Friday, December 25, 2009

Gap Holiday Kids Ad

Every year there's always one Christmas ad that's really fun. This year, my vote goes to the Gap kids ad. Vibrant, sassy, fun. So much better than the adult version (really dead in comparison). Go, kids!

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Greek Men

You can definitely tell that women are doing some of the serious writing on this show because the men of Greek are so lovable! They are so lovely, you just want to squeeze them into a s'more sandwich and each them up. (For my more detailed account of Greek, you can click here.)

Rusty: big-eyed, innocent, sweet, awkward, likes to plunge into love — how adorable is that!
Cappie: witty, fun, big-hearted, oh-so-naughty.
Beaver: beefy, hopelessly simple-minded, earnest and cute.
Max: all his nervous ticks are so endearing — and he can fix your cell phone — and count cards — and he'll probably rake in the bucks working for some evil defense contractor.
Cal: every straight girl's fantasy of a gay buddy.

So what's with the girls? The only lovable girl is Ashleigh. And she gets punished with no love life. :(

*Update: Ashleigh: OK. She gets punished with a boring love life.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Good Morning, Miss Dove

Thinking about Jennifer Jones made me think about Good Morning, Miss Dove and how a sappy, mediocre movie can become memorable thanks to one actor's performance (in this case, the luminescent Jennifer Jones as school teacher Miss Dove).

Good Morning, Miss Dove is a pure 1950s film, folks. Sappy sentimentality thickly drips off every scene. School teacher Miss Dove is seriously ill. Her life depends on the expert surgical hands of one of her former students. Without Miss Dove's guidance, he probably wouldn't have become a surgeon. Without Miss Dove, half the population of this little town would probably have fallen off a cliff, literally or metaphorically. The only thing unsentimental about this film is Jennifer Jone's portrayal. She doesn't ooze love. She's didactic, stiff, morally uptight, rigid. When one of her former students comes to her with a broken heart, blubbering about how this filthy rich man dumped her — "Oh, what should I do? What should I do, Miss Dove?" — Miss Dove coolly tells her to get down on her knees and thank God she was dumped. And it works out, because the dumped girl runs into the surgeon outside Miss Dove's classroom and they get married, living happily ever after in Small Town Ville. Yeah, Miss Dove!

About the only time you see Miss Dove smile is in a flashback of her youth. She's a lively, romantic young girl who's just gotten engaged to a hunky, sweet geologist. All her dreams are coming true. You see, Miss Dove dreams of exploring the world — she has a passion for adventure and knows everything there is to know about every part of the planet. The geologist is going to sweep her off to exotic lands, he digging for rocks, she exploring and savoring culture. But then her dad dies and her dad has left behind a mountain-sized debt. She has two choices: she can run off with her geologist hunk as advised by the family friends who are also the bankers, or she can stay behind and spend the rest of her life paying off her dad's debt. She chooses the latter. And she's so honorable, she doesn't even tell the geologist why she's calling off the engagement, lest he uses his own money to bail her out.

That's how she becomes a geography teacher, talking about lands she'll never see.

It's heartbreaking, watching her make that decision. Watching her kill off the center of her happiness. Her life has become sacrifice, a sacrifice to honor, debt. Not that she plunges into self-pity or becomes angry. She's just dead. Of course the movie doesn't allow for that. We watch as she becomes an excellent teacher, redirecting her children's negative energies to positive ones, from bullies to appreciators, would-be criminals to productive members of society. Teaching isn't really about geography but the fine-honing of pre-adults. Yes, yes, but what about Miss Dove? You can see it in Jennifer Jone's eyes, the aloofness of her presence, how she never firmly attaches to any one of her pupils. She cut all that off the moment she decided obligation over life. And that's what makes the movie more haunting than it was probably intended to be. All because of Jennifer Jones.

The final scene shows Miss Dove recovering. The surgery was a success. She, as a teacher, was a success. But we see the toll of dedication: when the surgeon and his wife tell her they are expecting a child, she murmurs about how she's going to have to get better just so that she'll be able to teach this child. Out of love? No, out of exasperation. She thinks the surgeon and his wife are pretty silly, and the product of such silliness is going to need all the help she can give it. Well, I guess that's one reason to keep on living. And God knows, we all need a reason.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jennifer Jones, 1919-2009

She was one of my favorite actresses. She could take a bad, maybe even racially-offensive role and spin it on its head so that all you saw was a tormented, tempestuous girl (Duel in the Sun). And no one could top her spinster school teacher portrayal (Good Morning, Miss Dove). She was always the best thing in every one of her movies, and that was the really sad thing, how she never got her transcendent movie, the Gone With the Wind moment which would have seared her in every movie-goers consciousness (ironically, she was married to David O Selznick). I wish she hadn't stopped acting in the 70s because she was one of the truly great actresses.

Here's a clip from The Song of Bernadette (she won an Oscar for her performance).

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Private Greek Marathon

Now that I can no longer afford cable, I'm watching more and more TV shows online, usually at IMDB, which gets feeds from The problem with that is, more often than not, there's usually some kind of time restriction and suddenly you get this notice that says you have ten days left to watch something like sixty episodes. This is what happened to me as I made my way through Greek, and now I have a long, long marathon ahead of me.

