Monday, February 28, 2005

Lost and Found

Okay, so I just watched last week's Lost and two loose ends I mentioned in today's post (where'd the dog go and what about Korean lady's language skills?) were addressed, along with twists a-plenty and fabulous blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment of interconnectedness. Much of Jin's flashback was redundant, since we'd seen it all from Sun's point of view, but getting a different angle on it was cool.

Was it a new writer this week? Was I watching in a new light because of all your comments? All I know is it grabbed me for the first time in weeks, with several moments that were truly exciting and a little bit shocking, and even -- goodness gracious! -- some genuine jokes! It didn't really deal with the mysteries of the island (though it looks like next week's will), but things definitely advanced this week, with character, relationships, and general plot development.

Yay, good TV!

I Killed Laura Palmer

In light of the drubbing I’ve taken for criticizing Lost and Carnivale (no worries, it’s the liveliest this blog has been in months!), I’ve been thinking about some TV of yore, trying to figure out why I’ve become impatient with these two shows that I do like. Maybe it’s that, 15 years after David Lynch opened my eyes to what TV can be (good and bad), I’ve just come to expect so much more? I like slow, complicated storytelling that rewards the careful viewer. I like feeling like I’m in on something, like getting a Dennis Miller joke the studio audience misses.

But I have to admit I’ve also gotten lazier. I find myself frequently criticizing movies lately with a simple "I'm bored," or "I didn't care about the characters," which might mean there are a lot of boring movies out there, or it might mean that I have a real problem seeing things after they've been overhyped, or it might just mean that these days I need to be more actively entertained. While I don't think I want to be spoon-fed my entertainment, I also often have some other background activity happening while I watch TV, be it folding laundry, eating dinner, groping my boyfriend or, well, blogging.

Except when I don't. Alias always gets my full attention, as did Buffy. So there's something about Lost and Carnivale that hasn't grabbed me in a way that makes them worth my undivided time.

(Before I get fully into either show, I must mention that I'm a week behind on Lost, and two on Carnivale, so, given the nature of both shows, it's entirely possible that everything has changed. I also ask you to avoid spoilers in the comments, please.)

I criticized Carnivale for its apparent reliance on ancillary materials (which, now that I'm temping, I may spend some time with), but later I remembered that in the summer of 1990, much to my mother's dismay, I spent my allowance on The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer, Diane: The Twin Peaks Tapes of Agent Cooper (hey, it won a Grammy!), and even The Access Guide to Twin Peaks. Of course, I was 15, and these days a) I don't have that kind of time and b) would feel like a big loser if I subscribed to, say, The OC Insider.

Twin Peaks was, at its core, a fairly straightforward murder mystery for its first 18 episodes. Granted, Laura's killer turned out to be an evil spirit named Bob who was possessing Laura's father (a fact that probably only made any sense to me because I had read the Diary), but much of the fun of the show lay in trying to solve the crime with Cooper, learning everyone's secrets, and realizing that they meant anyone might have done it. And even in weeks where we learned little about Laura, there was so much going on, and a level of faith that it would all connect eventually (and it sorta did, though sadly without a satisfying ending).

Carnivale is kind of like that for me, only the carnies are the Packard Mill and the hotel, and I don't really give a crap about Ben/Laura (I guess Ben would really be Cooper in this shaky analogy). Maybe I'm slow (and as much as I like smart TV, I don't want my pop-culture to make me feel dumb), but it's because I don't really have a clue what the stakes are. Sure, it's a classic good vs. evil thing, but the tone of the show makes me feel like I should know more than I do. And talking to other people, I'm pretty sure that's true. I remain baffled by references that I think I'm supposed to understand by now. The dreams/visions are pretty to look at, but edited so choppily that I never really know what's going on or who anyone is. The structure of HBO's schedule is partly to blame – with almost a year between seasons, how is anyone supposed to remember anything?

I was very patient with the show last season, but this year, every time Management opens his (her? its? Linda Hunt's?) mouth I feel like I've missed something. I simply don't know who some of the people they talk about are. And that's fine when it's Management and Lodz and Sampson, and we're obviously not supposed to know, but we're supposed to be on this journey with Ben, the clueless outsider, and he now clearly knows things that I don't. Again, I freely admit that I haven't been paying enough attention, but the show – at least that end of it – has lost me. Hello, it's television – I shouldn't have to read an episode to understand it! I'm perfectly happy whenever we're in carnie-land, especially with the Hooch family, and poor sad Sophie and her poor sad ghost mom.

