newbie writers (seriously).

Meanwhile, the PPP experiment is goin poorly. Most of the "opportunities" don't appeal to me, and when I occasionally see one I like (like the one asking for people to write about marial arts movies - I am so there), they put conditions on it that block me out. One said they specifically would not accept blogspot posts. Another specifically said the post cannot acknowledge that it is a paid post. I finally saw one today that was perfect, but by the time I tried to take it, it was gone. There are only a finite number of slots, apparently, and they filled up fast on this one.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Joke or Hoax?

I happened onto the AOL website today and saw this headline on their front page:

X-Men Illustrator Dies Wearing Superman Pajamas

When I clicked the link, it said the page did not exist. Was this a hoax story? A joke by a headline writer? A hack by a creative teenage geek? Or perhaps some sort of viral marketing scheme, like the on-line interviews with Gary Troup, author of Bad Twin, that appeared over the summer?

Does anybody know anything about this?

UPDATE: Finally got the link to work, and now I'm sad, because it's true. Dave Cockrum was the one who died.

Cockrum's work first got on my radar when he started drawing the "Legion of Super-Heroes" backup feature in Superboy during the late 70's. Like his later work on X-Men, he redesigned costumes and brought a fresh, exciting look to a property that had become stagnant and dated. Then he moved to Marvel and did the same thing with the X-Men, not just drawing the book but creating the characters of Storm, Nightcrawler and Colossus.

Unfortunately, the property took off in a way that his career never did. When Cockrum left the X-Men, John Byrne stepped in and immediately pushed the book to greater heights of popularity, and even though Cockrum later returned for another lengthy run, his work was never as popular as that of other artists on the feature.

But I remember his work fondly, and I'm sorry to hear about this, and now I'm pissed about that flippant headline.

Plus, I was about to call out this story about Lindsay Lohan as a hoax, too, wondering if it was National Hoax Day or something. Now I'm not so sure.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Fall Finale Bandwagon

First Lost went on hiatus after its big fall finale three weeks ago. Last night, Prison Break had its fall finale, and next week, Heroes will do the same.

As much as I love the show, I think Lost comes out the big loser here. Having a "finale" after only five episodes created a lot of resentment, first of all. Second, both Heroes and Prison Break will return before Lost, meaning they shouldn't lose as much of their audience. Third, Lost was replaced by Daybreak, which is a high-energy drama that promises to play out completely in twelve weeks; how much patience will the audience have for Lost's extended teases when Daybreak finishes? Boston Legal lost its time slot to Grey's Anatomy when it went on hiatus. Could the same thing happen to Lost?

We'll see.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Happy Feet

A while back, my family bought the DVD of "March of the Penguins." There was a movie trailer on there that just instantly captivated us, of a computer-animated baby penguin tap-dancing to Stevie Wonder. It was just a marvelous bit of animation, full of joy and charm. Most trailers on DVD, you're anxious to skip over so you can watch the movie. This one, we rewatched something like three times, and when the feature was over, we went back and watched it again. It was that cool. And of course, as soon as it was over, we were all saying that we couldn't wait to see the whole movie.

Well, on Sunday, we did. And I wish I could say that "Happy Feet" lived up to the promise of that brief teaser, but alas, it does not. Or maybe it does, depending on your politics.

Let's put it this way: if you voted for Al Gore in 2000, you're a lot more likely to overlook this film's shortcomings than if you voted for Bush.

Or I could quote the Village Voice review by Jordan Harper:
And even the wee ones may start to notice something's amiss when the movie's theme goes from "be yourself" to "we must regulate the overfishing of the Antarctic oceans." No, for real.
The thing is, technically, the movie's marvelous. The animation is amazing. And the musical numbers are awesome, combining hooky, infectious medleys of pop songs with terrific motion-captured dancing moves. But sometimes the film has to really give an artificial heave to make the plot do what it wants (like the number in which, instead of singing a duet with his love interest, Mumble taps a counterpoint to her voice instead - it gets pretty good toward the end, but it's clunky and forced at the start).

And after the movie has already kind of exhausted your suspension-of-disbelief muscles, it then sprains them altogether by veering from a Hollywood-standard self-esteem theme into trendy enviro-preaching. My eyes hurt from rolling them so much in the last fifteen minutes of the fim.

If my daughter has her way, we'll probably end up buying the DVD, but I have to say, the Pixar films do a much better job of integrating adult themes painlessly into an ostensibly children's entertainment. I would have preferred more dancing and less preaching.

An Experiment

I'm going to be trying something new here for a while. Every now and then, I'll be writing a sponsored post for cash. There's a company called PayPerPost that offers to hook up bloggers with advertisers and what they call "opportunities."

Some people see a terrible ethical dilemma with this; I don't. Sure, we look back now and think the Flintstones were awful people for advertising Winston cigarettes, but radio talk show hosts do the same thing even today. Rush Limbaugh rhapsodizes over the Sleep Number Bed and Paul Harvey is cuckoo for Citracal. And you know they're not doing all those spots for free (and don't you dare say anything bad about Paul Harvey).

But here's the bargain and the promise: from time to time, I'll include a post for which I hope to receive monetary compensation (I don't get paid until after the post has been reviewed and approved). But I won't be making such posts indiscriminately. I don't plan to get rich off these things, just earn a little beer money here and there. So I will only post about opportunities that interest me, and I will always identify these posts, in case you want to skip them, with a lead-in of "P-Three-Oh sez:" and a link back to this post so you'll know the deal.

Cool? Let's try it out:

P-Three-Oh sez:

One of the main concerns involved with this type of advertising is that folks won't disclose the fact that they have received compensation for the posts. They're worried about perceptions of blogger payola. So there's a group called Disclosurepolicy.org that will auto-generate disclosure policy boilerplate text based on your answers to a few questions. The text it generates is clunky and dry, but that just makes it sound more legal. You can use it verbatim or as a template to write your own.

Here's mine:

This policy is valid from 21 November 2006

This blog is a personal blog written and edited by me. For questions about this blog, please contact tonyfrazier62@cox.net.

This blog accepts forms of cash advertising, sponsorship, paid insertions or other forms of compensation.

This blog abides by word of mouth marketing standards. We believe in honesty of relationship, opinion and identity. The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog. That content, advertising space or post will be clearly identified as paid or sponsored content.

The owner(s) of this blog is compensated to provide opinion on products, services, websites and various other topics. Even though the owner(s) of this blog receives compensation for our posts or advertisements, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on those topics or products. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the bloggers' own. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer, provider or party in question.

To get your own policy, go to http://www.disclosurepolicy.org

Friday, November 17, 2006

Replacing What's Lost

Lost is on official hiatus, which may or may not be a good move on ABC's part. Luckily for us, if not for them, the interim replacement series, Daybreak, is really good. At least the pilot was.

The premise is an iffy one, a combination (as others have said) of "Groundhog Day" meets "The Fugitive." To wit: a cop keeps living the same day over and over again, and over the course of this same repeated day must find a way to clear his name (he's being framed for a murder he did not commit) and save the lives of those close to him. The pilot kept the premise from seeming hokey, and Taye Diggs is an excellent, engaging lead. It appears that the mystery will be solved in twelve episodes totalling thirteen hours, which would be excellent if true. I want this show to succeed, but I worry about what would happen if it does, because I cannot imagine how they could pull off a second season.

Then again, I thought the same thing about 24, and it's about to start season 5, so what do I know?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Studio 60 Sanctimony

"Sin City" was on over the weekend, so I watched it again. God, it's so frustrating! I loved the comics, but the movie, while translating the images with awesome fidelity, creates an absolutely unique visual experience, then kills it with these awful performances. I mean, even reliably good performers, like Bruce Willis, just seem to sleepwalk through this movie. Clive Owen and Benicio Del Toro are simply awful, Owen killing any suspense with a plodding performance and Del Toro taking what should be a fascinatingly scary character, a flirty-funny dude who can explode at any moment in frightening ways, and yoking him with this goofy voice that turns him into a boring prop-that-talks.

