Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Geek Love

As I sat on the couch last night with my boyfriend, he was playing "SSX 3" on my GameCube, and I was playing "Super Mario Bros" on his Game Boy, and I thought, Man, could we BE any nerdier??

Monday, June 28, 2004

Happy Endings

Following up on some recent posts, plus a couple of random thoughts....

The mean old LitterMaid sold on eBay in two days for my "Buy It Now" price, which was only $10 less than what I'd paid for it originally. I underestimated the shipping costs (which I suppose makes up, karma-wise, for all the times I've overestimated my eBay shipping costs and made a little profit), so with that and the eBay and Paypal fees, I figure I'm out $15 to $20, which seems a reasonable price to pay for a failed but worthwhile experiment. Certainly more reasonable than $90.

[Those of you who don't give a crap about, well, crap, click here for the next item!]

To replace the ATAKT, I spent 20 bucks (the amount I got back when I returned an unopened box of poop bins) on a perfectly simple and effective item: a very deep box with a hood and (this was the fabulous selling point) a little swinging kitty door. The depth and the cover mean that Radish can dig and toss litter around to his heart's content. The door supposedly keeps the odor inside, plus it's cute. I don't know how one measures the claim that something is 99% odor free, but it seems to work, and Radish is such a good burier that I think we'll be able to get away with only scooping a couple of times a week, and not changing the whole thing for weeks at a time. So in the end, not only less money than the LitterMaid, but less money spent on litter, less stinkiness, and actually far less labor. Go figure.

Inspired by my post about getting rid of stuff, and all the lovely, supportive comments, I put about 25 CDs up for sale on Amazon, and about ten of them sold within the first couple of days. I'd looked through iTunes while I was at work and made a list of maybe ten to get rid of, but then when I was actually in front of the shelf I just kept pulling things off of it. This is amazing progress for me! And, it turned out, lucrative too! I was so inspired I started to get rid of more tchotchkes. I started two bags, one to go into storage at my mom's place (she's never going to give up that apartment, and all she's done with my old room is start storing more of her stuff in it), and another for the Broadway Cares flea market in September. I even got wild and crazy and threw some stuff in the garbage. Hey, it's progress. If all goes well, I'll start on the books this week, and maybe finally get around to scanning the boxes of photos that have been on my living room floor for about a year.

The gay celebrity's party wound up not being scary at all. Although I decided at the last minute that the green terrycloth shirt made me look fat, I think it was because I was wearing the very skinny jeans that I've worn once since I bought them a year ago, so that worked out okay (after I changed the shirt). The party wasn't overly crowded, but it was noisy enough to prohibit mingling, and our host was flitting around too much to introduce anyone to anyone else, so I just chatted with my friends and enjoyed my free drinks, which I did not spill. I was by far not the oldest or fattest or hairiest one in the room, and and while one of the moderately famous homosexuals did examine the wine at the open bar, seemingly out of a sense of obligation, no one tried to groom or dress anyone else.

Despite the ridiculous name, Doritos Edge is the best low-carb junk food I've tried yet (the Carb Options salad dressing and Atkins bread are good, but those aren't junk food). It's a soy/corn combo, much tastier than the soy tortilla chips at GNC, and I actually like the lighter texture better than regular Doritos. No illusions or pretensions about them being "healthy," on any diet, either, which I appreciate. I'll have to try the Tostitos version and see if they still taste good without the mysterious flavor powder on them.

And the happiest ending of all...Boy returned home on Saturday night after three long weeks in the ironically named Manhattan, Kansas. And there was much rejoicing!

Saturday, June 26, 2004

I finish work, I go home, read a book, have a couple of beers, take myself for a walk and go to bed.

rowlf jpeg
You are Rowlf.
You are a loner, and love classical music, You can
play the piano without opposable thumbs. Then
again, you are just a Muppet.

Ol' Brown Ears
Piano playing, punning, fetching.

"My bark is worse than my bite, and my piano
playing beats 'em both."

"The Dogfather"


"I've Never Harmed An Onion, So Why Should
They Make Me Cry?"

What Muppet are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Okay, okay, I totally manipulated the quiz just so I could use my favorite quote from The Muppet Movie for this header. My spontaneous results are actually more accurate, I think, especially given my line of work...

You are Kermit the Frog.
You are reliable, responsible and caring. And you
have a habit of waving your arms about

"Hi ho!" "Yaaay!" and
"How Green Was My Mother"

"Surfin' the Webfoot: A Frog's Guide to the

Sitting in the swamp playing banjo.

"Hmm, my banjo is wet."

What Muppet are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

It's not often you see a guy that green have the blues that bad.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Just keep talking

I caught a little bit of Bill Clinton's appearance on Larry King last night, and I was a little bit transfixed. I've never found Clinton particularly sexy, but there's just something soothing about the sound of his voice. George W. Bush could be talking about puppies and butterflies, and I'd still find him terrifying. Do you think if I write him a nice letter I can get the former President to make me a tape of Goodnight Moon?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

It's true, chlamydia is not, in fact, a flower.

My recent post about needing to get rid of junk in my apartment led to a completely unexpected thread of comments about a pamphlet in my college's Health Services office entitled Chlamydia is NOT a flower. In retrospect, I don't think I ever actually saw this brilliantly silly yet oddly effective (hey, I'm never going to forget it) tract -- since Health Services was scary and the one time I set foot inside was for an eye infection so I couldn't see anything anyway -- but once someone mentioned it it became a sort of running gag amongst my friends.

So of course, I had to Google it. I certainly didn't think that the brochure had been unique to my little university, but I was still surprised by how many results the search turned up...and disappointed that none of them were an image of the brochure that I was looking for.

You can learn about Chlamydia, beginning with the useful insight that it is not a flower, here.

This link was to a site where you can order a pamphlet, which I assume was the same one, but now it's asking for a password. Your guess is as good as mine.

"Chlamydia is Not a Flower" is the title of an episode of Amy Sedaris' Strangers With Candy.

It is also the title of a song by a band called Crust (the amusing video for which can be viewed here.

There's a video with the title (actually about the disease, I assume), along with a host of others -- such as Girls, Boys and Sex; Laura's Pregnant; Puberty, Periods and Pimples; Feeling Sexy, Feeling Safe; I Start on Friday (start what??); Janet's Got Her Period; Baby's Fine, But How are You?; and my personal favorites, Manly Desires; Men Who Have Sex With Men; Sex, Guys and Videotapes; Testicular Self-examination Program; and that high school classic, Out in the Bush (school version) -- at this site in Australia.

And last but not least, if you're tired of waiting for a G-Mail invitation, you can always set up an email account at Chlamydia-is-not-a-flower.com.

What the hell did we do before Google?

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Livin' Large

I worked an event yesterday for which I had to wear a tuxedo. There was a mix-up at the rental place, and I didn't have time to wait around for my fitting while they figured it out, so I told them to just use my measurements from when I worked the same event last year. Five minutes after I left, I panicked about how I've hardly been going to the gym at all, and I've been basically living on bagels and trail mix (trail not included) for the last month or so.

But when the moment of truth came, the tux not only fit, but was a little big. Yay!

Last week I was browsing the sale section of the Gap, and they had this really cute green terrycloth polo shirt. Well aware that not everyone can pull off green terrycloth, I tried it on. To my great surprise, the extra large was tent-like, the large was a perfect fit, and I actually looked good in it. And did I mention it was on sale?

