Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Guild

It's really hard to write about The Guild. There's this wonderful soft, gentle, rolling quality about it that I really like. But then there's also this tedious thing going on — sort of like what you feel when you're waiting in line at Bed Bath & Beyond, trying to return the Aerobed mattress that sprung a leak and realizing this is the second time this year you've had to do this and you're really hoping you'll one day soon be able to afford a real mattress and that it's a good thing the staff at BBB are so nice and don't make a fuss about returns and exchanges, at least at the BBBs in the Valley (the staff at the BBB at The Beverly Center aren't quite as upbeat).

So what is The Guild? It's a for-web-only series created by Felicia Day and it's about a gang of online gamers. I'm not going to describe the plot because that would do the series a disservice. Let's just say that during Series One there was an anti-love story and an embezzlement plot. Series Two just began and it looks pretty much like Series One.

I like Felicia Day, or at least her befuddled, too-nice-for-her-own-good character Codex. Day is a regular on TV and is probably best known as Vi, one of the would-be slayers on the last season of Buffy. She says she began writing The Guild during the writers' strike when there wasn't anything for actors to do except write. And so she did. The Guild has a good fan base and apparently even inspired Joss Whedon to produce his Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which, of course, stars Felicia Day. Series Two is even sponsored by Microsoft, so now you have to go to MSN to see the new shows instead of YouTube. But Series One is still available on YouTube and here's Episode One. The episodes are never more than six minutes long so you end up spending more time downloading them than actually watching them. Oh, well.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cooking Japanese Like Morimoto

On the topic of TV ads, I thought I'd also comment on one of the funniest TV ads I've ever seen. It's for a TV show called Iron Chef and it's zany, clever, and soooo fun. The ad is basically a reduced essence of Iron Chef, a weird Japanese cooking competition, with bits and pieces of the show chopped up into a frenetic music video. The featured song is "Cooking Japanese", an adaptation of the Vapors's song "Turning Japanese". The show and song are satirized in the best way possible, and it also humorously captures the cultural confusion and bewilderment of anyone not Japanese. The song is so catchy, I find myself singing it at odd times of the day: "I'm cooking Japanese, I think I'm cooking Japanese like Morimoto..."

BTW, the original "Turning Japanese" is a love song, which I was astonished to find out. Ironically, it works better as a love song in "Cooking Japanese" because the narrator of the spoof is obviously besotted with the show. I like both songs, the original and the spoof. The lyrics of the original have a total post-modern disregard for coherence, which is great. Oh — the rumor that "turning Japanese" is an euphemism for masturbation is false. In case you wondered... ;)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Samsung/AT&T Thumbs Ad

This is one of the grossest TV ads I've ever seen. Ranking high on the Uncanny Valley, watching the heads on the moving thumbs makes me want to throw up. The ad is especially bad when seen on HDTV. I think it has something to do with the fact that the heads cannot move independent of the thumbs, yet the eyes are moving around and the mouths are yakking and all of a sudden it's like the unveiling of a terrible Eastern European science experiment and you're confronted with a dog's head on a cat's body and the dog head is talking to you. It just ain't right.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Campaign to De-humanize Doctor Who

Is it just me, or is the Time Lord becoming way too human? What's the point of having more than one heart if you're just going to act like you only have one heart?

I just don't think the writers are seeing things from a superior being's point of view. See, a Time Lord would see us humans the same way we see hamsters. We're cute and fun and entertaining to have around. And if you lose one, you get another. You don't pine season after season over the cute little hamster that you lost somewhere. Why would you? You've got other cute little hamsters. To think we humans make that much of a lasting impression on the universe is total megalomania. Ego check: we're hamsters, not heroes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Gavin & Stacey

When I found out Hollywood is thinking of doing a US version of Gavin & Stacey, I got a real sick feeling in my heart. Gavin & Stacey is so perfect as it is. It's sort of like saying, hey, let's remake the Queen for American audiences. Why?

Gavin & Stacey is a fantastic British comedy written by James Corden and Ruth Jones (they also play Gavin and Stacey's respective wacky best friends). There isn't a real story: a Welsh lass and an Essex lad fall in love and decide to get married. So, all you have left is the writing, which is brilliant, and the acting that delivers the brilliant lines, which is perfect. My favorite gag this season involved one of Nessa's many lovers who died trying to fake his own death. The whole bit is delivered and received with total seriousness — perfect comedy.

The scenes with Nessa (Ruth Jones) are always funny, but when they also involve the two mothers, Pam (Alison Steadman) and Gwen (Melanie Walters), it's Christmas dinner in a snow globe: shake and watch with wonder. You've got energy vampire Nessa, world-weary at twenty-something. Add Pam, the nervous little mouse who wants desperately to seem hip, the classic people-pleaser. Stir in Gwen, small-town mom who rather enjoys having a gay son — so handy when you go shopping (think the shopping part in Welsh — for some reason, it's much more funnier delivered in a Welsh accent). There's a running gag involving Pam that's getting more and more ridiculously funny: she, for some weird reason, tells Gwen she's a vegetarian, when she's actually a raging sausage-eater, and she's too embarrassed to tell Gwen otherwise so now whenever they eat together, she has to fake vegetarianism when she doesn't really even know what that involves beyond eating disgusting soy sausages. Man, Alison Steadman is really running with this.

The show's had two seasons. After the first season, I was really nervous that they were going to make a second season — sophomore slump and all*. Could the fun possibly continue after the honeymoon? Yes! Hooray James and Ruth!

Here's a quick glimpse.

*I mean look at what happened to the Sarah Silverman Show. The Silverman writers should have packed their bags after the first season and just added "I'm Fucking Matt Damon" as an epilogue.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Heroes, Why I've Given Up

So for two seasons they had this bad "company" that controlled everything but now this season the bad "company" turned into a good "company" so they needed a bad "company" to replace the good "company" that used to be a bad "company". Riiight, dudes.