Lost, to its credit, is very straightforward and doesn't confuse me at all, but I'm getting annoyed at the lack of clues. It's impossible to "play along." I'm all for sprawling mythologies, but there's a real art to revealing information in a way that's slow and tantalizing, versus one that's just slow. For the first four (maybe even five) years of The X-Files, Chris Carter was a master of answering a question, only to ask two more in the process. But the point is, he was answering questions. Lost seems to be all questions. On X-Files, on Alias, on Buffy, I always felt like their creators knew exactly where they were headed, even if they actually didn't (paging Nadia Sloane...). Lost feels like a bit of a free-for-all. There's a monster in the jungle! Nevermind, no there isn't. There's a crazy French woman who might have all the answers! Yeah, but why would we want to go visit her again, maybe get some of her food? Polar bears! Psychic children! Hatches in the ground! Step-incest! Ah, we'll get to it later. Now, knowing JJ Abrams' work, I'm pretty sure I'll eat my words and this will all come back with great importance later, but for now it's bugging me. And I fear it may all end with some kind of sub-Shamalayan twist, and we'll learn the shadowy, dark-suited figure in the foliage is Rod Serling.

I like the structure, generally, and the way the information about the castaways' motives and, probably more importantly, their interconnectedness, trickles in. But I do get frustrated when, for example, we get yet another flashback about Charlie having been a drug addict and bastard, things we already know, instead of any new information. (And if Driveshaft is supposed to be so big, shouldn't they have more than one song, and shouldn't it not suck?) Or weeks when nothing happens on the island at all. Come on, where's Hurley's flashback? What's the deal with the sensible black woman who's in every five episodes or so? Have Kate and the Korean woman had a conversation since Kate learned her secret? Where has the dog disappeared to? They've created a very rich, well-populated world, but they don't seem to be using it to its full advantage.

There's a fine line between "clever structure" and "monotonous formula" (see 24). You can't make a series out of No Exit. X-Files, Alias, Buffy and even Twin Peaks were smart enough to break up mythology episodes with standalones – though those too helped the characters develop and added to the growing world. And they were often very funny. I'm not saying we should have a slapstick golfing episode of Lost, or a Very Special Carnivale where Justin meets Dracula, but something to break the mood would be nice.

I like Lost a lot, and maybe that's why I'm so critical – I want more out of it. I like the characters, the actors, and the premise, and past experience makes me trust Abrams and company do eventually bring it all together. But it's been weeks since I've had a real "Holy shit!" moment, or a cliffhanger that I've cared about. I expect better of it. I want to be grabbed from the edge of my seat. I want to, you know, care.

Oh well. My log likes both shows just fine, but then, my log does not judge.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The Hunter

While I'm posting pics, here's one that was requested: Radish on his new window seat, staring avidly at...something.


The Radster is really looking chunky these days when he sits down, especially compared to the tiny baby he was just a few months ago, but when he gets up and walks around he's pretty sleek. Maybe we should just stop feeding him.

The Gates of Wrath

I'm not really a visual arts person. I'd much rather go to a play than to a museum. Still, I have a great appreciation for public art, and think New York City needs much more of it. In a public setting, I especially like stuff that's unpretentious and fun, like those little guys in the subway station at 14th and 8th, or Millennium Park in Chicago. So I liked the idea of The Gates very much when I heard about it, and I was so very disappointed when it actually opened. It just looked so...ugly. I just didn't see the appeal.

But I knew it wasn't the sort of thing I could really judge from photos, so today, on the very crowded last day of the "exhibit," I finally dragged myself to Central Park to check it out on the way to work. I still don't really like The Gates -- I think the media attention has been ridiculous, and it's a colossal waste of money – but it's definitely a different experience up close.

My main aesthetic problem with it is the support structure of each gate. You have this flowy fabric, blowing in the wind, but it's dominated by the ugly, blocky, overwhelming metal frame atop the big black feet. You can call it "saffron" all you want, but it's orange, and those steel poles evoke nothing so much as construction equipment. Couldn't they have attached wires to trees or something? Anyway, I liked The Gates best when on a straightaway where they're densely packed, so I could look up and see only (well, mostly) fabric. I love the way you can lose the City inside the Park, and for a few feet you can lose the Park inside the Gates.

The vastness of the whole thing is impressive, from a logistical standpoint if not an artistic one. And good or bad, it's interesting to see these things in relation to nature (highly planned and landscaped nature) around them, and the way people react to and interact with them. Having spent a lot of time in the Park growing up, I wished I'd given myself more time to explore and see some of my old haunts be-gated.

Whatever I think of the piece, I love that it has people talking about art in some way. Maybe, with all the Olympic and WTC planning, we'll actually get some things that are pretty or fun.