This is the good news.

The bad news is I'm going to a party tonight thrown by a moderately famous friend of mine. Not only is he moderately famous, he is a moderately famous homosexual. This means there will be other moderately famous homosexuals there, all plucked and waxed and trained and tanned and whitened and styled and exfoliated to within an inch of their lives, and I will wind up standing in a corner feeling (though no one's deliberate fault but my own) awkward, overweight, hairy, and badly-dressed. I will probably spill a drink on someone. If I'm lucky, just myself.

Maybe I'll wear my green shirt, the tuxedo pants, and a bag over my head.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Junk and Stuff

I've been thinking a lot about purging lately. Not like bodily purging, just getting rid of stuff around the house.

I am a terrible pack rat. There's very little that I don't emotionally deem worthy of saving, even though rationally I know I will never ever look at it or use it again. This isn't really a problem, as I have plenty of space and I'm organized enough to conserve that space pretty well, but since in three months I will no longer be living alone, and my various knick-knacks and bits of show swag may not be Boy's idea of good decorating, I've started to think about what to let go of.

Strangely, it was my iPod that sparked this line of thinking. Following a tip in MacWorld, I made a playlist for songs that have never been played (iTunes users, this is very easy: just set up a smart playlist for songs whose play count is 0, uncheck the limit (or set it as you wish), and check live updating). It's not actually things I've never listened to, of course, just that have never been played on the iPod or iTunes. But listening to this selection, I realize that the simple fact is that there are several that I am never going to choose to play again, and I can safely and easily get rid of those CDs. (The fact is, in the single-driven world of the iTunes Music Store and having your entire collection on shuffle, I could probably get rid of all my CDs, but I'm not ready for that drastic a step yet.) I can also remove the songs from the iPod with a click, and even remove them from my computer, making a copy of the file on my external hard drive, just in case someday I get a sudden urge to listen to the Henry V soundtrack or Yoko Ono's New York Rock.

This was so easy and somehow satisfying, I decided that I should attack other things around me that I no longer have use for. But since I can't back these things up like data, the task is far more daunting. I've already made a tentative start at the process though. In a weird 2 AM fit, I grabbed a shopping bag and tossed in a lunchbox with a show logo on it (an opening night gift, and a lovely one, but it shares a shelf with a snow globe and poster from the same show, all with the same logo), and some thoughtful and creative but ultimately not-very-decorative opening night gifts from some off-off-Broadway shows I'd done. Above those, on top of the living room bookshelf, sat a Stimpy plush, a Dogbert plush, and a candy-filled penguin that had been a gift of some kind (scary to think of how old the candy is). They looked cute and ironic enough sitting there, but in that moment also very childish and irrelevant. Into the bag they went.

This bag can actually be stored, so these items, all with sentimental value, will be out of sight but not trashed. Then I got bold. On these same shelves was a blue plastic Slinky. I don't actually know why. It wasn't from anything or for anything, but an actual childhood toy that at some point I thought would make nice decoration. I've changed my mind, and into the trash it went. Next to this was a green mug, signed by the cast of a play I did in college. This was an odd gift even at the time, as the mug or its color had nothing to do with the play, and I've never ever known what to do with it. None of those actors have gone on to fame and fortune, and I'm only really still in touch with one of them (and she is represented heavily in photographs around the house, and a birthday card she once sent me that I liked so much I framed), so why had I kept this thing for 8 years? Out it went. Then I got scared and stopped. I can only go against my nature so much.

Plus, not everything is so clear-cut. For instance, my mother went to Russia recently (she's been doing a lot of group tours since retiring), and she brought back a Star Wars nesting doll. This was a very clever souvenir for her to give me, and apparently hand-painted...and ugly and useless. My instinct is to trash it, but my mother carried it across a continent to give it to me. I mean, in her carry-on luggage, not on her back in the Diaspora, but it still seems rude to throw it away. I've got tons of junk like this -- gifts of little worth or sentimental value, but that I feel weird getting rid of.

There's a certain cachet to having read a lot of books, even if I know I'll never read them again. Except I might. I mean, someday. And when that urge hits won't I feel stupid if I have to go out and buy it again? I have a ten-year-old laptop in the closet; that might come in handy someday, right? Old posters in cardboard tubes that I can promise will never go on a wall of mine again, so there can't possibly be a reason to keep them. And yet I do, because they remind me of the time they were on the wall. The list goes on and on.

So what's to be done? The mug and the Slinky seemed so easy, but the rest of it frightens me somehow. The What If of someday needing or wanting these things keeps me from acting. What's an anally retentive, overly sentimental hoarder to do?

Rise of the Machines, Part 4: Attack of the Poop Bins

We have to be quiet, it could be listening.

Boy was right about bringing robots into the house.

It must have heard me talking about it. Maybe the computer told it. Damn computer with its shifty eyes, I knew I shouldn't have trusted it.
Oh, hi! Hi, iBook, old friend. I love you!

Even though I gave a relatively favorable (or at least hopeful) review to the LitterMaid, it decided today to get its revenge on me for daring to criticize it.

I went to change the very full and stinky poop bin today (opting to just dump it, which really is quite easy, despite Jasmine's suggestion in the comments the other day to empty and reuse it), and I realized that the main box was decidedly lumpy and missing that zen garden look. It was full of tiny clumps of litter too small for the rake, and some poking with the scooper revealed a bottom layer of damp and solidifying litter and baking soda. These are perfectly normal cat box physics, but I thought the point of the RoboBox was to prevent this kind of thing from happening. Because emptying the thing is a royal pain in the ass. You can't use a liner in it, and to dump it you need to lift off the entire top half, including the whole rake, motor, ramp, etc.

But I went through the whole annoying process, pouring the sand into the full kitchen trash bag into which I had just put the waste receptacle. The square waste receptacle. The waste receptacle with pointy corners. The waste receptacle that had poked two holes in the trash bag, through which the litter now slowly trickled onto the kitchen floor. Lovely.

As if this wasn't bad enough, the box of litter I thought had enough to at least lightly cover the bottom of the box, in fact had about a tablespoon in it. So I had to run and buy more, but was already running late for work and so couldn't go hunting around for the right brand, which of course they didn't have at the market across the street. Radish is pretty adaptive, but I still worry that changing the way things smell suddenly might confuse him. I had to risk it.

I came back home, filled the box, and Radish jumped right in. Though he sniffed around and didn't seem to actually use it. It was still unplugged, so I went off and did something else, and when the kitten seemed occupied in another room, I came back to turn the LitterMaid on. I didn't realize that Radish had followed me, and he hopped up on top of the waste receptacle while the rake was running. This didn't concern me; it's happened before and it's actually kind of cute the way he falls off when the lid tilts back. But then he jumped over the rake, so that he was behind it. And he showed no sign of moving when it started making its way back! I know it's supposed to stop if it hits anything, but that's a feature I really didn't feel like testing at this particular moment, so I picked the kitten up and put him on the floor.

I had to leave for work, and therefore spent the last eight hours worried that I'd come home to find that Radish either no longer knows where to do his business, or no longer wants to do it in the Tank. (He's fine, all poop in the right place, but it was stressful.)