I'd been meaning to watch Greek for quite awhile; it'd been getting the kind of press that Glee gets now. But it's on ABC Family and, with dozens and dozens of cable networks, it's really hard to keep track of what's on when, especially because shows come and go on their own schedules. So I never really knew when Greek was on, just like it took me forever to figure out when and where Glee was on. This is something that shows are really going to have to figure out: how to effectively advertise their shows in the era of antenna/cable/digital/satellite/web/Google. Networks like ABC Family use their brand in that traditional way, hoping to attract viewers through similar programming. If you keep watching ABC Family, you'll always know the line-up and get posted on new shows. But that only works if you've drunk the Kool-Aid. If you're finding the Kool-Aid lukewarm, you find yourself watching less and less.

So back to Greek. Someone made such an enthusiastic recommendation, I made the supreme effort of looking for it online. I was really surprised by how good it is. At least episodes 1-5. After that, the episodes get kinda uneven. Greek is about life at a fictitious university as experienced by brother and sister Rusty and Casey. Episode 1 introduces us to Freshman Rusty, who's thinking of shaking up his life a little by joining a frat. Casey, the older sibling, is already part of an exclusive sorority and isn't too thrilled that her nerdy brother wants to be part of the same world. As you would expect from a show centering on a university, the cast of characters grow and grow, but the show stays true to the central theme: brotherhood/sisterhood. Again and again, the show wants you to understand what it means to create and strengthen bonds, whether through the Greek system or through dorm life or through biology. The show is very true to ABC Family, but it's also true to that fantasy we all have of this cool, amazing collegiate life where fun, witty people like Cappie exist and how your Greek sisters and brothers will stand by you, no matter how obnoxious you are or how gay, and how your roommate, no matter how ideologically different from you, will be there to support and guide you, and that college is the place where you are allowed to make mistakes so that you'll grow up to be stupendous people no matter what road in life you end up taking (unless your mistake is to rat on the Greek way of life).

That wasn't my collegiate experience, nor most of the people I know, but we all end up pretending that it was as we send yet another check to our old alma mater. And watching Greek, I certainly want to pretend that it was because it's such a lovely fantasy. In fact, Greek's version is so great, I want to go back in time and start life all over again — I mean, life just doesn't start until you enroll at Cyprus Rhodes. And I so want one of those cute ZBZ t-shirts.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Middle

I think I like The Middle a tad bit more than Modern Family. Even though eccentricities abound, The Middle isn't trying to be perverse or "wink, wink". While Modern Family has The Office as its idol, The Middle seems to be looking up to Malcolm in the Middle. Not only are the titles pretty much the same, but one of the kids, Atticus Shaffer, seems to be an imperfect clone of Erik Per Sullivan. Of course, The Middle is a much gentler version of Malcolm. The mom is sweet and earnest, played to perfection by Patricia Heaton, the children more normal. Although, the writers seem to be determined to have at least two abnormal, Aspergey kids: Sue is a clueless loser (literally a loser as she can't seem to get in on any reindeer games) and Brick is that weird kid in class you must avoid at all cost. Brick is so weird (just in case you don't get it), he whispers words to himself. Sorry, writers. That just ain't working. The whispering thing is so forced, it instantly reminds you that you are watching a TV sitcom instead of just enjoying yourself.

What does work is Eden Sher's Sue. I have to agree with everyone that Eden is a genius. In someone else's hands, Sue would be like Brick, totally unbelievable. But Eden makes Sue's defects so natural, so endearing, so real. And it's nice not to have a smart aleck teenager. I mean, Sue actually asks her mom for advice! She actually likes her mom!

I also like the writing. More often than not, the stories develop in an unexpected, fun way that keeps you on your toes. It's a mature kind of writing, written by people who aren't enamored by their own writing or feel obligated to do back flips off cliffs. They just know how to write and I really love the nimble way they avoid the usual sitcom pratfalls.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Modern Family

After watching about half the series, I'm still not sure what to think. Okay, it is one of the best shows on TV right now (The Good Wife is good; so is The Middle), but that's only because everything else is pretty much crap. And there are some brilliant moments, like the "I Want To Do You" song and the moment the gay couple describes bonding over Charades. And Ed O'Neill is as great as always, playing pretty much the straight man in the midst of a loony bin. And yet ... why is it so tedious? It's like they said, "Ohh, we like Arrested Development — and The Office — and Bernie Mac — let's do something like that!"

The worst tedium is the Phil character. Why is he so unrelentingly stupid? His stupidity is no longer a character trait but bad schtick.

Some bright spots: Ariel Winter's Alex (and yet they do very little with her), Rico Rodriguez's Cameron (I loved his tête-à-tête with the clueless mom, Claire) and Reid Ewing's Dylan (I hope they don't turn him into a Potzie).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Verizon Droid Ad


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Lee Soon Jae

Is Lee Soon Jae the best actor ever? I'm beginning to think so. I first noticed him in a Korean drama called Merchant of Choson. In this fascinating period piece about commerce where I learned more than I wanted to about Korean red ginseng, he played a mega evil CEO who'll do everything and anything to make a buck (he learns the error of his ways after being beaten to a pulp by Fate). He was pretty scary. So I couldn't believe it when I saw him in Mom's Dead Upset, playing the noble, gentle patriarch! At the moment I'm catching him on Yi San (playing a hard-ass king) and Beethoven Virus (playing a dapper oboist going through Alzheimer's).

He's pretty amazing in Beethoven Virus. The way he fights his illness, trying to find clarity by putting rough pebbles in his shoes, his denial and then slow descent into dementia, first traveling back in time, and then forgetting the self completely, even in the posture of his body.

