Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Born Standing Up by Steve Martin
I was introduced to comedy by my father. I can honestly say I got my sense of humour from him, and I am eternally grateful for that. He was a connoisseur of off-the-wall comedy, showing me my first Monty Python sketch when I was 7, playing me records of Beyond the Fringe shows when I was 6, and first playing me Steve Martin's "King Tut" when I was 5. I still remember how wacky that song was: "Born in Arizona but he moved to Babylonia... born in Arizona, had a condo made of stone-a, KING TUT!" My brother and I thought the song was awesome. (That and the more obscure "Basketball Jones" by Cheech and Chong that Dad would play us all the time, complete with the George Harrison guitar solo in the middle... I think I was 9 before we discovered one day when our parents weren't in the room that there were FAR racier tracks on that record.) My mom, meanwhile, would roll her eyes at And Now For Something Completely Different while my brother, dad and I would be laughing so hard we were crying, and she couldn't understand what we saw in any of this.

So naturally, when I heard Steve Martin had written his biography, I bought the book for Dad for Christmas. And because I was going on about it all the time, my husband bought it for me. I just read it, and it's one of the most fascinating memoirs I've ever read, mostly because of the tone of it.

Steve Martin is, simply, a terrific writer. His talent stretches beyond writing crazy hilarious films like The Jerk and one of my all-time favourites, Bowfinger. I've never read Shopgirl, but by all accounts it's amazing (I was halfway through Born Standing Up when I went out and bought it, and that's next on my reading list). The guy's been in show business for 40 years, and one would think his biography would be a 600-page brick. But instead it's a slim volume, quick read, and very succinct. The tone throughout is very matter-of-fact, simply stating the facts and moving quickly through his years, stopping at The Jerk. He tells us how he got his start in showbiz by being a ticket-taker at Disney World, followed by working in the gift shop where he would show off the magic tricks. His magic became his thing, and he began incorporating some comedy into it, and then comedy became the main instigator. About 4/5 through the book he's still playing tiny clubs and giving himself one more year to "make it" before swearing he'll throw in the towel, when he suddenly finds himself the biggest draw in the country.

One theme repeated throughout the book is his difficult relationship with his father. No matter how successful he becomes, his father never seems to be proud of him, and he keeps coming back to that. He talks about playing clubs, and his father saying he's not funny. He mentions being on SNL, and his father actually writing a bad review of the show in the company newsletter (!). Eventually, as a writer, Martin sees this theme as one that must be resolved, and he does so right near the end of the book.

Like most people who have work in the public eye, he remembers every word of every bad review, and glosses over the good ones. He recalls every screw-up onstage, but he also references some of his funnier bits. There were moments in the book where I was laughing out loud, and other times where I was cringing. He doesn't get so far in his life as to talk about his masterpieces, like Planes, Trains and Automobiles ("You're going the wrong way!!" "How does he know which way we're going?"); Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Ruprecht the Monkey Boy is still one of my all-time favourite moments in a film); or Bowfinger, that movie that I can pretty much quote from beginning to end, and the one that made all of us go, "Oh my god, he's still got it! So why the HELL is he doing crap like Cheaper by the Dozen II?"

Maybe it's because of that perception that he stays away from his later career. This is a guy who never did well in high school, yet has developed such a mastery in creative writing that I could see him writing a lot more fiction in the future. He talks about discussions he has with friends about the differences between psychoanalysis and art, or reading articles about social history in journals. The guy is so smart, and that's what sets him apart from other Hollywood entertainers, or memoir writers.

This is an amazing book, full of wit, nostalgia, love, and just a little regret. I'd recommend it to anyone who's a fan of Steve Martin, or off-the-wall comedy, or Hollywood in general.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: HOLY FRAK!!
My PVR somehow pooped out on me last week, and when I sat down to watch BSG on Sunday morning, it read "Battlestar Galactica -- 0:00." Awesome. Luckily, I know someone who was able to get me the episode (BSG eps are next to impossible to download), and now I can watch the rest of the season.

But nothing prepared me for these two episodes. WHOA. (Please stop reading now if you haven't yet seen episodes 3 and 4.)

Last week's episode, "The Ties That Bind," is one that will haunt me for a long time. Cally has noticed a change in her husband, and she's starting to go bonkers. Their constantly crying baby is, well, constantly crying, and Tyrol is on call 24/7... when he's not having private meetings with Tigh and Tory. She mistakenly interprets Tyrol's emotional distance and physical absence as him having an affair with Tory, and follows him one night, only to overhear a conversation he's having with his fellow two Cylons where they admit that's what they are. She races back to their quarters, where Tyrol soon returns, and she clocks him with a wrench in a very brutal scene, grabs the baby, and heads to an airlock. At this point I was holding my breath. Cally has a hatred of Cylons unmatched in anyone except maybe Tigh, and the thought of sleeping with one, and giving birth to a half-Cylon child is too much for her. Just as she's about to commit her murder/suicide, Tory catches her, and kindly convinces her she'll be okay. She tells Cally to hand over the baby so the two of them can return to the quarters and talk about it, and when Cally falls for it, Tory knocks her back so hard her head hits one of the rails, and Tory leaves with the baby, closes the airlock, and -- horrors -- shoots Cally off the ship. In a pseudo-2001 moment, we see a close-up of Cally's face, frozen and dead. It was horrifying.

The last thing Tyrol remembers is her trying to kill him with a wrench, so on this week's episode, he goes on a rampage about what a horrible person she was, and how he'd settled for Cally anyway, preferring Boomer, whom he wasn't allowed to have. Tory's stepped up the evil, Tyrol is making "mistakes" and isn't sure if he's subconsciously doing it on purpose, and Tigh is visiting with Six and hallucinating that she's his wife.

So here's my question: Do you think something has been triggered in the new four Cylons that is suddenly making them evil? Or did they have it in them all along and now they're giving in to it? Or, have they spent their lives believing that Cylons are evil, and now that they are Cylons, they are simply acting out, subconsciously assuming this is how they're supposed to act? I'm thinking the third... after all, isn't the series about how we perceive a race of beings to be evil, when in fact we're no different? The scene where Six holds out her arms to show Tigh that she has blood and veins just like anyone else was particularly poignant.

Meanwhile, Baltar has his own cult of worshipers, and Roslin is attempting to have their gatherings suppressed. Apollo, smarting after a bit of verbal abruptness on the part of the president (when he praises her in front of the others, she tells him she doesn't need his approval), has decided to side with Zarek and challenge her at every turn. Who is right? Should Roslin be trying to suppress Baltar's cult? After all, she's saying it's just this one-time-deal, but isn't that how these things get started, and the next thing you know, freedom of speech is out the window? I love when the show presents these moral conundrums.

The funniest thing so far this season was in this week's episode, when Six is trying to get Baltar to challenge the guards to prove his point and become a martyr to his cause, and he's begging her out loud to let him stay on the ground. When she picks him up, so his shoulders are raised and his feet are barely touching the ground, all anyone sees is him, not Six actually doing the lifting, the result was hilarious.

Roslin and Adama are growing ever-closer, as he's reading to her while she's taking her chemotherapy treatments. And Starbuck seems to be on the edge, simply raising everyone's suspicions that she's a Cylon. But because Sam is already one, who is he to judge? Therefore, he fraks instead.

I love this show.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ugly Betty: The Problem with Henry
This week marked the return of Ugly Betty. I've thought in many ways that this season was superior to the first, with better storylines and a lot more laughs (most of them, as usual, care of Marc). But this week's episode was just too much for me to handle... Henry Grubstick, the guy who seemed so perfect in the beginning, has become a serious problem for me.

Let me preface all of this by saying I know this show is a telenovella, that it's meant to be soapy and crazy, etc. etc. and that generally I see it all as good fun and nothing more. But this point is still irking me, so here goes.

Last season, Henry's girlfriend Charlie showed up, and of course we all just wanted her to go away so Henry and Betty could be together. At the end of the season, Charlie announced she was pregnant, and the baby was Henry's. There's a lot of evidence to suggest that the baby is most definitely not Henry's, but he doesn't know that, and as far as he's concerned, it's his. He's decided he's going to be there for his baby... as soon as it's born, and not a moment sooner.

