Tuesday, January 31, 2006

National Gorilla Suit Day - Take Your Gorilla Suit To Lunch

It's National Gorilla Suit Day!

Of course this brings to mind the single worst and yet most beloved gorilla suit I've ever seen. By their very nature gorilla suits aren't particularly attractive - on the whole in fact an insult to gorillas in Rwanda Burundi and every zoo in the world. However the gorilla suit used on the
Wayne & Shuster Show was perhaps the homeliest and most unrealistic ever. It was neatly groomed and probably made at a time when they didn't use synthetic fibers to make gorilla suits. The colour, as I recall, wasn't actually black but rather close to a chocolate or coffee brown. However, the single most memorable feature was that this gorilla was bald. No, I don't mean totally without fur or with patches of fur missing from parts of it's body. Rather the head was similar to nothing less than a bald man from the face up to the top of the head was bare brown - rubber I guess - in a pattern of baldness that basically reminds one of any bald man. It is impossible to truly do justice to this gorilla suit without seeing it, and I wish I had art for this, but I haven't been able to find a picture anywhere online. The suit was suit was, if I'm not mistaken, used by the boys since at least the 1960s and possibly in the 1950s, until Johnny Wayne's death in 1990 ended the act.

New Poll - What Night Has The Most Shows That you "Must See"

I meant to get this out sooner, but I was involved in a rather long online Poker tournament Sunday night-Monday morning (a bit of a breakthrough for me since I had an excellent finish in Razz, a variant of Poker that I've only just started playing) and was swamped with other stuff on Monday.

This poll is actually a recycling of one of three that I ran on October last year, and I'm running it to see if there has been any shift in the viewing habits of my readers based on the actual shows that have are on now. I'll probably run the same poll again in May or June.

Feel free to comment here on the why you voted the way you did.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Blogroll Update

So I hadn't actually planned that this would be such a light week for posting. I was part way through a review on The Office (finally - I had planned to review this in the first season and then in the beginning of the second season but stuff kept getting in the way including a lackluster season of what is still my favourite reality show, maybe my favourite TV show, The Amazing Race) but I managed to lose it. I also planned on a couple of articles about TV business, at least one of which will get written today, but I wanted to do both. But then I discovered sufficient impetus to update my blogroll, so that's what you get for now. Oh yeah, and I'll probably get a new set of polls up for Monday.

- Wistful Vistas is now off the roll largely because the creator has announced that he won't be doing any more with it, which was fairly obvious since it hasn't been updated since October. Too bad, since Old Time Radio is pretty much the father of series Television. Who knows how TV would have developed if it didn't have the season and continuing story model of Radio. That's the sort of thing I had expected Wistful Vistas to look at but the blog never seemed to get traction.

- Center for Creative Voices in Media Blog is pretty much a business blog. The focus is on the business of television and cable with a particular focus on the impact of media and cable concentration, and official and unofficial censorship on creativity in the media.

- John Kenneth Muir's Reflections on Film/TV. Muir is a professional writer who, in this blog, focuses on science fiction on TV and movies as well as his passion for TV related toys like the Eagle from Space: 1999. Generally interesting stuff though.

- The TVShowsOnDVD.com Blog is an essential supplement to the website which in itself is Indispensable if you want to find out what TV series are available or are going to be available on DVD. The blog allows Gord Lacey and Dave Lambert the opportunity to discuss things that the structure of the parent website necessarily doesn't permit, such as the potential impact of the iPod video as an alternative to DVD, or why series show up on Region 2 DVDs much sooner than they do on Region 1. Good stuff.

- What's Alan Watching? is a personal blog from professional TV critic Alan Sepinwall. Old timers from the rec.arts.tv newsgroup - like Ian J. Ball and I - remember the halcyon days when Alan, who is the TV critic for the Newark Star-Ledger, was a regular participant in the group. Needless to say his knowledge of the TV business put most of the rest of us to shame, but his opinions always carried a certain amount of weight - except among those who disliked him on general principle. Worth reading as both a critic and a blogger with added perceptions. This blog seems to have been a fairly well kept secret until recently when he mentioned the possibility that Tommy Schlamme and Aaron Sorkin might be at the NBC Press Tour leading to speculation that they'd be writing at least one episode of The West Wing. It proved to be false but it did catch the attention of a lot of people including "Wingnuts" like me.

I'll probably have more stuff for you later today.

Friday, January 27, 2006

An Apology

I made a truly hideous omission yesterday which I only discovered this morning when I drifted over to Mark Evanier's blog (as I do every morning). Yesterday, January 26, was the birthday of the greatest character actor ever to grace the movie or TV screen. Yesterday Charles Lane - Homer Bedloe himself - turned 101 years young. I think I missed it because of all the attention being given to Mr. Lane's old piano teacher - Wolfgang Amadeaus Mozart's birthday is today. In fact CBC2 is playing his music all day today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Random Meme

Here's something I found on BlogExplosion and thought was sort of interesting. It's a meme with the following instructions:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
5. Don’t search around and look for the “coolest” book you can find. Do what’s actually next to you.

The only thing I can't figure out is if they mean the fifth complete sentence on the page or the fifth sentence, where the first sentence starts on page 122. I've decided to go with the latter, but do what you want. The book is Ball Of Fire by Stefan Kanfer (a biography of Lucile Ball which includes the infamous naked Lucy photo) and the sentence is: "To Lucy, who was brought up in the humdrum sphere of a moderate, well-to-do, middle western, mercantile family, show business is the most glamorous field in the world." (The sentence is part of the premise that Jess Oppenheimer came up with for I Love Lucy.

Let's see, I have to pass this thing on, so how about Sam, Linda, and Ivan, literate types all. I'd add Tim if I thought there was any hope that he'd do it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Well Ain't That A Kick In The Gonads

UPN and The WB will be merging to become the CW Network starting this fall.

Here I was, planning to take advantage of actually getting my TV on DVD stuff done on time for once by waxing a bit nostalgic about the newly cancelled West Wing and they dump this on me.

According to the Reuters report the new network will be a "50-50 joint venture" between CBS-Paramount (owners of UPN) and Warner Brothers Television.

Worth noting is the attitudes of the two corporate heads about their existing networks. Les Moonves said, "UPN was approaching a point where we were hoping to break even, and we were getting close." On the other hand Barry Meyer CEO of Warner Brothers Entertainment said, "We saw coming down the pike a challenged landscape to keep (WB) alive." Both expressed hopes for long term profitability for the merged network, which will follow the WB's programming plan of broadcasting Monday through Friday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern and Sundays from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. with a primetime block running from 7 to 10. There will also be a Monday to Friday afternoon block from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern, and a five hour Saturday morning animation block for a total of about 30 hours weekly. Tribune Corporation has signed its sixteen WB affiliates to a ten year deal with the new network and CBS has done the same with its ten UPN affiliates. Dawn Ostroff, currently head of Entertainment at UPN will take the same role at CW while John Maatta, Chief Operating Officer at The WB will become COO at the new network.

In a press release Moonves stated, "This new network will serve the public with high-quality programming and maintain our ongoing commitment to our diverse audience. It will clearly be greater than the sum of its parts, delivering excellent demographics to advertisers, and building a strong new affiliate body. Additionally, The CW will be able to draw from the creative talent and production resources from the top two television production studios in the business, while also seeking programming from all sources - independent producers or other studios. With this move, we will be creating a viable entity, one well-equipped to compete, thrive and serve all our many publics in this multi-channel media universe."

The new network starts with a wide variety of programming assets to draw upon including: America's Next Top Model, Beauty and the Geek, Smallville, Gilmore Girls, Supernatural, Veronica Mars, Everybody Hates Chris, Girlfriends and Reba. The WWE's Smackdown, which has been a mainstay at UPN, is expected to play a role in the schedule (UPN's contract with the WWE was up for renegotiation).