My one hope for The Gates is that they auction off the remains for charity, because it really was an obscene amount of money for something so transient.

I know I just said it doesn't photograph well, but here are some pictures. I think I got some good ones.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Crackers

Click here for another riff on "The Gates." I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who finds this all very silly.

And we can build this dream together, standing strong forever... (An Update)

So if anyone's still checking this thing, I guess some kind of update on my whereabouts is in order. The short version is I just haven't been spending so much time in front of the computer lately. I haven't been reading other people's blogs either, and my email inbox is full of neglected friends.

Last month I left my cushy temp job with the foreign lawyers (cushy because they were nice, casual, let me do whatever I wanted, and often fed me, not because the pay was actually good) to do an off-off-Broadway show with brilliant old friend who is also a brilliant young director. For a variety of boring reasons, we rehearsed on a strange schedule, which threw me off considerably. I got the hang of it though and found myself actually doing things like housework, and going to the gym, and of course when I wasn't doing any of that there was always that pesky PS2. I kept thinking about writing, but it always felt sort of like homework, and that's not why I do this. So I let it sit until I decided I really wanted to keep it up. And obviously I do. Thanks for sticking around.

In other news... It's been a wonderfully relaxing two months on unemployment and my small fee for the OOB show, but now it's time to get back to work that pays properly. The good news is I've got a fabulous gig for the summer, when I will leave town for two months to head the stage management team at a very prestigious summer theater. The bad news is, that doesn't start until June, and there's not enough time between now and then to make getting another show at all realistic (since anything starting rehearsals now would presumably at least hope to still be running when I leave). The silver lining is that, for a change, I can tell my temp agencies I'm free for this fixed and not insignificant amount of time. It's not my ideal way to spend the spring, but if I can make some money without having to work or think very hard, I'm content. Plus, clearly, it will mean a lot more time in front of a PC to catch up on my reading and writing of blogs.

Yesterday I set foot in Huge Financial Company for the first time since the wardrobe malfunction. I can't say I was happy to be back, but my old agency on-site manager was very happy to see me and already has three days of work for me next week. A couple of clients requested me last year while I was gone. I'll never like their corporate culture (let's not forget the cargo pants incident) and would rather work elsewhere, but it's nice to be liked and not have to start from scratch. I'm pestering several other agencies too, so we'll see. It's all about the Benjamins for the next three months. Well, the Jacksons, at least. Um, Andrew, not Michael and Tito.

Meanwhile, I went back on the Atkins diet Monday, after realizing with horror that in about six months I've gained back about 3/4 of the weight I'd kept off for four years. I'm still in far better shape now than I was then, so I'm sure some of that's muscle, but I can't deny the fact that I've worn only two pair of pants all winter. I've been good about going to the gym too (save a nearly three-week break when things were a little hairy with the show), but my food habits have been appalling since the holidays. I haven't really been overeating, I've just been eating far too much of the stuff that I know my body reacts strongly to. It's like potatoes are going out of style, and I've had a bagel nearly every single day since December. There's been lots of takeout, as I'd mentioned, which almost always means the diner, which means fries, or Chinese, which means rice or doughy dumplings (mmm...dumplings...). One of my actors in the show works at a trendy bakery and brought cupcakes to rehearsal. Normally this would be an acceptable treat, but I had three. Okay, so maybe I have been overeating a little bit....

At any rate, I need to get back on the wagon and get the sugar cravings out of my system. It will have the nice side effect of helping me save money by cooking for myself and packing lunches. And no more black-and-whites from the corner deli! I feel really good about it. I guess I just needed proper motivation, since for several weeks now I've been saying to myself I needed to diet but then reached for dessert anyway. A friend of mine is on NutriSystem, and was kind enough to give me some of their food to try, but it's all just too complicated, since you have to combine their meals with all this stuff, which involves measuring. I'm not good at portion control, and I'm inherently lazy, so going cold-turkey off sugar is just easier for me. The rules are clearer. And of course, it does mean I wind up eating less in general, since the burger I had last night is the same burger it would have been just without the bun and fries, and I generally don't substitute anything for dessert.

Since, being out of town, I have no idea what the summer will bring in terms of healthy eating and exercise (I expect not much for either), I figure I'd better get back down to fighting weight now or it'll only get worse. The weight is already coming off, just as easily as it was gained (I've also been to the gym every day this week, which I feel very smug about), and I haven't spent a dime on food outside of the supermarket all week, except for one proper meal out with Boy.

