Thursday, March 29, 2007

Giving Lost The Benefit of the Doubt

I’ll be the first to admit it, my Battlestar Galactica review earlier in the week took a lot out of me. It was an emotionally draining experience. I don’t find it easy to come down against shows that I usually really enjoy, but I had no alternative with their season finale. Really, I didn’t.

But, last night’s Lost seems to have brought me out of my funk and to the brink of madness. It was great, it was genius, it was well told… it had absolutely nothing to do with freakin’ series as a whole as far as I can tell. I liked the backstory, I liked learning about who Nikki and Paolo were, but the fact that the producers went back and showed us scenes from earlier episodes and focused on Nikki and Paolo in them was a little much. If I was a slightly bigger geek than I am, I’d go back and rewatch those episodes (like the pilot) to see if Nikki and Paolo are really there in the background. Though some will disagree, I’m just not that big a geek. Not that I am denigrating all you other geeks out there, it’s good to be a geek, but I’m still not going back and checking it out.

If Nikki and Paolo are there in those early episodes, I applaud the producers for thinking ahead, or, I would except that they (and this is a spoiler, but not too big of one because it happens in the first 5 minutes last night) they killed them night without ever telling us why they were there to begin with. So, then what’s the point in wasting my time on them? They seem to have been completely unimportant. It requires a leap of faith I’m not sure I’m willing to give the show anymore to state that there must be a reason for having included them all season long and now having killed them.

There was a time I’d have given Lost the benefit of the doubt on this sort of thing and said to you and everyone else that would listen: no, no, Lindelof and Cuse and the boys have a plan. They’ve done this for a reason, they had it worked out ahead of time and knew last year or the year before they were going to do this. I don’t think that anymore.

I still like the show, truly I do. But, I’m worried about it entering The X-Files territory. Scully only gets abducted by aliens because Gillian Anderson got pregnant and couldn’t be on camera for a while. It was actually a great storyline and became a huge part of the mythology of the show and worked out well. But, it wasn’t planned out from the beginning, it just happened. The Lost producers keep telling us though that they have a plan, that it’s all tracked out, they know where they’re going. I’m not sure anymore about that anymore.

That doesn’t mean Lost is not a good show, it just means that I am deciding that I can’t trust what the producers tell me, and I don’t like that. To build up these characters for a season and then kill them… there are two choices as to why this is happened, and we’ve gone through one: it’s going to come back in the future, their characters will figure back into the storyline later. Or, two, the producers are simply responding to the audience not liking them and decided to axe them, canceling out future plans for them and the producers will now scramble to make it look like it was always planned (this option has my vote). The third option, which is the same as number two except without the producers scrambling to make it seem like their plan is too far-fetched to believe. No way do they not play this off as always having been in the cards.

No? What do you think? Planned or not? Dead or not?

Project: ALF Or, How To Fricasee a Cat in 10 Easy Lessons

For those of you that are unaware, ALF is an alien life form.  Actually, not only is ALF an alien life form, but ALF stands for Alien Life Form, which is probably why he’s called ALF (except when he’s called Gordon Shumway) to begin with.  ALF is a furry, wise-cracking, cat-loving (he likes to eat them), troublemaking, short alien.  He has existed in numerous incarnations.  First, he starred on a sitcom called, not surprisingly, ALF.  Then, there was ALF:  The Animated Series.  More recently, there’s ALF’s Hit Talk Show.  And, sandwiched somewhere in between all these series there was a made for TV movie, Project:  ALF.  That’s what brings us here today.

This made-for follows ALF’s adventures upon leaving the Tanner family (the nice folks whose garage his ship crashed into and with whom he lived during the sitcom).  Sadly for ALF, life has not been kind.  ALF has become the study of government experiments in order to determine whether or not he is dangerous and should be executed.  Coming down on the side of extermination is Colonel Milfoil (Martin Sheen).  Dr. Rick Mullican (William O’Leary) and Dr. Melissa Hill (Jensen Daggett) on the other hand think that while ALF may be trouble, he’s harmless.

Milfoil decides to try and execute ALF without waiting for the results of a hearing on ALF’s fate, and Rick & Melissa end up kidnapping (or, maybe, ALFnapping) ALF in order to save his life.  They end up at the home of Dexter Moyers (Miguel Ferrer), a family friend of Melissa’s who just happens to be an expert in astronomy and extra-terrestrials.  Moyers, unbeknownst to Rick & Melissa, has plans of his own for our furry friend.

And from there it goes on and on. 

ALF is a funny character in small doses.  He doesn’t quite overstay his welcome in this made for television film, but he gets awfully close.  The real problem with the film though lies in the fact that about halfway through the jokes stop and it turns into a much more serious (and obvious) drama that just happens to have an alien at its center. 

The funniest parts of the movie happen early on, and mainly consist of the videotapes run during the hearing to determine ALF’s fate.  ALF interacts, and removes in his own special way, several different scientists that try to examine him.  These tapes are simply short bursts of ALF exasperating people, which is when he’s at his funniest, and work brilliantly.  It’s a great way for the movie to start off, but, sadly, leaves very little place for the movie to go. 

Martin Sheen is comically out of place in the movie, and plays his part way, way over the top.  He actually works perfectly in the movie.  Going only slightly over the top, or playing perfectly straight in Project: ALF leads to less success.   Miguel Ferrer doesn’t quite go far enough in his role, which is why the second half simply isn’t’ as good as it might have been.

Children will unquestionably been entranced by ALF and will enjoy the movie (though not as much as they would the series).  There are questionable jokes from time to time, but they will fly well over the heads of younger viewers.

