Saturday, September 26, 2009

Do You Recognize This Music? Well, Duh!

'Cause it's the motherfuckin' Legend of Zelda! (This made my night.)

You Coulda Had That

God damn it, I love her.

Yo, Joe! Episode 31

Cobra Quake

Flint is piloting a G.I. Joe passenger plane towards a Joe base in Tokyo, flying in delegates for an economic summit. They're in a storm, and Gung Ho's not handling it well: “I don’t mind being shot at, I don’t mind emergency landings, I don’t even mind crashing... but I hate turbulence!” Aw, GH, you're a big ol' softie.

Well, Cobra Commander's not going to let this summit go down without an interruption. He's listening in and orders Wild Weasel and three other Rattlers up into the air to bring down the plane. Wild Weasel grounds the Joe plane and Cobra Ferret ATVs surround it. There's a fillerish battle scene, and finally Ace and some Skystrikers show up and shoot down the Rattlers while Wild Weasel retreats.

Wow, so Ace doesn't get shot down and in fact shoots down other planes? Well, he was due this one, I guess.

But Cobra Commander has "tricks within tricks" because "cooperation among nations is dangerous to Cobra." He's already got things in place for the economic summit...

This is quite the shindig, I have to say, to get this kind of G.I. Joe attention. The guards include Airtight, Cover Girl, Spirit, Thunder, Clutch, Recondo, Roadblock, and Scarlett, along with a bunch of infantry. Still, Flint and Lady Jaye check out lists of Joe locations for possible back-up. It turns out Quick Kick and Bazooka are nearby in Hikato with a team of trainees.

Why they have these two on training duty, I admit I don't know. Quick Kick just sucks... he's just some stuntman who does horrible impressions, he's not really a soldier. And Bazooka... look, I'm all for hiring the mentally impaired, that sends a good message and gives Bazooka a real opportunity to be useful to society, but training? Well, I'll give him a chance. I can't not like this guy. Quick Kick, though...

Damn it, I hate him. Ooh, I'm into movies, I do impressions, blurgh.

Anyway, Bazook is distracted by this woman, Tako, who seems to return the attention. (Wait, is her name really Taco? I mean, I was distracted by a taco once, but that was my fault for eating at the Bell. Have you ever noticed how the names of Taco Bell menu items perfectly describe the kind of bowel movement you're going to have after eating them? That's why I stay away from the Volcano...)

How distracted? Seriously, he cuts the yellow wire, he cuts the red wire, and then he gets confused? There's only one wire left! This is just supports my theory that Bazooka is retarded. He loses focus easily.

So then there's an earthquake. It doesn't kill anyone, but it, uh, shakes everyone up. Uh-huh, you see there? Shakes everyone up. Geddit? ... Bazooka would've laughed at that joke.

Well, I don't need to tell you that Cobra was behind this--although I guess I just did. The Commander isn't worried about the training camp--that was just a test--but the real target is in Tokyo. The Baroness flies off in a FANG copter to put things in motion.

Lady Jaye's already figured out that there are no active fault lines near the training base, and she and Flint theorize that Cobra started the earthquake with precisely timed explosions, much the same way scientists are trying to prevent earthquakes with explosions. Lady Jaye and Bazooka head out to meet with Japan's preeminent seismologist, Dr. Morita. But when they get there, Dr. Morita turns out to be...

... Storm Shadow in disguise!

Thank goodness it wasn't the Baroness for a change. That would've been too creepy.

Lady Jaye and Bazooka fight Storm Shadow and his students. I don't really believe these two could hold their own for long against a bunch of ninjas, but Bazooka gets a nice punch in.


Actually, it's Quick Kick who ends up chasing off Storm Shadow, and although he's done it before, I'm still not sure I buy it. He's just... Quick Kick, for gods' sake. Hey, what ever happened to that whole homoerotic honor thing between Storm Shadow and Spirit? That was a fun little conflict. Cliched, sure, but fun and believable. (They just made Snake Eyes too lame on the TV series to believe any of the stuff from the comic book about Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes and their past together; I'm glad they haven't pursued that, because, 31 episodes in, Snake Eyes is just kind of a lame breakdancing, snapping, record-playing lame-o.)

Quick Kick and Bazooka trail Storm Shadow to a puppet theater, where they're promptly attacked by puppets, fall in a trap door, and get a bomb thrown at them by Scrap Iron.

Remember Scrap Iron? He's a non-presence as a Cobra agent. And where the hell has Firefly been?

Anyway, Quick Kick and Bazooka barely escape and have no information to show for it. So... what next?

At Dr. Morita's house, Lady Jaye gets ambushed and captured by the Baroness, but she activates a homing beacon on her boot. Flint sends Quick Kick, Bazooka, and Tako to rescue her. Why Tako? I have no idea. Practically every Joe operative is in Tokyo, you'd think they could send more than just a retarded guy, a trainee, and frigging Quick Kick to rescue Lady Jaye. Hell, Roadblock and Gung Ho could probably handle it all by themselves!

Bazooka, by the way, wants to disarm this mine, but Quick Kick tells him to leave it. I wonder if that'll be important later... Wait, it won't be? Oh. What was the point of that?

Cobra Commander is holding Lady Jaye and Dr. Morita in the dungeon of a creepy castle, which just seems like the first place you'd look for Cobra. Why not hole up at a nice hotel? G.I. Joe would never think to look there. Anyway, Cobra Commander plans to just outright destroy Tokyo with an earthquake, which seems a lot more like the kind of thing a terrorist organization would do to shake up the world order. I mean, after the last few plotlines, it's nice to see Cobra remembering the point of being evil. Come on, siren spells? Carving Cobra Commander's name in the moon?

