Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tell me, my chickens

Certain opportunities have presented themselves, and SDD looks to be a key factor in some of those opportunities.

So tell me. . .which pieces here have been your favorites? What would you like to read more about? What have you absolutely hated?

Use the comments for such.

And while you're at it, you may have noticed the name of ANOTHER contributor pop up off to the side. So welcome Jacob, who's here to write a little bit about film (though not a WHOLE LOT) since I seem incapable lately.


Is this just a cult thing?

For the life of me, I've never been able to get in to Star Trek. I've liked individual episodes, and I liked the IDEA of Deep Space Nine, but even as a kid, I just couldn't get in to the show (though, curiously, I really liked the movies at that age). So when people talk about how great the show was and how they're excited for J.J. Abrams to revive the franchise, I have to tightly purse my lips and nod along.

And that's kind of how I'm feeling about this Doctor Who reinvention. It's solid, B+ entertainment all around. There hasn't been an episode that's less than engaging. And the two central performances from Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper are always on the dot.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with having something that's purely entertaining on the television dial, a non-guilty pleasure, if you will. But for some reason, I just can't get in to Who like I have other pure-pleasure shows (the first two years of Alias, for example).

Honestly, the whole thing makes me feel like I should be getting nostalgic for something I know nothing about. It hews so closely to the originals (I assume) that it's playing off of feelings I don't necessarily have because I've NEVER seen an episode of Who before this incarnation.

I dunno.

I've still got a few episodes to get through before the finale, and I'll do the customary wrap-up.

Is it just me? Am I just too used to the newly in vogue gloomy U.S. SF to enjoy this?

All right. Off to bed.


Friday, June 09, 2006

You'd never need to doubt it: Big Love, season 1

When Bill Bennett was attempting to tell Jon Stewart why gay marriage would destroy Western civilization on The Daily Show a few days ago (video here), he immediately slippery sloped his way to polygamy. "What about the polygamists?" Bennett said, after inferring that they were eagerly awaiting the passage of laws allowing gay marriage.

Stewart argued that marrying multiple women is a choice, while being gay is something genetic, biological, a part of the human condition. Bennett argued that some people think it's part of their human condition to sleep with multiple wives.

The gay marriage debate is often framed, emotionally, as a slippery slope argument. "If two men can marry," so many cry, "what else might happen?! Polygamy? Incest? Bestiality?" Aside from the fact that slippery slope arguments are just ridiculous, I've always been curious as to why people leap immediately to polygamy after gay marriage. What, exactly, do they find threatening about it? Are they ridiculously diligent scholars of the sorts of crimes Warren Jeffs has engaged in? Or are they carrying forward prejudices from the 1800s, when the Mormons enflamed dormant queasiness about polygamy thanks to their very presence?

Into this weird little breach steps Big Love, a show about a man with three beautiful wives created by a gay couple. While I know I have to tread carefully here (to avoid suggesting that polygamy should be legalized or that the legalization of gay marriage would lead to the legalization of polygamy), I think that Big Love was a conscious response to the gay marriage slippery slope argument by two writers who know just how to make the medicine go down: with lots of soapy, soapy plotlines.

Big Love starts as an attempt to redefine the American idea of family, to suggest that our old ideas of the nuclear family simply don't work in our modern age. While in a gay marriage you only fundamentally alter the role of the spouse (there is no bride or groom), in a polygamist marriage, you funamentally alter a lot of things. While there are many brides and one groom (or vice versa), the relationships between the separate wives are ones that have to be created out of whole cloth. Are they sisters? Spouses? Rivals? All of the above? The genius of Big Love is that it gets you to think of these people as a family (it's clear they care about each other), but it never gives you the safe haven of normalcy. The relationships aren't clearly defined from your everyday life, so you're forced to invent your own understanding of those relationships as you watch.

What's more, the characters in Big Love are all deeply recognizable in one regard: They're deeply, deeply religious. They believe they are doing God's work. They cry out in prayer (unironically) to Jesus. Their faith is played not as a bad thing, but rather as a strong constant necessary in the characters' everyday lives. This is deeply familiar to a vast majority of Americans, and this move is a masterstroke. If we can't relate to the living arrangements, we can relate to the importance of their faith, which is unusual in American pop culture.

What's more, for a show that must have been fraught with attempts to portray how homosexuals struggle with keeping strong faith, the creators have made only one character obviously gay (and this guy's something of a villain, no less). In essence, they've tabled the debate about homosexuality, moving on to what social conservatives assure is the next step: the normalization of polygamy.

