Monday, December 21, 2009

Survivor: Did Erik's Speech Sway the Jury?

How fitting that the best season in Survivor history ends with a blindside.  If you didn't see it, or haven't already heard, underdog Natalie won the million dollars, literally and figuratively upsetting Russell, one of the strongest competitors in the history of the game.  And if you ask me, she has Erik's impassioned speech at that final tribal council to thank for it.

John mentioned that the jury was interested in hearing more about Natalie's strategy.  I think a lot of them had already decided they weren't voting for Russell -- they were choosing between her and Mick.  The big strike against Natalie was her perceived weakness as a player.  Erik clarified that her passive approach to the game was just as valid as Russell's more aggressive strategy.  It's a risky to do what Natalie did precisely because of the inevitable backlash against you. It also takes strength to shut up and keep smiling when so many people around you are acting like jerks.

I would have voted for Russell, but have to admit that Erik's speech gave me pause.  It was a reminder that Russell's game, for all its strengths, was fatally unbalanced. He systematically alienated every member of the jury, banking they would nevertheless applaud his strategy.  But it's human nature to resent your betrayer, and Russell played the game so aggressively that jurors were looking for a reason -- any reason -- to vote against him.

So what do you all everybody think?  Did Natalie deserve the million?  Was this the best season of Survivor ever?  As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Friday Morning Quarterback...

Every Friday morning I do a brief writeup and review of shows I watched the night before, including FlashForward, Fringe, the Office, 30 Rock, Survivor, and Parks and Recreation.  There will be spoilers about what happened, so consider yourself forewarned.

FLASHFORWARD: No new episode.

FRINGE: Review forthcoming...

THE OFFICE:  Review forthcoming...

30 ROCK: Review forthcoming...

  Review forthcoming...

PARKS AND RECREATION: Review forthcoming...

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top Chef: Top Farce

Let me preface this by clarifying I have no problem, in principle, with Michael Voltaggio winning Top Chef.  He's a talented and charismatic chef -- albeit terribly insecure -- who thoroughly impressed me all season with his smart and sexy creations.  But my favorite was  clearly Kevin, whose simple food with complex flavors is pretty much my culinary ideal.  And I take issue with Kev's treatment during the finale, starting with the way he was unceremoniously booted from the room before they announced the winner, something I don't recall being done in years past.


Even more fundamentally, I was frustrated by how the producers screwed the Kevin by giving him Preeti and Ash, two of the less competent cheftestants, as sous chefs.  Ash apparently acquitted himself well, but compare him with the Voltaggio brothers' sous chefs, Eli and Jen, both of whom were in the final five.  Even the brothers' second sous chefs were superior to Kevin's.  Brian had Ashley, who struck me as competent despite her failures. And Michael had Jesse, who was lost on her own, but seemed to thrive under his micromanagement.  Preeti, by contrast, was an epic failure -- notice how she was absent from nearly all shots of Kevin.

I know some will say this was all random chance.  But that simply begs the question, which is the fairness of leaving such a decisive factor to chance.  I'm sure the producers were gambling that someone -- preferably Michael -- would be forced to work with Robin.  The problem is that Kevin paid the price for their stupid bet, which was totally unfair.  So, memo to the producers: in future finales, please give cheftestants at least some ability to choose their sous chefs.  Or if you don't, make sure the pool of candidates is even.  It's just not fair to shoot a talented chef like Kevin in his best foot before he has a chance to put it forward.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Friday Morning Quarterback...

Every Friday morning I do a brief writeup and review of shows I watched the night before, including FlashForward, Fringe, the Office, 30 Rock, Survivor, and Parks and Recreation.  There will be spoilers about what happened, so consider yourself forewarned.

FLASHFORWARD: A solid episode that showed what this show is at its best -- 24 with a sci-fi twist.  As I suspected, Simcoe and the Hobbit's experiment was probably not the cause of the blackout.  As I also suspected, the towers in Somalia had something to do with plasma. Tesla's dream was to transmit energy between massive towers  like Wardenclyffe using plasma as a conductor.  I just hope this installment was compelling enough to tide viewers over until March, when FlashfForward returns from hiatus

FRINGE: A solid episode that cemented John Noble as the best actor, and Walter Bishop as the most compelling character, on the show.  I was briefly worried they would try to shoehorn some kind of romantic relationship between him and Astrid.  But they played it perfectly -- I completely bought Walter's tenderness and regret over her assault.  On a tangential note, how much you want to bet Walter's GPS chip becomes a plot point later this season?  As with FlashForward, I just hope the break doesn't kill this show...

THE OFFICE: Meh.  Scott's Tots was too over the top for me.  I just didn't buy Michael actually showing up at the ceremony.  I was pleased to see Dwight regain some of the momentum his character has lost this season.  But the notion that Jim would trust Dwight to put together the blind tally was totally unbelievable.  I also thought David Wallace forgiving Jim, besides being a copout, was a missed opportunity.  It would make more sense to me if Jim fell out of favor with management, then redeemed himself by somehow saving the company.

30 ROCK: A passable entry that did nothing to undermine 30 Rock's reputation as the most consistently funny show on network television.  The HD gag was probably my favorite part, particularly Kenneth as a muppet.  Frank's transformation into Liz induced some chuckles -- I'm pleased when they showcase him, rather than the overexposed Kenneth.  Speaking of Liz, ladies take note, bangs are not hot.

SURVIVOR: In retrospect, John's decision to vote with Russell and Co. was a big mistake.  But even that massive blunder was completely eclipsed by Foa Foa's decision to leave Shambo hanging.  This was the first major strategic miscalculation that Russell has made.  I think Jaison is absolutely correct that taking Shambo's vote for granted will alienate her, as it did with Galu.

PARKS AND RECREATION: Review forthcoming...

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Wire: 100 Greatest Quotes

My friend MB recently forwarded me this collection of the 100 greatest quotes from the Wire.  I write a blog about LOST, but the Wire will always be my favorite show.  I've never seen anything quite like it and doubt I ever will again.  Watching these clips in quick succession took me back to when I was mainlining the the entire series on DVD, watching two, sometimes three, episodes at a time:

My only complaint is that the selections include almost no quotes from the kids.  We see Randy and Michael, but no Namond or Dukie.  I found these kids to be some of the most compelling characters on the Wire.  They're what makes Season 4 arguably the best of the show.  I would have loved to see at least one more glimpse of them clowning around on the corner or with Mr. Pryzbo in the classroom.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Morning Quarterback...