Here's your requisite Lady Jaye bondage, by the way.

Quick Kick, Bazooka and Tako arrive just in time for Cobra Commander to pull a lever and drop a fuck ton of snakes on everyone. Now there's a death trap. Or, you know, it would be if the snakes actually bit anyone. Quick Kick uses the fire extinguisher (what?) to freeze the snakes and free everyone.

Dr. Morita knows the locations of the Cobra bombs and the Joes split into groups to disarm them. Quick Kick and Gung Ho go to the Great Buddha in Calcutta, which seems a long way from Tokyo, but I have to admit, I'm not a seismologist, so this may make perfect sense. Flint and Lady Jaye head off to Mt. Fuji, and Bazooka and Tako (again, what?) go to a shrine in somewhere or other.

Everyone gets rid of their bombs quickly (and they are awfully tiny to start a whole earthquake, but once again, I know this is a surprise to you guys, but I'm not a seismologist, so I admit I don't know the science here), except for Bazooka and Tako. They're attacked by Scrap Iron, so Bazooka doesn't have time to cut the final wire (after he finally figures out which one is first).

It's almost curtains before the show even begins for Bazooka and Tako, until Tako flings a throwing star at the bomb, cutting the final wire, and the two manage to escape from Scrap Iron. "Partners!" Except that, of course, we'll never see Tako again, because that's how TV works.

At the end, the Joes get together to toast a successful mission and have a nice dinner. Of course, the food is Japanese, and Bazooka wants a hamburger. "Some cultural gaps just can't be bridged," Lady Jaye observes. Flint's not into it, either, especially when the octopus in his bowl appears to grab his chopsticks.

Gung Ho: "Wait until it gets to your stomach."

Oh, GH, you just can't catch a break, can you?


Friday, September 25, 2009

Sneezing Gibbon

Yeah, that's right, cute animals make me happy. I had a shitty day.

Friday Playlist

1. Paul McCartney & Wings: Jet
2. Small Faces: (Tell Me) Have You Ever Seen Me
3. The Monkees: What Am I Doing Hangin’ Round?
4. Creedence Clearwater Revival: Looking Out My Back Door
5. Robert Johnson: Sweet Home Chicago
6. The Kinks: So Mystifying
7. Rush: Here Again
8. The Zombies: The Way I Feel Inside
9. The Beatles: You Can’t Do That
10. Glyn Johns: Mary Anne

1. This is really a pretty stupid song, but I dig it. It was like Paul could almost still write rock music.
2. I love most bands who recorded on Immediate, and the Small Faces are no exception. I love this whole period of British rock.
3. One of my favorite Monkees songs. Mike Nesmith was always my favorite member, in large part because his songs connected with me really well. This is a lot more like what he recorded on his solo albums.
4. I'm not much of a CCR fan. This is an okay song.
5. Good old fashioned blues.
6. Nice, almost country-ish track from their debut. One of my favorite bands.
7. I'm just getting into Rush. I never heard them much growing up, and over the last couple of years I've been hearing more and more that I like. They're sort of where progressive and hard rock meet. There's nothing like it now.
8. Wow, less than two minutes. When I was a kid, I thought this was a Beatles song. The Zombies are another of my all time faves.
9. From A Hard Day's Night. An underrated track, very good for its time.
10. Another Immediate artist. Dark and quiet, not a bad way for this very autumnal afternoon to close out.

TV Report: A Couple of Quick Mentions

:: I loved Louis CK on Parks and Recreation last night. He had kind of a thing going with Leslie. Could we get him for a few more episodes, please? I love the man, and I'd love to see him back on television. (I think I'm the only person I know who really liked Lucky Louie.)

:: I don't think I can watch Community anymore. The first episode was okay, but the second episode was just irritating and unfunny, and I'm not on board if it's going to be like this every week. Frankly, they lost me right at the start of this episode by having a character point out that the cheesy opening TV dialog was so much like cheesy opening TV dialog. That's the problem with this show in a nutshell: it's constantly elbowing you in the sides to make sure you understand how incredibly funny and meta it is. 9 times out of 10 it doesn't work. It worked exactly once in the second episode, when Chevy Chase tells Joel McHale about "this face you make when you're trying to be funny that forces everyone to think about how cool you think you are." It made me laugh because, frankly, that's what this entire show is like. It calls attention to how cool and clever and hilarious it thinks it is almost as often as a Seth MacFarlane show.

I did appreciate the addition of Ken Jeong, because I always think he's funny. He can't save this show, but he was a bright spot.

:: One of the two bonus episodes on the Jonas DVD has a plot where Stella, the band's friend and stylist, competes in a beauty pageant to prove that smart girls can win a pageant better than the supposedly shallow and superficial beauty queens. When she's asked her final question, she freaks out and gives, almost word for word, Miss South Carolina's answer from the Miss Teen USA pageant a couple of years ago about maps and "US Americans," "like such as." Since there was a time, after Lizzie McGuire and Even Stevens ended, when Disney Channel shows seemed to purposely try not to ever mention anything going on outside the bubble of the Disney Channel, I was pretty impressed.

That show really has gotten a lot better since its early stumbling, and has been surprisingly smart on a number of occasions. Still a little too kiddie-oriented for its own good (as opposed to Disney's Sonny with a Chance, which goes for funny first and foremost), but so much better. I'd say I enjoy this right now more than any other show on the Disney Channel except Sonny with a Chance and Phineas and Ferb.

Also, the episode was directed by Savage Steve Holland, who is blessedly back at Disney Channel.