If you’re a fan of ALF from the time of the series and wish to relive some of the nostalgia, the movie will work just fine if you don’t want to spend the cash on buying all the seasons of the original sitcom on DVD.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Battlestar Galactica's Season Finale... What the Frak?!?

Let’s get something straight right off the bat, people: simply having a pretty good cliffhanger at the end of an episode, particularly a season finale, doesn’t make up for boring the audience for the previous 45 minutes. 

That’s right, today we’re talking about the seasonal finale of Battlestar Galactica (and don’t read the rest of this if you don’t want to know the twists and reveals, because it’s what we’re talking about).  So little that happened in the first three-fourths of the episode was interesting.  I will completely accept that Lee Adama’s speech was great during the Baltar trial, but there are a couple of huge problems with it. 

First, the immediate one, Lee testified in order to give evidence for a mistrial, which not only did he not do, but the show completely ignored the move for the mistrial upon the conclusion of his testimony.  Apparently the judges forgot why Lee was testifying to begin with.  They never said yea or nay to the motion for a mistrial, they just proceeded as though Lee had simply been giving testimony like any other witness.  That’s really weak writing and hugely disturbing for a show that usually incredibly well-written. 

The second problem with the scene is that Lee brings up the fact that President Roslin issued a blanket pardon for all crimes committed on New Caprica.  This is true.  Roslin did issue said pardon.  Baltar however is on trial for crimes committed on New Caprica, crimes that Roslin’s blanket pardon must have included.  Excuse me while I get incredulous for a moment here, but how is it possible that no one on the Galactica, no one in the Colonial Fleet, and not one of the writers or producers or stars of this show stood up and said before this moment something along the lines of:  pardon me, but how is it possible that Baltar could be on trial for crimes for which he was already pardoned.  Furthermore, when he is acquitted by a vote of 3-2, it is never explained how two judges could have voted to convict someone who was already pardoned of the crimes for which they were on trial. 

To steal from the show, what the frak?  This is another ridiculously large example of poor writing.  And, what’s more disturbing about it, is that so much of the latter half of this season of the show has been leading to trial which should never be allowed to happen.  It’s really quite sad.  Did Roslin’s blanket pardon not include Baltar?  I don’t recall her saying “I hereby pardon everyone for everything that happened on New Caprica save Gaius Baltar because gods damn it, we’ll have nothing to do for the rest of the season.” 

Diehard fans, and people looking to absolve the show of all sins will state that Roslin’s blanket pardon was for everyone in the fleet, and at the time the pardon was issued Baltar was not physically in the fleet, he was with the Cylons.  However, as a survivor of the Twelve Colonies, and as a one of the last members of the human race, Baltar is unquestionably, a member of the fleet, which Roslin used as a stand-in for all of humanity anyway.  Baltar was included in the pardon.

I’m trying so hard to like this show.  I used to really, really enjoy it.  But, my faith is being sorely tested here.  Perhaps the showrunners realized the huge problem with the Baltar trial too late, and the cliffhanger ending and the possible reveal of four of the “Final Five” was thrown in to make up for it.  I’m just not sure though. 

We don’t know that those four people are really four of the Final Five Cylons either.  We don’t know what they felt or what led them to that conclusion.  We also don’t know if something happened to them during their time on New Caprica (or maybe even old Caprica for those that were there) to later make them think they were Cylons.  It’s unclear.  It’s unproven.  Okay, it’s interesting and it’s enough to keep me watching, but it was only one of the two cliffhangers we were given.

The final cliffhanger, the return of Starbuck, worries me (yes, again, I’m worried).  Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck) has signed on to guest star in NBC’s Bionic Woman pilot.  She’s not the lead, but she is in it and if it gets picked up, she may end up as a regular.  Okay, that’s a lot of “ifs,” and both shows are all part of the NBC-Universal family, so something could be worked out wherein Sackhoff could appear regular on both, but that could be like NBC and HBO saying not to worry, sure Drea de Matteo can be on Joey and The Sopranos a couple of weeks before she gets whacked. 

And, lastly on this score, I thought getting rid of her character was fantastic.  I was so incredibly tired of Starbuck’s whining.  Every season she seemed to go further and further downhill as one trauma in her past after another was revealed. Every season these traumas would be resolved, Starbuck would act like a real human being for a couple of episodes, and then she’d sink deeper into her self-loathing quagmire.  I was happy when her head finally went below the surface of her self-made swamp.  She can come back, I’m okay with that, but only if she gets reworked. 

I can accept the poor-writing and ill-conceived plotlines we dealt with this season in Battlestar Galactica, but what could turn me off the show next season is 22 episodes of Starbuck playing the poor little mistreated viper jock. 

So, in closing, I look forward to next season, I still have faith that the show can return to a better time.  I hope that the Colonial Fleet finds Earth, that they destroy the Cylons, and that the Final Five are truly revealed. 

But, much like how the Fleet must feel, while I have hope, I also sense a darkness coming. 

Monday, March 26, 2007

Oh to be a Football Mogul

I love my fantasty sports. Not to a ridiculously insane degree, but I do. Let's face it, people love their fantasy sports. They’re obsessed with it. As computing power grows, it seems that more and more of it is devoted to crunching numbers about teams and players in every sport imaginable. Listen to a baseball game and you’ll hear absurd statistics like: “John Doe is currently two for 56 in at bats against a right-handed pitcher when the count is either 3-0 or 0-2 and Jim D'oh is on second base with first base open and less than two outs in an inning that is either a prime number or divisible by a prime.” All this computing power and number crunching is just the sort of thing that make fantasy sports players drool.