Heroes (Freudian typo - I originally typed "Herpes" - silly qwerty) is about to hit what we thought would be the big climactic showdown with Sylar, but looks like it's just going to be another twist. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm finding that, week by week, I keep watching "Wheel of Heroes" not because I enjoy it so much, but because I want to be there when it turns cool. There's so much pent-up potential in these characters, and I want them to start realizing some of it. It's like watching some dude drive a dragster through a school zone at the speed limit; at some point, you know he's got to open up the throttle and let it rip, and you just wish he'd get to it already.

And Studio 60...


The two-parter in Pahrump, Nevada summarizes everything that's good and bad about this show. The cast of interesting characters played by appealing actors (Stephen Weber, who I thought was just adequate on Wings, is awesome here) gets into an amusing scrape, which rachets up through complication after complication into a potentially hilarious situation, only to fall flat because all the characters turn sanctimonious and preachy. The sermon du jour: gay marriage, with a side order of War Is Dangerous.

And on the subject of gay marriage, let me briefly dip my toe into these oh-so-treacherous waters. Mary Katharine Ham got pretty close to summing up my feelings on the subject here when she said:

I don't think all the pro-traditional-marriage amendments would have been so widely supported had conservatives not resented the redefinition of a long-standing social institution being imposed upon them by the courts and a small community of activists. It was "The Interference" more than "The Gay,"...

For my own part, I'm an atheist. I don't have a religious objection to homosexuality. But I recognize that marriage, in its various forms, has been a staple of basically every culture across the world thoughout history, and in about all of them I've ever heard of, the basic unit is man and woman. Not necessarily one-and-one, but male and female.

And suddenly, in the past couple of years, I'm being told that people want to change the meaning of this word I've known all my life, and furthermore, that if I object to this sudden political redefinition of one of the basic building blocks of civilization, I'm a terrible person. I'm a Nazi. I'm a slaver. I'm Evil Incarnate.

Dude, I just want you to leave the word alone. Sure, everything changes. According to Wikipedia, ketchup was originally the name for a Chinese fish sauce. But not everything has to change now.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Week in TV

One thing we learned on TV this week: never trust a white guy. This season's Survivor, which started out divvying up tribe on the basis of race, quickly showed the gimmick to be insubstantial when the tribes mixed after two weeks and new alliances formed. One alliance in particular looked strong: two of the Asians allied with two of the Caucasians.

This week, we discovered that the two Caucasians, Jonathan and Candice, were merely biding their time until the merge, when they could ally with the other white folks again. And when they got the chance to jump ship and join the other tribe, they leaped for it. Bad move: now neither side trusts them.

Meanwhile, on Heroes, we have a noble Indian scientist searching for clues to his father's death, a Japanese man searching for the hero within himself, a black man wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit and his genius, half-black son...

And a whole bunch of nasty white folks: a schizo woman who is a stripper on one side and a murderer and thief on the other, a corrupt politician, a heroin addict, a wife cheating on her cop husband with his partner, a suicidal cheerleader, her potential boyfriend/would-be rapist, and her upstanding dad, who is the head of a secret conspiracy. Oh yeah, and a super-powered serial killer who eats the brains of his victims. There are a couple of minor henchmen characters of other races, and a few decent white folks, but we can see which way the wind is blowing.

Studio 60 was pretty good this week. The behind-the-scenes part of the show is still funnier than any of the skits, although at least this week, they only showed the skit in rehearsal and acknowledged it wasn't that funy. One good thing: John Goodman guest-starred. One bad thing: he doesn't look healthy.

What else? Supernatural did some stunt-casting this week, with Linda Blair playing a cop investigating the Winchester boys. It was the weakest episode of the season as far as I'm concerned, which means it wasn't bad, because the show has been surprisingly good. But Blair is just not a strong actress. If it weren't for her famous face from a movie she made when she was 12 (?), she wouldn't get any work at all nowadays.

And Smallville keeps inching toward the Justice League, which is about the only reason to keep watching, because otherwise this season is pretty damn dull.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Never underestimate the ability of the Dallas Cowboys to give away a game they ought to win. Missed 2-point conversion, dropped passes, and worst of all, 150+ yards in penalties.

And am I the only one who, when KFC runs their commercials for the "famous" bowls (mashed potatoes, corn, chicken, gravy and cheese in a bowl) thinks of Mr. Creosote in "The Meaning of Life" ordering everything on the menu all mixed up in a bucket?

I haven't been doing as much TV blogging the past couple of weeks, partly because we're settling into the middle of the season and the newness is wearing off. Also partly maybe because Studio 60 took a week off, and as mediocre as the show is, it always provides something to write about.

That said, Lost this past week was awesome, and the next episode, the "fall finale" as they're calling it, looks like it will be really intense.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Corrupted File?

Heroes is finally starting to come together. It looks as if they'll start accelerating the pace, now, as they get into the meat of their arc. I hope. I hope.

Finished Turn of the Screw finally, but I seriously thought I had a corrupted file, because it literally ended at the moment of the climax. It was like those kung-fu movies that freeze-frame and super "The End" at the moment the bad guy dies, sometimes as the death-blow is landing. I read the final sentence and hit the page down, and nothing happened. So I closed and reopened the file, thinking it might have frozen up or something, but it stil ended the same. So I went to Cliff's Notes on-line to find out if it mentioned a missing denouement, but no, their summary ended just like the book file.

That sucks, y'all. I know some people say this is the finest horror ever written in the English language, and yeah, I guess it was groundbreaking in its way, but that ending sucked.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

The Prestige

A very good movie, although it won't be a classic. Directed by Christopher Nolan ("Memento," "Batman Begins"), based on the World Fantasy Award-winning novel by Christopher Priest, "The Prestige" is the story of two rival magicians and their escalating competition with and hatred for each other.

Nolan handles things with his usual skill. The characterization is often subtle, the structure impeccable, all the details in place. The only real problem, as far as I can see, is that the structure is so complex, telling flashbacks within flashbacks via dual diaries, that the emotional impact is blunted. It's hard to open yourself up to the catharsis because you're so busy trying to keep all the pieces straight in your head. And, of course, the big final revelation is so thoroughly telegraphed that it's no surprise at all.

The casting is a little distracting, as well. The lead roles are fine; Hugh Jackman and Christopher Bale and Michael Caine and Scarlett Johansson all do fine work. But the minor roles can be distracting. When you should be paying attention to the substance of the scene, you keep seeing these faces: "hey, that's Niles from The Nanny," hey, look, it's that dude from Cheers," "dude, that's David Bowie." Stunt casting is fun in a mindless summer action film. In an intricate mystery, I think it detracts.

But these are relatively minor quibbles in what is overall an absorbing and entertaining mystery. Now I want to read the book, and/or read Carter Beats the Devil again.

Speaking of reading, I've been slogging through Henry James's Turn of the Screw for weeks now, and it's just an incredible pain. The story itself is pretty good, but the verbal theatrics are so way over the top that I find it hard to read more than a chapter at a time.

Batman and Heroes

In honor of Halloween, I decided to read a Batman graphic novel mtreiten gave me a while back. It's called Haunted Knight, and it's actually a collection of three stories that were apparently all published as Halloween specials.

Here's the thing: I've been blogging a lot about Heroes lately. It's probably my favorite new show of the season. And it turns out, the two guys mainly responsible for Haunted Knight are both involved in that show. Jeph Loeb, the writer, is credited as co-executive producer (as spacezombie pointed out in comments a while back). And Tim Sale, the artist, does all of Heroin Boy's artwork (paintings of the future, as well as the 9th Wonders comic book from the future that Hiro reads).