But here's the problem: she goes away during the pregnancy, leaving Henry with Betty, where they plan to have a whirlwind affair until the baby comes, at which time they must say good-bye to each other and he'll go become a daddy. Sounds romantic, except: Charlie knows this. Henry isn't hiding it from her.

In this week's episode, Charlie shows up again, pregnant out to here, and everyone goes nuts. Her presence means Henry and Betty can't go out for her birthday date, and Hilda shows up to threaten Charlie that she'll basically gouge out her eyes with her fingernails if she ruins the last month or so that Betty has with Henry. HUH?! Hasn't anyone even once considered what this ridiculous arrangement will do to his future child? Yes, we all know that it's not his, but HENRY DOES NOT KNOW THIS. He's "doing the right thing" by his kid by staying in the picture. Why? So he can denigrate the baby's mother every day? Perhaps start drinking and go on drunken shouting matches telling Charlie she ruined his life by having the kid, and he wanted to be with Betty? Perhaps continuing the affair and being nothing but rude to Charlie? The baby will be taking this in every day.

Charlie's a manipulative little so-and-so, but this baby is innocent in all of this. If Henry wants to "do right by him," he will help him out financially, but not be in the baby's life, and therefore not remind him every day that he despises the baby's mother. I was disgusted in the scene where he's leaving the message on Betty's cell and saying, "I think Charlie was exaggerating her condition. I LOVE YOU, Betty," while Charlie is lying on the couch next to him. The woman is pregnant, and Henry, assuming she's carrying his child, is leaving her to deal with it herself, not showing any interest whatsoever in his child, but saying he's "doing the right thing" by staying in the child's life.

I think the only way he could do the right thing at this point is to get OUT of the child's life, and offer Charlie some financial assistance.

And while he's at it, get out of Betty's life so she can be with Gio. :)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lost: 4.09 “The Shape of Things to Come”

Mental note: When playing with Ben, don’t change the rules.

Episode Recap:
Whoa. I feel like I just ran a marathon watching that episode. If this one doesn’t spark discussion, nothing will. What a provocative return! Keamy and the freighter folk turn out to be cold-blooded assassins, the freighter doc is dead, Claire almost dies, Jack’s got an upset tummy, the freighter knows nothing about the dead doctor, Sayid gets married (to Nadia! Sniffle...), Smokey makes his triumphant return... and we see what happens when you take away the loved ones of Ben and Sayid. Whew!!

“On Top of Old Smokey! All Covered in Rage...”
Without a doubt, the most amazing visual effect of the season is the return of Old Smokey, who hurtles into the camp like a gigantic angry pitbull to exact some serious revenge. So what the heck happened there? Ben insinuates that Jacob was the one who summoned the smoke monster, but we saw Ben enter an underground lair that looked very sarcophagal (yes, I just made that word up) and the next thing you know, he goes all medieval on their asses.

Damon and Carlton have said that with every appearance of the smoke monster, we learn more about it. It seems to attack the believers, like Eko and Locke. It allowed itself to be seen by Charlie, also a religious type. It can be scared away by sudden attacks like dynamite or the sonic fence, yet in this episode it runs headlong into battle and isn’t scared off by the machine guns at all. It can be called forth by someone, as it clearly was here... does that mean Jacob or Ben called it forth to kill Eko and the pilot? Who made it chase Juliet and Kate? Does it ever act of its own accord? Is the smoke monster the key between the true island believers – Jacob and Ben – and the ones who THINK they are – Locke and Eko?

• Ben overpowering the two Arabs.
• Sawyer referring to Rousseau, Karl, and Alex as “Frenchie and the Kids.”
• The look on Miles’ face when Ben tells him he won’t be collecting the $3.2 million.
• Ben “saying goodbye” to Alex... a rare moment of tenderness from him.
• Sawyer threatening Locke if he touches one curly hair on Hurley’s head. We’ve come a long way from Sawyer calling Hurley cruel nicknames.

Biggest “GASP!” Moments:
• Sayid and Nadia were married!! I hope we see more of what happened here, because that has got to be one of the saddest stories on the show yet. Poor Sayid... no wonder he seemed like an empty shell in “The Economist.”
• Keamy shooting Alex in the head. The moment is so heartbreaking because of the final words Alex hears Ben say: that she’s not his daughter, she’s just a pawn, and she means nothing to him.
• The final scene between Ben and Widmore. ACK! Does this mean we’ll see Desmond in the future when Ben begins hunting Penny?? I hope so!! (Desmond could have made it off the island, but wouldn’t be one of the Oceanic Six because he wasn’t on the plane.)

Hurley’s Numbers:
The code on the sonic fence is 1623. Sayid says he searched for Nadia for 8 years. Ben tells the concierge that he’s here to see Mr. And Mrs. Kendrick in 4E. The date in Ben’s flashforward is October 24 (reverse 42).

Did You Notice?:
• The title of this episode is from a novel by H.G. Wells. From Wikipedia (and therefore true):
The Shape of Things to Come is a work of science fiction by H. G. Wells, published in 1933, which speculates on future events from 1933 until the year 2106. It is not a novel, but rather a fictional history book or chronicle, similar in style to Star Maker and Last and First Men, both by Olaf Stapledon. Wells' book also shared with Stapledon's an understanding of the change wrought in the nature of war by the development of air power; both writers included harrowing depictions of cities destroyed in aerial bombardments, which proved an all too accurate prediction of what was to happen in the actual second World War.
Wells creates a framing device by claiming that the book is his edited version of notes written by an eminent diplomat, Dr Philip Raven, who had been having dream visions of a history textbook published in 2106, and wrote down what he could remember of it.
The book is dominated by Wells's belief in a world state as the solution to mankind's problems. Wells successfully predicted the Second World War, although he envisaged it dragging on into the 1960s, being finally ended only by a devastating plague that almost destroys civilisation. Wells then envisages a benevolent dictatorship - 'The Dictatorship of the Air' (a term obviously modeled on 'The Dictatorship of the proletariat') - arising from the controllers of the world's surviving transportation systems (the only people with global power). This dictatorship promotes science,
enforces Basic English as a global lingua franca, and eradicates all religion, setting the world on the route to a peaceful utopia. When the dictatorship finds it necessary to kill political opponents, the condemned persons are given a chance to emulate the ancient philosophers Socrates and Seneca and take a poison tablet in a congenial environment of their choice.
Eventually, after a century of re-shaping humanity, the dictatorship is overthrown in a completely bloodless coup, the former rulers are sent into a very honourable retirement, and the world state "withers away" as was predicted by Marx. The last part of the book is a detailed description of the Utopian world which emerges, in some way reminiscent of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward.
• Ben is playing Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in C# Minor, but not the way one should play it... it’s supposed to be loud and bombastic. (Ok, that probably had nothing to do with the episode, but it’s one of my favourite pieces, and I found it a son of a bitch to play.)
• We FINALLY get a calendar date on one of the flashforwards: October 24, 2005. That’s ten months after the events we’re watching now.
• Daniel saying he could construct a telegraph with strips of metal, a 9-volt battery clip and some wiring makes him come off like the Professor on Gilligan’s Island. I suppose next he’ll be constructing nuclear bombs out of coconuts and mangoes.
• I mentioned in an earlier column that Ben’s identity on his passport, Dean Moriarty, is the name of the main character of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Moriarty is also the name of Sherlock Holmes’ arch-nemesis, which is probably a more likely connection here.
• Nadia’s assassin is named Ishmael Bakir. Ishmael is the name of the main character in Moby Dick, who begins as an important character involved in the action, and eventually just becomes a narrator who’s not really part of it. Ishmael is also the name of one of Abraham’s sons, and is the dividing point between Islam and Judeo-Christian religions: Muslims believe that Ishmael was Abraham’s eldest son and therefore the true heir, while the Jewish religion believes Isaac to be the true heir.
• There were flashes in Smokey; I wonder if they were images of what just happened? Screencaps in the next few days will say for sure.