Heroes never really captured me anyway, but I kept watching because it was interesting. And Hiro was so cute. And okay, the "save the cheerleader and save the world" spiel was cute too. What I didn't like was all the repetitive graphic violence — like did they have to keep showing Claire throwing herself off buildings and stuff? I mean, how many times did I have to keep watching gross compound fractures heal? And did I really have to see her stick her hand down the disposal just to see what would happen? Adding to that, there's this real coldness to the show, in the color palettes, the stories, the deadness of the heroes. And now the story's crap.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

HDTV Is Scaring Me

HDTV is not kind to women. At least not to women with heavy plastic surgery. The living dead on HDTV suddenly become the ghoulish dead. If I were the women of Hollywood, I'd get together and form a Middleman conspiracy to kill HDTV. Or lure Max Factor back from the dead and have him reformulate all his make-up because something has to be done. You women are scaring me.

You know what else doesn't work on HDTV? Commercial food. Like Wienerschnitzel's chili dogs, which look like they're covered in shit from a dog that ate all your Ex-Lax -- isn't that taking "truth in advertising" a little too literally? Their chili dog isn't that bad. And why does everything at Olive Garden look like it was nuked from a packet (maybe it is). Campbell's soups look cold and congealed, El Pollo Loco chicken looks like plastic, and everything from Lean Cuisine looks like airline food. And I'm talking cattle class.

Of course, my big fear is that to the rest of America, this stuff does look good enough to eat. And what does that say for the American diet?

Oh — the one food product that does translate well is hamburgers. I guess glistening fat always looks good.

So what's the connection between insecure actresses who get too much plastic surgery and food pumped full of additives? I'll leave that for you guys to answer in the comments!

HDTV is going to be one tough learning curve.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Mitsuwa Man

Today, I'd like to talk about the Mitsuwa Man, or Mitsuwa Takashi as he's also known on KSCI. For about five minutes every Sunday, Mitsuwa Takashi pops up during Japanese programming to offer sage advice (and to plug Mitsuwa, a Japanese shopping center). There's something really scary about Mitsuwa Takashi, and yet, at the same time, equally appealing, which is even more scary. He's got this elvish face with a Pokemon smile, his eyes fiery with friendliness as he acts as the anointed clown/court jester of Mitsuwa. You just have to catch the opening segment where he dances with balletic grace while holding a rice cooker on top of his head.

A typical segment runs like this. Mitsuwa Takashi will offer advice on, say, how to clean your jewelry or get more gas mileage out of your car or what to do with gloves. If it's a Japanese holiday, he'll help you make decorations out of cucumbers. Maybe he'll talk to the Mitsuwa fish man. And then he might end the segment by dispensing more advice to some hapless viewer who has sent in a letter. Like "Dear Mitsuwa Takashi, I came to L.A. last year fired up by my dream of becoming a director. It's been a year and nothing's happened and I feel really bad. What should I do?" And he'll say something like, "Oh, yes, there's nothing like that wonderful enthusiasm you first feel trying to make your dreams come true. Why don't you try to resuscitate that feeling? Do you remember what you first ate when you came to L.A.? Maybe Kentucky Fried Chicken? Or a nice taco? Go and get some chicken and all those feelings will rush back into you. But if things get really bad and you've lost all hope, why don't you come and work part-time at Mitsuwa! Where you'll be able to use your Japanese!"

At these moments, how can you not love little Mitsuwa Takashi? (BTW, Mitsuwa Takashi, I can't speak Japanese, but Kentucky Fried Chicken isn't resuscitating me so can I come work part-time at Mitsuwa, too? I have Japanese friends and I've eaten a lot of ramen through the years, if that helps, and I can say "konnichiwa" and "kore wa nan des ka". Oh, "moshi-moshi" too!)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mom's Dead Upset

I'm finding it's impossible to write about a show I really love. It's too hard to pin down in a couple of sentences something that affects the heart. Like trying to reason why I love someone, teasing love apart when love only exists as an entirety.

That's the dilemma with Mom's Dead Upset. It's a Korean comedy that's phenomenally popular in Korea. I catch it on KBS World where they do lovely subtitles for almost all their shows. Literally, it translates into "Mom's On Fire". And boy, is she.

At first Mom's just a slowly smoking pile of old embers. And who wouldn't be after serving her family for over forty years as cook, cleaner, miscellaneous-errands do-er? But when her children embark on one disastrous marriage after another, long-suffering Mom explodes into a roaring fireball of fiendish proportions.

See, you're Mom and this realization is seeping into your head: year by year your life has become more and more dreary, more and more cheap and the only dim light to all this misery is your children and your children look at you like you're stupid and forget your birthday and only call you up when they need a babysitter (and what's your son doing knocking up some old maid anyway) -- that's when you explode, high and bright like the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. So what's left? Well, there's you. And that's the Zen moment of truth: Mom can't save her children but she can save herself.

On the face of it, this is a really simple comedy-drama. Unlike Desperate Housewives or Samantha Who? or Pushing Daisies, there are no clever turns of plots, no soft porn, no dramatic murders, no supernatural powers, no aliens. There isn't even any clever dialogue or witty repartees. It's just a simple family drama about simple people of no importance, no wealth, no extraordinary ambition. The only glamour in their lives is this vague hope that one day, a real estate developer will come in and swoop up the whole neighborhood, making them modestly rich. But otherwise, as long as they have a few bucks left at the end of the month, they're modestly content.

But saying this show is a simple comedy-drama is like saying War and Peace is a nice book-of-the-month selection. I'm simply in awe of the writer, Kim Su Hyeon. Her touch is sharp, compassionate, precise, touching: every life is a painful tragedy and a hilarious comedy, whether it's the life of a foolish son who knocks up his girlfriend and can't tell his family even though she's the love of his life, or the life of a dignified but poor patriarch who only finds love in his eighties, too late to marry and have children with his soul mate, but not too late to share a cup of tea every afternoon. Kim Su Hyeon gives children dignity and clarity. She gives women complexity. And she has this way of building and building, so quietly, you don't notice, until all she needs is that one word to convey a lifetime of hurt or longing.