Sadly though, there are times when your favorite fantasy sport is not in season; it’s hard to play fantasy football in March. True, any real fantasy sport fanatic would tell you that you still need to be paying attention to transactions and injury reports and the upcoming NFL draft, but lost is that sense of immediate gratification garnered because you just knew that Brandon Jacobs was going to break free four times for 42 yard and three touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys.

What is a fantasy football player to do?

If crying and whining about the lack of competition isn’t your style, you could always try out Football Mogul 2007 by Sports Mogul. Using the rosters form the 2006-2007 NFL season (updated midseason) and updated career statistics for all NFL players, it has just the sort of incredible range of statistics that will make fantasy players go wild.

New to this year’s version is an in-game play calling engine. Clearly they are trying to entice non-stat-heads to play the game. For the most part, it’s a wonderful addition to the game. Despite not giving players the opportunity to control what happens after calling a play, simply being able to call one is a good addition. At this moment, the number of play choices is rather scant, but it is a move in the right direction for the franchise.

On the negative side of this in-game engine is the fact that results of the plays, as written out by the computer, are not always accurate. Players can, according to the computer, hit a big hole and then gain only one yard, that sort of thing. More disturbing however is the fact that sometimes the read out is downright wrong. There seems to be an error in the coding where, on kickoffs, which side of the field the ball is on is stated incorrectly (though it does appear correctly following the play); runbacks that sound huge all of the sudden turn into a mere five yards.

More happily, the stat-tracking, trading, drafting, and general franchise-building sections of the game are better put together than the in-game play calling. They are relatively easy to use and provide loads and loads of information. I would like to see a slightly more in-depth set of choices for resigning players, I didn’t feel as though bargaining with players or their agents was terribly involved. The menus are detailed and provide easy access to all various areas of the game one might want to see.

Watching these stats change and the players progress, or regress as the case sometimes is, over the course of a season or a number of seasons is great. And, it’s one of the ways that the in-game play calling engine shines. Certain players seem to run certain plays better, so you can find your favorite running backs favorite play, make sure that you run it often, and boost his ratings.

The graphical interface of the game isn’t top-of-the-line, but it doesn't need to be. Any player of this game will have to sort through so many statistics anyway, that a more text-based menu system over a graphical one isn’t hugely detrimental.

Overall, the game is fun and great for stat-heads, but the in-game engine could use some tweaking in next year’s version (and hopefully there will be one). Right now however, there is very little there to entice non-stat-heads. Though it's stats aren't quite as in-depth, I'd still rather play Madden.

Football Mogul 2007 is available for download from the Sports Mogul website.

Football Mogul 2007 is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB.

3 stars out of 5

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Get Me Maxwell Smart!

Many moons ago, I told how I had received a short screener, touting some of the elements of Time-Life’s upcoming Get Smart:  The Complete Collection DVD.  I said something along the lines of that if the DVD collection was as good as the preview, it would be well worth it.

Well, I have gotten the full set, I have looked at the discs, I have seen what they contain, and I can tell you that Don Adams is a funny, funny man; that Mel Brooks is a funny man, and apparently Buck Henry is as well.  Happily, the package that Time-Life has put together that has all of Get Smart on it is fantastic.  Even the case is put together with loving care, it mimics the opening credits of the series itself, requiring several different flaps to be opened prior to getting to the DVDs.

As with all such sets, there are numerous extras include, from audio commentaries to interviews with actors and crew.  But, in true Get Smart fashion, there is also stuff like a printable copy of the CONTROL entrance exam and a printable layout of Max’s apartment, including the location of all his gadgets. 

But, what’s better than all that, is that the show is still funny.  There is something about Don Adam’s delivery, that practically parched, dry wit that works wonderfully still today.  And even if the exact enemy group (KAOS) seems a little outdated today, the overall sense of what’s going on in our intelligence services is not.   

The series does seem to get a little tired towards the end of its run, while still sharp and witty, there is a sense after Max and 99 get married (and certainly after they have kids), that the show will start to go downhill.  I won’t say that I’m happy the show ended after a mere 138 episodes, but the fact that the twins don’t appear until about 1/3 of the way through the last season is a good thing. 

Rather than giving a favorite episode or two, I’m a fan of the gadgets, of the tricks of the trade.  Some of them work (the shoe phone), some of them don’t (the Cone of Silence), but they’re clever.  Whether or not it is true that the CIA asked producers about some of the gadgets, I don’t know.  It is certainly possible and wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad idea.

For fans of the series, for fans of spoofs, for fans of Don Adams, for fans of Mel Brooks, and for fans of good television Get Smart is well worth looking into.  It is by no means inexpensive, Time-Life currently prices it at $199.95 for the 25 DVD set.  But, on the other hand, it is 25 DVDs of funny, of smart, and more often than not, of good entertainment.  And, that’s not always easy to come by.

The DVD set is available, at this time, exclusively at Time-Life’s website

Friday, March 23, 2007

Reigning in Raines's Imagination

There I was last night watching Raines and wondering why. I’m just not sure I get it.  Goldblum is good, but he’s playing, roughly, the guy he always plays. He’s sarcastic, sardonic, and generally an ass.  My kind of guy.  But still, the hook of talking to dead people, even if only in his imagination, it feels…well, bad.  It still feels like a terrible hook for a show, and I think I’ve realized why.  It’s a multiple episode story-arc, not viable long-term show.