It's not the kind of acting that's appreciated here in the US, where the cult of personality is everything. Famous actors play basically one character their whole careers and acting is just being able to pull out an emotion on cue. Cary Grant famously played Cary Grant, and you have to reach all the way into the early 1930s to see him as an actor. It's not really the actors' fault — after all, they're being paid to play that one act over and over again, with any variation rarely appreciated by a paying audience.* In other countries, actors are allowed to grow, cast sometimes in minor roles, allowed the freedom of acting on stage, film and TV. In Korea, it isn't surprising to see the same actor in two or three dramas a season. This is in part because most dramas end at a specified number of episodes. They don't keep going on and on and on, the duration dependent on ratings.

Below is a clip from the comedy High Kick, where Mr. Lee plays an irascible son-of-a-gun who makes life hell for his poor wife. Go to 6:20 for an example of his subtle comedic skills.

*One of my favorite US actors is Harriet Sansom Harris, most famous as Bebe in Frasier. She's so perfect as Bebe, you think that's just her. But then watch her as the blind president in the old Sci Fi series Space: Above and Beyond. I'll never forget the one speech she makes for why they must continue the war: absolutely chilling.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mylene et Son Garcon

Just when I think French TV has nothing to offer, I see Mylene et Son Garcon. Each episode is about a minute and a half of helium. You can take a look at the Canal+ site here.

I'm thinking this might become my favorite series.

Monday, October 12, 2009


ABC, please cancel this lame show so Nathan Fillion can go on to do better things.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mad Men, Season 3 Opener

The season opener was fairly quiet. We begin with Don's squalid birth, the scenes of his beginnings a phantasm around the present. But everything else is really business as usual, bland domestic life, office intrigue, sex wherever people can find it, London Fog the latest ad campaign. Still, I liked it. It seemed more like the first season, the dialog sharper, the melodrama of Don's past life less syrupy. I felt that in the second season, it wasn't just Don who was lost but the entire season. Here, in the season opener, all the old deftness comes back:

Don catches a glimpse of Salvatore's homosexuality through a hotel window. Salvatore is mortified and scared. On the long plane ride home, he waits in agony for Don to say something. Maybe not to him, but surely, to everyone else. Don understands. Especially about secret lives. He wants to reassure Salvatore, not as a friend, but as a fellow conspirator. So he gives Salvatore a warning in the guise of an ad campaign. London Fog. A man on a train, a girl dressed only in a short trench, the slogan "Limit your exposure." "Tell me honestly what you think," Don says, but of course, honesty is the last thing he wants from anyone. And certainly not a confession.

It's interesting that because of his secrets, Don is the most compassionate person on the show, guiding lost souls who lack his strength, like Peggy before she became Super Bitch, and now Salvatore. Will Salvatore fall in love with Don? Peggy didn't, but let's face it, she's more man than Salvatore.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Evil of Banality

This commercial for Baskin-Robbins is so evil. Within seconds, the song bores into your brain and takes complete control. You don't have a chance, your brain frantically dancing to the demonic chant "ice cream and cake, ice cream and cake...". Evil. And brilliant.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer Watchin'

At the moment, I'm not finding anything to love on terrestrial TV or cable. Well, except maybe Wipeout (I can't believe I just admitted that! — but nothing on TV makes me laugh as hard as seeing those poor people bounce from obstacle to obstacle in such an overly optimistic way — I mean, is this THE metaphor for life or what?). Okay, it is the summer season, but even at the height of ratings season, there wasn't much, was there?

So, what's a TV addict to do? Watch Asian dramas on the Internet! So far, here's what I can recommend.

Knock Knock Loving You (Taiwan): explores that perennial dilemma — do you chose the dull but cute guy who takes you for granted or the charismatic business shark who loves you for who you really are (even though you have like zero self-esteem)? Knock Knock is very cleverly written (if you don't count the last episode or two) with a great lead in Maggie Wu as Yao Zi Wang, a sharp-tongued business gal who just wants her daddy to love her!

Satomi Hakkenden (Japan): only for those of us who love stories about brotherhoods of knights and the black magic that tries to stop them. Lots of silly business about women who have to kill themselves for the greater good of mankind. And I do mean mankind. I just love the glamorous animae-inspired hairdos on the samurais though! Worth the whole movie. Spoiler alert! The great thing is that in the end, the villanesse of the story is rehabilitated in the afterworld and all her evil blamed on men! How about that, girls!

Hwang Jin Yi (Korea): fictionalized drama about the legendary courtesan, Hwang Jin Yi. The story itself is pretty silly, but I'm riveted by the performances of the head courtesans: Ha Ji Won (Hwang Jin Yi), Kim Young Ae (Yim Baek Moo), and especially Kim Bo Yun (Mae Hyang). And it's proving to be a good primer about Korean folk art. Also, for a TV series, it's absolutely gorgeously filmed. And the music is fantastic (what is it about Korean dramas? they have the best, most unforgettable theme music).

He Who Can't Marry (Korea): Korean remake of a highly popular Japanese series, it's the story about an obnoxious 40-something male who's finally humbled by love. I wasn't really sure about this one after the first episode, but it's really growing on me. I like the natural way all the relationships are forming, not just between lovers but female friends. The second episode was hilarious in the way it talked about the politics of eating alone at a restaurant (I've eaten alone at many a restaurant, in several different countries, and I have to agree with every one of their points! And I wish I was confident enough to eat alone at a grill!). And the setup is pretty funny too: slowly falling for the woman doctor who performed surgery on your hemorrhoids. I mean, after that, what more does a woman need to know about you, anyway?