Every Friday morning I do a brief writeup and review of shows I watched the night before, including FlashForward, Fringe, the Office, 30 Rock, Survivor, and Parks and Recreation.  There will be spoilers about what happened, so consider yourself forewarned.

FLASHFORWARD: Another limp offering that made the mistake of rehashing someone's vision for the umpteenth time.  In this case, it was Bryce, who's one of my least favorite characters so far.  I did, however, like the twist involving Keiko's vision, which revealed their meeting will take place in LA, not Tokyo.  I know all signs point to Demitri as the mole, but I still wonder...what if it was Gough?  Finally, memo to Sonya Walger: you look stunning without makeup.  Go with the natural look more often!

FRINGE: A satisfying installment that advanced the mythology substantially.  I saw the whole "love" thing coming a mile away, but I still liked how they handled it, particularly the surrogate parent angle.  Apparently, the Observers are not supposed to intervene, which surprises me.  I had them pegged as a more activist influence on historical events.  On that note, how hilarious were those photoshopped images of the Observers throughout history? 

THE OFFICE:  I think this may be my favorite episode of the season thus far.  Jim disciplining Ryan by putting him in the closet without internet or social interaction was hilarious.  And Oscar chickening out when Michael called him up to the executive suite was the show at its best.  We get this big windup that primes us for some trite speech by Oscar about how to rescue the company.  And then the show completely subverts that expectation by denying us the cliche in a way that was also completely in character with Oscar.  Brilliant!

30 ROCK: Review forthcoming...

  And the best season of Survivor in quite some time keeps getting better.  Russell's discovery of a third immunity idol blew my mind.  He's a brilliant player for sure but his attempts to sabotage camp are just stupid. That's a high-risk low-reward strategy if I ever saw one.  Speaking of strategy, I can't decide if John's decision to change his vote made sense.  On the one hand, his former tribe mates clearly signaled their willingness to sacrifice him.  On the other, he'll likely do no better than sixth with Russell's crew.

PARKS AND RECREATION: Review forthcoming...

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Prisoner: Guarded Optimism

Color me guardedly optimistic after watching the first two episodes of the new Prisoner mini-series.  Jim Caviezel is no Patrick McGoohan, but who is?  The remake is a bit broader in scope, touching on the lives of other people in the Village besides Number Six and his interrogators.  But it does capture at least some of the ambiguous weirdness of the original, which was my main concern.  Currently, my theory is that a number of people are hooked up to a virtual reality machine, though I really hope I'm wrong. What do you all everybody think thus far?

Update: November 19, 2009

I finally got around to watching the last two episodes of the mini-series yesterday.  After sleeping on it for a night, here's my take.  And wouldn't you know, this interpretation is heavily influenced by LOST.  Number Two is basically like Kelvin Inman, with Number Six as his Desmond David Hume.

Some years ago, Number Two's wife, M2, discovered a plane of existence that can only be accessed subconsciously.  She created the very first Village in her own mental image.  That's why wraps are so ubiquitous -- they're her favorite food.  Two and M2 recognized the therapeutic potential of the Village as a mental respite from the material world.  The couple hatched a plan to bring mentally troubled souls to the Village, where their minds could be healed by the simple virtues of small-town life. 

Six's job at Summakor was to find appropriate subjects for therapy through his surveillance.  One such subject was Number 147, who exists as a driver in both NYC and the Village.  It's not completely clear why 147 is in the Village, but his NYC incarnation alludes in passing to getting his daughter back soon.  The implication is that he temporarily lost custody of her through some fault of his own -- probably abuse.  Maybe 147's subconscious was sent to the Village for therapy to resolve his anger issues.

Unfortunately, the Village reality could only be sustained at a terrible price.  As a mental construct of M2, it depended on her dreams to exist.  That's why the holes began opening when she awoke -- the fabric of Village reality was eroding with her every waking minute.   This forced Two to keep M2 in a state of almost constant sedation and REM sleep.  What was supposed to be their escape, where the couple could raise the son they weren't able to have in the material world, became their prison instead. 

We're led believe that Six is the Prisoner, striving mightily to escape.  In my view, however, the real prisoners are Two and M2. Most of what we see is Two's plan to manipulate Six into taking over for M2 as the Village dreamer.  The analogy here is to Kelvin's attempt to dupe Desmond into assuming Swan button duty on LOST.  Ultimately, Two succeeds by exploiting Six's love for Number 313, and the latter two become the new Two and M2.  At least, that's my interpretation -- what do you all everybody think?

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday Morning Quarterback...

Every Friday morning I do a brief writeup and review of shows I watched the night before, including FlashForward, Fringe, the Office, 30 Rock, Survivor, and Parks and Recreation.  There will be spoilers about what happened, so consider yourself forewarned.

FLASHFORWARD: The Hobbit continues to be a poor choice for a bad guy.  Good thing for the show that I'm convinced he and Simcoe actually had nothing to do with causing the blackout.  (My money is on brilliant Ricky Jay as the bad guy.)  The poker game would have been a perfect opportunity to nerd out on quantum physics, which is all based on probability.  But besides some passing references to quantum suicide, the exchange seemed more about Simon and Llyod's relationship.  Also, I saw the star tattoo twist coming a mile away, and the "Jericho" security contractors seemed a little derivative of...well, Jericho.

FRINGE: Another decent effort in the X-Files tradition.  I liked the twist of the kid being the mind controller -- reminded me of that Twilight Zone episode where Bill Mummy plays that kid with psychic powers.  I'm also pleased when they find a way to weave an X-Files episode into the larger mythology of the show.  I'm guessing the drug was part of Massive Dynamic's attempt to create super soldiers of its own in anticipation of the final battle.  On that note, memo to Nina Sharp: you need a mirror and typewriter to communicate with the mirror reality.

THE OFFICE:  More mixed feelings about this episode.  Oscar doing an awful southern accent was one of the true laugh-out-loud moments of the season, and I think Andy awkward courtship of Erin is adorable.  But Michael was back to being mindlessly stupid, even if he was vindicated by the end of the episode.  Ordinarily, I like it when the writers switch things up by making Michael look stupid, then reveal him to be right.  Think of Michael's commercial for Dunder Mifflin.  But the payoff really has to be genius, and I didn't quite buy Jim's change of heart regarding the game.

