Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Review Mania!

Those of you who pay attention to the Passing Judgments section of my sidebar may have noticed that I've had the same two DVDs out from Netflix all fall. I don’t get to the movies much, though I love them, and as Boy is quick to remind me, I am embarrassingly poorly-versed in the classics. So my Netflix Queue is over 400 discs long, and keeping the same two titles for so long simply isn't helpful -- to say nothing of its cost-effectiveness.

Then there are the many DVDs that I've purchased or received as gifts. I've always been a bit of a video collector, but I've really taken to the DVD revolution. I'm the kind of geek who's a total sucker for a good commentary track and deleted scenes. Generally (and I assume this is true of most people) I only buy DVDs of things I know I like. So a new disc is as much about a collecting impulse as it is about actually watching something I've already seen. Yet why buy them if I'm not going to watch them? Or at least the special features!

You'd think with the way I've been mostly unemployed for six months I'd have watched everything, but you'd be very wrong. The Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server, GameCube, and high speed Internet have conspired against me. They're all entertaining, yet require less commitment and thought than sitting down and watching a movie (especially a movie like Star 80 or Brazil, which I was foolish enough to rent at the same time, instead of something fluffier).

I put a ban on all new DVD purchasing until I'd watched what I'd already had. Of course, then my birthday happened. Then Donnie Darko was on sale at the Virgin Megastore. Then Chanukah. Oy.

With a new job on the horizon and everything on TV a rerun, it was time to finally do something about my video lethargy.

So last week I hunkered down on the couch, undisturbed, and watched Star 80. One of the Entertainment Weekly critics recently called it one of the most underrated films of all time, and I can see why it wasn't embraced in 1983 -- it's dark! I felt really detached from it, which I think was sort of a defense mechanism. As an outside observer, it can be extremely frustrating to watch because it's so obvious that Paul Snider is dangerous and coming unglued, and I couldn't fathom how no one else saw it. But of course, it's a true story, and none of the real players had the benefit of being shown the grisly ending first by Bob Fosse. And speaking of Mr. Fosse, this is the first non-musical film of his I'd seen, and I was happy to see how well it holds its own with Cabaret and All That Jazz. Fosse had really come into his own as a director by Star 80, and the storytelling has a weirdly dance-like quality to it, despite an almost complete lack of even background music. It has a very typical late-70s/early-80s slowness and visual style that I'm not crazy about, but that does add to its period air. Fosse has always excelled at casting on stage and screen, and everyone in Star 80 is wonderful, breathing real life into characters who could have easily become types.

Moving on to lighter fare...

The other victims of the GameCube/DVR/Internet triumvirate have been the various projects at my desk and around the apartment. So last week I buckled down and tackled those as well, and that seemed like a good time to watch the complete DVDs of Sports Night that Boy got me for my birthday in August. Having seen them all before, and with no special features, I decided that Sports Night is a great show to just listen to, since it's so rich with Aaron Sorkin's language. And while this is where he and Thomas Schlamme first introduced and perfected the pediconference, and introduced us to a workplace full of extraordinarily smart and witty people doing a job they're passionate about, they hadn't yet developed the visual flair they would eventually add to The West Wing. In fact, it's really interesting to watch them learn how to make a TV show. The big words, fabulous quips, and brisk pacing are all there from the beginning, but they take a while to find their footing in the year-long story arcs and slowly-revealed backstories. In its favor, Sports Night is much simpler than The West Wing, with fewer characters, and a much easier-to-understand workplace. The real joy of the show comes from watching its marvelous cast -- Felicity Huffman, Peter Krause, Josh Charles, Sabrina Lloyd, Josh Malina and Robert Guillame -- deliver Sorkin's dialogue with gusto and zest. And the fact that I just used the words "gusto" and zest" without irony shows that I've been watching far too much of it. Also fun for West Wing fans is spotting the actors who started small on Sports Night and went on to big things in the White House. There's Sam's prostitute girlfriend as a guest anchor! Look, it's Donna as a wardrobe assistant! Hey, it's that FBI guy as a freaky executive!

Believe it or not, I managed to see a movie in the theater too. It's said that all Jews eat Chinese food and see movies on Christmas (as movie theaters never close, and the Chinese restaurants are the only ones that are open). I tend to believe that this is a myth, especially in New York where pretty much everything stays open and it seems like everyone goes to the movies simply because it's a day off. Still, in college, when we only saw each other during winter break, S.A. and I decided to adopt our people's fake tradition, and we've kept it up ever since. This year we went to Big Fish, and it was one of the best movies I've seen this year (though I guess we've already established I haven't seen very many). I've always been a big Tim Burton fan, and while Big Fish may not be a typical Burton film, it certainly bears his trademark whimsy and detailed production design. I think, really, it may be quite typical, and simply a sign that the director is maturing. (The story is largely about a son's strained relationship with his dying father, and Burton's own father died just before filming began.) I don't want to say too much about the movie, as it's still playing in theaters and I think it's really best discovered naturally, but I will say that S.A. and I were both in big messy tears at the end of it, and from the sound of it so was everyone else in the theater. The acting is splendid, from the always good Ewan McGregor to a barely recognizable Helena Bonham Carter, to an absolutely luminous Jessica Lange. Billy Crudup is great in an unusually understated role, and the film really belongs to Albert Finney. I'm sure they'll all be robbed of award nominations for being in something so far from the mainstream. Though really, it's a very simple and traditional story at its heart. If I have a complaint, it's that my fake boyfriend Ewan has got to get out of this trend he's been on lately of not taking his clothes off in movies anymore. Seriously, I think Star Wars was the first thing I saw him in where he didn't show his ass, and I was damn disappointed.

Finally, I watched my other long-held Netflick last night. A few months ago, Boy and I saw Man of La Mancha on Broadway, which then led to a rental of Lost in La Mancha, a fascinating documentary about Terry Gilliam's disastrous attempt to make a Don Quixote film. Watching Gilliam (whom I enjoy as both a director and more generally as a public personality) fail so spectacularly made me want to see his "masterpiece," Brazil. I knew it was a film that would require all my attention, and it's long, so I kept putting it off. And now that it's done, I can't really say it was worth the time I devoted to it last night. As one would expect from Gilliam, it's beautifully designed, and a good bit of the fun is in the background, in the wit of the retro-future he's created. But that's a good bit of the problem too: retro-future is so 1985. After Minority Report, Orwellian visions seem quaint. Hell, after the Bush administration, Orwellian visions seem quaint! Admittedly, I found a sign in an office that reads "Suspicion Breeds Confidence" creepy when viewed in 2003 (though Britain has been dealing with terrorist threats at home for much longer than we have in the States), but that's about it for the film's ability to predict the future. More importantly, and more unfortunately, there's really not much of a story to hang all this high concept on. I didn't care about any of the broadly-drawn characters, and I couldn't really figure out why anything was happening or why I should care for 2 hours and 20 minutes. It all just seemed hopelessly self-indulgent. For Monty Python fans, it's fun seeing Michael Palin in a dramatic role. For anyone else, I recommend Twelve Monkeys, a much less hyped and much better-constructed Gilliam film that posits a much more plausible terror for the near future.

One of my new year's resolutions is to watch the rest of my backlogged collection, and to try to see more movies, both new and old. So hopefully there's more of this to come (well, unless you didn't like this post, in which case I guess it's not that hopeful!). Of course, new TV returns next week, which is good too. '80s arthouse movies are great and all, but I'm going into OC withdrawl!

Meeting of Toys

As promised, the first of many Lite Brite masterpieces:


"My Preciousssss" by Adam875 (click to enlarge)

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Regressing

Spending lots of time with a three-year-old lately has made me want -- no, not a child -- toys. Boy's niece has some cool shit. True, I have plenty of adult toys of my own -- my Palm Pilot, my iPod, my GameCube – but the technology of toddler toys astonishes me. For Christmas, K.T. got a weird propane grill toy that talks and has hands. When you put something in its hand (say, a spatula, or a bottle of ketchup), it knows which prop you've given it and will react accordingly. The condiments have faces too and if you remove them from its hands they will talk instead of the grill (all the sounds come from the main unit, but the voice changes). I'd be creeped out by what kind of child these toys create, if not for the fact that K.T. was happily flipping plastic burgers in complete obliviousness of the fact that the grill was talking to her at all, while all the adults in the room were going "Put the fork in again! I wanna see what it says this time!" as I checked the bottom of every prop for the sensors that indicate something that talks.

Fortunately, a lot of our old school favorites are still around, though many have been somewhat revised. On the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, we all sat around reading the sale circulars, and I spotted a Lite Brite and said "I totally want one of those!" And so Boy's sisters, always paying attention, got me a Lite Brite Cube for Christmas. I'd forgotten the conversation about it almost as soon as it happened, but if ever there was a childhood toy that promises big adult fun and a fabulous kitsch factor, it's the Lite Brite, and it was a great gift for me.

Here's the thing: It's hard Well, okay, not hard so much as tedious. I did one of the pre-determined designs last night, and I felt like it took forever to find the right pegs and make all my little fish. I mean, there was serious concentration involved. And I played with one of these when I was four? I can't believe it held my attention. And trust me, I was definitely the sort of child who would have made sure to get every color exactly right. There are even these new stuck-together pegs for making straight lines of the same color, which should theoretically make it go faster. But instead I just spent lots of time searching for the right stuck-together pegs.