Life in the the new apartment remains blissfully drama-free. Even the downstairs neighbors seem to have calmed down. Some might call this "giving up," but whatever the reason they've stopped bugging us.

Radish continues to confound and amuse us. We gave up on calling him to try to keep him awake during the day, but he's gotten better about leaving us alone when we're sleeping and we don't really care about the people downstairs anymore. He'll leap up and bite us for no reason one minute, then crawl into a lap and go to sleep the next. I sometimes feel like it's wrong that I like him best when he's sleeping, but he's just so darn cute that way! I'm continually fascinated by instinct and what it means to him. He's a little obsessed with birds. We even got him a window-seat so he can get onto the windowsill with the fire escape (and therefore also a security gate), which seems to be his favorite. The thing is, he was born indoors, and abandoned at a vet's office when he was under a month old, so he's never actually been outside, never actually smelled, touched, or tasted a bird, and I assume never really had any heart-to-hearts with his mom. So how does he know that he's supposed to stare at birds all morning? He loves to climb and gets all stalky sometimes, so we've started calling him our little jungle cat. Of course, he also snuggles with us in bed, and still plays fetch, so that's more sarcasm than anything. I think it's lost on him though.

So that's my news in a slightly large nutshell. I should get off my ass and go about my business outside the house before the snow gets really bad. Thanks again for hanging around The JC through the off-season. It's good to be back.

Well Treat My Williams! (Return to TV, Part 2)

Along with all the other catch-up I've been playing, I've been getting through old issues of Entertainment Weekly, and just yesterday read two articles that relate to the first half of this post. First, Gillian Flynn expressed her disappointment in Alias. Where I see "back-to-basics," she sees "repetition." And while I think they've handled the Sloane situation in a reasonably believable way, she shrewdly observed that "disliking your boss isn't so unusual, but it's often due to a disagreeable management style, not the slaughter of loved ones." Good point. But Flynn and I both liked the episode where Vaughn and Syd went undercover in a training camp for Russian terrorists who were preparing to infiltrate the American suburbs. I meant to mention this but forgot in my rush to get caught up. As clever as Alias can be, it often forgets to bring the funny. In fact, that was one of the biggest problems last season: everything was so heavy and dark and important, it got to be oppressive. And Marshall's twitchy brand of comic relief can only go so far. So I thought it was great to see a comic episode driven by Syndney and Vaughn, and allowing Garner and Vartan to show off their great natural chemistry (curse you, Ben Affleck!!) [I must pause here to tell you how terrifying it is that Microsoft's spell-checker already knows the word Affleck.] I liked the vaguely meta element of Americans playing Russians playing Americans. And that helicopter crash was just cool!

Flynn, like me, is also a Rambaldi fan, and finds the integration of Nadia awkward. The existence of Sydney's sister, you'll recall, was an awkwardly and suddenly added plot device, designed to get the writers of the trap they created for themselves when they decided that Sloane shouldn't be Syd's biological father after all. That's not me being snarky, JJ Abrams said exactly that in the Times last spring. So obviously they have to see her existence through, and just dropping her would only make her intrusion more obvious, but I'm finding it all very very annoying. Mostly all the "I'll risk everything to save my sister!" crap, since these two have only known of each other's existence for a few months.

Ah ha, but I knew it was all building to something. Last night's episode gave us [highlight text to un-spoiler-proof] Rambaldi galore, Anna Espinosa (season one shoutout and the lovely Gina Torres), Sark, and Nadia in a coma! Things are definitely getting complicated again!

Elsewhere in EW, Stephen King used his column to teach us "The 14 Lessons of 24." He, bizarrely, likes Chloe, but he also points out that the ticking clock "rushes us past any inconsistencies," and that "the technology always screws up...those tracking satellites are especially pesky, but the darn computers aren't much better; they always seem to be full of worms and viruses." Hmm...maybe they should use Macs? Huge gaping holes in credibility like these are what really turn me off about the show. King seems to like it, but to each his own, I guess.

Sliding down to the world of teen dramas, The OC is still my favorite of the current crop. I fell a little behind due to a DVR mix-up and I'm still not caught up (I got a tape of the one I missed, but my schedule is all off now), but I've been enjoying the season since Chrismukkah, which may have been the best episode ever (Yamaclaus!). It was a bumpy start this year, with the awkward dating and writing out Jimmy (an odd choice, if you ask me) and Seth being suddenly the most irritating person on earth, but Chrismukkah had the perfect blend of high drama, smart comedy, and Melrose Place absurdity, with equal weight given to the kids' and the adults' stories – in other words, what this show is known for. Since then it's been smooth sailing, though I've noticed that the writers have been taking some cheap and easy approaches lately. These characters aren't exactly rocket scientists, but one of the things I like about the show is that even the "dumb" ones aren't at all stupid. Lately there's been a lot of really lame behavior clearly inspired by nothing more than a writer's need for a plot device, and that's annoying. Ryan leaves his very drunk girlfriend, who wants to go swimming in the ocean at night, inches from the tide line to go get her food? Seth draws (Seth draws? That's convenient new information!) every single character, including Summer, from memory, but Summer has to go pose awkwardly for him? Sandy lies to his extremely perceptive wife about an old flame who happens to be an ex-fugitive and previously believed dead?? Well, I did say I liked the Melrose-style absurdity, so I guess I have to take what I get.