30 ROCK: This episode started slowly, but picked up steam by the end.  Many of the best episodes deal with Jack and Lemon's (aka Lesbian Yellow Sourfruit) platonic love affair, and this was no exception.  Kenneth became a tad overexposed in the last season or two, but his psychological ploy to get Cheyenne Jackson's character (does he have a name besides "robot guy"?) to pronounce "about" like an American was hilarious.  Padma Lakshmi was a little wooden but pleasantly self deprecating.  Her "invention" of the sandwich bag hilariously evoked the rampant product placement of the Glad family of products on Top Chef.

  Last week, I suggested that Russell might be the best manipulator since Johnny Fairplay.  After finding a second immunity idol -- with no clues! -- and engineering yet another blindside, I'm prepared to say Russell is better.  How he managed to swing a 7-4 disadvantage into a 5-5 balance of power is beyond me, but it's been a thrilling pleasure to watch.  If Russell wins it all, he may well merit the title of best Survivor ever.

PARKS AND RECREATION: I think the writers probably assumed that Tom Haverford would become the star of the show.  As I mentioned last week, however, I think the funniest character on the show is Ron. His storyline involving the orgasmic shoe shine was at once hilarious and disturbing.  Andy's reaction ("What the f**k was that?!") was perfect, too. I also enjoy the way supporting characters like Jerry and Donna are starting to develop.  More of them, and less of Audrey the intern, please.

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The New V: Mirroring the Original

In the run up to the premier of the new V on ABC, the Syfy Channel has been airing the original mini-series from 1983.  The mini-series made quite an impression on me as a child, so I was curious to see how it compared with the reboot.  After watching the original, followed by the re-imagined pilot, my verdict of the latter is mixed.  It's an obvious improvement in some ways, but suffers by comparison in others.  In fact, the remake's strengths and weaknesses are basically mirror opposites of the original's.

The mini-series suffered from stilted dialogue, hammy acting, and cheesy special effects.  No storyline better exemplifies these flaws than that of young Robin Maxwell, an awkward teen who develops a crush on one of the Visitors, who eventually impregnates her.  Both the writing and her delivery are cringe worthy (e.g., "Oh my gawd!  He's looking at me!") and the birth of lizard-baby twins during the second mini-series was an unintended laugh-out-loud moment for many viewers.

The remake is far from perfect, but the acting and effects are both improved.  The teen protagonist is now Tyler Evans (Logan Huffman) a composite of Robin and Daniel, the alienated teen who collaborates with the aliens in the mini-series.  Tyler is seduced by the Visitors' hot women and cool technology.  I was a little put off by his rapid conversion, which would be more plausible if he were a meek nobody, rather than a moody rebel.  But Tyler's tour of the mother ship is one of the livelier scenes in the pilot, and I'm curious to see how the character develops.  Judging from the previews, his budding alien affair will be pivotal to the retelling.

Tyler's mother Erica is played by Elizabeth Mitchell, who credibly radiates maternal concern.  It helps that Mitchell reminds me of another '80s icon, hot hippy mom Elyse Keaton from Family Ties.  But does television really need another FBI agent as a lead?  Between Olivia Dunham on Fringe and Mark Benford on FlashForward, the field seems pretty crowded.  I would have preferred that Erica be a scientist like the blond and brainy Dr. Juliet Parrish from the mini-series, who set my pre-teen heart aflutter.

And that brings me to my main complaint with the remake -- the weak political commentary.  The mini-series was a thinly veiled allegory for the rise of German fascism.  The Visitors were Nazis, from their uniforms and Swastika-like emblem, to their use of propaganda and brainwashing.  Instead of rounding up Jews, the Visitors targeted human scientists like Dr. Parrish for persecution.  Just in case you missed the parallels, there was an elderly holocaust survivor who pointed them out and even hid a family of scientists Ann Anne Frank style in his pool house.  It was all a little heavy handed, but coherent and moving nonetheless.

The remake, by contrast, seems to be a mild allegory for 9/11.  The opening sequence explicitly references that tragedy among others, a touch I found unnecessary.  I was struck by the sight of New Yorkers gazing lamely up at the hovering space ships, which reminded me of walking up Broadway after the Towers fell and seeing people stare dumbly up at the Empire State building like they expected it to go next.  That's also the implication of the alien sleeper cells, who are literally terrorist cells as well.  Presumably, their investigation by the FBI will provide a procedural aspect to the show. 

Unfortunately, much of this thematic ground has been covered recently by FlashForward and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  The latter is a particularly tough act to follow.  Much of the expository dialogue in BSG  was delivered by the super sexy Six, which helped the medicine go down.  And with due respect to Morris Chestnut, Grace Park will always be the sleeper agent of my dreams.  I think V did the right thing by giving the Visitors a backstory on Earth that predated the arrival of their ships.  But that rushed scene in the warehouse was the worst of all possible worlds -- long exposition punctuated by chaotic action.

Ultimately, the remade V is slick but is kind of soulless at its core.  Think of the exchange between reporter Chad Decker (Scott Wolf) who asks whether all the Visitors are as attractive as their leader, Anna (Morena Baccarin).  To which Anna replies, "you're not so bad yourself."  The actors look great, and the dialogue is snappy, but the end product is somehow less than the sum of its parts.  Compare that with one of my favorite scenes from the mini-series, where a high school band welcomes a local Visitor delegation with a cheesy rendition of Star Wars.  The band begins to play about 1m 15s into the clip below. 

It's painfully bad, but also earnest and real, kind of like the mini-series itself.  And there, in a nutshell, is the difference between the remake and original.  Given the choice, I think I prefer cheesy and earnest to slick and soulless.

Friday, November 6, 2009

FlashForward: The Purpose of the Flashes

 I posted this in the comments to another post, but decided it merited an entry of its own.

A persistent mystery of the show is why certain characters in the flashforwards are doing certain things in the future. Why, for example, is the FBI head sitting on the toilet if he knows that Mark will be attacked by masked gunmen elsewhere in the building? If the people in the flashforwards experienced visions of the future themselves, they would presumably behave differently. At a minimum, you would expect the FBI head to be waiting in ambush for the gunmen, rather than taking a dump.