According to the analysis provided by The Street, "Both WB and UPN have had brief periods of ratings success, with the younger-skewing WB in particular enjoying a period of rising fortune. But neither has achieved ongoing ability to establish itself as a network ratings leader. The result: high TV production and marketing costs and declining audiences for television have put pressure on both networks. Together they should be able to reduce costs and overhead. A merger also brings scale to the combined entity, allowing it to better compete in a world with a fragmented audience." On the other hand Now Playing Magazine's website headlined its coverage "UPN and WB to Merge; Viewers Likely Won’t Notice"

The Big Question of course is what the new network will show. The list of shows that are "likely safe" includes Veronica Mars, America's Next Top Model and Everybody Hates Chris from UPN and Smallville, Gilmore Girls and Supernatural from The WB, with Smackdown's continued availability probably dependent on negotiations with the WWE (it wouldn't break my heart if it weren't there though). The suspicion from a lot of people though is that the programming from the new network will have a high content of WB shows continuing. I think it's also possible that the new network will take the opportunity to clean house and develop the bulk of the new lineup as new shows.

Getting beyond press releases we come to the question of what it all means. There's at least one thing that most people won't pick up on and that is that there is going to be a sudden increase in the number of independent stations in areas where either UPN or The WB have affiliates that are competing with CBS or Tribune owned affiliates of the new network. It's possible that we might see a slight revival of the first run syndication market, particularly since many of these stations will be in the top 25 markets. What does the Los Angeles UPN affiliate show when there are no more UPN shows available to it?

Oh, and the name? It's very pedestrian - it's the first letters of CBS and Warner Brothers. According to BrandWeek.com Moonves quipped "We couldn't call it the WC for obvious reasons."

TV On DVD - January 24, 2006

Missing: Season 2
- Okay, now this one is curious in a lot of ways. TVShows On DVD lists this as 1-800-Missing but Amazon in both the US and Canada just calls it Missing and so does the cover of the DVD. Apparently that's because the show changed its title in the second season. Then there's a little problem in that as near as I can tell they've never released Season 1 of this show - the one that actually was named 1-800-Missing. There is a difference, with Gloria Reuben leaving the series after the first season and being replaced by Viveca A. Fox who is reportedly far less effective than Reuben was. I haven't seen this show, since it airs on the rather labyrinthine structure that is the CHUM empire (specifically it's on their small city network "A-Channel" not their main "CITY-TV" network - and neither is seen in Saskatoon) and on Lifetime in the US. It's at a point where it doesn't seem worthwhile.

Allo, Allo!: The Complete Series Four
- When I talked about the third season DVD release of Allo 'Allo! I made the comparison between this show and Hogan's Heroes. I stand by this although of course I was castigated somewhat by Ivan Shreve for not mentioning the link between this show and the drama Secret Army. The big thing of course is that this show is pure farce, that art form that the British do so very well and which the Americans so rarely grasp. The series uses accents in a way that is truly amazing, particularly with Office Crabtree - the British Agent posing as a French Police Officer with an accent that would amaze Peter Sellers as Clouseau.

Avatar: The Last Airbender, Book 1 - Water, Vol. 1
- An anime style American made series for Nickelodeon. Full of references relating to Eastern mysticism, it is by all accounts extremely well done and has received two 2005 Pulcinella Awards and been nominated for three Annie Awards including "Best Animated Television Production". It airs on YTV in Canada but at an hour when I'm unable to see it.

Dallas: The Complete Fourth Season
- The fourth season of Dallas saw the final resolution of the "Who Shot J.R.?" story line from the third season, as well as the reason why the Ewings didn't prosecute the person who did the shooting. Beyond that there was the usual mix of infidelity, double and triple (and occasionally quadruple) dealing, boozing and the inevitable cliffhanger (which, much to J.R.'s disgust didn't leave Cliff hanging - bad joke). Sadly this was the last season with Jim Davis as Jock Ewing, although the series kept Jock alive for another half season or so. It did see the addition of Howard Keel as Clayton Farlow as a guest star playing the father of Sue Ellen's latest paramour. His character, Clayton Farlow, would eventually replace Davis as Miss Ellie's husband.

My Little Pony: Two Great Pony Tales
- More poorly animated kidvid. Fortunately I have a nephew so this will mercifully be off my radar.

Saturday Night Live: Best Of Alec Baldwin
Saturday Night Live: The Best of David Spade

- I'm actually surprised at just how many episodes of Saturday Night Live Alec Baldwin has been on (a dozen or so) - almost as surprised as I was to discover that he had been the narrator of the Thomas the Tank Engine series after George Carlin. (So why isn't this available from Amazon.ca?) Of course I don't think I've actually seen any of them since the last episode of SNL I watched in its entirety (or even partially) was the episode that Wayne Gretzky hosted - and I didn't watch it very long. As a result, I think I pretty much missed David Spade. My exposure to him came through Just Shoot Me and believe me that was enough.

Time Tunnel: Volume 1
- I only saw two Irwin Allen TV series in their original runs, Lost In Space and this. Of the two, I liked The Time Tunnel better. Maybe because I was a fan of DC Comics' Legion Of Superheroes stories, the concept of being lost in time seemed far more interesting than being lost in space. Or maybe it was just that space travel was more real to us in the 1960s.

Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss: The Cat's Home But Not Alone
- More Dr. Seuss without actual Dr. Seuss. The characters are the ones Theodore Geissel created and was well received in terms of honours at the time but, apparently it was lacking in "Dr. Seuss-ness" and was cancelled after one season on Nickelodeon.

Monday, January 23, 2006

To My Fellow Canadians

Vote as you will, but vote!

And if you don't vote, don't come bitching to me about the result because as far as I'm concerned if you don't participate you give up the right to complain about the government.

And Justice For All

It must be nice to live in Dick Wolf's world. You know, the one where the cops never arrest the wrong man and the justice system never sends and innocent person up the river or worse. That's the central feature of his main series Law And Order. Doubt is for namby pamby series like NYPD Blue. Wolf has publicly stated that there will never be a heroic, or even really likable defense council in one of his shows. In fact in the last attempt to create a Law And Order spinoff Law And Order: Trial By Jury the only people worse than the criminals were the defense attorneys, a group so much more vile than the murderers that the show dealt with because they knew the "truth" about their clients and not only didn't drop them like hot potatoes and tell the prosecutors all the heinous little details but kept coming back to defend more and more of these evil characters. I'd like to think that explains why Law And Order: Trial By Jury was quickly dismissed to the ash heap of television history.

Well I don't live in Dick Wolf's World. I can name four men - Steven Truscott, David Milgard, Donald Marshall, Guy Paul Morin - convicted in Canada of murders that they didn't commit. If Canada had the death penalty these men would have been executed, and indeed Steven Truscott was briefly on death row at age 14 - his sentence was commuted less than a year after his conviction because of his age and he was released on parole in 1969. His case was reopened in 2002 and is under investigation by the Ontario Court of Appeals. A fifth man, Wilbert Coffin, was executed in the 1950s after being convicted on a combination of circumstantial evidence and political interference in the nightmare that was Maurice Duplessis's Quebec. Cases like these are why I oppose the death penalty - if you make a mistake it's pretty hard to correct it. It's also why I don't like Dick Wolf's World and only watch Law And Order: Criminal Intent because the Goren character is so fascinating. It also explains why - once I actually saw it - In Justice grabbed me isn't likely to let me go anytime soon.

In Justice follows the work of the fictional National Justice Project, which is based on the actual Innocence Project which works to exonerate wrongly convicted people through the use of post conviction DNA testing. The office of the National Justice Project in the San Francisco-Oakland area is headed by lawyer David Swaine (Kyle MacLachlan from Twin Peaks) and former San Francisco detective Charlie Conti (Jason O'Mara, last seen in The Agency). They are surrounded by a group of young and idealistic people who work at investigating cases.