Synchronicity strikes again.

TV Time

I'm noticing that several of the shows I watch play cute tricks with time. I know that they will, for instance, have a Christmas episode close to Christmas and stuff like that, but now they're getting subtle and cute. For instance, in the second season finale of Lost, they name the date of the plane crash as September 22, 2004. That's the date Lost premiered on ABC.

Likewise, on the episode of Heroes that aired on October 2, Hiro traveled forward in time to November 8, the day after the election, and what looked like a nuke went off in NYC. Then he traveled back to his "present" time, which was what date? October 2.

And on Smallville, they refer to the disaster that engulfed the world when Zod came to Earth as "Dark Thursday," because, of course, Smallville airs on Thursday. It's not as if the episodes air in real time, but the creators like to throw in Easter eggs, I guess.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


I didn't blog Lost or Smallville this week, because they seemed like placeholder episodes. Which is not to say that they weren't interesting (Lost more than Smallville), but just that they didn't seem to advance the overall storyline very far. We got a couple of small revelations, a couple of pieces of the larger season arc, but nothing earthshaking.

The best part of Lost was not the discovery that Sawyer may have a daughter or Kate saying out loud that she loves Sawyer, but proving it by voluntarily reentering her cage when Sawyer refuses to escape with her. That was a good piece of understatement, illustrating character through action rather than dialogue (in fact, illustrating character through action that runs counter to the dialogue - she says one thing but does another - good stuff). But otherwise, it was all reinforcement of what we've seen before (the Others are skilled at deception, Jack can't stand losing, Desmond can see the future, Charlie's an insecure, jealous dick) and set up for next week.

I recorded Supernatural but haven't watched it yet, so I can't talk about it yet.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Brief Brag

Just have to say, I was a little bummed when I found out "Astromonkeys" hadn't made the cut for the Best of Universe anthology. But I take some consolation in this review, in which my story is called "the strongest piece in this issue." Here's hoping others take notice.

EDIT: It looks as if the direct link may not work. If not, go to www.tangentonline.com and click on Baen's Universe in the left hand column menu (it's under E-Market/Bi-monthly pubs). The review is of Issue 1.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Monday Stuff - Prison Break, Heroes and Bad Comedy

So Prison Break finally returned tonight, and it's still an awfully frustrating show, one part action thriller, one part conspiracy mystery, one part completely useless exercise in piling pointless complications one atop another until I almost want to scream. I still watch the show, but unlike Lost or Heroes, which seem to end too soon, when an episode of Prison Break ends, I'm ready for the break.

Heroes, on the other hand, seems understuffed rather than overstuffed. Like last week's episode, this week's ep seemed to spend an awful lot of time advancing the story by an infinitesimal degree. Call it "The Wheel of Heroes." A couple of comments:

One of SuperHiro's powers is apparently learning languages. In the first few episodes, he seems unable to say anything in English but a few standard loan words. Last week, he mentioned that he needed to learn how to say a particular phrase in English, and his buddy Ando offered to teach it to him phonetically. But when we meet FutureHiro, not only does he speak English, but he pronounces it without an accent, like a born American. And when he meets The Flying Politician, he carries on quite a long conversation with him in English, without his translator buddy Ando around to help him out.

As to the long term arc of the show, it's becoming apparent that it's not just about good guys versus bad guys, as much as it's about very flawed people making a conscious decision to do the right thing. The Flying Politician is a corrupt adulterer, StripperHulk is both a stripper and a killer, TelepathiCop has marital problems (and somewhat creepily uses his mind-reading ability to seduce his unsuspecting wife in this week's ep), SuperHiro cheats at gambling, the Indestructible Cheerleader is a serial suicide attempter, Heroin Boy is an addict, the CopyCat (the younger Petrelli) is just a whiner. None of them is particularly noble, but these very flawed people are the ones who have been chosen, almost at random, to save the world.

There are some really interesting questions to explore there, viz. inner character vs. outer deeds. Can we be evil and do good? Or conversely, can doing good make us good? It looks like the action is going to ratchet up next week; it's about time.

And, of course, Studio 60...

Okay, first, a note about my car. My new car, bottom of the Chevy line, does not have power locks. The first time I got out of my car, I hit the lock button, held up the handle and shut the door. When I came out later, I found my car unlocked. When I tried to lock the door again, it unlocked as soon as I shut it. Frustrated, I checked the owner's manual and discovered that the lock wasn't broken. It was purposely designed to lock from the outside only with the key. What I thought was a defective lock was in fact a design feature to keep me from locking my keys in thte car.

So tonight on Studio 60, we discover that the unfunny comedy is apparently also not a flaw, but a feature. Matt and Simon go to the Improv to scout for a new writer. Turns out the guy is a hack, a generic black comedian whose material was old ten years ago. But as they're about to leave, they see another guy on stage who bombs horribly. He's flop-sweaty, his timing and delivery are awful, and his punch lines are weak. He's not funny, you see, but his material is original, at least. So they hire him.

See, the comedy's not funny because they don't intend it to be.

Oh, and there was only a little bit of preaching this week - body armor for soldiers and the Hollywood Ten, if you're keeping score (maybe I should).

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Writing Stuff: Back on the Horse?

Taking a break from the TV blogging for a second. I'll be back with Monday night recaps soon enough.

I've been going through a crisis for the last few weeks. I'd been getting bogged down in novel revisions, going two-thirds of the way through the second act before scrapping it and restructuring. Then I tried to write a short story for Writers of the Future, based on what I thought was an awesome idea, only it went nowhere. Then I tried to write another short story for a contest, the infamous dud I've referred to before.

And suddenly writing was becoming an incredible chore, this huge drain on my mental resources that wasn't returning any rewards. I was seriously considering chucking the whole thing, going back to being just another closeted wannabe who occasionally writes stuff, but never shows it anybody or submits it anywhere.

I'd barely managed to touch the keyboard for a couple of weeks, but last night was pretty good. Made some real progress on the book rewrite, and was inspired enough to go back and finish a second draft on the dud that de-dud-ifies it a little, I think.

So I'm feeling better, although between work (fucking World Series) and the impending holiday season, my mood will probably swing between subdued and depressed for the rest of the year.

Going to blow off NaNoWriMo in favor of doing rewrites on Hero Go Home, which is kind of depressing in its own right, considering I'd wanted to get it finished in less than a year. But I can't be too depressed, considering I took a year to write just the first draft of Blue Falcon, and another year to do the second draft. So I'm improving.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

More About TV Nowadays

I've heard several people say this, but Jonah Goldberg at National Review Online says it as well as anybody:

...good TV shows have become more akin to very, very, very long movies with character arcs and storylines which stretch across TV seasons and an end goal in mind. "Lost" is one example. NYPD Blue turned Dennis Franz into the Job (as in book of) of primetime TV. Joss Whedon's work always stuck to a certain plan. The new (problematic) show "The Nine" as well as the sleeper hit "Heroes" fit this mold. And what has recently become on of my favorite shows, "Deadwood" (created by NYPD Blue co-creator David Milch), is clearly one giant movie in X number of parts.
Warren Brown, a smart guy from my local writers group, made this same argument, only IIRC he went even farther to say that TV and movies had essentially switched places. Used to be, TV was repetitive and sort of mindless, every episode returning to the status quo of the beginning. You could watch the episodes in any random order and it wouldn't matter. For more thoughtful entertainment and real dramatic writing, you had to go to the movies.

Now TV shows are taking all sorts of dramatic risks and making shows with characters that grow and evolve, while the convergence of CG effects and the blockbuster mentality have resulted in movies as mindless spectacle.