The actors on Mom's Dead Upset are incredible, too. They look, dress and walk in total truth with Kim's words. Every detail is right, from the silly head band the son wears to the grand, quick gestures of the acerbic sister-in-law. I could probably do a thesis paper analyzing each actor, but I think my favorite is Jang Mi Hee. She plays the youngest daughter's brutal mother-in-law. Beautiful and elegant only in appearance, Jang Mi Hee's character has the maturity of a three-year old and terrorizes her family with compulsive mood swings and self-induced insomnia fits. She's even trained a bird to scream out orders so that the bird is a live manifestation of her id. And yet, like her victimized daughter-in-law, you can't help feeling sorry for her, finding compassion in all your outrage. That's how brilliant Jang Mi Hee is. Towards the end of the series, she does become a bit too clownish in her Taming of the Shrew act -- but that's really a small fault.

Did I say Mom's Dead Upset makes you appreciate your own life? Your own family? I suppose in so many words I did.

Thursday, September 11, 2008


The Silence of the Lambs and Lost gave birth to Fringe. It isn't pretty. Fringe is a creation with too much DNA with JJ Abrams's thumbprint squarely on its blodgy head. Great if you're a die-hard JJ Abrams fan. Great if you're an adolescent boy. Great if you're an animal rights activist who likes shows that demonize science and universities. I suppose this is why Fringe is on Fox and not ABC.

The best part of the show is Anna Torv who plays an FBI agent. Abrams's real talent is in picking female leads that have the knack of giving his scripts a great deal more complexity than they deserve. The most disappointing part of the show, for me, was Joshua Jackson. Listen, I'm a huge Joshua Jackson fan, so I can't figure out why he seems so at a loss in the role. It's a simple role: smart-ass genius who fucked his life up and blames it on his weirdo father, the crazy scientist. Isn't that sort of basic? Don't tell me the only thing you can do is angsty, rebellious teens, Joshua!

Oh -- and the music sounds like something out of Outer Limits -- actually, the whole show is glorified Outer Limits -- without the promise of a payout. Because there's never a payout with Abrams. He's all talk.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

True Blood

True Blood. Saw the drink ads all over LA and thought, "HBO promo". Then I heard the whispers -- show about vampires! -- and wasn't thrilled. Then saw the promo clips and thought, hmmm, seems kinda funny. It is Alan Ball. Okay, I'll watch.

Man, the pilot show was fatiguing. All that over emoting. All that hyper atmosphere. All those accents. All those weird people. And then there were the vampires.

The series is based on the vampire books of Charlaine Harris, which I hear is pretty good, which is a shame, because now I won't read them -- not with that lingering unpleasant taste of the series in my mouth. True Blood's hook is the relationship between a telepathic waitress and a vampire -- for those of you who don't know, vampires and humans can live together openly now because the Japanese have invented synthetic blood (oh, those Japanese! always looking for a marketing opportunity!), so there's no need for vampires to hunt humans, unless it's for fun. And unless it's in Louisiana. Vampire stories don't seem to interest writers unless there's a Romeo and Juliet component -- vampire longing for human longing for vampire. But if they're going for romance, the show's a little short. At the moment, where it's lodging itself is in the campy Gothic porno genre. Apparently vampires like to screw humans. For money (they pay, and they pay well). And it's violent. Go figure. (In the books, the theory is that human blood makes vampires horny. Okay.) Well, True Blood is on HBO, the porno channel without the money shot. Personally, I think HBO is secretly run by Puritans and they have a mission: to turn the human race permanently off sex, which on HBO is as tedious as it comes. Isn't anyone at HBO having good, emotionally rewarding sex?

Anna Paquin plays the telepathic waitress Sookie. She's really blonde and I hardly recognized her. I suppose she's a good choice because I've always found her a little spooky, even as a kid in The Piano. She's surrounded by the required chorus of good-looking guys. What's weird, though, is most of them look like Brad Pitt. Have you noticed that on TV, everyone looks like everyone else now? The first step to digitizing actors? Hey, listen, studio heads -- digitized actors will still have reps.


When I saw the promos for Privileged, I thought, "Ugh, not another one of those shows." You know, shows where you're supposed to gawk at the rich and famous as they screw in and out of their Dolce & Gabbanas while you're supposed to wish you were one of them. Shows like Gossip Girl, 90210 (new version), Dirty Sexy Money, etc.

So I was a little surprised that I liked the pilot. It's fun, well-written, and well-acted, with a good pace. And so free of cynicism, I'm a little taken aback. And thus far, not one sex scene. And I liked the soundtrack.

Of course it's filled with gorgeous people and has the token gay, who is also the token black. You've got the poor outsider who can teach those stupid rich people what life is really about. You've got the super bitch. You've got the love triangles and the sister rivalries. You've got Debi Mazar in a cameo doing her usual Bitch Shtick. And no one ever wears the same thing twice. Well, you have to fill an hour some how. And this is a pretty harmless hour.

Oh — doesn't Michael Cassidey look strangely like Ben Affleck?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


For the last few months, I've been enjoying Reaper on reruns, a show about a boy whose soul was sold to the devil by his parents -- or was it? Wink, wink. I know, it doesn't sound very promising, and the first four or five episodes weren't that great, but show after show, the writers have really beefed it up so that there's a real nice minty enjoyment after-buzz.

Like Buffy, Farscape, Firefly, this show works because of the little details. I wasn't at all surprised that Kevin Smith is a consultant. This show walks on Smith's kind of dialog and trademark characters like Sock and Gladys, the demon who works out of the DMV. Of course, none of this would work without the excellent acting. Ray Wise is fun as the devil. Ken Marino is fantastic as the sweet, gay demon with a heart of evil. And Tyler Labine really knows how to stay on this side of obnoxious.