One interesting thing about this show is the opening, which seems to be almost a response to Law & Order. That show starts with "In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police, who investigate crime; and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. These are their stories." It is an opening which makes it pretty clear that the cops and prosecutors always get the right man, at least in this show. In Justice opens with the line "Every trial results in a verdict, but not every verdict results in the truth. This is what the jury believed..." before launching into a recreation of the crime as presented by the prosecution, a view which Swaine, Conti and the rest of their team are out to discredit. In the episode which aired on Friday, a teenaged boy had been convicted of killing his sister after a night of video games, rock music and pills. This in turn was presented by a sleezy tabloid journalist with backdoor access to evidence, which in this case includes a conviction from the accused. It's this that Conti picks up on - the cop interrogating the teenager mysteriously changed his shirt indicating that the interrogation went on a lot longer than the few minutes that the prosecution claimed. This is enough to get Swaine interested in the case. Swaine manages to reopen the case and gets in touch with the "journalist" for access to all the interrogation tapes. He turns them over after Swaine threatens to reveal the guy's source in the District Attorney's office - he also sent along an industrial strength magnet to erase the tapes. After all, creating a shadow of a doubt about the case wouldn't be as good a story as "Teenagers who kill." When they do get access to the original tapes, they discover that the cops have used what are at best questionable methods in interrogating their suspect. It's nothing entirely illegal - they lie to the suspect, tell him his parents want to have nothing to do with him, say that getting a lawyer would only slow things down, and use a largely discredited technology (Voice Stress Analysis) which they tout as "science". The last is a particularly interesting moment; one of the cops tells the suspect "You've seen CSI. Science doesn't lie." After sixteen hours of interrogation the kid eventually broke down and confessed.

Conti and the team of young investigators also began looking for alternative suspects. They come up with several. The house was kept locked and only four keys supposedly existed, which leads them to suspect the victim's father. The window of the room where the sister was murdered can be reached by someone agile but there was a stick that kept the window from opening too far. The girl had a 16 year-old boyfriend who was on her gymnastics team. A neighbour reported a suspicious man looking for someone called DeeDee who kept ringing her doorbell. All of these are leads that the cops haven't investigated because they felt that the accused brother "didn't act the right way" about his sister's death. Even if the leads don't pan out - the father is cleared, the "boyfriend" was gay and in any case had an alibi - they did provide additional leads, like the existence of a previously unknown key.

At the same time that the investigation by the "NJP" is occurring the legal battle is engaged. Swaine has to persuade the judge who tried the case originally to allow DNA testing to determine if the convicted teen was responsible for his sister's death. This is complicated by the fact that at the moment they don't have an alternate suspect - all they have is the videotapes. During the course of this we learn something of Conti's reasons for working with the project. The District Attorney's office reviews cases in which Conti had used exactly the same techniques that the cops in this case had used and in which he got the right man. In redirect Conti spoke of one case in which he used those techniques and an innocent man was not only convicted but committed suicide before he could be exonerated. For Conti, one was too many. While the judge was moved by all of this he eventually decided not to overturn the verdict on the grounds of "finality". When Swaine objects he is found in contempt of court, but sees time in jail as an opportunity for publicity.

I liked this show. The main characters of Conti and Swaine are clearly passionate about their work, and O'Mara in particular was strong in his role as the cop attempting to atone for what he perceives as the wrong he committed years before. In this episode at least Swaine is more of a cypher - we don't know why he does this work except perhaps because he likes the publicity and being a "crusader". I must confess that I've never been a particular fan of Kyle MacLachlan. Still I think he's well suited for the flamboyant and passionate Swaine who on occasion needs to be reined in by the calmer but no less passionate Conti. The lesser characters in this series are less distinct. For the most part they seem to blend into a sort of amorphous blob, indistinct as individuals although this may be because I've only started watching the series. The cops - at least in this episode - tend to be somewhat one dimensional, but of course we don't see their motivation beyond trying to clear the case.

For me the most appealing aspect of this show is that it takes a contrarian point of view when compared with so many other shows which are on TV these days, even Close To Home, the CBS show which is on opposite In Justice. In so many shows the cops investigate every lead in order to find the real killer, so of course the suspect who eventually goes to court is guilty. In Justice gives us cops who aren't perfect, and while not corrupt or violating a person's rights still manage to perform in a way that needs correction. This show is definitely worth having a look at as one of the better mid-season dramas of the year, and with any luck (or perhaps I should say justice) should be on ABC's schedule for next season.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

TV ON DVD - January 17, 2006

I know I'm late in posting this, but I am posting this.

Normally I don't talk about my poker playing here but this particular hand deserves to be immortalized online. I'd just made the money in a Freeroll Tournament on Full Tilt Poker. I had a very small stack so when I saw that my hole cards were AK (unsuited) I moved all in. I was called by two other players. The Flop came down as AK5, all clubs. The other two players went all in. One player had a pocket pair of 5s to make a Set (three of a kind) while the other had J of clubs - 6 of diamonds for a Flush draw. The Turn card was the Q of clubs, and the river was the 10 of clubs. Everyone had an Ace high Flush, but the guy with the worst hand of the three of us won the pot because his Flush was a Royal Flush. Amazing.

The Adventures of Superman: The Complete Second Season
- The major change in the second season of The Adventures of Superman was the replacement of Phyllis Coates with Noel Neill as Lois Lane. Certainly Neill is probably the most familiar version of Lois to most viewers - indeed she seems to have been the major model for the version of Lois who appeared in the comics - and this DVD set contains a documentary appreciation of Noel Neill featuring Jack Larson and Leonard Maltin. Otherwise the series continued with it's cheap effects and absolutely perfect casting of George Reeves as Clark Kent and Superman.

Doogie Howser, M.D.: Season Three
- Season three of Doogie Howser M.D. runs into the usual problem for a series of this sort. With Doogie aging and more importantly his high school friends graduating and going their own ways (specifically his girlfriend Wanda leaves for Chicago although the character remains in the series for this season) the qualities that made this series special start to go away. The older he gets the less special he becomes both as a Doctor and as the hook to hand the series on. It would only last one more year.

Fraggle Rock Down in Fraggle Rock
- I'm not entirely certain what's on this DVD - the Amazon.ca listing gives no details. Fraggle Rock was a very enjoyable series however and most episodes had something to offer.

Good Morning World
- Wow, this is an extremely obscure series to see coming out on DVD. From 1967 it starred Joby Baker and Ronnie Schell as a pair of Los Angeles morning DJs, and Billy DeWolfe as the station manager. About the only person from the cast who most people would know is this little blonde girl playing Sandy Kramer (whoever she might have been). It was Goldie Hawn in her very first role.

Lois and Clark: The Complete Second Season
- Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman was a favourite series of mine, and the second season was a lull before the very bad storm known as season three. There were major changes: Justin Whalen replace Michael Landes as Jimmy Olsen, while Tracy Scoggins (as Cat Grant) and John Shea (as Lex Luthor) were dumped from the series entirely. The latter was probably a major mistake just because Luthor is so tied into the Superman mythos. There were changes behind the scenes as well. On screen, Lois became more enamored of Clark than of Superman, and the second season was the one in which the show began to have fun with the whole idea of someone hiding his identity by putting on a pair of glasses with the episode "Tempus Fugitive". Certainly this wasn't the show's worst season, and in fact there are some rather good episodes.

Mary Tyler Moore: The Complete Third Season
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show (or more correctly just Mary Tyler Moore) has to be regarded as one of the iconic sitcoms of the 1970s. The show broke a lot of new ground even though - at its base - it was something of a retread of The Dick Van Dyke Show with the split between the lead character's home life and work life, and the funny characters at both locations. The big difference of course was that Mary Tyler Moore was playing a single woman, and although there were attempts to give her a love life - and famously for a single woman in the early 1970s, a sex life that didn't include marriage - the show was mainly about her life in the male dominated work place and the female dominated home. Based on her parties, Mary was better at work. Season three sees the first appearances of Ted Baxter's girlfriend Georgette, although she doesn't become a regular fixture until the fourth season, along with the Happy Homewrecker Happy Homemaker Sue Ann Nivens.

Mr. Show: The Complete Collection
- Apparently - since I've never seen it I don't know for sure - Mr. Show (more correctly Mr. Show With Bob and David) was a skit series along the lines of Monty Python's Flying Circus. It ran for four years on HBO and featured Bob Odenkirk and David Cross. Apparently you either loved it or hated it The critics loved it, HBO hated it. This is a six disk set and basically collects the three sets that have already been released. In this particular case the if you've bought two of the setsyou should probably give this a pass but if you only have one, you might want to consider the box set since it is cheaper to buy this box rather than any two sets.

Old Grey Whistle Test, Vol. 2
- The Old Grey Whistle Test (the title comes from the notion that if a certain old grey haired doorman can whistle your song you have a hit) is one of the premier British rock music series. This BBC release features performances from The Who, Roxy Music, Joan Armatrading, Meatloaf, and Hall & Oates among others. If you like music, this is an absolute must.