:: Oh, and I'll just say that I am way too excited about Disney Channel doing Wiz-Tober again this year. But I loves me some Halloween programming, and since Disney Channel is damn near the only channel that actually acknowledges the existence of Halloween anymore, I'll be all over it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

All the Single Babies

Yes, I am easily amused. My sister Ellen used to do this whenever Cops came on. She loved the "Bad Boys" song when she was a toddler, and would do that same "dance" where the baby just bounces, and then my Dad and stepmom would hurriedly change the channel so she wasn't watching Cops. It's awesome.

TV Report: You Knew I Was Going to Watch the Heroes Premiere

To my surprise, unlike last season's premiere... and the season two premiere... it didn't make me want to scoop my brains out with a melon baller.

Yes, it did suffer from a lot of the problems Heroes is apparently always going to suffer from. Once again, the linchpin is Hiro's time traveling and his problems with his powers. There's also another opening of rambling bullshit, although it's a different character spouting it this time: Mohinder Suresh is nowhere to be seen (or more importantly, heard) and the opening monologue of platitude-ridden tripe is spoken by Robert Knepper as the series' new villain, a carnival operator called Samuel.

If you can make it past the opening five minutes, the rest is easy. But the opening, with Knepper's Irish accent, is too reminiscent of Carnivale (yes, I miss it too, but...) and reminds me too much of that idiotic plot with the Irish bar owners in the second season. (Come to think of it, what ever happened to Peter's Irish girlfriend? Didn't he leave her in the future? What the hell?) Besides the fact that Samuel's funeral speech (the carnies--including Ray Park and a tattooed woman predictably and stupidly named Lydia--are burying one of their own and they all have powers) is badly written, Tim Kring really hammers the whole point of redemption--the theme of Volume 5--to the point where you don't even want to hear anyone say the word ever again. Unfortunately, the characters say it repeatedly. But it wouldn't be Heroes if it weren't heavy-handed...

The real triumph of the premiere, which was really two episodes mashed together, is that it picks up almost right where Volume 4 ended and does a much better job than Heroes usually does of putting you right into the characters. They've shed a lot of the baggage that they usually have. It also helps that the show is more economic with its characters. Too often, Heroes is like Chris Claremont's X-Men, with a thousand characters competing for face time in a series overflowing with neuroses, crises, and soapy romantic conflicts. (If you want to run with that analogue, Samuel's carnies are the Morlocks.) Since it's introduced new characters, it seems to have dropped some of the others and decided to focus instead on the Petrellis, the Bennetts, Hiro and Ando, Tracy, Sylar, and Matt Parkman.

I thought last season's finale went all silly when Angela Petrelli and Noah Bennett made Parkman use his powers on Sylar to make him think he was Nathan. Now "Nathan" is discovering he has all of these powers and he doesn't know what's happening and is looking to Peter for help. Peter, meanwhile, is using his powers to rescue as many people as he can, essentially becoming Spider-Man. While this is going on, Angela wants Noah to restart the Company.

Noah and his wife have broken up and Claire's gone to college. Hayden Panettiere is much less whiny than she's been, probably because she doesn't have to play a rebellious teenager anymore. I like the way she's developed, if only because now the relationship between her and Noah is much more solid and dramatically interesting.

Hiro and Ando have started a service, Dial a Hero (Hiro's sister calls it "Heroes for Hire" in a nice little Marvel shout-out), but Hiro is having trouble controlling his powers. Samuel targets him as someone he can use to change the past, though we don't know how or why yet.

And Matt Parkman, back with his wife and baby, is trying not to use his powers at all, even though a piece of Sylar is in his head and urging him to use them. Honestly, if they dropped Parkman, I'd be fine with it, as his story is the least compelling so far, but I see why they've kept him since they're going to have this big return for Sylar in the future. Well, I assume they are.

(And hey, whatever happened to Molly? No explanation at all?)

And Tracy Strauss is back, but since her storyline (she wants revenge on all of the Building 26 operatives) is tied closely to Noah Bennett's (he wants to work with her, although there seem to be surprisingly welcome hints of a romance), she gets a pass. She's a way better character this time around.

The special effects, I should also mention, seem to be bigger than ever this season. The characters were using their powers much more often and in much bigger ways than we usually get to see. So I appreciated the dynamism of some of the sequences. These people really feel like superheroes this time.

Oh, and I also liked Madeline Zima as Claire's new college friend, but that has a lot more to do with her nudity on the first episode of Californication than her acting, I will admit.

I think if Heroes continues to develop from here, this might be the best season since the original. But I can just see how they're going to mess it up. They're going to make mistakes, like bringing back characters who just don't need to be on this show anymore. Please don't bring Maya back, or worse, Mohinder Suresh, the most useless and annoying character in the history of Heroes (and that's a hard title to win on this show, with so many competing for it). Please don't let it all descend into claptrap super-soap again. Don't spend an entire season dragging out the whole Nathan-Sylar thing, like I know you're going to.

Just, please be good. The premiere more or less nailed it--though I see it was their lowest-rated premiere yet, and people just don't seem to care anymore... maybe the audience is already gone. I'd like to see this show become as good as I know it can be.

But I still hate you, Tim Kring, for killing off Elle.

TV Report: Modern Family and Cougar Town

You know, it's really nice to see Ed O'Neill on a sitcom again. Yes, it got incredibly stupid, and maybe it's a show we're not supposed to like anymore, but Married... with Children was classic, and Ed O'Neill was hilarious on that show. Just a great sitcom performer who knew how to sell a gag even when it was too stupid to bother with, who always won the audience over and made Al Bundy an endearing character even when you knew he was being disgusting and unlikable. That's pretty rare, so it was a shame that he spent so many years running from sitcoms and trying to do cop dramas. Not that he was bad--he's never bad, in anything--it just seemed like a waste of a real talent for comic acting.