Oh, LitterMaid, I was willing to stick it out with you for a while longer, until Radish's bladder got bigger and his food got less stinky. I wanted to give you a fair shot, but you had to go and throw my trust and faith back in my face, didn't you? You attacked my clean kitchen and my baby, and I'm afraid it's time for you to go.

No more household robots for me.

Okay, maybe a Roomba.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Rise of the Machines, Part Three

I am slightly obsessive-compulsive, but also very lazy. Add to this my affection for high-tech toys, and my tendency to be an early adopter of gadgets when the price isn't too high, and it should come as no surprise that soon after the arrival of Radish, I convinced Boy that we must have a LitterMaid.

For anyone who hasn't seen the very obnoxious commercial, the Litter Maid is a "self-cleaning" litter box. On the front end, there is a "waste receptacle" with a lid that hinges on the front of the box (so the open side is towards the litter). On the back end is a rake the width of the box, which runs, motorized, on tracks along the sides of the box. In the middle are two sensors, one on each side, not unlike the "electric eye" in an elevator door. So, the cat enters the box, triggers the sensors, and ten minutes later the rake drops down, slowly makes its way down the box, scooping up waste as it goes (you have to use clumping litter for this to really work properly). When it reaches the front end of the box, it raises and tilts back, lifting the clumps and also pushing open the lid of the receptacle. It continues up its track, then tilts downward again to dump its cargo, before reversing course and tucking itself away in the back again. If the cat re-enters the box, the ten-minute timer restarts, and if anything more significant than a litter clump touches either side of the rake, the motor shuts off, so it's completely safe for the kitten (or so they claim, and so I am forced to believe).

This is, of course, wicked cool, and aesthetically, it all pleases me very much. Well, the box itself is large and ugly -- Boy calls it the All-Terrain Kitten Transport -- but the litter is always impeccably raked, like a Zen garden. And, in theory, no stinky poo.

Yes, well, in theory. The negative online reviews I've read talk about the rake getting stuck or breaking, or somehow traumatizing the cat. We've had no such problems, but what no one bothered to point out (perhaps because it should be so obvious) is that if you're anywhere near the thing when the receptacle opens, you're in trouble. Because a week's worth of cat poop is now contained in one very small space. This is still preferable to a regular box getting smellier and smellier until you clean it -- the smell goes away quickly once the lid closes again, but it is powerful while it's there.

Problem number two is an unpredictable and odd one: Radish uses one side of the box almost exclusively. I'm so glad my kitten apparently has OCD as well. So all the clumps pile up in one half of the waste receptacle, and before long the lid won't close all the way. And then -- you guessed it -- stinky. It's easy enough to use the scooper to shove things to the other side, but isn't the point of the LitterMaid that I don't have to ever use the scooper?

When it comes time to change the poop bin (I wish they called it that in the manual instead of "waste receptacle"), it requires far more effort than simply changing the litter in a typical box with a liner. The trade-off, I suppose, is not having to scoop the box every day as well as change the whole thing over once a week. The receptacles are a little pricey too, but I imagine that will balance out over time with buying less litter, since you very rarely have to dump the whole thing when the clumps are so promptly removed (and when we had the plain box, I tended to overfill it, so that Radish could effectively bury stuff when he was done).

So...the jury's still out on the LitterMaid. It's undeniably neat (both as in "cool" and as in "tidy"), and I do love my gadgets. But I'm not sure, in the end, that it was worth the money. It doesn't seem like enough of a convenience for the pricetag. I think I may feel better about it in a few months when we start weaning Radish off of wet food, and his litter needs change. I'll let you know. (I'm sure those of you without cats of your own will be holding your breath for that post.) If not...anyone want a self-raking Zen garden?

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Joe Schmo-ho-ho-ho!

It's like reality TV Chrismukah on Spike TV!

I've only just started watching Joe Schmo 2, and I already love it. This season it's a dating show parody, and the types include, The Drunk, The Moron, The Weeper, The Stalker, and The Gotta-Be-Gay Guy. The actors are all incredibly likeable, which offsets the cruelty of the trick nicely. In the first ten minutes they've already had one near-disaster screw-up of the hoax in front of the Schmos, because one of the actors, who was to be voted off on the first night and therefore apparently not put through the same rehearsal process as the others, is a compete retard. Good stuff, good stuff.

Inside Voice

I think my biggest fear might be that there are actually people in the world who can read minds, and that someday someone might actually hear one of the horrible horrible things I sometimes think that I would never say out loud and don't even really mean, like today at the gym when I looked at a woman and thought, Wow, you're astonishingly ugly. I don't think the gym's going to help.

I am so going to Hell.

Gotta work your jelly, work your jelly...

Well, the finale of The WB's Superstar USA was a complete disappointment. As I predicted, Jamie was the winner -- she wasn't the worst singer but she had the most hubris and was possibly the most entertaining. It started so well. They made Rosa, the girl who can't learn correct words, sing "Bootylicious," a song that makes no sense in any language (and I suspected for the first time that they're actually giving her bad lyric sheets, but it was still entertaining). Jamie and Mario both screamed their songs at the top of their lungs, then, as the final two, dueted on "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." I began to wonder for the first time since the beginning if the joke might be on us, since the song was meant to be spontaneous, but had obviously been rehearsed at least a little, and neither "singer" showed any signs of reading the words off of a teleprompter somewhere. I suppose they could have had them all rehearse it, but wouldn't it be obvious then that Mario, the only boy left, would be one of the finalists? Still, it was entertaining. I can't imagine a more mismatched pair of performers, singing a love duet but looking as though they'd never met (and allegedly having never heard each other sing).

But then it all went horribly wrong. Or rather, not wrong enough. After selecting Jamie, they showed the usual Idolish video montage, and watching Jamie watch herself, it seemed as if she knew something was up. Ooh, this would be good! But then when it came time to reveal the twist, Not Ryan Seacrest appeared to decide in mid-smackdown that it was all too mean, that he had to change his approach. He told Jamie how much the audience loved her, and the audience dutifully cheered. He then announced that the purpose of this show had not been to find the best singer in America. Yes, yes, good... The purpose of this show had been to prove that you didn't need to be a good singer to be a pop star in America, that it was equally about looks and spunk and being an "entertainer." Yeah, and Boy Meets Boy was a "social experiment!" The purpose of this show was to humiliate someone! Not to tell her she's pretty! Next came the real kicker: "Are you willing to work, to do what it takes, to become a pop star?" Well, DUH! Of course she is, if only to redeem herself after the national embarrassment of this show. So they gave her $100,000 (which she certainly deserves for being the butt of the joke, even if the joke wasn't as mean as I'd like) and a recording contract, which presumably comes with singing lessons. And Jamie, of course, was thrilled. I suspect she still didn't quite get it, since the blow was cushioned so spectacularly, but even if she did, her dream (if not of pop stardom, at least at a chance at it and cash) just came true anyway. Where's the mean in that?? And the judges, by far the best thing about the show, said nothing.

As a little coda, they showed the reveal of the twist to the other two finalists. This was done by an off-camera voice (not Not Ryan Seacrest) in the relative privacy of their dressing rooms. And the off-camera voice said, "We were actually looking for the worst singer in America." Yes! THIS is what needed to be said to Jamie! Because Mario and Rosa's reactions were entertaining, but not nearly as entertaining as they'd have been in stupid Jamie in front of all those people. Mario and Rosa were also given sizeable checks ("for being such a good sport"), which I was happy about. Mario then said in an interview that he was grateful to have had the chance to live out a dream, even if it was all fake. So Superstar was like fantasy camp? Okay, I'll buy it. It sure keeps me from feeling too bad for any of the contestants...except for they way they'll be mocked for the rest of their lives now. Well, except for the way no one watched this show but me.

