Saturday, September 30, 2006

The Bible Summarized by a Smartass, Part One: Genesis 1-27

Chapter One
God creates everything in six days, creating Man in his image and giving him rulership over everyone and everything, including the Garden where he lives. Interestingly, he specifically points to fruit and vegetables as food, rather than animals; he doesn’t say it’s specifically wrong to eat animals, but he doesn’t say it’s okay either. He tells Man to be fruitful and multiply, and then sits back, pleased with his work, a smile and the satisfaction of finishing something huge.

Chapter Two
Unlike most employers, God recognizes the importance of a day off and sanctifies the seventh day of the week as rest day. While God’s napping, we get a second account of the Creation, this one more arcane than the first. God specifically creates Adam and makes him all sorts of animal companions so that he won’t get lonely. The animals just aren’t cutting it, so before this can become a bestiality story God knocks Adam out and, with a combination of some back alley surgery and hoodoo, creates a companion for Adam that will henceforth be known, creatively enough, as the Woman. Yes, this is what Adam calls her: Woman. Adam and his chick walk around naked and unashamed, because there’s no Media and no Church to make them feel bad about their bodies.

Chapter Three
Just like in African legends, the snake can talk. In what has to be the most artless condensed version of Paradise Lost of all time, the snake tells the Woman she’s an idiot for believing that the Tree of Knowledge is a bad thing. The snake says it’ll make her smart, but God is afraid of equal opportunity in education. The Woman promptly eats the fruit and gets Adam to do the same. Suddenly realizing they’re naked, they hide from God, who (no dummy he) figures out right away what’s happened and starts with the curses. He curses the snake to always be a rather heavy-handed literary symbol, he curses the Woman to be the second class citizen of history, and he curses Adam with the one thing no man wants: responsibility. Adam’s going to have to work and farm and eventually die, but at least he’s got the Woman for a concubine/servant/housecleaner, I guess. Adam finally deigns to give his wife a name (Eve), and God puts clothes on their backs and ushers them out the door, never to return to the Garden, lest they find the Tree of Life and get in on God’s longevity treatments.

Chapter Four
Adam and Eve have two sons: Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a shepherd. Cain offers God some of the things he’s grown; Abel slaughters some firstborn lambs. God is pleased with the bloody slaughter, but laughs off Cain’s offering (“Fruit?! WTF?!”) and is tactless enough to be surprised when Cain gets a little pissy about it. God offers some words of encouragement that amount to: “Do your best, eat your wheat-cakes, and don’t do anything sinful.” Cain, tired of being treated like the Special Ed kid, kills Abel in a field and, apparently, doesn’t even try to hide the body. God gives Cain a chance to come clean, but Cain just wants to be flip about it, so God pulls out his favorite go-to: the curse. He curses Cain to always be a fugitive and vagabond who will fail at everything, but—in a last minute response to Cain’s crying—God puts a mark on him to protect him from other people. Of course, as far as we know, there are only four—scratch that—three people on the entire planet, but Cain rushes off to Nod, gets married, and either has a kid called Enoch or founds a town called Enoch (which doesn’t exactly sound like vagrancy to me). Adam and Eve have a replacement son, Seth.

Chapter Five
Adam lives to be 130 years old; following his lineage and the incredible fake ages of the people involved, Bishop Ussher once calculated that the world is 6000 years old. I once used a Star Trek compendium to predict the entire history of the future, but that turned out to be fake, too. Plus I was eleven. Anyway, at 130, Adam has Seth (which must’ve been hell on his body delivering a son at an advanced age…oh, wait) and a bunch of unnamed sons and daughters, and makes it to 930 years before capping it. The lineage goes down and down until we’re introduced to the next major character, Noah, who as the young age of 500 has triplets: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Chapter Six
Now, for this first several thousand years of God-fearing human history, the angels have been coming down and making it with human women and having demi-god children who are “the mighty men of old, ones of renown.” Like Hercules? God decides to put a term limit on mankind so they won’t live past 120 years, but he’s still pissed off at how decadent and disobedient they are. Disappointed for creating something so flawed, and maybe a little psychotically depressed about it, he decides he’s going to wipe the slate clean. So, you know, human life means a lot to the guy. About as much as independence and education, but let’s move on. God likes Noah, though, and Noah likes God, and since God keeps staring at the flaws in the design like a pissed off freemason about to dynamite a bridge, he orders Noah to build an ark (his blueprints are very specific). He tells Noah to make sure to gather two of every animal (a logistical nightmare to say the least), his family, and an assload of food (note: assload might not be the actual word used in most translations). Rather than get in a philosophical debate about destroying all of Creation but giving it a chance to survive, Noah does what he’s told. Maybe he’s heard about the curses.

Chapter Seven
God gets even more specific, then confides to Noah his sadistic plan to drown everyone on the planet for not going to church more often. Noah smiles and nods. The ark is finished, it rains for 40 days and 40 nights, the flood kills everyone on the planet and lasts for 150 monotonous days.

Chapter Eight
God has apparently forgotten all about Noah, because this chapter begins: “Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing.” Maybe mass murder makes him sleepy. God opens the drain, the water goes away, and the ark comes to rest on Mount Ararat on the seventeenth day of the seventeenth month (?). It takes months for the water to clear up; eventually Noah’s dove finds another heavy-handed literary symbol: the olive leaf. God says everything’s skippy, Noah apparently sacrifices one of every animal, and God is apparently pleased by the smell of burning flesh. God promises not to go all kill-happy again; must’ve gotten planetary murder out of his system.

Chapter Nine
God blesses Noah and his boys, tells them to get to repopulating the planet, and gives them the standard Adam deal: dominion, etc. This time, he specifically tells them they can eat “every moving thing that lives.” But don’t drink blood, he stipulates, and don’t kill unless, you know, it’s for revenge. Then he creates a pretty rainbow as a symbol of his promise to never get all flood-crazed again, because he knows that the best way to get people to forget something nasty and important is to distract them with a shiny, pretty thing. God’s nothing if not a showman. Disturbingly, God seems to imply that he needs the rainbow to remind him not to flood the earth again. Can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for the next time he gets bored and kills everyone. Anyway, Noah’s boys give birth to the entirety of Human Race 2.0 and Noah retires to his own vineyard and becomes an alcoholic (he’s been through a lot). Ham is traumatized when he sees his dad naked after passing out drunk, and even does his best to cover Noah; but Noah, embarrassed, curses Ham’s sons (in Canaan) to always be slaves to Shem and Japheth (whom he blesses for not looking at his pecker while he was in his alcoholic shame). Noah lives on for another 350 years, during which time he is probably unbearable from the shame of his children knowing he has a penis, and dies at the age of 950. So, the cause of hundreds of years of tribal rivalry and bloodshed results from some guy accidentally seeing his wino dad’s cock. Somebody has some issues.

Chapter Ten
More lineage and hagiography about how everyone who ever lived is descended from this dysfunctional family (which technically starts at Adam, the first man to subjugate his own wife). See, they’re all related, but they just can’t decide who gets to be the leader. Well done, Arabs and Jews, this doesn’t make you sound petty and ridiculous at all.

Chapter Eleven
Oh, did I forget to mention that everyone on the planet speaks the same language? Maybe it’s all Indo-European or something. People in Shinar create masonry (ugh, finally) and build a city and a ziggurat. Like any dictator, God sees the ingenuity and unity of the people as a threat to his own power, so he decides to play them off one another to dull their ambitions. Time for another curse! This time, God confuses everyone by making them all speak different languages. The building of the city ceases, no one can agree on an official language, people become scared, and nations become pitted against one another. And God, who just a couple of hundred years back was worried that people weren’t pious enough, sits back with immense satisfaction over turning them all against one another. In seemingly unrelated news, Shem’s line continues down to Terah, who has three sons: Abram, Nahor, and Horan. They all live in the city of Ur.

Chapter Twelve
God, it turns out, doesn’t much like Ur, but he does like Abram. So he tells Abram to take his mom, his wife (Sarai), and his nephew (Lot) and get the hell out of his daddy’s house. God tells Abe that he has real plans for the 75 year-old: to be the father of a great nation (including rulership over Canaan, which doesn’t really seem like the foundation of a great nation so much as a place to forget about). Abram ends up in Egypt, but he’s xenophobic, so he tells Sarai to pretend she’s his sister, because he’s heard that Egyptians like to kill married Canaanites or something. The Pharaoh takes an instant liking to Sarai and, assuming she’s in play, takes her into his house and, for her sake, treats Abram well. God doesn’t cotton to the arrangement however, and tells an understandably shocked and outraged Pharaoh what’s what. Pharaoh keeps his self-respect by kicking Abram and Sarai out of his country.

Chapter Thirteen
Oh, did I forget to mention that Abram and Lot are both rich and are traveling with a virtual army of retainers, cattlemen, servants, and such? I did? Well, so did the Bible, actually. They have so much stuff that they can’t even live together, and their flocks and herds take up so much land that their herdsmen are getting involved in tiny range wars. Lot decides to settle in green, cool, watery Jordan, while Abram heads back to dusty old Canaan. With some more encouragement from God—the nation, the descendents, etc—Abram settles in Hebron.