That being said, I'm really looking forward to "The Prestige."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lost Is Back, Baby

I've been kind of standoffish about Lost this so far this season, partly because of The (Fictional) Prisoners' Dilemma I described earlier. Last night's episode, though, brought me back in. Locke is back in first season form, communing with the island, having visions, fighting polar bears. Good stuff, and a welcome return from the conflicted weakling he had become in the second season.

There was a lot of prophecy in this episode. Locke has a prophetic vision in a sweat lodge (using the same psychotropic stuff he used on Boone in season one), then later an unconscious Eko seems to come awake and deliver another prophecy to Locke, while Hurley (who last season listened to a radio broadcast of Glenn Miller and mused that the signal might be traveling through time) hears Desmond make a prophetic remark that makes Hurley think Desmond has traveled through time as well. By the end, Locke has returned to the beach settlement like Moses coming down from the mountain to give the other castaways their marching orders. Later this season, I see Locke and Eko traveling to the Others' camp to tell Ben Linus (aka Henry Gale), "Thus saith The Island, 'Let my people go!'"

So a good episode, although the flashbacks surprisingly didn't resolve, so I'm disappointed in that.

BTW, I haven't been blogging it, but Lost is followed by another surprisingly good show, titled The Nine. I'm not thrilled with the title. When I first heard it, I thought it was a show about the Supreme Court.

Basically, The Nine is another big puzzle show, with an intriguing premise. Two guys plan a simple bank robbery, in and out in five minutes. Things go wrong, and 52 hours later, the SWAT team rushes in to end a hostage stalemate. We see the customers go into the bank, and we see very different people come out, along with intriguing clues to what went on during those lost 52 hours. The series now proceeds along two tracks, telling the stories of how the nine hostages deal with the aftermath of the crisis while also flashing back to tell the events of the stand-off itself.

The premise is pretty gimmicky, but the character writing is good. But even before the show premiered, people were wondering how long it would last, being scheduled right on the heels of Lost, since both shows have large ensemble casts and complex storylines. Would viewers be willing to watch two intricately-plotted dramas in a row?

In fact, most, if not all, TV dramas follow that model, which makes it a lot more intimidating for a new viewer to drop in on an established show. Jonah Goldberg at NRO pointed to this passage in a New Yorker review by Malcolm Gladwell of the book, Everything Bad is Good For You:

As Johnson points out, television is very different now from what it was thirty years ago. It's harder. A typical episode of "Starsky and Hutch," in the nineteen-seventies, followed an essentially linear path: two characters, engaged in a single story line, moving toward a decisive conclusion. To watch an episode of "Dallas" today is to be stunned by its glacial pace--by the arduous attempts to establish social relationships, by the excruciating simplicity of the plotline, by how obvious it was. A single episode of "The Sopranos," by contrast, might follow five narrative threads, involving a dozen characters who weave in and out of the plot.

My feelings exactly. This is a double-edged sword, however. While it makes for a richer viewing experience, it can make people like me reluctant to try a show that we haven't been in on from the beginning. I keep hearing about how great Battlestar Galactica is, but the few episodes I've watched, while good, were so enmeshed in ongoing storylines and relationships that I felt kind of adrift. I occasionally catch an episode, but I don't care if I miss one. And although I hear great things about The Shield, there's no way I'm going to try to jump into it in the middle.

I've got enough on my plate with Lost and Smallville and Heroes and Supernatural and Prison Break and The Nine and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Survivor, thank you very much.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Monday Morning Roundup

One of the best moments in Stephen King's Misery is when Annie goes into a long rant about movie serials and the way they would change stuff from last week's ending cliffhanger at the beginning of next week's episode.

That's what happened with Heroes this week. It wasn't an earthshaking change, of course, not a cheat to let the hero get out of the COCKADOODIE CAR! before it plunged off the cliff. They just had to dump a joke, because it works a lot better at the end of a scene than at the beginning.

It's a joke we've all seen before, most recently in the new Cox high-speed internet commercial. The final guests are leaving a party late at night, and the husband and wife look at this amazing pile of dishes in their kitchen. The husband says it'll take forever to clean up, and the wife jokingly suggests that they crack open the computer and siphon out a little of the "high-speed." Then they look at each other like, why not? Hubby drips a little CG mercury-looking stuff onto his palm, rubs his hands together, then does all the dishes in, like, one second, suds flying everywhere. Wife looks dumbstruck, then says, "Holy--"Smash cut to black.

It's a meta-joke, combining the raw reality of what someone probably would say in just such a situation with a wink at the audience. "I know what she said, you know what she said, we all know what she said, but TV won't allow us to actually say what she said, so we'll do a provocative cut that lets you fill in the blanks." You see it in movie trailers all the time.

At the end of Heroes last week, Claire woke up from her attempted rape and accidental murder to find herself on an autopsy table with her chest cut open in the classic Y-incision. Claire looked at herself, and at the line of shiny stainless-steel bowls awaiting her viscera, and said, "Holy--" Smash cut to black.

This week, of course, she just says "Oh my... ga..." before zipping herself back up and getting out of there. I understand why they did it, but it dropped me out of the episode a bit, right at the beginning.

The rest of the episode was pretty good, as the characters began to meet one another, finally. I'm even starting to warm up to characters I didn't like before. Heroin Boy, for instance, seems a lot cooler now that I've seen his powers in action (and hats off to the production staff, who somehow made painting look like a cool power). Likewise Sybil, the multiple-personality stripper (although if her alter is also super-strong or something, I may have to start calling her StripperHulk).

The only real problem is that, with so many parallel storylines, none of them advance very far by the end of the episode. It's like, "What if Robert Jordan wrote superheroes?"

But of course, that is remedied by the final scene, which is another awesome cliffhanger. This week, we see SuperHiro as he will appear in future, looking badass. The glasses and nerdy haircut and sarariman wardrobe are gone; now, he's got a soul patch and a katana slung across his back (it looked too long to be a ninjato) and he speaks perfect English. It's a dramatic moment that shows just how far Hiro will go.

Studio 60 was OK. I probably won't be talking much about it any more, unless something interesting happens. This week was all more of the same: Matt doesn't like Christians, except Hannah; the show isn't funny (with a really awful Nic Cage impression that seems to be a running bit on the show, since we also saw it last week), but everyone keeps telling us it is, we take time out from the "comedy" for a sermon on whatever subject Sorkin thinks we should be really angry about (this week, it's reality shows).

Before Heroes, I happened to click onto an episode of How I Met Your Mother, which I've gotta say was really funny. Or I should say, the A-plot featuring Doogie Howser and Willow was really funny, the B-plot not so much.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

I Know We're All Getting Older, But...

Is it just me, or does Shatner look like a burn victim in his new DirecTV commercial? It looks like he's had some bad work done (of course, there is a limit to what plastic surgery can do, and I think Shatner has hit that limit).

Friday, October 13, 2006


The one cardinal rule that the producers of Smallville decided to adhere to when they started the series was, "No capes; no flying." Well, it took them about 3 seasons to break the "no flying" part, and while it wasn't a cape, they dipped a toe into the costumed hero waters in Season 5's "Vengeance" episode. The usual convention on the show is to have characters wear normal clothes in colors that echo their comic book costumes. Clark wears a blue shirt with a red jacket, the Flash wore a red hoodie, Aquaman wore green swim trunks and an orange tank top. But at least once before, they've had an actual costumed hero prowling the streets of Metropolis.

And next week, they're going to do it again with Green Arrow. On tonight's episode, they gave us a teaser, with Oliver Queen at a costume party dressed as Robin Hood (a shout-out to the original Green Arrow costume, although the arm straps came from the awesome Neal Adams revision from the 70's). Next week, he's in full-on superhero mode, in a costume reminiscent of his newer look with a badass hood and some goofy looking wraparound sunglasses.