So Many Questions...
• So are Rousseau and Karl dead? If I had to make a bet, I’d say Karl is, Rousseau isn’t.
• I’ve mentioned a couple of times before that no one on the island ever seems to get sick – no colds, no flus, nothing like that – so what is the significance of Jack’s “stomach bug”? What medicine was he REALLY taking? (You don’t take antibiotics for a stomach bug.) What’s wrong with him?
• Are we meant to assume some sort of connection between the freighter doctor dying and Jack feeling ill?
• Hurley, playing Risk, says Australia is the key to the whole game. Is that a comment on the plot? Australia IS where the plane took off, after all.
• How the hell did Ben end up where he was? He’s all shaky and freaky... did he just teleport there or something? From another place? From another time? What’s with the Dharma jacket?
• The freighter folk shoot every single person with one bullet who runs outside near Sawyer. Yet despite him running around in broad sight, they don’t kill him with a single one of the dozens of bullets that come flying at him. Were they missing on purpose?
• The woman at the Tunisian hotel takes pause when she sees Ben’s name in the register... why? What are Ben’s ties to Tunisia? He travels to Iraq to find Sayid, so the stopover in Tunisia didn’t seem to have any immediate significance... but we know nothing is by accident on this show, so there must be a reason they had him appear there in the first place.
• How were Nadia and Sayid reunited? Why was she murdered?
• What was Keamy doing as a mercenary in Uganda?
• What does Ben mean when he says Widmore changed the rules?
• What did the freighter person mean when they said the doctor was fine? Are they lying? Are they telling the truth? Are there two different time periods overlapping now, with the doctor simultaneously being fine on the freighter but dead on the island?
• In “The Beginning of the End,” Hurley tells Jack in the flashforward that he never should have gone with Locke. Did he mean it was a mistake to have followed Locke in the first place, or it was a mistake to have gone with him later? Presumably, the worst is yet to come.
• Does anyone else find Widmore’s accent terrible now that they’ve seen the actor on Ugly Betty using an American one?
• Widmore says he’s been drinking whisky since the nightmares started. Nightmares about what?
• There’s a LOT more to the conversation between Widmore and Ben than meets the eye. Widmore says that Ben killed Alex, and that he knows who and what Ben is. He says he took everything from Widmore. Ben says that they both know Ben can’t kill him. What’s that about?
• Is Penelope on Sayid’s hit list, or is Ben keeping her death for himself?

That Final Scene
WIDMORE: That island’s mine, Benjamin. It always was, it will be again.
BEN: But you’ll never find it.
WIDMORE: Then I suppose the hunt is on for both of us.

What does this scene mean? Ben says two or three times in the episode that “he’s changed the rules,” and he seems adamant that Widmore has crossed a line when he killed Alex, as if all the deaths we saw before were just pretend. What is going on here? Does this series owe something to that movie, The Game? In it, life becomes an elaborate game with various sides upping the ante until the big ending. (If you haven’t seen that movie, rent it; it’s brilliant.) Could Widmore and Ben be playing something between each other and using all these other people as pawns?

Unfortunately, CTV didn't air a preview for next week....

UPDATE: Both kids have decided to be up before 6, and by sleeping on it I've been able to digest more. As usual, I've come down to write down some of my extra thoughts and a few of you have beaten me to the punch on some of them.

Ben vs. Widmore: I think the island action ties in with the flashforward in a bigger way, and I'm becoming more convinced about the show resembling the plot of The Game. (This is one of those movies like The Usual Suspects with a big twist at the end, by the way, so I really don't want to say too much about it and give things away. Just see it.) He insists that Widmore changed the rules, and when Keamy is holding a gun to Alex's head, Ben shouts that she doesn't mean anything and she's just a pawn. He clearly expected Keamy to pull away and try another tactic, but instead Keamy just shot her. By calling Alex a pawn, I think he summed up how he feels about all of the survivors -- they're all pawns, too. And his actions toward Sayid prove it. Is Bakir innocent in all of this and Ben has just convinced Sayid that he did it? Or did Ben find out what Bakir did, sense an opportunity and jump on it? I was thinking the second option, and somehow, just like Sayid, Ben sucked me in with his story. But a few of you have suggested that Ben is behind it all, and killed Nadia to make Sayid his hitman, and now that makes perfect sense. Duh on me. This ties back to what happened in New Otherton, when Sawyer jumps into the house and asks why they're shooting everybody, and Ben tells him they're trying to make him really angry so that he'll come out with all guns blazing himself. That statement proves a couple of things: That Ben knows they weren't trying to kill Sawyer, but were just killing everyone around him to make him blunder and draw out the others from the house (clearly it's one of the rules of "the game"), and that Ben is now doing the same thing, killing Nadia to draw out Sayid's anger, and killing Widmore peeps to draw out Widmore.

Re: teleporting. I was thinking more about this one last night, too. I believe, as a couple of you have pointed out, that there are a certain number of wormholes in the world (8? 16? 23?) and Ben knows how to teleport to each of them. The thing he hasn't figured out, however, is knowing exactly which wormhole he's going to come out of. So he could have been wearing the Dharma coat because he had to be prepared just in case he popped out at the North Pole or something. So that's the significance of Tunisia... it's not an endpoint for him (and it's why he probably always stays at that hotel for no longer than one night) but it's just his wormhole in the Middle East to get him anywhere there. Perhaps another wormhole is in Nigeria, another in London, one in Sydney, another in L.A.... or at least near each of those places, which is why so much action happens in those places.

The question remains, if he's teleporting, he's moving from place to place, but is he also jumping time? Could he have travelled forward in time to nab Sayid? Or, more likely, was he already in 2007 and realized he could go back and secure Sayid's Assassination Services by simply going back and killing Nadia?

As Daniel said... "when" is relative.

UPDATE #2: Someone has posted that the ABC preview for next week has Kate saying Jack's appendix has burst. That's so weird, because I made the comment to my husband last night, "I hope it's not his appendix, since he's the only doctor around now!" That could be the connection to the dead doctor... could you imagine if we have to watch Jack operate on himself? ACK! I think I would pass out watching that.

UPDATE #3: I think rather than starting any new post on this episode, I'll just keep adding to this one (so keep checking back). After that episode, here are the key questions:
• How did Ben suddenly wake up in Tunisia, and has he figured out how to move through wormholes of space and time?
• Who/what controls Smokey? And where did Ben go when he went into the underground lair? Did he disappear for several weeks and it felt like seconds to the rest of them, or was he doing some crazy island voodoo and conjuring Smokey?
• What is the relationship between Widmore and Ben? Are they immortal enemies somehow, like Highlander, as someone suggested? Or can they not be killed for the same reason Michael couldn’t commit suicide: the island isn’t done with them yet? Why is Widmore having nightmares and drinking so heavily?

My favourite theory so far was just posted by christemple in the comments, who suggested that somehow Penny has ended up on the island and is trapped there, where Ben is keeping her. So to take that line of thinking further, what if the line to the island closed for both men, and neither one knows how to get back? Could that be why Widmore is haunted by what he’s done? How did the opening to the island close?

My theory: When Penny realized she was trapped on an island with Desmond and Sawyer, she closed it herself. Seriously, ladies, wouldn’t you have done the same thing??

Jeff Jensen at EW has an excellent rundown of the episode, where he, among other things, points out some of the key significant October 24ths in history. Check it out here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

LOST: SEASON 4 -- The Season So Far...
Are you looking for a quick catch-up to the first 8 episodes of Lost before tomorrow's big return? If so, look no further. Here is the guide to the first 8 episodes, with links to each post I made following each episode. I've also added a handy link section to the episodes in the left-hand margin. One of these days I'll get around to adding season 3, as well. (Or, you can just check out my book. Yes, I'm shameless...) ;)

4.01: The Beginning of the End

4.02: Confirmed Dead

4.03: The Economist

4.04: Eggtown

4.05: The Constant

4.06: The Other Woman

4.07: Ji Yeon

4.08: Meet Kevin Johnson
Gossip Girl Returns in Style
Spotted: The return of our fave trashy high school show, and it was HOT. This week's long-awaited return of Gossip Girl was full of intrigue, cliques, spy vs. spy and Valentino dress-stealing, and it was all super-awesome. (Yes, I do watch television shows beyond ones where I have to read Stephen Hawking books to better understand it.) Jenny's trying to fit in, but she doesn't have the money, and Blair is getting yogurt dumped on her head, but playing evil right back (even if it does just bite her on the ass in the end). Whose side are you on in the Jenny vs. Blair war? Is there a side to be taken?