It's at heart a very old-fashioned show. Actions have consequences -- I mean, that doesn't even happen in real life. When Ben tries to defraud the government by taking money for a Green-card marriage, not only is he caught, but he goes to jail. The writers don't create some cute, impossible situation to rescue him. They just give him a "Go Straight To Jail" card. Excellent. And the writers know how to do it right: no tedious trial scene, no moral lectures, no jail scenes! So refreshing. Anyway, to continue with another obligatory example, when Steve, the reformed demon, tries to take the devil down through Ghandi-like methods, he's rewarded and sent to heaven. All this makes Reaper strangely more modern than anything going. I mean, it's so old-fashioned, like Biblical old-fashioned, it's new. I like that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mad Men?

So I've watched four episodes of season two and I'm exasperated. I'd like to say it's just lost a little momentum, but I can't, because it's like the show's a completely different show. I know the writers are attempting to portray morass but that's no excuse for putting people to sleep. And I mean, literally putting people to sleep. And not just people, but insomniacs. And look -- we get the ad business now. We get that Don is brilliant at his job. That was all in season one, so what's the point of making 80% of each show the JOB? You want to make this Bewitched without the laughs? (BTW, there are some pretty scary similarities between bosses Tate and Sterling. Actually, now that I think of it, there are a lot of similarities between Mad Men and Bewitched: the chiseled, dark features of Draper and Stevens, the cute blonde wives, booze, booze, and more booze, nice period cars.)

The first three shows have been like very dull John Updike short stories, with a good dose of bad Mary McCarthy. Speaking of Mary McCarthy -- where did all the interesting women go? Swinging girl artist, Midge? Department store heiress Rachael, S&M inspired Dr. Guttman? And where the hell is Joan? How and when did she become the latest victim of the Body Snatchers?

There are some good developments but are they developments or just moments? Like making Don a bit more dirtier. His sexual assault on tough broad Bobbie in "The Benefactor" was shocking. And having him send a book to Rachael was interesting (although it isn't clear that it is to Rachael -- could be a red herring -- but that's what I'm betting). I guess being married to a woman you can't relate to is tough. Especially when she's a nutcase like Betty.

Okay. Maybe Betty isn't a nutcase. But what a control freak. Her cold mother act gives blondes a bad name. And what's with the sexual power plays? Are the writers going to reward her and turn her loose in the big city as a Cosmo Girl or are they going to punish her with rape? Well, the creator is male so I have a feeling it's not going to be Sex and the City for Betty. Maybe the best we'll get is Betty Does Boston.

So you get the feeling I don't exactly like Betty? Okay, again, I get the part about Betty being a little girl in a woman's body. Maybe it's just January Jones. I think that if a better actress were in the role, an actress with the power of Juliette Binoche or Judy Davis, I'd be able to enjoy the Betty development more. You just don't get much inner-life moments with Jones. She just does "I'm so unhappy". Well, so am I! At least you have a nice kitchen. You should see my 1970s disaster. And -- you have a maid! This is about as much sympathy as Jones solicits. Sorry.

Anyway, I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that Don, Joan, and Mr. Boss Sterling will get their lives back. Soon. Please.

Friday, August 22, 2008

So Universal

I've watched soap operas and dramas from a lot of countries, and I've noticed that whether you're watching a soap from the US, France, Germany, Korea, Japan, there are certain words and phrases that keep coming up over and over again. Here's my list. The phrases in bold are the most frequent, by my count.

Trust me. (If said in the US, or any other Western country, "trust me" is a code for "run away". In Korean soaps, if someone says "trust me", you probably should.)
I'm in love with you.
It's my life!
I love you/her/him.
I hate you/her/him!
She's beautiful!
You're fired!
I understand.
You have cancer.
I'll make your life hell!
Shut up!
Why are you doing this?
I can't believe this!
I'll call you later.
I'm leaving the country. (Usually to study. Not applicable to the US.)

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Olympics! Opening Ceremony

It was an opening ceremony only a communist country could pull off. And it was totally awesome. And I mean awesome, which the Oxford American Dictionary says means "extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear." I thought the ceremony was part Cirque du Soleil, part military display, and part historic fantasy. Watching it on TV was so overwhelming -- I can't imagine what it must have been like in the actual Bird's Nest. I loved all the little touches, like having the athletes track color across the huge paper.

I suppose it was also an opening ceremony only China could pull off. Thousands of years of Confucianism making even a small child fully aware of his position and obligation in society. Mentally and physically aware of the person next to you, keeping the appropriate distance, subconsciously aware of the levels of respect due to each body. The power of the Chinese philosophy you could see in the flowing display of bodies, like seeing the Emperor of Qin's terracotta soldiers come to life, breathing and moving with discipline and grace. But the cost? Rigid hierarchy promotes bullying and places too much burden on top of those on the bottom of the pyramid. China is the one country where the suicide of women outpaces the suicide of men. Suppression of individual desire is devastating to the human soul.

The worst part of the ceremony? Listening to Bob Costas and Matt Lauer. You have the almost holy aspect of the Chinese presentation, and then you had the juvenile boys' comments of Costas and Lauer -- they really disgraced themselves during the parade of athletes. They just couldn't help themselves, smirking at the Hungarian team's outfits, making snide comment after comment about the African outfits. If the comments had been at least intelligent, I could have lived with it, but it was just the stupid giggling jokes of pre-teens. Terry Wogan on Eurovision was more intelligent. I can't wait for that generation of cynical male commentators to die out.

Which makes me really miss Jim McKay and the old ABC Sports. He had so much heart and so much joy — a real respect for people and their passions. Come back, Jim McKay! Come back! We need you! You're our only hope!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Doctor Who Regeneration

Just watched the season finale. I found it entertaining, fun, and ... unsatisfying. I loved seeing the old Captain Harkness back. At the thought of three versions of the Doctor running around, he blurts out, "I can't tell you what I'm thinking about!" Exterminated by the Daleks and he still can't help thinking ...