I'm not a fan of the guy they've got playing him, but I must admit, it was a cool moment last week when he stood on the balcony of his penthouse apartment, bow in hand, said something like, "How about Borneo?" then turned and fired. The camera goes whizzing off to track the arrow as it flies out over the city (and I'm thinking, "There's no way he's going to shoot an arrow from Metropolis to Borneo... is he?") and then the arrow drops and hits, thunk, right into the giant globe on top of the Daily Planet building. I'll take their word for it that he actually hit Borneo.

In other news, I mentioned a while back that I'd written a dud short story. I've gotten some feedback on it, and despite its slow start and trite ending and numerous typos, a few people actually seem to like it. So maybe it's not as bad as I thought. Maybe it's even worth fixing.

Next question is, do I go back to trying to fix Hero Go Home, or do I give NaNoWriMo another shot? I'm about halfway through the revision, but I haven't seriously touched it since writing the short story, which seemed to simultaneously break my rhythm and my spirit.

Writers group meeting tomorrow. Maybe I'll catch a little motivation from them.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The (Fictional) Prisoner's Dilemma

Lost is taking an interesting approach at the beginning of this season. Aware that viewers have been frustrated in the past by a lack of answers, and aware that one of the things that killed X-Files was drowning in its own convoluted mythology, they have resolved to clear up a lot of things this season. One of the first things they have done is to bring us into the Others' camp (which I really expected last season).

However, although it's good in the sense that it brings new characters into the mix, it's also risky, because right now, the show is moving very slowly. I've mentioned before about one of my pet peeves in a book, The Ivanhoe Problem. Related to that is the (Fictional) Prisoner's Dilemma.

The Prisoner's Dilemma is a classic problem of game theory which I won't go into here. The (Fictional) Prisoner's Dilemma is a completely unrelated thing, which is the idea of Protagonist as Prisoner. I can appreciate the cat-and-mouse games that go on between captor and captive, and what's happening on Lost is a very well-written and acted. Three of the main characters have been taken captive, and they are trying to figure out how to escape. Problem is, they've been taken captive by what seems to be the remnants of a group that was conducting experiments in psychology and conditioning. So while the prisoners are trying to outwit their captors, the captors are conditioning the behavior of the prisoners.

Problem is, (and here's the dilemma) there is something in me that does not want to identify with someone in captivity. I want that person to strike back, to escape, to not only escape but triumph somehow and bring down those who unjustly imprisoned him. Now, some would argue that this sense of frustration is what you need in a drama, that the more the audience is invested in the character. the greater the catharsis when he finally succeeds.

But there are two big traps in this. Number one, a prisoner is by definition confined, so the story becomes static, locked in one location, and can become boring. And number two, that sense of outrage can turn to frustration, and unlike the character, the audience is not trapped in the situation. The audience can escape. Push the frustration too far, and they'll do just that.

I'm not ready to quit yet, especially since it looks like they'll be going back to the Swan next week, where we'll finally learn what happened to Locke, Desmond and Eko.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Schrodinger's Nuke

I'm too lazy to look up how to do umlauts, so let's assume I know how to spell Schrodinger correctly and move on.

The North Koreans claim to have staged a nuclear test on Oct. 9, although experts now think it was a dud, (and some folks are saying it might even be a hoax). Democrats have predictably begun screaming that it was all Bush's fault (it would not surprise me if some nutjob conspiracy theorists on the left made the claim that the Bush administration was actually behind it, either by helping perpetrate a massive hoax with conventional explosives, or by providing the NorKs with a nuclear device), while Republicans are blaming Clinton and Carter.

And of course, when they can pause to take a breath, everybody's simply baffled. Because whether test or hoax, the North's action simply makes no sense.

The North Koreans have always been sort of the nation-state equivalent of the Gambino Family. Which is to say, North Korea has no economy to speak of, and makes its money through essentially criminal means: gunrunning, gambling and extortion. The 1994 Agreed Framework was one example of that extortion. Essentially, the North Koreans said they would develop nukes unless we made it worth their while not to. We did, and then they did it anyway.

Criticize Bush for inaction if you will, but you have to understand that our range of options with the DPRK has been limited for some time now. Hell, even when Bush came into office (before the North Koreans admitted that they'd basically never paid attentoin to the deal they made with Clinton), it was generally assumed that, even with the 1994 agreement in place, the North Koreans had at least one (untested) nuke, and maybe as many as six. We knew they had the fissile materials, and we could assume they had access to the knowledge.

But without a successful test, we could not confirm the weapons' existence or publicly acknowledge it. So we had to adopt this Schrodinger's Cat approach to North Korea policy. We had to assume that they both did and did not have nuclear weapons, taking their existence into account in military planning while publicly continuing our attempts to stop them from obtaining what they (probably) already had. Our public posture would be that, without incontrovertible evidence that such nukes existed, we would act as if they did not, threatening sanctions if the North did not cooperate, offering rewards if they did.

Which makes this test so baffling. Because if the North confirms that it has nukes, we have no reason to keep bribing them to not develop them. Perhaps they think they can get us to pay them not to sell the weapons to anybody else. But a confirmed nuclear North Korea changes the balance of power in the region, and basically gives us an excuse to let our own Asian allies off the leash. What will the NorKs think when Japan rearms and nukes start popping up in Japan and South Korea and Taiwan? Do they seriously think they have a prayer of keeping up a serious arms race with such countries?

I'm not panicking here. As others have said, if genuine, all this test and the recent missile tests prove is that the North Koreans have warheads that won't fire and missiles that won't fly straight. Their nuclear threat is serious, but not yet imminent. But somebody damn well better get serious about these guys, right now.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Monday TV Recap

Prison Break is on hiatus, and I just couldn't bring myself to watch Fashion House, so this is all Heroes and Studio 60.

Three episodes in, Heroes continues to be half-interesting and half-boring as hell. TelepathiCop, Super-Hiro and the Crash Test Cheerleader continue to be the most interesting characters on the show, while Heroin Boy and Sybil and the Flying Politician continue to be meh. And the Indian geneticist searching for clues to the mystery of his dad's death is just y-a-a-a-w-n-n.

Where was I? Good things about tonight's episode: Super-Hiro stops time to rescue a little girl, the supervillain Sylar makes his first appearance, there's this awesome meta-thing going on, where Hiro has brought back a comic book from the future which he uses to guide him on his journey to America (and incidentally also makes him do this week's product placement duties - he didn't want to, but the comic book made him, y'all!), and the totally awesome ending with Claire, the indestructible cheerleader.

Studio 60 hit a milestone tonight. The bits of the show-within-a-show that we saw this week were actually kind of funny. Good and bad news about that. It's good in that maybe it won't all feel so fake, now. The recapper on Television Without Pity thinks that it's best for them to keep the fictional show off the real show so we won't be disappointed. But I don't think you can do that forever. It's like watching a show about a pianist where you never see hands on the keyboard, just the head and shoulders moving, like on Reefer Madness. If they can actually get some funny bits on the show, it helps us buy the rest of it.

The bad news is that the funny bits don't come from Comedy Jedi Matt. One comes from the roomful o' hack writers, and the other is entirely due to Sarah Paulson's performance (she's doing Juliette Lewis this week - it's not as good as the dead-perfect Holly Hunter she did on last week's episode but it's still pretty funny).

Sorkin is still pushing the whole Christianity thing as a wedge between her character and Matthew Perry's. It's the thing that's supposed to make her character distinctive, but since Sorkin can't write a halfway believable Christian character (not surprising, since he hates them), the show always falls flat when it forces her to go in that direction. When they just let her be funny, she's charming and awesome. So as pessimistic as I've been about the show for the first three weeks, I'm thinking there might be hope for it now.