Titus: Season 3
- This release wraps up Fox's controversial series Titus which was a semi-autobiographical series based on the life and family of series star Chris Titus. It's a thoroughly dysfunctional family portrayed by an outstanding cast which included Cynthia Watros and Stacy Keach. Apparently a number of episodes were banned by Fox, although none are available on this set. Definitely edgy, maybe a bit too much so.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ice Falls

Dancing With The Stars was bound to spawn imitators. Last summer we had So You Think You Can Dance which was the bastard child of Dancing With The Stars and American Idol and while I initially couldn't see it working it was relatively not bad. Now there's Skating With Celebrities which is the bastard child of Dancing With The Stars and the Olympics. This bastard child should have been stopped by the morning after pill. What an awful awful steaming pile of crap. Even Fox, the network that created it, calls it "Train Wreck On Ice!"

I didn't watch it live on either feed that I receive. I sampled a bit during commercials in Criminal Minds and Lost but frankly it was too horrible and I found other things more interesting and compelling - like Speed's coverage of the Barrett-Jackson Classic Car Auction (they had a 1969 E-Type Jag last night that went for about $40,000 and a few minutes later a Mark II Saloon like the one Inspector Morris drove that went for about $30,000 - I'm not a car guy but I was lusting in my heart believe me) - but in the interest of journalistic integrity not to mention the the desire to see just how bad it was, I did tape it. Tape has a great effect on this show; you can skip through the boring and/or bad parts. Of course if you do that you're left with only the performances of Jillian Barberi (with John Zimmerman) and Dave Coulier (with Nancy Kerrigan). And I'm only 40% kidding - they're the only "celebrities" who seem to have any idea of what they're doing on ice skates.

Rather than bore you with the rather grisly details (it was tough to digest) let me try to explain why this show won't be anywhere near the hit that Dancing With The Stars has been.

1. Everyone can dance. More accurately everyone thinks they can dance, as Master P proves every week. Not everyone can skate - I can't (weak ankles) - and even people who can skate can't necessarily figure skate. Dave Coulier ground the toe picks off his figure skates because he kept digging them into the ice because figure skates work and feel different from hockey skates. That still puts him ahead of Todd Bridges (and hands up if you thought he'd turn out to be the most well-adjusted kid actor from the cast of Diff'rent Strokes) who only roller skates and had to wear a baggy costume to hide the elbow pads, wrist guards and knee pads he was wearing, and Debbie - sorry Deborah - Gibson who has never skated before. With the exception of Barberie and to a lesser extent Coulier, these people sucked (and that's not a word I normally use).

2. The choice of pros. Of the professional skaters two are over 40 (Tai Babilonia - 45 - and Lloyd Eisler) and two are over 35 (Nancy Kerrigan and Kurt Browning). Moreover Browning and Kerrigan were solo skaters and the mechanics of working as part of a pairs unit are significantly different from doing a solo. Add to that working with an inexperienced partner and you have an absolute recipe for disaster.

3. There's no viewer participation. In Dancing With The Stars the audience votes, even if they don't know a Tango from a Viennese Waltz. Oddly enough the viewers of Skating With Celebrities probably know more about Figure Skating and can judge it more critically than people who watch Dancing With The Stars. Over the past two or three decades, Figure Skating has been a staple on North American TV and not just at the Olympics or even the World Championships. Over the years we've seen amateur competitions, professional competitions, professional exhibitions, and in Canada hour long shows that a single skater (first Toller Cranston, then Brian Orser, and finally Kurt Browning). In short the general public knows Figure Skating a lot better than they know Ballroom Dancing (as is proven by the continued survival of Master P on Dancing With The Stars) and is capable of rendering competent judgement. Unfortunately they aren't given the chance. A judging panel made up of professional coach Sir John Nicks, fan favourite Dorothy Hamill, and journalist Todd Lund votes on the performances. The team with the lowest combined score after two weeks is sent home. Which is fine and probably wouldn't affect the results any but definitely biases the competition towards Coulier and Barberie who have far more skating experience than any of the other teams. Even then the scores seemed to have been skewed in such a way as to artificially create tension by keeping all of the teams close in terms of points. Here's my fearless prediction - it'll come down to Barberie vs. Coulier and I suspect the one of those two who works for Fox will probably win.

4. This takes off from 3 in that people know skating. This isn't even bad Figure Skating; most of these people would have to spend years working to achieve bad. The result though is that instead of being entertaining it becomes a rather distasteful farce - or worse a freak show - and why watch farce when in a month you can be watching the absolute best in the world doing what they're best at.

5. About the only people who look like they're actually having fun are Barberi and Coulier. Compare that to Dancing With The Stars where everyone (with the probable exception of Master P) looks like they're having a ball - pun very much intended.

To sum it up Skating With Celebrities isn't the worst show on TV, isn't the worst new show on TV (that double "honour" still goes to The War At Home) and in a world which gave us The Swan and Rebel Billionaire isn't the worst reality show ever. It isn't even the worst "celebrity reality" show - remember I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out Of Here! (which coincidentally also featured Bruce Jenner). However it comes pretty low on the "suckiness meter" in each and every one of those categories. I've seen my first - and last - full episodes though I might continue to sample during commercials, but only because the Barrett-Jackson Auction ends this weekend. If you want to see Figure Skating wait for the Olympics, and if that's too long a wait, rent Ice Castles, Ice Princess and any Sonja Henie movie you can get your hands on. Whatever you do do not waste your time with this!!!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Shelley Winters - 1920-2006

I once said told Stephen Cooke and Tom Sutpen that if you saw Joan Blondell at the stage of her career when I first encountered her, you would never have thought of her as a sex symbol. The same holds true of Shelley Winters. She was a sex symbol at one point in her career. She was a blonde bombshell before Marilyn Monroe - who was her one-time room mate and who by all reports she taught to hold her head in a particularly sexy way - but she tired of it and became what Monroe later wanted to become, a damned good actress with two Oscars and a host of roles in the 1950s that were important and influential. But that wasn't my Shelley Winters.

My Shelley Winters was Mrs. Rosen in the original Poseidon Adventure (her fourth Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor - the photo I have here is of Shelley with her Poseidon Adventure "husband" Red Buttons on the Oscar red carpet many years later), and Julie Andrews (probably bisexual) superagent in S.O.B. (and yeah I watched that movie to see Julie Andrews's boobs, and yeah it was worth it). It was the Shelley who did one shot guest appearances in a variety of unworthy TV shows starting in around 1966 with Batman (as "Ma Parker"). She was apparently memorable in her final major TV role as Nana Mary in Roseanne where she played Estelle Parson's mother despite being only seven years older than her (I never watched Roseanne mainly because I loathe Roseane Barr). But most of all my Shelley Winters was the queen of the talk show. Take a look at her IMDB filmography. Go below the 130 listed parts in movies (mostly theatrical), 20 appearances as herself - several as an Oscar presenter - to her "Notable TV Guest Appearances". There they sit, her talk show appearances on both sides of the Atlantic. These started in 1957 when she did The Steve Martin Show, and included appearances in Britain on something called Late Night Lineup, on Parkinson and it's successor at the BBC Wogan twice each, and even on Ruby Wax's The Full Wax twice. Her last "chat show" appearance - I suppose his qualifies - was on Inside The Actors Studio (something for which she was eminently more qualified than most people who appeared on the show - not only had she attended the Actors Studio, she taught there). She did one episode of the NBC Letterman series Late Night with David Letterman, but her true venue was The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Between March 1970 and March 1991 she made twenty-one appearances on the show. Twelve of these appearances occurred between March 1970 and July 1973. She was a much less frequent guest in the 1980s and early 1990s when I saw her.