BTW, Yang Ja Jeon plays mom — she also played granddad's sweet girlfriend on Mom's Dead Upset. The two performances are so spectacularly different, it took me four episodes to place her!

Joshi Deka (Japan): female detectives! I think that's what Joshi Deka means, and in the series, it's always used as a derogatory phrase. Anyway, it's all good fun, mostly because of Izumi Pinko. I could watch her in anything! (She's also in Satomi).

Antique Bakery (Korea): based on a Japanese manga and involves pastries, serial killers, kidnapping, blah, blah — just watch it! It's fun, with really cute camera and graphic work. Joo Ji Hoon, who played the sad prince in Goong, is the lead character — totally different performance — he's a bit louche with lots of physical comedy. Can't wait to see him in Love Kitchen.

Around 40 (Japan): 40-something women and their mid-life crises. This is a sweetheart of a series with so much heart! As a woman, whatever choice you make always seems to be the wrong one! Amami Yuki is so wonderful.

All of these shows are available on I can't believe how good the subtitles are, too! Much, much better than what you get on KBS or MBC. And sometimes with really good explanatory footnotes about language or culture. And usually from viewers who took the time to translate. I love the Internet!

If, Dear Reader, you have any other recommendations, please share! I'm still hungry!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Pride of Pyongyang

Some tales are just too strange to be true. Like how about the one where a mad North Korean dictator sends his minions to a small town in England and has them dismantle a brewery brick by brick so they can rebuild it in Pyongyang. Why? Because he's a mad dictator? And just what do you do after you've rebuilt the brewery and Thunderbirds are go? You make a commercial, of course.

Someone really has to make a movie about this. In the meanwhile, here's the commercial in all its cheesy, post famine glory.

Of course, I've never had the pleasure of watching North Korean TV, but somehow I never figured they'd have commercials. Which begs the question of who these ads are aimed at? Peoria? Because most North Koreans don't even own a TV. I mean, if they had money, they'd buy food. And are all their commercials like this, mind-control in psychedelic mode? Listen to those voices, echoing into the depth of your subconscious: aren't you dying for a beer now?

North Korea. On the one hand, they have nuclear weapons. On the other hand, now they have beer. I'm not sure which is more scary.

Here's a link to the BBC story, which is delivered with an earnestly straight face. I love how the Germans are involved. Well, if you're going to do beer, might as well go to the best.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Just when I'm about to give up on Reaper, a good episode hooks me again. Just when I think I'm out...

Let's face it, Reaper fans: this season has sucked. First there was that dreadful character Kristen and the ridiculous incest story. And then Nina: I so don't believe the Nina/Ben thing. The only time this season is working is when Ken Marino's Tony shows up, like tonight. The Way of Steve is absolutely brilliant, the clown strippers genius, and great throwaway lines all the way through. So, I'll watch next week, but Tony better be a big chunk of it. Ken Marino, you're fantastic!

Better Off Ted

Since the pilot, I've been faithfully watching Better Off Ted in hopes that something will finally click. Why isn't it clicking? Jay Harrington's Ted is likable, sexy, funny; Portia de Rossi does a perfect Veronica, deadpanned, dry, witty; the Tweedledum, Tweedledee scientists, Lem and Phil, get cuter and cuter; the stories are entertaining. And who doesn't love a show that skewers big business? So what's off?

I think there's something wrong with the way the actors are interacting. I'm not sure if they're not getting the right direction, or maybe they all hate each other, or the studio where they tape has some bad feng shui going on. I've seen better interaction in a cartoon — and there is something like a cartoon about this show, not just in the premise, but in the acting, like each actor taped his part on a different day and some guy in the editing room put all the pieces together.

It is an odd show, with an odd sense of humor (I like that). I was surprised it showed up on ABC — you'd really expect a show like this to be on cable. In a vague way, it's like The Middleman, and, now that I make that connection, has the same problems, although the actors on Ted are much better.

If this show gets a second season, I hope the producers get rid of Linda. Andrea Anders has NO chemistry with Jay Harrington, and her Linda is not likable or funny, even though all her lines scream "This character is likable and funny!"

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Learn Japanese! While dancing!

So you've been watching a lot of Japanese TV or maybe playing all those strange video games and now you want some native lingo — no problem! Watch this funky dance track from Genki Japan!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Boys Before Flowers, Reflections

I've made my way all the way up to episode 18 and I'm surprised by how each episode is slightly better than the last. Which is odd, because each episode is basically the same episode: Jan Di gets into trouble, Jan Di gets rescued, sometimes by Ji Hoo, sometimes by Jun Pyo (in Macao, she actually gets saved by a girl!). And while all this repetition is slightly irritating, I keep watching and enjoying myself because it's really like listening to a favorite song over and over and over again. Which, nonetheless, doesn't stop me from asking this question: how come a plucky girl who can deliver a death kick is always so helpless?

Ah, love triangles. Or love quadrangles? I think what makes Boys Before Flowers so fun is all the likable characters. Not just the main three or four, but every single daffy character, from Jan Di's know-it-all little brother to Jun Pyo's sister, the Charisma Queen. And each character has a heartbreaking story, sometimes implied like with the Charisma Queen, sometimes slowly developed like with Yi Jung. Even the flunkies are great. Like the Wicked Witch's henchman, who follows her orders but without losing compassion or heart. What a great moment that was, when Jun Pyo is in tears at the Macao airport, watching helplessly as the girl he loves goes off with his best friend, and the henchman holds and comforts him like an older brother. The witch has cast her spell and the prince is unable to speak or act, except alone or with her henchmen. I have to admit my heart broke a little when Ji Hoo gives Jan Di the shoes instead of Jun Pyo. Man, life sucks.