I don't have much to say about the more dramatic world of Everwood, except that after a brief dip I'm really into it again. Once everyone stopped being so whiny and self-absorbed (sorry, Anne Heche, I like you but it was time to go) it got completely compelling. They've suffered a little bit from the same problem The OC has – people doing completely out-of-character things just to nudge the plot along. How dare Dr. Abbot tell Amy about Madison's pregnancy!?! It would be one thing if Ephram knew and was keeping it from her, but to put that kind of burden on your 16-year-old daughter is completely unacceptable. Especially when she already spends all her time acting like the weight of the world is on her shoulders anyway. Oh well, it looks like that whole arc is going to blow up next week, which is good. One thing Everwood has always been good at is consequences. It's nice to see that Dr. Brown isn't going to get away with his dreadfully inappropriate choice, and it's been nice to see Treat Williams getting to play some range. Though what the hell happened to Delia? Did she get shipped off to boarding school with Kaitlin Cooper?

And elsewhere on The WB, Jack and Bobby continues to perplex me. Mostly I'm perplexed by why I'm still watching it. It's gotten better, I have to say. They've toned down Grace's bipolarity, making her more believable and likeable, and they've made the teen stories more interesting. I like the new girl and guy Jack and Courtney are seeing (respectively, not like some kind of weird high school orgy), and there's less of Missy's whining. They've also laid off the whole "Bobby got a wedgie when he was 12 and that's why he brought about peace in the Middle East" thing, which is a relief. Still, though, the documentary sequences are the most interesting thing about the show for me. On the one hand, it's clever how the story of Bobby's presidency unfolds in tiny bits and pieces, but on the other I'd rather see West Wing Futurama with these people than watch the modern-day plots. This week's big mystery is why they cast an actress so much less attractive than Courtney to play Old Courtney. And more importantly, why they lit her so she looked dead, then put whore red lipstick on her. Very distracting. Anyway, it says something, I guess, that I didn't delete it in DVR cleanout. I figure I'll finish out the season and see where it leads. Obviously, I do enjoy it. A little bit. It's fun.

And then there's HBO (it's not TV, remember), where nothing is fun at all. I hate hate hate Unscripted. Hate it. First off, I liked Waiting for Guffman as much as the next guy (if not a little bit more), but I'm against the trend towards semi-improvised shows. The thing about improv is, it's often not funny! True, when you're doing it on film you can keep trying until you find something why is nothing funny about Unscripted? More to the point, to we really need another show about actors? Oooh, actors are wacky! Actors are stupid! Actors are self-involved! Most of the actors I know (and I know a great many) are none of those things. Okay, maybe self-involved, but who am I to talk, I have a blog! Granted, the actors who I hang out with outside of work aren't overly wacky or stupid or self-involved, or else I wouldn't be hanging out with them, and LA is a different world from New York. But come on, making up something absurd on your resume and then bringing it to the casting director who cast the film you made up a credit for? And I'm supposed to feel sorry for these people? The show is just a series of awkward moments. Is it a cautionary tale against going into the entertainment business? These are fairly likeable, charming performers, and I can only hope that the versions of themselves they're playing are heavily fictionalized. Though that seems like a bad career move, since people will assume they're just playing themselves. Mostly I just don't give a crap. Maybe it would be more illuminating if I weren't in the business myself, but I'd rather watch The It Factor, or even Fame for a more entertaining look at what performers go through. Gillian Flynn in EW again: "Perhaps the crew behind Unscripted believes we'll find the mechanics of acting enthralling simply because it's about acting. The theory is both smug and wrong." I watched the first week of the show and promptly canned it. I've been told it's picked up some momentum, but I can't manage to care even a little bit.