Finally, Big Love takes special care to show just how badly polygamy can warp people, especially the children who are born into it and know nothing else (and the young girls promised as brides to prophets long before they come of age). The characters who live in Juniper Creek (a massive polygamist compound) are backward, cut off from society, unable to cope off of their compound, particularly Rhonda, a creepily portrayed child bride.

And so, Big Love gets us to reexamine the idea of the American family in light that we are slightly familiar with. The argument is the slippery slope in reverse. "See these polygamists?" it says. "They're people, just like me and you. Who else might be unmonstrous?" I'm sure you can see the next logical step.

It helps that Big Love is a winning soap opera, thrillingly performed by its three female cast members. At first, it wasn't immediately clear why they would choose a life like this, but as the season wore on, it became apparent that they were as attached to each other as they were to their husband. Bill Paxton is a bit of a bland cipher in the middle of this show, but the universe revolving around him (like the celestial orbs of the title sequence) never ceases to amaze.

And so we have Big Love. Perhaps the only drama on television that works as entertainment and reverse polemic.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Extracurricular activities

My piece on the women of Deadwood is up a day early at The House Next Door. And, of course, Deadweek continues apace. All of the pieces, thusfar, have been fascinating, and even if you don't watch the show, you'll find something to enjoy, I think.

Without detracting from Deadweek, I'll say that I've seen the first five episodes of Deadwood's third season on a screener, and they are riveting. If you're a fan of quality television and you haven't watched, go rent the DVDs or read the TWOP recaps so you can jump in on Sunday night. You won't regret it.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

"Tell your God to prepare for blood"

I'm working on some writing that has nothing to do with THIS blog, so there's no time for a deep, deep post tonight. I thought I had a handle on what I wanted to say in this essay, but it turns out I had NO IDEA, so I've gotta change some things tomorrow.

It's times like these when I wish I smoked.

Before I get on with things, I need to point out that yesterday's title (So Cheesy, So Awesome!) is something I got from Television Without Pity. I didn't mention that, though I meant to.

If you really NEED something to do while waiting for me, here are five links well worth your time.

--Deadweek continues apace at The House Next Door. Some great stuff going on there right now.

--As it turns out, Veronica Mars herself once visited Everwood.

--This guy is pretty scary smart. And he's got a lot to say about Buffy. And why he doesn't like Heather Havrilesky (I don't like her that much either -- though I thought her piece on Lost was quite good, on the right track and all of that). And various other things. He's who I would be if I had gone to grad school (fun story: I'm still on the e-mail listserv for the grad school I almost went to -- it's like a peek into an alternate universe every day!).

--John Rogers' Memorial Day post is over a week old, but it's still quite good.

--Meanwhile, Alex Epstein is interviewing Tom Fontana and knocking your screenwriting questions out of the park (not to, y'know, use metaphors in the wrong way or anything). Take a look.

Back tomorrow with thoughts on how Big Love is really a heavily veiled argument for gay marriage.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

It's a Recent Album Round-up!

Here's some new stuff I've come across:

AFI, Decemberunderground

Yeah, yeah, I know. What do you want? I loved them all through highschool, I can't just turn it off. This isn't SO bad. Say what you will about Sing the Sorrow, but it was definitive and it was cohesive. The problem this time around is that the mixture of influences is far too broad--not to mention overeager. It only works against Decemberunderground because everything seems so forced. There is a predictably strong sound here, but moments of intrigue are very few. Quite flat in most respects, but oddly (albeit moderately) enjoyable.

Be Your Own Pet, Be Your Own Pet*
*pictured above

Oh man. This album just ripped my balls off. Charming, aren't I? Seriously though, what a perfectly realized mix of adrenaline, and snot-nosed precociousness. You'll hear the Yeah Yeah Yeahs cries (and they are mostly right) but this group of barely-legals have something special. It's rare for a band as young as Be Your Own Pet to have such a finely tuned disposition, knowing exactly what buttons to push and when to push them. Basically, Be Your Own Pet is punk as fuck. One of the best albums of the year.

The Walkmen, A Hundred Miles Off

I am surprised at how much I like this. I adore this album! It's like each track is a different stage of some smoke-filled, indie kid, dream sequence. That sounds horrible, but it works. A Hundred Miles Off is one of those albums that pines to be taken in as a whole. Track by track there is, oddly, no real standout; as a unit each song plays its part in creating a wholly atmospheric, damn near addicting experience. I'm still finding Bows and Arrows a bit better, but this remains a brave follow-up to their mainstream breakthrough.

Coming up: Thoughts on the new Mision of Burma, Sonic Youth, and Thom Yorke albums.

You can't wait. You CAN'T WAIT.