Of course, I also wasn't about to stop til my fish were done, and I suppose that explains why it kept me occupied as a child. I've never been one to leave a project unfinished, and I imagine plunking me in front of the Lite Brite was a great way to keep me in one place. If I thought my mom were more evil I'd even suggest she took pegs of a vital color away.

Well, I guess you never outgrow a fondness for pretty-colored things that light up (ooooohhhh...iPod...shiiiiiinyyyyyyy). Brilliant pop art will follow shortly, I'm sure, and photos will be posted.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

Idool

So I watched World Idol with SA tonight, and was very happily surprised that it didn't suck. I was mostly afraid that it would be heavily Ameri-centric, but I couldn't have been more wrong. It was taped on the UK's Pop Idol set and featured that show's hosts (who are exactly like Seacrest and Dunkleman, minus the annoying and plus cooler accents). In segments that I assume were different for each country in which the show aired (they appeared to have been taped separately, with an obvious laugh track and poorly-edited reaction shots of the audience and judges), they even made fun of Americans frequently, mostly our overall ignorance of any culture outside our own.

...Which was interesting, considering that ten of the eleven contestants sang songs from America and Britain, even on the clips from their own Idol shows. One clip from Germany featured "99 Luftballons," but that was a hit here too, and the Norwegian contestant was shown singing "Hunting High And Low" by his countrymen Ah-Ha, but even it was in English. The one non-English performer was a Jordanian girl with a lovely voice, but as her style of music was so massively different from the others', SA and I had a hard time judging her in comparison. We were also told by the hosts that she'd won Pan Arabic Idol "singing traditional Arab folk songs," which would seem to take the "pop" out of Pop Idol.

Anyway, the other brilliant thing they did was create a point system to account for the differences in each voting country's population. Even better, they prohibit viewers from voting for their own country's contestant. This means Kelleeeeeeeeee (tm Shack) doesn't have the unfair advantage I'd assumed she would.

That said, Kelly's was the best voice I heard tonight, but she has got to cool it on the self-indulgent vocal tricks and, more importantly, fire her makeup artist. The girl (always so classy and gorgeous on her season of Idol) looked like a drunk raccoon hooker.

A close second vocally, and leagues above the other men, SA and I were both big fans of Kurt, the Norwegian. He's ugly as sin (the Australian judge said he could easily win Middle Earth Idol), but has incredible stage presence, and was one of the only performers to rise above the karaoke track to make his song his own (he sang the shit out of U2's "Beautiful Day").

Mostly, I thought it was interesting how similar these people from all over the world are to our own Idol contestants -- though most of them wouldn't have won here. There was Heinz, from South Africa, amazingly beautiful with a fine voice, but so bland he makes EJ seem like an electrifying performer. Guy, the Australian, was like Jim with Justin's hair (though a far better singer than both). Alex, from Poland, is punky and spunky like Nikki, but, if possible, a worse singer with an even worse song choice. Alexander, the German contestant, shares AJ's bizarre dance gesticulations. Canadian Ryan is a slightly straighter Clay. Kelly and original Pop Idol winner Will are the only ones who've been around for more than a year and have their albums out, and success seems to be leading them both down the same road of amazingly bad hair choices.

I'm fascinated by how quickly this phenomenon has spread throughout the world. All these Idol clones have come out in the last year. One of tonight's contestants only finished his local show five weeks ago. I guess I wish they had some more local flavor. Except for the language on the logo (otherwise identical to our own), the clips they showed of the international Idols were completely interchangeable, down to the song selections and bad lighting. Why aren't the Germans singing Falco? Or at least David Hasselhoff. I suppose there's at least some comfort in knowing that this time it's the Brits, and not Americans who are to blame for infecting the world with the lowest of our pop culture. I'll take solace in that while I eat my Big Mac.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Bad things DO happen in threes!

Three highly upsetting things happened to me in short order this evening.

As I approached my building, I saw six fire trucks, one with a ladder going to my roof. Terrified, I ran the two blocks to my building, where I stopped a fireman who was climbing into his truck and told him I live here and asked him what was going on. "Nothing," he grunted as if I was really imposing on him. "There's no fire."

Well it certainly didn't look like nothing. There was a hose, and water on the sidewalk, and over 20 fire fighters. Though none of them (the hose included) seemed to be actually doing anything. "So, I can go in then?"

"Yeah."

I asked a civilian who was standing and watching, and he said in broken English, "There was fire!" Okay then.

So in I went, where I smelled no smoke and saw no water. My building is actually four small-ish units that share an exterior but have separate entrances and don't connect at all on the inside, so this didn't seem all that strange. So I went upstairs and dropped my stuff off and then headed back out to run the errands I'd been about to run when I saw the trucks.

By now the ladder was down and the trucks were down to five. The guys were standing in groups and chatting, and several (ironically, I though) were smoking. None took the slightest notice of my attempts to get their attention. I finally rudely interrupted a loud conversation to ask what had happened. "Small stove fire," the man explained, making the universal finger gesture for "wee." Six trucks for a small stove fire? I realize overkill is better than underkill (underlive?) in these situations, but six trucks??? I think if my entire building were ablaze it wouldn't take six trucks. What really gets me is how quickly I went from terror at losing my home and all my possessions to irritation at how rude the firemen were to me.

Clearly, this story could have had a much worse ending, but the next two can be taken at face value....

On my way into the not-burning building I'd picked up my mail, where there was a completely undisguised ad for porn. Normally I wouldn't be embarrassed by this at all, but given my history with my insane, prying mailman, I shudder to think of what I'm in for now.

Finally, most terrifying of all, I went to Rite Aid, where, next to the dregs of Christmas gift wrap, the Valentine's Day stuff is out! UNACCEPTABLE!!!!!

We're Winning!

Last week I was sent this link to a poll on gay marriage by something called the American Family Association. It made me angry, not because these people are clearly closed-minded bigots who don't want me to have the same rights as them (and for the record, I don't give a fuck what you call it, "civil union" has a lovely ring to it, just give me my damn rights), but because I don't believe that any political website has any business conducting a poll and "presenting it to Congress." What kind of cross-section of America do these people think is visiting their site? Of course the data is going to be horribly biased! I'd be equally irritated by a liberal site conducting a poll.

So imagine my joy when I was sent the link again today and decided to check it out again. Either the American Family Association is incredibly deluded about the opinions of their members, or this thing has made the rounds so much among people who believe in equality for everyone that we've completely skewed their data. Good. Serves 'em right. If you haven't taken the survey yet, please do.

Monday, December 22, 2003

What good is a new toy if I can't show it off?

Maybe it's just me and my year-long longing for what they represent, but it seems like Apple's iPod earbuds have become the ultimate tech geek status symbol in New York. On the street and the subway, the iPod itself stays hidden in pockets, bags, and protective cases, but one look at those distinctive white circles in someone's ears and you know exactly what's attached.

Leave it to me to find a way to complain about my shiny, gorgeous, finally-in-my-hands new iPod, but I hate ear buds. I always have, and I just can't seem to adjust to sticking the little buggers in my ears. The iPod has a standard headphone jack, so my old Sonys work fine. But what about the envy? I suppose there's something to be said for not advertising the expensive and easy-to-steal object in my pocket, but dammit, I've been seething with jealousy at the sight of other's ears for months now! I'm considering painting my headphones white and putting apple logos on them and trying to convince people that mine are the latest model and they're losers for having those old, passé ear buds. But somehow I doubt that will be effective.

Well, outward status symbol aside, I couldn't be happier with my iPod. It really is the coolest thing ever. It makes all the time I spent putting music on the computer worthwhile (and now I can free up some of that disk space if I want to, just keeping stuff on the Pod). As with most things Apple, it's a really elegant little piece of equipment, as easy to use as it is to look at (though because all its controls are touch-sensitive, I learned last night that you can't operate it with gloves on). In addition to music, it syncs with my address book and calendar, and I can use it as a regular hard drive too (it can't access just any file, but it can carry them). It's just beautiful. I'll never again have to consider what CD to bring with me when I leave the house, or wish I could hear that one song I didn't think I'd wanted earlier in the day. Hardly major life-changes, I know, but as someone who's almost never outside without my headphones, I'm excited anyway. I'm not sure how I managed this long without one.

One other interesting, though not surprising side-effect: I'm kind of obsessed with it. And not in that normal new toy way. It's making me paranoid. Last night at the movies I had to keep looking to make sure it was still there, and I keep touching it. Stroking it, really. Petting it. So shiny...so pretty...my precioussssss...

More fun with copyright infringment

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Chanukah Flames

For Chanukah, my mother -- my mother, people! -- got me the Stephen Sondheim DVD boxed set.

I am now officially as gay as I can possibly be.

Friday, December 19, 2003

Ew

So I broke down and watched The Simple Life.

It's BAD.

Like, really really really bad. It's so clearly heavily manipulated and edited, and it's still mind-numbingly dull.