Carnivale, meanwhile, has even less momentum than Lost. What's more, it's apparently necessary to read the website to fully understand what's happening on the show, and that's unfair. Maybe I just don't pay enough attention, but I still don't understand who the tattooed man is, who Scudder is, who the hell is "the Russian" they keep referring to, what the bear and Lodz have to do with any of it. The dream sequences are obviously important, but they're edited so choppily that I never know who anyone really is. Plus, they took a break of almost a year between seasons, so how are we supposed to remember anything? Meanwhile, there are weeks where nothing really happens, which is tedious, and, like Lost, new cans of worms are opened without answering any of the existing questions. I like a good moody/quirky/supernatural/complicated mystery just fine, but come on! Of course at this point I'm so invested in the damn thing I have to keep watching, but I have a feeling the big reveal, if there ever is one, will just be a big What the Fuck. As long as Ben doesn't whack his head into a mirror and start saying "How's Annie" over and over again.

To end on a positive note, everyone MUST watch Robot Chicken, which may just be the funniest, most brilliant 11-minute TV show ever. It's a little hard to explain. Well, no it's not: Seth Green and some of his friends got a bunch of money from the Cartoon Network to take toys from their childhood and use stop-motion animation to put them in bizarre situations. The first episode featured Optimus Prime getting a prostate exam, Cylons from Battlestar Galactica falling down for no apparent reason, and the Scarecrow in Oz...the prison. There's plenty of non-referential material too, that doesn't involve referencing other shows/toys, but still features very odd use of action figures. Trust me, it's brilliant. And at only 11 minutes, there's no time for the joke to wear thin. You must check it out.

Aaahhhh... it feels good to be caught up! Coming soon: games, music, movies, and gadgets (hello, Roomba!).

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I don't know much about art, but I know what I like

I'll weigh in on The Gates once I go see them in person, but meanwhile I'm so proud to have once lived in Somerville, MA, home of The Somerville Gates (and a man with far too much free time).

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Very Special Episode of Judgment Call (Return to TV, Part 1)

Okay, finally. Back in the game. Return of the Blog. Let's talk about TV. It's been a while, so you're in for some rambling capsule reviews. Lucky you!

My schedule's been kinda weird lately and it's thrown off my TV watching (and, clearly, my blogging) quite a bit (okay, Grand Theft Auto has played a role too). Also, I gotta say, I'm still kind of thrown by what I said the last time I blogged about TV. Despite some definite bight spots here at midseason (generally simply the return of new episodes at all -- what was with that break?), I'm still having a hard time getting excited about much of anything on TV these days. Is it them or me? I blame them. I've picked up NO midseason series and I've jettisoned a couple of old favorites.

The first to go went by way of a New Year's Resolution. It may shock you, but I feel really good about it. No more reality TV. Seriously, I'm done. I haven't suddenly found moral high ground or anything (though Who's Your Daddy and Strange Love skeeve me out immeasurably), I'm simply bored to death with it. We've officially reached glut, ladies and gentlemen, when Bravo, E!, A&E, and even the Discovery Channel and Nick at Nite have knock-offs of every successful network show out there. Last season's Survivor started strong but quickly grew tiresome, The Surreal Life feels forced, and High School Reunion is totally played out (it could just be that for each year the participants get younger I feel immeasurably older). I though I might miss American Idol, but decided I'd be better off without it, and now that it's actually here I watch the commercials and find I don't miss it one bit! Why did I put myself through that redundant, bland torture for three seasons? Why did I spend a single second of my valuable time caring about John Peter Lewis or, worse, Jim Verrarros? Even Fantasia's album is bad! Nor can I get excited in any way about Who Wants to Swap My Average Supernanny for an Extreme Home Trading Towns of Gotti Swan Apprentices in Vegas. So I'm done. No more. Because I don't really want to watch any of it, but I know if I do I'll get sucked in and then feel endlessly dirty, like those scabies-ridden Real World kids (see, who wants to watch that?). And think of all the productive things I could be doing with that time! I could be watching the first two seasons of Alias on DVD! The only condition on which I will happily break my resolution is if there are sequels to Manhunt, Boy Meets Boy, Playing it Straight (which I've just learned you can watch – unaired episodes included -- online!), or Joe Schmo.

The next casualty was 24, which I really should have given up on halfway through last season. I watched the first four hours (which sounds like a lot but they aired over two consecutive nights) and I actually got angry at it. First at the wasted potential of a show that started out so strong and unique, then with at inexplicable new direction the show has taken in creating some of the most irritating, make-me-want-to-reach-through-the-screen-and-smack-them characters on television. I mean, if you're going to dump your entire cast (a very good idea after last season), why not replace them with people who are, I don't know, likeable? And out of everyone, they keep Chloe?? I refuse to believe that someone with her toxic personality and complete lack of professionalism would still be allowed to work at a national security agency. At least I hope to god she wouldn't.