Chapter Fourteen
War breaks out in the Holy Land; Lot is taken captive, so Abram creates an army out of his 318 slaves and rescues his nephew in what is the least exciting “adventure” episode of the Bible so far. Maybe they should’ve gotten Edgar Rice Burroughs to take a pass at the manuscript. Anyway, the septuagenarian Abe is blessed by King Melchizedek of Salem, but refuses to accept any reward.

“Nice shootin’ son, what’s your name?”


Chapter Fifteen
Abram instead asks God for a reward: a son, which he wants badly. God promises the nation, the descendents, etc. Hungry, God asks for another blood sacrifice, then tells Abe that—hah hah!—his descendents will actually be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years but, you know, it’ll all be okay because God will (eventually) judge the foreign land. But it’s okay, because Abram will die peacefully at an old age. God even taunts Abram with the specific boundaries of the land of the Hebrews, knowing that Abe won’t live to see it. I wish I could say this kind of teasing cruelty was out of character.

Chapter Sixteen
Sarai, also in her seventies, figures (not unreasonably) that she can’t have children anymore, so she tells Abe he should do the maid, Hagar, in the hopes that they will conceive an heir. Hagar is an exotic Egyptian lady, so Abe agrees without a single word of protest. Hagar conceives and gets all uppity about it, lording it over poor Sarai, who responds by beating the shit out of her (with Abram’s permission, of course). Hagar flees, but an angel gets her to go back home with the (probably empty) promise of the nation, the descendents, etc. Hagar goes home and gives birth to Ishmael, making the 86 year-old Abram a first time father.

Chapter Seventeen
Thirteen years later, God is still stringing Abram along with the nation, the descendents, etc, and rather arbitrarily tells Abe that he really looks like an Abraham. So the old guy changes his name and God tells him about how all of these Hebrews are going to worship him. Oh, but only if they’re circumcised. I think at this point God is just trying to see how far he can push Abraham, but he goes for it: foreskin=damnation. So Abe cuts off his foreskin, cuts off everyone else’s (including his slaves’), and is rewarded with a promise that Sarai (who’d better change her name to Sarah ay-sap) will have a son. Which is, I’m sure, what any 90 year-old woman would want to be told.

Chapter Eighteen
Three men who are all God come to Abe’s for dinner, yet again promising the baby, the nation, the descendents, etc. Sarah laughs at the notion of a woman her age having a baby, but God responds by getting an “I’ll show you” ‘tude. Then he decides that he needs to smite Sodom and Gomorrah for not going to church often enough. Abe tries to reason with God, asking him to think of the pious who are there, so God (in a sociopathic whimsy) agrees to spare the cities if he can find at least ten righteous people there.

Chapter Nineteen
Two angels come to Sodom to meet Lot, who offers to host them. The angels seem to be set on the course of destruction, because Lot has to ask them twice before they’re forced to admit that there’s at least one nice guy in town. Strangers in town mean bad hoodoo, I guess, and the men of the town gather in front of Lot’s door. The exchange goes something like this:

Men: “Bring out the strangers! We want to rape them!”

Lot (apparently being heroic): “No, you can’t do that! But, you know, if you gots to rape someone, I have two daughters in here!”

Men: “Keep your lissome beauties! Nothing but foreigner ass will satisfy us!”

Some lone guy in the crowd: “One of those furners was a-judgin’ me! I’s gonna teach him to think twice about thinking I’m violent by violently violating his asshole!”

Men: “Break the door in!”

God: “Time for another curse!”

Men: “Fuck! We’re blind!”

Angels: “You know, you should think about moving out of town, like, tonight, because the town’s not going to be here tomorrow.”

Lot’s son-in-laws: “Yeah, right, whatever.”

So, Lot rushes the hell out of town with his wife and daughters in tow. God’s aim isn’t so great, so the angels tell him to get into the mountains and hide behind stuff. Lot’s too tired to go all the way into the hills, so he stops at Zoar while God rains death and destruction on Sodom and Gomorrah, murdering everyone in town, leveling the buildings, and salting the earth so nothing can ever grow again. Lot’s wife rubbernecks the action, and God, embarrassed at a human seeing him in a rather undignified moment, turns her into a human-sized deer lick. Which is a little extreme, considering he lets Abraham watch it from a ways back, but that’ll teach Lot’s nameless, uncharacterized wife to be a woman in the Bible! Lot, scared shitless, rushes up into the mountains and hides in a cave with his daughters. In a fit of flawless logic, Lot’s daughters decide they’ll never have children unless they get daddy drunk and fuck him, so on two sequential nights (no hot, richly detailed three-way incest action here), Joe Simpson’s dreams come true.

Chapter Twenty
Abe decides to move, and once again tells Sarah to pose as his sister. King Abimelech (the first biblical name my spell check doesn’t recognize) falls for Sarah and takes her in, so she must look awesome for ninety years old. God, pissed off as usual, confronts the king in a dream. The king defends himself in a cool, rational manner, and gives the wife back to Abe; God gets all huffy and takes the credit, proclaiming Abraham a prophet. Even though the king has been as polite as could be expected, God threatens him with death if he doesn’t get his shit together. King Abimelech responds by making Abe appear in front of his slaves and calling him on his dicklick behavior, and Abe just kind of cries and admits that he just assumed the people of Gerar were godless. “Plus,” he says, “you know, I didn’t really lie so much, because Sarah is my half-sister as well as my wife” (which is logic that only the mass murder-rationalizing God could approve of). To prove he can be magnanimous, the king gives Abe slaves, sheep, money, land, and Sarah’s self-respect. Oh, and as an afterthought, it is mentioned that God sewed up all the wombs of the women in the royal household, opening them only after Sarah was given back. So, I guess God’s a real hero for forcing a perfectly reasonable man to correct a mistake he only made accidentally and was willing to make up for.

Chapter Twenty-One
So, Sarah gives birth to Isaac and he’s circumcised right off the bat. Ishmael, now 14, is understandably upset about being displaced as heir. Sarah doesn’t like the chip on his shoulder, so she tells Abe to kick him (and his mother) out of the house. God approves of this, because he thinks Isaac is more important and, apparently, wants to set off a rivalry to see what happens (which makes God a lot like Jeff Probst, when you think about it). God waits until Hagar and Isaac have almost died of thirst to pull out his favorite empty promise: the nation, the descendents, etc. Because that’ll make a dying woman feel better. Isaac marries an Egyptian woman. Meanwhile, King Abimelech and Abe settle a disagreement over the placement of wells by making a pact that their descendents, the Hebrews and the Philistines, will always be the best of friends.

Chapter Twenty-Two
Even though Abraham has always done whatever God told him to, God decides that now is the time to test Abe’s loyalties. God tells Abe to take Isaac to the top of a mountain and sacrifice him. Without even a pause for drama or a single qualm or a “What the fuck kind of responsible deity asks that from someone?” Abraham walks up the mountain and knifes his kid. Except that God jumps out of the bushes at the last second, probably laughing and pointing. “Oh, dude, you were totally going to do it! You were! You should see your face, man! You’ve just been Punk’d!” Now that God knows Abe is his unquestioning slave, he promises the nation, descendents, etc once again as consolation.

Chapter Twenty-Three
Sarah dies (probably relieved) at the age of 127. Abe buries her in a cave.

Chapter Twenty-Four
God chooses Isaac’s wife: Rebekah, a Hebrew woman who lives in Mesopotamia. She’s apparently a perfect choice despite the fact that she is also Isaac’s cousin. Around verse 24, the nameless slave sent to procure Rebekah relates, almost verbatim, everything that we have read in the previous 23 verses. Rebekah’s father sells the girl off, probably just to shut the slave up before he recites the previous 23 chapters as well, and Rebekah and Isaac wed.

Chapter Twenty-Five
Abe gets remarried to a woman named Katurah, who is so fertile that she bears the ancient old coot six more sons (and apparently they’re all his). Then Abraham leaves everything to Isaac and finally has the grace, at the age of 175, to die and make room for someone else. He’s buried next to Sarah. Rebekah is barren, but God just snaps his fingers and changes all that. Ike has two sons, Esau (a hunter) and Jacob (a mild-mannered boy whom Becky dotes on). Ike likes the manly boy better than gentle Jacob, but Jacob is smarter and gets Esau to sell his birthright for some soup. Which kind of makes Jacob a dick.