I also loved Doctor/Donna. I didn't like the way they got rid of her, though. Too cruel. Too easy.

And giving Rose her very own "Grows Old Like A Human!" Doctor to play doctor with? I'm thinking ... yuk.

And it was sad seeing Harriet go.

And what's with all that loud, OTT dramatic, sentimental music?

And why did the end have to be so depressing?

I guess that's the crux of my dissatisfaction. I'm just not liking Russell T. Davies's universe. This whole thing about the Doctor being lonely. Oh, so lonely. This whole thing about the Doctor being the only Time Lord (well, there is the psycho Time Lord running around). Davies has turned Doctor Who into The Wanderer. Someone/something EPIC. The lone cowboy/samurai, the only law left in the wilderness. I liked him as an eccentric. Epic is boring. Epic is narrow. Epic is a male invention. Glorifying maleness. BTW, I'm really getting tired of women drooling over the Doctor. It just turns Doctor Who into a geek fantasy. He's not all that. Wouldn't it be great if it turns out the Doctor is suffering from an ego-maniacal condition and that when he snaps out of it, he'll realize the universe is full of nice Time Lords who are more than willing to be friends with him?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

I've always loved Joss Whedon stuff. I still think Buffy, the series, was one of the best things ever done for TV. What a fantastic ending, exploding the ridiculous limitations of a slayer. I laughed because it was just such an unexpected, such a duh solution. Genius. Way to go. And wasn't Spike the best vampire ever? Mommy's boy, slayer lover. Of course the only one out of the Scooby gang to never lose faith in Buffy. And then I heard Joss was doing sci fi with Firefly, and I was like "what?" But I loved that too. Now there's Dr. Horrible. And it's sing-along. You just never know what to expect from Joss.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog is really funny, in a corny kinda way. I also found it endearing. Maybe because of its loving, amateur tone. Or maybe because Joss Whedon writes with so much heart about misfits.

Dr. Horrible is a wannabe super villain. He's on his way. He even has an arch enemy, the slimy, cheesy "hero", Captain Hammer. Of course they're both after the same girl. Dr. Horrible's love is the genuine heartsick of an adolescent. Captain Hammer is only interested in sex -- and getting Dr. Horrible all bent out of shape by screwing the girl. He's sort of like the obnoxious alpha male at your high school. Yes, there is singing. It's hard not to compare it to "Once More, With Feeling", the musical Buffy episode.

Here's what I like.

1. The female lead character is average. She's not super beautiful. She's not super smart. She doesn't have super powers. She doesn't say clever things. She is a real average girl. She's played by Felicia Day, who, thank the gods, can sing.

2. It's a classic musical. Almost operatic with three voices singing different lyrics.

3. Neil Patrick Harris. I've never liked him in any roles before, but as Dr. Horrible, he gives the show the heart it needs. The Middleman needs someone like him.

4. Nathan Fillion. It's always nice to see him. He and Eliza Dushku seem to alternate as Whedon's alter ego. He's fun in comedies, only I wish we could see him in as intense and as erotic a role as Caleb, the only real scary Buffy villain.

I can't say that there was anything I disliked. The beginning was real slow but it picks up beautifully and leaves you wanting more. I mean, that's the Holy Grail of writing, isn't it? Things start to slow again in Act III -- well, Act IIIs are hard. At times, I wish he'd break new ground with the dialog. Sometimes when Dr. Horrible was talking, I'd hear Mal from Firefly. And echoes of Xander from Buffy. I imagine he misses Mal. Firefly was canceled so abruptly. But maybe it's time to let go of Xander/Angel/Mal?

You can't watch Dr. Horrible on TV, not even on satellite. It's only available on the website and iTunes. But here's a trailer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Doctor Who

Wasn't Alex Kingston wonderful in "Silence in the Library"! And I love her name: Dr. River Song. It's great to see her having fun after all those years of grumpiness in ER.
I have to say that the last few Dr. Whos have been so much fun. And with actual tension and surprise. Part of the fun is the sparkle the girls have added. Like Georgia Moffett as the Doctor's daughter Jenny (episode "The Doctor's Daughter"). How much you want to bet she's another spin off? Initially, I was a little disappointed to find out Jenny was a genetic clone thing -- I was hoping some of the Doctor's relatives were finally going to start appearing. After all, the original Dr. Who had his granddaughter. That means he also had at least one daughter or son. And maybe a wife? And parents?

"Silence in the Library" had several enjoyable elements, like the way the brain waves remain for a short while in the transmitters. The little girl who turns out to be the security system for the library. The Doctor being so clueless to who River is and being so upset about it. For the first time in a long time, I actually wanted to know what was going to happen next. It certainly hit all my buttons. I hope the writer of the episode, Steven Moffat, writes a lot more! Great use of technology exploration -- true sci fi, if you know what I mean. Just one thing -- enough with the corporate villains!

I've also been impressed by the roster of stars that have been appearing this season. Not just Alex Kingston, but Felicity Kendal and Fenella Woolgar. Someone really appreciates girl power. Is Dr. Who becoming the next Midsomer Murders?

I hate to spread rumors, but I can't help myself. Seems David Tennant romances a lot of the women who appear in Dr. Who, including Georgia Moffett. Who would have thought he was such a real-life Casanova (of course he played Casanova in a pretty bad movie version -- I'm so tempted to write my own version because they've all stunk to high hell)! He does have a great sparkle in his eyes. I've been a fan since seeing him in He Knew He Was Right (he was superb in The Chatterley Affair). In fact, when I heard Christopher Eccleston was the new Doctor, I screamed, "You've got to be kidding! They should get David Tennant!" Well, strangely, I ended up liking Eccleston as the Doctor and not really enjoying Tennant because with Rose, the Doctor was just a giggling juvenile fool. I mean, if I'd been Queen Victoria, I'd have established an agency to eradicate David Tennant too. But without Rose, and with Donna, Tennant is much more watchable. Of course, he's leaving ...