One possibility is that the people in the flashforwards never blacked out at all. If that's the case, however, what was the FBI investigating with Mark's clue board? Other possibilities include that the FBI was investigating a planned blackout that had not yet occurred, or that Mark alone experienced a flashforward.

But there's a much simpler explanation consistent with what I perceive to be the purpose of the flashforwards. The future glimpsed therein is part of a timeline that no longer exists. In that timeline, everyone on the planet blacked out, but no one experienced flashforwards. Mark's clue board reflects the FBI's efforts to determine the cause of only the blackouts. But there's no Mosaic collective because no one experiences flashes of the future. That timeline no longer exists because, in the timeline we're watching, people experienced blackouts and flashes.

That's the key to understanding the purpose of the flash forwards. They're an effort to destroy the old timeline in which people experienced only blackouts by creating a new timeline in which people experienced both blackouts and flashes of the future.

Update: November 10, 2009

Unfortunately, it appears this speculation is probably incorrect.  As Fargus perceptively notes, the Blue Hand appears as a clue on the Mosaic Board in Mark's flashforward, confirming indirectly that most people therein experienced both blackouts and visions of the future.  On that note, I also want to preview an idea I plan to explore further in another post. 

I'm increasingly suspicious that "ghosts" like Demetri are not actually destined to die.  Quite the contrary, their blank flashforwards are like the box containing Schrodinger's cat before it's opened.  The lack of visions is a sign they're capable of altering the future glimpsed by others.  The Blue Hand parties are a systematic effort to eliminate these variables by someone who doesn't want the future to change.  Gough's leap of faith will work by allowing Celia to make some important change to the timeline.

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Friday Morning Quarterback...

Thursday nights are once again crowded with "must see TV" -- and not just on NBC.  So I'm starting a new feature called "Friday Morning Quarterback" here on I Hate My DVR.  Every Friday morning I'll do a brief writeup and review of shows I watched the night before, including FlashForward, Fringe, the Office, 30 Rock, Survivor, and Parks and Recreation.  There will be spoilers about what happened, so consider yourself forewarned.

FLASHFORWARD: I've made no secret of my growing displeasure with this show.  The departure of show runner Marc Guggenheim was unfortunate but probably necessary.  Last night's installment continued the annoying pattern of ending every episode with a cliffhanger.  I was also a little perplexed by the Russian roulette "test" for entry to the Blue Hand party -- what exactly was that supposed to prove?  But I couldn't help being moved by Gough's desperate attempt to change the future by killing himself.  I think the message is that the future depicted in the flashforwards can be changed, but only with great effort and sacrifice.

FRINGE: One of my favorite shows returns from the break with a decent installment in the X-Files vein.  But the show is at its best, in my opinion, when advancing the main story arc.  I think it was a mistake to end the hiatus with an episode that ignored the mythology of the show.  I understand why they did it -- serialized stories can be tough for audiences to follow.  The procedural episodes are for more casual viewers.  Still, Fringe's ratings have been dropping like a rock since moving to Thursday nights.  I wonder if the writers misread the situation and have been feeding fans the opposite of what they really want.

THE OFFICE:  Well, that was fast!  Michael dated Pam's mom for all of two episodes.  I have mixed feelings about the rapid demise of their relationship.  On the one hand, I loved last week's effort and think Linda Purl is one very sexy lady.  It seemed like they could have milked a little more humor from the situation.  On the other hand, I didn't love last night's episode.  The B storyline, involving Dwight and Andy's attempts to out-favor each other, elicited some chuckles.   But Michael's behavior at lunch was just stupid, and I hate it when they make him a one-dimensional dummy.

30 ROCK: Is 30-Rock the funniest comedy on network television?  I laugh harder at South Park, and have heard amazing things about It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but those are cable shows.  At one time, I would have answered the Office, without hesitation.  These days, however, I can't think of another comedy on the "big four" that so consistently tickles my funny bone.  I'm stating the obvious when I say the key to the show's success continues to be Alex Baldwin -- last night's storyline involving Jack's bedbugs was hilarious.  But Tracey and Jenna are starting to annoy me with their B storylines.  Bring back Jackie Jomp Jomp!

  I'm a huge fan of reality television shows, and Survivor is the oldest and greatest of them all.  The gorgeous high-definition shots of Samoan scenery are the main reason I DVR the show instead of watching it on-line.  But this season's cast of women may be the hottest of all time.  And two of the most attractive -- Monica and Natalie -- have defied expectations to survive until last night's merge.  As an added bonus, Russell may be the best manipulator since Johnny Fairplay. Also, it was nice to see Jaison reassert himself after his lackluster effort the week before.

PARKS AND RECREATION: Ron has become one of my favorite characters on the show, and Megan Mullally was great as one of his (ex) Tammys.  Unfortunately, I think her role is temporary, and Leslie needs a more permanent adversary to generate tension.  Greg Pikitis seems like a move in this direction, but the rival really needs to be someone else in local government.

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Office: Jumped the Shark...or Has It?

I'm a big fan of the U.S. version of the Office.  At one time, the show was probably the funniest comedy on television, and it's still among my favorites.  But the very special combination of Jim and Pam's wedding plus her pregnancy (not to mention a different actress playing Pam's mother) raises a troubling question.  Has the Office jumped the shark?

Some say I throw around that phrase too freely.  And while there's a grain of truth to that charge, it also reflects a disagreement about what jumping the shark entails.   I don't believe a show must experience an extended period of decline before jumping the shark.  For me, the phrase describes that moment when you know a show has passed its peak and will never be as good again.  Heroes jumped the shark with its anti-climactic showdown in the Season 1 finale, which was the best season of that show by far.

Besides, I actually do believe the Office has been slipping for some time.  The show has always struggled to come up with enough quality material for hour-long episodes like Jim and Pam's wedding.  And the departure of talented writer Michael Schur (aka Ken Tremendous of Fire Joe Morgan) to helm Parks & Recreation has only exacerbated the problem.  No surprise, therefore, that Parks & Recreation continues to improve in its second season, while the Office falters.

All that said, I have to raise an alternate possibility I haven't seen discussed.  It's possible that Jim and Pam's wedding episode was a deliberate parody of shark jumping.  The big clue to this possibility is Pam's prudish Memaw, who was played by the same uncredited actress who also played Michael's Nana in the episode Dream Team.  Another quintessential jump the shark moment is "same guest actor, different role."  I can't help thinking the writers slipped this in as a subversive wink to fans like me who might be worried the show was jumping the shark.