You'd think I'd enjoy it, what with the way I love making fun of stupid people and all, but there's really not much schadenfreude involved in the show. The girls don't really seem to be having a bad time, and just go on existing in their little bubble of idiocy (I don't care how sheltered you are -- you didn't know milk came from cows??). I just don't see what all the fuss is about.

The void remains unfilled.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Weapon of Choice

When I ride the subway carrying a yoga mat, I often think about how the mat, when rolled, is the perfect size, shape and weight for a bludgeoning weapon. But because it's soft, it would never really hurt anyone. So really what would be the harm in just whacking that man blocking the aisle with his gigantic bag, or the teenage girl who held the door for two minutes for no apparent reason? It would be so very satisfying.

Though I suppose it would sort of go against the whole point of the yoga mat in the first place....

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Paranoia!

A little while ago I got a call from Temp Agency telling me that my assignment for next week was canceled. This happens all the time, but next week's gig was with the same people as yesterday's. My regular manager is on vacation, and her replacement doesn't really know me and I think wouldn't be straight with me if she'd gotten negative feedback or something. So of course I immediately became panicked that the woman I was filling in for (who, you will recall, I implied (purely for the sake of comic hyperbole, of course) dressed like a whore) had hit my blog from her Explorer history, which I didn't get a chance to clear, and flipped out. I immediately checked my Sitemeter, and I seem to be safe. Though the visit time for my own last view yesterday seems longer than it should be, but I'm sure I closed the window before I got up. Didn't I? So much for being SuperTemp.

It's all a bit far-fetched, of course, and I'm sure they just decided they don't need anyone. But I hate being so beholden to this job that makes me feel like this. I won't be temping again for at least a couple of months starting in January, which is fabulous (more on this later), but I think whenever that ends I'm going to need to find a new agency or something. I just can't take it anymore.

Fun With Playlists #3

Songs I Sing Along To -- But Only With The Backing Vocals

Respect - Aretha Franklin
The Long Grift - Hedwig and the Angry Inch
I Want You - Savage Garden
God Shuffled His Feet - Crash Test Dummies
Mustang Sally - Wilson Pickett
Honey Honey - ABBA
I Could Write Books - Zanna, Don't!
My Strongest Suit - Aida
Time After Time - Cyndi Lauper
Freedom 90 - George Michael
Holding Out For a Hero - Bonnie Tyler
Come On Eileen - Dexy's Midnight Runners
God That's Good - Sweeney Todd
Let It Be - The Beatles
Miss You Much - Janet Jackson
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Natural Woman - Aretha Franklin


Fun With Playlists #2
Fun With Playlists #1

Lisa Ling, why have you forsaken us??

I can't watch The View anymore. I just can't stand the new girl. I think they were wise to hire someone a little more conservative, because the other four ladies clearly lean to the left. The thing is, I get the impression she supports Bush not because she actually believes in him -- or, for that matter understands a word he says! -- but because she feels like she's supposed to. Make an intelligent argument for the Republicans and I'll listen, even if I don't agree with you, but don't sit there and say "But he's the President!" (as Ms. Hasselbeck basically did this morning) as if that means something.

Madeline Albright has come out with this conspiracy theory that Bush knows where Bin Laden is and is waiting for a politically advantageous time to capture him. They were discussing this this morning on the show, and Hasseltwat whined "I just have a hard time believing that the President would put his political needs ahead of our safety. He just wouldn't do that." Um, yes he would!!! And I'm not (just) Bush-bashing here. Clinton probably would have done it. Dean and Gore too. It's politics! I broke the TV trying to reach through the screen to smack the shit out of her. Be conservative if you wish, don't be a naïve moron.

But now, all is redeemed, because Battle of the Network Stars is on Trio. Of course it's a legendary bit of pop culture kitsch, but I've never actually seen it before. Who are these people? It's amazing how completely un-famous most of them are now. Ooh, there's Billy Crystal! He looks about 16 years old. Oh, this is dangerous. I think my reality TV void may have just been filled by a 25 year old show!

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

TV Wrap-Up, 12/9 - 12/16

Ok, I just changed the channel from Living With Michael Jackson to Law & Order: Special Victims Unit because I think SVU will be less disturbing and unsettling. Oh, what a world we live in...

Anyway, there's not a whole lot of TV to report on this week, with post-sweeps, pre-holiday reruns underway. The big news, of course, is Survivor, and I couldn't be happier about the outcome there. (Since Survivor winners make national news, I'm going to assume that everyone who cares who won knows and not spoiler-proof this.) I liked Sandra from the beginning, and as it came down to the wire I was really rooting for her to win. Some people win Survivor by scheming and strategizing, some do it just by staying under the radar. But not so far under the radar that they appear useless. Sandra was great at that. She spoke her mind and ruffled some feathers but always made sure someone else was a bigger threat. Though I suspect she kinda did that by accident. Still, I like her for her sass and her attitude, and I think she'll do good things with the money.

This was actually the first time I'd watched Survivor for more than an episode or to since the first season, which I watched in rerun (it's very interesting to watch the show knowing who's going to win). I was intrigued by the premise of throwing the castaways overboard unexpectedly and I got totally hooked from the season premiere. Talk about great "casting." I guess more than anything I'm just grateful that Jon didn't win. Though I suppose there's an argument to be made that he deserved it for playing the game so well, plotting the way he did, but every time he opened his mouth I just hated him more. I know we can't believe anything he says, and I know a lot of it is just talk, but I really started to believe that he believes all that sexist bullshit he was spouting near the end, and I thought, Wow, you're not just doing these things to win the game, you're actually this much of a fuckhead. So really, I'm happy anyone won over him and his stupid little rat teeth. (You know, you'd think from this blog that I'm obsessed with teeth, but I swear that's not true! It's just been the season of bad teeth on television!)

I just feel bad for Lill. Not because she didn't win, but because the other survivors are apparently convinced that she's a big lying faker (which I don't think she is, I think she's honestly crazy) all of America now...well, now things she's honestly crazy. Is there a Boy Scout badge for being a complete and total loon? Poor thing. I'm still not sure how she managed to last 39 days on the island, and I think it broke her. I hope she's better now, and cries less. I really liked her at the beginning, but then, I tend to root for the underdog.

I feel a little empty now. No more Survivor, Average Joe or Real World Paris. I'm not watching any "reality" TV. I didn't watch The Simple Life (which is clearly the natural choice to fill the void), initially because I thought watching it and Average Joe at the same time would be too dirty. Now that I've avoided it for this long I don't feel compelled to start watching it now, and the smart part of my brain insists that this is for the best. Yet how will I fill the great chasm of trash TV>

Well, moving on to shows of quality, 24 continues to impress (including the one that's on right now as I write -- I'm a bit slow today). I really sense that the writers learned their lesson last season, and have mapped things out a little better, so that the twists can keep on coming yet still make sense. Tonight I was about 20 minutes ahead of the story and actually made up some fake dialogue for Jenn (with whom I was instant messaging) a bit before the characters said something eerily similar, but then -- go figure -- something unexpected happened. I mean, what I thought would happen happened, but they put an interesting spin on it. It's good stuff.

It's interesting to see what happens when they realize they've written themselves into a corner though. On most shows characters can exit gracefully or even vanish altogether without much explanation, but the real-time gimmick makes that harder. It looks like the President's doctor/girlfriend won't be back (and good riddance to a dull plotline, I say) but making that happen in an hour is really tricky. It's the one area where the show tends to falter.

I watched Tru Calling last week 'cause I happened to be home with nothing better to do. It didn't suck. There were teenage lesbians involved. That's all I'll say about it because it's really not worth any more thought.

Last but not least, of course, part two of Angels in America. It's odd: I've always preferred "Millennium Approaches" to "Perestroika," and in the theater found the latter to be too long and kinda messy, yet watching the film version I found myself really missing the things that were cut. That's probably because a lot of what was cut involved Harper, who is by far my favorite character in the piece. But I also missed some of the crazy politics of Heaven, and felt like Louis and Joe weren't given enough time in this version. I certainly could have done without the drag queen funeral sequence and some of the visuals of Heaven (gorgeous though they were) in favor of more of Kushner's glorious dialogue.

Still, it's a phenomenal piece of work by the standards of any medium, and I'm incredibly happy it's in the world now.

And that's pretty much it for TV this week. Sad, huh? More to come soon, I hope! With so little new stuff on, and Bravo not yet showing season four of The West Wing (despite finishing season three last week), the Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server is almost completely empty. There's some stuff on there I'm saving, but except for a couple of Queer Eyes, nothing I haven't watched. Do you realize what this means? I'M FREE!! The machine has been defeated! Now I must return to my Netflix enslavement, and watch the two DVDs that have been on my coffee table since October.

Out of Fashion

I'm working a half day at Huge Financial Company while every administrative assistant in the place is off at some year-end luncheon. After the Cargo Pants Incident, I'm making an effort to be SuperTemp and taking no chances. I made sure to go to bed early so I'm functioning properly, showed up five minutes early (it helps that I didn't have to arrive 'til 11:30), and I'm wearing a tie even though I'm in a more casual department. I was even planning to stay off the internet, since you need a password for it and I didn't want to risk using one from an old client, but the woman I'm filling in for left Explorer open for me so I'm free and clear. I'd brought my holiday cards to do instead, and thinking about this the "logic" of temping and huge corporations just baffles me more than usual. For the sake of appearance, isn't it better that I be typing away on the computer than that I sit here and read a magazine or write cards, something which is so obviously not work? I mean, from a distance no one could tell what I'm writing right now, whereas it would be painfully clear were I not on the computer, that I was doing my own stuff on company time.