Thank god Joe Schmo 2 begins tonight.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Proof that I do, in fact, read...

Here's something rare for Judgment Call: A book review!

Stephen King published the first of the short stories that would eventually become The Gunslinger (the first novel in what would eventually become the mammoth Dark Tower series) in a magazine in 1978. Sometime in the mid-to-late 80s, The Gunslinger was published in an illustrated limited edition. I knew nothing of it at the time, but I had just started reading King myself. I was in sixth grade, and I had also just discovered the joys of Freddy Kreuger and Ellen Ripley (thanks mostly to my friend DAM, whose parents let us watch all sorts of films we were probably too young for). A friend suggested I read The Body, because I had liked Stand By Me so much. I was bored by the novella, and the other non-horror stories in that collection, but then I read Carrie and I was hooked.

By the end of eighth grade I had read maybe ten or twelve of King's novels and his two short story collections (I read much more then than I do now, but I was never very fast, and there was school to deal with too). Conveniently, this was when The Gunslinger came out in a mass-market edition. In retrospect, I think I may have enjoyed it so much because it was so different from all the other King I'd been reading. The Gunslinger is a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy Western. King was clearly playing, and it was a major leap in subject, though not in writing style. It's a simple story about big things (quests, fate, and dying worlds), so it's natural King would see in it the beginnings of an epic, and also that the original story might not quite support pieces of that epic written 25 years later.

The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla came out a few months ago, many many years after book four. After such a long wait (I heard something about a near-fatal car accident causing the delay, but come on, Steve, where are your priorities?), I was really excited to return to the world of Roland (the Gunslinger) and his traveling companions. Unfortunately, I found them and their world somewhat changed. Not for the worse, necessarily, but certainly for the wordier.

No one would ever call Stephen King a brilliant poet, but in his prime he was a masterful storyteller. He understood that simplicity, especially in horror, was a virtue. A single rabid dog is far scarier than an elaborately contrived army of CGI beasties in, say, Van Helsing. Even in the early novels that topped a thousand pages, it never seemed to me like he was wasting words. These were large stories, long in the telling, but everything in them seemed to belong, and to drive events forward. In his more recent work, he seems to have lost the ability to edit, convinced that everything he puts to paper is genius! when in fact it's just distracting and convoluted. Wolves suffers from this excess in spades. The central story is quite simple and compelling, along the sci-fi-western lines of the first book, but it's surrounded by so much pretension, mediocre writing, and downright stupid ideas that it all seemed to drag. Enough hints of what was to come were dropped (he's still good at that) to make me read on to see how it would end. Plus, after 15 years or so, there's no way I'm not going to finish the series.

Even in his earliest books, King had a habit of dropping in little references to his other work. This made a certain sense, since so many of his stories took place in a cluster of made up towns in Maine. Even though the bulk of The Gunslinger had been written so many years earlier, when I read it, it was hard not to wonder if it tied into the similarly fairy-tale-like Eyes of the Dragon, if the mysterious Man in Black might be the recurring villain Flagg, or if Roland's world, which contained "ancient" relics like an electric water pump and "Hey Jude," might be what sprung up a hundred or a thousand years after the apocalypse of The Stand. I surely wasn't the only reader to think this way, and in the last two books (and almost everything else he's written at the same time), he has decided to make The Dark Tower his "masterwork," clumsily tying together nearly everything he has ever published. He's been dropping references to the Tower in non-Tower books, which is fine, but now all of a sudden he's pulling in completely irrelevant elements of books that weren't very good to begin with into the series as well. It all seems kind of egorific. At best, a winking "Look how clever I am!" At worst, an assumption that anyone reading one of his books has read them all. I've read a lot of them, true, but not many of the recent ones, and most of those were bad and unmemorable, so I don't get the references anyway.

The Dark Tower for which Roland searches stands at the center of the world, or something like that. Now, it seems, the Tower actually contains all of creation. Setting aside the metaphysical quandary of how you can travel to something that you are already inside of, the idea is that parallel worlds exist on different "levels of the Tower," and as the world moves on and the Tower crumbles, those worlds are merging and colliding. Okay, fine. So the characters who came from New York in the '60s, '70s and '80s didn't time-travel, they world-traveled. I'll buy that. And I didn't mind so much when a character from 'Salem's Lot showed up. But when his backstory (filling in the time between that novel and this one) included two hundred pages about three different types of vampires, wandering in and out of various slightly different versions of America, and being chased and nearly killed by ambiguous villains from yet another book I think I've read but didn't like and don't really remember, I lost interest. It all seemed highly irrelevant and made very little sense. Finally, when [spoiler] I simply became irritated at the stupidity.

King usually writes a really good forward in which he summarizes the previous books in the series, so I didn't feel a need to re-read them all before I started Wolves. This time though the forward just confused me, and reading something so mediocre containing all the elements I had loved years ago made me want to go back to the start. So when I finished, irritated at both the lame references to Star Wars and Harry Potter (seriously), and at the cliffhanger just crafty enough to make me anxious for part six, I started The Gunslinger again.

The slip in quality is not just due to the differences between my 13-year-old self and my 28-year-old self. The first book is vastly superior. A lot of the seeds of the series are sown, and in the afterword King claims that he has written a "synopsis of the action to follow [that] suggests a length approaching 3000 pages." I assume he threw that out, since he's now using elements of books only written in the last few years, and also because he's been so sloppy. For instance, in Wolves, Roland doesn't understand the concept of magazines from our world, but in The Gunslinger he spends some time reading through "back issues of magazines." A version of Christianity plays a fairly vital role in the first book, but in the fifth Father Callahan (the one from 'Salem's Lot) brings it with him from our world. These are little quibbles, and it can't be easy to sustain a story so large over 25 years, but the carelessness bugs me. It may be only that both series planned to be seven books long, but I can't help thinking of Harry Potter. JK Rowling is a master of continuity, and one gets the sense that even if she hasn't plotted every detail out, she'll never contradict herself. Even George Lucas, as he busily revises history with the Star Wars prequels, has shown more restraint, and more respect for his viewers' intelligence.

I went to the store today to try to buy volume six (they didn't have it, but that's another rant), and I noticed that The Gunslinger is "now expanded and revised!" I flipped through, and saw that King has gone back and added all kinds of nonsense to match the nonsense in the new book. So he's basically taken a simple and elegant book and added a bunch of pretentious bad writing to it so it will fit in better with what he's writing now? (He also, unless I just missed it in my quick glance, took out the magazine reference.) I'm not entirely sure why this pisses me off so much, but it does. It's almost an acknowledgement of the fact that he has lost track of this story if he felt the need to go back and "fix" the beginning.

Okay, so that was less of a book review and more of a rant. The bottom line? I would strongly recommend the first three books in Dark Tower series, if not for the fact that they all end on cliffhangers that would eventually bring you to the fourth and fifth. I'm in for the long haul myself, so if six and seven make it all worthwhile in the end, I'll let you know.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

"That was a ridiculous performance!" -Vitamin C, to JoJo

Okay, this Superstar thing is getting out of control. You'd think it would stop being entertaining. I mean, there comes a point where bad singing is just bad singing. The cat hides under the couch when I watch. But no, the schadenfreude continues.