Granted, there isn't much depth or realism here but, at times, the show does get some things so right. Like that when you truly love someone, you find yourself doing unfathomably unselfish acts for your beloved, even at a great cost to you, even if your act will never be recognized or even misinterpreted, even if that act will hurt you. And it translates so well certain feelings, like that horrible, sick feeling you get when you see someone you love with somebody else and there's nothing you can do, not even hate the girl he's with because it's not really her fault and, gosh, she's awfully nice, so all you can do is grin and hope that no one notices that tears are welling up in your eyes, not even you.

I'm really glad they made Jan Di's rival a fun girl who's genuine about her love for Jun Pyo. Rich, nasty girl rivals are so last century.

Update: I've decided Lee Min Ho (Gu Jun Pyo) has the world's best smile. If there were a beauty contest based on smiles alone, he'd be the clear winner. Even when you can't see his eyes, you can see so much happiness in his smile, that deep, internal kind of pure emotion, almost without self. Whether this is just a quirk of his physical build up or a demonstration of his acting, who's to say? And his acting is pretty darn good in the role. With Lee Min Ho as selfish Gu Jun Pyo, you really do believe a sane girl would fall madly in love with him, rich or not. Go, Lee Min Ho! Fighting!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Boys Before Flowers

I'm watching the Korean TV adaptation of Boys Before Flowers, the grossly popular Japanese shojo manga* about a poor high school girl who gets entangled with four rich bullies, and I'm finding myself really having a fun time. There isn't much to the story—it's the typical Cinderella fairy tale, with one of the bullies being forced by the plot into becoming a prince charming—of course, only after the girl proves her worth by withstanding all his punishments. Sure it's total escape into lollipop land, but hey, after a month of total stress worrying about work and money, why not? More fun than an Ambien cocktail, almost as powerful as an endless prescription to Demerol.

And I really like the way the show's directors have totally embraced the shojo manga genre, cutely translating the facial expressions, the body positions, sound effects of the cartoons. I often wonder why Hollywood hasn't discovered and used shojo mangas the way the rest of Asia has. BBF would translate into any culture. But then, I suppose it begs the bigger question of why shojo mangas themselves haven't made it big in the US. My feeling is that it's simply a question of exposure. In the US, most people think comics are the territory of geeky boys who like fantasy adventures. There are, of course, very sophisticated adult cartoons like the Optic Nerve series by Adrian Tomine, but these comics are almost like secret societies and you usually have to hang around in comic stores to stumble across them. Things are very different in Asia. For instance, the Sweet Valley High series would never have been published there as a book—they'd be shojo mangas. If you've never been inside a Japanese book store, go inside the next time you see one, and head straight for the shojo manga section. Your head will spin at the miles and miles of colorful spines. And don't be afraid to peek inside the covers. Even if you don't speak Japanese, they're very amusing.

*Shojo mangas are Japanese comics aimed at teenage girls.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Friday Night Lights

I really enjoyed last night's episode of Friday Night Lights, "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall". At last, Joe McCoy showed his true inner spirit and it was ugly. We knew it was coming, but somehow I didn't expect the amazing quick intensity of the blowout.

FNL is one of my all-time favorite shows. Because of the writing, because of the acting. Nothing is over written, over played, over wrought, over acted, over explained. Like the build-up to control-freak McCoy's nuclear blast. Yes, the issue of his son's girlfriend was slowly driving him batty, but it's at the football game, with the rain, his son taking the coach's orders over his, the guy next to him calling his son a dumb ass for not running with the ball — which is exactly what McCoy wants the kid to do — McCoy's dual feelings of frustration at being unable to control his own kid against the anger and humiliation he feels at the way the guy is ridiculing his son — that's the background to the simmering anger in the car, why listening to his son talking to THAT girl on the cell phone, sounding like a complete love-sick idiot, has him using his own son as a punching bag.

I loved the camera work at the football game, the quick, flat volley of shots between McCoy, his wife, and the thug next to him. If he'd been a South Park dad, he'd have had a punch-up with the thug. But, no, he's a FNL dad, so he punches his kid instead.

Last night's episode also had a nice aside: finally, we see the chinks in Eric Taylor's shining armor. He isn't perfect after all. Of course, his Achilles' heel is football. Coach Taylor, how can you lie to your wife like that? Pretending you didn't know about the new screwball redistricting plans the Boosters came up with? And Tami, your husband is such a bad liar, how could you not notice he was lying? It's this sort of complex interplay between characters that makes FNL so unusual. You have average folks who sometimes do dumb things and sometimes do smart things. It's so close to life, people wanting to do the right thing but rarely having the vision to do so, getting even more confused by false ideals of glory and that perpetual human need to escape from the daily drudgery of self.

BTW, isn't Kyle Chandler great? I've been a big fan of his ever since Homefront. What a great casting call. He's so different from Billy Bob Thornton, who played the coach in the movie version, but so perfect in his own way. Charismatic and so believable as the perfect high school coach.

To see episodes of FNL, just go to the NBC site here.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Windy City Jumps the Shark

Okay, Windy City totally jumped the shark today with the whole loan shark business. The manager goes alone to a loan shark on company business? And gets beaten up? And is found by his mistress? Give me a break!