Last night on the show, Raines pointed out that it was a hook, mentioning how he was “the cop who talked to himself.”  Tons of people at the police precinct have started pointing out to him that he talks to himself.  He’s even started seeing a shrink about it.  The entire story of him talking to himself (or his imaginary visions or whatever you’d like to call it) has to progress.  It has to move forward.  The way he deals with it all has to move forward, and really the only logical way that I can see at this point of it moving forward is for it to end, for him to get better.  That’s right, I’m hereby referring to Raines as sick and needing to get better.  If someone can explain to me another way for this series to progress, a way to work it out so that Raines isn’t off his nut I’m happy to entertain it.

So then, let me throw it, have you seen Raines?  Doesn’t this feel like there’s no way it can go long-term?  How did Graham Yost sell this show?  Maybe I have too much faith in man, but I have to believe that you can’t go in to a development office at a network and sell an idea like this without having a way to have the character progress.

Let’s go with that assumption then: the producers have a plan in place (I’m naïve, that’s fine, go with me here).   Do we care?  Are we going to go with the series that long?  How long is the talking to his imagination going to be drawn out before it progresses?  Is the rest of the show interesting enough to have us keep tuning in?

Last night’s episode certainly wasn’t.  As soon as the city councilman is brought into the story, it’s clear that the victim, Julio, is his son and that the councilman killed Julio.  Raines doesn’t catch up to the viewer however for another 20 minutes, and that’s a problem because we now have a show in which the audience is rapidly getting tired of the main character AND the plot of the episode isn’t compelling enough to keep the viewer watching. 

Next week, Raines makes the move to Fridays at 9.  The audience interest level, according to the ratings, hasn’t been great, but is a significant improvement on the lead-in (Andy Barker, P.I.), so maybe that’s enough to keep it going for a while.  But I doubt it.  I’ll be tuning in again next week, after all I have no life.  But what about everyone else?  Goldblum fans will be there, but I doubt many others will follow. 

My New Rule of Thumb: Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

W.C. Fields is a legend, a classic, one of the father’s of film comedy.  He is oft parodied, oft remembered, and much loved.  Starting in Vaudeville and making his way to Hollywood early in its existence, Fields found success in silent film and later in talkies.  When looked at today, while many of his films are not laugh out loud funny, they are still timely, wise, and unquestionably show the viewer where present day comedy found its origins.

Universal has recently released its second collection of W.C. Fields movies, selecting five of his pictures, and helping remind today’s filmgoer where things started out.  Chronologically, they are:  You’re Telling Me!, The Old Fashioned Way, The Man on the Flying Trapeze, Poppy, and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.  While the details of the stories may all be different, Fields is always the same.  He is hen-pecked, put upon, good natured, jovial, and generally speaking, drunk as a skunk. 

You’re Telling Me! Provides a perfect, prototypical, example of this.  Fields is Sam Bisbee, an optometrist and inventor from the “other side of the tracks.”  Sam’s daughter is in love with a boy from the right side of the tracks and whose mother simply refuses to accept Sam and his family.  On his way back from a trip to sell a puncture proof tire that has gone horribly awry, Sam ends up talking to the Princess Lescaboura.  The next day Lescaboura returns to Sam’s town and convinces the stodgy folks there how wonderful Sam and his family are and so the boy’s family accepts Sam, his daughter, and wife.  And, they all live happily ever after, including the tire company coming back to find Sam to buy the puncture proof tire. 

It’s weird, the plot is razor thin, the gags tend to go on too long, and for today’s audience it feels to last about one-and-a-half times as long as it’s scant 70 minute runtime.  Even so, somehow, Fields, being Fields, is able to pull the whole thing off. 

Or, look at The Old Fashioned Way, in which Fields portrays The Great McGonigle, a not-so-great actor in a flat-broke traveling troupe.  He’s a thief and a lout, but lovable and endearing and with a sweet daughter that tries to make him a better person.  Needless to say, there’s a well-to-do boy who has been following around Fields’s daughter in an attempt to marry her.  The boy’s father is unhappy, and yet somehow, after the play is performed, everything works out. 

There’s an odd sense about all these films that once they get to about 60 or 65 minutes into the plot, the writers felt the need to simply end the story and move on to something else.  Certainly the endings all do work out, but everything seems to be wrapped in such a perfect bow that it’s odd.  Here, McGonigle is happy moving to New York City and shilling snake oil. 

There are not many extras to speak of included in the set, simply one brief documentary entitled “Wayne and Schuster Take an Affectionate Look at W.C. Fields” and a couple of trailers.  The documentary is actually a great look at Fields and his art, as explored by two comedians.  They go through how Fields did what he did, and what exactly makes him funny.  While it would be great to see some more background content on who Fields was, it isn’t truly a necessity.  People who will buy the set are already well aware of Fields and his work.

I simply can’t imagine this DVD set selling terribly well, but I’m very happy to see it available.  The films are funny, and, more importantly, they show some of the roots of comedy on the big screen.  Even if people don’t know W.C. Fields’s name, even if they have never seen a W.C. Fields movie, upon watching one they will almost instantly recognize that they’ve “seen him somewhere before.” 

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lost is Rich, The Riches are Lost, and Battlestar Galactica Barely Is

I just watched Monday’s episode of The Riches and I’m still not sure how I feel about the show. Everything about it screams “this is good TV,” at least everything except for the way the story is unfolding. I’m sorry, it just doesn’t capture me, I’m sure that it does for some, but not for me. I think that maybe that’s because I don’t feel like the story arc of each episode really holds together very well on its own. Both episodes that have aired thus far just seem to be building towards an end of the season climax with the rest of the Travellers. But, as stand-alone episodes I don’t think they really work. No? Do you? Great, Eddie Izzard got a job working for a nut, and Minnie Driver has started fighting with the neighbors. But her story didn’t really get past the opening salvos before the episode was over, and his was pretty obvious from the beginning. 