SOOOOO cheesy; SOOOOO awesome!: So long, farewell, Everwood

I came to Everwood late.

I watched the latter half of the second season after being quite impressed at the show's guts to kill off one leg of its central love triangle. I watched every episode of the third and fourth seasons, gobbling them up like Christmas tea. And I caught up with the first season haphazardly. There was a lot of stuff that didn't work, that was too over the top, that was just too cheesily baked in sentimentality.

But something about the stupid show WORKED. Out of all of the shows on television, it encouraged your emotional investment. NAY, it REQUIRED your emotional investment. It held you down on the floor and smacked you around and screamed at you, "YOU ARE GOING TO CRY AT THIS, DAMMIT! YOU ARE GOING TO CRY LIKE A LITTLE GIRL!"

Everwood was earnest. PAINFULLY earnest. It believed in things like families sitting down and having a good talk, like teenagers making stupid mistakes and learning lessons from them (after a long period of torment), like true love.

And somehow, it worked.

Everwood was assembled from warmed-over cliches, stuck together in a way that didn't possibly seem like it could work. But those elements were written and performed with such verve and honesty (to the show's hyper-earnest worldview at least) that you couldn't help but find it all deeply, deeply affecting. The occasional element bugged (the score could often grate, as it made too many scenes too cutesy), but the package as a whole delivered.

Everwood loved its melodrama. It wasn't above doing things like having a teenager have a secret child he had no idea about. But it also wasn't afraid to let those things play out like they might actually play out in a realistic fashion. And it wasn't afraid to subtly resolve arcs like this in the least obvious ways possible (in the plotline specified, the character mentioned became a teacher and took a student under his wing, ultimately leading to that student's flowering as an individual -- I didn't even realize how much it resolved the baby storyline until it was over).

Everwood also didn't pull punches in regards to the issues it tackled. It took on abortion, homosexuality, teenage sexuality and many, many others in realistic and interesting ways. It didn't say that all of these things were categorically bad. But it didn't say they were good either. It was content to let these issues be, to let them sit.

In many ways, Everwood is the embodiment of why I originally fell in love with television. It's the idea that we'll be invited into a world once a week where we'll be a silent participant. In exchange, this world's citizens will engage us in some way, make us laugh or cry or want to throw up.

Since I first fell in love with television, of course, I've come to understand that it can be so much more as a medium than just a place to feel at home for 30 minutes to an hour every week. But those little spots on the schedule DO still feel like home. It's one of the pleasures of a story that unfolds ever so gradually, inviting you in.

I'm deeply saddened that Deadwood won't get a fourth season. But since it was a part of the world that includes things like abrupt cancellations for business decisions, I can make peace with it. Everwood never felt like a part of that world. It was its own, tiny, precious thing. And I hate that word "precious." But it somehow fits Everwood.

Bye, my chickens. I'll assume you're all happy, riding your Ferris wheels and drifting through your lovely little mountain town.

See you again real soon.


Monday, June 05, 2006

Your top twenty TV series

I sent out the call a few months ago for you to send in your top ten TV series currently airing. And over 50 of you did. Over 100 shows were mentioned. But these 20 easily rose above the others.

First, these 10 series are our runners-up.

In alphabetical order:

Boston Legal
Desperate Housewives
Doctor Who
Family Guy
How I Met Your Mother
Life on Mars
Project Runway
The Simpsons

And now. . .

The top 20.

20.) Everybody Hates Chris (The CW, entering season two): Just barely squeaking in is one of TV's few remaining family comedies. (Please note that I didn't have a great deal of commentary from many of you, so many of these shows will have to be commented on by me.) While it didn't land on a lot of ballots, it tended to place highly on the ballots it did land on. My only concern is that its graveyard slot for season two will doom it to falling off of the list, should I ever do something like this again. Still, this show is sweet, well-acted and tartly written. It should be set for many seasons to come.

19.) Big Love (HBO, entering its second season): It was interesting to see the pattern of votes for this. As the season wore on, it got more and more mentions on more and more ballots. I think people needed time to get used to the show, which was the sort of thing that could set you off-kilter, as much as it messed with your sense of a moral code.

Daniel, who contributes to this blog and runs Satin in a Coffin, was one who liked Big Love. " Big Love is a show that should be a lot more gimmick driven than it actually is. The central mythos of the multiple marriages is what the show is about, not what defines it. It's a fine line that the writers walk quite gracefully. At its best, Big Love reminds me a lot of the lighter moments on a show like Six Feet Under, which is a pretty high compliment coming from me," he said. "However, that is not to say the show is without significant dramatic suspense--it just happens to be very good at keeping its head on straight. The first season is barely half finished and I already feel like I've been a fan for years. If the show is able to stay true to its surprisingly genuine nature, we could have a future classic here."