This hasn't been a great season of Korean dramas. So many started off well and went stupid or boring: My Precious You, The Iron Empress, Again My Love, Good Bye Solo. Even The Road Home has quickly become tedious and now I'm just left wondering who's going to get leukemia because someone always get leukemia in the Land of the Brain Dead Dramas (that horrible drama You Are My Destiny had two cases of leukemia!). I really had high hopes, too. But did we really need characters getting beat up by homosexual husbands and keeping pregnancies secret? And yet another rich brat? Again, My Love also seemed interesting, and then it just got hysterical, just like My Precious You. Even the acting is just too much. About five years ago, the height of bad acting in the US was that clenching of the jaw — yes, every time a character got angry, the actor clenched his or her jaws like some kind of pantomime. Now, in Korean dramas, any time a character gets angry, it's that camera shot of him or her clenching the fist into a tight little ball of fury. Don't the producers think the music is enough anymore? Because it used to be that every time someone got angry on screen, the angry music came on. Or the lust music or the sad music. Windy City is the worst offender in the music category. Like the romance between the manager and his young, pathetic subordinate isn't gross enough, they have to go and add that nauseating music on top of it. Ughhhhh!

Now my rant is over, I should mention two dramas that I think are working. Both, interestingly enough, take place in the last century, My Dad Loves Trouble and Splendor of Youth. The backdrop of My Dad Loves Trouble is the Korean War, but it's not about war at all. It's not even a drama but a comedy, about a young girl who has the most obnoxious, irresponsible dad in the world. How can you love a dad who only cares about himself, abandoning you and your family in the middle of a war so he can go off and have a good time? The girl decides you can't, until her father does something pretty splendid to regain her faith. Splendor of Youth is a drama and is much harder to encapsulate. It takes place in the 60s, in a small town, focusing on several families who are bound together by a rivalry between bus companies. Most of the central characters are young, thus the title, but the drama isn't Gossip Girl. Family is really its interest. And while there are rich girls being bratty, the characters are a tad more rounded than the typical dramas, so the stories more interesting. There's even gender exploration, girls beating up thugs, boys sewing clothes for girls. All in the 60s!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What's With the Subtitles on Windy City?

There's really nothing too remarkable about the Korean drama Windy City. It's a nice soap opera about a bunch of unhappy people becoming even more unhappy. In fact, the only thing that stands out for me is how really, really bad the English subtitles are, even for a Korean drama. I thought the subtitles at Arirang TV were bad, but nothing like what I'm seeing on Windy City.

Now, I can forgive the occasional proposition error like using "for" instead of "to". You have to be a native speaker to get the nuances of propositions. Propositions are so cultural and never make sense. But outright stuff, stuff that looks like it was spat out by some computer program, is just not right. Examples:

"She's going to hit the buyers at their 20s with the outfit."
"It was senseless of me to rain abuse."
"It still has lots of memories." (This is in reference to the memory card on a digital camera. Although, I have to admit, I thought this mistake was kinda cute.)
"We're going to take photos of yours." (For "We're going to take pictures of you.")
"You're such a counterfeit."

When things get really laughable is when Windy City tries to be hip and use slang. Like using "got" inappropriately.

"You still got a cold." (This from an elderly lady. Even senior managers end up sounding like home boys, saying things like "I got my lunch".)

My favorite was when an elderly parent called his son a prick. The insult was unintentional, let me tell you.

And the translators seem to be completely unaware of how to deal with pairs and couples. Like whenever they have to talk about a couple, they end up with something really mangled like "the Jeongmi and Wook-Hyun Seo couple" when they should have simply said, "the Seos". I mean, that has to be coming from a software program. A really bad software program.

I've never really understood why Koreans are so sloppy about subtitles and translations in general. Even products shipped to the US have the worst translations. Before the economic collapse, there was all this talk about the Korean Wave and how Korea was going to push its food and culture around the world. Well, if you can't get the small details right, like language, you're just going to end up looking like a joke. Try substance over hip, the basics over slang. It's stupid how many times I've seen Korean dramas misuse "my bad". Look, "my bad" is complete slang used by a small population of people, usually for comic effect. It is not appropriate coming out of an elderly patriarch during a sobering apology! Unless the elderly patriarch is an alien played by a muppet!

Come on, Korea! Get your act together!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is Dollhouse This Century's Charlie's Angeles?

So I keep watching Dollhouse, hoping against hope it's going to get better, and this thought pops up: Am I the only one who's thinking Dollhouse is just Charlie's Angels with a sicko twist? You just know sooner or later, there's going to be a female prison episode with towels, showers and delousing. At least Charlie's Angels was tongue-in-cheek fun.

So is this post-post-post feminism?

BTW, just found out we already know who Alpha is without knowing who Alpha is. My bet? Paul seems to be the obvious choice. Just because he's not obvious. I mean, the show has no wit.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Asian Historical Dramas

At the moment, I'm enjoying two Asian historical dramas, the Japanese drama Tenchijin and the Korean drama The Iron Empress (these links have trailers). They're such interesting compare-and-contrasts. Both center on real historical figures, samurai Naoe Tenchijin of the Takagawa period and Empress Chun Chu of the Goryeo period. Both are so leaden with historical facts and personages that it's too hard to even remember the central characters names much less what's really going on (it doesn't help that the central characters' names keep changing). Both speed ahead pretty quickly, too, the characters going from youth to mature characters within a couple of episodes (presumably, we'll see them die [I'm still watching the early episodes]). But somehow, I think Tenchijin works better as a drama. Mostly because the story sticks pretty firmly with Tenchijin's development. The Iron Empress seems more lost, following a variety of historic people in an effort to be epic*. And it has that problem so many Korean historical dramas have, that persistent need to show endless discussions among competing factions, a clumsy way of explaining background plot which only drowns the story. If I had my way, I'd put Korean screenwriters in a room and make them watch endless hours of The Sopranos. ;)