Chapter Twenty-Six
Ike moves to Gerar because of famine, but God warns him to stay out of Egypt (that would be detrimental to the whole nation, descendents, etc that God just can’t seem to organize). Despite the fact that it never got his dad anywhere, Isaac heeds God’s word and moves in with an amazingly-still-alive King Abimelech. And, get this, Ike pretends that Becky is his sister! The poor king calls Ike on his bullshit and calls him a fucker for trying to bring unintentional guilt on the people of Gerar, who have had it up to here with God’s enforcer routine. Abimelech just takes the easy route and decrees that no one jumps out of a closet and murders Ike so he can marry Becky. There, done. Ike begins to prosper, but the Philistines start to get all nationalistic about it and stop up all the wells. Ike turns to the king for help, but the king just suggests he quietly skip town. God tells Ike not to worry because, you know, the nation, the descendents, etc. The Philistines and Hebrews vow to be friends again, even though they’ve both proven they’re pretty shitty about trusting people. This chapter could’ve been cut for brevity’s sake.

Oh, and Esau marries two women, Judith and Basemath.

Chapter Twenty-Seven
An old, blind Isaac asks Esau to hunt him a final meal, but while he’s gone Rebekah tells Jacob to slaughter a goat so he can serve the final meal and get Ike’s blessing instead. She even puts goat hair on the kid so he’ll feel as fuzzy as Esau, and Jacob serves the food claiming that God (who, for once, is not in earshot) helped him kill something really fast. Isaac instantly blesses Jacob—the nation, the descendents, etc.—and realizes too late that he has been deceived. Esau should probably be happy he doesn’t have to deal with God stringing him along for the rest of his life, but instead he gets pissed and demands another blessing. Isaac is frankly too tired, so he just offers some claptrap about living by the sword and throwing off the yoke of his brother’s tyranny. Esau, perhaps unsurprisingly, starts planning a scenario where Jacob accidentally falls on a sword out in the woods. Becky tells Jacob to flee to Uncle Laban’s house in Haran.

Be here next week for more thrilling-yet-oddly-boring adventures of the dysfunctional family that a large percentage of the population is actually thrilled to claim they're descended from!

***********UPDATE 26 August 2007******
It's come to my attention recently that this post has been linked on a number of websites that are bringing readers to it. If anyone's interested in more, this series completed back in June after I had read the entire Bible. Click here to go to the post that links each part. And thanks for reading! And there is adult language throughout, just so you know.

Friday, September 29, 2006

TV Report: Ugly Betty

I can’t really discuss this show without spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it and have it TiVo-ed or something, you know…

I really, really liked Ugly Betty in spite of its problems. Unfortunately, I think the problems they’re going to have might be insurmountable. But let’s do the plot first. America Ferrera (whom I adore from Real Women Have Curves and who is the reason I’m watching this show in the first place) stars as Betty Suarez, a poor girl from Queens who scores as a job as the assistant to Daniel Meade (Eric Mabius, doing I guess the best he can), the new editor at Mode, a high fashion magazine. Daniel is the son of the publisher, has a playboy image, and keeps sleeping with his assistants. To keep him focused, daddy hires Betty to work for the boy, knowing that he won’t be tempted for a second. Betty is the underdog, a girl with no fashion-sense who wears dowdy clothes, is overweight, has plain hair and makeup, and still wears braces and glasses. In the world of fashion and image, she is barely a presence (except, of course, as an object of ridicule). This all sounds familiar, I know. The plot’s not exactly a stunner of original storytelling; not only is it a remake of a Spanish-language telenovela called Betty La Fea, but most of it is familiar from Working Girl, Mean Girls, and especially The Devil Wears Prada.

Now about those problems. First off, the pilot doesn’t quite find its tone. It wants to be screwball, florid, sweet, and broadly comedic all at the same time. Betty almost becomes a caricature, but America Ferrera is too good an actress to let that happen, even as the character is being humiliated over and over again. Daniel doesn’t have the extra dimensions he desperately needs to be a three-dimensional character. Many of the other characters are drawn so broad they’re practically cartoons: Vanessa Williams as Daniel’s rival, Michael Urie as her assistant, Becki Newton as Betty’s rival, Mark Indelicato as Betty’s swishy nephew, and a cameoing Gina Gershon as an Italian supermodel are all so over-the-top that they distract from the heart of the story, which is Betty gaining the confidence to make her way in a cutthroat profession. And the Betty-saves-the-day plot has every chance of becoming a rather silly cliché. And then there’s the overriding problem: it seems that the former editor of Mode faked her own death and is trying to take over the publisher’s empire or something. Yes, there’s a cartoon villain sitting in a dungeon and watching everything that happens while she plots. It’s a crazy addition to what was already a troubled storyline, and it’s handled in a clumsy way that makes it comes across as even dumber than it has to be. I literally looked at the screen and said to my empty apartment: “What the fuck?”

But there were things I did like about Ugly Betty. I liked that, unlike Anne Hathaway’s character in The Devil Wears Prada, Betty doesn’t have to compromise her principles or her self-respect (god damn it the last fifteen minutes of that movie pissed me off). There’s not the grand makeover scene we always get; Betty gets by on her own smarts and ingenuity, not by playing the game. America Ferrera is, as always, extremely likable, and pulls off a character that could very easily be a stereotype or a cipher for heavy-handed messages about how looks shouldn’t matter. She’s just so damn good, you almost want to forgive all of the lapses in taste that the show makes all too often.

But, ultimately, I can’t. There is a lot of potential there, much more than I found in the pilots for Heroes and Smith. But honestly, where are we going from here?

Speaking of Smith, I tried to watch the second episode, but it just sort of passed by me without really being noticed. I’m out; no more of this one for me. I’m also teetering on the brink with Bones, which is never going to be as clever as it actually thinks it is. The Office continues to be brilliant, however, and I’m going to keep watching Shark for a while, because I like James Woods and Danielle Panabaker, as long as it doesn’t get as lame as it has the potential to. And I caught tonight’s Hannah Montana because I come running for my beloved Dolly Parton any time she calls.

A word about My Name Is Earl: what the hell happened to Nadine Velasquez? Is it just me, or is her accent much more over the top than it was last season? Her character Catalina didn’t even appear in the premiere and it seems like they had to really scramble to find a way to force her into the second episode. The overwhelming presence of Catalina in this episode highlighted a couple of things: first, she isn’t a funny character in the least; second, Nadine Velasquez is not a funny actress in the least; third, she especially isn’t funny when her character is made to speak like she’s in some crappy Coen Brothers movie; and fourth, there’s really no place for her character in the story’s larger thematic arc of redemption and familial relationships. It didn’t bother me too much that this was the first episode of Earl that didn’t involve an item from the list, but at the same time there was no moral dilemma to be fixed, nothing to make right with karma; just a lot of silly gags about strippers and catfights. They really need to ditch Catalina and allow Jaime Pressly to continue being the funny one.

Next week brings the second episode of Heroes, the third episode of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (which may end up being a make-or-break episode for me), and the premiere of Lost (which may also be make-or-break for me). I can hope, but…


At dawning swells and pools cascade
Sun-kissed by time and cannonade
The painted arc of delight

The purple twinkling light parade
Inexorably fragrant glade
Reverbs the sound of the night

Soft, inviting promise, arms enfold…
Stars in the sky blown out and weeping
No more sleeping.

Faint train that sounds a dimming shade
A teasing hint of lemonade
Arpeggios in mid-flight

Sunk raven hides a colonnade
Wood underfoot a spoiled arcade
A groove that died in the night

Soft, inviting promise, arms unfold…
Light in the eyes blown out and deeping
Won’t be keeping
When they’re gone.

29 September 2006

Throwdown 9/29

15 random thoughts, questions, and observations for the week.

1. Uwe Boll knocked out five film critics in a boxing ring, apparently proving that he’s a great director and that the critics are full of shit. One of them even said they think Boll’s newest film Seed “is fantastic.” Boll said: “See what happens when they take a blow to the head? They like my movies.” Um…yeah, well, you’d almost have to, wouldn’t you?

2. Eva Longoria was voted the sexiest woman in the world by Maxim readers for the second year in a row. Why? She’s not attractive, unlike most Latin women she has no ass, and she’s too fucking skinny and ragged. Seriously, I just don’t get it. And it doesn’t help that every single time she opens her mouth, she says the dumbest fucking thing imaginable.

3. You know, I never thought I’d say this, but I’m getting real fucking tired of seeing Pamela Anderson’s nipples all the time.

4. Here’s a headline I saw on the Internet Movie Database: “Tom Cruise Comforts Distraught Beckham.” No comment. None needed.

5. T Mobile is not renewing their contract with spokesmodel Catherine Zeta-Jones, which can only be a good thing as it means less of her on television. Remember when she used to be so beautiful? Why does she look like an old Asian woman now?

6. See, if somebody had just told me that Jemima Rooper has a topless lesbian romp with Mia Kirshner in The Black Dahlia, I would’ve gone to see it! I like Brian De Palma anyway, but I kept hearing the movie was awful. But my intense desire to see Jemima Rooper naked would’ve trumped that completely. There’s no movie too awful for me to see someone naked in.

7. Hilary Duff turned 19 this week; is it just me, or does she seem a little, like, tipsy? I mean, to be fair, you do get drunk faster when you only weigh 17 pounds, but still…

8. Keith Richards apparently showed up drunk to the set of Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Can it be true? Next you’ll be telling me that Willie Nelson got busted for pot! In related news, the sun rose in the east this morning.