I just hope Alex Kingston comes back again and again. Too bad Time Lords don't change gender. She'd be a fantastic Doctor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Middleman

Entertainment Weekly recommended that I watch it, so I did. Boy, was it a painful start. Stilted dialogue, blind acting. It sort of had the air of "Gee, I wonder if anyone will really buy this pilot." But slowly, things did pick up and get better. The setup or the plot doesn't really matter. The show is based on the comics of Javier Grillo-Marxuach and it's a kind of Men in Black must-stop-the-weird-stuff-and-protect-humanity action show. According to the Wiki article, the comic book series was intended to be a television series but got hijacked into a comic book series and is now a television series. On ABC Family. Makes sense to me. From the Wiki article I get the idea that Grillo-Marxuach wanted to cram in as much stuff as he could from every TV show and movie he ever liked. Okay, that's fun, until you trip on the zillionth cultural reference and you wonder, hey, where's the show? Is there a show?

What they did right was in the casting. Natalie Morales as Wendy Watson and Matt Keeslar as The Middleman are fun to watch and even have a bit of chemistry together. And boy, can Natalie deliver rapid-fire dialogue. But what's with the dialogue? You've got the rapid-fire delivery of a 30s screwball comedy with the inane content of a 60s adventure series like Batman. But what you don't have is the sophistication and wit of the 30s screwball comedy nor the languid, sultry rhythms of the 60s shows like The Avengers so it's like taking a bite out of a blueberry-arugula muffin.

The Middleman can get a lot worse or a lot better. I hope it gets a lot better. But it needs something more, something unique that has the potential to become a cultural reference of its own. Otherwise it's just a visual card catalog.

I think you can still watch the pilot at the ABC Family website.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Battlestar Galactic Yawn

Last episode, there was this great scene -- great because of the potential. Baltar is yakking away at a pretty beleaguered looking Cylon centurion -- trying to get the poor thing all riled up with his crap about hierarchy and god -- and I thought, wouldn't it be great if the writers actually did something interesting and fun, like having the centurion tilt his head, raise his metal claw, and slowly choke the words out of Baltar until he was dead. No more droning Baltar! Yeah! I was actually excited.

That didn't happen. But the ship did blow a wall and Baltar was down for the count. And I thought, okay, that's good enough for me. A senseless death. Not so fun as the Cylon choking Baltar, but I could live with it.

That didn't happen. But for one moment, Laura decides to let him bleed to death. And I thought, okay. Not as interesting or as fun or as senseless, but I can live with it.

That didn't happen. Baltar lives. The episodes continue. I'm really regretting that the Cylons didn't obliterate the humans in season two.

This season, every character is tedious. Even the explosions are tedious. The dead cat is tedious. I don't care anymore who the secret Cylons are. Every time someone dies, I think, hooray! One less grimacing oh-Zeus-life-really-sucks face I have to look at. And what's with turning Battlestar into John Adams? And look, writers, teasing people with Baltar's death and Laura's potential Cylon-ness will only get you kicked in the ass. Just because this is the last season doesn't mean you guys can get away with it. Have some class, people. Or at least some pride.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Lost: A Sloppy Map Isn't Storytelling

Whenever I watch Lost, I get this sick feeling that we, the viewers, are just rubber dolls for the self-indulgent masturbatory acts of the Lost writers. I don't like being fucked around. I don't like treasure hunts that promise big but only come up with a lot of bad clues and stinky prizes. What's so great about imposed confusion? Every episode reeks of a glorified Agatha Christie mystery with red herrings thrown to people who like doing dumbed down crossword puzzles. It's Monty Burns rubbing his hands, eyes narrowed, saying gleefully, "They want clues? I'll give them clues."

The best part of Lost is the cast of characters. It began with them and made all the silliness bearable, even at times meaningful. But now the characters are just cogs to an end that probably isn't justified. Or interesting. Because the show is now about the writers and how the writers are more clever than the viewers. Cleverness for the sake of cleverness. Surprise for the sake of surprise.

Lost is shitting on the head of light entertainment.

(Yes, I am angry. But as a writer, I just don't approve of writers abusing their superpowers.)

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Doctor Who and the Spin-offs

So why do I like The Sarah Jane Adventures but loathe Torchwood? And I was really excited about Torchwood when I first heard about it. Captain Jack Harkness in his own show? Bring it on! I loved the fun, naughty, sexually omnivorious alien. When Captain Jack finds out his naked body is going on air to zillions of viewers, what does he say? "Ladies, your ratings just went up." I loved it.

So what happened to Captain Jack? Torchwood happened. Ugly, human-hating Torchwood. That incessant, constant, nauseating drumbeat of "It's us! We humans are our worst enemy!" The aliens aren't even any fun. Torchwood was supposed to be grown-up Dr. Who. Who wants a grown-up Dr. Who? Look, if you want to go the way of Buffy, Farscape, Firefly, you're going to have to up the ante -- like get some imagination. And throwing in sex scenes isn't grown-up. And, listen, outside of Captain Jack, I really don't want to see the cast having sex.

Now what I like about Sarah Jane is that since it's aimed at kiddies, they haven't tried too hard. You don't see the writers angsting and thinking above themselves. Instead, it's a show the gods of Light Entertainment would approve of. And, of course, you have Elizabeth Sladen. And the writers have let Elizabeth Sladen do her Sarah Jane thing. They haven't tried to transform her into some modern Freudian creature of the dark like they did to Captain Jack. They just let her be what she's supposed to be, the hero. It was nice that they let her be so clueless to human relationships that when her adopted alien son rants about how out of place he feels at school, she does an "Oh, well, better luck next time" instead of explaining that feeling alien and out of place is a teenage rite. And she's right, aliens are much more interesting so forget human psychology. In many ways, Sarah Jane is now more the Doctor than the Doctor. They've inadvertently put his real soul into Sarah Jane -- god only knows what's in the current Doctor. After all, the Doctor was originally an alien who liked being around humans. Not a human who thinks he's an alien.