So it's nice to see him as the patriarch on Modern Family. He still knows how to sell a joke and how to make potentially unlikable characters, if not endearing, than at least sympathetic.

Modern Family was pretty funny. It's done Office-style, like a documentary (side note: I never thought I'd get so sick and tired of hearing the word "mockumentary"), about a family headed by Jay Pritchett (Ed O'Neill). He's married to Sofia Vergara, whom I always adore, working her usual sexy magic as a stereotypically crazy/sexy Colombian woman (and it's nice to see her back on TV since ABC canceled the hilarious and awesome Knights of Prosperity). She's Jay's much younger wife Gloria, who brings along her own 11 year-old son, who is inclined to the soft and romantic, something which Jay is uncomfortable with and doesn't know how to relate to. He also bristles at being mistaken for Gloria's father and an elderly mallwalker (he ditches his velor jogging suit for clothes that are way too hip and douchey for a man his age).

The show also follows Jay's grown children. His daughter Claire (Julie Bowen) is married with three kids, the oldest a 15 year-old girl who is discovering older boys. Her husband is obsessed with being the cool dad (he knows all the dances from High School Musical and is down with text lingo) and doesn't parent as strongly as she'd like. Jay's son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is in a committed gay relationship, something Jay has a very hard time with. Mitchell, in an interesting wrinkle I've never seen before, seems to have his own problems with being "too gay." His partner, Cameron, is flamboyant and overdramatic; Mitchell keeps trying to calm him down and tells him things like "We need less friends with names like 'Andre'." They've just adopted a Vietnamese baby girl.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this show. It's nice to see a show about an extended family (my dad had four sisters and two brothers, so big families seem more appealing to me) that's done so well and that doesn't go for cheap gags over character. I hope this show keeps up the quality of the pilot. It's definitely on my viewing schedule now.

I also liked Cougar Town. I wasn't going to watch it--any show that bills itself as "exploring the honest truths about dating and aging" is just asking for me not to watch it with such a precious description. But I got pulled into it right away. Courteney Cox is an actress I've always sort-of liked (wouldn't go out of my way to see something just because she was in it, but usually dug her whenever I saw her), and I think she outdid everything from her past in just the opening scene. It's played for sympathetic laughs, but it takes a lot of guts in these very looks-obsessed (or, weirdly, obsessed-with-not-being-looks-obsessed) times to do what she does in the opening: stand in front of a mirror and examine, albeit comically, the effects of gravity and aging on various parts of her body.

I admit, with the precious description and the ridiculous title, I was expecting something amazingly dumb, but the show works for me. Cox is right on note as a divorced real estate agent with a high school aged son who is lonely and extremely disappointed with the men her own age. Prodded by her friend, single mother Busy Philipps (and yeah, I always like her, too), she winds up at a bar with a much younger man, then winds up with him at her house, and afterwards says, hilariously, "It's like I can see colors again."

Okay, it sounds kind of stupid, but it's actually very funny and kind of honest about the way older single women are just dismissed by society. She acknowledges that, as much as she pretends otherwise, she knows women don't often get remarried after they turn 50. She doesn't want to become "one of those women I make fun of," but she also feels like it's really her time to reinvent herself and please herself. It's kind of a lot going on, pathos-wise, but Cox makes it all seem kind of cut-and-dried. She's internalized it well.

The supporting cast is good, mostly. I especially liked Dan Byrd as her son Travis. (I still think of Byrd as the nice friend of Hilary Duff in A Cinderella Story, and had forgotten he was Syler's kid sidekick last season on Heroes and didn't even realize he starred on Aliens in America, which I never watched.) If there's anything I can live without, it's Christa Miller as her married friend. She was okay on The Drew Carey Show as the honorary guy that everyone was in love with because she was so wonderful (I never quite saw it, but whatever), but she's absolutely repellent here, in large part because of an unnecessary amount of work she's had done on her face which now renders her expressionless. Cox has got a friend who's human and a friend who's some kind of gargoyle. It's just wrong.

Cougar Town is going on the skedge as well.

Wow, actual shows to watch on Wednesday, historically a TV-free day in this house.

I was going to try and watch Eastwick, but after the surprise success of Cougar Town, I didn't want to push my luck. I like to try out new shows, even if they look dumb, even if just to catch the pilot, but Eastwick just looked so unappealing. I don't expect it'll be on long. Hollywood has yet to acknowledge it, but Lindsay Price is just as big a show-killer as Paula Marshall or Chyler Leigh. Check her record: Pepper Dennis, Coupling, Lipstick Jungle... yeah, Eastwick will only be the latest.

Happy 65th Birthday, Sven-Ole Thorsen!

Happy Birthday to one of my all time favorite character actors: Sven-Ole Thorsen, one of the many stars of Conan the Barbarian, Conan the Destroyer, Lethal Weapon, Predator, The Running Man, The Hunt for Red October, Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, The Viking Sagas, Mallrats, George of the Jungle, The 13th Warrior, Gladiator, and The Rundown, among many others. One of the best "that guys" ever.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TV Report: Barney Miller and Reruns

I am one of those children of TV who likes to watch reruns. I always have been. I grew up watching syndicated reruns of shows like I Love Lucy, Lost in Space, Batman, Green Acres, and Gilligan's Island. When Nick at Nite started, I was watching The Donna Reed Show, Leave It to Beaver, Dobie Gillis, The Andy Griffith Show, in addition to comedy series like Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, Saturday Night Live and SCTV. When syndicators started showing the 80s sitcoms I grew up on, I was glad to catch episodes of The Cosby Show, Night Court, and my two favorite sitcoms from the decade, Family Ties and Cheers. But my favorite shows have always been the more socially-conscious sitcoms that straddled the line between comedy and social commentary: M*A*S*H, All in the Family, Good Times, and so on.