9. Okay, I think it was tragic that Anna Nicole Smith’s son died (it turns out—shock! horror!—from doing drugs), but I’m begging the media to stop giving her anymore space in the news columns. Anna finally revealed that her baby’s daddy is her creepy, enamored hanger-on of a lawyer Howard K. Stern, and the two of them have just gotten married. It’s getting creepy now, and not in a fun Addams Family sort of way, but in a tired, “is Jennifer Aniston ready to love” kind of way. I need to take a shower…

10. See, it’s pictures like this that flash in my mind when I hear someone talking about how great Ashlee Simpson looks now that she’s got a nose job. Seriously, looking at this hurts my eyes, because I know what Ashlee looks like and her face shouldn’t be so flat. No character in her face anymore; so sad.

11. I know I ain’t the first to say it, but Posh Spice’s new boobs are kind of ridiculous.

12. Britney Spears fired her publicist Leslie Sloane-Zelnick, the woman I blame for ruining Lindsay Lohan (great job there, by the way). Thank you Brit Brit. Still love you.

13. You know, I actually knew that this was a picture of Christina Ricci before anyone actually told me. Sad, isn’t it? I recognize the mole. Anyway, this new ink (or “titty tat,” as I’ve been reading it called, which makes me giggle like a schoolgirl) matches another sparrow tattoo she’s got on her hip. I don’t know, I’m kind of zen about breasts. I’m not sure that painting a picture out of ink and permanent scarring really enhances something so naturally wonderful. Just a thought.

14. The guys who own the Spring Garden restaurant right across the street from me were sentenced to time in prison last Friday for defrauding a bank out of more than $97,000. Dude, they made the best burgers in town. God damn it, now what am I going to fucking do for burgers?

15. So, Dustin Diamond has a sex tape, and someone’s trying to distribute it. Because, sadly, I’m sure there are people out there who want to watch Screech fuck. It’s called Saved by the Smell. No, it really is. And apparently he likes to be shat upon. Is that comet going to hit the planet, or what? Please?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Mahalo lu le, Mahalo lu la, Keeni waka pula

I had a hellish moment last night. Becca and I were watching Bones, and for the first time it occurred to me that David Boreanaz’s ex is played by Jessica Capshaw. “That can’t be right,” I said. “Jessica Capshaw’s not old enough to have a ten-year-old kid! Jessica Capshaw’s…my…age…”

And then the liver spots broke out on my hand.

Okay, I’m exaggerating the last part. But still, it didn’t exactly do wonders for me.

For some reason lately, I’ve been drawn to the call of the waves. I’m sure part of it has to do with watching Summerland reruns and reading the new biography Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson and listening to his music repeatedly (I’m listening to “Surfer Girl” right now, as it turns out). And it makes me think about something I’ve never really shared with anyone, not even Becca.

I always wanted to live on the beach and learn to surf. I surfed once in my life, on the beach at Talofofo Bay on Guam, near where my grandparents live. I was 12 years old at the time. Ever since then, I’ve harbored a secret fantasy of moving out to the beach, getting in shape, and getting a board and really learning to surf. I always kind of thought I would; and when I wasn’t surfing, I would devote time to my writing career or go fishing. I’d meet some dark-skinned girl and we’d raise a beautiful little girl or two in our modest home on the sand, and my little girls would dance to my Beach Boys CDs the same way my sister and I danced to my dad’s Beach Boys eight-track when we were little, on Saturday mornings when he made pancakes. And it would be a simple, happy life.

I know it’s silly, and I know I could have done a lot more to make it happen. I could’ve not listened to people who told me to think smaller, to not push my limitations too much, to be happy with what I already have. But I’ve just been thinking a lot about it lately. I just feel a little stuck is all; stuck in my poverty, my laziness, my near-total lack of ambition. I’ve been feeling the absence of children in my life, the absence that was filled by two wonderful stepsisters, and now is only filled by one whom I love more than anything. I’ve been feeling the cold come in and thinking of the Warmth of the Sun and the near-religious wave of euphoria I feel when listening to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. I’ve been feeling the pressure to get a job and do something with my life. When the truth is I’m content to sit in a room and just write.

Is thirty too old for a mid-life crisis?

The United Nations and American Nationalism

“One widely posted warning reads, SMOKING DISCOURAGED/VEUILLEZ EVITER DE FUMER, and that says it all about the United Nations, its power and might.” --P.J. O’Rourke, The CEO of the Sofa, 2001

As anti-American feelings grow at the United Nations, we’re starting to get more and more idiot screeds like this one, which appears in today’s Rolla Daily News, and in which William Rusher ponders the question: “Must we put up with the United Nations?” In the face of speeches (Rusher characterizes them as “outbursts”) by President Ahmed Ahmedinejad of Iran and President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, neither of whom is a big fan of America at the moment, Rusher feels that America should pick up its bat and go home because, you know, we don’t wanna play rough. Rusher’s reasoning, in the space of an opening paragraph, quickly moves along the logical lines of a child: I’m going home (“why not simply withdraw from the United Nations”), I’m telling (“or at least stop paying a quarter of its expenses”), no, I’m staying, you leave (“or (better yet) tell it to vacate its fancy offices on Manhattan’s East Side and relocate to Paris”). And then he spends the rest of his space justifying his bitchfest.

In Rusher’s history of the United Nations, the UN was founded in 1945 “to provide a dignified forum in which the world’s nations could discuss their problems and their differences in a peaceful setting.” Of course, a cynic might point out that it was actually put in place to provide a peaceful negotiating table for the US and the USSR to divide up Europe upon without turning on one another and extending the war. The United Nations literally played host to the beginning of the Cold War; it was put in place to keep that war cold, lest mushroom clouds start sprouting all over the world. Or, to let P.J. O’Rourke comment again: “A doddering Franklin Roosevelt thought that the naïve United States, enervated Britain, corrupt and impotent Nationalist China, and Stalin’s gulag of a Soviet Union would be the world’s ‘Four Policemen.’ And quite a plot for NYPD Blue that would be.” He goes on to reference Sir Alexander Cadogan, the British UN representative who attended the preliminary 1944 conference, who called the meeting “a foretaste of hell.”

But according to Rusher, “the United Nations behaved reasonably well until about 1960, when an incoming flood of ex-colonial nations seized control of the General Assembly and began using the United Nations as a bargaining tool to extract various concessions (mostly money) from the two sides in the Cold War.” But, that’s actually what the United Nations was set up to do. After the fallout from World War II, nations were supposed to give up their colonial properties, and those colonial properties were nations that had been forced to modernize and now had no idea how to govern themselves. In many cases (say, most of Africa and the Middle East) this resulted in a disaster that has yet to end. And there were two problems inherent in former colonies. First, they were forced (mainly by the UN) to remain in the rather arbitrary borders created by their former imperial masters. And second, having been excluded from the inner workings of the colonial governance, they had no experience governing themselves on anything like a national scale. Now, without going too far into the colonial disaster, let’s just put it this way: you conquer part of Africa, take all the tribes in your area no matter the rivalries, differences of religion, differences of culture, etc, govern them and treat them as slaves/human shields, and then abandon them but force them to remain a country, and then you’re surprised when the varying tribal factions start slaughtering one another for the next hundred years? And since there were two superpowers to turn to, the Democratic US and the Communist USSR, the former colonials were going to go one way or another. Which led to World War III being played on a smaller scale in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, etc.

What Rusher is whining about is that he believes that old claptrap about the United States being the world’s only superpower (though our power and, more importantly, our credibility seems to be evaporating), and he sees the UN as “an instrument for limiting America’s power and thwarting its purposes under the leadership of France and Germany, who not surprisingly sought to counterbalance the United States.” He further laments the “noisy hostility of most UN members to this country.”

How does that not sound like the rhetoric of a man who seems to seriously believe that the United States should be the only superpower in the world? He sounds genuinely depressed that other nations are not accepting the role that people like George W. Bush want them to have: simply put, of being colonial resources to the imperial United States. Has Rusher stopped to consider for a second that Iran and Venezuela might have good reasons not to like the US? Or that other countries might not like us, either? Pat Robertson said publicly that we should murder President Chavez, and Bush didn’t seem too eager to quash that idea. I’m not a fan of President Ahmedinejad by any stretch, but he’s not too happy about us making threats and trying to decide whether or not we should allow him nuclear capabilities. Granted, this needs to be addressed, but Rusher acts as though Iran is overstepping its bounds by being angry about the question. Imagine you’re a small business owner, and the city comes in and starts telling you how you’re “allowed” to conduct your business--what you’re allowed to sell, what kind of facilities you’re allowed to have, whether you can stick a toilet in the back--and you get the idea. Why should Iran be thrilled that the US wants to tell them what to do?

