Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Greatest Christmas Movie Ever Made

Here it is, the single greatest Christmas movie of all time, no joke, no doubt, no question, it’s Die Hard.  And before any quibbling begins, can we agree, in general, that it’s a good movie.  Seriously.  Step back from the Christmas assertion for just a moment and consider the film as a whole, Die Hard is a classic. 

Die Hard ranks as number 39 on AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Thrills list.  Die Hard turned Bruce Willis from a television star into an A-list movie star.  Die Hard spawned three sequels (look for Live Free or Die Hard in summer 2007).  Die Hard spawned countless imitators and wannabes.  And, Die Hard takes place during Christmas. 

Sure, it’s not a “traditional” Christmas movie.  But it takes place during Christmas, has Christmas carols, and follows a number of standard tropes of Christmas films. 

First, let’s look at John McClane (Bruce Willis’s character) and who he is.  To start with, there’s his name, John McClane.  In Irish the prefix “Mc” means “son of,” making him John son of Clane, or J son of C, or, to shorten it further, JC.  McClane is therefore a stand-in for Jesus Christ, something the “son of” portion only aids in, as he, Jesus, is the son of God.  And, certainly, McClane is a Christ-like figure.  Where do we find him at the beginning of the movie?  In an airplane, returning to Earth, it’s as though he were descending from the Heavens, being sent, as it were, by God back to Earth.  And, in Die Hard, it’s on Christmas that John McClane is reborn.  Additionally, this night also represents McClane’s walk in the wilderness, which was a crucially important time in the life of Jesus.  Nakatomi Plaza (the building the movie takes place in) is a perfect stand-in for the wilderness, and it is only after McClane leaves Nakatomi, exiting the wilderness, that he is a changed man.  McClane has faced his nightmarish opposite in the form of Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman).  Gruber is everything that McClane is not, he is the anti-McClane, much as the Devil is often referred to as the anti-Christ.  McClane, like Jesus, has been tempted, and has passed his trials. 

Putting aside this blatant analogy, the plot of the film as a whole is unquestionably Christmas movie themed.  Outside of their ornamentation, Christmas movies are all notable for having several common tropes.  Often there is a love story element to these movies (It’s A Wonderful Life or A Christmas Carol serve as two perfect examples), these love stories always have the couple overcome their difficulties to be stronger in the end.  Check.  McClane and his wife are estranged when the film starts, but by the end are together again. 

Another trope that the truly great Christmas movies all have is that they create phrases that enter our popular culture.  These include:  every time a bell rings an angel gets its wings; God bless us, every one; and you’ll shoot your eye out (there are many more, but these are enough of an example).  Die Hard actually contains one of the most well-known entries into this category:  Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.

It is also essential to note that the film itself is quite clearly trying to be a Christmas movie.  It understands that it is not a typical Christmas movie, but it still wishes to be counted in the genre.  Remember McClane’s discussion with his limo driver, Argyle, once he gets in the car.  Upon hearing the up-beat, rap music Argyle has on the radio, McClane asks Argyle about Christmas music, and if there are no carols on.  Argyle laughs at McClane and says they are listening to Christmas music and turns up the volume.  Sure enough, once the lyrics to the song start, they’re all about Christmas.  True, it’s not your traditional Christmas Carol, it’s updated, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  There are several updated versions of the film A Christmas Carol that are wonderfully fun to watch.  Bill Murray’s fantastic take on this, Scrooged, comes to mind immediately as one.  Just because it is a Christmas movie does not mean it need take place in the past.

So, to recap, Die Hard is a great movie and Die Hard is a Christmas movie.  Is there anything then that separates a great movie that happens to take place during Christmas from being a  great Christmas movie?  Any number of criteria would push a movie from the former to the latter, chief among these criteria is that the movie should promote the spirit of Christmas and the Holidays.  Die Hard, as a film, does just this.  It is a movie about the triumph of good over evil, more importantly however, it is a movie the throws into stark relief the importance of the family, particularly during the Holidays. McClane makes his family, during the Holidays, the most important thing in the world.  He goes through hell in order to rebuild his family and strengthen those bonds.  And, McClane certainly makes Christmas morning one of the happiest days ever for those he saves. 

It’s not easy to believe, but it’s undeniable, Die Hard just may be one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This Week's Enemies List

I don’t get it. I really, really don’t. Am I the only one? I can’t be the only one. I sit in front of my television for hours on end every single week. And I am becoming so disenchanted. From ER’s insistance on recycling old plotlines, substituting dark lighting for drama, and completely rewriting characters at the drop of a hat to Desperate Housewives' inability to come up with a second compelling mystery to The Nine coming out of the box with a great pilot that has completely degenerated into the nothingness and hiatus-land, I don’t know what to do anymore.

Let’s take a look at ER first, with its most recent “very special” Thanksgiving episode. Skipping the fact that they’ve done this whole “problems on a ride-along” thing countless times (Carol Hathaway, anyone?), are we to believe that Abby Lockhart spent an incredible amount of time trying to get out of a transport when someone’s life was at stake to all of the sudden do a 180-degree turnaround and give a damn? Isn’t it possible that her wasting a half-hour or so trying to pawn off the ride-along to someone else is the reason that the transport was unsuccessful?   

And then there’s Laura Innes’s Kerry Weaver. I, for one, am sick and tired of a character being completely changed over the course of time. I don’t mind growth -- growth is good and natural and should happen. What I mind is a complete denial of earlier plots in order to put forth a new one. Have Laura Innes and the writers completely forgotten season four of the show where Kerry had a sexual relationship with Ellis West (played by Clancy Brown)? In the most recent episode Weaver states that she came out of the closet when she was 30. The Ellis West relationship took place nine years ago and there is no way on God’s green Earth that Kerry Weaver is not yet 40. Thus either Weaver is lying or the show is. But Weaver has absolutely no reason to lie, it wouldn’t be hard for people to find out she was. This is a case of the writers and producers not caring. This new episode is a complete denial of the show’s history. And, what’s worse than that is that it treats the fans as though they were stupid. It is telling all the dedicated viewers that they don’t count, that this is not the same character they’ve watched for the last couple hundred episodes. 

Shame on you ER and shame on you Laura Innes for allowing this to happen. 

Maybe I expect too much. That’s entirely possible. I actually think Desperate Housewives may be able to come up with an over-arching season long mystery as compelling as why Mary Alice killed herself. Season two was a complete bust, and if this Orson Hodge nonsense is what’s supposed to carry us through season three, I’m going to be more and more frustrated. Hodge is better than the whole Applewhite fiasco, but it doesn’t involve all of Wisteria Lane like Mary Alice did. Sure, this complaint is nothing new, but that doesn’t make it less important. This show at one time had a must-watch incredibility to it that has been almost completely absent since the season one finale.  Maybe the producers felt they went too far too quickly and had to settle back down to Earth before getting too outlandish. What a huge disappointment that would be. If it’s wrong to expect TV shows to keep up a certain momentum or to strive to surpass themselves then I don’t want to be right.