One such show is Barney Miller, a show I didn't see much when it was on (I was six when it got canceled) but which I caught occasionally in reruns as a teenager. Lately, my TiVo has taken to recording it on its own, and I'm glad it has, because it's a fantastic program. It's another show that straddles that line between comedy and social commentary, balancing the very funny (and very character-driven) humor with quieter moments of introspection and asking hard questions. Shows that later tried to achieve the same thing--I'm thinking specifically of Roseanne, though there were others--came across as preachy and ultimately trivial.

Frankly, there's nothing on TV that really comes close today. I think The Office is excellent, I think 30 Rock is hilarious, but they really do seem glib and formless when compared to a show like Barney Miller. That there was a time when people could produce such outstanding quality in the half-hour sitcom format is, seen today, nothing short of astonishing.

So, in the world of syndicated reruns, where my local Fox affiliate is already airing The Office and will never stop airing Seinfeld (a show I never cared for), and where TV Land now considers classic programming to be less I Love Lucy and more 3rd Rock from the Sun and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and where Nick at Nite has seemingly constant marathons of George Lopez, I'm thrilled that one of the local Chicago stations has a couple of digital channels (in the 200s) where I can get an occasional fix of All in the Family or Sanford and Son or That's My Mama or Batman. It's the nicest thing since TV Land shanked me and stopped showing Three's Company reruns when I was really rediscovering that show (they aired the first three seasons again and then dropped it and finally moved it somewhere else).

Now if only they'd start showing Family Ties...

Hey, There's a Simon's Cat Book!

And it's hilarious. If you like the series of cartoons, this is just as wonderful.

I Love You, Beth Cooper

I actually read Larry Doyle's I Love You, Beth Cooper a couple of months ago, but it took me this long to think of what I wanted to say about it. It's not a bad novel, not by any stretch, but it's not a great novel, either. It's an adequate novel with a perhaps overly-familiar premise. Some of its tropes are cleverly handled, while others just lie there, flat and familiar and surprisingly tedious.

It's a coming-of-age story, a graduation night romp, the kind of story you've seen in a half-dozen movies directed by John Hughes or produced by Judd Apatow. It's the story of Denis Cooverman's graduation night. The valedictorian and an uber-nerd, Denis uses his graduation speech as an opportunity to tell the entire school how he feels about the degradations he suffered over four years, and especially to declare his undying love for Beth Cooper, the head cheerleader, a girl he's loved from afar but never spoken to. When Beth agrees to come to his graduation "party" (really just him and his film buff best friend sitting around), he ends up in the kind of wild night of hi-jinks and madcap whatever that only happens in the movies, including the requisite trying-to-buy-liquor scene, the requisite girls-get-naked-and-take-a-shower scene, and and the requisite chased-by-the-psycho-boyfriend subplot. And, of course, Denis finds that Beth is not the perfect woman he's constructed in his elaborate fantasies, but a human being with her own problems and imperfections and subjects she's touchy about.

The novel is very familiar, but some of the familiarity is sweet and even comforting. I never thought of myself as a nerdy kid, if only because, as Milhouse Van Houten later clarified, "Nerds are smart," and I only ever really excelled in English. I was pretty darn geeky, though, and I was also overweight, so I had the same kind of crushes and undying loves as Denis. I didn't have a Beth Cooper in high school that I can remember (my big unrequited love in high school--Jamie Drendel--was actually a friend of mine that I never tried to go out with because her brother Jeff was a really good friend), though I did have a gigantic crush all throughout elementary school on Christina Padgett, who was disgusted by me.

The novel's also very familiar to me personally because it takes place in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, which is very close by. So we're talking about exactly the same kind of Midwestern suburb that I grew up in.

The bad familiarity is the predictable plot. I understand what Doyle is doing as an author--he's taking an overly-familiar storyline and putting a 21st Century twist on it. He sometimes succeeds at being postmodern, but a lot of the cleverness comes in the form of snarky commentary and not in the sense of subverting the genre, which might have been more interesting to read. The only major subversion of the genre is that Beth is touched by Denis's devotion, but she still kind of treats him like a child instead of taking him seriously. And although Doyle often has a way with a phrase, it's surprising how often he just phones it in or throws in references. He's not trying to deconstruct the genre, he's just trying to be clever about it. Unfortunately, that cleverness more often just comes across as smarm.

Still, Denis and Beth are very well-realized characters with a surprising amount of depth--especially Beth, who isn't simply vapid, but has a better grasp of reality than we might expect (she talks with a weary resignation about how high school is going to be the high point of her life). It's cringe-inducing, though, how nerdy Denis is, to the point where a lot of the jokes at his expense are much more cruel than they are funny. The other characters, though, are pretty much stock John Hughes characters.

When Doyle hits the nail on the head, the book is laugh-out-loud funny. But he misses the nail completely on more than a few occasions and crafts a novel that is a little too cutesy for its own good. If Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist was the perfect example of how the familiar tropes of the high school romance can be played as emotionally genuine (and it was), I Love You, Beth Cooper is an attempt to make fun of the same tropes by commenting on them. What I'd really like to see, though, is someone write a novel that completely deconstructs and subverts those tropes. Instead of showing me how ridiculous they can be, show me a way they can be subverted to tell a more involving, funnier, and smarter--not smart-alecky--story that serves as a comment on the genre.

Or just rent Superbad.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The First Day of Fall

It's calendrically autumn today. A heavy rain came with it. As much as I love Halloween and the fall at first, I kind of already can't wait for May.