And, as someone who struggles to play golf, there’s no way that Wayne (Izzard) is that good picking up the clubs for the first time. Sure, he’s a con man, but you don’t con your way to actually being a good golfer your first time picking up clubs. 

Am I wrong? No, sadly, I’m not.

I don’t mind being wrong, I don’t mind being surprised. Battlestar Galactica always finds ways to surprise me, even on the episodes I don’t particularly enjoy. It happened with this week’s episode, just as I was getting used to their promo-ing deleted scenes that will air at the end of the episode I’m watching, Sci-Fi went out and interrupted BSG with Quentin Tarantino telling me all about Grindhouse during every commercial break. First off, I don’t understand why I need deleted scenes from the episode I’m watching to air after the episode. 

Scenes are generally deleted for two reasons: they don’t work or they don’t fit into the time allotted for the show. Clearly with Sci-Fi showing deleted scenes without having the episodes of BSG run over, the second scenario isn’t in play here. That leaves us with the scene being deleted because it didn’t work. Why then do they not fix it, or make something that does work slightly longer, or add a couple shots of the fleet as a whole coming back from commercial breaks? Why must I be subjected to cut-rate DVD content on the air? 

And second (you thought I wasn’t going to get back there, didn’t you), did I really need these snippets to appear so regularly? Couldn’t they all have been thrown together to make one decent sized segment instead of all these mini-segments? I think so. But, here’s what I’d really like to see: a full episode of Battlestar Galactica that isn’t cut short in order to air deleted scenes or repeatedly promo-ing a movie. 

Of course, I was also surprised on Lost. How can you not be surprised watching that show? Frankly though, I’m loving it. I’m just loving it. They’re getting really, really weird with all the backstories now: Claire and Jack last week and Locke and his dad this week, and I think it’s great. No, seriously, it’s fantastic. I can only be so happy with it though because I have faith that the producers actually know where they’re going. I believe that they have a great reason for having all these weird things on the island happen. If they don’t, if they start wandering aimlessly, The X-Files-style, it’ll all fall apart, but I don’t think it’ll happen. If it does go that way, I’m throwing them all in a hatch and not even airlifting in Dharma Project food. 

Call me naïve, call me crazy, call me kooky, just don’t call me Ben. What a sick and twisted fellow he is, but Locke wanted to blow the submarine anyway, so I can’t really put that on Ben manipulating him, it was Locke’s idea before he went to see Ben. 

To sum up: The Riches could be better, Battlestar Galactica could have a full show’s worth of content, and Lost better have a plan. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Monday Night TV: It's All Lies

Let’s discuss lies, shall we.

Working backwards, it was a huge issue on The Black Donnellys last night, in fact, it was such an issue that the episode was entitled “Lies.” I wonder though if they’re headed entirely too close to a St. Elsewhere-type ending. The narrator, Joey Ice Cream, was referred to, by his lawyer, as a “pathological liar” last night, as he’s relating the story to us, and maybe none of it’s true. We don’t know why Joey Ice Cream is in jail, and he certainly paints himself to be nothing more than a small-time hood. Perhaps he’s truly the mastermind beyond the goings-on and he’s just pinning everything on those nice Donnelly boys. No? Is that not possible? 

Don’t get me wrong, I really like the series, and think Joey Ice Cream’s character is great, but I’m hugely worried that I’m going to get invested in this drama for several seasons (but only if more people start to watch) only to find out later that it’s all one big lie told by Joey Ice Cream and that everything I’ve come to hold dear means nothing. 

Then there was 24. And boy oh boy am I tired of that show lying to me. If Nadia is the mole inside CTU, I’ll eat my hat. And, not just any hat, but my “Bermuda Dark and Stormy” hat that I had to drink my way through Hamilton and other parts of that wonderful, wonderful island to obtain. But that story didn’t end there, I then had to talk to several very nice people at the Goslings store in order to explain how I deserved my hat. The fact that I was probably slurring my words must have indicated that I’d done the required level of drinking even if it made me less persuasive in my verbal argument to obtain the hat (and diploma). I’ll tell you though, the people in that country are fantastically nice and accommodating, and I’m sure they would have been even if I wasn’t madly in love with their rum (which is head and shoulders above all other rums, let me tell you, some Goslings and a Barritt’s ginger beer and you are good to go). Suffice to say, it may be a little foolish to call the producers of 24 liars, because we’re all well aware that Nadia isn’t the mole despite the fact that they tried to convince us last night that she was. I might even argue that the producers are only lying to us if Nadia is in fact the mole. This is, of course, just one more reason why the show hasn’t been terribly strong this year; they recycle the same plot over and over and over and over. 

Lastly, and certainly not leastly, How I Met Your Mother. I wouldn’t say that the show has been lying to us, but they have been manipulative. Seriously. They have us all happy and rooting for Robin and Ted even though we know that Robin and Ted aren’t going to make it, and then all of the sudden last night, we were rooting for Robin and Ted to not move in together. Craziness. The show last night started the long, slow move towards them just being friends and Ted getting on to meeting his future children’s mother. And, they did it without distressing the audience. They made it natural and perfect and great. It’s another reason why the show is simply fantastic and why you border on being a bad person for not watching. 

Seriously. Give it a chance, you won’t regret it.