I guess it takes a certain type of person to reach the final stage of a show like this. A certain type of stupid, delusional person. I mean, one of them consistently refers to himself in the third person. Another barely speaks English. I shouldn't be surprised.

But I am. How can they not realize how inappropriate these songs are? I don't know whether to feel better or worse for these kids that they don't get to pick their own songs. Better that they're not dumb enough to choose these for themselves. Worse that it's all calculated for maximum humiliation. But how can the boys not realize that songs by Jessica Simpson and Beyonce (in the original keys, natch) are as wrong as wrong can be? How can the blonde girl not see that the gyrating dance moves given to her by the choreographer are totally inappropriate for "All By Myself?"

And about that dancing...okay, you've never heard yourself sing outside of your own head, so you don't know how bad you are. You're cute in your own off-beat way. But you've never danced before. And you go into a room with a choreographer, four professional dancers, and mirrors. How can you possibly walk out thinking you can dance?? It just baffles me. And, given my general disdain for the stupid, it really takes away any chance I have of feeling too much sympathy for these guys.

I really can't decide which one I want to win. They're all so fascinating, and so different (A+ to these guys in casting). My favorite one to watch is Rosa, who, despite being given the lyrics on a sheet of paper (we saw her studying it), managed to think the lyrics to "Genie in a Bottle" are, "I've been feeling pretty uptight in a cent-er-y of loneliness, waiting for someone to believe me…If you wanna be with me, there's a price that you can pay, I'm a genie in a bottle, gotta make it go the way…come on and set me free, baby, gonna let me do-oo-oo… I'm a genie in a bottle, gonna make me co-ome true." (This prompted judge Vitamin C to give one of her patented perfect non-lying judgments: "That was a mind-boggling performance. You are remarkably consistent.") But I think she's too stupid to really get it when the twist is revealed. And Mario is too sweet and dorky to really wish ill on. Jamie and JoJo seem to be the most hubristic, and therefore the most worthy of our scorn. With JoJo now eliminated, Jamie seems the most likely "winner." I hope she cries a lot.

This is like the best show ever.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Mister Flaccid

Okay, so NYC's Mayor Bloomberg is trying to update the city's "noise code," which apparently hasn't been done in a very long time. I support this in theory, but some of his ideas seem awfully impractical. I mean, construction equipment, for instance, is going to make noise, and there doesn't seem to be much you can do about it except limit the hours during which it can be used. Even more ludicrous is his plan for dogs: According to the (ever so reliable) Post, dogs may "yelp only for five minutes during the day and 10 minutes at night." While that sounds lovely in theory, how can anyone be expected to enforce it?

But that's not what people are up in arms about. No, all the press is going to Mister Softee, the ubiquitous ice cream trucks that play what has to be the most annoying and the loudest jingle ever. Anti-Bloomberg folks are using this to paint the mayor as an ice-cream-hating Grinch, while the Mister Softee higher-ups claim that any limitations on their music will hurt their business. Really? 'Cause last time I checked I wasn't living in the suburbs in the 1950s, where all the neighborhood children come running when the Good Humor truck comes down the street. People walk here. Right up to the truck that we can plainly see if we want some yummy soft serve. The Mister Softee guy in my neighborhood (or guys, as there are often two or three within a couple of blocks) never seems to be hurting for walk-up business. He also often plays his jingle so loudly that I can hear it from my apartment. Three blocks away. At 11 o'clock at night. On a Monday.

Maybe we can sic the barking dogs on them and kill two birds with one stone.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

This just in: Old People Die!

I'm really tired of Ronald Reagan.

I mean no disrespect by that, really I don't. Whatever evil he might have done while in office, I take no pleasure in the death of a very old man who had a terrible disease.

But that's just it -- he was a very old man who had a terrible disease, and very old men with terrible diseases die. What's the big fucking deal?

On the one hand, I like that this country can still do pomp and circumstance. (I just hope this is the standard procedure for the death of a President, regardless of which party is currently in office. The only one whose death I remember is Nixon, and he seems to be a special case.) The viewing in the Capitol rotunda, the funeral at National Cathedral...it all seems very British. Or maybe very Evita. But do we need to hear about it every hour of every day for the entire week? Do we need a picture of Nancy lying on the coffin on the cover of the Post? Seriously, is anyone surprised?

I suppose this has always been my family's attitude toward death. Well, toward this type of death. When my father died of cancer in his 50s, it was a big deal. When my grandfather died a couple of years ago at the age of 90-something, not so much. He didn't even want a funeral.

Of course it's sad when someone you love leaves your life, but folks, old people die. Ex-presidents get old and die. Dogs and cats get old and die. Even Isabelle Stevenson eventually got old and died. I'm just saying, it's not news.

This is very disappointing

Apparently, my blog is only 37% evil.
This site is certified 37% EVIL by the Gematriculator

I'm going to have to try harder.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Defying Expectations

Per my not-so-ironclad policy of not expressing too many opinions about theater (for my own professional protection), I won't write too much about the Tony Awards, but I do want to say how exciting it was to see an unpredictable show after years of blockbuster sweeps, regardless of how I may feel about some of the individual winners.

Now you can argue, and not incorrectly, that a show is made up of the sum of its parts, so it's natural that the best show would also take home honors for its acting, design, etc. But just because an actor is in a great show doesn't mean that the actor is doing the best work of the year, the material can easily help him shine. And sometimes a less stellar show can have a stellar performance in it that rises above the writing or direction, or a show with a weak book or an ugly set can have beautiful music. I think it's nice to see those things rewarded.

Many have said that this was a weak season on Broadway. And while it's true that there have been some high-profile disappointments, I'm excited by the artistic diversity of this season. I can't remember a year when there's been a more diverse batch of musical nominees: Wicked, Taboo, The Boy From Oz, Avenue Q, Caroline or Change, Assassins, Wonderful Town, Fiddler, Big River, Little Shop... You can hardly compare these shows to one another. They all tell vastly different stories with different musical and design styles. You have composers including old vets (Sondheim, Bernstein, Schwartz), pop stars (Peter Allen, Boy George), artsy favorites (Tesori), and risky newcomers (the guys who wrote Avenue Q). That's far more exciting to me that a single predictable juggernaut. Why not show national television audiences all the different shows out there and let them decide which ones are for them, instead of basically running a two hour commercial for a single "event," and thereby dictating that all the smaller stuff that can't compete will close a month later?

So I applaud the Tony voters for surprising the hell out of me this year. More importantly, I applaud the producers who are willing to take risks on smaller or quirkier shows, on things that don't look or sound like everything else. Even when they fail, I think these shows are good for shaking things up, and for challenging the perception of what musical theater "should" be. There will always be big British spectacles, and shows based on movies, and tried and true revivals, and a lot of them will be very good. So there has to be room alongside them for smaller shows, riskier shows, new styles, and new stories. A lot of them will be very good too.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Making Friends

We took the Radish to get his booster shots today. He was very well-behaved in his carrier, and didn't seem too traumatized by the shot (in fact, he seemed not to notice it at all, while Boy and I were both thinking Aaaahh!! Needles near our perfect kitten!), or by his very first subway ride (the nice people who run the shelter gave us a ride home when we got him).