Still, it doesn't help that the funniest bit we've seen on the show so far came not from the supposedly brilliant main characters, but from "Beavis and Hackboy."

I'm mulling over the North Korea situation and may comment on it tomorrow.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Going to Throw Up Now

So Dallas is fighting and scrapping and struggling, and somehow manages to stay only a touchdown behind Philadelphia. And with 30-ish seconds left in the game, they finally get a huge call to go their way, and end up with the ball on the 7-yard line, first-and-goal with four shots at a chance to tie.

Now their passing game has been hit-and-miss all day. Bledsoe has only hit exactly half his passes and been intercepted twice, while the running game has been pretty solid. Julius Jones has run for 100 yards on the day, and both of Dallas's offensive touchdowns have come on running plays. So do they give it to Jones or to Marion Barber?

No, they pass twice, and the second one is intercepted and run back for a touchdown. Dallas loses big.

First OU disintegrates in the second half, and now Dallas does the same thing. I'm not happy this weekend.

ETA: It occurs to me on further reflection that the pass plays may have been an attempt at clock control. With no timeouts left, Dallas did not have enough time left on the clock to take more than maybe two shots at the endzone on the ground. However, my main point still stands. Which is better: take two high-percentage, low-risk shots at a score, or four low-percentage, high-risk attempts?

Hindsight also tells me that what seemed like a mindlessly stupid play (the defender's pass interference foul that got Dallas to the seven-yard line in the first place) was actually a smart move. Without that penalty, Terry Glenn would almost certainly have scored. By fouling Glenn, the defender (don't remember his name) put Dallas in scoring position, but averted a sure score. And as it turned out, the Eagles' defense was certainly up to making the stop.

The Greatest TV Show in the World

Prison Break's on hiatus during the hated baseball playoffs (seriously, you guys may love them, but they are a major pain in the ass for me), just in time for me to catch the Greatest TV Show in the World!

See, what happened was, UPN and the WB merged into the CW, leaving lots of markets with two stations, but just one network between them. Rupert Murdoch, always good at spotting opportunities and capitalizing on them, immediately ginned up a new network, called My Network TV. Only instead of trying to roll out a slate of weekly shows like normal, what MyNet did was to launch two telenovelas, basically prime time soap operas. The same two shows air five nights a week, with recap shows on Saturday.

The shows play like low-budget Dynasty, and use the anime trick of keeping costs down by constantly having characters flashback to earlier episodes, so they can reuse footage. But on Monday, all will be forgiven.

For on Monday night, My Network TV will air a two-hour special of Fashion House, in which Morgan Fairchild shows up and kicks Bo Derek's ass. That's right: Morgan Fairchild and Bo Derek in a catfight. Put 'em Star Trek miniskirts or X-Men spandex, and all of my teenage fantasies will converge in one giant orgasm of '70's cheese.

I've been very depressed about my writing lately. I've basically been writing total crap lately, and not enjoying it anymore. It's gotten so bad that I was seriously questioning last night whether I should just hang the whole thing up. I'm not there yet, but I'm just tired and depressed and seriously need to do something fun.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Lost Again

The Lost season opener was last night. I liked many aspects of it, although I was not thrilled that I will apparently have to wait until episode 3 or later to find out what's been going on back at camp.

Lost is a very difficult show to write, because it has so many main characters (14 in the first season - I haven't really tried to count what it'll be this season ), but each episode focuses on one or two in particular. A typical episode = A-plot (character on island deals with problem), flashbacks (same character goes through crisis in his past that somehow relates to present problem) and B-plot (meanwhile other characters do something silly like play golf or eat imaginary peanut butter).

So that keeps four or five of the characters busy. What do you do with all those other cast members? You either a: find an excuse for them to have a walk-on or b: isolate them and bring them back when they're needed. The situation at the end of Season 2 had the characters split up into basically four groups: Prisoners of the Others (Jack, Kate, Sawyer), the Elizabeth group (Sayid, Jin, Sun), the Swan gang (Locke, Eko, Desmond), and the main camp (everybody else). Five, if you count Hurley hiking all by his lonesome.

The opener was all Prisoners. Next week's episode brings in the Elizabeth group. The third week might go to the Swan, or they may continue with the Prisoners storyline for a while.

Man, what I really wanted was a two hour opener that gave a little of everything. It's only right, since that's the way they left us at the end of last season.

On the good news side, Lost is at least a show that commits to its changes. Season 2 was completely different from Season 1, and it looks as if Season 3 will be even more different. Unlike, say, Smallville, which seems to bring on major changes at the end of every season, only to retcon stuff by the end of one or episodes in the new season.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Monday: Prison Break, Vanished, Heroes 2, Studio 60 3

So I took a few days off (or was it a week? More? Losing track of time here) from the book, which I am beginning to hate, to write a short story. And quite frankly, it's a dud. I was on a tight deadline, and I had to work from a "story seed" which forced me to do some things with structure I didn't necessarily want to do, but in the end, those things don't really matter. I wrote a dud, a dud that thuds, and returning to the book yesterday did not have me all revved up and ready to go. My good stuff isn't selling, and I haven't produced any other good stuff in six months or more because I've been concentrating on this damn book, and even when I get a good short story idea lately, I either biff it in the attempt and write a dud or I just.... stall.

And I think I'm feeling kind of irritable because Monday is turning into my favorite night of television, even though half of the shows I watch (and maybe three-fourths, if Prison Break ever gets back into the conspiracy side of its plot) are actively trying to get me to stop watching. Prison Break's big villainous conspiracy is a plot between the President and Big Oil (sound familiar?) Vanished features a huge Masonic conspiracy of shadowy figures who are plotting to get a right-wing judge appointed to the Supreme Court, a judge who happens to be a big supporter of curtailing freedoms in the name of law and order (how DO they come up with these ideas?) The big conflict on the first two episodes of Studio 60 was standing up to right-wing Christians. This week, Danny gimmicks up a focus group question to prod Matt into taking more shots at Bush, cause God knows, there aren't enough of those on TV (which points up a bigger problem that I alluded to earlier and will discuss at greater length in a bit).

So tonight was the second episode of Heroes, and I really hope this show turns cool pretty soon. There are lots of hints at cool stuff. For instance, we discover that Heroin Boy, the addict who paints visions of his future, has been writing a comic book called 9th Wonders, of which at least one issue features the real-life adventures of Hiro (my favorite character in the pilot, who does not get nearly enough screen time this episode). That concept is decent, but here's what I'm looking for, though I don't see it happening: in the pilot, we see Genius Kid reading an issue of 9th Wonders. The cover of the issue (which is also Super Hiro's screensaver) is this gigantic blue monster, a big Godzilla-type deal. The heroes we've been introduced to so far are pretty blah, and their powers are boring (Super Hiro, Heroin Boy, the Flying Politician and his brother, Delusions-of-Grandeur Kid, The Indestructible Cheerleader and Split-Personality Stripper). But I'd love to see them try to take on a a giant Blue Godzilla. That would be cool.

Unfortunately, I think they're going to spend most of the first few episodes at least fleeing some big shadowy conspiracy, because there sure aren't enough of those on television.

Okay, so, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.

If you asked me to name the single greatest book about show business that I've ever read, I couldn't do it, but if you asked me the top ten, or even the top five, William Goldman's Adventures in the Screen Trade would definitely be on the list. You should go read it now, or as soon as you finish reading this post. It's non-fiction, so I don't think I can spoil anything.

Anyway, one thing Goldman is known for is adapting novels into screenplays (including his own), and he spends a major portion of the book giving a little instructional lab on how to do it. He starts with a short story he wrote, titled "Da Vinci, " about a kid whose dad is a barber, and how the kid breaks his dad's heart by having his hair cut by a better barber. This other barber, see, he's like an artist with scissors, a true Da Vinci of cosmetology (or is it barberism?).