And then there’s The Nine. How the producers of that one hurt me. I watched the pilot this summer and was completely hooked. I was absolutely at the edge of my seat and holding on for dear life. What a fantastic plot, what a fantastic set of actors, what style, what grace, what panache. I couldn’t wait for the second episode. And then it aired and I was so disturbed.

Was that really the best you could do? Tim Daly’s character is a troubled, divorced cop with a history of drinking and gambling? Really? That’s the ingenious hook to his character -- a troubled cop? It wasn’t new when it was Sipowicz, why pretend like you’re this ingenious new, different show and then go and give us the cop with a gambling and drinking problem? And the A.D.A. that isn’t sure she wants to get married and may be falling for the troubled cop. And on, and on, and on. I’m convinced that there was a story about what happened inside, but week after week the we’ve been teased about it without getting to learn terribly much. Sadly, it’s only the bank robbery that holds any interest. The rest of the story has proven so incredibly mundane and generic that I don’t find myself sad that it’s now on hiatus. Let that serve as a lesson -- if you have a good story, tell it; don’t hint at it week after week while feeding the audience the same old drivel.   

No? Am I wrong? Do these shows not disappoint? Do we as an audience not deserve something more, something better? 

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's Enough to Kill the Holiday Spirit in us All.

It’s the Christmas season. The air of charity surrounds us. Peace on Earth, goodwill to man, crass commercializations, and blatant cash-ins. Can you smell the figgy pudding? Do you hear what I hear? Do you wish that stink and noise would stay away in a manger?

As a huge fan of Christmas music - my iPod currently has roughly 500 Christmas tunes on it - I’m always game for a new entry into the genre. How hard could it be? You take a bunch of classics, add one or two originals to them, and voila, you’ve got yourself a CD that record stores can trot out every Christmas for the next decade (or longer if you’re lucky). Everyone seems to have gotten into the act -- this year Sarah McLachlan has released one and last year Brian Wilson put one out.

Well, add to all the hubbub a new release from Magic Tree, Inc and Inov8Productions entitled Santa’s Sing-a-Long!, which is handily available as a DVD through the Santa's Sing-A-Long website. And, there’s even a companion soundtrack available on CD. I do highly recommend reading the full review, but if you wish to stop reading at this point, I will tell you that I will not be adding the soundtrack for Santa's Sing-a-Long! to my iPod and that’s something.

The entire endeavor is just plain disturbing. And I can’t say that enough -- top to bottom, Santa’s Sing-a-Long! is one disturbing video. The elves are clearly just kids in costumes, I get that, that’s far easier and less expensive than any other form of elf one could put on screen. Why they have neon green hair, though, I can’t imagine. For that matter, the entire background is green. Everything is green and I don’t understand why.  Maybe Santa is upset at the bleakness of the North Pole, but why there are various greens everywhere I don’t understand. More disturbing than that, however, is their snowman, Snowy the Stand-Up-Comic Showman. His cheeks stick out in a moderately grotesque fashion and have blush on them. I wasn’t sure that he wasn’t about to go on a murderous rampage on the set. And, make no mistake about it, the set clearly looks like a set; not for one moment did I believe, even slightly, that it was in a living room, much less Santa’s living room. 

And what of the music itself? Surely that’s the most important thing at issue here. If songs sung by Santa and the elves are enjoyable and fun surely the low production values can be overlooked. The songs are great. Make no mistake, they’re classics. At least the 15 of them that are legitimately classic Christmas carols are. Even the song penned for the DVD isn’t bad. The renditions of the songs, however, leave a lot to be desired. The audio sounds somewhat muffled and after a short period of time the children, though they try, are grating. 

On the upside, there are some cute and interesting moments, such as when Santa explains what figgy pudding is. They even go on a sleigh ride (thanks to blue-screen technology) which has its childlike moments. 

Unfortunately, these moments are too few and simply don’t make up for the audio and low quality production values.

The DVD can be watched both with and without on-screen lyrics (though if you’re watching without, it’s not much of a sing-a-long, is it?) and has a blooper reel as an extra feature. Sadly, after one mistake that appears in the blooper reel, an elf says something along the lines of “that has to appear in the blooper reel,” which really kills any fun or humor that could be had from the reel -- it feels too planned. 

If you decide you want to check the DVD and CD (which has the same songs as the DVD plus a couple of bonus tracks and sounds marginally better) out for yourself, the DVD is available for $17.99 and the CD for $11.99. The materials I’ve been given state that both can be gotten as “Santa’s Special” for the low price of $29.98. Which, according to my calculator is exactly what you'd pay if you bought them separately.  

Merry Christmas to all! And to all a goodnight!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

James Bond and Philosophy - not to be too Philosophical, but do we not Fact Check Anymore?

However silly one may think the movies are, however pedantic one may find the books about them, however unworthy of academic study either of these may be, it is undeniable that there is a lot of content to chew through. It is a difficult task and James Bond and Philosophy does an admirable job attempting it. The book does, sadly, fall short on several occasions of having an acceptable level of proficiency with the material. Despite this grievous problem, more often than not the book does make salient points regarding James Bond and approaches the wondrous world of 007 from a fascinating set of angles.

Edited by James B. South and Jacob M. Held, this is part of the Popular Culture and Philosophy series by the publisher Open Court. This volume is divided into five sections of varying themes with two to four essays per section.  The topics covered are: Bond, Existentialism, and Death; The Man Behind the Number; Bond, Politics, and Law; Knowledge and Technology; and Multiculturalism, Women, and a More Sensitive Bond. All in all, it’s a pretty broad range of topics, and the essays deal with both the films and novels. 

Though I cannot speak to whether the philosophic ideas and theories attributed to various people throughout history are accurate in all the pieces in the work, I can state that, on multiple occasions, the facts surrounding James Bond are not quite as spot-on as one might hope. As a primary example, the second piece in the book, “How to Live (and How to Die)", by Mahlete-Tsigé Getachew, contains an egregious error.  It is impossible to determine whether this error is intended or simply the result of sloppy research. On page 27, the writer enters into  discussion of how “M alludes to his agents as numbers. James Bond is always ‘007’ and never ‘Bond.'”  Getachew then goes on to quote M in Goldeneye, “‘If you think for one moment I don’t have the balls to send a man to his death, you’re wrong… I don’t have any compunction about sending him to die.’”

It’s a good quote and absolutely helps prove Getachew’s points. The problem is that in the scene she quotes, M refers to James Bond as “Bond” not once, but twice.  I cannot fathom what Getachew was thinking.  Did she not watch the movie?  Did she not even watch the whole scene in question? Perhaps she found the quote written up somewhere else and never bothered to actually see what it is that she was writing about. 