On the train home, there was a little boy of about seven sitting across from us, and before we'd even sat down he said "I like your cat!" We thanked him politely and tried not to make eye contact. "Cats don't like me," he said. "This one time, we had a cat, and it scratched me right on the face!"

"Well, I can understand that impulse," I said. Okay, no I didn't, but I thought it.

The child was missing several baby teeth and had one astonishingly large and crooked front tooth in, and the speech impediment that created, combined with the fact that he didn't stop talking once, and started every sentence with either "This one time..." or "And then..." gave me the sense that I was watching an adult playing a child on a bad sketch comedy show instead of a real one.

He was with his older sister (who, he informed us, has a slutty bird at home...don't ask, I'm still confused by it myself), and she seemed appropriately embarrassed, but she was also taken with Radish (Well who wouldn't be? That cat has powers.) and tried only half-heartedly to stop the boy as he went on in an endless stream of contradictions about how he doesn't like cats, they don't like him, his dad had chased the mean cat under the couch when it scratched him, and birds without mates laying eggs like "one of those city birds."

Sister also wasn't terribly good at paying attention, as she'd missed the announcement that our train would be running express, and told her brother to get up because "this is our stop," even though the train was clearly on the middle track and nowhere near the platform. But once they were up, they didn't sit back down, and now they were on our side of the car. The Beaver, with great chutzpah, stuck his grubby little finger right into Radish's carrier and said, "I think this cat is in love with me!"

Radish, who'd been curled in a ball for most of the trip, scooted over and nuzzled the small finger. No biting or scratching, not so much as a hiss.

Clearly, we've not been training him properly.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Spring TV Wrap-Up, Part 2

Previously on Judgment Call... California fell into the ocean, killing several bad actors with it. Sadly, the writers of 10.5 survived. ...High School Reunion made me embarrassed for my generation that I am also Class of '93, even if we were 2000 miles and many IQ points apart. ...Bad singers who think they're good singers are funny.

Okay, something I don't feel guilty about watching is Friends. I'm apparently in the minority on this, but I loved the finale. Of course, I also cried at the OC finale, so maybe I was just in a mood that week. I got hooked on Friends early on. It's not like it was groundbreaking, but they took a standard formula and made it seem fresh. The pilot episode is still one of my favorites; the timing is so perfect, and we get a really good sense of who each character is, without a ton of clunky exposition. I generally don't "follow" sit-coms much (ie, I don't record them when I'm not at home to watch them "live"), since if they're good they'll at least be rerun in the summer, and if they're Friends they'll be on six times a day until the end of time. So I've only watched a few new episodes in the last couple of years, and haven't really known or cared what was going on (for me, the show jumped the shark when Rachel got pregnant). I just thought it was a really good ending. It all just seemed very appropriate. Which of course meant it was completely predictable, but I didn't mind. I guess the show has just kept my goodwill all these years, and I was prepared to like the finale. As much as I enjoy Anna Faris and Paul Rudd, I would have preferred more focus on the regular cast, but that (the whole baby plot, really) is my one quibble. I thought it was just the right amount of sappy, while still managing to be funny. If anything blew it for me, it was my inner jaded New Yorker screaming How the hell can you give up that rent-controlled apartment, you foolish Gellars??!

The Frasier finale, on the other hand, did nothing for me. I've never been a huge Frasier fan, though I enjoy all of the actors and usually tune to a rerun a couple of times a week. But when did it turn into Three's Company? The whole everyone-thinks-Frasier's-dying subplot was bad. Having it only last for two scenes with no payoff whatsoever was worse. And why does every sit-com in history (and yes, this applies to Friends too) have to end with someone leaving, or a wedding? Frasier gave us both, and I couldn't manage to care about either. The wedding, too, seemed like the sort of affair Jack Tripper would have catered, not the sharp, classical farce this cast used to excel at. Maybe I'd have cared more about everyone's love lives and babies if I'd been watching at all this season, but somehow I doubt it. Just get over it and leave already!

Speaking of leaving, do the writers of The OC really expect us to believe that Seth would be foolish enough to try to get to Tahiti, alone, in a catamaran?? That's almost as implausible as Ryan going back to Chino because of a baby that, in all likelihood, isn't even his, or Marissa not making everything about her for five seconds. That said, I enjoyed the end of the season very much. Seth's realization of how much Ryan meant to him broke my heart. I guess it broke Ryan's too, since Benjamin McKenzie almost found a third facial expression. I still can't believe that (Adam Brody aside) the adults have become the most compelling people on this show. And I really like how the story always feels whole. It's not like there's one kids' plot and a separate adults' one, they always intertwine. The wedding and the stuff with Marissa's mom coming to a head really pleased me. And I continue to be astonished by how much I like Peter Gallagher, for the first time ever.

Like I said, the finale made me cry, and it's a testament to how well these people know their genre that that's true. Because let's face it, everything actually happening in those last moments was pretty ridiculous. But it was incredibly well-edited, and the use of Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah" made no sense but was inspired manipulation and did the trick quite nicely. When all else fails, play a sad song.

Of course, since The West Wing already used "Hallelujah" a couple of seasons ago (at least there it sounded like it fit with the whole Shakespeare vibe they had going), they had to resort to blowing people up and, um, a blood clot for suspense. I was actually pretty moved by the finale, because even in the post-Sorkin White House I really care about these characters. The difference is that two weeks later I can't really remember what happened, but I can tell you how each of the first four seasons ended. The show is hit or miss now, but still better and smarter than so much of what's on. The Glenn Close episode earlier this year was especially good, and exciting from a why-can't-real-politics-be-like-this standpoint. At their worst, the Bartlet administration is still better than the real one.

And far more entertaining than the Palmer administration. Dennis Haysbert is more wooden than Al Gore, John Kerry, and a tree combined. That's just one of the reasons I lost interest in 24 this season. The main reason was that I missed an episode (due, naturally, to a speech by Bush preempting it) and it took me forever to get around to reading the recap. This was actually a good thing, as I discovered that watching several episodes of 24 at once is far more satisfying, and helps the real-time gimmick pay off a little bit. Lots of people complain about the glacial pace of the middle of this season, but I actually kind of liked it, because, remember kids, it's all happening in one day. These writers have admitted to not planning out the entire season in advance, and that's never been more apparent than it was this year. There was a point near the end when Jack said something to Chase about Mexico, and I was like, Oh yeah, Mexico -- this morning!! I mean, fine, don't plan ahead, but could you take some notes on what you've already done? How could Chase even walk after the multiple beatings he got in one day?? And what was up with Chloe? Were they just trying to make a character more annoying than Kim? I guess we were meant to believe that she's exceptional at her job, and I know this isn't the most realistic show on TV, but could someone with such a toxic personality ever even get a job at a secure government agency? I loved her tactic of interrupting someone with "very important" information, then being shocked and offended when that person acted on that information. And I've written before about the bizarre lack of professional protocol in both CTU and the White House.

That said (or ranted, rather), I enjoyed the last few episodes. The virus storyline was compelling and appropriately horrifying, and I liked the focusing in on the core characters at CTU. I have no idea why the President was even in the show this season, and all of that nonsense was pointless and had no payoff, but thankfully it got briefer and briefer in each episode. I'm not sure why Fox kept touting the finale as "shocking," since it kinda wasn't at all, unless leaving so many loose ends is shocking. But then, I like that not everything was wrapped up in "one day."