But that's not what I want to gripe about today: My beef today is that I'm wearing a tie, and I'm banned from another department for wearing cargo pants, but the women in this company can dress like hookers in a Lifetime movie. Now, I realize that a great many women in business still make less money than their male counterparts, so I suppose I'm an ass for bitching about disparities in the dress code, but Trinny and Susannah could do a whole season on this place.

The men are essentially in uniform: Suit and tie or, if it's casual, chinos and a polo shirt. Every single one of us is wearing the same thing, year 'round.

The woman I'm sitting in for today was wearing -- I kid you not -- a gold lamé sleeveless top with a brown maribou collar, and a brown Ally McBeal length miniskirt. In December. I'll give the girl props, she pulled the look off, but at work? There's a woman I see in the elevators sometimes who gives aging hippies a bad name. She wears these muumuu-ish things with the most garish patterns, and sandals in which she shuffles along the hall. There's usually some sort of scarf or shawl around her shoulders, which is held together by the biggest clasp I've ever seen, which hangs directly in front of her crotch. But none of this compares to the hair, which is swept up and back in the most gravity-defying hair-don't since Tracy Turnblad. It goes up, rounds at the top, then swoops back down her back to her waist. The dye job (shit brown, natch) must take hours.

I'm jealous enough of the sundresses and anything goes shoes in the summer (from a comfort standpoint -- I have no desire to wear pretty frocks and strappy sandals) but winter seems to bring out the inner drag queen in every admin (and even a few executives) in this building. I think my favorite accessory is the hideously ugly, lumpy grandma cardigan that drapes the back of every single female assistant's chair year 'round. If it's cold in the office, you could a) have something appropriate on hand to throw on, or b) wear enough damn clothes to cover yourself in the first place!

Yet here I sit, in my nice conservative burgandy Banana Republic shirt and tie, with my black chinos and black leather shoes, because god forbid I should be able to breathe or walk very far or carry anything in my pockets while I fill in for the woman who's dressed like Lypsinka. Wouldn't want to be inappropriate or anything.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Never underestimate the power of tardiness!

So I was supposed to do a reading of a new play today. The piece is pretty good and it was a good opportunity to work with some interesting people and make some connections. But what I didn't know when I signed on was that it was in Brooklyn. I hardly ever go to Brooklyn. That's not outer borough snobbery (hello, I live in Queens!), I just rarely have occasion to go there.

Trying to get from Brooklyn to Queens is the one trip where New York's subway system starts to resemble those in the rest of the country. Though they're on the same land mass, and I could walk from one to the other in about half an hour and drive it in five or ten minutes (just over the border, I mean, not necessarily to my final destination), taking the subway involves making a big "U" through Manhattan and crossing the same river twice, or taking the one highly unreliable route that only goes between the two eastern boroughs.

So, being the good, punctual stage manager that I am (and since no one actually told me what time they wanted me there, simply what time we were starting), I decided to aim to be 30-45 minutes early. And since I had no idea how long it would take me to get there, especially on a Sunday, I decided to allow an hour and a half to get there, more if I was being really good.

Well, I wasn't really good, or terribly good at all. Even nine hours after I had gone to bed I didn't want to get out of it. I figured I was okay since I had allowed for so much extra time, but with the snow and everything I wasn't exactly looking forward to the commute.

Then, as I was putting my jacket on -- about 45 minutes after I was supposed to have put my jacket on -- the phone rang. The director is stuck in Philadelphia so we have to cancel the reading. It's amazing how easily we regress to elementary school. No matter how much I may be looking forward to whatever it is I have to do, my immediate reaction to news like this is always "Woohoo! Snow Day!!!"

And if I'd been on schedule I'd have been underground and halfway (or maybe even all the way) to Brooklyn by the time the call came! So clearly the moral of the story is that oversleeping is good!

Now the only question is what do I do with my newly free afternoon? Laundry? Projects around the house? Curl up under a blanket and play video games? Uh-oh, I think we have a winner!

Saturday, December 13, 2003

Make him go away!

For someone who's left SNL, Chris Kattan sure shows up A LOT!

It has definitely gone too far!

First Faustus posts this link on his blog, then last night I'm walking up 6th Avenue, near Radio City Music Hall, where throngs of tourists have just left the Christmas Spectacular, and I overhear a family -- middle-aged father and mother, early teenage daughter -- of obvious out-of-towners discussing and debating the meaning of the word metrosexual. They were all familiar with the term but the mother wasn't quite sure what it meant, and the father kind of got it wrong. The daughter, clearly exasperated but not the least bit embarrassed, started to set them, um, straight.

Then other noises on the street drowned them out, and the next thing I heard was the daughter, now sounding completely horrified, say: "No, Dad, you are not a metrosexual. Jeez!"

That's when I ran.




On an administrative note, I'm now quite happy with the state of my template. I still value your feedback, but you can ignore the "It's not 100%" caveat in yesterday's post.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Oy

I've had issues with my sidebar formatting since I started this blog, and apparently it's been acting screwy on certain browsers, so today I decided to choose a new template with a different style sidebar that's fixed and would solve all these problems.

Blogger makes this fairly easy, and I figured I'd just spend a little bit of time cutting-and-pasting my content and some font and color information into the new template and all would be well.

Three hours later...no gym, nothing on my to-do list anywhere near done...and I'm still not 100% satisfied with it. But it's good enough to publish.

Reader feedback is, as always, encouraged.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Finally!!

After last night's bout of severe grumpiness and sugar overload, I felt the need to be productive, but didn't want to do anything actually resembling work. This seemed like the perfect time to attack the three-foot stack of magazines on my coffee table. I only subscribe to three magazines: two relatively fluffy weeklies and a computer-related monthly. Somehow, around this time last year, I got hopelessly behind on Time Out New York. I don't have a year's worth left, but I've been reading them very slowly and there's at least five months' worth all out of order. I seem to be unable to just throw them away, and I've made a self-imposed rule that I may not buy an new books, or even crack any of the ones I have until I've eliminated The Stack.

It's largely the principle that I've paid for these things, I shouldn't just toss them out. But also, TONY tends to review smaller films and books that don't get much coverage in more mainstream press (not like it's some little indie rag itself, but it's not the Times either), so I like to at least flip through the reviews for ideas for my Netflix queue and Amazon wish list. I'm mostly turning pages, stopping only occasionally, taking care not to get sucked in to things like reviews of Pirates of the Caribbean or Dance of the Vampires and the completely outdated TV sections.

This is the perfect task to tackle in front of the TV, so I finally -- finally! -- started watching 24. Watching the season premiere, I realized why I've been so lackluster about it. Last season was kind of boring, and after a while logic pretty much vanished. I got nervous when they said they had five hours to stop the disease. Because, like last season, that means they've got to pull a plot out of their asses for the remaining nineteen. The new boy is hot, there's a Buffy survivor, and it seems unlikely that Kim will run into any wild cats working at CTU. But it was slow and I found I didn't care much about even the characters I used to care about.

But then something happened around hour two or three: It got good. Really good. Exposition over with, the pace picked up and I found myself completely engaged and fascinated. I'd planned to watch two episodes, three tops, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. I watched five, then came back for the remaining two this morning. So far, the plot is moving forward interestingly without getting bogged down in "We have X hours left!" stuff. The twists have been both unexpected and logical, a combination that was sorely lacking last season. The characters have taken shape and even Kim isn't annoying (though in merely seven hours she's already been duct taped to a chair). The acting is top-notch.

My only complaint is that, as much as I like Dennis Haysbert and DB Woodside, I'm completely bored by the presidential plot-line. Just couldn't care less about it. And I actually hope it doesn't become intertwined with the CTU plot like it did last season, because that just wouldn't make much sense. Wait, I lied, I have another complaint -- do these very important government offices not have any kind of formality or protocol? Maybe I've been watching too much West Wing and Alias, but I don't buy that everyone at CTU, regardless of rank, is on a first name basis with everyone else. And even if the President's chief of staff (or whatever it is DB Woodside does) is also his brother, when talking to other people, would he ever refer to him as "David?" It's a little thing, but I find the lack of credibility disturbing.

So there ya go, I'm all caught up. I think perhaps I've been using the Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server as an excuse to avoid doing anything else, telling myself I "have to" get through all the stored shows. The pitfall of never having nothing on TV to watch. Hopefully I'll be better about that now. Until the mid-season replacements start anyway....

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I knew it!

The world really is against me today. I suppose I borught it on myself by tempting fate and mentioning it yesterday. I just turned on the radio, only for a few minutes while I did some stuff in the kitchen, and there it was: "The Christmas Shoes." Musical critique aside, the lyrics are even creepier than I remembered. How exactly does the little boy know his mom will meet Jesus tonight. Awfully specific, if you ask me. Shoes or not, that child is up to no good. (Okay, that lyric link says "if," but I'd swear he was singing "when.") But I'm glad the singer is reminded of the true meaning of Christmas: the slow death of loved ones.