Whatever the case may be, James Bond is referred to as “Bond” by M on multiple occasions, making the initial assertion a nonsensical one.  The error might be forgivable if Getachew’s point was that in this movie, or in this sort of talk between M and Bond, he was always a number and never a person. That simply isn’t the case though. The fact that Bond is referred to as such by M twice in this scene calls the validity of Getachew’s entire piece into question.  And, beyond that, one would have thought that the editors of the book would have engaged in a modicum of fact-checking and caught this incredibly egregious mistake. 

Moving away from Getachew and on to other pieces, I was shocked when reading Dean A. Kowalski’s piece, “The Millennium Bond and Yin-Yang Chinese Cosmology.”  Kowalski writes that Brosnan’s Bond, in reaction to Paris Carver dying in Tomorrow Never Dies, appears "visibly shaken" and that such a response is “an entirely new character wrinkle” (Page 225) for Bond.  Kowalski also discusses in this paragraph Lazenby’s Bond losing his wife at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  However, by stating that the death of Paris is the first time Bond appears "visibly shaken," Kowalski denies the emotional response of Lazenby's Bond (OHMSS being made well before Tomorrow Never Dies). 

This is foolish, as certainly Lazenby’s Bond was incredibly shaken by the event, holding his now dead wife and telling her that it was okay and that they had “all the time in the world” at the film’s end. Why Kowalski finds Lazenby's Bond undisturbed by this turn of events and yet quite disturbed by the death of Paris (after which Bond merely proceeds to get drunk in his room, alone) is unclear. It is apparent that Kowalski is aware of the events at the end of OHMSS.  But his dismissal of Bond’s distress over his wife's murder on their honeymoon is unfathomable. 

There are several other inexplicable occurrences such as these in James Bond and Philosophy, but enough for picking on the book.  Assuming that the authors’ interpretations of the philosophy involved is more accurate than their readings of the film, they raise some interesting points. In particular, I quite enjoyed Jerold J. Abrams piece, “The Epistemology of James Bond: The Logic of Abduction.”  Not only does Abrams seem to have a good handle on the theory, but his analysis provides concrete examples within the Bond universe. 

Outside of one or two small, questionable interpretations of From Russia With Love, Steven Zani’s “James Bond and Q: Heidegger’s Technology” is fascinating.  As are some of the other works as well.

Mulling over James Bond and Philosophy as a whole, it is clear that while there are many fascinating ideas presented, the authors are not as proficient with the material in question as seems warranted. I have only provided a few small examples of some of the book’s shortcomings in this regard, but rest assured that multiple other ones exist.  Knowing these shortcomings I still found the book a good read, even if not much could be garnered from it academically.  In the end it’s a case where great ideas simply needed further research and fact-checking than seems to have been devoted to the work. 

Could Anyone be Sick & Tired of Wanda Sykes?

Wanda Sykes is a funny woman.  From her turns in Curb Your Enthusiasm to Clerks II, from Wanda at Large to The New Adventures of Old Christine, she has consistently and constantly exhibited a singular style of humor that keeps audiences in general, and me in particular, coming back for more.

I find the choice to do a direct-to-DVD stand up show an odd one, but in Wanda Sykes - Sick and Tired she once again proves hysterical.  I’ve never seen her do stand up before, but she is clearly as much in her element here as she is in scripted (or relatively scripted) programs.  Of course, as stand up is where her roots lie, I shouldn’t be surprised by this.  And, I’m not really surprised, I’m just happy to have seen it. 

There really is nothing particularly new or different about this DVD, it is a straight stand up performance (actually taped over the course of two different shows, though edited seamlessly to look like one), on a stage in front of a large audience.  The camera angles and cuts are all pretty standard too.  But, there’s a reason for that, it’s filmed in the absolute best way so as to highlight the talent on stage.  And, there’s a lot to highlight here.

Sykes goes through the standard topics, from politics to pop culture to relationships.  Through it all her acerbic, hard-hitting style comes through, and while not all her observations are necessarily true, the vast majority are funny (and that’s what really counts here).  I will consciously avoid telling you some of the more funny moments in the show, as you will then be looking out for them and it might both dull their impact and cause you to miss other things.  Suffice to say, it’s funny, virtually the whole thing is fun.

The show lasts approximately 70 minutes, fluidly moving from one topic to the next and rarely losing steam.

The only disappointing aspects of the DVD release are the bonus features.  There are two included, and neither shines.  The first is a question and answer session that Wanda held with the audience following the stand up show.  The questions are often silly or incomprehensible, and Sykes does her best trying to field them, but there simply isn’t much meat to be had.  The other a behind-the-scenes video of Wanda doing a radio interview to promote the stand up show that will be filmed for the DVD.  One of the main disappointments here (and I’m always disappointed by this sort of thing), is that the radio studio looks so drab and boring and plain, and the DJ unimpressive.  That’s not in any way to say that the DJ’s work is unimpressive, she may very well be fantastic at what she does.  It’s just that watching a radio interview take place destroys all the work that goes into the station and DJ projecting an image of where they are and instead shows us the far more drab reality. 

It is usually at this point in the review that someone would come up with some pseudo-clever pun dealing with never getting “sick and tired” of Sykes or some such malarkey.  I will side-step that pit and simply tell you that if you ever found Sykes funny, in any of her roles, it would be worth checking out this DVD, as she again proves herself to be a great comic talent.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Juicy Idea (of the O.J. Variety), Part II

I hope you’re happy. Now you’ve done it, you’re helping destroy the world. The sad thing is, you’re proud of it. You’ve complained, and complained, and complained, and the powers that be have heard you. They’re pulling the O.J. special. It’s not going to air. Good for you, destroying free speech, nicely done. That’s certainly something to give thanks for this Thursday. You’re going to go around the table with your family, everyone will say what they’re thankful for, and your answer is going to be, “Through making my upset at a television program known, a television program that no one was forcing me to watch or pay any attention to in any way whatsoever, I convinced the FOX Network not to air the O.J. special. Oh, yeah, and burning books, I’m thankful that I’ve helped burn books.”

Way to go, nice to know that the First Amendment to our Constitution means absolutely nothing to you. Heck, if you personally don’t like something, it shouldn’t exist, right? Well, you’ve won. The show won’t air and all the books will be destroyed.  Go you, way to pulp our freedom. 

If you don’t want to watch something, don’t watch it. No one is holding a gun to your head forcing you to watch a show you don’t want to, read a book you don’t want to, listen to a news report you don’t want to. How dare you stop others from having the freedom to listen or read or watch what they want? How is that possibly hurting you?

But at least I can take some solace in the fact that you read the book before demanding its recall, that you watched the whole special instead of just seeing a commercial for it.  Right? You at least performed some sort of due diligence before foaming at the mouth. 