So he presents the story, and then he adapts it into a script, and then he hands that script out to several movie professionals in different fields (a production designer, a cinematographer, an editor, a composer), gets comments from them about what they would have to do to bring this script to life on screen, and finally, he gives it to George Roy Hill, Oscar-winning director of The Sting. And here is a bit of what George Roy Hill has to say about the script:

The first thing to say, the artist as a barber is a very tough visual thing to do. You have, in some of your more purple prose, described the effects of these haircuts...
In the story, you accept this, because you don't have to deal with the visuals, but in the screenplay, you run smack into them, and there's your director saying, "What the hell can I do?"...
Look at your opening page--"Pull back to reveal a schoolyard on an agonizingly beautiful spring day." Well, the studio executive reads that and says, "Oh, an agonizingly beautiful spring day, that's great." The director says, "When have I ever agonized over a spring day?" Then he says to his cameraman, "Get me an agonizingly beautiful spring day."
It's all hype--you write it, the executive reads it, and after I've shot it, everybody looks at it and says, "Wait a minute, that isn't agonizingly beautiful, why isn't it?"

Studio 60 is up against the same problem. The script keeps hyping Matt and Danny, as well as Harriet and Simon and Tom (the Big Three stars of the show-within-a-show) as these awesome talents. Matt is the author of "Crazy Christians," a sketch so incredibly controversial yet funny that Wes, the previous producer, has kept it in his desk drawer for four years, working up the courage to put it on the air. Matt spends all of episode two agonizing over his cold open while dispensing comedy advice like some Stand-Up Jedi (seventeen is funnier than twelve, don't ask for the laugh, ask for the butter). In episode three, we see them developing jokes for the fake newscast as well as a game show parody, and they keep telling us how incredibly smart and talented they are, and how incredibly funny the show is, and the amazing ratings they're pulling in.

Unfortunately, at some point, they've got to actually show the haircut, as it were, and in the bits we see, the show is thuddingly un-funny. We keep hearing the legend of "Crazy Christians," but never see a bit of it. The Gilbert & Sullivan parody is limp. The game show parody is "funny," in that smug, conceptual way of a bunch of college students sitting around getting high and making fun of all the folks they think they are better than ("Religious people are dumb!", "Tom Cruise is crazy!", "Rumsfeld is a dick!"), but it lacks any actual punch lines or laughs (although I must admit, the snippet of the performance is a little better than the rehearsal). There's a montage of the actual performance where we see little bits of skits we've been hearing about all episode, and there's not a big laugh in any of them.

There's a subplot about a particular joke they write for the newscast that offends Harriet, so she comes up with an alternate joke. Neither joke is funny when it's first presented. We're told, though, that the first one "killed" at dress rehearsal, and that Harriet will really be able to sell the second one with a vigorously funny performance, but we never see either one pay off. It's sort of a cowardly out, but it's also a smart one, because based on the evidence so far, the show is never going to be as funny as the characters keep telling us it is.

Which makes me sad.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Look Back

Got bored last night while The Wife was on the computer, so on a whim, I pulled out an old book I had on the shelf, titled The Best of Science Fiction TV. This is one of those throwaway compilation books thta publishers seems to shovel out by the thousands every year, lots of small snippets alternating with a ton of pictures. "Lavishly illustrated," as they say, with screen captures of cheapo television shows.

The book was published in 1987, almost 20 years ago, and it sort of amazed me to page through it. A couple of months ago, see, I attended a panel at Conestoga about "The Year in Television," and the consensus seemed to be that it had been a slow year. Other than Battlestar Galactica and Lost, nothing else had really seemed to take hold and thrive. Even Star Trek, long the most durable and dependable of franchises, no longer had a show in production.

But looking at this book, you realize just how far we've come. The list of the top twenty-five science fiction in shows of all time, voted on by a group of respondents including prominent TV critics, SFWA writers, and SF fan groups, was this:

  1. Star Trek (and at that time, there was only the one)
  2. The Twilight Zone (the original)
  3. The Outer Limits (still only the one)
  4. The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (BBC series)
  5. Dr. Who
  6. Amazing Stories
  7. Mork and Mindy
  8. The Wild, Wild West
  9. V ("the miniseries," the book qualifies, not the follow-on series)
  10. The Prisoner
  11. The Invaders
  12. Quark
  13. The Jetsons
  14. Captain Video
  15. The Adventures of Superman
  16. Space Patrol
  17. Tom Corbett, Space Cadet
  18. The Twilight Zone (80's revival)
  19. Lost in Space
  20. Way Out
  21. The Avengers
  22. Battlestar Galactica
  23. Science Fiction Theater
  24. My Favorite Martian
  25. Blake's 7
This was the state of science-fiction TV in 1987. Of the twenty-five shows on the list, only three were products of the decade in which the book was written (Amazing Stories, Blake's 7, and the 80's revival of The Twilight Zone), other than Dr. Who, which had been running constantly for over two decades. The most recent of the rest had gone off the air five years previously (Mork and Mindy, which started in 1978 and lasted till 1982). Several of the shows had lasted only one season, or had been cancelled before their first season had ended (Quark, which aired only eight episodes). Two of the shows in the top 25 also placed in the top 10 Worst Shows (Lost in Space, Battlestar Galactica).

The point here is that, before Star Trek: The Next Generation ushered in a new wave of serious science fiction shows, the bench was really thin. Some of the shows that are fondly remembered now were not watched because they were good, but because they were the only even vaguely SF-nal thing on at the time. In those days, fans took what they could get. Nowadays, we get more than we can take.

So before you jump on the Aaron Sorkin bandwagon, dercying the degeneration of television into a horrible wasteland compared with some golden past, take another look at the titles on this list, and compare them to what's on today. We have it pretty damn good right about now.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Smallville Season Opener

Watched the season openers of Smallville and Supernatural. There are two kinds of season opener: the flashy beginning of a big new story arc (Smallville, and pretty definitely Lost as well) and the quiet coda (Supernatural).

Both Smallville and Supernatural ended on cliffhangers last season. But Smallville played big and bombasticin their opener, wrapping up the big story arc of last season (Brainiac/Zod) with frighteningly quick efficiency while setting up new villains for this season (the escapees from the Phantom Zone). I had thought, after all the build-up of Zod last season, that they would make him the big bad for at least several episodes, if not the entire season. But no, wham-bam-boom, he was gone and the new guys were in place. At the same time, they put just about the final period on the Clark/Lana relationship, and the Chloe/Clark crush, introducing a love interest for Chloe and finally showing a real spark between Lois and Clark. All in an hour, so there was very little time to linger on tender moments.

Supernatural, on the other hand, while it ended on a cliffhanger, had basically wrapped up the immediate storyline, sort of putting everybody back to the status quo of episode one, until the final shocking moments (and BTW, is it just me, or is the whole "view from inside the car as it is unexpectedly hit on the passenger side" thing getting a little played out?*). But instead of launching immediately into a big new arc, the season opener focused instead on the characters' reactions to the events of the finale and disposd of most of the dangling threads. They set up the new arc in only the vaguest way. It was a much quieter approach than Smallville, but it worked pretty well. I'm still not sure I'm going to be a regular viewer, but I'm willing to keep tuning in, at least for another couple of weeks.

*I remember it happening in Reunion, and Smallville, and in at least one other movie or series, and in a seat belt PSA, and now Supernatural.

ETA: When I listed the seat belt PSA above, I thought at the time it might be an insurance company commercial, then somebody reminded me that Volkswagen had done the same thing. I remember one of the commercials, but couldn't find a video to link. however, they did a sequel.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Falling Up the Slippery Slope

mtreiten mentioned torture in a comment to a previous post of mine. I didn't reply then, because the whole subject depresses me, but then I read Jonah Goldberg's article in National Review Online, which expresses at least a part of my view. I'll try to express a little more of it here, although it's fairly large and amorphous, so I'll probably state it poorly.