It's amazing what a good cast does for a show. The cast is good in Sarah Jane. Not really good at all on Torchwood. By that I mean there isn't any charisma, any spark of life. Partly, that's the writing, but partly, that's just miscasting. Like if they were going to change Captain Jack that much, they might as well have cast a completely different actor. It's just not John Barrowman anymore.

As for the core, Dr. Who, I basically like it. But here's where I think Russell T. Davis goes wrong: in the human relationship department. I know he's trying to get to the heart and soul of the Doctor, how his vagabond life affects the humans and aliens around him. But it's just too persistent and heavy handed. Like every show. Over and over again. And not Mike Leigh subtle but Steven Spielberg orchestra pouncing spectacle.

And why are they always in England? On or above the earth? I get it that the Doctor is a terraophile but come on! Let's use the tardis for a little bit more fun than lame time travel around the earth. Well, they did do a dimensional thing but it was STILL on the earth.

And if they're sooooo keen on doing a romance on the Doctor, BRING BACK ROMANA. (I adored Lalla Ward's Romana.) A nice, feisty, acid-tongued Romana. (I'm sick of the goofy, cutesy girl companions of late.) I'd love to hear how she's been getting along since going off into the other universe.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Prime Time or Snore Time

Ugly Betty: snore
Gene Simmons as Amanda's daddy? Come on. How stupid is that? Not as stupid as Amanda channeling Gene Simmons. The writers have pretty much sucked the life out of every character. Only Hilda is still first season Ugly Betty. Ana Ortiz will not let Hilda die. Well, in the common vernacular -- you go, girl. Love her new hair.

Whoops. Almost forgot Judith Light. She's pretty fantastic too. But then, she always is. Totally underrated actor. Made even Tony Danza look good. Now that's an actor.

Would love to see the original Colombian version. How soon did they lose the plot?

Lost: snore
I played an online video game, trying to win bucks on iwon.com, the entire episode. Is this turning into a Linus vs. Widmore schtick? Is this turning into another Alias disappointment?

30 Rock: maybe it hasn't jumped the shark?

That graph charting the gross factor from human actors to CGI characters was so right. When I watched the show, I thought the writers had come up with the whole idea. But no. I've been put right. This is a well known hypothesis. It even has a name: The Uncanny Valley. Did they use this Wiki graph? I have to concede points to the writers for introducing the graph in such a laugh-outloud way. The Amadeus reference was a little tedious. But the cracks at corporate America were nice and sparky. I'd probably slap someone who offered me that much money, too.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Some Housewives

I'm ashamed to admit that I've been unable to turn away from The Real Housewives of New York City. It's like watching a nest of vipers -- unhealthily mesmerizing. I keep expecting David Attenborough to pop up with a commentary. The rivalry between Jill and Ramona is like a real-life enactment of E.F. Benson's Mapp and Lucia rivalry. Only it's Mapp and Mapp, and since it's real people acting so absurd, not that funny. I mean, come on -- grow up.

BTW, I'm worried about little Francois. The poor tyke looks like all life has been slowly leeched out of him. Maybe a bout of public school and a good game of dodgeball will fix him up. Or a real male role model. I sometimes think there should be a Big Brother/Little Brother (or Sister) program for rich kids. There are very disturbing similarities between the very rich and the very poor. Extremes in the human race are very disturbing. So is inbreeding.

Please feel free to take the "Most Disturbing" poll.

Friday, April 11, 2008

They Use Soup: Throwing Up in Hollywood

Way back when, it sometimes happened in the movies, a girl turning green and then quickly, discreetly running to the bathroom, with an urgent closing of the door. And maybe some muted noise. This was the subtle way of telling the audience that the girl is pregnant. Turn the clock and it became the ick factor that got teenage boys (and Boy Men) laughing. Now it's become a shorthand for the Serious Emotional Moment. You don't think Angel's Connor has emotional depth? Have him upchuck after seeing "Daddy's Birthday" marked on a calendar, the words lovingly encased in a red heart. See how much he wants a daddy? A normal home? Want to show how horrible cancer is? Have a bald-headed person throw up in someone's arms. Want a bonding moment in Sex and the City? Have Charlotte and hubby upchuck in tandem an outrageously expensive dinner -- and don't forget to throw in the diarrhea, the cherry on the cake.

(Apparently the preferred fake vomit is canned vegetable soup. I always thought the thing looked foul, even heated up.)

Now what's the correlation between sex and vomit? Both involve projectile bodily fluids, yes. But hasn't the rise in the Vomit Moment gone hand in hand with the rise in the fuck scene? Both involve the pre-coital moment, the post-coital moment, and lots and lots of sound. Easy, brain-dead story telling for the cloning generation. The beauty of the Vomit Moment, unlike the fuck scene, is that you don't need plot development. In fact, development spoils the Vomit Moment. The more unexpected, the more sudden, the better. No warning. You must not give the viewer time to zap to another channel. If you do, you're an amateur, a poseur. You do not understand the essence of the Vomit Moment.

I really, really don't like to see vomit. For me, projectile vomiting is what strobe lighting is for epileptics. It really makes me sick and then I have to run to the bathroom. And there is no reason to be so graphic. What are we going to see next? People literally crapping? I'm begging Hollywood to give out warnings. Like you know how they have codes for violence and strong language? Let's add VM.

Of course what infects the movies infects the theater. God of Carnage, a play by Yasmina Reza which is currently playing in London, has a surprise Vomit Moment. Well, it was a surprise until everyone started talking about it. Now, the plays a critical success. So be scared. Be very scared. There's no place to hide. Vomit is everywhere.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Jon Stewart vs Bill Maher poll

I like both guys and it's great there's room for them both in the small world of television. Jon Stewart is like the likable, goofy frat guy, eager to please. Very cute puppy dog. Bill Maher is more like your bitter, acerbic cousin, the one who comes to the family reunion even though he hates the idea of family and reunion. Stewart delivers his act with a look on his face that says, "You're going to really like this one -- it's so cute!" Maher is just a simple ranter. His guests are on his show just so he can have a wall to hit his head on. I have to admit, I'm drawn to the ranter.