Alias continues to be, for my money, the superior spy show. It has a welcome playfulness to offset the relatively credible interpersonal and national security drama. The writing is much sharper, and I feel like the actors have a much better sense of who their characters are, even if that just means "My character is a wanker." I've heard several friends complain about all the supernatural mumbo jumbo this year, but I enjoyed it. Maybe it's my constant hankering for continuity -- this was all hinted at in season one, then pretty much dropped last year, so I like that there's finally been some Rambaldi payoff. Or maybe it's just that I miss Buffy. Like Buffy, even at its worst, Alias is one of the best things on television. I did think they crossed the goofy threshold in the finale when they had Sydney and Lauren playing each other as if they were in masks that were later ripped off a la Scooby Doo. Meddling double-agents! I also don't support the lack of Victor Garber in the second half of the season, since he's the best actor in the cast, and the Jack-Sydney relationship is so much more interesting than any of the others.

It was kind of a weak cliffhanger, but I'm still pissed off that ABC is holding the new episodes until mid-season next year. Yes, I know that Alias is low-rated for a "big four" network, and I assume it's pretty expensive to produce, but it seems to me that benching it is not the way to keep it going. If it gained any casual viewers this year, they will probably lose interest during the long break. I'm glad ABC has stuck with it for this long, I guess, but I often wish Alias were on one of the smaller networks, where its numbers would be considered high.

...Though that didn't help Angel. I don't really have anything to say about Angel, I was just impressed with myself for that string of segues and I wanted to keep it going. As big a Buffy fan as I was, I never got into Angel. I just didn't care about any of the characters, least of all Angel, who I enjoyed on Buffy but I never thought he could carry his own show. More importantly, it's always been on opposite something else I like much more, even when it changed timeslots. But I was able to catch the last few episodes, and while I was still unenthusiastic, I liked the final moments. It all seemed very fitting. And a little boring. Which, for Angel, is fitting.

Speaking of boring, boy do I wish Kingdom Hospital didn't suck so much. Mostly because I got sucked in just enough to feel like I have to keep watching it to see how it turns out. I like Stephen King, and I like the idea of the whole thing, but it's just so nonsensical. I don't even really know how to begin to blog about it, especially in any kind of way that would make sense to someone who doesn’t watch it. There are way too many characters, with more being introduced each day, no realism at all (yes, I know, it's a horror show, but what makes SK's best work so good is his ability to ground the supernatural in reality...so the idea of a haunted hospital is interesting to me, but the idea of an understaffed hospital where everyone is crazy and nothing is sterile is far less so), and nothing particularly compelling about the mystery to make anyone, including the characters, care enough to get to the bottom of it.

I guess it's my unshakable faith in King and in the goodness of television that makes me think there must be a point coming. And there have been hints that it will all tie into the Dark Tower series of books, which I'm currently reading, so I want to see if that has any kind of payoff. Wanna make a bet that it won't?

Somehow, I managed to get hooked on Everwood late in the season. I like the show's creator, Greg Berlanti, very much (he took over from Kevin Williamson as the runner of Dawson's Creek, and wrote all the Big Gay Episodes there, and he wrote and directed one of my favorite movies, The Broken Hearts Club) but I found the pilot unwatchable and never looked back. But I was home one Monday night and got lured in by the Very Special Naked Ephram episode (Gregory Smith is a cutie and makes me feel dirty...and now I'll probably get lots of traffic on my blog from people Googling "gregory smith naked") and I really enjoyed it. The show, not Gregory Smith naked, which proved out to be far less exciting than I'd expected. Like The OC, the teen and adult plots are given equal weight, and it's all balanced by quality acting and writing. Unlike The OC, it features vague realism and WB earnestness instead of Foxerific catfights. Of course, this makes it harder to watch "ironically," and I'm far more embarrassed to be overheard in a conversation about Madison's pregnancy than Ryan's. But I watched The Creek through to the terrible end, so this dirty secret should really come as no surprise.

No good segue here.... I enjoy CSI, though I don't follow either of the series or record them when I'm out. I just tune in now and then when I'm home. (I prefer Miami, mostly because I like Khandi Alexander and that woman who played Ainsley on West Wing). I was excited, though, about the prospect of CSI: NY, with the hometown locations and all, so I made a point of watching the Miami/NY crossover where the new cast was introduced. I was underwhelmed. I like Gary Sinise but found him dull as dirt in this role, and they did nothing useful or original with the location. CSI: Miami seems to always be shot through an orange filter ('cause Florida is orange?), and the New York scenes here were all a very unflattering blue-grey. I know we're talking grisly murder, but you be nice to my city! There's something about Law and Order where no matter how gruesome things get, there's a real sense of love for the city. I'm sure actually shooting on location helps that, which is another bummer about CSI. I'll still tune in in the fall, but I'm not too hopeful.

Speaking of cop shows (yay, I got in one last one!), those of you who don't get Trio on your cable systems are really missing out. Trio is like what Bravo was before NBC bought it, only with more pop- and less high-culture. This month they're running a series on famous flops, and all this week they're showing Cop Rock at 8:00. I couldn't resist. Now, I firmly believe that good writers can successfully musicalize anything. Just look at Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Parade, or Buffy's "Once More, With Feeling" episode, to name but a few. So I'm not fazed by the idea of a musical about cops. I do have my doubts that anyone, no matter how brilliant, could sustain a musical over a 22-episode television season, without at least getting really repetitive. I mean, Andrew Lloyd Weber can't manage to write more than five songs for a three-hour show...well, not that I'd ever call him "brilliant," but he makes hits. Anyway, here's the thing about Cop Rock: It's BAD. By any set of criteria: TV drama in general, cop show, musical. Even as stand-alones, the songs are AWFUL. And are we supposed to take it seriously? Because I can deal with people breaking into earnest song, as with the opening street-thug rap number, and I can deal with goofy lines like, "Has the jury reached a verdict? Hit it!" But I can't deal with both in one hour. Yet it's great fun. Time and true floppage turn crap into camp. I'm curious to see which of our current shows will rear their ugly heads in 15 years.

Finally (finally!), there's a series of commercials out right now that I actually stop fast-forwarding for: The brilliant Sprint ads with the small children ("Sally gets the deluxe paint set because she's new. So she's special.") crack me up. Those kids are awesome. I'm also very fond of the dancing diarrhea lady in the Pepto Bismol commercial, though that office needs to start using a different caterer for their meetings. A big thumbs down to the Perdue commercial that features Jim Perdue on a radio show, taking phone calls from chickens. This brings my talking food issues to the surface in new and terrifying ways.

Phew! Long post! If you're still reading you deserve some sort of prize. This makes up for not posting much lately, right?

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Spring TV Wrap-Up, Part 1

So I fell behind in my TV again this spring, and it's been quite the wacky season. The Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Server has been working overtime, and now that I'm not working overtime, I'm finally caught up. So much crap, so little time. This post is way late (the Friends finale is so two weeks ago!), but you know I'm never one to miss an opportunity to share my opinions, so here are my random thoughts on the spring season that couldn't end soon enough.