Serena was getting gross-out packages by someone named G., and I'm assuming it's the upcoming character played by Michelle Trachtenberg. What does this girl have over Serena that would drive S. to drink again? Hmm...

But, of course, the REAL question is, The pawn shop lady: Evil or just a great businesswoman?

Last week when I posted on returning shows, I forgot to mention Ugly Betty is returning tomorrow night (YAY! Are Thursday nights the hots or what?) and Aliens in America is coming back this Sunday. I didn't post on that one much, but there's usually one laugh-out-loud moment per episode. If you've never checked it out, tune in this Sunday.

Tomorrow: LOST!!!!
Good News and Bad News...
The bad news first. Well, bad for me. My Lost column at Wizard Magazine has been dropped, due to budget restrictions. Their freelance budget has been severely decreased, and since they found an assistant who works at the magazine and watches Lost, they're giving the column to that person, who can write it as part of their salary, and they won't have to pay me the whopping price of 5 cents a word. (Seriously.) I'm bummed, despite them reassuring me it had nothing to do with me or the writing and that they loved the column, they've just had to make cuts across the board.

So what is the good news, you might ask? Well, on the bright side of this, it means the columns go back to being mine, and I can post them as soon as I've finished writing them! No more waiting until 11 a.m. the next morning for these. As I said, I'll be watching a 7pm EST feed of the show, and so I'm hoping to get it posted at 11pm, just as those of you watching the 10pm feed will be finishing, and we can start our discussions immediately after. That, at least, is a good thing.

Starting today, I'll re-post my columns here if you want to go back and catch up to where we are. And then tomorrow, let the discussions begin! :)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Michael Moore Strikes Again
As with most films these days, I didn't get to see Sicko in the theatre. I was working on the second Lost book in the summer, and as soon as it was done, I had my second child (I see a trend here...) So these days I just try to ignore the movie reviews and wait until it comes out on video... or, in the case of Sicko, for it to air on TMN.

I finally watched it on the weekend, and it was full of the usual Michael Moore stuff. When you watch a film of his, you must enter into the experience with caution, questioning his facts, assuming he's going to make things pretty one-sided, and expecting gimmicks, gimmicks, gimmicks. (Warning: in order to discuss the movie in detail, I give a lot of details of it below... beware if you are sensitive to spoilers.)

I remember the first time I watched Roger and Me, years and years ago before most people knew who Michael Moore was. I thought it was brilliant. Then he had a couple of television series, and they were just as fun as the film. This guy refuses to take No for an answer when requesting interviews, and he'll go to any length to get the brass on tape making fools of themselves.

And then Bowling for Columbine came out. I saw this one at the film festival in Toronto at the world premiere, and I still remember when they showed Canadians talking about why we don't live in fear and don't carry guns. The audience started snickering, then chuckling, and by the time the film got to the kid on the patio in Toronto saying, "We believe that if you lock your doors, you're locking yourself in, not locking the world out" the entire audience was roaring with laughter. When he showed the Esplanade in Toronto and said, "Welcome to the slums" (for any non-Torontonians, the Esplanade is NOT a slum, and is two blocks from our opera house, with tony restaurants, cafes, and bookstores) it was everything people could do to keep from throwing things at the screen.

But at its heart, Bowling for Columbine was still a great film. Sure, he made the blunder of showing an elderly frail man like Charlton Heston and making him seem like the root of all evil, when simply showing the footage of him making his legendary NRA speech would have been more effective. And he had that horrible moment where he stuck the poor kid in the wheelchair in K-Mart like some freak show on display just to help boost up the middle portion of his movie. But it still showed the sides of the argument, and he tracked down dozens of people to show just how far-reaching the problem was.

Then he became huge. His "documentaries" were bigger than most feature films, and he won an Oscar. Everybody knew who Michael Moore was. Fahrenheit 9/11 came out, and it just solidified his role as pop documentarian.

But, as with many people who find astounding success after toiling for so long, he started to ride those accolades and became lazy. He realized people loved the entertainment more than the didactic nature of his films, so why go to the trouble of tracking down the bad guys, when you could play some maudlin music and trot out more wheelchair-bound victims at K-Mart?

The result of this laziness is Sicko. Halfway through the movie we considered stopping it. Or watching it on fastforward. The point of the film is made about 10 minutes in. And then he just keeps hammering and hammering away at the same point. The American health care system sucks. Sure, they don't have to wait a year for a necessary MRI, but that's not because most people don't have health insurance, as we've been led to believe... it's because those who DO, are still denied the care they need by those health insurance companies. They can deny care based on the pithiest of reasons. In one case, they pay for a woman's cancer treatments, and then they find out she once had a yeast infection, and they retroactively change their minds, sticking her with all the bills. In another, a woman's 18-month-old daughter comes down with a fever of 104, and when she takes her to the nearest hospital and they check her health insurance, they find out it'll only cover care in one of their very few hospitals. The hospital refuses to take care of the girl, sending the mother into a frenzy, where she's kicked out onto the street with her child and considered a "threat" to the staff of the hospital. By the time she gets to one of the hospitals that the health insurance will actually cover, the child is in cardiac arrest, and dead a few hours later.

Yes, it's infuriating. And disgusting. And inhuman.

Then Moore goes to Canada to show what a wicked awesome system we have. He talks to his Canadian "relatives," who are planning a weekend visit to see him in Michigan and insist on buying travel insurance, saying Canadians will never leave the country without doing so. Whatever. Then he goes to London, Ontario (my hometown) to find out what the health care is like there. He shows people waiting in emergency rooms who get in after 15 minutes, and insist you NEVER wait longer than that. Bullshit. (Pretty much the word every Canadian uttered when watching that scene.) You could wait 6 or 7 hours just for a tylenol sitting in emergency. You could wait so long for an MRI that by the time they do it, the damage is inoperable (this happened to a close relative of mine).

The thing is, he doesn't NEED to make up this shit. Yes, wait times are long here. Family doctors are practically non-existent... you move to a new city, you're going to a walk-in clinic because GPs that are taking patients are so rare. (Many students train to be doctors in Canada, and then immediately go south of the border when they graduate because they make more money there... why they would prefer making a little more money in a place that denies coverage is beyond me, but frankly, considering their tuition is subsidized by our taxes, they should give the money back if they leave... end of soapbox.)
But would we take that service over a hospital turning away a baby because her mom's health care coverage only works at another hospital? Absolutely. Would we wait longer for that chemotherapy, knowing that when all is said and done, you don't have to worry about your health care "provider" finding out you once had strep throat and cancelling your coverage? Of course. He could show the pros AND cons of universal health care (longer wait times, higher taxes, no family doctor) and our system would still come out on top, and his point would be made without resorting to gross exaggeration.

On he goes to England to show their health care and how much their doctors get paid. True? Don't know, but now everything he says is suspect. They also have free dental care (but, um... there's a reason Lisa Simpson is scared into brushing on The Simpsons by looking through "The Big Book of British Teeth"). On to France, where he touches on their health care but then focuses on how daycare is free. True? Probably not, but he goes on at such length that is where we started fastforwarding. Isn't this movie supposed to be about health care? (At one point he wants to show what a hard-done-by family looks like in France, and he appears to go to the friggin' Ile Saint Louis. Come ON. That's like taking someone to the Bridle Path in Toronto and saying, "Welcome to the projects.")

And then we get to the part everyone was talking about when the movie was released... the 9/11 workers. These people volunteered to pull out bodies (and body parts) and work on those who had been hurt in the devastation. If they weren't actual city workers, they weren't given coverage, even if they had respiratory problems, migraines, nightmares, etc. They're now living in daily pain, with no help from anyone. When Moore finds out that the al Qaeda operatives who were key in the attacks are being held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, where the medical care is top-notch, he actually puts the people he's showcased in his film onto a boat leaving Florida and heads to the prison. (It's the bullet-riddled kid at the K-Mart all over again. Ugh.) By the time he grabbed the megaphone and begins shouting that they demand entry into the prison because these people just want the same level of care that they give the evildoers, I had my face in my hands and was cringing, saying, "No, Michael, no... just stop embarrassing yourself, PLEASE." It's definitely a low point in the film.