Shelley Winters was in her element on Carson. She was outrageous. When I saw her, it always seemed as though she's lubricated herself very well with the backstage booze supply. She'd come out and usually talk about Hollywood in the old days and talk about sex lives - her own and others. They played up her often imperfect memory - I remember one sequence where she couldn't remember the name of one of Johnny's wives, which was important to the story. But some of her most memorable performances occurred before I was able to see the show. In 1969 she was responsible for spreading the incorrect rumour that Jerry Mathers (from the movie The Trouble With Harry and the TV series Leave it to Beaver) had died in Vietnam. But perhaps her most infamous performance was when she dumped an ice bucket full of ice and water over the head of Oliver Reed after Reed made some remarks about women that Shelley took exception to. (I have a suspicion that this tape no longer exists, erased as so many of those early shows were. Too bad - Reed got what he deserved and she was the perfect person to give it too him.) It's worth noting I suppose that that was Reed's first - and last - appearance on The Tonight Show while Shelley made a dozen more appearances, the last just a few months before Johnny's final show

Shelley Winters was a great actress, a great character actress, and a great character. Expect TCM to do a retrospective sometime this week, much to the irritation of people who foolishly believe that a schedule should be sacrosanct.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Family In Crisis Doesn't Need A Laugh Track

I noticed something odd when I was watching the new ABC series Crumbs tonight. No, it wasn't the overbearing laugh track. Oh I noticed it and I'll get into that in a bit, but the decision to use it and with such a heavy hand was scarcely odd, more like about what one would expect the network to demand for this sort of show. No what seemed odd - and maybe it was just me - but sometimes it seemed as if some of the lines weren't exactly in synch with the movements of the characters' mouths. This seemed to happen a lot with Jane Curtin's character, and to a lesser extent with William Devane's character. At times it seemed almost as if the actors redubbed their lines after scenes had been shot, some of them not quite the same as what had been originally said. For reasons I can't explain this bothered me somehow even though, as I said, it could just have been me.

We are introduced to the Crumb family when youngest son Mitch receives a call from his mother Suzanne. She's getting out of the "sanitarium" (what in less sensitive time and for less well off people was called the mental hospital). Mitch is in California where his family believes that he's a successful (and straight) screenwriter, but he decides to fly back to Connecticut to help her to get readjusted - and to keep her from trying to kill her ex-husband again. She was put in the sanitarium for trying to run over her husband Billy and the girlfriend he left her for after thirty years. In Connecticut he reunites with his older brother Jody, the rather immature chef who now runs the restaurant that his parents started. Jody is devoted to his mother, and hates his father for leaving the business and Suzanne. He also deeply resents Mitch apparently for having the "good life" in California. As for their father, Mitch finds him in the hall closet after the brothers get their mother home. He's picking up the last of his stuff to finish moving in with his girlfriend. Billy might have come back but she's pregnant, and he's starting a new life as a "past life massage therapist".

The fact is that all of the characters are hiding secrets, some of which emerge. While Suzanne may hate her ex-husband she moved on too, in the form of a very large African-American orderly named Elvis who she met at the psychiatric facility. Mitch hasn't told his family that he's gay and that the "girl" that he tells them about is in fact his boyfriend (and his shrink). Suzanne of course knew since Mitch was a teen that he was gay and was just waiting for him to tell the family. Nor does he tell them that while he wrote one hit movie, his writing career is stalled. The big secret is about Billy's girlfriend being pregnant. When Mitch blurts this out while trying to convince Suzanne that Billy isn't coming back it sets her off on what seems to be a homicidal rage. Suzanne finds Billy at his new job and pulls a gun on him. Her sons are close behind but aren't exactly effective in disarming her. She pulls the trigger on the gun...which turns out to be one of those lighters shaped like a gun.

Hanging over the family and most of the stresses that they experience is a family tragedy, the death of the third brother, Patrick, in a boating accident a number of years ago. Jody's resentment of Mitch really stems from the fact that he left as soon as he could and then wrote a screenplay about the tragedy which for Jody was all the more real because he was supposed to be with the brother when the accident happened. Jody isn't able to write a new movie because the screenplay he created for his big hit was so personal to him. It may be all that he could have written. Their mother's crutch in the crisis was being with her family and that was shattered when Billy suddenly left her. As for Billy for all that he believes that his affair was just a case of flirting that got carried away, it seems obvious that he was coping by breaking away from his family. In a very real sense this is a family in crisis, one which is finally acknowledging a part of their problems and maybe starting to heal. Of course since this is a comedy, the humour isn't in the actual healing but in never getting much beyond the first step. Inevitably Suzanne will never fully reconcile herself with Billy leaving and will continue to want revenge. Jody will continue to be mad at Mitch despite the fact that his younger brother has moved back home to become the manager of the restaurant (allowing Jody to spend more of his time on the cooking). But that's okay. Dysfunction in and of itself can be funny.

This of course is where the Laugh Track comes into the equation. I am not totally opposed to Laugh Tracks; used properly and with a certain surgical precision they can sweeten the reaction of a live audience and give a joke that received a lukewarm response to a somewhat higher level. Unfortunately the person who was in charge of the laugh track for this show had the subtle hand of a drunk with a sledge hammer, and apparently no live audience response to sweeten. Every funny line or incident gets one of those over the top reactions that is the hallmark of a badly used laugh track, and it sometimes seems as though the same sequence of laughter was used over and over again. It's as if the producers are determined to tell us "This is the funny bit, you laugh here" just in case we didn't recognise it. I feel more than vaguely insulted.

I'm not sure about the cast either. Just about everyone is talking about this the return of Fred Savage to network TV as though he was gone longer than his time on the series Working would have indicated. He's nice enough but he seems to mostly be playing the "straight" man in this one, at least so far. For me this series is all about the marvellous Jane Curtin as the bitter angry medicated Suzanne. Sure she chews the scenery and has the sort of wild-eyed look that makes you want to lock up the china, but she is absolutely letter perfect for this part. I have more of a problem with William Devane but I suppose that's because I'm not a huge fan of Devane as a comedic actor. He always comes across to me as though he's trying too hard to be funny and that's also true in this show. Rounding out the Crumb family is Eddie McLintock as Jody. I'm not sure what I can say about him beyond the fact that he plays off of the other actors reasonably well even though, as yet, his character is little more than an immature kid in a man's body.

I think I'm being influenced by something I read about this show today (actually I know I am) but I think it's accurate - Crumbs is trying a bit too hard to let you know that it's something different. Moreover, I'm not sure that ABC really knows how to handle different. This show is a big departure from According To Jim or Faith And Hope - heck it's a big departure from Emily's Reasons Why Not and Jake In Progress (and given that the network has pulled both of those next Monday for a double dose of The Bachelor we know how those two are working out) - and I don't think the network is too sure of their footing here. Sure they want the sort of critical acclaim that a show like Arrested Development gets, but they don't quite want to go as radically different as that show is. The net result is neither fish nor fowl - it doesn't stray far enough from conventional to truly stand out but is far enough out that it's going to have a tough time catching people who want conventional. I'm also going to suggest that the network doesn't have that much confidence in the show. They're hoping that the people who watch Dancing With The Stars will stay on ABC for this but if they must have known that they'd be going up against a truly different show in The Office, which means that they're burning Crumbs off as a good idea that didn't quite gel. If you're in the market for a comedy that's different from the run of the mill, change the channel after Dancing With The Stars and watch The Office.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

TV On DVD - January 10, 2006

A little late but I had to deal with some browser troubles earlier on Tuesday so I'd like to think I'm excused. Another week with a small but interesting list. Of particular note is the fact that over half of the sixteen titles this week are British series, some of which appear to have had either limited release in North America or none at all. Some of them seem rather interesting.

Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda: Season 5, Collection 3
- By the time Season 5 of Andromeda appeared I had dropped the series, and although I've seen some episodes from Season 4 I've felt no reason to pick it up. What I find of interest in this package is two things: the cost and the fact that for the price you're only getting four episodes. The price is the equivalent of what you'd pay for a full season of something like NYPD Blue so the question becomes what makes this "worth it"? The fact is that there doesn't seem to be a really good answer that I can find. Assuming that this season is collected in a boxed set as the other seasons have, you are probably better off to wait for that to happen as the price appears to be significantly better than buying the season bit by bit, even if you do apparently have to deal with "flippers".

As Time Goes By: Reunion Special
- PBS has apparently decided to move quickly to release the As Time Goes By Reunion specials to DVD in the United States. These originally aired in Britain at the end of December 2005, so this is quick work. Worth buying? Well if you're a fan of the show or if your a fan of either Dame Judy Dench or Geoffrey Palmer, then I'd say most definitely.