I also wonder if Tenchijin doesn't work better because it's drawn from the novel by Masashi Hisaka. There was already a compelling construct for the scriptwriters to work with. Whereas The Iron Empress seems to have been the brain child of a director desperate for new subject matter to sacrifice at the temple of Light Entertainment. Thus a dubious attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of Empress Chun Chu. Apparently (and this is from a preview show) Chosun scholars liked to portray Chun Chu as a greedy, lascivious bitch (she had one long-term lover, for god's sake [and only after her husband had died]). But that's Chosun men for you, with their silly Victorian penchant for liking their women mute and long-suffering (god forbid they should own anything, like a personality). It also didn't help that Chun Chu was pretty anti-Confucian, but what sane woman wouldn't be? In any case, there isn't a great deal of historical data on the poor woman, from what I understand, so the screenwriters were pretty free to create whatever they wanted. And what they came up with is a warrior empress with a heart of gold. Which is okay with me. Only did they have to insert all that ridiculous Hong Kong-inspired martial arts crap?

Tenchijin and The Iron Empress are blessed with some pretty outstanding actors. The child Tenchijin is played by the most adorable, beautiful child, Seishiro Kato. He breaks your heart with his pouts and tears. And Lord Kenshin Uesugi is played by the amazing, charismatic Hiroshi Abe, who really does seem like the living, walking embodiment of a war god (I am so in love with him, and I don't even like Alpha males!). Over at The Iron Empress, Ban Hyo Jung plays Chun Chu's regal and scary grandmother, the Queen Mother Shin Jung Hwang. Ban Hyo Jung was a fantastic choice. She can out regal even Hiroshi Abe. Was she born with all that gravitas? Just hearing her voice, you jump to attention. I imagine the devil must be just like her because no matter what she's plotting, she draws you in with magnetic warmth and you can't help loving her.

*I'd like to point out that Gone With the Wind only had a handful of characters.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Favorite TV Couples

There have been some great TV couples throughout its relatively short history. Like Buffy and Spike (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer). I loved the way they went from deadly enemies to "it's complicated". I loved the way Spike adored Buffy, even in the face of her absolute revulsion. OK. Sometimes he went a little too far. Like when he bought an android version of her. But he learned his lesson: a vapid version of Buffy isn't much of a turn on. And, hey, in the face of unrequited love, people get desperate. Even vampires, apparently. What I loved most was what happened in the last season, Spike being taken prisoner, tortured and taunted daily, and yet, never losing faith, never doubting that Buffy would come for him. And that moment when Buffy does finally rescue him ... ahhhh.... sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words ... in Spike's eyes, there are emotions that I don't think can ever be captured in words. I guess I'm too much in the school of Schopenhauer here.

While I loved Buffy and Spike, I think I might love 3rd Rock From the Sun's Don and Sally even more. They're so hot together, dancing the film noir, toying with the cop cliches, sexual tensions building and building until they erupt—sometimes in bizarre ways, like playing with the siren on Don's police car. I love the way Sally only sees the best in Don, making him feel like he's won the jackpot. I love the way Don can't believe a hot girl wants him, feeling a little sheepish because he's sure that somehow he's hoodwinked her and eventually, she's going to find him out. I love how tender his love is. I love the way he gets this nervous "okay, this is a little weird" look in his eyes when Sally acts totally alien, but decides, "hey, it's part of the package so I'm going to go with it". What more is there to love?

Monday, February 16, 2009


I'm liking Privileged more and more as the weeks go by. The writing is surprisingly sophisticated and the acting pretty darn good. And I love the formula: the big, heart-felt emotions dipped in colorful fondant. You take a bite, expecting momentary delight — when you find yourself with a sustaining meal, it's a nice surprise. I hope they can keep it up.

CW seems to specialize in breezy concoctions that deliver more than you expect. It's the sort of thing Ugly Betty tries for but fails at, week after week after week. And yet who gets all the press? All the Emmys? I can't wait for Reaper, another CW show. That's starting the first week of March. Something to look forward to!

Saturday, February 14, 2009


When I first heard the premise for Joss Whedon's Dollhouse, I was really, really scared. After having watched the premiere, I'm still really, really scared. The uber-secret Dollhouse is a place where nubile young girls are taken to have their personalities stripped and their bodies super-toned. Why? So the girls can become Stepford Agents, of course. Let's say you're super rich and you want a hot girl who's really into bondage and likes to race motorcycles and dance in really, really short dresses and who'll fall in love with you just for your birthday — who you gonna call? Let's say your little girl's been kidnapped by really, really bad dudes — who you gonna call? Yeah, yeah.

Whedon has taken the River aspect from Firefly, added prostitution and, well, we're off. A bit too much Joe 90 for me, but then poor Joe didn't have sex forced on him. I have to give that to his dear ol' dad, child abuser that he was. Didn't the government ever give him a pamphlet on child work laws?