They (obviously) get nowhere there, so Castro's peeps decide to use Moore as their public relations mouthpiece and trot out how wonderful the Cuban people are and how amazing their medical system is. Full disclosure: I'm a Canadian. And therefore, to me, Cuba is a vacation spot just like Antigua or the Barbados. I went to Cuba a couple of years ago and I mentioned it to some American friends, who went absolutely silent on the phone and acted like I'd just told them I was visiting North Korea and staying at Kim Jong Il's palace while I was there. (In Cuba the Castros live high on the hog, and it's the rest of the people who are impoverished, mostly from the lack of American presence there, their closest potential trading partner. The place is gorgeous and the people are amazing. That said, it was nice to be somewhere with nary a Golden Arches in sight.) Moore gets some help for the people he's parading as the victims of the health care system, and they vow their undying love to the Cuban people for doing so.

And that... is pretty much it. We don't see Moore knocking on the doors of the drug companies and demanding to hear from the people making these sorts of decisions. Instead, he just shows some crappy old footage of a trial where one of the drug companies was asked a series of questions about denying someone's medical care, leading to their death. We don't see him sticking it to the man, and actually achieving something. Instead, the documentary is nothing more than a circus, showing us the way it is, without bringing about any sort of change. His melodramatic tactics have become even more manipulative... in the scene where the mother is telling the story of her 18-month-old daughter having a fever, he films her sitting in a playground with laughing children in the background, and one would assume he's going to cut to the child any minute. But instead, she gets near the end of her story and looks sadly at the children, then holds up a photo of her now-dead child. Thanks, Michael. Thanks for doing that to this woman. Those who think the health care system is a shambles will watch and say, "Wow, I was right. It IS a shambles." And those who are profiting from it can just ignore it, because he didn't actually parade any of their spokespeople in the film. Health care companies will continue to exploit the people who are paying into their insurance, and people will continue to be exploited. The film does nothing more than just conjure up anger for the viewer, whether you're American or not. If you're Canadian, you roll your eyes at the errors in his portrayal of Canada, and wonder where else he stretched the truth.

Michael Moore is no longer a documentary filmmaker. He's become too successful for such low fare as that. Instead, his films are creative non-fiction, meant to be questioned. And, if future films of his are anything like this one, it seems like his spark is gone. Moore would rather stand around holding a megaphone and cracking jokes than actually get the job done like he used to. And it's a shame, because Moore was one of a kind. And now... he's just like the rest of them.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Gratuitous Cute Baby Shot!
My dear friend Crissy made some special onesies for my son, and he's FINALLY getting to the age where he can wear them. My husband -- a huge Doctor Who fan (I, sadly, am not) -- put this one on the kiddo the other day, and then proceeded to walk around the house all morning holding him and saying, "Exterminate... EXTERMINATE" in a monotone.

How cute is that?? (And the shirt's pretty cute, too!) If you like that one, wait'll you see the Buffy and Lost shirts that she made for him! Stay tuned...
Returning Shows!
Just a quick note that Gossip Girl starts up again this Monday on CW at a new time, so reset those PVRs, folks... Buffy fans rejoice: Michelle Trachtenberg will be joining the cast as a girl from Serena's past!! The problem with watching her in anything is she'll always be Dawn to me, but here's hoping she can break out of that.

Did you forget where we left off? OK... Blair and Chuck slept together, but she kept it a secret, and she and Nate ended up getting back together. But secrets don't last, and word got out that she'd slept with Chuck. She was dethroned as the Queen Bee of the little clique, and Jenny happily stepped up, suggesting she's going to become a little snot soon. Blair decided to escape to Paris with her father and his partner, but Serena caught her at the airport and convinced her to stay, saying she'll help her.

Rufus and Lily looked like they were about to get back together when she accepted the marriage proposal from Chuck's daddy, and now Chuck is making lewd advances at his new "sis," Serena. Nate's dad is facing charges of cocaine possession and embezzlement, and he's just found out Blair lost her virginity to Chuck Bass of all people, so things are ripe for him to completely go off the deep end.


Meanwhile, Lost starts up again this Thursday (is it just me, or was the hiatus not as long as you thought it would be?) and again, reset those PVRs, because it's moving to 10pm. That said, I get it on a channel at 7pm (OH YEAH!!!) so I'm currently talking to Wizard Magazine to see if it's possible to get the column up around 11pm the same night of the episode. So far haven't heard back, but here's hoping we can do that... and it'll be like the good old days again. :)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Reality Show Round-Up
So yesterday I went to a new hairdresser, and the hairdresser working at the next chair is a big TV gossip. "Awesome!" I thought, until her first question to the customer was, "So... did you catch The Hills??" That was followed by discussions on Laguna Beach, American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars. None of which I watch. (The customer mentioned that Priscilla Presley totally burned Kelly Ripa on Regis yesterday, so I naturally had to check that out on YouTube...)

The thing is, I DO watch reality TV, but it's either about fashion, or features Gordon Ramsay.

Yes, Hell's Kitchen has started up again, and I hate it as much as I ever did. So I have to watch it, of course. The Fox overblownness is there in full force, and Gordon comes off as a hotheaded Nazi. It's completely ridiculous. He has the contestants sort through garbage to pick out the food and show how much they discarded the night before; he puts one team in farmer's overalls and forces them to pick vegetables in a hot field all day... you know, all things I'm sure Gordon Ramsay has done. Ahem.

And, as I say every time I bitch about Gordon Ramsay on Fox, the problem with his depiction on that network is that it's not the Gordon Ramsay I know and enjoy. And that was all too evident on the most recent season of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares... the BBC version, not the stupid Fox version. This one was presumably done after the Fox monstrosity, and it was as charming as ever. The Fox version had definitely influenced it -- in one episode, the establishment got a brand new kitchen that the show paid for (that hadn't happened on the BBC one, but was a regular staple of the Fox one); there were intermittent moments of the staff talking about how awesome Gordon was and how without him they would die (again, previous to the Fox version Gordon's awesomeness was something we could figure out for ourselves, but maybe his ego has grown). But unlike the Fox episodes, which consist of about 20 minutes of footage played OVER AND OVER with the Hell's Kitchen voiceover saying ominously "Next... on Kitchen Nightmares!" to the point where when the moment finally DOES happen, it's pretty anticlimactic... the BBC one just lets the action speak for itself. In one episode, he goes to Paris and finds a vegetarian restaurant run by a whiny Scot whose daddy is paying for the thing, and she's a complete idiot who is more interested in being on the TV than actually making her restaurant succeed. The best Nightmare episodes are where Gordon finds someone he truly respects, and in this case it was India, the woman brought in to become the chef, who is out of a job when the Scot pisses the business away. Gordon ends up taking her and sticking her in one of his own restaurants, which is awesome.

The BBC episodes are again proof that Gordon is still a chef at heart... but if he'll accept the money to do Hell's Kitchen, then my respect for him is depleting almost as fast as it is for JK Rowling at the moment.

America's Next Top Model is on again, and while I'm thinking Tyra's ego coupled with Rowling's and Ramsay's could actually cause the planet to explode, this cycle is definitely an improvement over the last one. Jay Manuel is as charming as ever, Miss Jay is as annoying as ever, and the addition of Paulina Poroskova (aka Mrs. Ric Ocasek) is a vast improvement over Twiggy. The girls aren't incredibly interesting, and the one I really liked in the beginning (Claire, who had left a baby behind and was pumping breastmilk and worried that her milk was depleting and was genuinely gorgeous and sweet) seemed to undergo a massive personality transplant partway through and launched an attack on a fellow contestant that was so Grade 3 my head was spinning. Luckily, she was booted the following week, but that leaves me with not much to vote for. I kinda like Whitney, but she's a little too princessy for me. So instead, I'll just sit back and watch it on fastforward for the rest of the season.