Monday, March 19, 2007

TV, Where We Are Now

As we approach the end of March, it seems to me like a wonderful time for taking stock, seeing where we are in the television world. There are only about two months left before the end of the season, and almost assuredly, nearly half that time will be filled with repeats. Some favorites will not be back next year and some drivel certainly will. 

This season has seen Lost continue to dwindle in the ratings, even as it returns, in my opinion, to better times creatively. ABC’s strategy of running it sans repeats, doesn’t seem to have mustered a return to the season one cultural phenomenon that the show once was.

What of ABC’s other one-time mega-hit, Desperate Housewives? Many would claim that this season has proven to be far better than the second one. Yet, there are still so many inconsistencies, plot flaws, and meaningless annoyances that it seems deserving that the show isn’t the ratings draw it once was (though it still does perform solidly). Creatively, one of the best episodes this whole season was where they stepped away from their established pattern, and Mary Alice Young’s voice was never heard. Rather, the audience was treated to a voiceover by Rex Van De Kamp. The new perspective that the change provided was incredibly welcome, and the entire episode took on a fresh look that was hugely appreciated. It actually made me hope that Marc Cherry and the rest of the producers would look into making such a change in voiceover a regular thing on the show.

What of NBC? Some would argue that their numbers are moderately improved over last year, though much (if not all) of that is attributable to running pro football on Sunday nights. They’re using a ton of reality TV to plug holes in the schedule and even when they seem to end up on the right foot creatively, the ratings don’t follow. It may be true that “the quality shows are on NBC,” but where that once made for good ratings, it no longer seems to and NBC is still struggling with that disconnect. Of course, “quality” is a relative term, and where a show like ER was once groundbreaking and wonderful, it has turned into recycled material over the past few seasons. Just because a plotline in season three made for a quality show, that doesn’t mean you can repeat it now. Maybe Raines and The Black Donnellys will suddenly catch fire and the ratings will return, but it doesn’t seem likely.

And CBS? For whatever reason, their lineup rarely has any interest for me. I really enjoy How I Met Your Mother on Monday nights, but the ratings for that and the rest of CBS’s comedy lineup this season are nowhere near what they were in the past, with Everybody Loves Raymond anchoring the night. CBS may soon find itself in a parallel to NBC’s post-Friends Thursday night Must See TV conundrum. Will they work it out? Who knows? 

As for Fox, well, they have Idol and that covers up a lot of sins, including the diminishing ratings for Prison Break and lack of creativity plaguing this season of 24. But, a show like Idol can give something like ‘Til Death, which hadn’t seen good ratings all season, a sizable number and that provides a great platform to launch other things (seriously, look at House, which only turned into a hit after getting a post-Idol timeslot or this year’s Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader). Idol’s a monster, and as long as it keeps chugging along, Fox will do just fine. 

What will next year bring? I could guess, but there’s a pretty decent shot I’ll be wrong, especially as we don’t know yet what’s going to air where and when. Over the next few months things are going to start to take shape and it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. 

Stay tuned.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hooking in an Audience

You want an idea for a hook? Here’s an idea for a hook: no hook, just good writing and good characters. Can we just avoid nonsense for a little while and concentrate on doing things well rather than having a silly hook?

In case you’re wondering, I watched Raines last night. Jeff Goldblum, as the title character, was good, but I think he’s always good. He’s a fun actor who delivers lines in the oddest way. I like him. Here, in Raines, he plays a detective, and a homicide detective at that. The story starts off strong enough, with Raines explaining, in a voiceover, the difference between hard-boiled detective fiction murders and real world murders. It’s good, it’s smart, it’s solid writing, and it’s more or less all downhill from there. You see, Raines sees dead people. They come back and talk to him, at least in his imagination. He thinks out the murders and figures out who the victims were by bouncing ideas off them and changing around the way they act and respond in his mind. 

It’s oh so very clever and interesting. At least, it is right until you realize that they’re going to do it week, after week, after week. Then it turns into a silly plot device that’s going to get old quickly -- a hook that may suck you in, but ends up causing a great deal of pain. In fact, the device has already gotten old by the end of the first episode. Hopefully they’ll be able to figure out an interesting way to keep it going; it was good enough that I’ll tune in again, but I see it getting old really, really fast.

As for other new stuff last night, there was Andy Barker, P.I., starring the hysterically funny Andy Richter. At least I think he is -- funny that is, he’s definitely Andy Richter, unquestionably Andy Richter. And, he plays a guy named, shockingly, Andy Barker. Andy Barker is a CPA who works in an office that used to be rented by a PI, and he gets confused for the PI and hired. I guess that makes him a PICPA, but that’s so less clever than PI that I can absolutely understand why the producers (Conan O’Brien among them) didn’t go with Andy Barker, P.I.C.P.A. Although, there is a certain amount of humor in that.

The show wasn’t as strongly written as Raines, the acting not as good, the premise not quite as oh so clever, and I don’t like Richter as much as Goldblum (though I do like him). Yet, unlike Raines, I’m far more interested in how Andy Barker, P.I. progresses over the next few episodes than I am in Raines, so clearly, they’re doing something right. 

Lastly, Scrubs. And I don’t mean last in my heart, because Scrubs is, almost without fail, hysterical. I’m hearing that they’re going to be back next year, even if it’s not on NBC. Seems to me that it might be a mistake for NBC to ditch them, but if that’s what the powers that be want, who am I to blow against the wind?

Just one question about the two Rowdys -- how did J.D. know which was which?