TV Report: Bored to Death

I wasn't sure if I really wanted to see the first episode of Bored to Death or not--I'm not Jason Schwartzman's biggest fan--but I ended up digging it.

On its surface, it's the kind of hipster show that I tend to hate: it's twee, it's a little smug about it, the dialogue tends towards the precious, it's overloaded on quirks, and it has Jason Schwartzman in it.

So why did it all work for me? I'm honestly not sure. But that's what I like about it.

Jason Schwartzman plays a frustrated writer whose girlfriend leaves him. His best friend is Zach Galifianakis, a cartoonist who is having relationship problems, mostly caused by his own guarded selfishness. To combat boredom, Schwartzman puts an ad on Craigslist billing himself as an unlicensed private detective, and is almost immediately contacted by a naive woman looking for her missing sister. Also worth mentioning, since he's possibly the best thing on the show, is Ted Danson as Schwartzman's bored, pot-hungry boss.

It's a too-cute premise, but Bored to Death plays with it in ways that avoided most of the traps I figured it would fall into (even though, in some cases, the show was unpredictable in exactly the way I thought it would be--you know it's bad for the medium when even attempts to be unpredictable are predictable). Part of it is that it handles the "look at me, I'm hip" aspects with just enough tongue in cheek to make them funny. (Early on, Schwartzman is trying to make conversation with some Israeli movers about what unusual work moving is for Jews, when one turns and asks him: "What are you, another self-loathing New York Jew?" Schwartzman, caught out, can only mutter: "Um, well, yes.") Part of it is the laid-back, matter-of-fact tone of the show. Schwartzman has no idea what he's doing, and he knows it--and everyone around him knows it, except for the girl who hires him. Instead of bluffing his way through it, he acknowledges it. It doesn't make him a hero, but it doesn't make him a sap, either.

Schwartzman tells Galifianakis at one point that that's what he wants: to be a hero. I think it's a little less simplistic than that. I think that, after his girlfriend walks out on him, complaining that he's indecisive until it's too late, what he's really looking for is a way to feel like someone will put their faith in him.

The biggest problem I had with the was probably the pacing, but even that's a mixed blessing. It's slower-paced than a lot of detective dramas, but the interest of the show is firmly in the character and not the situation. So the characters can actually slow down and have conversations instead of simply trying to out-macho one another. This was only the pilot; the pace could easily pick up, and if this is the weakest it gets, I don't think that's a bad thing at all.

I can see where the low key tone and dry humor is putting some people off. One of the biggest criticisms of the show seems to be that it has an inconsistent tone and that it doesn't know what kind of show it wants to be. These are terms I usually find to be critic-speak for "too unconventional" (because, as much as critics complain they don't want shows to be conventional, they really don't want to be challenged much, either). Maybe it's a show that can't be pigeonholed, but I seem to remember when critics championed that as a good thing.

The show the critics are really championing this season is Community, which has potential, but isn't anywhere near the quality it's being pushed as. I didn't hate Community, but as more days go by since the premiere, I don't find myself thinking about it very much. Bored to Death, on the other hand, really engaged me and entertained me, and I look forward to more of it.

If the biggest problem with Bored to Death is that it isn't interested in settling down into a specific format, I'll take it over Community or an unmitigated piece of shit like Accidentally On Purpose any day.

Sick or Not, Baucus and Obama Will Tax You Into the Grave

But, you know, don't let Obama's "stay in school" speech indoctrinate your kids...

I feel like, in a perfect world, I would be astounded over the ideological war that has erupted over the issue of health care access. But it really seems like only in America--a country of crippling ignorance and high-handed arrogance--could things happen this way. You say "Everyone should have access to quality, affordable health care," and everyone goes apeshit.

How is getting health care to people who need it a partisan, ideological issue at all?

Add to this mix President Obama--a guy who gives a good speech but who comes across more and more like an empty suit peddling empty promises--and it gets worse. You have morons on one side who think a black man leading America is the worst nightmare they can think of. And you have fools on the other side who naively believed that having a black president was somehow going to negate racism entirely. Wasn't there anyone out there who took a look at the man's political credentials, or did they just think having a black president was going to make America look cool?

Back when he was running, I said repeatedly that he didn't look like the best choice. And I didn't think he was until it came down to him or McCain/Palin. I liked John Edwards, honestly--he was one of the first people talking about nationalized health care, and he actually had a fairly workable plan for it on his website. The demerit against Obama's position on health care is that he wanted the insurance companies to work it out, which is like giving the foxes keys to the hen house and expecting to still have chickens in the morning.

It seems to me the major issue is to make sure as many Americans as possible get the aforementioned quality, affordable health care. 45,000 people die every year of chronic, treatable diseases because they don't have insurance.

Instead, we have Max Baucus' insulting parody of reform. The "Max Tax," as its being called, doesn't provide a public option at all, and without that choice, there's no incentive for the insurance companies to compete affordably or ethically. It basically pushes for a monopoly of private insurance and taxes millions of people for not having insurance. It creates millions of brand new, completely captive customers for Baucus' insurance company masters. He's taken millions from them, and they're getting what they paid for: the insurance company bill.

To be fair, the Max Tax does include a number of Medicare reforms that would offer financial incentives to reward quality of service instead of quantity, and probably have a genuine impact on the government cost of Medicare. But the bill doesn't really address what effect those changes will have on overall health care. It doesn't address the biggest issue, which is making all health care more affordable. Instead, it takes over 30 million people without insurance and gives them a tax penalty for not having it.

How does this fix the problem?