Oh. Wait. You didn’t read the book? You didn’t watch the show? The very idea that it existed without your knowing the specific content was enough for you to decide that it was wrong? Wow, you’re far smarter, far more intelligent than I. I need to actually see things before I pass judgment. 

And, to top it all off - and you can argue with me all you want on this - guess what, O.J. wasn’t convicted of murder. All your complaints surrounding this TV show and book are that you don’t want to listen to a murderer talk about how he “hypothetically” would have done it had he done it. Whether or not you think the trial was a disgrace, whether or not you think O.J. bought his freedom, whether or not you think the prosecutors blew it, that the police botched the investigation, that O.J. is guilty as sin, the fact remains that he was declared not guilty by a jury of his peers. 

I guess that doesn’t matter to you. I guess all that matters to you is your perception of what took place instead of the reality of it. Oh sure, you’re an expert at what happened. Have you read the transcript of the trial? Were you there in the courtroom the whole time? Or, perhaps, did you just read up on it, just see the five second news clips every night? Did you just memorize the slogans? Is that what qualifies you to make the judgment as to his guilt or innocence better than the men and women on that jury?  Heck, the court of public opinion says he did it, he must have done it.

Last week I explained to you the great sort of television this special would’ve made.  And, I had some fun with the idea of the special, and what O.J. might say in it, and how incredible and grotesque the whole thing could be. And, I was right. It would have been incredible and it would have been grotesque. It may have even been disgusting and horrific. It may have made you physically ill. For this last thing I’m sorry, I certainly don’t wish that upon you, but all I can do is reiterate my earlier sentiment --  if you don’t want to watch it, don’t watch it, but how dare you throw up your arms and shout at the top of your lungs that it shouldn’t be aired? How dare you take it upon yourself to deny his First Amendment, and FOX’s First Amendment rights?

Thanks Big Brother, you’ve done the world a great service by destroying the principles we as a people used to believe in.  As long as you’re so hard at work this holiday season how about you next go out and deny some people the right to vote? After all, they might disagree with you, they might hold a different opinion than yours, and we all know that anyone whose view of the world differs from your own should be denied the right to speak. 

Like a great man once said, try reading books instead of burning them. 

Monday, November 20, 2006

It's Just Like Real Nova but With Only Half the Fat!

The second episode that this reviewer has seen of Nova scienceNOW is much in the same vein as the first.  In this case the specific stories interested me far more, but it still feels as though it is trying to be a far more “hip” version of Nova.  Personally, though I enjoy it, I’m beginning to think of it as Nova scienceLITE or Nova ADD

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the stories have less scientific merit than regular Nova (let’s face it, “Family That Walks on All Fours” pretty much hits rock-bottom in that regard); it's just that the stories have far less depth.  Nova focuses on one specific story, it spends the full hour on only one topic.  On the other hand, Nova scienceNOW does four topics over the course of an episode. This has advantages and disadvantages.

On the upside, if you don’t like a story that they’re doing, if something doesn’t interest you or you don’t appreciate the reporting, you don’t have to suffer through the entire thing. The flip side of this is that if you do like a story, if you do appreciate what they’re doing, if you want to see them get into more depth on something, you’re not going to be happy. During this episode of Nova scienceNOW, I found myself wanting to see more about two or three of the four stories that were presented. 

First up in this episode is the story of a group of scientists looking into what caused the mass extinction that marked the end of the Permian era. Though there are apparently many theories, what seems most likely at this point, according to many of the scientists interviewed, is that the animals were poisoned due to greenhouse gases heating the oceans for a long enough period of time that deadly bacteria built up in the oceans and was eventually released into the atmosphere, killing the vast majority of life on the planet. Some of the scientists in the story seem to be simply relating their notions and others seem to be on the verge of using it as a springboard to talk about what we are doing to the planet.  No one overtly says anything of that sort, but there are absolutely moments when the piece feels like it’s headed in that direction.  Perhaps the scientists did go there and it was simply edited out.

The second story, my personal favorite, deals with the 1918 Flu Pandemic, or Spanish flu, that killed more than 50 million people worldwide. For those of you counting, that’s  more than three times the number of people that died in World War One. Apparently this flu has some elements in common with the avian flu or bird flu and so a scientist recreated the Spanish flu in order to better study it.  This was possible by extracting samples of the flu from dead WWI soldiers and then using some DNA reverse-engineering to re-create the virus.  Neat-o.  It is the hope of many that by examining this flu, and other deadly occurrences of the flu, that a mass pandemic due to the “Avian Flu” can be prevented.

Next, Nova scienceNOW focuses on a scientist, Cynthia Brazeal, who is working on creating a robot that can interact with and learn from humans. The goal is to have a robot mimic human expressions well enough, and be cute enough, that it can draw people in and make people want to talk to it. The cute part is down; now Brazeal and her co-workers are working on the computations behind the learning bit.  It seems as though Brazeal grew up as a Star Trek and Star Wars fan, and early on in her life wrote a story about machines that could feel emotions.  Since then, with a few detours here and there, Brazeal has been working on getting to that point.  Wow, who knew that they did more than attend conventions (I kid people, I kid)?

Last, and definitely least for this week’s Nova scienceNOW, is a story about making ancient pieces of papyrus readable.  Seems as though some sloppy Egyptians, or Greeks, or Romans may have spilled some wine, or dirt, or who knows what on papyrus thousands of years ago, making it illegible.  As people in the modern world have found the papyrus, they’d really like to know what was on it (maybe it’s the recipe for a cracking good soup).  NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a guy who is using multi-spectral imaging technology to be able to see through the gunk of several thousand years. 

I think Neil deGrasse Tyson is a fantastic host for this series.  He does a wonderful job of making things intelligible, fun, and different.  I joke about this being akin to Nova scienceLITE, because it’s not as in-depth as the original version. However, it still does a wonderful job with the stories it handles, and make them accessible to people of all ages.  This is particularly true of the story on 1918 flu pandemic, which is illustrated in cartoon-like fashion and makes what could be an overly in-depth bore into a great deal of educational fun. 

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Caesar IV - No, it Isn't Getting An Infusion of Blood, but it Could use Something

All hail Caesar? I’d certainly give him a “hi” or a “howdy,” maybe even a big old wave or a handshake, but I don’t think I’ll be hailing him anytime soon.

Sure, the game is absolutely great in concept and completely up my alley. Sim-type games, be they of the Rollercoaster Tycoon, Civilization, The Sims, or SimCity variety are my kind of thing. And, Caesar IV has a little bit of all of those in the one box. Sounds pretty enticing.

There are two main types of game play options available: Career and Scenario. In a career, you, as a governor, start out in the boonies with little podunk cities. By accomplishing goals set forth by Caesar himself, you move up to bigger and better cities.

The goals are standard enough for this sort of game: a population of such-and-such size, an entertainment level at a certain point, gain a certain amount of money, etc. This can be played at a couple of different difficulty levels.