It's been far too long since there's been a good disaster movie, and even longer since there's been a truly dreadful one on TV during sweeps. So I was terribly excited about 10.5. It didn't disappoint. It had all the classic elements: Absurd foreshadowing through sports metaphors ("You always go for the long shot when you're desperate"); improbable casting of doctors, scientists and presidents (this means you, Ivan Sergei and Beau Bridges); vaguely familiar actors who aren't really famous but drive you nuts while you try to figure out where you know them from (this means you, Ivan Sergei and Beau Bridges); ridiculous establishing scenes of exes, hotshots, and couples trying to have babies that tell you right off who's going to die; and my personal favorite, an impossible-to-figure-out timeline.

If anything made it clear that it wasn't the 80s anymore, it was that the effects were actually pretty good, especially the collapse of the Space Needle, and the San Francisco sequence. Of course, advancements in technology can't be applied to writing. I particularly liked the train tracks that were built directly over a fault line, and the quake that stopped the moment it had achieved its plot purpose of swallowing the train on them. I also liked the requisite teenager's requisite asthma attack, which of course meant bad news when her car got sucked underground with her inhaler inside...except for the way she never had an attack again. Oh and let's not forget evacuating all of southern California because it's about to fall into the ocean, and then building the refugee camp on top of the San Andreas Fault. Congratulations, you're safe...now run for your lives!

Also true to tradition were the bumpers on either end of each commercial break that killed pretty much any element of surprise. You know when the mayor looks in a mirror that that mirror is about to break. You know when the "doctors" start doing surgery in the camp that all hell's going to break loose. These things are predictable enough, why do they have to show us all the good stuff ahead of time?

Still, I wasn't disappointed. Well, I was, but that's kinda the point. 10.5 got me totally excited for a summer of crap. Bring on The Day After Tomorrow!

Moving from crappy miniseries to crappy regular series, I got strangely hooked on High School Reunion, even though it bugged the hell out of me. As trashy as last year's show was, that cast seemed, well, more "real" than most reality TV casts. Or at least more likeable. These folks came off, by and large, as astonishingly dumb and emotionally stunted, especially in the follow-up show they absurdly dubbed, "The Aftermath" (I really wanted them to call it "High School Reunion Reunion"). Knowing what I do about "reality" editing I certainly won't hold that against them too much, but the editors pissed me off. They were so insistent on creating a plot, they focused excessively (in my opinion) on the couples. As much as I enjoyed the cute blonde boy in the hot tub, there were several people I was very interested in (such as "The Teen Mom" and "The Wallflower") who got no screen time at all. I think I kept watching partly just to see if they'd show up. Well, and to see when crazy Denise would crack.

I'd like to say I won't watch it again next season, but come on, who are we kidding?

Meanwhile, in more current reality-land...I know I've said before that I like my reality TV lowbrow and sadistic, but there are just so many things wrong with The WB's Superstar USA (starting with the annoying use of "The WB's" in the title. That's even worse than their new thing of referring to new episodes of shows as "fresh."). Of course, I'm watching it anyway, and I just don't know what to make of it. During the first round of Idol auditions, I felt really bad for a lot of the contestants, and the way they'd been deluded by the producers into believing they had talent only to be shot down by the judges. This entire show is basically that on a grand scale. And yet I find it hopelessly compelling. Maybe it's because most of these people are so bad that it's truly shocking. These are not, for the most part, just average singers, or good ones who've had the misfortune of blowing an audition (as all performers will from time to time) on national television. No, these are people with negative talent, and I'm fascinated by what makes them think they have any business singing in public at all, because I can't imagine that anyone has ever encouraged them. There's the boy who looks and sounds like a girl, and dresses like neither. There's the flaming little boy who's neither a good singer nor a good dancer, and who somehow thought that his bizarre gyrations to Faith Hill were (never mind good) appropriate for the song. There's the woman who writes lyrics on her hand. But at least she then gets the words right, unlike my favorite, the girl who'd be unintelligible even without her accent, who thinks the words to "So Emotional" are "...it's Hollywood love can do." Huh?

So I don't know...is it okay to be cruel when the victim deserves it? Because I do feel bad for a couple of the finalists who don't seem to belong there. Boy and I have a favorite (that's actual favorite, as opposed to mock favorite), John-Michael, who's no pop star but is reasonably attractive and a decent singer. He just, like so many Idol contestants, makes bad song choices. Here's a hint, everyone: don't ever sing "War" at an audition. The judges seemed to be mocking his insane enthusiasm, but I found it kind of charming. It just doesn't seem fair.

But speaking of the judges, they're the entire reason the show works. I suspect the show is being judiciously edited and half the things we see them say at their table are actually being said without any contestants in the room. Even so, these guys are brilliant. They're masters of snark, and they'd be massively entertaining even without the bad singers. They deserve Emmys for keeping straight faces. American Idol needs these guys. The show's sort of created character is Briggs, who is meant to be the Simon but who says the most astonishingly inappropriate things. If there's not a ton of editing involved, then they're not only out to find the worst singer in America, but also the dumbest. Of the other two judges, Tone Loc seems out of his element and a little unsure of what he's doing there, but Vitamin C (whom I vaguely remember making a mini-splash with an album a couple of years ago, before vanishing back into obscurity) has found her true calling. She has mastered the art of making these people feel good without lying -- "That was unbelievable;" "You really put your own spin on that song;" "I don't know how you hit some of those notes;" -- and she's catching up to Briggs in the what the fuck department, like this week when she asked a contestant who'd just done a mean (as in cruel) Tina Turner if she'd ever been to an actual Thunderdome. "Because it's a lot like the music business." But my favorite moment of the series so far was when a singer forgot the words to "Born to Be Wild," and she fed him the next line without a trace of sarcasm, encouraging the hideous singing to continue. And let's not forget the host, Bryan McSeacrest, who's far less annoying than his non-spoofy counterpart (though the real coup would have been if they'd snagged Dunkleman). All of these people, despite being in on the horrible joke, seem to have a strange affection for their victims, which also mitigates the cruelty somehow. And curiously, it comes off as more genuine than Paula's gushing or Simon's cold indifference.

Now that it's getting further along, I'm not really sure what the show is going for. In the first week they kept John-Michael, who really doesn't deserve to be there (there were far worse in the first round), but booted Frank (queenie dancing Britney boy) and Ross (androgynous Hello Kitty). (One side-note, this show is far worse for the image of homosexuals than Playing it Straight and Boy Meets Boy combined.) I've seen some speculation online that Frank may have been catching on to the twist and therefore had to be eliminated, which brings me back to my original question about these contestants -- how can they not know?? There's no audience (though there will be for the final reveal), and they don't get to hear each other sing...but that should be a tip-off right there. And they can see each other, for god's sake! Could they all be actors? It seems unlikely, but maybe the whole thing is a hoax on the audience, not the participants. Maybe even on the judges. Maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better for liking this all so much.

Well, this has turned into a much longer post than I expected, so I'm going to put it up now and finish later. Like all good Very Special Episodes (or the series finales I've yet to review), this post is a two-parter. No more new shows to go embarrassingly in-depth with, so it seems like a good place to break.


I was somewhat dismayed this afternoon, when I noticed Radish sitting on top of the toilet lid. This means he's jumping higher than he used to, and soon nowhere (including, in the immediate future, the window sill above the toilet which holds several candles and a vase) will be off-limits to him.

I was extremely dismayed this evening, when Radish tried to jump onto the toilet while I was peeing into it.