Tyra's show is fun, but it pales in comparison to Project Runway, which is fascinating and fun, and never has a bad episode. Even the blatant product placement ("Made use of the Bluefly.com accessory wall, and you have 15 minutes before you need to be in the Loreal Paris makeup room") isn't nearly as irritating. Unfortunately, Bravo in Canada airs the damn show 5 weeks after it airs in the US, so the spoilers of bratty little Christian being the winner were all over the place before the finale actually aired, but it was still fun to watch. I liked Christian in the beginning, and then he became irritating beyond words, and near the end he became fun again. He's full of himself, but he should be -- his clothes were FIERCE (or, as Posh Spice said near the end in my favourite cameo yet... they were may-jah). I love this show.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Harry Potter Trial
I just HAD to wade in on this one finally. I've been following this case with some interest for a while, and as of yesterday, it moved into a realm even I didn't see coming.

Background: JK Rowling -- the queen of all things Potter, and an amazing writer as far as I'm concerned -- wrote the Potter books. And they were huge. That part y'all know.

Steven Vander Ark is the guy who runs the Harry Potter Lexicon. He's the uncrowned king of all things Harry, and has carefully documented everything for years. Rowling, in a statement now made super-famous by Vander Ark's lawyers, posted on her Web site that she thinks the Lexicon is THE place online for all things Harry, and she's been known to slip out of the cafe where she's working on her book and pop online to check out facts against what he's written.

Vander Ark was given opportunities to publish the Lexicon in book format, and declined, until the final Harry book was out there. And then RDR books, a publisher in the US, asked him to do so. He gathered up his materials, and turned it into a book.

The book has yet to see the light of day because of what happened next, but I would assume it's similar to another excellent companion guide that came out about 3 years ago that I used as a bible while reading the Harry books. Encyclopedic, with entries on the characters, places, terms (how many times I opened that book to look up what a "squib" was I have no idea), etc., to help readers who may no be reading the books one after the other. What was amazing about the other companion was that it came out while the books were still being written, so while we're forced to wait 2 years between books, and then hit the term "squib" and she, of course, will not define it for us again, it was a serious help. That earlier companion book disappeared after its initial print run, because Rowling's lawyers wanted it to.

So now Vander Ark is finding himself in the same predicament. Despite professing a love of his Web site, Rowling has declared war on his book. It stands to reason that what is good for the Web is not good for the printed page -- my Lost books (here and here) contain very little plot summary and more analysis, while my blog posts a lot more plot. I don't make money off the blog, where I make a pittance off the book. (And trust me, writing these things brings in very little cashola; if you don't love it, DON'T DO IT.)

But Rowling's lawyers have gone beyond protecting her copyright and trademark in this. They've basically cast a net over the English language canon and said Rowling owns the rights to it. In an ironic twist, "Harry Potter" has become He Who Must Not Be Named, for if you do, you will incur the wrath of Rowling.

I say Rowling here, because where up until now all of the other Harry companions that have been squashed were savaged by her lawyers, and not her (it's what she pays them for), Rowling herself has come out and said nasty things about Vander Ark and his book. So if she wants to wade in first person, she becomes the one to disagree with when taking his side.

Rowling's lawyers have made the same charges against Vander Ark that they've made against all the other companions: By its very presence, it hurts her sales, and hurts the sales of any future books. By referring to elements of her book, it violates her copyright of the materials therein, and makes it so you don't have to read her books.

Which is utter crap. These companion guides don't say, "OK, so the first book opens with it being nighttime and we move in on this little house on a street. A bunch of wizards are flying through the air and they have this baby..." No. It gives us names and places to look up while we are reading, but it's in no way a substitute for the actual book. It's like saying the dictionary is in violation of her copyright because it contains most of the words used in her books.

Secondly, how could it POSSIBLY hurt her sales? Who in their right mind is buying Vander Ark's book (or ANY of the companions) and not actually reading her books?? I wouldn't dream of a non-Lost fan buying and reading my book, unless it's my uncle wanting to support his niece. These companion guides are not meant for the casual reader who's looking for a good book to curl up with; these are meant to be companions to something else... hence the name companion guides.

Rowling has made it very clear (and so have her lawyers, in all their letters to publishers) that she herself plans to write an encyclopedia of Potter, and if it's already done, there's no room for her to do so. But here's where that argument falls apart: Only in these lawyer's letters does she actually say these companions could hurt that. But look up any number of interviews done with her in the recent past, and she's going on and on about an encyclopedia she's going to write that A) she plans to publish 10 years from now, when these companions will be long of out print anyway, and B) will give readers all the background of the books and characters that is not in the actual books. In other words, her encyclopedia is the one that ONLY JKR could write, no one else, and I could own every single companion guide out there -- I would still buy hers. Who doesn't want to know what her original intentions were for each character? Or what the possible alternate endings were? Or what storylines she scrapped? Could these other encyclopedic companions possibly give us that information? No. But in the meantime, they can help other people come to Harry Potter by offering an easy look-up device that makes reading these books less frustrating.

Not to mention, I could be wrong here, but I don't think she has much of a strong case saying that he is hurting the sales of a book she hasn't even begun to write yet, and might not write. It's like saying, "Well, I was TOTALLY going to do up a Harry Potter Web site with all of the terms in my books and call it a Lexicon, and it was going to have the EXACT same design as yours, and you took it first." That's the sort of reasoning my 3-year-old uses.

JK Rowling is a gabillionaire. (That's a billion multiplied by ga. I know. HUGE.) Somewhere along the line, she's realized, "Oh... all this negative publicity" [because yes, most of the media and bloggers I've read on the subject are actually looking at her like the nasty Goliath in this case] "is making me look bad. I mean, I already have so much money the queen is asking me for loans, so how do I help my case now??" And yesterday, she figured out how.

On the stand for the first time in this case, she's now saying that she's feeling so drained and betrayed and awful about all of this that she no longer has the heart to write that encyclopedia, and she was going to give all that money the encyclopedia would garner to charity. "So I guess it's too bad those orphans are all going to starve to death, thanks to Steven Vander Ark," one could imagine her saying.

Seriously, that's just going too far. The woman took the word "Muggles" from another book, but because Rowling had more money than that author, she won, and the other author looked like a whiner. She's taken the quest narrative from any number of books; hell, Tolkien would be turning in his grave if he knew how much she had "borrowed" from him. And speaking of Tolkien, check out how many companion guides and encyclopedias are available of HIS books, and his estate has the good graces to leave them alone. They see them as nothing more than guides to his books, and not infringing anything. And I think we can all agree that Tolkien's sales haven't even incurred the tiniest scratch due to the presence of those other books.

If Rowling wins, this could see the death of all books like Vander Ark's, and I'm not just talking about the sort of books that I write. All academic treatises will be under attack; Cliff's Notes will disappear; SparkNotes.com will shut down; hell, any student trying to write a PhD and using any line from any book will come under suspicion. Then it will extend further: TV show websites will be gone because they're talking about plot of a show. Television Without Pity will end (they make it so you really DON'T have to watch the episodes if you don't want to) and all forums will be policed so no one infringes copyright.

Which shows you how ridiculous this claim is. You can see the first defense filed against Rowling here, and yesterday's NY Times article on Rowling's testimony here.

Now, like I said, the general public hasn't seen the book. It COULD be sloppy, there COULD be very little research, as Rowling suggests. And if that's the case, one could say in her defense that she doesn't want something that sloppy to be standing in as a temporary encyclopedia until hers comes along. But the companion guide that I was referring to earlier was excellent, accurate, researched down to the tiniest detail, and contained a lot of outside information that enriched the process of reading her books. And she quashed that one, too. So her argument is suspect to me.

Let's just let Vander Ark put out his book. I'm not being totally biased in my support for this guy -- he was nasty to a friend of mine a few years back and I've not been a fan of his ever since -- but I am on his side in this battle, and I have a ton of respect for anyone with the guts to fight Goliath in this one.

May David reign.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Lost Season Just Got Bigger!
As a few of you have emailed to tell me (I've been having issues finding time to get online to post this!) ABC has finally confirmed that Lost's fourth season will now consist of 14 hours, as opposed to the original 13, and the season finale will be a three-hour one!!

Now, unfortunately it won't be all in one night (or should I say fortunately, since posting THAT blog post would be a nightmare to do that night), but over two nights, with a break in between. Confused? Well, it's a good thing you came to me. :)

May 22 was originally scheduled to be ABC's big finale night. But when Damon and Carlton said hey, we need that final hour to be extended to two, it just wouldn't fit on the 29th with Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty. And then, they decided to make Grey's Anatomy two hours as well. So, rather than bump the inferior show (she said, having no interest in ANOTHER doctor show) they put Lost back by one more week.