I guess I have different criteria for the suspension of disbelief here than on, say Alias or The OC, shows with an inherent element of fantasy. 24 positions itself as "gritty," and "real" (and therefore "scary"), and in asking us to buy into the real time gimmick, its creators are asking us to buy into that supposed realism. I can buy that Jack is a bit of a superhero, but last season's jaunt to Mexico and amazing powers of recuperation (Buffy didn't heal as quickly as Chase or Tony!) betrayed the show's very premise. This year, not a single CTU staffer belongs in the world that was crafted so carefully in season one. In addition to Chloe, there's a man who appears to be at least mildly retarded, a woman with obvious ulterior motives, and that utterly unstable woman who runs the place. I refuse to believe that the head of CTU would ignore obviously good intelligence and strategy, misappropriate agency resources, and put the country in real and obvious danger just because of a personal grudge. The President, maybe, but not the head of CTU! I stuck with, say, Dawson's Creek to the bitter, dreadful end because I cared about those characters and was invested in what happened to them. I don't just not care about the new CTU-ers, I despise every single one of them and keep rooting for terrorists to blow them up. That can't be good.

But mostly the 24 gimmick has just gotten old. "Something's going to happen at 8:00." "That's in ten minutes!" Thud-thud thud-thud, commercial break. I'm over it.

Life As We Know It (I refuse to give in to your lowercase fetish!) has actually been cancelled, but since I didn't know that until after I decided to dump it myself I still get to be smug about it. However dramatic it may seem while we're in it, for most people high school is ultimately pretty boring, and so is portraying it realistically. Not that LAWKI was exactly realistic, with the teacher sex and bizarre musicals and Kelly Osbourne, but where's the intrigue? Where are the half-naked boys? (That's for all you Googlers out there.) They actually achieved the difficult feat of taking a cast of likeable, attractive people and made them utterly dull.

Thank ABC, then, for the perfectly-timed return of Alias to bring me out of the TV doldrums. Lots of people bitched about last season, but a bad season of Alias is still better than any other series on television right now (I said the same thing about season six of Buffy, and last year's Alias was way better than that!) and the delay of the season made me sad. It was probably a very smart move for the network though, with the new timeslot and lead-in of Lost, and if that means the show gets more viewers and is on the air longer, it's fine with me! (I'm sure they're glad I approve.)

Anyway, so far the season has been very strong, thanks to the wise choice of getting back to basics. All that CIA bureaucracy and government stuff was unwieldy, and the characters were far too split up. It doesn't entirely make sense that Sloane has been given command of anything legal, but at least it restores the fun dynamic from season one. Dixon in the field again is great fun, and his disguises rival Syd's (anyone but me getting the Buckaroo Banzai reference with the dreadlock wig? Anyone? Anyone? John Big Booty?).

But it's not just a spy show, of course, so even though the core original cast (plus a couple) are working together in a basement again, all the interpersonal stuff from the last three years is in there. And while I'm getting tired of the We Hate Sloane Club (we get it!), it adds some much needed depth to all the ass-kicking. Though of course, the ass-kicking still rocks, and the fight choreographers and costume designers have kept things very exciting and fun this season, with actual good actors instead of vapid action heroes to keep us interested in these people's fates. The plot twists and turns have been a little lighter, but I suppose that's partly about trying to hold on by those new viewers by easing them in. I thought the exposition in the first episode was expertly handled, especially considering how much of it there was! I'm also a big fan of how seriously they take their continuity, with things that happened in the pilot still resonating. It looks like they're planning to bring in some old guest stars and old story loose ends (Rambaldi has hardly even been mentioned this year!), and I'm looking forward to seeing where it all goes.

JJ Abrahm's other baby, Lost, is a huge "water cooler hit," of course, and I love it, but I have to admit the glow is fading. I just wish something would happen already! The premise is great, the structure is inventive, and of course we know Abrams knows how to cast, but the pace has got to pick up. There have been weeks when nothing substantial has happened at all. I suppose it's possible that everyone's backstory flashbacks will intertwine eventually (as they've already begun to) and become entirely relevant, but I didn't think we needed another episode devoted entirely to Charlie's shady past. Or Sawyer's shady past. Or Kate's shady past. What about Hurley? What about that kindly black woman? I'd like more about the possible magic powers of the kid, please, and maybe some more not-quite-incest sex? (What's with Ian Sommerhalder and the incest shows?) I keep watching because I want to know where it's all going, but there are too many loose ends, and not enough forward motion for my taste. I mean, I know they have to keep the series going, but this isn't Gilligan's Island and they need to pick up some loose friends. And maybe have the balls to kill off a regular. But if Alias has taught me anything, it's to have faith in Abrams, and that patience and attention to detail pay off.