What do you think?  As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Friday, October 9, 2009

FlashForward: A Murder to Thank

I was a little disappointed by most of last night's episode, but it picked up steam near the end.  The part about the crows dying was really creepy.  I actually don't think it relates to the pole-shift theories.  For one thing, as we've discussed, a pole shift would be immediately obvious to anyone with a compass or GPS.  For another, it wouldn't explain the localized crow deaths in Ganwar, Somalia. 

But such speculations are on the right track insofar as they focus on electro- and geomagnetic forces.  I suspect who or whatever caused the blackout was inspired by  Nikola Tesla, whose scientific discoveries formed the basis of modern MRI technology. Tesla claimed to have discovered a new type of longitudinal (as opposed to transverse) scalar electromagnetic wave.  He built an enormous tower on Long Island called Wardenclyffe, which he hoped would wirelessly transmit electricity to a receiving tower across the Atlantic.

Unfortunately, Wardenclyffe was never completed.  Late in life, Tesla further claimed to have unified the fields in a dynamic theory of gravity. He never published his claims but they nonetheless spawned an entire pseudo-science called electrogravitics. Proponents believe that gravity is really the force of longitudinal electromagnetic waves affecting space-time in the fourth dimension.  My hunch, as stated in a previous post, is that the blackouts are a side effect of someone using this (pseudo) science to time travel or affect probability.

I think the kid saw a Tesla tower in Somalia --  my first thought was of the Prestige.  Anyone know if Ganwar is a highly geomagnetic location like Colorado Springs, where Tesla built his lab?  As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Bored to Death: Brotherhood of the Traveling Coat

In Marcel Proust's masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, a madeleine cookie triggers a wave of involuntary nostalgia in the narrator.  For me, it was the coat Jason Schwartzman wore in a recent episode of the entertaining new HBO series, Bored to Death.

I was transported to my time after college, when I lived and worked in Washington, DC.  It was the kind of group living situation that's so common in the District.  A random assortment of strangers -- besides me, there was the professional juggler, his girlfriend the trapeze artist, Ralph Nader's beleaguered administrative assistant, and the private investigator -- all sharing an enormous row house in Adams Morgan.

We threw the best parties with kegs of good beer, food the PI made from scratch, and plenty of room to dance.  After one of these fetes, someone left behind a corduroy coat identical to the one Schwartzman's wearing in the picture.  It sat in our closet for a month or two, while we waited for the owner to retrieve it.  When nobody did, I claimed the coat over the objections of the AA, who coveted it himself but was just too short to wear it well.  Or so I insisted.

I took the coat when I moved to Cambridge, MA, where it completed my daily ensemble of blue jeans, black turtleneck, and Vasque boots.  I can still remember the reassuringly large buttons.  The tricky pocket with a hole that allowed small objects like pens and change to fall into the lining like vents in a car.  The compliments it elicited -- one woman (sadly, not Olivia Thirlby) said I looked like a sexy acoustic rocker in that coat.

My ownership ended some time after moving to New York, NY.  I remember losing several of the buttons and finally trading the coat in for something sleeker and blacker -- this was, after all, New York. Beyond that, I can't recall its final disposition.  But I'd like to think someone else -- maybe even Schwartzman himself -- recognized the coat's hipster appeal and rescued it for Bored to Death.

Speaking of which, I should probably say a word about the show.  The highlight for me thus far is clearly the chemistry between Schwartzman and Ted Danson.  Schwartzman, who can sometimes be too smarmy and precocious, strikes the right notes here as a struggling writer turned detective with a weakness for white wine and pot.  And Danson is flat out brilliant as his bored rich boss who keeps finding excuses to make Schwartzman come over and smoke him out. 

The adorable Thirlby, who plays Schwartzman's ex, has yet to be given much to do.  Same with scruffy Zach Galifianakis, who plays Schwartzman's best friend.  Still, the show is well written with a nucleus of talented actors and some inspired guest stars (e.g., director Jim Jarmusch).  Plus, Schwartzman's a brother of the traveling coat.  Will Bored to Death be a success?  Like a magic eight-ball, I say all signs point to yes.

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Monday, October 5, 2009

FlashForward: Was the Blackout Planned?

Let me preface this by saying I agree the blackout was a planned event.  But I've noticed some confusion about an interesting point I thought was made in White to Play.  When the Assistant Secretary of Homeland Security debates with the FBI whether the event was planned, an FBI agent argues that it was because the probability of it happening at the top of the hour is 1/3600.  Demetri counters that natural events randomly coincide with the top of the hour all the time.  The Assistant secretary agrees with Demetri, but is eventually swayed by the existence of Suspect Zero.

I thought the message of this exchange was clear: there's no statistical reason to think the blackout was planned.  That's "all supposition," as the Assistant Secretary puts it.  Suspect Zero's behavior -- particularly the cell phone chatter -- is a different story, which is why the Assistant Secretary changes her tune upon learning of him.  Indeed, I remember thinking the agent's statistical argument was flawed and gave the writers credit for addressing what might otherwise have been criticized as a goof.

Many, however, interpret the scene quite differently.  They insist the statistical argument is sound and offer the following rationale.  The top of the hour is a marker of great significance to humans.  The chance of the blackout happening at this moment of significance is 1/3600 (i.e., 60 seconds X 60 minutes) as compared to a much higher 3599/3600 probability of the event transpiring at a moment of insignificance to humanity.  Ergo, the event was most likely planned.  Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that's fallacious reasoning.

The problem is that the chance of the event occurring at any given second during the hour is 1/3600.  There's always a 3599/3600 probability the event will occur at some other second during the hour.  The only reason our minds notice this particular 1/3600 possibility out of the rest is that we attribute social significance to the top of the hour.  It's a mistake people make all the time -- e.g., when numerologists connect important world events with the number 11, or sports fans insist certain players are "clutch" in the postseason.

What do you all everybody think?  Like I said, I'm wide open to being corrected on this one, if I'm wrong.

Update: October 5, 2009

It occurs to me there's a better reason to suspect the blackout was planned. Planned events occur so often at the top of the hour that events of unspecified origin coinciding with that time have a greater chance of being planned than they otherwise would. It's a bit like why you always seem to end up in the longest line at the supermarket or the slowest lane on the highway. The more people who fall into a given category, the more likely you are to be among them yourself.  The argument is a variation of the Copernican principle, which distinguishes it from fallacies like the power of 11 or "clutch" performance.

