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 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.