Instead it forces people to pay, one way or another, for something they already can't afford. It punishes the victims of an unfair system that all Americans should have access to one way or another, blindly claiming that reforming Medicare is somehow going to force the insurance companies to lower costs on their own. You can't say that the best way to control costs is by mandating changes in the delivery of public health care, and then deliberately limit those systems that deliver public health care.

The Max Tax also generates revenue by taxing employees' health benefits, some of them by as much as 35%. This is the really insidious part, because the bill will eventually tax all employer-based insurance plans. Let's be realistic: the insurers will pass the cost of the tax onto the employers paying for coverage, and so more and more employers will simply drop their company health plans because they won't be able to afford them. Now you're without insurance and forced out onto the open market, where there are no cost controls--and, of course, you're paying a tax penalty for not being able to afford insurance. This whole thing seems designed to force as many people onto the open market as possible.

Isn't this why so many of us voted against John McCain? This is exactly what he was proposing.

This isn't a reform at all. At best, it's a sick joke.

And it's insulting that, after months of opponents of a public option talking about heavier taxes, Baucus brings forth a bill that is nothing but heavier taxes.

And it's further insulting that what this does is, essentially, withhold a public option while subsidizing the insurance industry, an industry which is not in bad financial shape and doesn't remotely need to be subsidized. A tax penalty for not partaking in a private industry? That's not the business of government, nor should it be. People who can afford to get the care they need are getting it, and the medical industry as a whole is very profitable--why am I supposed to believe they need to be subsidized? Why is the Baucus plan a massive bailout for an industry that doesn't even need a bailout?

If 30 million people are going to be forced into the insurance pool, why move the money through the insurance companies at all? What does that have to do with the most important goal of health finance reform: getting the uninsured access to quality, affordable health care?

But the worst insult is that Obama seems to be championing the Max Tax as the best chance we have for reform. The funny thing is, it isn't. Let's be honest, health finance reform isn't going to happen, no matter what, because Obama wants so desperately for bipartisanship to work out, which it never will. Even though the Max Tax is supposed to be the compromise bill that was hammered out by Republicans and Democrats, even though it's essentially what John McCain had in mind all along, the Republicans will never vote for it simply because Obama wants the reform. The president seems all too willing to pass up a chance for real reform just to continue chasing the bipartisanship uniform he's never going to catch.

Of course, the Democrats supposedly have enough power to vote through whatever they want, but they won't ever do it. They're all split into factions of their own and are apparently too stupid to come to any consensus on what should be in the bill. And sorry progressives, but Nancy Pelosi laughed you off a long time ago, and Obama isn't interested.

Obama was all over the talk shows on Sunday morning lying about the Max Tax and whether or not imposing a mandate on the uninsured to purchase insurance was actually a tax or not. Like most discussions that are much more important, the discussion was held up on parsing words; Obama's main issue seemed to be with George Stephanopoulos' use of the word "tax," denying that the Max Tax imposed a tax increase and instead saying that the government just wants people to take responsibility. And that, unless he's being willfully naive, is an outright lie, because Baucus' bill does impose a tax. There's no question about it, other than what each income group is going to end up paying. If it functions as a tax, it's a tax.

Obama also claimed to Bob Schieffer that the Max Tax wouldn't violate his promise not to raise taxes on those making less than $250,000 a year, but I don't see how that can be remotely true, either. And, as per usual, he shrugged off the idea of a public option, saying the people demanding it need to get beyond their ideological positions so we can get something done. He gave it up months ago. Hey, public health advocates: get lost, we've got people to, um, enforce responsibility on.

Even the AFL-CIO has lost patience with this guy, promising to withdraw support from any politician who doesn't support a public option. A crowd at the University of Maryland booed the president when he talked about the Baucus plan. I think Obama may have finally figured out just how much support he's losing among not just the far left, but among those who are more moderate. I think there are a lot of people out there who are financially struggling and hoped that Obama at least understood what their problems were and might offer something new. You have to understand: yes, there are people out there who want a free ride from the government, but they are vastly outnumbered by people who just want to be able to work and take care of their family without being nickel-and-dimed to the grave or screwed over by Corporate America. Those people aren't crazy liberals or Nazi socialists, they're just people who are scared and frustrated and worried that they are one illness or job loss or missed payment away from living in their cars. And these people have basically been abandoned by Obama simply because he's getting desperate to prove that he can at least do something, no matter how useless or even detrimental it is.

From now on, we should really all get it into our heads that there is not going to be a public option for health finance. Not under this president, probably not ever in my lifetime. They've abandoned it, and we've got to move on from there.

Baucus' bill gets worse, by the way. Even though it creates a new ombudsman office to act as consumer advocate, it's basically worthless because of a gigantic, sucking loophole which forces an individual to exhaust all internal appeals with their insurer. This just creates a strong financial incentive for insurance companies to make the appeal process an even longer, more painful nightmare of bureaucracy than it already is. It's just another way to deny coverage. The problem now won't be a pre-existing condition, it'll be a long delay that, the insurance companies hope, will end when the patient either gives up in frustration or simply dies before the appeals are exhausted. There's an amendment pending that would allow policyholders to access the ombudsman for assistance in the appeals process, which is something, at least.

A better idea would simply be to expand Medicaid. Most doctors and hospitals don't want to accept Medicaid patients because the reimbursements are so low they're not profitable. There's a bill in front of the House right now, HR 3200, that would increase Medicaid payments for primary care to equal those of Medicare, whose rates are much more acceptable to providers. Instead of subsidizing the purchase of useless private policies, why not let Baucus' uninsured 30 million participate in a revised Medicaid with premiums and cost-sharing at reasonable levels based on income? It's not exactly a public option, but it's a hell of a lot more reasonable than what Baucus is suggesting.