I think I'll follow those cinnamon buns with the half-pint of Uncanny Cashew ice cream in my freezer.

To wash out my brain, I threw my favorite modern holiday song on iTunes: "Do They Know It's Christmas" by Band Aid. I'm such an 80s nerd. It makes me happy. Though it's always bothered me a little, even as a kid -- I suspect the starving Ethiopians don't know it's Christmas, and don't much care, what with them not being Christian and all. And "tonight thank God it's them instead of you?" Nice, Bono, way to get into the spirit of charity.

The world is against me today

The day began (admittedly, not until after 1:00) with an phone call from "Unknown" on my cell. If I'm not expecting a call I generally don't answer those. I checked the message as soon as the phone beeped again, and it was Temp Agency #1, calling with an assignment that starts tomorrow and goes through the end of the month. Wow, way to plan ahead, folks. But whatever, work is good. I immediately called back, got voicemail, and said I was available.

Then Boy left here to go to his place, and he called me from the street to tell me my mailman had accosted him in the lobby, chastising him for not saying hello. We assume my mailman assumed he was me, as we're often seen together and as far as I know I'm the only white man who lives above the first floor of my building. Fair enough, but still sort of weird and rude. I've had troubles with my mailman before. He's usually very friendly. Too friendly. I haven't seen him in a while but he'll often comment on what's in my mail, or say things like "Have you been out of town?" based on what he sees there. The most frequent topics of conversation have been my unemployment checks (or lack thereof, if I'm working) and the frequency with which my Netflix are delivered. It's not like these conversations are sinister, but they are pretty inappropriate. We all know our mail carriers have a pretty good window into our business; I'd really prefer that they not acknowledge that so openly! On top of that, I'm convinced he sometimes just skips my building, and I often have tricky issues with packages or package notices.

So anyway, I figured since he was down there, this was a good time to go get my mail. I didn't have a clear idea of what I was going to say to him -- I guess I wanted to ask if he'd skipped us yesterday, as if he'd ever admit it if he had -- and I was caught off guard when he asked I'd gotten my package yesterday. Well, it had been the day before, but I said yes. He was asking because he'd left it with the super. "I rang you twice and you rang me twice but you didn't come down." He was referring to the buzzer on the door to my building, which unfortunately doesn't have an intercom, so if the bell rings in my apartment I simply have to let people in or not, but I have no way to communicate with them. Not the safest system, but what can I do? I explained this to him, and said I expected whomever it was to come up if they were actually buzzing for me (and not coming to shove takeout menus under the doors or one of the kids who lives in the building pushing every button), and he said "Oh, I don't go up," and then tried to end the conversation with an abrupt "Have a good day."

"Wait," I said, "how was I supposed to know it was you?"

"Well, I got a note saying you'd be home." This is true, I'd left the package slip from earlier asking for delivery.

"And I was home, but when you rang the bell how was I supposed to know to come downstairs? Aren't you supposed to come up, and deliver my package?"

He claimed that federal law prohibits him from going above the second stair landing. He sounded pretty convincing, but I'm skeptical, having never lived below the third floor before and had packages delivered to my door.

"Okay, well, I didn't know. Thanks for leaving it with the super."

In writing this conversation seems pretty benign, and I can't figure out how to convey the mailman's hostility. He seemed to be angry with me from the moment I stepped into the lobby, and he treated this whole exchange as if I was the rudest, most ignorant person on earth. Adding to the strangeness, I got a form from the unemployment people, but no check. Since both form and check are issued when I file my weekly claim, they usually arrive together. I'm sure the check will come tomorrow, but I started to wonder if maybe he'd held my check hostage because he was mad at me...or mad at Boy who he thought was me for not saying hello to him. It's ridiculous, of course, but we never really think about the power people like postal workers have. They carry our money, our bills, all kinds of vital items and correspondence. I don't care to think about how they can fuck those things up, either by accident or out of some kind of bizarre malice.

So by now an hour had passed since the phone call from Temp Agency #1, and I was totally rattled from the encounter with Hostile Mailman. I was getting cranky that I hadn't heard from the Agency. I was assuming they'd called someone else right after me (while I was listening to the voicemail) and that person had answered the phone and gotten the job. Which is entirely fine, but since we were talking about an assignment for tomorrow a return call didn't seem unreasonable to expect. So I called back, and the receptionist told me the woman who'd called me was on another call. She asked if I wanted her voicemail, and I said no because I'd already left a message, and explained that I was just checking in about tomorrow's job. She put me hold again and came back to say "She'll definitely call you back." Okay.

Shortly after this, Temp Agency #2 called. This is the one I work for most of the time, at Huge Financial Company. They have a day and a half of work for me next week. I tell her I'll have to call back in an hour or so, since a full two weeks of worth is clearly better than that.

Tick tock. 4:15 and no word from Agency #1. I called again, and the receptionist tells me the assignment was cancelled. Okay, that's understandable, but if you know I'm holding off on making plans for tomorrow, is it so hard to pick up the phone and let me know? It's bad enough I actually do spend so much of my time being a slug on the couch, I'd like it if these people assumed I had a life instead.

So I called back Agency #2 to accept the other gig. Shockingly, nothing went wrong with that. But then my manager decides to tell me, "by the way," that a department I've worked for several times told her they don't want to have me back because the last time I was there I wore cargo pants. The hell? Now, I only have one pair of cargo pants that I would ever wear to a corporate job, so I know exactly which ones they were. They're nice. The job is a concierge position, and it involves sitting behind a desk all day -- where no one can see my pants. And of course I was wearing a shirt and tie, which was all I was told the dress code involved (most of the company is far more casual). Now, every rational person I've told this story to so far has said, "Why didn't they just tell you they weren't happy with your pants?" Duh! I come from a world where people give notes on your job performance, and then they fire you if you don't take them. I mean, my pants??? If I'd known it was going to affect my future employment opportunities, I would have gone to the Gap on my lunch break and picked up some new ones!

I'll be the first to admit that my attitude at Huge Financial Company has not been great of late. I'm only there a couple of times a month, and I usually haven't slept enough, and I hate it. I try hard to keep any of that from affecting the quality of my work, but there's no question that I've been lazy and crabby when I'm there. But no, they don't have a problem with my punctuality or my attitude and certainly not my work, it's my pants. It's extra-frustrating because I've been there before and they've asked for me back, so they must like me, yet they don't give me a chance to fix what was obviously a mistake?

My manager at Temp Agency #2 was cool about it, and agreed with me that it's a little ridiculous. It's a big company, so there will be more work. But it just underscores very clearly all the things I hate about temping in particular, and the corporate world in general.

So, taking all of the above into account, and the fact that all I had to eat today was a Lean Cuisine pizza, it's okay that I just ate an entire box of Entenmann's cinnamon buns, right? What if they're "Light?"

Save Carnivale!

I'm not sure how legit this is, but this survey is supposedly being circulated by HBO to determine the fate of Carnivale. I could have sworn I'd read somewhere that they've already renewed the show, but why take chances? If you like those wacky freaks, go take the survey, it only takes 5 minutes and never asks for an email or anything that would suggest it's just a fiendish marketing/spamming ploy.

Addressing the Situation

I've kept a computerized address book for years, since long before I actually got a Palm Pilot. When I'm working, I generally put all of my colleagues in my personal organizer because it's much easier to deal with than a contact sheet. Because I freelance, this practice has resulted in an address book with over 1,100 entries. All too often I spot someone's name in the book and I have absolutely no idea who it is. I have to look at the little note I've put in there, and even then I often don't really remember.

Recently, I switched from Palm Desktop to Apple's built-in address book. It's a pretty easy conversion, but any time you change this kind of software there are a few things that don't import exactly right and need to be adjusted. As I've been going through and fixing stuff, I realized that now that I'm syncing my Palm with the new application, my Palm Desktop file will remain untouched. So I can safely delete all those people who I haven't thought about in years, but the compulsive anally retentive side of me is still satisfied knowing that I have a record of them somewhere.

This has been an interesting process. I'm actually evaluating people I've known and deciding if I should "keep" them. If I haven't talked to you in more than two years and you don't have e-mail, you're definitely out. Then there are various celebrities who probably have no idea who I am anymore, but I've hung on to them in case someone might look through my Palm and be impressed. Yeah, 'cause that happens all the time. I suppose a better reason to keep them is in case I need something from them someday, but see above re: I was a PA for them five years ago and they won't remember me. Gone. If I don't actually remember who someone is, clearly they're out too. Then it gets trickier...might I want to send an e-mail to this person even though I haven't in forever? What's the harm in keeping them around just in case? On the other hand, what's the benefit? I thought it would be a depressing experience, contemplating long-lost acquaintances, but it's actually kind of liberating. There's something oddly comforting about accepting that some people are simply of the past and letting go of them. Besides, with the exception of a couple of people from high school for whom I only have outdated information for their parents, we're mostly talking about "that guy who subbed for two days on light board for that show." Or "that director who was a raving lunatic and could never remember your name even when she saw you every day." Hardly a big emotional experience.