In Scenario mode, the point is simply to fulfill the requirements laid forth by Caesar for a single city. In either mode one can continue to play on that city level once the objectives are met.

There is an online mode as well, the connection to which seems flaky at best, and the main thrust of which seems to be allow you to compare your successes at a given scenario to the successes of everyone else playing the same scenario.

Cities are built in a manner quite similar to a Rollercoaster Tycoon theme park or a SimCity city. Through the addition of various normal city-type places a city can be made to grow.

Cities in Caesar IV need housing for the various types of citizens (Plebians, Equites, and Patricians), a place to grow and harvest food and other essential raw materials, somewhere to turn these raw materials into products, and somewhere to sell the products.

Along the way there are various city improvements that can be purchased so as to make locations more desirable. Fun, right?

In terms of the actual game play, that doesn’t work quite as well as one might hope for. Going down the tutorial track everything starts off easy enough, and the tutorial is slightly behind where one might like it to be. Its explanations seem moderately long-winded and break into game play awkwardly. Still, it’s a bit better to have a game go into slightly too much detail about what the player should do rather than provide too little.

Rapidly, however, the game swings the pendulum far out in the other direction. Oh, the explanations that occur are still a little too in-depth and make game play stumble, but they don’t appear often.

A city can completely fail for what seems like no reason in particular. Everything is hunky-dorey one minute, and then next the Plebians are running for the hills, the Equites making for the next town over, and the Patricians are, well, they’re complaining about the lack of exotic goods and fountain water, even if they’re already overstocked. Damn Patricians, always wanting their plays and shows and exotic goods, no wonder the Roman civilization crumbled eventually.

After much hair pulling, it’s sometimes possible to determine that everything went downhill because a clinic wasn’t positioned in the exact right position causing an infection that did who knows what, or some such similar issue.

Ah, the trials and tribulations of city building. One assumes that, sadly enough, these sorts of minor problems actually affect cities in real life in a major way (thank goodness I am not a city planner, though I do play one in computer games). For the want of a horseshoe nail, the kingdom was lost.

Once these stumbling blocks are overcome, everything seems to level out again. As frustrating as the problems prove to be, overcoming them provides a great sense of accomplishment and makes Rome and Caesar proud. What more could one want?

Well, a set of display screens where the building menus didn’t impede actually building something because the land gets blocked out would be great. While nice looking, and easy to navigate, the building menus do in fact take up a significant parcel of the display and make it very hard to position things correctly. If a tutorial happens to come up on the other side of the screen while you have the menus open, it is virtually impossible to do anything.

Though it is at some points quite a frustrating game, that is not entirely to its discredit. Personally, I’d much rather have a slightly frustrating experience trying to figure out how to do well in a game than to blaze right through with no difficulties whatsoever. There is, of course, a happy medium somewhere in between.

The graphics look nice, much of the game is presented in a not quite top down view (again, similar to a Rollercoaster Tycoon or SimCity), and the sound is more than adequate. It is odd, however, that such a massive amount of graphics power is required to make the game look its best, the improvement in look to the game at a high graphics level is not worth the investment in processing power (except if you have a high-end system and have power to spare).

As the majority of the fun in the game however is not from the sounds and sights so much as the actual constructing of a city and watching a city thrive, it does not greatly hamper the enjoyment to play it at a less visually enhanced state

It’s good, but I’m hoping Caesar V will be better.

Caesar IV is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Use of Alcohol and Violence.

Three stars out of five

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Juicy Idea (of the O.J. Variety)

Usually, I rant.  Sometime I rave, but often I rant.  Today it’s a little bit of each. 

Have you seen this report from Zap2it?  WHAT?!?!  Really!?!  O.J.’s actually going to do this?  He’s truly going to sit down in front of TV cameras and say something along the lines of: 

To be clear, I did not commit any murders.  I didn’t particularly like Ron or my ex-wife, but I didn’t kill them.  I did almost go to jail for it however, but I didn’t kill them.  You see, the prosecutors made some huge mistakes.  They presented a hypothetical series of events that was completely impossible.  You see, even though I didn’t do it, let me just remind of you that right now, I know exactly how it could have happened if I had done it.  If I had done it, and I didn’t do it by the way, I would have done it like this…

As stated in the article, this special is timed to coincide with his upcoming book, If I Did It.  And let me just again say:  really!?!  This is how you’ve chosen to stay in the limelight, by thumbing your nose at the police, prosecutors, and families of the victims?    I have to wonder if some of the money O.J. makes from the book, and presumably for sitting down for the interview, will be given to the Goldmans as part of the settlement from the civil suit.  Is this whole thing one big joke on O.J.’s part?  It this some sort of sense of irony he is exhibiting?  Is the whole thing just in incredibly bad taste.

Strike that last question, it’s obviously in incredibly bad taste.  But, on the other hand, and this has to be said.  The interview could very well make for great television.  I mean, it could be absolutely wonderful, stand up and cheer, train-wreck television.  If O.J. doesn’t mince words, looks into the camera and explains, purely hypothetically of course, why the glove didn’t fit and then winks into the camera.  That’s great television. 

Okay, so you’re shocked, you’re acting aghast, you’re trying to deny what I’m saying.  But, you can’t.  You know I’m right.  You can be as sickened and horrified and absolutely disgusted as you want, and you won’t be wrong feeling that way, but that doesn’t make it bad television.  In fact, it’s ability to evoke such a strong reaction from you connotes  its power to be great TV.  This show could, possibly, eclipse Martin Bashir’s Living with Michael Jackson in the echelon of celebrity train-wreck television. 

Imagine it, O.J. stands up in the middle of the interview and does a demonstration with the interviewer showing how, had he committed the murders, which of course he didn’t, he would have begun:  “You see, Nicole couldn’t possibly have escaped me or fought back too much, it was Ron I would have had to have worried about.  If I didn’t approach him correctly the entire thing could’ve gone south.  So, [he motions to the interviewer] stand over here, if I’d done it I would’ve come up behind Ron like this [he stands behind and just to the right of the interviewer, grabs him around the neck with his left hand and brandishes a knife with his right].  Then all I would have had to have done his slit his throat, like so [he makes a throat slitting motion with the knife].”

And now you’re even more sickened, even more disgusted.  And, you’re embarrassed to say it, you hate yourself for even thinking it, but you’re intrigued too.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

We Are SO Not Amused

Maybe this is too strong, but I don’t think so: I’m amazed and disgusted. The very notion that such a television program could air in this day and age puzzles me and offends my sensibilities. 