18.) Weeds (Showtime, entering its second season): Weeds is one of the two shows on this list that I do not watch regularly. It was interesting to see how cable shows competed to be on the list. Most of them had several votes, but not the presence that many of the network shows had. Weeds, however, commanded a small cult that consistently ranked it in the top three. While I'm not sure the show will be for me (satires set in the suburbs have tired me out for years now), I'll be sure to check it out on DVD, thanks to this recommendation. I need a new sitcom fix anyway.

17.) South Park (Comedy Central, in its tenth season): South Park is by far the oldest show on this list. It also was a bit controversial, appearing on a few worst of lists before I canned that part of the survey. Still, this got props from a lot of you for being one of the best satires the medium has ever seen.

Edward Copeland of Eddie on Film had this to say: " The rare case of a show that gets better and better as time goes on. Matt Stone and Trey Parker's satire has grown more focused and they hit their targets with laser-like precision, all while being funny as hell."

16.) My Name Is Earl (NBC, entering its second season): The first show on one of the big four is all the way up here at 16th. My Name Is Earl won praise from its adherents for its goofy sense of humor and winning performances.

"Karma is a funny thing. And so is 'My Name Is Earl,'" wrote Andy of Everything Oscar. "Jamie Pressley is great, and I start laughing as soon as Earl walks on screen."

Copeland was similarly amused. " The best new comedy that I've seen in awhile. It boasts a brilliant comic ensemble and sharp writing -- and if Jaime Pressly doesn't end up with not only a nomination but the Emmy itself this year, there is no justice in the world."

15.) Grey's Anatomy (ABC, entering its third season): The hospital drama was another controversial choice, turning up on worst of lists. But the fans of this show were unapologetic in just how much they liked its oft-crazy, soapy plot lines.

Michael was one who was skeptical, but ultimately along for the ride. "Another show that I didn't want to like. I hate Desperate Housewives and so I never bothered to tune in, but I caught an episode at my sister's (Train wreck, two people pinned together with a pipe) and I haven't looked back."

14.) Gilmore Girls (The CW, entering its seventh season): I was actually a bit surprised to see this show rank so high. I had thought that after a rather lackluster sixth season, the show would fall off of a lot of people's top ten lists. Obviously, I was wrong. If anything, it's a statement to just how long people will stick with shows (and name them as favorites) even as the quality goes down. Alias would have been even HIGHER, if not for its cancellation.

Naturally, there are fewer shows that leave a bigger smile on your face than the Gilmores, but with the creators having left the show and the new executive producer being far from proven, I must say I find this to be ranked just a bit high.

Still, the show is always worth watching for the stellar acting and its statements on just how screwy the American class system can get.

13.) The Wire (HBO, entering its fourth season): This one probably turned up on the fewest ballots of anything in the top 20, but the ballots it did turn up on, it tended to be ranked number one. It's a show that rewards brow-furrowing attention, even if it seems, at times, almost impossibly dense. Still, this dark, realistic tale of the American streets is the sort of show that defines a cult hit, and it's rewarding in the extreme.

Edward Copeland was a fan of this too. " Television that demands you pay close attention. It's more akin to a novel than a TV series." And that may be the reason that so few are even watching it.

12.) Rescue Me (FX, now in its third season): How America learned to stop worrying and love misery porn, in other words.

Rescue Me, the product of Denis Leary and Peter Tolan's macho ethos, is a rambling wreck of a show, enchanting some while seeming to be too much for others.

Still, Daniel thinks it hasn't worn out its welcome yet. "The painful and perfect performances carry with them scripts gnawing religious musings, work politics, and straddling the railing of the dead-pan and the existential. Leary deserves two Emmys by my count. This is a show that will run out of steam very quickly, but as of now it is the best show on F/X," he says. Adds Copeland, " It's a brilliant mix of dark humor and tragic drama. However, so many bad things happen to its characters, especially lead Denis Leary, that it runs the risk of being a bit much."

11.) Deadwood (HBO, now entering its third season): The series that Matt Zoller Seitz, one of the television critics for the New Jersey Star-Ledger, calls the best television series in history clocks in here. Again, as with The Wire, this one tended to be REALLY loved by a small number of fans. It seems to have mostly been a miss with most viewers, but to have really connected with those who do love it.

Plus, there are lots of swears.