Rusher’s solution to the problem of his hurt nationalism is to “encourage the founding and growth of a new group of the world’s truly democratic nations, dedicated to addressing the world’s problems with their wealth and wisdom, and gradually diminishin the United Nations’s pretentions.” Did that make anyone else laugh? The US has enough problems dealing with its own wealth and wisdom, and Rusher expects us to out-UN the UN? Has he even heard of Iraq? In three years, we haven’t been able to accomplish peace or democracy or anything even approaching stability. So, yeah, the obvious answer is to go around to other countries and do the same thing there? And encouraging democracy is, actually, what we were “officially” doing in Korea and Vietnam, and look how those turned out.

James Burnham suggests that we should continue to support the UN in beneficial matters, but not participate in or vote on political issues, while retaining our veto power to block offensive actions. It’s another suggestion flowing with nationalism and a sense of Manifest Destiny; we shouldn’t participate in the UN, but we should still be able to have control over it. Talk about eating your cake and having it too.

Rusher finally concludes that “there is no reason why the United States must continue to dignify the antics that characterize [the United Nations].” And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is yet another reason Why They Hate Us. Because assholes like Rusher walk around saying, basically, that the UN should bow to our will because their clubhouse is on American soil. That the other countries of the world are somehow beholden to us because we have the grace not to bomb the shit out of them just because we can. That the earth belongs to the US and the rest of the world just mines our resources.

Well, fuck that. That type of thinking, which is sadly prevalent in these conservative times, is utterly asinine. The UN is supposed to be the place to go so world leaders can air these grievances without resorting to war. What else is it for? The United Nations has proven itself nothing if not completely ineffectual since it was founded. For those of us who love to keep score and are students of history, let’s take a look at some of the UN’s “achievements.”

The UN:
1. caused the 1948 Arab-Israeli War with their controversial and nigh-illegal partition of Palestine, which displaced millions of people by forcibly removing them from their homes;
2. allowed China to simply roll in and take over Tibet, subjugating its people and crushing its freedom;
3. allowed the Korean War to break out, which was basically a proxy war between the US and the combined forces of the USSR and Red China;
4. did almost nothing to stop Israel from murdering and conquering its way down the Arab Peninsula during the 1956 Suez Crisis, simply because they thought Egypt wasn’t going to allow them access to the Canal;
5. sat on the sidelines when Russia invaded Hungary in 1956;
6. sent troops to forcibly stop the province of Katanga from seceding from the former Belgian Congo, which was in a state of anarchy at the time;
7. claimed it couldn’t interfere with internal matters and allowed Nigeria to slaughter the new Republic of Biafra, who had seceded from Nigeria;
8. proved the utter powerlessness of its “peacekeeping force” (that oxymoron must be on purpose) by basically sending troops to not participate in the 1967 Six-Day War, the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, and the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon;
9. did nothing to stop the Vietnam War, another proxy war between the US and the USSR for supremacy in Asia;
10. didn’t even seem to notice when the Soviet army put down protestors in Czechoslovakia with extreme force in 1968;
11. simply watched the Tutsi genocide of Hutus in Burundi and the Hutu genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda;
12. allowed Idi Amin to expel all the Asians from Uganda;
13. overlooked Pol Pot’s reign of Khmer Rouge terror in Cambodia;
14. refused to help Iraqis overthrow Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War;
15. refused to do anything about Slobodan Milosevic and his war crimes in the former Yugoslavia;
16. refused to do anything about the Taliban in Afghanistan until America forced the issue;
17. never acted on other crimes against humanity in Somalia, East Timor, etc;
18. slaps us on the wrist every year for blockading Cuba, but refuses to do anything to help the Cubans (unless they’re rich refugees associated with organized crime).

P.J. O’Rourke points out most of these in The CEO of the Sofa, and adds: “I could go on, and the UN doubtless will.”

So, it’s not like the UN is doing anything anyway, except providing comfy seats for delegates who want to sit and listen to why foreign presidents are critical of a country that is trying to rule them without bothering to understand them. But I have to ask the question: when people like Rusher cry that the rest of the world hates us, are they really listening to the reasons why? Or do they seriously think America isn’t doing anything wrong?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006


I'm still not sure how the designs for the Transformers movie can continue to disappoint me when a) I'm have no expectations except for them to be bad, b) I have no interest and don't really care, c) I'm not going to see the fucking thing, and d) I think making a live action movie out of Transformers is pretty damn stupid.

I'm not sure how this:
Gets turned into this:

But I can say one thing. That is damn unpleasant to look at. Posted by Picasa

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

Greta Garbo plays a woman who is abused by her father, forced into marriage with Alan Hale, almost raped by her fiancé, and runs away from home, only to be taken in by Clark Gable. Gable and Garbo fall in love almost immediately, but when Gable leaves to attend a conference, Garbo is found by her father and forced to flee. She boards a circus train and is taken in by the performers, but when her father finds her again, she is forced to take the protection of the circus manager (and yes, that means what you think it does). When Gable finally finds Garbo, he can’t accept the terrible circumstances of her life; basically, it offends his macho sensibilities that she’s been forced to trade sex for protection, as though it’s her fault. So, Garbo becomes a kept woman, working her way up through society and becoming powerful, while Gable becomes a pathetic drunk obsessed with finding her again. And when he does…well, he still can’t accept her sexuality and what she’s done to take control of it. Happiness doesn’t come until she gives up everything to follow him around. Misogynistic to the Nth degree, but Garbo, as always, is perfection. Too bad she’s in such a crappy movie. ** stars.

Greta Garbo is in a tug of war between her new husband and his best friend, only in China with lots of offensive stereotypes (and Warner Oland, best known as Charlie Chan, as a Chinese general, who’s always pretty good, even though he’s always Swedish). It’s not a bad story; it’s just that, except for the always-luminous Garbo, it’s very, very boring. *1/2 stars.

HITCH (2005)
Well, Will Smith is pretty good in it. Sorta Cary Grantish. Let me tell you right off the bat, I cannot for the life of me explain why or how this movie made over a hundred million dollars in the theaters. It’s cute, but it’s not, you know, good. Smith plays a smooth “date doctor” who helps men gain the confidence they need to talk to attractive women. He spends a lot of the movie with Kevin James, a comedian I’m really, really starting to hate. The guy’s just so full of himself, like he’s always apologizing for being fat or something, never really committing to his shtick. The girl he likes, Amber Valetta, is supremely dull. Smith himself falls for Eva Mendes, an actress I don’t care for but who kept making me horny through the whole movie, and I finally figured out why: she looks a hell of a lot like my Jessica Simpson, only with caramel skin, several inches of height, and one of my five favorite things in the world, the fat, sexy Latina ass. So for me, that was the best thing about the movie. Not the non-clever concept, not the workmanlike direction, not the terrible-but-inevitable third act where everything goes wrong because everyone’s a selfish baby and no one can communicate with each other, and especially not the idiotic dance party ending (seriously, what is it with people and supposedly funny bad dancing?). No, it’s just a good masturbation tool if you’re bored and you like fat Latina ass as much as I do. ** stars.

BE COOL (2005)
Another one of the lamest movies of last year. Be Cool works so hard to convince you that it’s as cool as Get Shorty was a decade ago that it forgets to, like, be good. But is there anyone out there who has even seen Get Shorty in the last five years or so? It hasn’t really aged well; these days it feels more like one of the immediate fallout movies from Pulp Fiction that it isn’t necessary to remember. John Travolta looks like it hurts him to walk too much, Vince Vaughn’s wigger routine is nowhere near as funny as the director seems to think it is (seriously, just fucking cut already!), I forgot until just now that Harvey Keitel was even in the fucking thing, and Cedric the Entertainer (I assume the title is meant to be ironic) and his gang of thugs wander in and out of the movie having absolutely no effect on the plot, like a band of black Keystone Kops. There are only a couple of bright spots, and those are Uma Thurman, looking trashy-sexy and fucking hotter than she ever has, and the Rock, who is hilarious in his small role as a gay bodyguard who wants to be an actor. And hey, it ends with more bad dancing, so…wow, there’s nothing but lame-o’s making movies anymore, aren’t there? Christina Milian plays the singer everyone is fighting over; maybe pick someone who doesn’t have such a small voice next time, huh? Then maybe it’ll make more sense. *1/2 stars.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

TV Report: Heroes and Studio 60

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Heroes already has a cult following. The show premiered about 12 hours ago on NBC, but I’m sure there are already people setting up fansites. Why is that? Why are some people so into the concept of a genre show that they’ll just latch on to something before it’s even proven itself? It’s not like there aren’t already genre shows on TV like, say, Lost or House.

Heroes has a long way to go to prove itself, frankly. I was bored to the point of irritation with the premiere episode last night. I mean, I hate to get cynical, but I really felt like I’ve seen the whole thing before and Heroes doesn’t really do anything new. I can say this because I’ve been a comic book reader for the last 20-odd years, and one of the comics I’ve read was J. Michael Straczyinski’s Rising Stars. And Heroes is a lot like Rising Stars. It’s also a lot like a British series from the seventies called The Tomorrow People, but hey, if you’re going to steal, steal from people who actually know how to make compelling television.