Still, I feel like I'm doing a good job of eliminating clutter. I like eliminating clutter. Of course, electronic clutter is far less insidious than physical cutter, and given the state of my desk and my living room right now that's what I really should be tackling. So I suspect this project is really just another form of procrastination. Damn, I knew it was too good to be true.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

(Christanukah) Spirit Fingers!

My usual Scroogishness seems to have vanished. Maybe it's the great Thanksgiving I had, or the snow storm last weekend, or just the fact that it's finally December and all the hoopla seems appropriate, but I am fully in the holiday spirit. Constant Christmas music in stores and on the radio is actually making me happy (though to be fair, I've so far avoided hearing the Waitresses' "Happy Christmas," or "The Christmas Shoes" this year), I haven't felt drowned in a sea of tourists, and I'm generally chipper and excited for present giving and getting. I got really ambitious and I need to check my list twice but I think all my Christanukah shopping is done and all that's left is the wrapping. The cards I ordered from Broadway Cares came today, and I'll probably deal with them next week. God help me, I'm jolly.

What the hell is wrong with me???

What would we do, baby, without us?

So I'm watching one of the Family Ties episodes I DVRed over the weekend, and I realized that "And there ain't no nothing we can't love each other through," while not grammatically correct, actually does mean what it's supposed to mean. "No nothing" would be "anything," and of course "ain't" means "isn't," so it actually all works out. It's a triple negative, and it cancels itself out!

Sha la la la...

Average Nooooooooooo!

(Warning: This post contains spoilers...but not 'til the end.)

Okay, what the fuck? Did they not screen properly or was this part of the plan all along? If one of the Average Joes is a millionaire, doesn't that make him not at all average?

I also got really tired of the voice-over about "looks vs. charm." Because it's not like Adam is bad-looking. Sure, he could lose a couple of pounds and his teeth are too big for his mouth, but he's not like those guys who were eliminated in the first round. (Adam on kissing Melana tonight: "My stupid big teeth got in the way." At least he knows!) On the other hand, what is it about these shows that makes people write lame-ass poems?

I've been a little confused over the weeks by how long the taping of this show lasted, and tonight we found out it was five weeks. Isn't that a really long time, or do I just watch a lot of really low-rent reality TV? Boy Meets Boy was only a week, I think. Who are these people that they can pick up and leave their lives for five weeks? Especially without the promise of a million dollar prize like on Survivor?

At one point, Melana said (in voice-over), "After the way I felt on the first night, I would have never guessed that I could have such strong feelings for someone --" and there was an incredibly obvious cut. I want to know what she said next! 'Cause again, if it's not "with humongous teeth," I'm not sure what she could have said about Adam.

Towards the end, there was a montage of all the guys, and someone looked at the camera and said "Remember Wally!" Um, I don't remember Wally. At all.

Every time Jason opened his mouth in this episode he seemed dumber and dumber. "When we first met, it was all superficial, but now it's, like, deeper." Yeah, like when you first meet anyone, and then spend a bunch of time with her?

The Rocky montage of Adam working out was just degrading. I know I shouldn't expect anything more, but they've stayed away from that for the last couple of weeks. Speaking of staying away, where was Kathy Griffin for the first 90 minutes of this episode? Hello, she's the best thing about the show!

Okay, there's no avoiding it, on to the final decision. Or as I like to call it, Melana is a Big Stupid-Head.

"To me he's the total package," said Melana of Jason. Um, apparently Melana likes her packages dumb, living with their parents and taking 8 years to finish undergrad.

To be fair, if Melana is what she appeared to be (and given what I'm about to say, that's not a fair assumption to make) then I can only assume the producers/editors were playing us this entire episode. Every time we saw Adam he was charming and sweet and he and Melana were getting along fabulously, and whenever we saw Jason he was dull, kind of a schmuck (I know I don't know much about the mating habits of the heterosexus americanus, but I think if you're actively trying to get your date drunk, maybe you should be a little subtle and not order her two drinks at once), and seemed to have little to talk about with Melana. (There was plenty of kissing with both couples, so "nothing to talk about" isn't some kind of euphemism for constant sex.) Yet I'd like to believe, from what we've been shown of Melana, that she truly felt more chemistry with Jason, but we just weren't allowed to see it. On the other hand, she rationalized her choice with this: (I'm paraphrasing here) "Adam has stronger feelings for me than I do for him so I'm sending him home." My translation: "Jason and I are both lukewarm about each other, and that makes for a much better couple." The hell? I guess there's some kind of logic to that, not wanting to hurt Adam, but if she likes him too...it just sounds weird to me.

This whole episode was clearly designed to mislead the viewer. First the unbalanced portrayal of the guys, and then they broke with dating show convention and showed the acceptance before the dumping. This was torture, because we had to watch Adam get dumped knowing he was getting dumped, when he thought he was getting on the prize plane. And I'm convinced that someone wrote her speech to Jason, because it was cleverly constructed to make us think she was rejecting him at first.

It's funny, at the beginning of all this I was really harsh on Adam, and tonight I was not only rooting for him, I found myself feeling actively hostile towards Melana for not picking him ("It tore me up, literally, to send Adam home." Really? Literally? Then I wanna see BLOOD.) That has a lot to do with the manipulation of the producers, and for that I tip my imaginary hat to them. Because let's face it, I and many other people who should know better were totally hooked. And that's just good TV.

Is it totally wrong then that I'm looking forward to Average Joe 2? It looks like they managed to find a bunch of guys even dweebier and creepier than the first set. It's really hard to believe it's not Fox.

Monday, December 08, 2003

The Great Work Begins

"Imagination can't create anything new, can it? It only recycles bits and pieces from the world and reassembles them into visions.... So when we think we've escaped the unbearable ordinariness and, well, untruthfulness of our lives, it's really only the same old ordinariness and falseness rearranged into the appearance of novelty and truth. Nothing unknown is knowable.... The world. Finite...."
-Tony Kushner

I saw both parts of Angels in America twice on Broadway, and again on tour when I was living in Boston. The New York production was nearly perfect, with a nearly perfect cast, so despite all the great press and my faith that the script could withstand anything and the wonderfulness of all the actors involved, I was a little nervous about the HBO film.

Of course, I needn't have been. There's not really anything I can say that hasn't already been said by every critic in America, so I won't kvell too much here. If I have any real criticism it's that there were a couple of directorial touches that seemed to bog the pace down in order to remind us that we were watching a film, not a play. I didn't think it was necessary. At no point did the talky scenes seem static to me, yet occasionally there'd be weird shots of the cosmos or camera tricks. Pretty, but superfluous in my opinion.

But hey, I'm talking about maybe one minute in a three hour film, so why quibble? And some of the more cinematic gestures were utterly perfect. I actually got a lump in my throat before a line of dialogue was even spoken. Bethesda Terrace has been my favorite spot in New York City since I was a kid, and seeing Angels on stage and learning the story of the Angel of the Waters only made me love it more. The shot of the fountain in the opening sequence of the movie broke my heart a little...in a good way.

It's been a long time, I think, since television has done something really Good. I mean Good in the larger sense, not just quality work. Bringing a play like Angels to a mass audience is definitely Good. Great, even. The Messenger Has Arrived. Who knew she would actually take the form of HBO?

TV Wrap-Up, 11/25 - 12/8

I don't really have much to say about the TV of the last two weeks. All of my regular shows were pretty good, which tends to make for a boring post.

No, I'm really excited about the show I discovered at 2 AM on Friday night on VH1: Super Secret TV Formulas. It's genius. Among the segments we caught were "Gay But Not Gay," about characters who are clearly queer (Paul Lynde on Bewitched, Jm J. Bullock on Too Close For Comfort, Niles Crane) but weren't allowed to be; "Evil Twins," which is obvious but had the brilliance to include KITT vs. KARR; "Add A Kid," which featured an interview with the actor who played Oliver on The Brady Bunch, who still has the same haircut; and an entire piece about the Very Special Episode of Family Ties in which Alex gets hooked on diet pills (this of course pales in comparison to the Very Special Episode of Saved By The Bell in which Jessie gets hooked on diet pills, but I suppose that's less mainstream).

There should be a segment called "Talking Head Nostalgia Clip Shows," which seems to be all that VH1 does nowadays. But hey, they seem to be working. I could watch these things all day (and have, thanks to evil marathons). The best thing about SSTVF: No Hal Sparks.

In an odd twist of accidental synergy, Nick At Nite ran a weekend-long marathon of Family Ties, and I DVRed all three of the Tom Hanks episodes. It's nice to be reminded that there was a time when he didn't annoy the fuck out of me. Now if only someone would have the good sense to rerun Bosom Buddies (Wendy Jo Sperber, we hardly knew ye).

In other, less gay TV, The West Wing made me very happy. I was bitching about something in the opening scene (I'm so over the four years of "My father/husband/boyfriend doesn't have time for me because he's the President/Chief of Staff/Communications Director" whining -- hello, running the country!) when the opening credits started and Stockard Channing appeared, apparently restored to a regular, and I stopped mid-word and did a little dance. Boy then sang a song he likes to call "Bi-Polar Boyfriend." Stockard makes everything better though, and this was the first really good episode of the season. Last week's was good too, but this was better. A near-perfect balance of personal and political, drama and comedy. And Bartlets talking to each other, which is always exciting.