What I see Goldberg saying here is that we need to have a serious discussion on just what is and is not torture, and I agree. However, I'm not sure that such a discussion is possible anymore, because the two sides in this debate are literally speaking two different languages. We've known for years about the political power of framing the debate in terms favorable to your side, which is why opponents of abortion call themselves "pro-life" (rather than "anti-abortion") and proponents call themselves "pro-choice" (rather than "pro-abortion").

The problem is that this tendency, along with an exaggerated fear of the "slippery slope," have resulted in people (and I'm going to characterize this as being mainly people on the left with nothing but my own anecdotal evidence to go on - skewer me if you must) defining terms downward until they become almost meaningless.

In a society where simple insults are redefined into hate speech, where normal behaviors can be redefined by the mental health industry as new diseases, where an actor on a Public Service Announcement can say without irony that "tolerance means celebrating our differences," where an insurance company may raise your premium if you have one cigarette a year and where some folks argue that having even one beer constitutes "drunk driving," where moronic celebrities will bleat "First Amendment" when their record sales drop because they said something offensive to their audience, where eating cockroaches is protested as animal abuse (I had more, including at least one on the right, but my brain is going numb), it is not surprising that people will regard hoods as torture.

We are so in horror of falling to the bottom of the slippery slope that we keep pushing things the other way, just to make sure we don't slip. People who live in horror of the Christian Right and Bush's theocracy have no problem pushing their own style of Puritanism on society for our own good.

But torture has a long and rich history, with some weirdly beautiful terms (strappado and bastinado come immediately to mind). Read the Malleus Maleficarum sometime to get a sense of what real torture is, and then try to square that with what we've been debating recently - loud music, cold rooms, hoods. Where is the line between discomfort and torture? My gut says somewhere around waterboarding, but then I think, if we do it to our own troops as training, how bad can it be? Is inducing momentary panic equal to torture? Should we expand the arsenal of allowable techniques based on the extent of the immediate threat (the "ticking time bomb" scenario)?

Oh wait. I forgot. There is no real threat. So we can all just go back to whatever we were doing before. How could I have ever doubted that serious discussion was possible?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Studio 60 Revisited

Thinking back on Monday's episode, I'm reminded of something else that bothered me about it. The show's A-plot is all about needing to come up with a cold open, the skit they do before the opening credits. Matthew Perry's character (conveniently named Matt) agonizes over this, because he knows that it will set the tone for the entire show, and for their entire run of the show. He needs something splashy, an attention-grabber that will both acknowledge and downplay the circumstances that led to the regime change, and he needs something hilariously funny that will signal the shows return to the kind of quality and cutting-edge social satire the show was once known for.

To accomplaish this, he pins all his hopes on... a Gilbert & Sullivan parody.

And not even a good Gilbert & Sullivan parody. The song he parodies, the Major-General's Song from The Pirates of Penzance, is perhaps the most famous song from their most famous operetta. The problem is, the original song is a rapid-fire catalog with tricky diction and rhyming. The Studio 60 parody is rather flat and wooden, nothing tricky or rapid-fire about it, killing even its couple of tepid punch lines by having a chorus repeat them ad nauseum and stomp them into the ground.

If you want to see rapid-fire musical parody done right, watch Animaniacs.

Why am I spending so much time writing about a show I don't seem to like that much? Because when he's good, Aaron Sorkin writes awesome TV. And like I said, I'm a sucker for backstage drama. And I like the cast. If Sorkin could just get off his soapbox, stop preaching at us about the evils of the Christian Right and bloggers and filming in Vancouver, and concentrate on the characters and the (fictional) show, this could be a home run.

But it's not there yet.

Monday, September 25, 2006

More New Shows

First episode of Heroes was on tonight, NBC's new series about modern day superheroes appearing in the "real world." I actually watched it online over the weekend, though, which was pretty awesome in itself. I have a friend who basically never watches TV anymore. He either downloads Torrents or rents DVD sets off of Netflix or buys them outright if it's a show he really likes. Don't know what this does to the economics of TV long-term, but I got a little thrill of coolness being able to watch a show being streamed on-demand instead of broadcast. Of course, thanks to the protections on the streaming, I couldn't rewind and watch scenes again, so it wasn't totally cool.

Show-wise, it was OK. There's an awesome money shot right up front (and by money shot, I don't mean ejaculation but the equivalent on a show like this - a cool effects sequence of someone using their powers). It's really early in the show, and it was in the trailer, so no spoiler warning. Basically, this cheerleader (played by Hayden Panettiere) takes a 30-40 foot fall onto the ground. The shot is set up to look like it's being filmed by a friend with a videocam, so we see in one continuous take the girl climbing the stairs, jumping off and falling to strike the dirt face-first, the POV jumping as the cameraman runs over to see if she's okay as she climbs to her feet and yanks her dislocated shoulder back into place. All one seamless shot.

That pretty much kept my ass in the seat for the rest of the episode. It's not a great show, not as breathtaking as Lost was when it debuted, or as zingy as Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, but I like a couple of the characters pretty well. When the cheerleader's mom asks her what she did today, the girl answers, "I walked through fire and didn't get burned" (which is literally true). Mom, who's busy playing with her annoying little lapdog, gets all teary-eyed at her daughter's poetic summation of the human spirit, saying something like, "Haven't we all?" So the cheerleader and the teleporting Japanese sarariman I liked. The stripper on the run from the mob with her super-genius son (played by that annoying kid from My Wife and Kids, who's getting typecast as the precocious genius), I didn't like so much.

In the meantime, I also watched Vanished, which is apparently getting killed in the ratings. It's too bad, because I kind of like the show, although having a Masonic conspiracy at the heart of it all*? Sort of done. It feels a little like a cheap attempt to cash in on The Da Vinci Code. Plus, there was a real howler tonight. Pardon me while I digress into my former military area of expertise.

Last week, the FBI agents found this laptop that was set up to receive a wireless broadcast of a video feed that showed the kidnapped senator's wife (the 'vanished' of the title). So they try to track the signal.

Now, radio-direction finding is really simple in concept. In the old days, you would set up with a directional antenna and physically turn it around until you found the direction in which the signal was strongest; nowadays, they make special direction-finding antenna arrays that can calculate the same thing within seconds. So with one reading, you can basically draw a line from where you are to where the signal is originating from, and the signal could originate from anywhere along that line, up to the range of the transmitter. We call this a Line-of-Bearing, or LOB.

To pinpoint the transmitter's location, you want at least three receivers in different locations giving you those LOBs; where the lines intersect is the transmitter's true location. We call this triangulation.

On Vanished, they started out okay, with three direction-finding trucks moving out to take readings. However, the signal was cut off before they could get more than one reading. So the agent asks the tech what he can do with one reading, and the guy says the one reading has yielded not a LOB, but a "ten square mile area." Puh-leeze.

Okay, over it now. Studio 60 ep. 2 aired tonight. Man, this show frustrates me. I love backstage stories. I've done enough performing that I can really relate to them. But the show keeps wobbling back and forth between some fairly sharp character and dialogue and some really lazy potshots at Bush and the Christian right. Sorkin knows from experience that Christian outrage is great publicity, so he manufactures some by having his fictional show-within-a-show thumb its nose at its Christian viewers. I'm not a Christian anymore, but it's just so strident and tiresome, and I just hope he's gotten it out of his system, and that the show has more interesting places to go than this. Because I really like Amanda Peet and Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford.

*once again, not really a spoiler, since they've been hinting broadly at this for at least three episodes