Edward Copeland weighed in on THIS show as well. " It took me awhile to warm to this show, but it eventually became one of my favorites and Ian McShane's brilliant Al Swearengen is a performance for the ages. Where is his fucking Emmy already, you Television Academy cocksuckers?" he said. But Joshua Houk of Trash Stratum almost LEFT the show off of his list, though mostly due to "major annoyances (the N- General and the guy who tarred him, the mysteriously appearing walkway between The Gem and the newspaper office, allowing Jeffrey Jones around kids) rather than any specific episode."

And now. . .the top 10. Before we begin, you should know that numbers 15-4, roughly, were all very close together. Numbers 2 and 3 were also very close together. And number 1 was in a class by itself, appearing on nearly every list.

10.) The Shield (FX, now in its fifth season): This is the other show on this list that I don't watch regularly (and I never have watched it regularly). It's another one I'm intending to catch up with on DVD.

Still, this pretty much set the bar for dirty cops on TV. Shawn Ryan gets major props for bringing a hero this dark to series TV, and Michael Chiklis' portrayal of Vic Mackey is smartly harrowing.

This didn't rank that high on very many ballots, but it was lowly ranked on a lot of ballots, leading to its placement here.

Daniel perhaps put it best. He wrote: "The show is so intensely watchable because it mixes the world of the crime procedural with that of a vicious character study. The way the writers juggle each episode with such an even hand is really something to watch."

9.) The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report (Comedy Central): So many people ranked these as one entity that I finally just decided to let the two stand as one. They weren't popular with some of the more conservative people who took the survey, landing on a few worst of lists, but Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert tickled the funny bones of enough people to land squarely in the top ten (and also managed to place as the only talk shows on the list -- their closest competitor was Conan O'Brian, somewhere in the 50s or so).

What's most impressive about this is that Stephen Colbert managed to turn a one-joke character into something you could base a show around. The number of times that's happened in the history of television is frighteningly small, but it seems Colbert and his writers were not daunted.

8.) Scrubs (NBC, entering its sixth season): The wackiest hospital show around scored well on lots of ballots, if rarely taking the top spot. It has won a quietly loyal audience over its years on the air, never scoring as a HUGE hit, but always playing well to its niche. Its fifth season, in particular, found the show really hitting its stride once again.

Allison wrote in to express her love for Scrubs. " This show is freakin' hilarious. And it only managesto get more and more hilarious. Dr. Cox, I love you!" And Michael also enjoyed this show, as he was one of the few to rank the show in the very top position.. " I wish there were more half-hour comedies to chose from. But if this was the only one out there, I'd be a happy, happy man."

7.) House, M.D. (Fox, entering its third season): And TV's OTHER big medical show places seventh. The fans of House the show tended to be fans of House the character above all else. Michael, for example, had this to say. " Hugh Laurie makes this show. I watch it more for the dialogue than the mystery illness of the week."

And that opinion was a very common one throughout those who voted on House. Props have to go to the writers of the show for creating a classic character as much as they're deserved for creating a classic show.

I've written a lot about this show recently, so I guess I'll call this one a day.

6.) Battlestar Galactica (Sci-Fi, entering its third season): From doctors to sexy robots. Battlestar probably appeared on the fewest lists of any show in the top ten, but those who loved it LOVED it. They liked the mix of science fiction and politics. They liked the actors. They liked everything about the show, which is not something I think anyone would have suspected when the show was first announced.

Said Roger of A Drinking Song: "This show works because it goes out of its way to not be a sci-fi special-effects extravaganza; instead it's a really solid military-politco drama that happens to take place in space. James Callis might just be the most underrated actor on TV."

And Allison pretty much summed it up. " This show is flippin' amazing. They'reconstantly surprising me, amazing me, ripping my heartout and handing it to me. Everyone in the cast, crew,and writing staff is ON, and they know it. They knowthey're part of something really special and they aregiving it their all. Every time I watch an episode, I feel so lucky to have discovered this show. If you do not watch, you're only punishing yourself."

5.) 24 (Fox, entering its sixth season): Call it borderline fascist. Call it action-packed. Call it politically irresponsible. 24 is still one of the biggest thrills for its fans and it ushers in the top five of our list.

Daniel ranked it seventh, saying: "Still implausible after all these years! The Power Hour, now in its fifth season, can still kick you in the nuts like nobody's business. They've taken to using every catastrophe at their disposal, but compelling TV is compelling TV."

And Michael liked it too. " This show can be hokey sometimes but almost every episode has me on the edge of my seat. I can't imagine trying to write 'real time' and making everything work."

It IS rather amazing that this show hasn't COMPLETELY fallen apart after all of these years. Kiefer Sutherland probably bears the lion's share of the credit for that.