Imagine for a moment a television program that looks into the genetic abnormalities of the offspring of two cousins who went out and got married. Picture the documentary crew filming such a story in your own backyard. Maybe it's your next door neighbors, maybe they’re first cousins and never told you as much because of the stigma. What if, due to the genetic abnormalities in their offspring, in addition to having serious cognitive issues, were unable to walk upright, and due to your neighbors having so many kids in such rapid succession they were too busy to focus on the problems of five of them (out of the dozen and a half they had). Then along comes a scientist, who posits that the inability of the now-adult offspring to walk upright is some sort of “backwards evolution.” That these people provide an insight into humanity’s development a millennia ago; they actually represent a throwback to pre-humans. 

Add to all of this a documentary team for a PBS show visiting the family and lending credence to the notion that your next door neighbors are, in fact, devolving. The documentary provides the opposing point of view as well: scientists who believe the abnormalities suffered by some of the children are more likely caused by recessive traits making themselves known due to the parents being cousins.  The point of the show being put together by PBS is not to exhibit the sad plight of these people, but rather to investigate whether or not your neighbors are, over the course of several generations, going to slowly revert to monkeys. 

While it is great that Nova does show the other point of view in their newest episode, “Family That Walks on all Fours,” lending any sort of credence to this devolution, or “genetic throwback” theory at all smacks of sensationalism. I very much doubt whether this sort of “journalism” would be accepted if the family in question lived in the United States. I believe such a story is only viewed as acceptable and amazing because it takes place in a poor area of rural Turkey, a distant enough physical location that some scientists can dehumanize this family without feeling guilty.

Nova makes itself look as an observational, or “fly-on-the-wall” documentary. They purport to simply be viewing the events as they take place and following the various scientists studying the family, and not influencing the goings-on. While an interesting notion, it’s an impossible reality. The act of observation effects that which is being observed (see Schrodinger’s Cat for the classic example of this truth). Events in a small, poor village being recorded by a camera crew are necessarily changed by the camera crew’s presence. In this case, the Turkish army showed up because they were worried about how the family would be represented on television. It is a crime, explains the narrator, for humans in Turkey to be compared to animals, and that is exactly what this whole evolution/devolution notion does. The army showing up at the family’s door due to the presence of a film crew doing nothing more than “observing” has affected the family in a very profound way.

It actually turns out that, with some hard work, the helper of a walker, and some parallel bars that the “hand walkers” can, in fact, learn to walk in a bipedal fashion. It seems as though the family was too busy, too poor, and never had the opportunity to attempt such a corrective measure. The mental disabilities of the offspring remain, and they don’t walk perfectly, but they can walk.

The documentary shows the cerebellums of the adults in question are smaller than that of the average individual, which most likely has an effect on their ability to walk. It is absolutely a result of some genetic abnormalities, and the episode does explain genes and does have some educational value on that level. However, the scientific value of the episode is completely overshadowed by the sensationalism contained therein. 

By lending any sort of credence to this “genetic throwback” theory, Nova allows the “Family That Walks on all Fours” to be dehumanized. If these people are not as developed as the majority of our society, then they are somehow less human. Somehow, these people’s genes make them less than human. Maybe it’s then okay to put them behind glass or bars to study them. Maybe it’s okay to mass execute them. After all, they’re something less than human, aren’t they? Are we not students of history? Do we not know what happens when a group of people are dehumanized? Or, at the very least, did we not watch The Elephant Man? “I am not an animal! I am a human being! I am a man.”

Nova -- "Family That Walks on all Fours" airs Tuesday November 14th at 8:00PM on PBS. 

Monday, November 13, 2006

It May Weigh 3 Lbs., but at Least it's not Steaming

Here’s the setup: An old, extremely poor hospital is kept afloat by the department of one doctor, a neurosurgeon. The fact that he’s able to keep the entire place afloat and is absolutely brilliant allows him to be a complete jerk to the vast majority of people he comes in contact with, be they patients or colleagues. He would certainly argue against any of his co-workers being referred to as “peers” as he’s so far ahead of them. The doctor in question is also troubled by his own inner demons and possible medical issues.

No, his name is not House; House isn’t a neurosurgeon, he’s an infectious disease specialist, but other than that, there are certainly valid comparisons to be made. In this case, the doctor in question is Doug Hanson, played by the generally superb Stanley Tucci, in CBS’s new medical drama, 3 Lbs.

Hanson is ably assisted by the “new guy” at the hospital, Jonathan Seger (Mark Feuerstein), and by Dr. Adrianne Holland (Indira Varma). Even though Tucci may be the star, the story is told mainly through the eyes of Seger -- we are introduced to the hospital and its intricacies at the same time he is. Seger, if you will, plays the heart to Hanson’s brain. It quickly becomes clear that it is Seger’s job to explain to the patients the details of the surgeries and the diseases as Hanson is far too busy stoking his ego. Feuerstein plays his part well, even if his “fish-out-of-water” character feels moderately bland. It is unclear what earns Seger the right to be in this most prestigious neural program.

Hanson, on the other hand, is quite clearly made out to be the best in his field, and would happily tell anyone as much. Interestingly, this aspect of Hanson’s character is slightly lessened in the third episode of the season. He seems to greatly care for a return patient he treats in this episode. He still absolutely believes he can beat the odds and save a patient in a cutting-edge surgery, but he is happy to take the time to explain the procedure to her and even goes on a walk with her to do so, rather than rushing through it in his office.

This softening of his character so early on feels very much at odds with what the audience is presented in the first episode. There is a single scene in the premiere that indicates he treats some patients with more respect than he initially shows, but it doesn’t come out as one of the stronger scenes in the pilot. On the whole, this aspect of his character does make Hanson far more of a three dimensional individual instead of a gross caricature of a surgeon.

As for Holland, she is more interested in diagnosing and studying neurological diseases and disorders and attempting to avoid surgery (presumably much to Hanson’s chagrin).  Her character is not as well drawn at this point as that of Feuerstein’s or Tucci’s. She does have a storyline in the third episode that revolves around her falling for one of her patients, but outside of that breach of ethics, and some flirting with Seger early in the first episode, we are mostly left to wonder as to her character. One hopes her personal life and character will involve to be more than just about those men she falls for (not that Seger’s or Hanson’s is much more at this point either).

The last of the four series' regulars is Dr. Flores, played by Armando Riesco. Though his part does grow moderately from episode to episode, at this point, not much about him can be determined at all, save that he exists. He doesn’t seem to do anything more on the show than monitor the vitals of patients and keep an eye on patients’ families. 

The show is quite flashy, and opens with a fantastic computer-generated effect illustrating the neural problem of the main patient in the first episode. The second and third episodes open with similar scenes, and while they don’t quite elucidate the disease or issue, they do make for some pretty spiffy television. As it is stated early on in the series, Hanson’s portion of the hospital makes money hand over fist, allowing them to have the fanciest and finest of machinery to use and abuse. There are times when it feels as though the machinery exists far more for the televisual factor than for the medical benefit (touch-screen MRI/CT scan monitors, for instance). Even so, it does work on screen.