So here's the new schedule:
April 24: Episode 9, The Shape of Things to Come (***The show moves to 10pm starting here... ARGH)
May 1: Episode 10
May 8: Episode 11
May 15: Episode 12
May 22: NO EPISODE (This will be the Grey's two-hour finale)
May 29: Episode 13/14, in a two-hour finale **Episode begins at 9pm

You can see a preview of the upcoming episode on April 24 here.

UPDATE: Someone just emailed me off-list to say my post didn't make any sense when I said it was a 3-hour finale, but that May 29th was 2 hours, and I realized I forgot to clarify what I meant by the 3-hour finale. May 15 will be the first hour of the 3 hours, and May 29 will be the second 2 hours. Damon and Carlton are writing May 15 and 29 episodes as one very long episode, broken by the 2-week barrier. Which is what makes the Grey's superiority even more infuriating, that the movie-type finale will be broken to watch a bunch of doctors running around and going to bed together and crying in their coffee. Ahem. ;)

Friday, April 11, 2008

NBC Thursday Night Funnies Are Back!!

The Office has always been the most awkward show on television. Awkward silences, awkward looks at the camera, and they always succeed in making us squirm. But last night's episode raised awkwardness to an art form, when Michael and Jan held a dinner party that no one in the viewing audience would ever want to attend.

You might not have noticed this, but the actress who plays Angela is 8 months pregnant (if it weren't for the writer's strike, they were going to work the pregnancy into the show, but they couldn't suddenly have her pregnant-out-to-here) so she was strategically placed in every scene: pillows all over her on the couch; standing behind the counter with a blender in the way in the kitchen; holding her coat in front of her in the hallway. It was nicely done.

The episode was packed with great moments:

The tour of the condo, which included a video camera installed on a tripod facing their bed (HA!); Jan's workspace, which Michael added, "is never used"; Jan's candle room, which elicited a look of disgust from Jim that I thought he was going to throw up; and Michael's plasma television, which is the size of a laptop computer screen, "mounted" on the wall so it'll have more space. (When Jan throws something at it later in the ep, he yells at her that that was a $200 television... )

Playing Celebrity:
Michael: OK, my name is Tom, and I'm on a cruise...
Jim: Uh... Katie Holmes!
Michael: No. Oh wait, but I MARRIED her!
Jim: Oh! Dawson's Creek!
Michael: NO... ok, another one. OK, my name rhymes with Parnold Sportzenegger!
Jim: Ooh, Tom Cruise!

Pam thinking she's been poisoned by Jan, and refusing to eat despite being REALLY hungry.

Michael and Jan's argument at the door: "You have no idea the physical toll that three vasectomies have on a person!!" (My husband almost fell off the couch he was laughing so hard at this point)

Jim's constant faces throughout.

However, as awesome as The Office was, nothing matched the hilarity of Jack Donaghy's prank on 30 Rock. Trying to draw out a confession from Liz, he creates a false childhood stutter that labelled him a Class A Moron on his report card, and tells a sad tale of the after-effects of such categorization, including being stuck in the boiler room with a kid named Gilly ("He fell through the ice as a child and was clinically dead for 57 minutes") where they were forced to sweep up piles of sawdust to train them to work in a mill. By the time he was explaining to Liz what it was like making small piles of sawdust "while Gilly sat in the corner, playing with himself" I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe. Only Alec Baldwin could have pulled off that monologue. It was brilliant.

So how happy are you that Thursdays are back? What were your favourite moments?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

LOST: "Meet Kevin Johnson" Deleted Scene
To mourn one more Thursday without a new episode of Lost, here is a deleted scene from the beginning of the last episode that aired, "Meet Kevin Johnson." I will not vouch for its veracity. ;)

INT - House in Otherville. LOCKE has just brought MILES into a room.

LOCKE: ... you deserve to know everything that I know. So... no more secrets. As you all know, Miles here and three of his people came to the island about a week ago. I brought him up from the boathouse to share with us exactly why they’re here.

MILES: We’re here for him. [points to Ben]

HURLEY: Um... we kinda like, knew that forever ago.

LOCKE: Wait... it gets better. Miles... tell them what else we discussed.

MILES: [pauses, rolls his eyes] Uh... Locke has been listening to the island, and it’s telling him things.

HURLEY: Dude. We’ve known that even longer than forever.

LOCKE: Oh yeah? Well... there’s a SMOKE MONSTER on the island!!!

HURLEY: Dude. Seriously. News that is older than dirt.

LOCKE: B... But... But I was the one who figured all of this out! It was ME! Don’t you remember back when I told you guys that we are not alone on this island?

HURLEY: Yeah, dude, and you added, “And you all know it.” Because we DID. Everyone knew it. Hell, Nikki and Paulo knew it.

SAWYER: Who the hell are Nikki and Paulo?

LOCKE: Listen, the point is, this island has secrets, and we need to find them. It speaks to me, and I am the island prophet.

BEN: Oh, brother... listen to this guy.

LOCKE: Oh, I’m sorry, Ben, did you have any revelations for the group??

BEN: Yes! My man on the boat is MICHAEL.

[gasps all around]

LOCKE: Okay, well, that’s new...

CLAIRE: Actually... I kinda figured that out through process of elimination. You see, if you consider all the possibilities...

LOCKE: Not now, Claire. You keep quiet. Rock the baby or something. You’ve been good at that for the past few seasons... er... weeks. What I’m saying is I’ve been keeping Miles down in the boathouse with a LIVE GRENADE in his mouth because I knew he had important information for us, and...

MILES: Actually, I assumed it wasn’t live. I mean, I had important information, and you’re not stupid, so there’s no way you would have blown my head off.

[Murmurs from the group, “Yeah, I figured that, too...” “He wouldn’t have done something that crazy....”

MILES: And you didn’t tie my hands very well, so I was taking the grenade out, and only putting it back in when I could see you coming toward the boathouse.

[LOCKE looks at everyone, nostrils flaring, anger management class lessons disappearing from his head.]

LOCKE: YOU PEOPLE ARE UNGRATEFUL!!! I’ve taught you SO much. I’ve taught you how to track wild boar...

SAWYER: Actually, Kate showed a lot of us how to track animals before you did...

LOCKE: ... how to throw knives...

ROUSSEAU: Sorry, that was me. I was coming out of hiding and showing people how to defend themselves. Sixteen years on the island and all...

LOCKE: ...how to play backgammon...

HURLEY: I, uh, think most of us played that game when we were kids.


CLAIRE: I think even Aaron knew that one... before he was born.

LOCKE: All right, fine. I give up. You people think you’re so smart, then YOU find another leader!

[opens the door, slams it, and storms out]

BEN: Well. THAT went well.

[door opens, LOCKE comes back in, walks angrily across the room, picks up a plate and smashes it against the wall. Walks back to the door, and leaves.]

BEN: Well. He’s nothing if not consistent.
My Foray into Vampire Academia
I spent five years as an academic; four in undergrad, one in a postgraduate degree in English literature. And with that honorable degree... I began writing television books. My professors were actually proud of me, happily, but I wonder if any of them ever wondered where the connection was.

And now... I finally have one. I'm going to be one of the keynote speakers at this year's Slayage Conference in Arkansas, a three-day symposium of Buffy scholarship from around the world. How awesome is that? I'll be delivering the keynote speech at the opening day banquet (hopefully the scholars will be too busy eating their roast beef to notice the non-scholar standing at the front of the room yakking about why she loves Buffy) and I'm so excited.

Information on the Slayage conference is here. If you're a huge Buffy fan, and have any interest in academia, this is the thing to check out (calling Chris L. here... you know you want to come! COME.) I've wanted to go ever since the first one a few years ago, so I'm thrilled to be finally going, AND being a part of it. Hey, it's not the PaleyFest Buffy reunion, but I'll take it.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

NBC Announces: The Office Spinoff!!

In a bit of a surprise press release this week, NBC announced their fall lineup, some new series they'll be picking up (including one with Christian Slater, who will always be Hard Harry to me), and what shows will be relaunched.