I find ABC's other big hit, Desperate Housewives, compelling and appealing in every possible way! It's really hard to pull off such a crazy blend of serious drama, mystery, comedy and camp, and they're doing an amazing job. Casting is probably everything, and I care deeply about every one of these characters, including the "bad" ones. I don't really care about Mary Alice much at all (though I do like Brenda Strong and wish they'd give her more flashbacks), and just love watching these people's lives unfold. Which is a good thing, because (unlike Lost) they'll have to solve the mystery eventually, but it seems like there are plenty of stories to keep the show going. Someone has learned from the mistakes of Twin Peaks, which tried to suddenly introduce a bunch of plots in the second season after nobody cared about Laura Palmer anymore. In a way, Who Killed Mary Alice has become a "B" plot already, behind the live women's lives and family dramas, and that's a very good thing. Though all the elements are familiar, I can't think of another show that's been structured quite like this, and the gamble seems to be paying off. Yay! An entirely good review of something!

The West Wing has been alternately exciting and dull since the New Year. I love what's been going on in the White House this season. The MS stuff is a little heavy-handed and maudlin, but it's nice that they've come back to it, and that early storyline has some real consequences. It also gives Stockard Channing more to do after being pretty wasted last year. CJ as the chief of staff was a brilliant way to shake it up, and showcase Allison Janney in a way she hasn't been in a while. The writing's back on track, and far more Sorkin-esque than it's been since he left. The old characters feel like themselves again.

The new characters are tricky though. I don't understand how Josh Malina (I always think of him as Jeremy from Sports Night and can't seem to remember his WW character's name) went from being the hot young go-getter Democrat on the crazy mission for the underdog, to a complete asshole driven by blind ambition. It doesn't make any kind of sense. And did they ever replace Sam? I adore Kristen Chenowith, but they have to move her beyond cute and chirpy soon. This is the White House, after all.

More problematic for me are the campaign episodes, happening every other week. Good things never come of splitting up an ensemble this good, so having Josh and Donna out on their own (and not even together) is a problem. As is showcasing asshole Will (that's his name! Will Bailey!). But mostly these episodes just bore me to death. I know they're essential to the longevity of the series, and I suppose they think they're letting us in on an important part of the political process, but we've seen far better campaign material in flashbacks to Bartlet's. And then there's the problem of Jimmy Smitts being dull. I like Jimmy Smitts, generally, but this character and everything about his plot make me yawn. I do love the prospect of him becoming president, though, because his wife is played by the fabulous Teri Polo (unsung straight-woman of Meet the Parents/Fockers, and Dan's love interest from Sports Night) and it'd be fun to see her play the First Lady. It's hard, though, to know that the "race" is between Smitts and Alan Alda (there was a great article in the Times about the future of the show a few weeks ago), because it makes it impossible to care about Santos' "struggle" against Russell and Hoynes. Plus, Alda has proved more charismatic and fun in three scenes than Smitts has in half a season, but I doubt they'll actually go with a Republican winner since it would mean losing the entire current cast, instead of just a few of them.

This week was the first campaign episode I've found moderately interesting, and I wonder if that was actually calculated, since it was also the first time the fictional voters found Santos interesting. Well, I'm curious to see where it all goes, and like I said before I'm pretty invested in this show after six years. At least it's great half the time…

Okay, it's getting late and I'm getting sleepy, but I've been trying to get this post up for days (I'll post about why Judgment Call has been neglected for so long soon too), so I'm going to make this one a two-parter. Tomorrow, The OC, Everwood, Jack and Bobby, Carnivale and Unscripted! Stay tuned...

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Diet Time

Clearly, Boy and I have been eating too much Chinese food. When I ordered tonight, I got barely halfway through the number of my building when the lady on the phone interrupted with my apartment number.

When the take-out places recognize your voice, changes must be made.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

I don't test well

Okay so I tried to do this quiz as honestly as possible, though the questions are pretty obvious ("I am from the wrong side of the tracks," "I frequently use humor to overcome my awkwardness"), so I figured I was shaping up to be a Seth or maybe a Sandy or even Summer I could handle, but a Julie?? I am not a fucking Julie!!! And I'm more Oliver before Seth or Anna? This thing is rigged.

You scored as Julie. You are obsessed with status and prestige because you are invested in what other people think. Learn to find happiness by figuring out (and pursuing) your own internal desires instead of society's.



























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