Between Tucci, Feuerstein, Varma, and its flashy look, 3 Lbs. certainly has enough going for it early on to intrigue audiences. It looks and feels like a fun, interesting show, even if I’m convinced much of the “cutting-edge” medicine is more pipe dream than practical. The first three episodes absolutely have the ability to captivate. The medical portions are not terribly dramatic at this point, the outcomes of the cases are clear well in advance of their resolution in the script, but there is still enough pomp and circumstance present to provide interest.

3 Lbs. premieres Tuesday night, November 14, at 10 pm on CBS.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Used to be Friends? No, Veronica Mars Let's Always Be Friends!

All together now:  a long time ago we used to be friends, but I haven’t thought of you lately at all. Come on now sugar, bring it on, bring it on, yeah, just remember me when we used to be friends.      

No, not familiar?  Sigh.  Much like with Kidnapped, you’re missing out and it might cost TV and Film Guy another of his shows.  And don’t think that’s not a serious problem.  This must be why TV and Film Guy is depressed. 

Well, if I must, I must, here I am, going out on a limb again this week.  Last week I suggested that you all take 44 minutes out of your oh-so-precious schedule in order to watch Kidnapped.  I explained to you that it was well worth your time.  I told you the show was well-written, well-conceived, well-acted, and well-executed.  Of course, no sooner did that article get published than NBC permanently pulled the plug on the show (no, airing it on the web at some later date doesn’t count as truly airing).  I’m now going to get Veronica Mars yanked from The CW by doing the exact same thing.  Veronica Mars only obtained a 2.0/3 in the overnight ratings yesterday (according to the Programming Insider), but The CW isn’t the strongest network around.  Will Veronica Mars get picked up for the back 9 episodes this season?  It’s unclear.  But, I can promise you that if you sit down and watch an episode or two you’ll like it, and the show’s chances of getting the back 9 will go up (more so if you have a Nielsen box). 

To begin with.  The show is not just for kids, it is not a teeny-bopper program in anyway.  It may have some great references for that group, but it’s a very smart show.  If you grew up in the 1980s you’ll pick up on tons of references that Veronica and her compadres toss out.  The show has also been compared to Buffy, what with it’s sleuthing and its own “Scooby Gang.”  It’s absolutely similar, even if it lacks that magic/wiccan/demon/slayer mumbo-jumbo and instead places itself far closer to the real world.  There’s nothing wrong with the mumbo-jumbo, I liked it, but there are many out there that wouldn’t want to give such a fantasy based show a chance. 

Still not into the whole teen drama aspect of the deal?  There’s Enrico Colantoni, he’s an adult.  But, beyond the fact that there are adult characters that have storylines, many of the storylines focus on far more important issues than teen angst, there’s murder and rape and all other manner of adult-sized issues.  There’s stuff there for a younger crowd too, including the aforementioned teen angst, there’s also boyfriend problems, teacher problems, and questions about appropriate clothing.  In short there’s something for everyone.  What’s more impressive than that however is the fact that despite their being able to please several demographics, none get short-changed. 

Perhaps most importantly, the show is smart.  It's really quite clever.  It's fun and serious at the same time and in almost equal measure.   

In closing, to my more puerile readers that are concerned about what people will think if they watch the show, Kristen Bell is 26 years old (according to IMDb).  Those feelings you have are okay, in fact, they’re perfectly natural.  The police are not going to come and bang down your door for having them or for googling her.  It also makes all those ‘80s references much more understandable; she knows whereof she speaks.  On the other side, Jason Dohring is 24, so that’s okay too.

See?  You should be watching, at least once anyway.  NBC has graciously given you back the time that you could've watched Kidnapped, so take it, and use it on Veronica.  It's worth the time.  Really.

Got another windmill that needs some good tilting?  Like my nametag says:  Ask me, I’m here to help!

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

I Like to Move it, Move it

Here’s the thing: if you have a child you more than likely know what Baby Einstein is, and the odds are better than good that you own at least one (or if you’re like me, 21) Baby Einstein DVD.

The odds of the situation continue on past those simple facts however, if you have a baby, know what it is, and don’t have any Baby Einstein paraphernalia (they’ve branched out beyond videos and now make toys and clothes and all types of other ancillary baby products) -- that is a conscious choice and effort made on your part. On the flip side of this, if you don’t have a baby, you don’t really need any Baby Einstein, as it is specifically geared for babies.

As of October 24, there is another Baby Einstein video that can be added to any parent’s collection: Baby’s First Moves. All the Baby Einsteins focus on a slightly different thing. One focuses on Monet, another on barnyard animals, a third on body parts, one on animals, one on first words, one on Bach, another the sky and stars, and on and on and on. The different videos are geared towards different age groups and all have in mind the goal of teaching your children (as should be evident from their various focuses).

On their website, Baby Einstein states that what makes their videos different is that they are presented “from the baby’s point-of-view,” and attempt to “expose little ones to the world around them in playful and enriching ways.” It’s really a very interesting notion for a business. They even go on to discuss that Baby Einstein has a reputation for providing appropriate content for children but that it is up to parents to decide how much television their children should watch (if they should be allowed to watch at all), and that the company respects that opinion. Still though, they are very happy to sell you DVDs should you be among the people that feel them appropriate. Personally, I believe that like anything, television should be viewed in moderation and I am perfectly happy to expose my child to it.

Enough of a preamble. Baby’s First Moves focuses on, as you may have guessed by the title, the first movements that a baby makes. The video is geared toward six-month olds and looks specifically at rolling, reaching, clapping, crawling, and walking. The video is divided into sections, at the beginning of which a single movement is given - rolling, for example. Children are then shown doing this one movement, and then toys and animals are shown doing the same thing, and then more children (or slightly different variations on this theme). In between the different moves are various interstitial segments that feature the signature Baby Einstein puppets doing short, amusing skits.

The DVD even includes some bonus features. There is a segment entitled "Move with Me" that has an instructor go through various exercises that parents can do with children. There is another bonus called "Let's Pretend" that goes through many of the various movements from the main program again, but this time focuses more on animals doing these moves and suggests that babies/children pretend that they are animals as they do them. It is also possible to get a summary of the various movements from the video and some extra puppet shows are included as well.

The real question is how to judge the DVD. Is it interesting? My daughter certainly seems to enjoy it immensely. She has not yet seen all that much television, but there are some things that make her restless and other things that seem to amuse her. This DVD (along with the other age-appropriate Baby Einstein videos) fall into the latter category rather than the former.