To summarize, therefore, the blackout may well have been planned, but a natural explanation is still more likely and the 1/3600 vs. 3599/3600 argument is totally bunk.  As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Cleveland Show Does Not Rock...

Ever since FOX announced the Cleveland Show, I've wondered why, out of all the characters on Family Guy, they picked Cleveland for a spin-off. Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I never found him remotely funny. I felt like Quagmire or Brian would have made much better choices.

No surprise, therefore, that I found the Cleveland Show similarly unfunny. After watching the pilot, though, I wonder if that's the point. Maybe Seth MacFarlane was being conservative and deliberately chose a weak character to limit the damage to Family Guy. The loss of a Quagmire or Brian could have been crippling to his flagship show. Cleveland, far less so.

The choice of Rich Appel to head the project also seems conservative. Appel has written and produced for some impressive shows, including the Simpsons, Family Guy, and Bernie Mac. But he has a reputation for playing it safe, which is death for a racial comedy. Such humor is inherently high risk, high reward. You can't be afraid to offend, or you get lame jokes -- like a wigger boyfriend named Federline Jones -- that offend anyway by virtue of their banality.

If there's a silver lining, it's the way the Cleveland Show has enhanced my appreciation for Family Guy. In a previous post, I dismissed the voice work on the latter, arguing it was the referential humor that really elevated Family Guy. In retrospect, I took that quality work for granted. The Cleveland Show has plenty of cutaways, too -- the Parton family gag was one of the few laugh-out-loud moments of the pilot for me. But the show still stinks because the character voices are so weak, particularly for step-brothers Rollo and Cleveland, Jr.

It's like they're not even trying, which raises one last possibility to contemplate. Some of MacFarlane's die-hard fans, the ones who insist his genius can produce no dud, claim that the Cleveland Show is deliberately cliched and awful. It's supposedly a satire of spin-offs, sort of like how the film Adaptation ends with a satire of bad action movie cliches. They claim the secret goal is for the show to be canceled quickly like Joey and other failed spin-offs of the past.

I guess that's possible...but I doubt it. I think MacFarlane got gun shy and sought to minimize his losses.  The result was this turd of a show.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Yes, I Have...

David Letterman's shocking revelation last night should be mandatory viewing for politicians and entertainers caught with their pants down:

Looks like Dave has learned a thing or two from Howard Stern over the years, because this was by far the most brilliant and honest live television I've seen in some time.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Three Fs: FlashForward and Fringe

I was frankly skeptical when I heard that Executive Producer Marc Guggenheim had raved on Facebook about the FlashForward pilot. After all, Guggenheim was a creator of the earnest but mediocre Eli Stone, which had a great premise but poor execution. I'd also read Robert Sawyer's book Flashforward and seriously doubted the premise would translate to television.

I'm happy to report my skepticism was totally misplaced.

In fact, after watching the first episode, I wouldn't be surprised if I enjoy the show even more than the book. Sawyer's novel is less of a mystery -- the source of the blackout is revealed early on -- and more of a character study of the scientists who caused the event. Also, the flash forward therein catapults human consciousness 21 years into the future, instead of a mere six months. Obviously, these elements wouldn't make for much of a weekly show.

So, the TV version wisely changes things, making the cause of the flashforward a mystery and focusing upon FBI agents trying to piece together what happened. Indeed, while the pseudo-scientific premise -- particle accelerator malfunction -- may remain the same, the motive and identity of those responsible will probably be very different. My guess is that some sinister corporation has been experimenting with such an accelerator to time travel or affect probability.

The shorter jump makes sense, too, though I would have made it a full year. Six months is an awfully compressed time frame. Mark's vision of the Mosaic investigation and men with laser-sighted guns will probably occur in the first season finale. But such a major reveal should really take place later in the series, like season two or three. What I don't want is for the show to start each season with a similar flash that sets up the storylines for the year.

Still, that's a minor and speculative quibble. As I say, there's plenty to love about this show, including top notch writing and acting. Brannon Braga wrote "Cause and Effect," a classic Star Trek: TNG episode that takes a cool and unconventional approach to time travel. And David S. Goyer penned "The Dark Knight," one of my favorite films of any genre, ever. I'm less familiar with Guggenheim's work (besides Eli Stone) but know he has plenty of fans, too.

Jospeh Fiennes and Sonya Walger are both totally believable as husband and wife Mark and Olivia Benford. John Cho is also great as Mark's partner Demetri Noh, who doesn't have a vision and assumes it's because he'll be dead in six months. I buy Courtney B. Vance as their dapper and baritone FBI superior. Even Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane is solid in his cameo as an agent on their team, though my first reaction was: "this guy's getting a little overexposed."

For some time now, ABC has looked in vain for the "next" LOST. Time will tell, but I think they may finally have found it in FlashForward.

Great shows usually grab me from the very start. I knew I would enjoy the Wire, Dexter, and Battlestar Galactica after the first episode or two. I was sold on LOST after the first promos. (Plane crashes are a major fear of mine.) In the case of Fringe, it took me a full season to fall in love.

I originally panned the show as too derivative of the X-Files, but you all everybody urged me to give it another chance. So I caught up on Hulu in time to watch the mind blowing season finale. And I'm not talking about Leonard Nimoy's freaky guest spot as the elusive William Bell, or the revelation that Pacey is from an alternate reality (which I already suspected). When they pulled back to reveal the twin towers of the World Trade Center...

Let's just say, as someone who was in Southern Manhattan and saw the towers fall with my own eyes, it was a powerful and disturbing image. It also illustrated brilliantly, on both literal and metaphorical levels, the mythology of the show. There is more than one of everything, including an alternate reality that differs in important ways from our own. One lingering question from the finale: are the towers standing because 9/11 never happened or is the alternate reality behind our own in time?

My casting concerns were overblown in retrospect. Pacey is more palatable than I'd imagined. And the writers have wisely toned down Lance Reddick's character, Agent Broyles, making him the quietly authoritative figure Reddick played so well on the Wire. Anna Torv is as adorable as ever -- I love Agent Dunham's bemused look when people try to BS her. Walter Bishop continues to be the most compelling character on the show, though the mysterious Nina Sharp is giving him a run for his money.