Heroes will be smaller than I anticipated. I know a lot of my readers think I've given up on the show because I didn't blog on the last three episodes of season 2, but that actually had nothing to do with giving up, and everything to do with an infant who wasn't sleeping at the time if I had the TV on, so by the time I saw those episodes, they were three weeks old and I didn't think anyone would be interested in what I had to say. :) I'm still very excited about what is upcoming, and can't wait for season 3. Season 2 had its disappointments, for sure (ok, the majority of the season was a disappointment) but Tim Kring admitted his problems, and said he would do better, and how many executives have the nerve to issue a mea culpa like that? If the guy can admit he was wrong, rather than say, "Look, the show was good, and you people suck if you didn't like it" (which is more along the lines of what he said in season 1 when people didn't like the finale) then I have high hopes for a new direction. I thought season 2 ended on a high note.

So, my love of Heroes re-established, on to the news: season 3 has been reduced to 20 episodes, with 10 running in the fall (kicked off by a 2-hour beginning) and 10 running straight in the spring, beginning in February. Heroes: Origins has been scrapped, sadly. There was SO much hype surrounding this spinoff idea, and I thought it was awesome, and now, because of the writer's strike, it's gone.

Of course, many of you may have heard there's a possible actor's strike pending, and if that happens, I think we can probably say goodbye to a lot of shows, including Heroes. But let's just hope it doesn't come to that.

The Office was the big announcement: Starting in spring 2009, there will be a new spinoff. Which character, you might ask? Will we see the adventures of Dwight and Mose on their beet farm in a Newhart-like setting? Will Jim and Pam leave Dunder-Mifflin and engage in wacky adventures as they travel around Europe? Will Phyllis and Bob Vance of Vance Refrigeration become the Lucy and Ricky of Scranton? Will Stanley become the 21st century Archie Bunker?

Sadly... I have no idea. And neither does NBC. For, they have this grand idea that there will be a spinoff, but haven't yet decided WHO will be spinning off. Time for your vote: who do you think will be spinning off, and what will the show be about? On the one hand, this is a good thing, but on the other, a spinoff always means that character will no longer be on The Office. And I can't imagine losing ANY of these people. So I'm still not sure I'm happy about this news.

As mentioned, Friday Night Lights will be appearing on NBC in spring 2009, but will air in fall 2008 on DirectTV (I see major fall downloads of this show in the future). Chuck will be back, and will actually be paired up with Heroes on the schedule. Journeyman is definitely gone (WAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH) as is Bionic Woman (.....). However, Life, which many thought would be cancelled, has been renewed.

There will be a new version of Knight Rider. Val Kilmer will be KITT. The Hoff will not be on it. 30 Rock has been picked up for another full season (YES!)

One of the new shows is Crusoe, based on Robinson Crusoe. Hmm... apparently Lost hasn't pushed enough boundaries with a group of people on a possessed and mysterious island, so NBC is going back to the idea of one guy on an island. With no smoke monster, Ben Linus, or polar bears.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Battlestar Galactica 4.01: He That Believeth In Me
I'm late on blogging on BSG, but that's because I just saw this week's episode last night. Just watching the "previously on" segment at the beginning got me excited, and man, did I miss these characters.

Balthar is as much of a loopy horndog as ever, and now that his trial is over and he's been taken in by a cult that worships him, he can go back to being the funny portion of the show. James Callis can pull the best faces, and his eyes were bugging out of his head as he saw his own face pasted to a holy shrine, and realized these people expected him to be Gaius Christ. But when he finally fell to his knees in an actual genuine moment of compassion, it added a poignancy to his story that lifted it above the mere comic. As he asked the grieving man to just slit his throat, it was the first time we saw something in his eyes in this episode other than "Wow, how much booty will I be getting now??" I love him; he was the major thing missing from that Razor episode that didn't do much for me.

Starbuck has returned, but she doesn't think it's from the dead; as far as she knows, she entered a wormhole, arrived in our solar system, and took photos of Earth and a "gaseous planet with rings around it." Then she came back, and it all took place within 6 hours. No one can believe her -- Apollo watched her die, Adama went through his grief and buried her, and now that Tigh and Anders know they're Cylons, they suspect she could be, too. But you can tell they WANT to believe her. Is she telling the truth? Her plane is brand new, and clearly isn't the fighter that Starbuck used even before she went kaboom. In a touching scene, Apollo asks Adama, if it were his brother who'd come back from the dead and stepped off that plane, Cylon or no Cylon, would he have been immediately put in the brig? Adama can't really answer.

Roslin doesn't trust Starbuck at all, and she's the one who has put the strict rules on her. She goes to Number Six because she wants to know the final five, and if she could just tell her, she'd know the answer. But Six isn't about to help out.

Is Starbuck the fifth Cylon? I don't think so. She's not helping her cause (she's holding a gun to Roslin's head and knocked out the men watching her), but an innocent person who had just found the path to Earth and expected a hero's welcome is probably allowed to go a little crazy upon her return a few hours later, when she discovers a colony that has been mourning her for months and now they think she's a traitor.

I can't wait to see what next week brings. What did you think? Who out there is watching BSG?

Monday, April 07, 2008

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters
We rented a DVD on the weekend that I've been wanting to see for ages, and man, was it worth the wait. I first saw the trailer for The King of Kong in the summer, and howled through the whole thing. And the tone of the trailer extends to the movie.

This is a documentary about two guys, and their quest to become the world's greatest Donkey Kong player. Billy Mitchell, the lion-maned, crazy-tied adolescent in a (sort of) adult's body, set the record in the early 80s, and no one has ever beaten it. Since then he set records for all sorts of retro arcade games (we're talking the REAL games here... Pac Man, Centipede... as they say in the movie, the games that require real skill, as opposed to the games of today. And yes, I know I sound like my grandpa). As such, he became a legend in the retro gaming community. Which is sort of like being the best costumed Klingon on the sci-fi convention circuit -- you are a hero among few, but your parents don't mention it in the annual Christmas letters.

Mitchell became associated with Twin Galaxies, an arcade run by Walter Day, who fancies himself some referee on the level of champion boxing matches. A world record ain't a world record until it's been okayed by Walter Day. And when it is, and he enters that score onto his little ol' Web site, your status as a god is secured. (Until you're beaten.)

And then, along came Steve Wiebe (pronounced Wee-bee, but someone should try telling Day that). This guy was primed to be a major league baseball pitcher, until he hurt his arm. Then he could have been in one of the first grunge bands to hit it big, until the band broke up. Now... he's a high school science teacher, living with the memories of what he could have been. Back in college, he had a Donkey Kong arcade game set up in his room, and would play it endlessly just to keep his mind busy. When one day he'd been playing for a couple of hours and then suddenly Mario just died on his screen for no apparent reason, he sold the unit.

Little did he know, he'd been one of two people in the entire world to see the mystical "kill screen," a glitch in the Donkey Kong game where you can't get by a certain level, and your man just dies. Practically no one else had ever made it that far.

Fast-forward to a few years ago, when he bought another machine and began playing in his garage. Aware of Mitchell's high score (you're nobody in the gaming world unless you know Mitchell's high score), he began working to beat it. And then... he did.

What follows is a shocking, entertaining, hilarious, and painful look at what happens when an unknown underdog threatens the mantle of the "Obi Wan Kenobi" of gamers. This movie is absolutely brilliant, and will keep you in suspense right up to the end. The filmmakers were incredibly lucky to get the story they got (they were following a few attempts at breaking game records, and in the end they realized the true story was the Billy vs. Steve fight, and focused all their cameras in that direction... just in time). Be prepared for a documentary that's very skewed in one direction, however; I recently saw the equally brilliant "My Kid Could Paint That," and that one will keep you guessing long after the DVD ends. The filmmakers clearly don't like Billy Mitchell, and they've edited the movie to make you dislike him, too.

But when Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" begins playing, you'll see the funniest use of a song in a documentary that I've seen in years.

To see the trailer, go here. Then go to your local video store and ask for it. You might not find it on the shelf, but ask before you give up (I'd tried two places, and when we finally ended up at Blockbuster, the guy looked at us like we were crazy... and then found it stuck behind another movie).