So, what we have is a world where people are beginning to evolve into people with superpowers (or at least superpowers that can be represented visually). I don’t want to get into a whole theoretical science thing here, but why would people evolve different powers? Wouldn’t the human race all evolve in the same way, like, as psychics or something? It doesn’t make sense scientifically. But that’s not important to anyone, I guess. Science seems really unimportant to the writers, as evidenced by the silly scene of a total eclipse of the sun that is visible at the exact same moment in New York and Tokyo (which are 13 hours apart, so when it’s day in one it’s night in the other).

But silliness seems to be the order of the day for Heroes. The writers can’t decide if they should have a word crawl to set up the opening, or pretentious narration making the whole thing much more serious than it needs to be, so it gives us both. Then it also gives us a bunch of stock characters that should seem extremely familiar to comic book fans, especially those of us who grew up reading X-Men. It’s like they just combined character traits and powers from the comics in an attempt to hide how much they’re ripping off. Claire has Wolverine’s healing powers and Rogue’s scared personality. Niki has the whole second powerful personality Dark Phoenix thing going on. Isaac is like Cerebro crossed with the personality drama of Jean Grey. Peter and Nathan already have the Scott Summers/Alex Summers brother vs. brother clash going on, and frankly it’s already as tiresome as it was in the comic book (it turns out Peter can’t fly, but am I the only one who thinks they made him look like a low-rent Superman on purpose?). Professor Suresh is, of course, Professor X, trying to gather the children to him before the government finds him.

And then there’s Hiro, a character I both enjoyed and hated. I liked him because he was the only character who wasn’t self-important, wasn’t a boring loser wrapped up in how important his existential problems are, and seemed to genuinely enjoy having powers. (which is funny, because he keeps talking about wanting to be someone, wanting to be special but not in an arrogant, entitled, American sort of way). But I didn’t like him because he seemed like such a stereotype, both Japanese (have the writers not seen anything else with a Japanese person since Sixteen Candles?) and sci-fi geek. These days, even comic book geeks love seeing comic book geeks ridiculed, so I’m not sure if it’s an issue.

Another side note about the writers: just because you have one character reference an issue of X-Men doesn’t mean it’s any less of a rip-off. People are so confused about the meaning of the word homage these days. I used to share an apartment with a guy who would say: “Yeah, I’m an asshole, but at least I know I’m an asshole.” To which I replied: “Recognizing the behavior and refusing to change it is actually worse than not knowing you’re an asshole, asshole.” Just because Heroes is willing to admit it’s kind of a rip-off doesn’t make it okay. It’s still a rip-off, and last night’s episode didn’t do anything original, interesting, or innovative enough to make it anything more than just a cash-in. And besides that, it was cynical, precious, and self-important. Not looking good so far. Not looking good at all.

Everything’s an homage these days, isn’t it? Just like last week’s premiere of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip referencing Network repeatedly. I caught the second episode last night, and the sheer momentum of the show managed to carry it despite the fact that the lack of interesting characterization was much more evident. Aaron Sorkin continues to treat the creation of a comedy sketch show with the importance people used to reserve for complex military operations. If I had one piece of advice for him it would be to remember that he’s not writing a show about the Cuban Missile Crisis; or, as Becca put it during last night’s episode, these guys write for a comedy show, they probably crack a joke every once in a while.

The characters aren’t exactly evolving, so much as staying static. Bradley Whitford plays the only character I’ve found remotely likable so far; Matthew Perry’s relationship with Sarah Paulson has already entered the realm of uninteresting television cliché. With so much going on, the constant bickering doesn’t add anything to what is already an excessive amount of…well, not plotlines so much. I don’t know, stuff? Portentous mutterings? And Amanda Peet varied last week’s overly slick arrogance by, this week, playing it with her hair down.

But what really got to me last night was the comedy. This was going to be the real contest for Aaron Sorkin; he can be clever and he can be pretentious, but can he be funny? I mean, this is a show about a Saturday Night Live analogue (and by the way, in a twist on a recurrent theme in this post, constantly referencing SNL actually does make your show seem like less of a critical attack on how shows like SNL have dropped the ball on pop culture and political humor; quit apologizing and let Lorne Michaels deal with it, for chrissakes!), so eventually we were going to have to see sketch comedy on the show. But a lame Gilbert & Sullivan rip-off? Rewriting the lyrics to Gilbert & Sullivan is freshman year comedy writing. Everyone does it. Tom Lehrer did it, Animaniacs did it, Simpsons did it, even I’ve done it. And not well.

I would say that, so far, Studio 60’s comedy show is exactly as lame, self-referential, self-enamored, and tired as Saturday Night Live.

Monday, September 25, 2006

TV Report, Part 1

Well, we’re into the new TV season now, and since I’m always interested (in a purely selfish, dilettantish way) in what happens, and since this is the first year I’ve experienced it with a TiVo (which means I can actually see shit), I thought I’d be a boor and blog about it. So, here are my thoughts on what I watched.

I don’t know what HBO has coming up anytime soon, but I hope it’s something good (please, Rome, hurry up and come back). I’m currently watching Real Time with Bill Maher, of course, which is always one of my favorite shows. I spent the summer watching Entourage, a show I always enjoy (though I think it’s incredibly overrated right now), and Lucky Louie. I’m not remotely surprised that Lucky Louie was cancelled; I enjoyed it, but it never stopped being awkward and stilted. I just didn’t buy a lot of the criticism of it, though; so many people kept bitching that Louis CK was using his stand-up material as fodder for the show, as though that was a bad thing. As though every single stand-up comic who ever got their own crappy sitcom didn’t do the exact same thing in an effort to get their material in front of a wider audience. Am I the only one who’s ever heard a Bill Cosby album? If you grew up watching The Cosby Show and Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, it’s pretty fucking familiar.

This summer I also enjoyed the second run of Hell’s Kitchen, BBC America’s Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares and Spaced (finally, after five or so years), as well as Hex (even though they did that arbitrary season thing I already complained about). I actually had programs to watch in the summer for a change…

Turner Classic Movies is in week four of nine weeks of rerunning The Dick Cavett Show. It started with a new special where Cavett interviewed Mel Brooks, and now TCM has been showing reruns from the early seventies. As far as late night talk shows go, The Dick Cavett Show stands up there, in my estimation, with The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson (back when it was two hours long), Late Night with David Letterman (at least until the eighties were over), Tomorrow with Tom Snyder, and The Mike Douglas Show as the great TV celebrity talk shows. What do we have nowadays? Jay Leno meanders through a noncommittal monologue, reads typos out of the Jerkwater Chronicle (way to do your own work, son), and has three guests on for four minutes apiece: an actress who’s pushing a movie, a reality star you’ve never heard of and don’t care about, and a singer who’s going to sing a song you’re going to forget a second after the last strains disappear. Ooh, fascinating TV. Dick Cavett was great because he would sit back and listen and let people talk. The man had 90 minutes to talk about the real personalities and multiple facets of a human being; they weren’t just a stop on the publicity tour. They’ve already run his 1971 episode with Woody Allen (excellent television) and another with Robert Mitchum. This week they’re airing Alfred Hitchcock (from 1972), and next month they’re running classic interviews with Bette Davis, Groucho Marx, and Katharine Hepburn (in two parts).

I sort of found the new MyNetworkTV interesting for a second. Apparently, when CBS announced that they were taking UPN and merging with the WB to create one new network (the CW, who is going to kill off the African-American sitcom just like I predicted, you watch), the News Corp.-owned UPN carriers got together to form MyNetworkTV (the whole thing is backed by Fox). As a way to create cheap programming, someone had the interesting idea of doing telenovelas. And it makes sense, really; telenovelas are pretty much popular everywhere else, so why not try it out with an American audience? I was kind of excited to see if it worked, because any kind of format change is interesting to me (I hate the format the networks are locked into now and wish they could streamline it to make it more interesting). Their strategy is to take two telenovelas, put them on in primetime, start them a good two or three weeks before the networks start airing their new shows, and try to grab an audience. Then they air the show five nights a week, no reruns, for a limited run of 16 weeks. Which means no trying to keep a character alive forever so they can run for nine seasons, no second-guessing the effect with the audience so they can run for nine seasons, and no making the season 25% filler episodes so they can run for nine seasons. Do you see what part of my problem with network TV is? Anyway, it seemed like a neat idea, and I admit that the commercials for Fashion House intrigued me. I mean, all I saw was Bo Derek and Morgan Fairchild slapping each other around, and immediately my inner voice said: “I am so there!” I know, I know, but Bo Derek…never mind. I tuned in for the first week of the show, and I thought it was fun in a low rent, Melrose Place sort of way. But after the first week, with the weekend break, when I tried to take another look at Fashion House (and I was TiVo-ing it so I could watch multiple episodes at a time and keep some momentum going) I just didn’t care anymore. It doesn’t hold the interest. I mean, it’s an okay show if you’ve got nothing to do, but it’s not committed enough to its sleazy premise to really be shocking or engrossing in any way. It’s just pretty people with minimal acting talent standing around and stumbling over ham-fisted dialogue. So I’ve already stopped watching it. I will be grateful, however, for introducing me to the very cute Natalie Martinez and the glorious, sexy, fantastic Donna Feldman. If only they were on something I could watch. Or, in Donna Feldman’s case…well, you can imagine where I’m going with that one.