This season has gotten off to a slow start with stories returning to the show's X-Files roots. The possession of Agent Francis is an intriguing development. But his method of communicating with the mirror universe is a little cheesy. It would be creepier -- and make more sense -- if we could actually see another pair of hands typing in the mirror. I'm confident, however, that the show will regain steam once the focus returns to the engrossing main story arc.

Right now, my guess is that the two realities are unstable and destined eventually to merge into one. The coming battle is between "living receivers" (to borrow a phrase from Donnie Darko) like Agent Dunham whose special talents will facilitate the merging process. The winners of this inter-dimensional conflict will decide which version survives when alternate realities collide.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Breaking Bad: One Watery Deuce of a Finale

Tragedy struck in the skies over Albuquerque, New Mexico on Sunday. One of the best shows on television is missing and feared dead after a mid-air collision with the willing suspension of disbelief. The resulting fireball of absurdity was seen by people nationwide who tuned in expecting some compelling resolution to the mystery of the burned pink teddy bear.

Reports of frustrated viewers cursing at their televisions have been pouring in from across the country. Creator Vince Gilligan had this mildly pretentious comment on the tragedy:
In that moment, at the end of season two, [Walt] doesn't realize it, but he's responsible for the whole world figuratively coming to an end around him. It's not deus ex machina, there's another term we were talking about, Lucifer ex machina, "Devil from the machine" -- it's the opposite. It almost could feel kind of random, but it's not. It's a butterfly effect. All these gears have been turning, this particular outcome was stuff Walt put into motion a long time ago by choosing to cook crystal meth.
The butterfly effect?

Lucifer ex machina?

Pardon my Colonial, Vince, but are you frakkin' kidding me?

I get what you were trying to do. You wanted to show that Walt's actions have horribly unpredictable consequences, but in a way that didn't resort to cliches. The problem is that you set up a very compelling mystery with those teasing shots of the aforementioned pink bear and the body bags in the driveway at the start of several episodes. A lot of us spent the whole season puzzling over what could have burned the bear and who those bodies might be.

To satisfy me, the answers needed to be more than just surprising. They also had to be firmly rooted in events from this past season. We should have been able to rewatch the last 13 episodes and see old ocurrences in a new light. The shocking revelations in M. Night Shyamalan's best films like Unbreakable and the Sixth Sense work because they're clear in retrospect. Breaking Bad's twist was too random -- like learning the aliens in Signs are susceptible to water.

I don't even recall anyone mentioning that John Delancey's character worked in the airline industry. Still worse, his accident felt like some bad parody of those anti-drug commercials from the '80s with the eggs. This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. This is the air-traffic controller who will cause a catastrophic accident between two passenger planes because his daughter died from an overdose of fried, drugs.

The unforeseen evil of Walt's drug dealing could have been depicted just as disturbingly on a smaller scale. Remember how Jane's dad always attended recovery meetings with her? It seemed like the behavior of a protective father. But what if it turned out that he was an addict himself, and they originally sought treatment together? A far more devastating final scene for me would have been watching Donald relapse in despair, like Bubbles does near the end of the first season of the Wire.

The explosion could have been caused by the tankless water heater that Walt bought with tainted proceeds from his drug sales. The blast should have killed Marie, whose character is going nowhere, and maybe a reporter at the house to interview Walter, Jr., thus highlighting the harm to innocent bystanders. The shock and symbolism of such a freak accident would have been just as powerful. Indeed, the tragedy would have been all the more horrifying for its plausibility.

Many, myself included, have noted the numerous Sopranos references this season on Breaking Bad. Walt and Jesse's getting caught in the desert resembled Christopher and Paulie's plight in the famous Pine Barrens episode. Walt's facilitating Jane's asphyxiation was reminiscent of Tony smothering an injured Christopher in Kennedy and Heidi. If the Season 2 Finale has a parallel, it's to the classic Sopranos installment College.

Tony and his daughter Meadow travel to Maine to visit colleges. While at the gas station, Tony unexpectedly spies a mob informant who disappeared into witness protection. Tony stalks the man to his home, planning to kill him, but hesitates upon realizing his family is present. It's unclear whether Tony will follow through, until he does in a shockingly brutal climax where he strangles the turncoat. Later, Meadow notices blood on Tony's arm and realizes her father has been up to no good.

That episode brilliantly depicts how Tony's criminal activities impinge on his family life in unexpected and troubing ways. Even in idyllic Maine, on vacation with his daughter, Tony can't escape his obligations as a mobster. There are no mid-air collisions, not even a shootout, just one man strangling another while he pleads for his life. Yet the emotional impact of this climax is infinitely greater despite -- or perhaps because of -- its comparative banality.

There were touches of this in ABQ, particularly the storyline about Walt laundering money through Walter Junior's website. Senior's frustration at the relentless ringing of the bell brought to mind Poe's classic short, The Telltale Heart. It also evoked the mute, wheel-chair bound Tio (Ding!) one of my two favorite characters from this season -- the other being Bob Odenkirk's brilliant Saul Goodman. Speaking of Tio and Saul, where the hell were they?

I know, I know. Despite the aforementioned homages, it's not really fair comparing Breaking Bad to the Sopranos, which is one of the very best television shows ever. Still, I rate Breaking Bad among the top two or three shows currently on TV, which is why I'm so fiercely disappointed by this watery deuce of a finale. (Ding!) I haven't been so filled with righteous fury since the anti-climactic conclusion to Season 1 of Heroes.

I just hope this isn't a sign that Breaking Bad has similarly jumped the shark...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Series Finale

Since premiering as a mini-series in 2003, Battlestar Galactica has been one of the best shows of any genre on television. With consistently great writing, acting, and directing, BSG shattered the stereotype that science fiction can't be character driven. At its high points, moreover, the show was one of the few around to approach the mythological grandeur of Lost.

Nevertheless, I was nervous as I tuned in to see the series finale. For all of its merits, BSG faltered the last season or two in fulfilling the mythological promise of early episodes like Kobol's Last Gleaming. I was particularly disappointed with the revelation of the Final Five cylons and their backstory, a complaint I'll return to shortly. The penultimate episode, which was all loose ends, seemed to confirm my fear that BSG couldn't possibly tie things up in a satisfying way.