Black Books: The Complete First Series
- Another British series, and one which I can't recall having seen, or even heard mentioned until this DVD release (which I suppose should indicate that it has aired her and I've just missed it). About "a foul mouthed, eccentric, misanthropic Irish drunkard" who owns an independent book store despite the fact that he doesn't like the people who buy books and frequently directs his insults at them. Oddly enough this sounds more interesting than some of the stuff I have seen from Britain recently.

The Flash: The Complete Series
- I loved this show, and surprisingly I didn't like it as much as my brother did. In part I loved the series because it was self-referential and often seemed to overindulge in "in jokes" like the time when The Flash raced by a theater showing a double bill of Superman and Batman, or an address being at the corner of Carmine and Infantino (or was it Infantino and Giordano?). Comic geeks got jokes like that. The series also had some great villains played by surprising people - Mark Hamill as "The Trickster" in two episodes, and David Cassidy as "The Mirror Master". The series never caught on with the general public however and was cancelled after one season. The DVD set includes the pilot however one weakness is that it contains no extras at all. Still a must have for fans of the comic book or the series. That means YOU Greg.

Hee Haw, Vol.5 (Dolly Parton)
- Hee Haw was never loved by the sophisticated audience or the urbane urban audience but it had something going for it - corny (in every possible way) humour. In what seems to be a single episode, Volume 5 features Dolly Parton, and regular cast members Lulu Roman and Barbi Benton.

The House Of Eliott: Series Two
- I remember liking the first season of The House Of Eliott but as it continued it increasingly became essentially a period soap opera. It's another one you should buy if your a fan.

Men Behaving Badly: The Complete Series, Vol. 3
Men Behaving Badly: The Complete Series, Vol. 4

- Men Behaving Badly is another of those British series which is impossible to recreate in America... and they did try. There are a lot of reasons. For one thing it was nearly impossible to recreate the chemistry that leads Martin Clunes and Neil Morrisey had with each other, and for another thing I don't think the American producers ever let their characters be as thoroughly loutish as the British characters were. Tony and Gary are about as far away from anything you'd want your son to be - or worse, your daughter to be sleeping with - but of course that's part of what made the show wildly successful. In fact in 1996, during BBC Television's 60th anniversary, it was voted the corporation's best sitcom ever.

Nighty Night: The Complete Series
- Another British "comedy" that I don't know has ever been released here in North America. Julia Davis plays Jill Tyrrell, a who isn't about to let a little detail like her husband being cured of cancer interfere with her being a "cancer widow". This allows her to gain the sympathy of her employees, have an affair with the husband of her neighbour (who has multiple sclerosis), and troll dating services for wealthy men to possibly marry. To say that this is dark is probably an understatement given the number of murders and affairs that go on. Still, it's the sort of thing one can readily imagine from the British.

Red Dwarf: Series 7
- Red Dwarf is one of the great comedic science fiction series. The circumstances surrounding the seventh season which was made four years after the sixth were rather complicated. Craig Charles (Lister) had been accused of rape and exonerated, while Chris Barrie starred in The Brittas Empire, which explains why, when the series eventually returned, Rimmer wasn't always present. There were a number of other changes including bringing back a version of Kochanski (although played by Chloe Annett rather than Clare Grogan). Indeed much of the conflict in this season of the series consists of battles between the mechanoid Kryten and Kochanski over their relationship with Lister. I found it harder to get into than previous seasons, although nowhere near as difficult as Season 8.

Rising Damp, Series 1
- Considered one of the greatest British comedies of all time, Rising Damp is yet another one that I've never seen, although I'm sure it has been available in North America at some point, so the problem has obviously been my inability to find it. The series was adapted from a play called The Banana Box and starred three of the original cast members. It dealt with the inhabitants of a decaying townhouse that had been turned into a rooming house by its miserly owner. The newest tenant is a man with a "posh" who rented the apartment over the phone - he turns out to be black and claims to be an African prince (the play had been inspired by the story of a black man who lived for a year in a hotel by pretending to be an African prince to avoid discrimination).

Strong Medicine Season 1
- I'm pretty sure this one has aired in Canada, on the W Network, but their website doesn't list it as being on their schedule, but if it was there, it explains why I've never seen it - W Network is very much like the show's originating network in the US, Lifetime in that it tends to be aimed at women. Obviously, since I haven't seen it I can't judge.

Urban Gothic: Season 1
- Another British series, this time for Channel 5, which apparently was seen on Bravo here in Canada (which is very different from Bravo in the US), although I have no recollection of it. Beyond the fact that it was a half hour horror anthology from a network that isn't renowned for good or polished programming, I can't tell you much.

Viva la Bam - The Complete Fourth and Fifth Seasons
- Yet another series that I've never seen and again I'm not sure it has ever aired in Canada - if it did it was on the short lived MTV Canada. These are the last two seasons of the show.

Mutual of Omaha's: Wild Kingdom Hunters of the Sky
Mutual of Omaha's: Wild Kingdom African Wild 2

- Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom (to give it the full title) was for many years a staple around our house, and who cares about Johnny Carson's old gag about Marlin Perkins sipping martinis back at camp while Jim is out wrestling alligators - it was a funny bit but you (and Johnny) knew that old Marlin was out there too. These two sets from Brentwood Video offer ten episodes each; based on price alone this must be a single "flipper" disk. Even so, probably worth it if you're into this sort of wildlife programming.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Watch This? Why Not

I just got around to watching Emily's Reasons Why Not thanks to my Monday schedule which keeps me from establishing many ties to TV shows on that night. I tape a couple of shows (Las Vegas and CSI: Miami) and will be taping 24 once it gets back, but for the rest of the shows I normally don't even have time to sample them. I'll catch them in reruns... if they make it that long. Still if you're going to review you should make an effort, so I taped the series premiere of Emily's Reasons Why Not and the season premiere of Jake In Progress and I tried Emily on Tuesday night.

Heather Graham plays Emily, and I have to admit that she's damned cute. Now that shouldn't really matter but for some reason the main characters in this series sort of look the way their characters "should". It's kind of hard to explain but let's take Emily herself. According to the setup, explained in the first minute or two of the pilot, Emily is a young woman who has never had any difficulty in finding reasons not to do things she shouldn't do. This trait has, over the course of the years, apparently kept her for starting smoking (my VCR cut off the first 30 or so seconds of the show so I missed most of the childhood scene that introduced the character) and led her to become a successful editor with a major New York publishing house. The only place where her ability to find reasons not to do something has perpetually failed her has been with regard to the male of the species. In the words of the song, she "falls in love too easily". Most recently she's been involved with Reese, one of her authors, who has written a book called "Hook, Lie And Sinker: The Lies Men Tell Women And The Lies Women Tell Themselves". Clearly, just the act of hooking up with this guy on anything other than a one night stand basis and being surprised when she finds that he's been cheating on her is absolute proof that Emily is hopelessly naive about men. Either that or she's hopelessly optimistic about them which in this case is much the same thing. Which is where Heather Graham's appearance comes in. She has that naive, hopeless optimist vibe going right from the start in no small part because of the way she looks. It certainly doesn't hurt that she's a good enough actress to go beyond just appearance, and at the same time convince us that she's good at her job.

Appearance also plays into the two female members of Graham's supporting cast, Nadia Dajani as Emily's best friend Reilly and Smith Cho as her bitch of a colleague (and former assistant - she was promoted after claiming one of Emily's ideas for her own) Glitter Cho. Dajani has the appearance of someone who has been through the mill a few times and as a result has developed a crusty cynical exterior that Emily lacks. Reilly works with Emily's other best friend Josh (played by Khary Payton) a gay man who has recently moved in with his boyfriend Aknad. Of the three he's got the most stable relationship. When the two of them commiserate with Emily after her break up with Reese, Reilly is unable to resist an oblique "I told you so", which leads Emily to vow to look harder for reasons not to become involved with a man.