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

An Embarrassment of Riches

Like OMC once sang -- how bizarre, how bizarre. A 24 episode that goes extra-light on the helping of Jack Bauer. It’s just weird. It was a good episode, but weird. And, I can’t be the only person that wants to see Charles Logan die, can I? I’d be sorry to see Martha go down for it, but if that’s what it takes to get rid of Charles, that’s just how it has to be. I’m also incredibly curious about the number of near-coups in the White House over the course of this series. Aren’t we getting perilously close to the season two bit where the other Palmer brother was locked away (and was guarded by Aaron Pierce, if I recall correctly)? 

You know, despite the fact that it was explicitly pointed out to Jack that he was repeating old mistakes when he broke into another nation’s embassy, I feel like they are just rehashing old stuff this season and hoping the viewer doesn’t figure it out. Sure, at least they acknowledge it on some levels, but there are tons of old things happening again that they don’t discuss the past precedents for. We’ve already had nuclear bombs going off, Muslim terrorists, a Palmer being removed from power, and Jack breaking into an embassy. I get a huge sense of déjà vu watching every week. They need to come up with something new and different (I swear, if a young blonde girl is hunted by a bobcat in an upcoming episode for absolutely no reason whatsoever, I’m done). At least partially I still watch based on my love of the first season (I know this because at the beginning of every episode, when Jack gives the hour that the episode takes place I still say “on the day of the California Presidential primary”).

As for The Riches, because I promised I’d discuss The Riches… I just don’t know how I feel. I think that as a dark comedy the show has great potential, but the pilot really seemed like they didn’t want to tend towards the funny (except for the opening scene, which was fantastic). After that though, the whole thing really got bogged down. You’re just plunked down into the middle of a story, terms are thrown around (“traveller” for one, and why that’s spelled with two Ls instead of one I couldn’t tell you) that aren’t really explained (though some meanings are clear anyway), and things rapidly become muddled. 

And then, the episode ended and we were treated to a preview of what was going to happen this season on the show. Guess what? They promoted the hell out of the funny, not the serious. It looked good. It looked enjoyable. It looked like it really had the potential to be clever and wonderful and great. I’ll tune in next week (as will many others presumably from the numbers generated from the premiere), but I’m absolutely and completely convinced that there will be one or two small funny things, but then they’re going to go ultra-dark and serious on me. 

Plus, it must be said, I don’t like Minnie Driver’s accent. I just don’t. That, and another drug storyline. Sigh. I just get through telling you about how I don’t like this on The Black Donnellys, how I think these things get drawn out and ruined and simply aren’t engaging, and at the exact same time that I’m watching it happen on Donnellys, it happens on The Riches. It makes me all the more convinced that this sort of hurdle for a character is tired and worn and represents a complete lack of creativity. 

Want to know the rest? Hey, buy the rights.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Schooling the Little Ones: Baby Einstein - My First Signs

Having a nine-month-old child, I have an excellent handle on Baby Einstein and its myriad products; there are DVDs, CDs, games, toys, furniture-type things, the list goes on, and on, and on. The only thing more impressive than the quantity of material they put forth is the quality. Whether or not the DVDs truly enlighten my child I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t mind staring at them for 30 minutes and my daughter doesn’t either. For me, that’s a pretty good sell.

On March 13, they added a new title to their DVD collection: Baby Einstein - My First Signs. The DVD marks the third entry into the Baby Einstein language series. It is currently a very much en vogue thing to do to teach your infant child sign language. Some studies have suggested that children can learn to sign before they can learn to speak (and it’s never bad to learn another language in any case). 

I operate on the basic assumption that if my daughter spends enough time seeing signs (on DVD or in a book) she’ll absolutely learn them, but I can’t say that the Baby Einstein DVD will make her learn them faster (it doesn’t claim to, either). 

What I can tell you is that the DVD is presented well and, true to Baby Einstein form, was engaging for both myself and my daughter (a tricky feat, but one that the Baby Einstein folks are quite good at). Some DVDs in the baby signing genre tend to be cloyingly sweet, peppered with insidious songs and overly peppy hosts. Those DVDs may amuse children, but for parents they are terrifying adventures into TV Land. Baby Einstein doesn’t do that. 

The DVD is hosted by Marlee Matlin, and uses numerous signature Baby Einstein tropes, from the Baby Einstein hand puppets, to the classical music used, to the very cadence and build of the entire show. It’s a perfect example of what has made Baby Einstein popular and continues strongly in the tradition. There’s plenty of repetition of words and actions so that child and parent alike can learn the various signs, but each iteration is slightly different and consequently it remains fresh throughout the time when a single word and sign are repeated.

My First Signs introduces children (and parents) to 20 different commonly used words, including the all-important “mom” and “dad.” The are some bonus features as well (including the ability to play the DVD in Spanish and French in addition to English). 

The DVD also features a much-needed update for the Baby Einstein series: a color-coding method so as to easily determine the age appropriateness of the various DVDs they put out (this one is orange, for six months plus). 

My child has not yet started to do the sign for “dad,” but I’m anxiously anticipating that day, and I absolutely will not mind her watching Baby Einstein - My First Signs until she gets there. Not only does she enjoy it, but it’s absolutely watchable by parents as well. 

Tuesday Morning's Monday Television Night Wrap-up

First up, let me just say that we’re not going to be talking about The Riches today. We’re just not. Come 10 pm last night I had to make an executive decision, and it was The Black Donnellys that won out. We’ll talk The Riches tomorrow, unless the Wii Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07 proves simply too fantastically wonderful for me to spare even a moment of my all too precious time. While I hold out ridiculously high hopes for that, I’m still a television guy at heart, I’m definitely checking out The Riches tonight.