On the whole, however, I was satisfied with the finale. There were problems, particularly where the flashbacks to Caprica were concerned. The show tried to contrast the Colonials' empty existence surrounded by technology on Caprica with their embrace of a primitive existence on new Earth. But the shots of the strip club were absurd -- simultaneously heavy handed and prude. Memo to Eick and Moore: if you can't show nudity in a nudie bar, pick some other setting to make your point.

What I liked was the premise of the Colonials abandoning their technology and interbreeding with the primitive population on Earth. My favorite science fiction uses myth and science in mutually reinforcing ways. There are many legends of heavenly beings who fell to Earth and taught skills like farming and math to primitive humans. Among my favorites is the story of the Nephilim, whom the Old Testament describes as sons of God with a taste for mating with daughters of men.

The master stroke was making Hera mitochondrial Eve. We often think of cavemen as our ancestors. In fact, as Brian Sykes describes in his book Seven Daughters of Eve, recent mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests we Homo Sapiens evolved separately between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. About 80,000 years ago, we swept out of Africa in a mass migration, displacing and eventually extinguishing other Homo species like Neanderthalis. Now we know why: cylon-human hybrid vigor!

Some complain about the abrupt disappearance of Starbuck -- BSG's version of the Sopranos' fade to black. I personally bought it as a metaphor for Lee's relationship with Kara, whose free spirit remains forever out of his reach like the pigeon he chased around her apartment on Caprica. I also appreciated the pay-off for the prophetic dream of the Opera House. Having events play out on the "stage" of Galactica's bridge while the Final Five watched from the "balcony" was a nice twist.

Unfortunately, that brings me back to my beef with the story of the Final Five. I frankly never believed them as brilliant scientists, particularly Ellen and Saul Tigh. And making them the last five survivors of the Thirteenth Tribe struck me as too clever by half, as did the revelation that the Thirteenth Tribe was actually cylon, not human. If I were Eick and Moore, I would have shifted the focus from the Final Five to the Cylon God, whom I would have made a renegade Lord of Kobol.

In my re-imagining of the re-imagined mythology, the Lords created humans for cheap labor, much as the latter would later create cylons. The aforementioned renegade Lord led a revolt on behalf of humanity that culminated in their exodus from Kobol. He guided the Thirteenth Tribe to Earth, then retired to an isolated island in the western ocean, only to watch the Tribe repeat the terrible cycle of events from Kobol by creating cylons and annhilating themselves with nukes.

The renegade Lord left Earth hoping to warn the other Twelve Tribes, but was intercepted by the cylons. Realizing he was too late to prevent war with the Colonies, he helped create humanoid cylons, who worshiped him in return as their Cylon God. As such, he was able to delay the cylons' annihilation of the Twelve Colonies long enough to find and plant the clues for the route to new Earth. The Final Five were his sleeper agents, unconsciously facilitating humanity's exodus until they awoke.

The Cylon God's plan would have culminated in humanity's realization on the original Earth that they were once slave labor themselves on Kobol. The Cylon God himself would probably be dead, killed secretly in some betrayal by brother Cavil, who caught wind of the covert plan to guide humanity to new Earth. But we also would have learned that the Cylon God created one of the Final Five in his own image. The fifth would have been revealed as Gaius Baltar, rather than Ellen Tigh.

Anyway, that's how I would have written it, but I suppose that's why Eick and Moore get the big bucks. Like I said, my criticisms and alternate mythology aside, I was reasonably pleased with how they wrapped up the series overall and look forward to the upcoming television film Battlestar Galactica: The Plan. What did you all everybody think?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Breaking Bad: Season Premier

I know I owe you all everybody some three-dot thoughts and replies to your awesome comments regarding La Fleur. But I have to take a break from the Lost talk for just a moment to plug another one of my favorite shows, Breaking Bad, which returns for a second season this Sunday, March 8, on AMC.

The premise is dark, but the story is told with plenty of humor. Bryan Cranston stars as Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the start of the series. To ensure the financial security of his pregnant wife and son with cerebral palsy, Walt secretly goes into business with a former student cooking and distributing crystal meth.

Cranston, who played the long-suffering dad on Malcolm in the Middle, brilliantly toes the line between drama and comedy with his performance. At the start of the series, you really believe that he's a wimpy science teacher. But by the time Walt walks into a den of criminals armed only with a handful of volatile chemicals, you also buy his transformation into a total badass:

And it's not just Cranston -- all of the main characters are perfectly cast. I'm particularly fond of Dean Norris, who plays Walt's brother-in-law Hank, a DEA agent. Hank is a kind of buffoonish Vic Mackey, a macho man who loves to goof on the nebishy Walter but with an undercurrent of affection that keeps the character sympathetic.

I also really enjoy RJ Mitte as Walt's son, Walter, Jr.. He captures well the quiet angst of an adolescent whose struggle for peer acceptance is complicated by his physical condition. I like that Mitte actually has cerebral palsy in real life. It galls me when shows try to pass off someone Chinese or Japanese as Korean. I'm looking at you, Sopranos...

The talented Vince Gilligan, formerly of the X-Files, created Breaking Bad. I was riveted literally from the start of his pilot, which has attained a kind of cult status in the entertainment industry. If you have a chance to watch the first nine episodes, I highly recommend them. But even if you can't, be sure to catch the start of Season 2 tomorrow night at 10pm on AMC.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Heroes: More Absurd than Ever

I like to whine about Heroes. In my opinion, the show jumped the shark at the end of Season 1 with its anti-climactic finale. Still, I'm a sucker for anything with superheroes, so I'm continuing to watch despite my reservations. Sadly, as last night's episode confirmed, the writing is as absurd as ever.

It's bad enough that they introduced a character who can breathe underwater. Talk about a lame power -- he can't even talk to the fishes like Aquaman! When Claire scrambled to hide him, I turned to my friend JZ (no, not that JZ) and made a crack about how she should just stash him in the jacuzzi.

I never expected the writers would actually stoop to stashing him in the jacuzzi.

Even worse, I think the show is poised to bring back one of my least favorite characters from seasons past. One mystery of S3 is the identity of REBEL, the anonymous computer hacker who has been helping our heroes at every turn. I'm guessing that REBEL is Micah, who can interface mentally with machines.

I don't know what it is about that kid, but he really creeps me out. I would totally buy him as, say, a murderous child psychopath...