4.) The Office (NBC, entering its third season): For a show that seemed as though it could never top the original, The Office has become quite the hit with critics and fans. Indeed, it's the highest-ranked comedy on this list.

Michael was less enthusiastic about the show than many, but it still made his list. "I LOVED the British show, thought it was one of the best things I'd ever watched, so I was against the American version from the start. (I remember Coupling *shudder*) But after the first couple of shows, they started to find their own way and it's doing all right."

Roger was far more effusive in his praise. "In the second season, it’s really found its voice and coalesced into the best half-hour on network television. The characters are sharply drawn, fully developed and portrayed with genuine heart, warts and all. It almost--almost--makes up for the void left by Arrested Development."

3.) Veronica Mars (The CW, entering its third season): TV's spunkiest teen P.I. earned raves from lots of people. Indeed, the top three shows were WAY OUT IN FRONT of all of the other shows, and Ms. Mars appeared on over half the lists.

It's easy to see why. The show is sort of effortlessly appealing. While someone called The Stranger describe the show as "Joss Whedon lite," others offered up more praise.

Said Daniel: "Veronica Mars is constantly toying with viewer expectations, but never displays anything but respect for its audience. Twists and turns are taken but always with a watchful eye and a warm nod. It's as if, as long as your willing to go on this crazy ride, they won't steer you wrong. One of the sharpest shows in years." And Allison chimed in: "There is so much about this show that's great, fromthe amazing cast to the brilliant direction, but thebest part is the writers. They trust their audience to be able to think. That is so rare. And it's so gratifying."

While the second season of Veronica Mars was denigrated in some circles, it seems that many who wrote in for this list weren't displeased by it much at all.

2.) The Sopranos (HBO, now in its sixth season): Despite airing a deeply contemplative sixth season that seemed to anger many stalwart fans, The Sopranos was still popular with voters in the survey. Allison said, "This is just really, really good TV."

And, indeed, on a list where cable shows were a bit underrepresented, this one appeared on over half of the lists, indicating that people have at least checked it out on DVD.

The Sopranos fans were many, but Daniel's praise was the most hyperbolic. "Catch me on a good day, and I might tell you that The Sopranos is the best television show ever," he wrote. Hyperbole aside, there have been few shows to constantly reach the cinematic levels that this show reaches on a weekly basis. Much in the tradition of its mobster predecessors, The Godfather and Good Fellas, The Sopranos is always effectively questioning and examining the fundamental flaws and truisms found within the idea of the 'American Dream.'"

Edward Copeland had even more to say. " Sure, it's not as consistently brilliant as it was in its early years (like seasons 1 and 3), but when it's on -- which is still often -- there is no television show that's more involving or with better acting, writing and direction."

And that brings us to number one, a show that appeared on more than two-thirds of the ballots, often in the top three.

1.) Lost (ABC, entering its third season): Lost, right now, IS the zeitgeist. Most of its fans (including me) have issues with it. But they can't stop watching. And they can't stop talking about it. The show seems to be the very definition of a big, mainstream hit that engages the audience on some sort of intellectual level. Lost, at its best, is like a mash-up of centuries of Western artistic thought. At its worst, it's a solid adventure thriller.

But don't take my word for it.

Daniel says: "It's like watching a mind slowly descend into madness. One thing (among many other things) that Lost does so very well is set up what appear to be simplistic elements and build upon them until they become something else entirely. The archetypal character models, consistently and methodically turned on their ears; The initial conflict(people stranded on an island want to get rescued) now almost completely "lost" within the show's own mythology. It's one of the easiest shows to lose yourself in that I can ever recall, and it continues to challenge itself as well as us at it marches onward, slowly becoming an increasingly unstable arena of paranoia and insanity. The BIG MYSTERY is, of course, second tier stuff to snobs like myself. However, the fact that Lost works so WELL on its own Lynchian dreamscape, as well as operating as a some what valid social and communal parable, makes it a landmark within the TV IS ART ERA."

Allison had things she didn't like, but she still found stuff to love. " What I love most about this show is their commitment to the ensemble. I can't stand four of the major characters (Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Ana Lucia) but still there's plenty for me to watch and enjoy. Every character has a consistent and interesting storyline, every character has growth. Plus, Terry O'Quinn? The man is awesome."

And Moses of Cinema Mon Amour summed it all up: "An example of how great Lost is: If any of you knew Hurley in high school, you would have endlessly mocked and tortured him. But the show spins his character around so well that giving him an imaginary friend makes him even MORE deserving of the audience's love!"

Well, that's all. I hope you found this illuminating. And I hope I'm never foolhardy enough to try something like this again!