The poll is to your right. You can vote for both.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Star Trek Psychodelica

Watching the scrubbed up version of the original Star Trek on HDTV is distracting. Things pop out. Like the red stars in space. And the bold color choices on the Enterprise -- green walls adjacent to blue. Pink table tops. And everything's so clean. You can't even enjoy seeing Kirk getting beat up in the engine room because suddenly the stunt guy is all too clear. William Shatner against the wall -- much taller stunt guy being thrown around -- back to Shatner in the close up -- back to stunt guy cracking punches.

Changing the subject -- I wonder what they were feeding the extras. Sexual tension should have been given a permanent credit line. So why was the second generation Star Trek so dead? And creepy. The only time anyone was getting excited was in the virtual reality room. (Shudder, shudder). You can just imagine what the sex lives of the writers were like.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Miss Guided Navigates

Thank the gods of light entertainment! Someone is actually developing charisma on Miss Guided! Kristoffer Polaha, more specifically. Okay. Judy Greer is growing on me. Slowly. I loved the way Polaha delivered the line: "Maybe they were just gay" on the second show.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

John Adams

Finally got around to watching the second episode. Actually had to force myself to see it. Wow. It was like watching an hour of C-SPAN. Maybe that was their intention. I should have gotten a clue when John Adams spent the first fifteen minutes griping about how boring sitting in Congress was. Who knew they were going to prove their thesis. If the main character is griping about the show ...

(BTW, I hope the real Thomas Jefferson wasn't as chronically depressed as the one on the show. He made John Adams look like a ray of sunshine.)

The actors, however, are great. I LOVE Tom Wilkinson's Benjamin Franklin. He really makes you believe all the legends: Franklin the ladies' man, Franklin the wit. Laura Linney's performance is really the only major one that seems a bit weak. Maybe she's feeling trapped by her accent (or her corset)? It reminds me of certain Meryl Streep performances where the accent is the performance. Or maybe it's just a typical Laura Linney performance. All her characters seem stifled and in need of a corset loosening.

I wish the writers could have remembered they were doing drama. John Adams is the TV equivalent of reading something with intrusive footnotes. That's the problem when you're too enamored by a book. And you want to deliver truth, justice and the American way. Even Hollywood Bible movies have more fun. Maybe that's what's missing. Charlton Heston. Anne Baxter. Yul Brynner. They should have channeled Cecil B. DeMille. Or at least taken a class with Andrew Davies. I can't believe I was actually rooting for some battle scenes -- and I hate the stuff -- but anything with a little momentum! When you can actually see quotation marks coming out of people's mouths, that's when you have to just throw in the towel. Certainly tempted here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Christina Hendricks

What happened to adult female sexuality? Watching Christina Hendricks on Mad Men, I wonder that. On a show filled with outstanding performances, hers pops out with so much fun and so much sophistication. Just watching her walk away is watching a master performance.

In contrast is Elisabeth Moss's performance. Peggy Olson should be a young, smart, naive girl full of ambition. At first she thinks her ambition is to be like Hendricks's Joan -- a woman who knows how to use sex to wrap bosses around her pinkie. Slowly she realizes her talents are much more nuts and bolts -- much more like a man's. She becomes a copy writer, on her way not to her boss's bed but her boss's corner office. But the way Moss plays it, Peggy turns out to have Aspergers. Confusion and awkwardness is played by staring blankly. While the cast around her grows into their roles, Moss has disappeared out of hers.

The only other crinkle is a minor one by Jon Hamm. Playing a younger, hick version of himself wasn't too successful...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lost, Lost, Lost

Oh, man! They just killed off my favorite person! What good is Lost without Danielle? Who can forget that unbelievable mother & daughter moment when Danielle and Alex tie up the jerk together right after the emotional family reunion? But this is Lost. Who really ever dies on that stupid show. My favorite part of the whole hour is "Bad Robot!" Or, as I like to say, "Bad Writers!"

I absolutely love Mira Furlan. She's an incredible actress. Remember Babylon 5? (Great first season -- after that just nonsense.) That moment when Delenn releases all the souls? Who else can animate a white basketball? I love it when great actors get work. Shame on you, Lost.

Miss Guided

Watching the show right now. Scrubs cross-dressed with Ugly Betty. Sans any charismatic actors. The British show Teachers did it better. And I didn't like that either. But at least it's not going back in time like the shows listed in the entry below.

TV ennui

When Squawk Box is the most exciting thing on TV, something's oh, so wrong. Lipstick Jungle, Cashmere Mafia, The Return of Jezebel James ... are these shows really coming out of the same era as Malcolm in the Middle and Mad Men? The third season of Battlestar Galactica was deathly boring so I'm not looking forward to the April premiere. God, I hope they don't find Earth. We're nobody's answer -- not even lost shows. I wish I could blame it on the writers' strike, but I can't. Of course, we have Lost -- but I've always watched Lost with a great deal of resistance. The writers use the viewers like one big inflatable sex doll. (I got burned by Alias.) I sorta hope Mad Men doesn't return. It's perfectly complete as it is.

Oh, and isn't The Tudors a complete waste of time? Okay. The Tudors liked to have fun. So what? And all that over acting by Jonathan Rhys Meyers... (Compare to Cate Blanchett, Class.)

On the other side of the historic drama:

I'm trying to like John Adams, but so far, it is as slow as Revolutionary molasses. And it's not even historically accurate. Two of the soldiers were found guilty in the Boston Massacre (in real life). I mean, if you're going to be slow and ponderous, you might as well be historically accurate. Know what I mean?