Emily's resolve is tested almost immediately when she meets a new man "Stan from marketing". They hit it off almost immediately and start dating. Even Glitter expresses her "approval" by cattily (is it possible to be catty and a bitch?) saying that she'd move in on him if he wasn't taken and then trying as hard as she can to bring Emily and Reese back together. Stan and Emily have fun together and it's almost perfect except for one thing: Stan won't kiss her. In fact any attempt at intimate contact seems to repulse him and when she finally gets him to sleep with her, that's what he does - sleep. Reilly and Josh have suggested that Stan could be gay, although Reilly informs them that some of the best sex she ever had was with a gay man who was trying to prove to himself that he wasn't gay - he kept trying to prove it over and over again for hours on end. Emily doesn't believe them until "evidence" starts to mount up: when Stan sleeps with her he actually sleeps with her, Stan wears makeup (specifically bronzer), Stan subscribes to Martha Stewart Living. The capper is when she tells Reese that Stan is an expert at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and he bursts into a laughing fit calling it the "gayest sport ever". Going with her to see Stan participate in it Josh and Aknad tell her that this is very gay behaviour, and of course when your gay friends say he's gay he must be gay. Emily breaks up with Stan but does it in a very "male" way - she leaves a message on his voice mail (again her judgement in matters related to men is absolutely faulty). The punch line - and of course there has to be a punch line - is delivered by Glitter. She met Stan's sisters the night before and she knows a secret; Stan is a Mormon and a virgin. Unfortunately Emily doesn't find this out until after Stan and about four of his colleagues in the marketing department hear the voicemail break up.

I mostly enjoyed Emily's Reasons Why Not and a lot of it has to do with Heather Graham. She manages to to pull off the goofy side of Emily's personality in a believable manner. Nadia Dajani is solid as the cynical best friend. If I have to find fault with the casting it might be with Khary Payton who seems to be pushing the gayness of his character rather aggressively, coming close to the edge of stereotyping. The smile he gets when watching the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a little bit too much. Smith Cho seems to be there to serve in whatever manner the writers want her to function in - meddler, wannabe Cupid (if being Cupid means she gets a shot at Stan by putting Emily back with Reese) and bringer of what in most situations would be good news. Maybe I just don't have a good read on Glitter yet. As for the show itself, there seems to be a desire in some quarters to compare it to Sex And The City, perhaps because, like Sex And The City it is based on a novel, this one by Carrie Gerlach. Beyond this I don't see the similarity, unless perhaps it's Sex And The City with Charlotte as the lead character. Carrie (or even Charlotte) was never as naive about men, or driven by her hormones, as Emily seems to be. Emily seems to have more in common with Ted from How I Met Your Mother than she does with the women of Sex And The City in terms of trying to find the right "one" in a city full of wrong ones. That's not to compare the two series though. How I Met Your Mother has what I can only describe as a warmer sensibility about it. The supporting characters so far seem more likable. In this Emily does seem to have something in common with Sex And The City.

On the whole I liked Emily's Reasons Why Not - and certainly I found it more appealing than I ever have the show that follows it in ABC's new Monday night lineup, Jake In Progress. The writing seems good and if they can sustain it over the long haul it should be okay. The big problem I see - besides 24, Las Vegas and the CBS comedy lineup - is that I'm not sure the premise will be able to sustain a lengthy run. The premise (based on seeing one episode of course) seems to be Emily meets a guy and becomes "smitten", Emily begins to develop doubts about the relationship, Emily find reasons to end it - valid or not, Emily takes solace in her friends and professional life while looking for the next Mr. Right. How many times can you repeat that before it starts to get old? Of course, given the competition it might not get the chance. It's a show you should at least try to see once while you have the chance.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

New Poll - What Was William Shatner's Greatest Star Trek Performance?

This is apropos of virtually nothing, except that Mark Evanier mentioned the William Shatner DVD Club (no I'm not kidding) as one club he won't be joining, and they had a poll about the grand old man's greatest Star Trek performance. Of course they missed some so I've decided to do my own poll.

This of course is not to be disrepsectful of Shatner's other work. Who can forget his emotional work on TJ Hooker? Or indeed his self-referential scenes in Showtime where he tries to show Robert DeNiro how to slide gracefully across the hood of a car? DeNiro and Shatner - with Eddie Murphy - how is even the silver screen able to handle all that greatness? Not to mention the character of Walter H. Bascomb in the Tekwar series - a concept so great it could only have sprung from the pen of William Shatner. Or how about that early episode of Man From U.N.C.L.E. which not only featured Shatner as a guest star but also Werner Klemperer and Leonard Nimoy. Classic. And how can we possibly forget his performance in Big Bad Mama which featured Shatner in all his naked glory - something to which Angie Dickinson can attest (although anyone who has ever seen the film will state that he definitely got the best of that deal). Even his small work is memorable; how can anyone forget his Priceline commercials - heaven knows I've tried.

(Okay that paragraph was mocking. The fact is that William Shatner has done some good acting. "Denny Crane" is a great comedic part, and a lot of his best acting was early in his career - before he went to Hollywood and was working on the stage. He played a memorable "Romeo" at the Stratford Festival in its early years for example.)

Anyway, here are the performances that the William Shatner DVD Club mentions along with a couple of additional options to round the list out.

Post any other suggestions in the comments please.

But Surely It Obvious?

You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

Grammar God!
How grammatically correct are you? (Revised with answer key)

brought to you by Quizilla

Congratulations! If your mission in life is not already to preserve the English tongue, it should be. You can smell a grammatical inaccuracy from fifty yards. Your speech is revered by the underlings, though some may blaspheme and call you a snob. They're just jealous. Go out there and change the world.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Poll Results - What Was The Big TV "Moment" Of Calendar 2005?

First off, apologies to everyone. I had every intention of reviewing The Book Of Daniel on Friday but Friday morning I woke up with a monster headache and it only got worse through the day - let's put it this way, if Bin Laden and Bush each had this headache the world would have been in big trouble. Basically I'd say I felt like crap through the weekend, but that would be an insult ... to crap.

To the poll. I asked what the big TV "moment" of 2005 was. Voter turnout was less than in the past two polls with 6 voters this time around. I think we can blame the nature of the question for that one. The final episode of The Amazing Race 7 and ABC's memorial to Peter Jennings finished in a tie for fifth with no votes. Randal telling Trump not to hire Rebecca on The Apprentice and Tom Cruise's behviour on Oprah and The Today Show tied for third place with one vote (16% of the total) each. In a tie for first place was the episode of CSI directed by Quentin Tarantino and Kanye West's statement that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." on the NBC Katrina benefit show with two votes (33%) each.

Interesting that three of the four vote getters were live events. The spontaneity of live and generally unscripted television (West had a script but had told Mike Myers before hand that he was going to go off script) is hard to beat for providing memorable situations. In fact the one comment that suggested another choice, from Tele-Toby was another example of live TV - Anderson Cooper's pouring anger into his reports of Hurricane Katrina. I tend to agree and would add that much of the Hurricane Katrina coverage deserved to be included. The question is though what gets included and what doesn't. I think that for 2006 an early contender is going to be the coverage of the West Virginia coal mine disaster, if and when it is finally determined why the reporting happened the way it happened. That said, and while I do find that Kanye West's statement had a great deal of power to it, I think that Tarantino's take on CSI was one of the best things that appeared on TV in 2005. If Tarantino had done the finale of NYPD Blue - which should have been a memorable event befitting its status as one of the best TV shows of the 1990s - it would have been far better than it was.

New poll coming as soon as I figure out a topic.

Friday, January 06, 2006

You Make Me Feel Like Dancin'

Okay I admit it. I should have been watching Four Kings or The Office or My Name Is Earl for review purposes but instead I was watching the second season debut of Dancing With The Stars instead. Yes they are, at best, B-List celebrities, and some of them I've never even heard of (in the case of Kenny Mayne it doesn't help that I'm a Canadian and the only time I see ESPN is at my brother's house on Sundays), and yes I did criticize it last summer, but you know what, it is fun and It does make me feel like dancing if only because I know that I'd be better at it than P Miller. And probably Kenny Mayne.