Did I find it interesting? Not particularly, no. There are certainly some videos out there that are downright annoying, and on the plus side, this isn’t one of those, but I wasn’t enthralled either. But, I’m not the intended audience; for me, it not being obnoxious and it entertaining my daughter is enough. Does the video help a child progress and really teach them about the various movements they will eventually be able to do (and speed up development in any way)? I’m just not sure that such a question can be answered. It’s certainly a question that a lot of people will ask about the Baby Einstein series, but for my purposes it is not relevant. The videos are vaguely amusing at times, keep my daughter entertained, do not contain any material that I have ever found objectionable, and might - just might - help her learn something. And for me, that’s more than enough.

I absolutely recommend this DVD for babies. I’m not sure it’s my favorite in the Baby Einstein series, but it’s in keeping with the rest of the series and I know at least one baby who enjoys it.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

I Won't Say it Rocks, but 30 Rock is Pretty Solid

There I was last night watching 30 Rock, and I came to a horrible, horrible realization:  I used to be a tool.  Some out there would quibble with the “used to be” bit, but I’m sticking by it.  You see, I used to be an NBC page, and I’m quite convinced that I was the sort of always happy, go-getting, naively optimistic, complete dork that Jack McBrayer portrays as NBC page Kenneth.  I find the character absolutely hysterical.  I pray every time I see him that he’s an over-the-top version of a page and not the page I was.  Either way, he’s still hysterical but that’s only because I know about NBC pages and the page program.

The same is true of last night’s Six Sigma running joke.  Alec Baldwin’s character, Jack, has recently embarked on his Six Sigma training and is looking to put it into action.  Six Sigma is, much like the NBC page program, an actual thing in which NBC-Universal (and parent company GE) participate.  The goal of the initiative (which is not limited to GE) is to find ways to streamline the organization and processes within the organization.  The point of it all is to make things cheaper, faster, easier, and better.  This can end up with executives looking for “synergies,” which is corporate speak for positions that can be eliminated because they’re close enough to what someone else is doing and the rest of the work can just be foisted off onto the remaining employee.  One of the more amusing aspects of Six Sigma is that, in part, it's organized like a martial art, you can get different color belts depending on how good you are at streamlining things (Jack clearly, long-term, is going for a black belt). 

Having seen people participate in Six Sigma, hearing Jack talk about it was hilarious.  He didn’t explain what it was terribly well, but having the background information from previous work experience the bit worked for me.  But, like the page jokes, if you don’t know what they’re talking about, if you don’t have your own experience to bring to the table, is it as funny?  Certainly not, it’s probably only moderately amusing. 

Through my having worked at NBC, I learned enough about the company and how it worked to note a significant number of inside jokes in 30 Rock, and often, it seems to me, those are the funny jokes, the others fall kind of flat.  Or, perhaps, it is the inside knowledge that makes some of the jokes and goings-on funny, rather than fall flat (seriously, there are roof-top gardens at 30 Rock, and whether or not you’re allowed on them is an oft-debated point in some quarters).  This may be the reason why television shows about television tend to prove less than successful:  they’re simply too inside for their own good. 

So, take it from a former tool (yes, former), the show is funny.  Tina Fey is funny.  Alec Baldwin is funny.  Judah Friedlander, Keith Powell, and Tracy Morgan, and the rest are funny.  Jack McBrayer on the other hand is hysterical. 

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

And You're Not Watching Kidnapped Why?

This is going to be a tough sell, I know that before I begin, but I think it important. It is the rule, not the exception, that once a television show has been given its walking papers viewership does not dramatically increase. So I don’t really expect to change the world here, but if we don’t at least try, why bother with anything. Remember, it was once said (and has oft been repeated): never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.  And for that reason, I strive. I strive for the betterment of all. You must know this, you must believe this, or I’ve lost my battle before I’ve even begun.

You’re not watching Kidnapped. I know you’re not watching it. The ratings are awful, it got bumped from its Wednesday 10 PM spot to Saturday nights and has been cancelled (though they are being given enough time to wrap up the story). You’re not watching The Nine either, so I don’t really know what you’re doing Wednesdays at 10. I guess CSI: NY gets pretty solid ratings, but if Thursdays at 9:00 PM have taught us anything this season, it’s that two incredibly successful shows can co-exist at the same time. But that’s neither here nor there, it’s your private life and you have the right to spend it as you see fit.  At least you have that right provided that you watch, TiVo, DVR, PVR, VHS tape (you luddite), or otherwise record and watch Kidnapped. Seriously, what possible reason do you have for not watching the show?

Let’s take a look for a moment at essential elements for a good television show, shall we? Interesting weekly plot: check. Compelling actors: check. Engrossing visual style: check. Strong writing: check. And not an essential, but it helps, particularly in a serial, gripping over-arching plotline: check. Kidnapped has it all, and yet, for some reason I can’t fathom you’re not watching.   

I can accept that for a segment of the population, a story about the kidnapping of one’s offspring is a little too raw and emotional. There are unquestionably people out there that find such a subject too harsh for television, for whom it hits too close to home, or just generally causes feelings of angst.

But, that has to be a minority. The vast majority of you can’t possibly have such a block for not watching the show, so it must be something else. It must be, otherwise you’d be watching. 

Did you not know about it? Did uber-mega-corporation NBC-Universal (a division of even more uber-mega-corporation GE) not appropriately inform you over the summer about the upcoming series? I know that in the DVD release of Waist Deep there’s an advertisement in the case for Kidnapped, and I can’t imagine that this is the only place that such an advert appeared. Were there no billboards? No promos during sporting events on Saturdays and Sundays? You found Heroes, for which I commend you, but that just provides proof that NBC-Universal did plunk down some money on promoting new shows. And Kidnapped had to have received a decent percentage of that advertising dollar (please note, there were at the very least advertisements but into new DVD releases). 

So, what’s the issue here?

I don’t ask much, I really don’t. And so, when I do, you should take it seriously. Very seriously. And here’s what I’m asking you to do: this Saturday night, at 9:00 PM, set your VCR, TiVo, DVR, PVR, or just sit down in front of your TV, make sure you’re set to NBC, and check out Kidnapped. I promise, it’s not too late, they’ll take the first minute or so of the show to catch you up on the story so far. Stick with the show for the full hour (closer to 44 minutes if you recorded it and are watching at a later time), and tell me if it’s not good TV. Tell me what’s wrong with it, what you didn’t like, why you’re not going to watch the show next week. I’ll tell you why you’re wrong, what you’re missing, what you didn’t see. Or, maybe, just maybe, you could be right, you could point out the huge flaw in my logic, the reason I’m incorrect. 

You could, but I don’t think you will. You’re either not going to bother to watch at all or you’re going to agree with me and come back with some reason about not watching in the future because you simply don’t have the time. And here’s my answer to that: MAKE TIME. You make time for the important things in life. You make time for the things that count. You make time for the things worth making time for, and this is one of those things.

To close, let me just remind you of this wise quote: unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.

You are the viewer. You have the power. Use it for good.

Almost as if to mock me NBC decided to not air the rest of the season of Kidnapped right after I posted. Coincidence? I think not.