Anyway, the first episode was a real mess, too much being included at once in a too J.J. Abrams influenced fashion, strands thrown in here and there. I suspect the first episode was really three episodes all cut up and smashed together to satisfy Fox (Fox apparently demanded mucho changes). The main subject of the series is Echo (Eliza Dushku, Whedon's muse). She's the newest doll, escaping from a dubious past that the writers will or will not reveal to us in the future. And then there's Paul, Helo from Battlestar Galactica (Tahmoh Penikett), who's a government agent; he's off on his own strand trying to find Echo. In the middle of all this, Echo is doing a Mission Impossible stint trying to rescue a girl from her bad kidnappers who are also child molesters who also molested "Echo" only not "Echo" but one of the personalities downloaded to Echo — the personality has asthma as a result and blows the mission because she gets asthma because she recognizes a kidnapper ... which is a step up from Echo's last mission as a real inflatable sex doll. Thrown in is all the "what are we doing to these girls" angst, reinfoced by Helo trying to bring down Russian mobsters who import girls for the sex trade. See what I mean?

Of course the madam of the Dollhouse is an older woman, played by Olivia Williams, a Brit. God forbid that an American woman would ever become a madam. In the olden days it would have been a Caucasian playing a Chinese with chopsticks in her hair and really, really long red varnished nails. (Okay, I'm a sucker for Thoroughly Modern Millie.)

In the end, what I really found disheartening was the writing. It was bad. Anyone could have written the script. Not what you expect from Whedon at all. I'm hoping this is just stretch marks as Whedon expands and deepens his writing skills. After all, witty adolescent banter only gets you so far. Going deeper produces greater works, i.e. Persuasion from Pride and Prejudice. But if it's not ... :(
Some nice touches? Well, Whedon's brought back Amy Acker (Angel). She plays the in-house doctor — what's with all the bad scars on her face, we're supposed to ask. And Katya Kinski (Dichen Lachman) from Neighbours has morphed into a doll! She looks pretty hot with a semi automatic. Go, Katya. Only, don't get too excited and use the semi on Susan.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Nouvelle Vague

I'm talking about the French band. Their music is everywhere. In movies, ads, TV shows, runways, and yet, not too many people know who they are. Nouvelle Vague music is even featured in Korean dramas ("(This Is Not a) Love Song" is the anthem for Soulmate).

Maybe because Nouvelle Vague remakes old songs like "Dance With Me" and "Too Drunk to Fuck". Maybe because their music is so laid back that they merge seamlessly with whatever they're paired with. Maybe because their covers are more mood than music so it goes directly into the subconscious. I don't know. But I do love their covers: "I Melt With You", "Making Plans For Nigel", "Human Fly"...

nouvelle vague with me .... from bande a part

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Can Korean Dramas Make an Impact in the US?

I was delighted to find out that the "Mom's Dead Upset" entry was recently mentioned in a book review at The Learned Fangirl blog. One of the books Fangirl reviewed was Mark James Russell's Pop Goes Korea and TV Kitty gets involved when Fangirl questions Russell's statement "Korean television also travels poorly to the West, coming across as histrionic soap operas. … But for people used to C.S.I. and The Sopranos, there are only so many stories of separated twins and dying lost loves that one can take."

Fangirl points out that more and more US audiences are being attracted to these "histrionic" shows. That got me thinking and I'd like to bring out some more points. Korean soaps and dramas do tend to strangle themselves with the same bag of tricks: orphans, incest issues (mainly the cultural ban on in-laws marrying in-laws), obsessive love, poor girls marrying rich boys, rich girls making poor girls miserable, the mother-in-law from hell, etc (did I mention orphans?). But US soaps and dramas have their own bag of tricks, so nothing new there. And, if you've been watching the latest wave of Korean shows, you'll see that even Koreans are getting sick of those cliches. One of the reasons I loved Mom's Dead Upset was precisely because it wasn't the usual Korean drama. And the same can be said of so many of the latest popular Korean dramas and comedies: Princess Diaries, a.k.a Goong (a wonderfully imaginative story that asks "what if the Korean royal family were still around?", adapted from a comic book), Women of the Sun, Couple or Trouble (a remake of the US movie Overboard, but so much better), Windy City, etc. There's even Worlds Within (a dramedy about the Korean TV drama factory) which basically pleads with all its heart for more innovative Korean dramas. The Korean TV industry is in the middle of a huge creative drive, probably inspired by the drive in the Korean film industry.

But going back to Mr. Russell's statement, I find there's something very basic that he's not getting. He mentions CSI and Sopranos and how that's changed the viewing tastes of Americans. I'd dispute that. I'm always surprised by how popular shows like Brothers and Sisters and Two and a Half Men are. Nothing innovative about these shows. Brothers and Sisters could have been made in the 70s — just replace the gay relationships with interfaith or something. And what about Privileged? Poor girl, abandoned when young by mom, gets job tutoring rich girls and falls in love with a rich guy. Gee, sounds like a Korean show. Her mom even defrauds the rich guy — a classic Korean plot device (what's a Korean show without someone running away with a chunk of cash). Also, aren't shows like CSI and Sopranos mostly watched by men? And as a man, isn't Russell completely dismissing the female demographic? Just like Hollywood has historically done to its detriment? Korean TV dramas and comedies attract women viewers. Winter Sonata was hugely popular with women all across Asia. And if you go into US message boards about Korean dramas, it'll be mostly women posting. Guns, blood, dead bodies and slick who-done-its are the kitsch of men. Long lost loves, torn families, Cinderella stories are the kitsch of women. Go figure.

And I'll tell you one thing I like about Korean shows versus American shows: there's this unabashed, uncynical love of sentimentality. These shows say there's nothing wrong with wearing your heart on your sleeve. And how wonderful is that?