The last two Aliases have been fabulous too. It's curious that the best TV this season seems to be happening right after sweeps. Though I'm still dying for the return of Lena Olin, it was nice to see some actors I like resurface after a while, and there was a fight that ran a pretty close second to the Best Girlfight Ever. As usual, questions were answered that only lead to new questions, but it's all starting to get very interesting and loop back around to the intrigue of first season, and I do love a good complicated mythology!

My only complaint about Carnivale is that it's over! So unfair! Such a cliffhanger! I'm too lazy to use the spoiler blog today, so I'll be good and avoid saying anything about plot. But it was exciting and fun and had all this forward momentum...and because it's HBO we'll have to wait 9 months for a new episode. I hate them.

Survivor has been consistently good this season, and the last two weeks were no exception. I'm intensely frustrated by the behavior of many of the contestants, and if I have to watch John and his stupid gang signs and ratty buck teeth for one more week I may have to kill myself, but I suppose that's what makes Survivor good TV.

And I really thought The O.C. couldn't get any better, or Adam Brody couldn't get any cuter. But no, there they go. For the record, I've been referring to the holiday season as "Christanukah" for years, long before Seth's little "Christmakah" spiel, but it was still very very cute. It's just good, fun television. What I like best about it is how they always keep comedy in it but rarely at the expense of the main characters. Like, they're funny people so funny things happen, but it's never the goofy David Silver Is An Idiot kind of plot. So far anyway. I could have done without last week's Gay Dad episode, but they balanced that by having an entirely Luke-free episode this week.

On a related note, the cover of this week's Entertainment Weekly managed to make all four of the "young leads" of The O.C. look terrible, except for Benjamin McKenzie, who looks exactly the same as he always does. This supports my theory that he only has one facial expression.

I'm sorry, I'm sorry, but I just don't like Arrested Development. I tried again last week for Liza. And she was great, and it's nice to see her looking healthy and being funny, but...I'm sorry, I just don't think the show is that funny! Or that interesting. I don't care about any of the characters, and actors who I'll usually happily watch do anything are boring me to tears. I don't think it's earned its smugness or its "wackiness." You have to ground quirks in reality, have to put them in characters who could still be real people, who mean something to the viewer. These people just couldn't, and don't. So to top that off with an attitude of "look how smart and weird we are," in the place of actually writing a compelling plot or, y'know, jokes...frankly I'm a little insulted. And that voiceover is the most annoying thing ever.

And no, I still haven't watched 24. Maybe tomorrow. At this point it's just such a huge time commitment that it's daunting. But I guess I'm still bored from the second half of last season. It's interesting, avoiding spoilers has been incredibly easy. I feel like the press must feel the same way about it as I do.

Two commercials have made me very happy this week, though curiously they're both for Pepsi, a product I usually avoid. In one, a Roomba-like robo-vacuum "eats" a potato chip, and then attacks a man for his Pepsi. It ties in nicely with Boy's fears of secretly-programmed attack Roombas (Roombi?). The other is the one with the sad girl in the hot dog costume, who meets the sad boy in the Pepsi costume. They're both so cute. And it's high time for Blind Mellon's "No Rain" to make a comeback.

In the "Make it stop! Make it stop!" category, the new McDonald's jingle is quite possibly the most horrible thing I've ever heard. Even worse than 1-800-MATTRESS and US Window Factory (on the radio locally).

Of course there was another big TV event this week, but I'll post about that separately in a moment.

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Yikes

I was reminded by MAK's rant about theater etiquette yesterday about a conversation overheard at my show last spring. I have no particularly snarky comment about it, I think it speaks for itself.

Man and Woman are reading the ads in the back of their Playbills, talking about shows to see next.

Woman: What about Nine?
Man: We saw the original and didn't like it.
Woman: We did?
Man: Yeah. With Raul Julia.
Woman: Oh, I like him. [pause] What ever happened to him?
Man: He died. Of AIDS, I think.
Woman: Oh. [pause] What ever happened to AIDS?

Friday, December 05, 2003

The Karma Wheel has turned

So, remember the Amazon order that arrived even though it had supposedly never shipped? Well, I got it today. Again. Only as far as Amazon is concerned it was only the first time. Since I called them when I got the first shipment (for those of you just joining us, it was invoiced as complete but was actually missing one CD, and this somehow tricked Amazon's computers into thinking the whole thing hadn't gone out at all) and explained exactly what was going on, and they didn't fix the error when they had the chance, I feel absolutely no guilt or responsibility about keeping the duplicate items. They had ample opportunity to fix the mistake (it took over two weeks for the second box to ship) and didn't do it, why should I have to deal with the hassle and expense of sending it back to them? Especially given all the issues I've had with them lately.

So as I see it, this is my just reward for all the bullshit with Amazon and UPS this fall; the scales are balanced and everybody's happy. And I've got some good Christanukah presents to give out.

Fun With Playlists #2

In keeping with the yesterday's music-themed post, this is a Fun With Playlists combined with a regular post, as the playlist requires some explanation....

Junior year of college I had a girlfriend (shut up all of you, just shut right the hell up) who was, to put it mildly, a raving lunatic. It's flattering to have someone be into you to the point of psychosis and also, you know, utterly terrifying. The same friends who had been so encouraging of us when we got together, saying things like "I think this will be really good for both of you," now all said "Dude, I told you she was crazy." Thanks, guys. I asked her for some space and she actually gave me less of it, and so I broke up with her. This resulted in an even greater lack of space, but now without sex. (Of course as it turns out, I never dated a woman again, so depending on how you want to spin it, I either knew what was coming and made a good choice, or she's responsible for turning me off women completely.)

Anyway, one night there was drama of the sort that can only happen with a bunch of 20-year-old theater majors. Crazy and I had had tickets to a show on campus before we broke up, and we still went together. But after the show there was a party, and while I could handle seeing some Shakespeare with her I didn't want to go out with her afterwards, and neither did any of my friends. So I lied and said I was going home and staying there after the show. When I was back in my room, she called, and there was angst, the details of which I've blocked out. The thing was, I couldn't get her off the phone, and I didn't want to reveal my own lie and tell her I had somewhere to be.

My friends were understandably concerned that I had been killed, and left the party down the block to come find me in my dorm. They tried to get me to come with them, but Nutjob was still making things miserable. I really don't remember what we were talking about, or why I didn't just hang up on her, but I know that it was going in circles and making me very upset.

I never made it to the party, and the next day my friend A.A. gave me a tape entitled "The Adam Must Chill Mix." It was pretty brilliant, and very sweet.

Eventually, things calmed down. This had all happened in March or April, and by the end of the year everyone was happy again (due in no small part to Nutty's graduation). My friends had been incredibly supportive during the whole regrettable episode, and to thank them and say goodbye for the summer I made a sort of reply mixtape, not just for A.A. but for our whole little circle, called "The Adam Has Chilled Mix."

I haven't listened to it in years, but as part of my digital music project I've been making iTunes playlists out of all my mixes. And I couldn't find it!! How could I have lost it? Not that I've listened to it in ages, but still! Fortunately, MCM was just here and she has had it in her car all these years. There's no song list written on it, so I'm listening to it now to make my playlist so I can give it back to her next time she's in town. It's a vastly entertaining trip down memory lane, and it makes me wish I still had some of my tapes from high school.

That the mix is so clearly the work of a 20-year-old sentimental/cynical drama queen is unsurprising. That it's so very very 1996 (picture it: a little show called Friends is gathering steam in its second season, Alanis Morissette tops the pop charts, Stephen Sondheim's Company is on Broadway again, Jim Henson's Labyrinth is ten years old and very popular among people old enough to remember it the first time but only now discovering the joy of watching it an altered state, and we at Tufts produce a mostly white production of Once On This Island (or as we like to call it, "Once On Long Island")) is also to be expected. What kills me is that it's SO GAY! I mean, sure, I was "bi" then (and ironically so was Batty, but she's since decided that she's only into boys...hm, we do have something in common!) but this tape is gayer than I am NOW. I let you judge for yourselves...if you promise not to make too much fun of me:

I'll Be There For You - The Rembrandts
Magic Dance - David Bowie
Rainbow Connection - Kermit the Frog
Mama Will Provide - from Once On This Island
Hand In My Pocket - Alanis Morissette
If I Had $1,000,000 - Barenaked Ladies
Total Eclipse of the Heart - Bonnie Tyler
A Boy Like That - Selena (from a single many of us got for free promoting a terrifying album of pop "stars" covering songs from West Side Story)
Blood and Fire - Indigo Girls
Story of My Life - from Hello Again
With A Little Help From My Friends - Joe Cocker
Some song by an a capella group that sounds like a hymn but is really about sex
Alive and Kicking - Simple Minds
Side By Side/What Would We Do Without You - from Company
Take a Chance On Me - ABBA
Underground - David Bowie
Nobody Told Me - John Lennon
Don't You Want Me - Human League
Until The End of the World - U2
I'm Going to Go Back There Someday - Gonzo
Old Friends - from Merrily We Roll Along