But I digress (usually more than I should, but I have no intentions on cutting back)… As per my usual, last night I caught up with Battlestar Galactica. In case you’re catching up with this bad boy on DVD and not watching the actual show, I’m not going to give away any big things, but I love the developments over the last two weeks. I was getting so tired of the whining and complaining, and we seem to have suffered through the last of it. That, plus the trial of Gaius Baltar starting… it seems like we’re heading for another wonderful cliffhanger ending that is going to drive me insane for six months. I’m excited.

While I saw the first 15 minutes of 24 (I thought that a long time to go without a commercial break, but maybe I’m wrong), I didn’t see all of it, cause I just had to watch Supernanny. There were some people getting themselves worked up into a tizzy about the promo for the show, in which, allegedly, Supernanny comes down against breastfeeding and co-sleeping, and I was dying to find out the truth of this claim (for what it’s worth, the AMA does not recommend co-sleeping, but that’s a different argument). The reality? It turned out as it always turns out and I’ll say this again and again and again: people, don’t complain about a show that you haven’t seen being bad or delivering a wrong message. You’ll only get yourself all worked up over nothing and be embarrassed later.

As it turned out, the parents did not want the children sleeping in their bed, and Supernanny made it quite clear to the mother that if she wanted to continue breastfeeding, Supernanny would help with that, and if she wanted to wean her 14-month-old, Supernanny would help with that too. See, now all those people that got themselves foaming at the mouth and ready to write letters to ABC need to find some nonsensical reason to validate their jumping to a false conclusion. Probably they’ll argue that the conclusion wasn’t false, that the show still did this, that, or the other thing wrong. I like to call this “grasping at straws.”

And then, there was The Black Donnellys. I like this show. I’ve told you I like this show, and happily, thus far, I can stick by my positive review. It’s always nice when the second and third episodes of a series don’t prove to be a huge, insufferable letdown from the pilot. It says good things about the future (hopefully). It’s not a huge ratings success, but the content and quality are solid, hopefully it’ll prove a success in the long run. I don’t want to imply that there are no problems with it, I’m nervous about the whole Jimmy plotline; the 'strung-out hothead continually screws up his family’s fortunes' stories are going to get old, really, really fast. Actually, it already has a little. Even so, I think there are good things in store for the future.

Remember, tomorrow we’re talking The Riches and 24. I can say that from the first 15 minutes that I saw of 24, it seemed like a good one, I like that Silver Spoons kid.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's Good to be the Kings of South Beach...Or Not

Let’s face it, not everything that airs on television is the most wonderful thing ever created. Like anything else, some television is great, some is good, and some is downright awful. Things don’t just fall into these categories however; some things on TV can be described as mildly entertaining at best. Entering into this undistinguished category is A&E’s latest made-for-television movie, Kings of South Beach.

This original production stars Donnie Wahlberg and Jason Gedrick. Based on a true story, Gedrick plays Chris Troiano, a nightclub owner with a shady past. Wahlberg is Andy Burnett, Gedrick’s new, mysterious best friend, and security guard. Appearing in minor roles in the film are Ricardo Chavira (of Desperate Housewives fame) as a mid- to low-level mob guy and Nadine Velazquez (My Name is Earl) as Troiano’s sister.  

The Feds and local police are also operating some sort of sting operation in the background (apparently based on the assumption that no one this successful can be on the up-and-up). What exactly they think is happening at the club is unclear, but they’re sure it isn’t good. However, the viewer, for the first half of the movie, isn’t given much insight into what the Feds are up to; but they are setting up some sort of operation. 

Actually, that’s one of the main problems of the movie: for the first third to half of it, the viewer is told very little of what’s going on and is supposed to be drawn into the mystery of it all. This all falls apart due to the fact that so much of the mystery is clear, and the rest is wholly uninteresting. The Feds have a guy “on the inside” of the goings-on. The identity of the undercover guy is allegedly a mystery (albeit quite an obvious one), and is revealed about halfway through the film. I won’t give it away here, but it’s readily apparent about five minutes into the picture. 

Why it should be written so that the undercover man is a mystery until halfway through the film is actually one of the most intriguing things about the picture. As this is based on a true story, anyone familiar with the events will know immediately, anyone not familiar with the events can easily look it up and find out, and anyone that chooses not to do that will, as stated above, figure it out before the movie makes it explicit anyway.

Kings of South Beach takes place in the mid-‘90s, just as the area of South Beach was beginning to explode in popularity. This made-for works very hard to place itself into this time period, from music, to clothes, to rollerblades. Some of these elements work better than others. For instance, Kings actually shows Andrew Cunanan shooting Gianni Versace. Neither Versace nor Cunanan have any part in the plot of the story whatsoever. They didn’t appear before the shooting, and Cunanan doesn’t appear after. The scene is simply there, and then weakly tied back to the story when an officer asks Troiano about Cunanan, who, the officer claims, visited Troiano’s club, and Versace, who was at Troiano’s the night before getting shot. It’s a weak, silly excuse to further place the movie at a specific moment in time, add a famous name to the mix, and get to show one more murder. 

What then is right with the movie? Wahlberg gives a good performance as Burnett, and I’ve always found Jason Gedrick to be charismatic on screen. Additionally, it’s able to generate just enough excitement through car chases, beatings, fights, slightly off-color language, and jiggles to make for a passable evening (the February Sweep is, after all, over). 

Kings of South Beach premieres on A&E Monday, March 12, at 9PM.