The new season of HBO's Deadwood (and quite possibly the last season of HBO's Deadwood) launches Sunday night.

I've made no secret of my love for this show. If you're looking for some good reading on the show, check out The House Next Door, where Deadweek is in full swing. I'll be participating later on in the week, so you can look out for that (if you only come here because you're a part of my ever-growing fan club).

I've heard what most of the pieces are going to be about and who's going to be writing them, and I'm eagerly awaiting the whole spectacle.


Sunday, June 04, 2006

Top Ten Albums of 2006 (So far...)

Since my last couple of posts seem to have been focused on music I dislike, why not talk about some music I have fallen in love with? Come on! It can't be a blog without some arbitrary listing going down. Plus, I have pictures!

As we say goodbye to the first half of 2006 I thought I might give you dear, dear readers a bit of a glimpse at the top ten albums I am loving so far this year. There are more, of course...but we'll start with these.

And away we goooooo:

10. Nellie McKay, Pretty Little Head

I may like this even better than her debut, which was MAYBE too clever for its own good at times. Here, Nellie has a wonderfully, unforced quirky head on her shoulders with a distinct identity that makes the album intensely listenable.

09. Bubba Sparxxx, The Charm

"Everything's funny at first..."

I like the way Bubba K is able to reinvent himself while still staying true to his personality. After Deliverance, some may find this album a bit too safe. Upon a close inspection, though, its probably his most honest display yet. Timbo is sparse, but the disc remains surprisingly solid...and damn catchy.

08. Diplo, Mad Decent Podcasts

Mad Decent would like to take over ze world. And they are off to a damn good start. This series of podcasts presents some of the most aurally addicting and eclectic mixes of dance, grime, baile funk, rock and schitzo switchboards I can ever recall. Bow to the new hotness, bitches.

07. Sway, This Is My Demo

Hype can be a bitch. Luckily for Sway, his hype didn't spread TOO crazily across the ol' "pond." Not that I don't want him to be successful, but we all know hipster fans tend to be more open-minded the less praises and accolades are heaped upon an artist. There is a definite Dizzee shadow in his flow, but unlike Dizzee, Lady Sov, or Skinner, Sway has a distinctly easy introduction quality to his world. Early Mysikal comes to mind with his rapid fire delivery, but Sway is relatable on a everyday kind of playing field. Subtly expansive on every track, This Is My Demo is an underdog in the best way possible.

06. Lily Allen, My First Mixtape

Speaking of hype...

Lily is a just a lovely little lady who is smart as a whip, and one hell of an MC to boot. Her proper LP is due out this summer, but this taste of both some tracks off of her debut album as well as an awesome sampling of her expansive tastes works so much better than it should. It's just so damned charming.

05. Gnarls Barkley, St. Elsewhere

Eccentric doesn't really do Cee-Lo and Danger Mouse's tagteaming justice. What an eerily blissful album. It flirts with soul, funk and perfection all so evenly. Even on the slow bangers it's firing on all cylinders 24/7. Probably one of the best debuts of this new decade.

04. Ghostface Killah, Fishscale

I'm not saying he's the best rapper around, but god damn if he can't make an album and make the shit matter. You don't even have to be a fan of hip hop to get so caught up in his fantasies and vivid storytelling. My man has the style, the charisma and the sheer bravado to just MAKE it happen every time he picks up the mic. How he STILL gets better at this point in his career is beyond me.

03. Love Is All, Nine Times That Same Song

I love Sweden. Seriously. If you are a rock fan at all, buy this album.

02. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Show Your Bones

I have talked about this ad naseum. My views haven't changed much. The more I listen to it the more I see the album as this unassuming experience as opposed to a kick-ass rock album. In fact, it is both. You have a twisted and sordid relationship with Show Your Bones much the same as you may have with Karen O herself. You emerge bruised and bloodied, but maybe you've learned something from it all.

01. TV on the Radio, Return To Cookie Mountain

Another album I haved talked about to death. In the simplest and most exaggerated words, Return To Cookie Mountain is a masterpiece. It is the most successful "grower" I have ever heard. Once you become acquainted with all the show and eccentricities, you get down to the white meat which is a brilliantly encompassed showing of raw emotion and fumbling eyes aiming for an appropriately imperfect voyage. Any justice and this becomes a classic.


Friends, I have been to the land of iniquities and returned to tell about it

Before we get to the good stuff, if you're interested in reading the Bible and/or other great books of antiquity and then blogging about it, please e-mail me.

So I should have Googled them.