Or, of course, we could always let the government set strict regulations for the medical industry, but that just ain't ever gonna happen.

Monday, September 21, 2009

TV Report: Accidentally On Purpose

What an incredibly grating show. I mean, grating. And embarrassing. Any critic who said this show was terrible is being far too kind. I used to love Jenna Elfman--back on the first, maybe also the second season of Dharma & Greg, as terrible as that show was. She seemed so deft when it came to comedy. Well, a number of movies have lessened my opinion of her talents considerably (did she ever actually make a single good movie?), and this show just kills it. Watching her flop sweat as she tries to oversell something that's not really that funny to begin with... she's too broad for her own good, and frankly, this shit show doesn't deserve the effort.

I can't believe that Ashley Jensen left Ugly Betty to be a stereotype on this piece of shit.

I unadopt you, Ashley Jensen. That's how awful this was. I unadopt you, Ashley Jensen. Leave Mars at once.

I watched this show accidentally, and I'll be staying away from it on purpose. Seriously, just a terrible excuse for a sitcom.

New Turtle Comic

Coming a few months after our first collaboration, The Turtle Who Thought He Was a Casino Greeter, Splotchy and I have teamed up for another reptilian adventure with The Turtle Tries to Buy Some Lettuce.

Head over to his blog and check it out.

And Then There Are Days I Feel Like I Missed Out Not Having Kids

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Song of the Week: "Don't Let Me Down"

I haven't had a Beatles song up yet for this year, so why not this one? This is my wife's favorite Beatles song, if not her favorite song by anybody, so I thought I'd put this up for her today. No reason, just thought of it. From the rooftop performance, 1969.

Twilight Summarized by a Smartass, Chapter 12

This chapter starts off with Jacob Black and his father Billy visiting Charlie and Bella. Apparently this is some kind of a reconnection between old friends Billy and Charlie, who had some kind of falling out, apparently over Charlie's championing of the Cullens (I remember in an earlier chapter that Charlie was really, really upset that people in town cast aspersions of weirdness on Dr. Cullen). Jacob just wants to see Bella again, because she's just so magnetically wonderful, Stephenie Meyer keeps failing to convince me.

I have to admit, I like Jacob. I know he's got his problems with the supernatural, too (Meyer hasn't informed us of this yet, so I won't go into it now, since it doesn't fit the narrative yet), but I like him so much better than Edward. Maybe it's because Jacob seems like an actual, believable person, while Edward is just some misty figure in Bella's mind that we keep getting told is wonderful and godlike and talks like a prat. Jacob's human, Edward is some sort of half-formed masturbatory fantasy for a girl terrified of male secondary sexual characteristics and the actual act of sex. I don't know, Jacob just comes across as a nice guy. It goes a long way. He's only in this chapter for five pages, but it's only the second time (since Jacob's first appearance, when he talks about the mythology of vampires and werewolves) I've actually enjoyed the book without thinking about how awful it is or getting frustrated by how awful it is.

Billy also has some kind of thing about Bella. I don't know, he keeps searching her in that way Native Americans always have of being able to mystically pick up on things we miss in bad novels and comic books written by idiots who don't think maybe they're being a little racist. Seriously, the wise old shaman? When does Stephen King's magical black man show up? Any other lazy racial stereo-tropes we can get in here, Steph?

Jacob's (so far) much better than Edward because he's not constantly depressed by what he is. When Edward comes back into this chapter, I just get bored and antsy again. He's disgusting. Stephenie Meyer has never heard of "show, don't tell" in fiction, so instead of showing us what a great and mysterious and fascinating guy Edward is supposed to be, she's just got Bella being all soppy and telling us repeatedly how perfect he is (she uses that word far too often for it to mean anything) when, again, he just comes across like a sullen little emo jerk who mistakes selfishness for mysteriousness, self-seriousness for depth, and is too wrapped up in his own fake pain and sorrow to do anything but mope and be hostile to the girl he likes.

And it especially gets annoying because Bella seems to think there's all of this tension in their relationship that needs to be resolved, but there absolutely isn't. There's no tension at all: it's just her doing nearly everything he says while he stalks her and purposely tries to keep her confused and tells her over and over again that her life is in danger if she continues to see him.

Edward is continuing his third degree of Bella in this chapter, trying to find out everything about her, and seems really annoyed that she's still a virgin and hasn't dated at all. He then tells her that, since they're going hiking tomorrow, he and one of his sisters have to go hunting. Why? The implication--nearly stated outright--is that it's safer for Bella to be alone in the woods with Edward if he's already killed something, so he won't be hungry when they're alone together.


He's still telling her, repeatedly, that he's fascinated by her and wants to spend all of his time with her, even though he's waging an epic battle with his desire to murder her and feed on her.

Um... romantic?

He even tries to say that Bella is dangerous for him to be around because he wants to kill her so badly. Dialogue: "it's dangerous for more than just me [meaning his family] if, after spending so much time with you publicly... if this ends... badly."

So, your boyfriend tells you that he and his family are worried because if Edward just can't control himself one day and finally murders you--which he really, really wants to do--he'll be the prime suspect... and you still want to go hiking in the woods with him?

All in one chapter, we're made aware of the fact that Edward still has to control himself to keep from killing Bella (but not everyone else?), and that he has to feed on an animal in order to sate himself so he'll be less tempted to kill Bella.

And when they do get to the woods, Edward is actually mad at her because she didn't tell her dad where she was going, because there's every possibility that he'll kill her today and she may not ever make it back home.

This book needs more Jacob. He and Charlie are the only likable characters in the whole thing.

Happy 34, Asia Argento!

Happy 55, Brinke Stevens!

Haven't seen you in a long, long time.