I’ve tried to get into the new season of Bones. It’s a show that I keep thinking is this close to getting good. As sick as I am of all the TV shows about forensic investigators, this one pulled me because I like Emily Deschanel and I like David Boreanaz (or I liked Angel, at any rate). More importantly, my girlfriend likes David Boreanaz, so we ended up watching it last season for the brief time period when it wasn’t directly opposite Lost. I was never able to put my finger on the problem until recently, when Becca introduced me to one of her favorite shows, Wire in the Blood. Now, Wire in the Blood has about the same premise as Bones. In Bones, a brilliant forensic scientist (Emily Deschanel) who is also a social misfit investigates murders with the help of a hotshot FBI agent (David Boreanaz); along the way, he tries to teach her about how people act and how to relax and other such condescending bullshit. In Wire in the Blood, a capable, smart police detective (Hermione Norris) investigates murders with the help of a brilliant psychologist (Robson Green) who is also a social misfit. Now, what’s the major difference in these shows? Well, it’s cultural. Wire in the Blood is British, and in Britain (or at least on British TV), there is not the inherent fear of intelligence that there is on American TV. The characters on Wire in the Blood are allowed to be bright and smart and are able to solve crimes through their mental faculties, not through blind luck and coincidence. On Bones, the smart characters are seen as some sort of aliens; the American audience, which is afraid of smart people, apparently needs David Boreanaz to be their smarmy, asinine, wisecracking, street smart protector against the overwhelming knowledge of the smart people. Frankly, it’s insulting, and I think I have to stop watching the show now. I much prefer the show about the smart people; it’s not condescending. Incidentally, BBC America is about to start airing the fourth series of Wire in the Blood and the first three are available on DVD. See them. Now.

Another British series I’ve been enjoying the hell out of is Footballers’ Wives. I finally decided to plunge in and get the first two seasons on Netflix, and I was not disappointed. If my problem with Fashion House is that it didn’t seem committed to its sleazy premise, Footballers’ Wives almost glories in it. It’s insubstantial as hell, but holy shit is it involving. I am completely in love with Zoe Lucker, who is the most dynamic actress on the show. Her Tanya Turner is such a massive bitch, but an interesting one. Unlike a lot of women on these programs, she gets turned into a manipulator by circumstance; it’s what she has to do to survive, not because she enjoys it. Yet. Another case of the British getting it right (but, you know, when you believe in characters, I guess it’s easy).

Things are still not looking up in the field of animation. The 18th season of The Simpsons is proving to be just as lame, forced, and unfunny as the previous five or six. Remember when that show was funny? Now it’s just stupid; Godfather references on the season premiere? Fox is still insisting on airing the unfunny American Dad and the even unfunnier Family Guy afterwards as well. Yeah, Fox, stay edgy. Adult Swim is also running animation further and further into the ground, and apparently they aren’t going to stop until they reach the Earth’s core. I still love Robot Chicken (which just started up again) and The Venture Bros (which somehow gets funnier and funnier even as it gets more elaborate), but some of these new shows are just crap. Metalocalypse and Korgoth of Barbaria are what I would call insultingly stupid. Or, to quote Dr. Venture, “yeah, I had that issue of Heavy Metal, too.”

I did catch the first episode of the new Legion of Super Heroes on Kids WB the other day, though. It was totally by accident that I ran across it. The great Batman: The Animated Series came on in 1993, when I was in high school, and since then I’ve loved the animated series that dealt with DC characters: Superman (my favorite), Justice League Unlimited, occasionally Batman Beyond, even Teen Titans. But I never could get into The Batman, the newest version which has nothing to do with the other series. And even The Legion of Super Heroes feels a bit like someone who isn’t quite ready trying to do a cover version; it’s not quite able to capture the magic of the earlier one. And (if I may fanboy myself for a mo) the Legionnaires they’ve decided to use are a little disappointing. Bouncing Boy was a lot less annoying than I thought he would be, but I wish they’d gone with Cosmic Boy and Dream Girl, too. And it really doesn’t feel right to me without Princess Projectra. But, who knows what the future will bring? I enjoyed it, I’m going to keep watching it. It’s much better than this newest incarnation of Fantastic Four that Cartoon Network is airing now; for the millionth time, watching a bunch of egotistical fucks acting smarmy is not entertaining.

Sadly, my Friday nights are now gone. I know they weren’t gems, but I miss watching What I Like About You, Reba, and Living with Fran. I complained a LOT about how badly they ran the show into the ground, but as long as What I Like About You was on, I did have a weekly fix of Amanda Bynes, whom I totally love. And to my great surprise, I actually find myself really liking Reba and really thinking it was a good show. I originally started watching it in 2001 (just before I moved to De Kalb to attend NIU) as a placeholder; I have nothing to do, and I like Reba McEntire, and hey, that’s Christopher Rich from The Charmings, so what the hell? Then it became The JoAnna Garcia Show for me; mmm, JoAnna Garcia… But you know I actually liked that show. It’s not one of my favorite sitcoms in the history of TV, but I just enjoyed watching it. Now I need something new on Friday nights, because Becca works on Friday nights and I’m lonely and pathetic and bored. And I sure as hell ain’t gonna watch Ghost Whisperer; I caught that a few times last season, and just as I almost thought I could enjoy it in a dumb first-season-of-Charmed kind of way, it took a really, really stupid turn and gave her some kind of villain. Yeah, you know, I’m 30 years old, and I only expect to live to 42, so I think I’m going to not waste that time on Ghost Whisperer.

It turns out I’m still Disney’s bitch. After bristling because Disney Channel removed reruns of Lizzie McGuire from the schedule and getting pissed over the cancellation of Phil of the Future, I’m still watching the damn thing. That’s So Raven keeps on going, long after it should have ended (seriously, the girls are in their twenties and the high school plots are just getting sillier), and as I’ve said before, I think Raven’s brilliant. She’s beautiful, she’s funny, and she’s likable. And she’s completely outshined by Anneliese Van Der Pol, who I am just in love with. Plus it’s got Rondell Sheridan. I’ve also ended up watching Hannah Montana for reasons I cannot quite explain to myself; Disney rings the bell and I come running. It’s a cute, harmless little show, at any rate. And then there’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, which is apparently very popular with kids. It’s a pretty bad show, actually; the Sprouse twins, the Girly One and the Fat One, are in need of several good punches. But I do think Brenda Song is especially cute and funny and wonderful, so I enjoy her part of the show. And am I the only one noticing all the gay-friendly aspects of the show? Those kids are always dancing together or dressing up as women or something. It’s not a criticism, I just find it interesting (especially for not-exactly-progressive Disney). Brenda Song’s and Ashley Tisdale’s characters (who got locked in a closet together in one episode) have what I would term TV’s first perfect (and funny) lesbian relationship. Subtext, dude. Subtext.

Being Disney’s bitch has led me to start TiVo-ing reruns of Summerland on Noggin (or whatever the fuck they call it at one in the morning). I didn’t watch it when it was on the WB a couple of years ago, but now that I realize Kay Panabaker was on it, I have to go ahead and watch the whole two-season run. I first saw Kay Panabaker on Phil of the Future, and I’ve seen her in a couple of Disney Channel movies since then (plus she was on a couple of episodes of Angel), and I just think she’s great. Just looking at her makes me smile for two reasons (not what you’re thinking, sickos): first, because (just like her Phil of the Future co-star Amy Bruckner) she reminds me of my late sister Ellen; and second, she makes me think of the kind of daughter I’d like to have. I resolved in high school never to have children, but over the last couple of years (and especially since my sister died back in March) I’ve spent a lot of time feeling a pull deep inside of me that says I want a daughter who is special, beautiful, and fun, and whom I can be very proud of. I don’t know where this is coming from, but I’ve felt it in a way that, if we’re being honest, makes me almost feel empty for not having one. Anyway, let’s get past that sentimentality and admit that Summerland is a very crappy show about a woman (the useless Lori Loughlin) raising her late sister’s suddenly-orphaned children (one of whom is the awful, awful Jesse McCartney, whose only good point is that he isn’t Aaron Carter) with the help of her lame friends. Seriously, the first major problem with this show is that it really needs to scale back on the sheer number of characters (or character types, really). I like Kay on it, of course, but I’m really suffering through this thing just because she’s on it and I really do like her as an actress. Though Jesse McCartney’s object of affection, the stunning Taylor Cole, helps a lot. She’s the epitome of hot surf babe.

So, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is getting some great reviews. I knew this was going to be the show everyone was talking about last week, so I made it a point to watch the premiere. I wouldn’t call myself a fan of Aaron Sorkin; I was never able to get into The West Wing (I found it pontificating, preachy, and not nearly as deep as it thought it was), but I ended up really liking Sports Night when they started rerunning it on Comedy Central (what seems like 800 years ago). Studio 60 had some good spots, and it was fairly well-written, but I’m not overwhelmingly impressed with it.

Here are the good points as I see them:
1. It isn’t afraid to take a stand; it criticizes TV, TV viewers, TV networks, the Christian right and reactionary decision-making.
2. The show doesn’t feature a single actor I like, but still manages to be compelling. I don’t like Matthew Perry or Steven Weber or D.L. Hughley or Bradley Whitford (although I always like him when he’s on Real Time with Bill Maher, I just don’t care for him much as an actor), and I actively despise Amanda Peet.
3. There are cameos in the first episode by Judd Hirsch and Ed Asner.
4. The show is about the workings behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show, which is interesting to me because I love comedy and I’m fascinated by how it works.
5. The writing on the pilot episode is pretty good.

Now here are the bad points:
1. I wonder if the stands the show takes will end up being that ballsy. It’s easy to criticize TV, and though the show does criticize its own network (NBC) by targeting one of its longest running programs (Saturday Night Live) for being too safe, we have yet to see if Studio 60 is going to lead by example or simply point out problems everyone is already aware of.
2. Steven Weber’s TV exec character is a cliché with only one facet (thinking=bad). Amanda Peet’s character is smug, full of herself, and unbelievable; she spends the entire episode doing that slick-ass hotshot crap that I can’t stand.
3. The cameos by Ed Asner and Judd Hirsch only serve as reminders that The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant, and Taxi were able to handle controversial and complex social issues in a way that was both compelling and entertaining, unlike the majority of TV shows today, who can’t even portray realistic gay characters that aren’t cartoon characters or femme lesbians who conform to the image of some imagined viewer in the Ozarks that, despite the accepted wisdom of TV executives, might not actually exist much anymore.
4. The workings behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show is not the important social hotbed that Studio 60 thinks it is. Or if it is, the show has yet to portray that in a believable way; the biggest flaw in the episode is that, rather than making us understand why such a show might be important to a network or to people who work on it, Studio 60 acts as though it were behind the scenes at the Vatican.
5. The writing on the pilot is not as profound as it thinks it is. The intensity is forced and the character dynamics all feel arbitrary (the few that exist, at any rate). Aaron Sorkin seems to think he’s handling an important message, but never tells us what the message is. The opening scene is lifted from Network, and having almost every character mention that the situation seems a lot like that movie doesn’t make it any less of a lift.

So, my feelings are mixed so far. But I thought the show had more hits than misses, and it’s pulled me in enough to watch the next few episodes and give it a chance to really disappoint me (although I hope it doesn’t). Besides, I have a feeling that the Christian indignation it’s courting is going to get the show cancelled in the end. We'll see if the show caves in or not when it comes right down to the wire. And does that title suck, or what?

In the realm of drama, I checked out the shows Smith and Shark. I also tried twice to watch Justice on Fox, but I found it smarmy and irritating (too much style, no substance, and even Victor Garber seems to be phoning it in). Smith has an interesting premise, but I don’t think the show is going to pull it off. Ray Liotta (perfect for this kind of thing) plays a thief who commits a robbery (that goes bad) in the first episode. It seems as though the rest of the show is going to be devoted to the police figuring out who committed the robbery and bringing them to justice. Like I said, interesting, but the characters just aren’t there; the only intriguing bits are the casting of beautiful Shohreh Aghdashloo as a languorous criminal bankroller and…well, that’s about it. It doesn’t look like they cast anyone interesting as the cops, I’m already tired of the domestic tension between Liotta’s character and his wife (played by Virginia Madsen, and if I were married to Virginia Madsen, the only tension would be the constant tightening of my pants), and the rest of the cast (Simon Baker, Amy Smart, Jonny Lee Miller, for example) just sucks. The characters are just plain unlikable where they should be complex. The show is stylishly shot, but it’s also overly busy. There’s nothing to really pull in my interest. Liotta’s good and watchable as always, but the rest is just kind of blah. Oh, and on a side note, is Jonny Lee Miller’s head made out of a pumpkin? Because it’s starting to rot into itself. Seriously, he looks like this now:
Shark I enjoyed a lot more. I’m not always a fan of the curmudgeonly-professional-teaches-the-kids-to-do-things-in-an-irreverant-way genre, and I sure as hell wasn’t looking for a legal drama to scope out, but I did like the pilot. James Woods stars as a high-priced defense attorney, Sebastian “Shark” Stark. He has a crisis of conscience, and agrees to join the DA’s office, led by his former rival Jeri Ryan (who has nothing to play on the pilot other than begrudging). He heads a team of your standard misfits who haven’t been given a fair shake, and is immediately handed an unwinnable case that, surprise of all surprises, he wins. And to add to that, he has a 16 year-old daughter who wants to repair their damaged relationship. This is clichéd TV writing at its most clichéd, but it somehow manages to come alive because, let’s face it, all an actor as talented and dynamic as James Woods has to do to make this shit compelling is walk into the scene and start machine gunning his dialogue. And it worked for me. It’s not original, it’s not special, it’s not anything new, but Jimmy Woods makes it worth watching. Of particular lameness: Shark has a replica courtroom in his house where he practices his cases. Wow, I guess combined with the equally unbelievable Batcave hologram crime lab on Bones, the government should really be able to administer some justice. Oh, fuck, I just had this horrible vision of Shark and Bones combining into a Law & Order-style program of insufferable proportions (I guess they could just call it Shark Bones or something incredibly awful like that). *shiver* Anyway, I did enjoy Jimmy Woods, and his daughter is played by Danielle Panabaker (older and no less radiant sister of the aforementioned Kay). The beleaguered absent father and smart, winning daughter combo is working on those paternal instincts I was mentioning earlier, especially with a Panabaker in the role. I’ll keep watching it for awhile, but it’s really going to have to improve.

I tried to watch The Class on CBS because I have hope for Lizzy Caplan, but it sucked so bad that I couldn’t make it more than five minutes in. I hate this shit where people seem to honestly believe that they should stay friends with the kids they were forced to spend time with in school, or else they’ve lost something essential in their lives. Look, part of evolving as a person is learning which relationships really mean something to you and cultivating those, not working hard to stay close to people you don’t like and who don’t mean anything to you. And TV execs seem to love to push the image of the unsuccessful neurotic who is too emotionally stunted to forge new relationships and to achieve goals, don’t they?

I was happy to watch the season premieres of My Name Is Earl and The Office. Earl was a show that really surprised me last season; I really didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did, especially since it was from the creator of the abomination Yes, Dear and I hadn’t really come to expect anything good from Jason Lee anymore. But I like its blending of absurdism and positivity; it’s a break from shows about losers who revel in their bitterness and luck their way into accidentally keeping things from going bad. My Name Is Earl is about someone who tries to make good things happen because it enriches his own life. That said, I’m pretty certain that Earl is going to start sucking this season. They’ve got a premise that seems built for an unlimited number of episodes, but towards the end of last season, they started getting caught up in the quirkiness of their recurring supporting cast (which is already too large), and most American TV writers seem to think that quirks are endlessly hilarious substitutions for characterization. But I’m enjoying it for now, even if I can see Simpsons-style disaster around the corner. I found it interesting that Nadine Velasquez wasn’t in the premiere; they should really drop her from the show. She doesn’t add anything to it, she has no real character to play, and sometimes (like the Y2K episode) the writers have to bend over backwards to find a forced way to work her into the show. By contrast, The Office is able to blend its quirks into three-dimensional characters, which is rather an amazing feat these days. It’s refreshing to see such a changeup so early in the run of the show, with Jim working at a new office and Pam not going through with her wedding. If there’s one thing that bugs me, it’s the type of program where no one ever changes and the status quo is never shaken, and The Office has never been afraid to be bold in that respect. It’s still the funniest show on television. Good.

Speaking of NBC sitcoms, Becca was kind enough to buy me the first two box sets (comprising the first three seasons) of NewsRadio. I always liked the show when it was on, but after catching the complete run in syndication on A&E, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite sitcoms. I haven’t been able to find it on TV for a couple of years now, so this is the perfect time for me to start watching it again; I’ve been away from it long enough that it hasn’t gotten boring. Thanks to a sale at Borders, Becca managed to nab both sets (a combined $80) for around twenty bucks. For both. Good stuff.

I guess we’ll see what this week brings. I’m looking forward to tonight’s premiere of Heroes on NBC (which, if nothing else, has Ali Larter and Hayden Panettiere in it) and Thursday’s premiere of Ugly Betty. Fingers crossed.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Song of the Week: "'Heroes'"

Yes, I'm basically stealing Merna's Video of the Week. But it was so good, and I love to share music with people, that I basically had to steal it. You know what they say, stealing is the highest form of flattery. Or laziness. I am really, really lazy.

And you probably knew I was going to start with David Bowie. This is "'Heroes.'"