I got a ticket from one of Libby's friends to something called the "New TV Preview." And I should have Googled them. But, I thought, a new TV preview! What could go wrong with that?

Lots, actually.

I showed up at the local convention center, dutifully, on time, ready to watch new pilots for the fall season. I was ready to come up with a way to disguise my identity, that I might share my thoughts on said new pilots with you, my humble readers.

The first thing they had me do was choose which brand of pickles I liked best.

This wasn't such a bad thing, in and of itself. I like pickles, as a general rule, and pickles like me. But when I had to go on to choose the brand of hair dye I liked best, the type of emory board I used to make my nails look pretty and the type of nail polish remover I used, I wasn't quite sure I was in the right room.

And the whole thing seemed awfully suspicious for a TV PREVIEW. Especially since they told us that they were going to be showing commercials. Really? That seemed counter to EVERY focus group I had ever heard of (even the one I had been approached to be on in Las Vegas -- I had to turn them down because, sadly, I am NOT actually over 35).

So the whole thing colored me curious.

And then the pilots began. And I understood why, exactly, the assembled unwashed were there.

The whole thing was a marketing focus group. By getting us to focus on the TV, we would be in the right frame of mind to watch the commercials (instead of focusing on the commercials themselves) and then comment on them.

The first pilot was something called Soulmates. This show was so awful that I can't find a link to it on iMDB. It starred Kim Raver (Audrey from 24) and Robert Knepper (Prison Break's own T-Bag) as two lovers, reincarnated and remeeting in present day (well, mid-90s) San Francisco. The whole enterprise reminded me of just how influential The X-Files was (the show attempts to throw a clumsy conspiracy plot in AND offers up several music cues DIRECTLY FROM The X-Files) AND of just how crappy mid-90s television could be (the whole thing, seriously, looked like it was shot on video -- the kiss of death for a drama). Plus, Raver just didn't have what it took at the time to be a series lead. And the attempts to make Knepper hot didn't work. At all.

My hackles rose instantly. The editing of the piece was so jumpy, so hectic that the plot was making little to no sense. I had to make several leaps of logic with it. I THINK I knew what was going on, but the audience I watched it with was clearly baffled.

Then it hit me.

This was a pilot PRESENTATION.

In the mid-90s, it was briefly popular for the networks to produce PRESENTATIONS of shows that were essentially half hour pilots of shows that would be an hour long. It was an attempt to show what the show might LOOK LIKE on a much, MUCH cheaper budget. Temp tracks were placed in for the score, and oftentimes, the productions were shot on video. Somehow, TV Preview got its hands on one of these and has been showing it, apparently, since 1999 (if viewer comments strewn about the Internet are any indication).

And if I had ANY doubts about the show, they were ameliorated when one of the characters talked about the "approaching millennium."

So Raver, who has a new show on ABC next year, and Knepper, who is still on Prison Break, get to look like fools, and everyone in the room laughs at how bad the show is.

There were a few cursory questions about the show that didn't really resemble a REAL focus group (they just asked us the most basic of basic things, probably to throw us off the scent). And then they showed us an episode of City.

City was a show that aired in 1990 on CBS (in the then-powerful Monday night lineup). It lasted half-a-season, and was mostly notable for having what now appears to be an all-star cast (Valerie Harper, Ted from Scrubs, Liz Torres). Plus, it was created by Paul Haggis.

I'll be honest. This pilot wasn't all that bad. I would probably check out a second episode. But the flimsy rationale the TV Preview people gave made NO SENSE. They said the show had been canceled because of a Valerie Harper pay dispute (which, honestly, had happened before), but now she had seen the error of her ways and wanted to return to do the show again.

After 16 years?!

Once this show was over, we got to circle MORE of our favorite products, and I finally realized what was up. They were trying to see if the ads had changed our preferences at all! I went out of my way to circle EACH and EVERY product I had seen advertised. I'm sure they think they got through to me, and that my next hair dye purchase will be made with their market research in mind.

Then we got to answer a long questionnaire about the ads and how we feel about our bladder control problems.

This was one of the most ridiculous evenings I've ever spent. Everything about it was horrid, from the shows to the presentation to the little questionnaires. The only redeeming aspect was the old man in a neck-brace who yelled, in a thick German accent, no less, "Will there be laugh tracks?" before the start of the presentation and his disgruntlement when he learned there would, indeed, be laugh tracks.

A cursory search of "Kim Raver" Soulmates on Google turned up person after person who had to sit through this stupid program. So I'm telling you. If you get the tickets in the mail, just don't go. Please.

I could have spent those two-and-a-half hours writing or blogging or even watching GOOD TV. Instead. . .

But let's not think of that.