One thing that has to be said about this season of the show is that they seem to have learned from the mistakes they made last year, the big ones and the little ones. Overall the camera work seems much better. They didn't point a camera at one of the footlights which caused the resulting glare to washed out the screen to obscure the dancers, who were after all the focus of the event. That happened a number of times in the first season, and not just in the first episode. In this first episode the only major problem occurred when one of the hand held cameras crossed in front of the field fo view of one of the studio cameras. Moreover the director seems to have gotten the message that dancing isn't something you can adequately show from the waist up. You have to see the whole body and in particular the feet. More of the shots followed Fred Astaire's rule about filming dance, that you have to see the whole body in every dance sequence.

One major problem has been eliminated with the decision to run a half hour results program on Friday rather than having teams which have already been eliminated in the previous week's voting perform again the second week. A bigger problem for me is the decision to open the phone lines for voting at the beginning of the show before any of the performances have taken place. This just seems to invite the sort of voting which happened last summer. In my mind it is probably better to open the phone lines for a specific length of time after the show has aired. Of course, since this is entertainment rather than a "real" competition - no matter what the participants may want to believe - I suppose it's acceptable. On the other hand I think the ten team formula, which led to the show expanding to two hours this week and 90 minutes next week may be more of a problem. The show didn't seem to flow as well at two hours and it did bring them into opposition with CSI. I think the show would probably do better with a smaller number of contestants - say eight - and as a result a shorter premiere episode.

Another improvement was with the hosting. Last season Tom Bergeron was initially a terrible host. He seemed to regard the whole thing as a big joke and made atrocious jokes through most of the first couple of episodes until it became clear that the show was a big hit. In this first episode he hasn't been joking nearly as much about the experience. In fact he was playing it entirely straight while maintaining a jovial manner. Last summer Bergeron's backstage co-host was former Entertainment Tonight co-host Lisa Canning. Canning isn't back this season but has been replaced by Samantha Harris of E! News. I'm not sure that the change is for the better. The backstage host's job is basically to interview celebrities which was after all Lisa Canning's job at ET and Samantha just didn't seem quite as sharp as Lisa had been.

Of course what we all want to know know is "how was the dancing." Let's just say that it ranged from spectacular to worse than Evander Holyfield ... by several orders of magnitude. Admittedly there were reasons. George Hamilton said broke four ribs falling off a yacht. Tia Carerre had a baby three months ago and is struggling with losing the weight. The best excuse of all of course goes to Master P (also listed as P Miller) who replaced his son Romeo in the competition approximately a week ago. That said he gave the single worst performance of the night. He seemed to make very little attempt to work with the music and on the whole danced the Cha Cha like a traffic cone (male celebrities did the Cha Cha - female celebrities did the Waltz). The man made Evander Holyfield from last season look like a brilliant dancer. With two exceptions the rest of the male dancers were inferior to the female celebrities. George Hamilton - he of the magnificent tan - may have been restricted in some movements by his injury (and his age - 66) which but his dancing seemed to be restricted. He was a slightly more animated traffic cone, and the difference between him and Master P - and the reason why I voted for him - was that he at least seemed to be trying. ESPN's Kenny Mayne was the second male dancer to go and he seemed to combine an inherent lack of ability with a great enthusiasm that led him to be, well silly. At one point he literally waved off a move he was supposed to do when he realize he was out of synch with his partner, Andrea Hale. At other time he made somewhat discreet waves to the audience. But again, unlike Master P he tried. The best of the male contestants were Drew Lachey and Jerry Rice. It was certainly expected that Lachey would put in an excellent performance - he was a member of the boy band 98 Degrees (along with his brother Nick of course), is currently appearing on Broadway in Rent and is married to a choreographer. He didn't disappoint as he earned the top judges marks of 24. The big surprise of the men was former 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice. Her partner, Russian born Anna Trebunskaya seemed dubious at first. She seemed to have no real understanding of American football and in an interview stated that "real men play hockey, or soccer ... or volleyball." On the dance floor however he had a fluidity of motion as well as a strength and most importantly and enthusiasm that was exciting to see. Lachey has a leg up with his previous experience but Rice certainly has a lot of potential as this competition goes on.

The majority of the female dancers tended to be better than the men. None received a score lower than 19. That went to Soap Talk host Lisa Rinna, who made a number of slight missteps through her performance . For all that, I thought that Tia Carrere turned in a satisfactory performance. Her movements were graceful but not particularly spectacular. Spectacular came from WWE wrestler Stacy Keibler who used her previous dance training and very long legs to considerable advantage. For all that her past training might come back to haunt her if the judges expect more from her because of it. Surprises were KTLA morning news personality Giselle Fernandez whose performance was excellent in terms of fluidity, and Tatum O'Neal. Tatum was giving something of a comic performance backstage, although how much of that was the producer's idea is a good question but when it came to the dancing she was spot on.

Dancing With The Stars was an improbable ratings hit last summer. I don't expect it to draw the sort of ratings this winter that it did in the summer particularly on a Thursday night. I think that ABC made a mistake in approaching the series as anything more than cotton candy in the summer. That said I watched it, and will probably watch it again next week, because it can get addictive. Sort of like cotton candy.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Somethin's Happenin' Here

What it is ain't exactly clear.

Well actually it is (at least I think so), but first I suppose I should tell you what's happening that's enough to get me to post about it.

It's January 4 and in most years we are enduring what some people - originally Buffy and Angel fans I think, at least the first time I saw the term was in newsgroups for those two shows - call (cue reverb) Rerun Hell! that period when shows you have become very fond of and which have survived the winnowing (I like that word - it means separating the grain from the chaff) process of Nielsen and November Sweeps take a not particularly well deserved break so that they'll have enough episodes left to show during February and May Sweeps. But take a look at tonight's lineup on the six US networks. ABC has the season debut of Dancing With The Stars; NBC has new episodes of Will & Grace, ER the newly transplanted My Name Is Earl and The Office, and the debut of Four Kings; CBS has new episodes of CSI and Without A Trace; and Fox has a Rob Schneider movie The Hot Chick (which oddly enough is most an improvement over their normal lineup. Only UPN and The WB are airing reruns (well CBS has an older CSI in the Survivor time slot, but that's another story) and in the case of The WB one of the reruns is of their summer series Beauty And The Geek which is a week-long marathon before the show comes back for a second season next Thursday. The trend continues with relatively few exceptions (in one case NBC has The Golden Globes and Fox has two hours of 24 - CBS decided that would be a good Monday to run previously seen episodes) until at least January 17, which is as far as Zap2It goes. In that time you have the debuts of over ten new series including Emily's Reasons Why Not, Love Monkey, Courting Alex, Crumbs, and The Book Of Daniel, as well as the return of a number of series which have either been held back like Scrubs and Jake in Progress, or were intended for a special run, like Dancing With The Stars and 24. This is not normal. In most cases new shows would be held for February sweeps or after sweeps. Just as an example, last year Blind Justice debuted in March. So what is happening here?

The answer is that there's a 2000 lb. gorilla in the room - the kind that not only sits where it wants but doesn't apologise when it breaks stuff. Take a look at this calendar:

The dates with red backgrounds represent the gorilla - the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino. Seventeen days out of the February sweeps period when - short of repeating "Nipplegate" but letting people know it's going to happen first - NBC will win every night. Why? Because even if they think that Curling is something done to women in a hair salon and Skiing is done behind a high powered boat - and more importantly even though NBC offers coverage that can be charitably described as "crap" - Americans will watch the Winter Olympics in prime time (because of course NBC doesn't show the games live even when they're in the United States) in droves to cheer for the Red, White, and Blue.

What's a network without the Olympics to do with such a gorilla? My guess is that with a few exceptions - like 24 they'll get out of the way. I think this is why they're setting up limited run series like Beauty And The Geek, Skating With The Celebrities and Dancing With The Stars to reach a climax during those week and throwing out a few new shows, hoping they'll either build an audience and be relatively safe after the Olympics or (more likely in most cases) will crash and burn so that they can be finished off during the Games. For their regular series I think that February will see a lot of the repeats that January normally does. However the networks without the Olympics can't let NBC benefit from a post-Olympics bounce - thanks to show promotion during the Games - so they seem to have decided to run new shows in January And of course to compete NBC has to run new episodes of their shows opposite the other networks new episodes or else their ratings are hurt. At least that's how I see it

It's all a complex, fascinating, maddening game.