To the Metropolitain Transit Authority:

If you're doing work inside a subway station that involves jackhammers, work that requires the men doing the job to wear protective earwear and goggles and face masks, perhaps it would be a good idea to close off that area of the station, and to post signs informing the public that the train that stops there is not, in fact running, so that several people don't have to stand around breathing in dust and getting their eardrums pounded while waiting for a train that is never going to come. Because really, that just doesn't seem safe. I think it's possible you were making announcements over the PA, but gee, I couldn't really hear anything over the jackhammers. Would it be so difficult to put up some caution tape, maybe post a staff person by the stairs, have the construction workers let people know that there's been a service change? I suppose you thought it was obvious, but it really wasn't. The work was only being done on one side of the platform, leaving the other track free for service. And since this is the last stop on the train (or the first if you will), there's usually not a very long wait before something arrives to at least sit on in the station, so it wasn't unreasonable for the other would-be passengers and I to assume that we wouldn't be waiting in the dust cloud for long. Moreover, it wasn't unreasonable for us to assume that if the platform was open, there was no danger. Only the platform shouldn't have been open, should it? I actually kind of wish a chunk of concrete had hit me somewhere so I could sue you. But alas, my only recourse is to blog about you.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Whining and Beauty

I was going to wait for Boy to buy the new Rufus Wainwright CD so I could copy it from him (and then send a nice contribution to the record company, because god forbid anyone pirate music like they've been doing since the audio cassette was invented), but I saw it on iTunes for $9.99 and figured what the hell. It's not something I feel a great need to have liner notes for, so why not hop on the digital music bandwagon fully, instead of just one song at a time?

Buying the album was great fun (because I'm a gigantic nerd), but unfortunately listening to it is less so.

I want to like Rufus, I really do. And not just because he's openly gay and really cute, but because he writes beautiful songs. So why does he have to go and mess them up by singing them? His voice is so awful. I mean, he hits the notes, but he whines and mumbles his way through everything like he's in pain. I bought his first album and when I didn't like it I figured that would be the end of it. But all the reviews of the new CD mentioned how his voice has improved, and I really like his tracks on the Moulin Rouge soundtrack and Wig in a Box, so I figured I'd give him another try. And aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee my ears! Why can't he just write songs for other people to record? People who can sing.

People like Boy George, perhaps? My other recent CD purchase was George's 1995 solo album Cheapness and Beauty. As much as I love Boy George, I have to confess my collection is scant, limited to the Culture Club VH1 Storytellers album and its accompanying "greatest moments" disc, and the band's reunion album. This is my first George solo CD, and I was drawn to it because it has my favorite song from Taboo on it. And it's faaaaaaabulous. It seems to be a sort of companion album to his autobiography, and it has songs about Leigh Bowery, Marylin, Phillip Salon, and a really scathing little ballad called "Unfinished Business" which I can only assume is about Jon Moss. The lyrics are beautiful and the music has at times a rawness and at times a grandeur (wonderfully overwrought string sections) quite unlike the packaged pop of early Culture Club. But you can clearly hear the same voice in the writing, and of course in the voice. It's out of print, which I think is a bit of a crime. It's readily available used, but (and I mean this in all sincerity, unlike my snarky comment about bootlegging above) it's a shame George no longer gets royalties from this. Not like he needs the money, but... I won't pretend I don't enjoy a good bit of current pop, Britney and all, this is the first CD I've bought in a while that isn't a cast album that's made me really excited about music, and I think it's unfortunate that it's 8 years old and no longer being made. Anyway, I recommend it to all. And Rufus...well, I guess Rufus is just an acquired taste I've not yet acquired.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

DUFF: More than just the beer on The Simpsons

Okay, it's totally weird that I'm blogging three times in one day after not doing so for a week, but MCM just told me how very disappointed in me she is because I didn't write about Average Joe. I was going to wait and do a big TV post when I was all caught up, and frankly I'm a little disappointed in myself that it was the very first thing I watched from last week when I got home, but here it is anyway...because no one likes MCM when she's angry.

I actually watched last week's and this week's episodes together, so I'm not quite sure what happened when. I thought two-and-a-half straight hours of AJ would be painful, but the fact is that this has slowly evolved into the Best Dating Show EVER. It's truly amazing to me how the producers continue to come up with twists that are actually both original and surprising, and how the men continue to make complete and utter asses of themselves apparently without the aid of unfair tricks or editing.

I hate not rooting for the Average Joes, but man do they SUCK! John, my once-favorite, now wigs me the hell out. I'm kind of proud of how apt my "Dawson" nickname has turned out to be though. This guy just needs to chill on the "I'm in love with her" stuff. Sure, I've had crushes I got all melodramatic about, but not since high school! (Okay, that's a big lie...college.) I just feel like by the time you're 26 you should recognize that if you barely know someone, you're probably not in love with them. No doubt Melana has a lot going for her and is easy to fall for, but you do not want to tell a girl you've been on one date with that every time she looks in your general direction your heart skips a beat and you feel the heat of your connection to her. Dude, that song you sang on your date? Creeped her out! And me too. And it was all downhill from there. And now you're gone. I really hope he watches the tapes and learns something, because few things are more depressing to me than pathetic losers with potential.

Even my boy Adam (not to be confused with my Boy, Adam) is pissing me off. He was all upset that Melana picked one of the new guys over him...even though a) this is a GAME, and b) he was the only one there who she hasn't gone out with. Of course she'd want to get to know all the guys, that's why she's there. I mean, okay, you want to play the game too and get as much time with her as you can, but he's acting all offended, like it was some big personal insult. When to me it seems only fair that she would give everyone the same opportunity for one-on-one time. She made it clear to him that she likes him and he'll get his chance later, and he still went home and sulked. People, you're on television! It's not like you're dating some tramp who's going out with six guys at once...well, actually, it's exactly like that, but that's by design, and you signed up for it. Shut the fuck up.

And Zach...well, we'll just come back to him in a little bit.

As for the new guys, Melana proved her questionable taste by declaring Greasy McScaryhair the best-looking of the bunch, but he backed up MCM and my first impression of him by revealing, quite calmly, his history of stalking and his insane amount of baggage. Mike reassured me that the producers are actually going for a looks vs. personality thing by being as dull as he is pretty. Also, Mike, if you're reading...if you're annoyed that people constantly tell you you look like Evan Marriott, perhaps going on a dating show isn't the best way to combat that.

This leaves us with Jason, who was my favorite of the new guys all along, though that may just be because I suspect I'd have a better chance with him than Melana. I'm apparently not alone in that suspicion, because Melana made up for all her past sins by asking him point-blank if he likes boys. Of course he said no, but what do you expect? I haven't seen much hint of a personality yet, especially when compared to Adam, but he and Melana seem to have a good connection and if she's going to pick one of the pretty boys I want it to be him. More than anything, I like him because he seems to have realistic expectations, and really understands what he's gotten himself into.

Which brings us back to Zach. Like I said, the genius of these producers knows no bounds, and this week's twist was to dress Melana in some extremely convincing makeup (think, as Adam actually did, Fat Monica on Friends) and have her pose as her own cousin to interview the boys. It was a good twist for Melana too, as in addition to the trick they played on the boys, they sent her out into the world for a few hours to see what it's like to not be super-pretty. She seemed to find it enlightening. Fat Melana and another friend of hers (also pretty) interviewed the guys, and most of them didn't make eye-contact with FM. The brilliance of this exercise, though, was the hidden camera in the room where the guys who weren't being interviewed waited. To be fair, they were all kinda being pigs about it, but Zach...well, Zach was Zach. He explained, for the education of the other guys, that all groups of pretty girls had to have a DUFF -- Designated Ugly Fat Friend. "Get in good with the DUFF, and you're in good with the girl." Because he'd been asked a question about sex, he decided FM wanted him. He asked Mike if he'd rather make out with FM or Adam. Adam said he'd rather make out with Zach than FM, which is saying quite a bit since those two despise each other. Then he asked Zach if he had to make out with FM to get Melana, would he do it? Zach said sure, "I'd just make her go like this," and here he got on a table and spread his legs, "and just [bleep] the [bleep] out of her." Oh, Zach.

Of course Melana was shown these tapes (though curiously, the parts we were shown contained no Jason), and was suitably horrified. All the guys showed some prejudice towards FM, but only Zach had been so...well, Zach about it. The horrible part is, he doesn't get it. He swore and ranted his way through his exit interview, and screamed at the producers for "showing her men talking with men, which is totally different from how men are with women!" What, so you're pissed that you can no longer hide the fact that you're a complete asshole? What a tool. "This isn't reality, this is fucking bullshit!" Yeah, keep talking, just in case there's still a woman in America who'd be willing to date you.

That wasn't even the best part though. For me, the best part was when Melana came into the elimination "ceremony" in the fat suit, and proceeded to take it off in front of the guys. And Adam realized what was happening before anyone, and started to cackle with glee. I like that he's both that smart and that malicious. Unlike resentful Zach, he could clearly see the genius of the trick and respect it. Well, and it obviously meant his nemesis was going home.

Man, I love this show. If loving Average Joe is wrong, then I don't want to be right! Just one more week, sadly.... I'll miss you!