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September 2004 Archives
September 30, 2004
September 24, 2004
The WB's Smallville has been a sassy, often clever reimagining of Superman's youth. The writers delighted in structuring the episodes with parallel themes, juxtaposing the loving Kent family with the pathologically dysfunctional Luthors. Taking a cue from Joss Whedon, they often turned normal teenage problems into Kryptonite-enhanced superpowers. And if the writers sometimes used a sledgehammer instead of a pen, such as when Clark developed heat vision during a heat wave while watching a sex ed film presented by a hot teacher, it was done with a wink and a smile.
As the series has progressed, however, the mythology of Smallville has diverged from that of the comic book Superman-- at least, the Superman I remember. Krypton is destroyed, but Clark's biological father Jor-El somehow appears to have survived-- enough of him remains to communicate with Clark and imbue Jonathan Kent with Kryptonian abilities. Kryptonians apparently visited Earth long, long before Clark's ship crashed. Ancient cave paintings in Smallville feature Kryptonian symbols that appear to fortell Lex's eventual turn to the dark side. The cave walls come alive at Clark's touch, acting more like a supercomputer or Stargate than granite. Instead of having a random effect, red kryptonite always turns Clark into a selfish git. And so forth.
I can live with that. The divergence of the mythology has actually heightened the show's appeal, as the mysteries are slowly unraveled bit by bit. But with this week's season premiere, things appear to have taken a turn for the worse. Best friends Pete Ross and Chloe Sullivan are gone, and the removal of long-time supporting players is often a danger sign. To fill the gap they've brought in Chloe's cousin Lois Lane, shattering the mythological timeline (Clark and Lois don't meet in the comics until Clark shows up to work at the Daily Planet). Lois will apparently be sticking around for quite a while, as she and Clark investigate Chloe's apparent death. But bringing Lois in smacks of desperation. A cameo appearance with the two of them never quite meeting each other would have been delightful, but this long-term relationship rips the show out of the established mythos for good. And that break jumps Smallville over the shark in a single bound.
Part of the show's charm has always been the fact that we, as viewers, know Clark's destiny. Lex Luthor is a brilliantly tragic character, because for all that he desperately wants to be good, we know he's doomed to become evil. Our knowledge of their fates colors our perceptions of the characters, giving stories added nuance. Throwing Lois Lane into Smallville, however, means that everything we thought we knew about the future may not be true. In this universe. In this incarnation. And so those delicious moments of frisson become diminished by doubt.
The new Lana storyline also bodes ill. While making a rubbing of a Parisian tomb in Notre Dame, something mystical happened and Lana blacked out. When she awakened at her apartment, she discovered a new tattoo on her back matching a symbol from her rubbing. I couldn't quite tell if the symbol is meant to be Kryptonian, but I suspect so. That little bit of serendipity strains credulity.
I'm jumping to conclusions after just one episode, but I'm not heartened by the omens that episode contained. I fear that Smallville has lost its truth, justice, and American way.
1. The Survivor deck is being heavily stacked against the fellas. This week's reward challenge put them at a huge disadvantage. There's a reason the balance beam is not part of men's gymnastics. While it might have been a reasonable challenge for mixed-gender teams, for these teams it was ill-conceived.
2. The immunity challenge also favored the women, who are generally better at communicating and working together than men. And if Scout hadn't spaced on their final pieces, the women would probably have taken this challenge also.
3. Apparently Dolly didn't watch Survivor: Amazon, when Christy made the exact same mistake and got voted off for thinking she had all the power and vacillating between two factions, only to be seen as a wild card and get turned on by both. Dumb, dumb, dumb.
4. Has either team even built a shelter?
5. Yawn. Two episodes in, and this season hasn't yet engaged me.
September 23, 2004
If you weren't in front of your television tonight, you missed the premiere of the best new show of the season and quite possibly the most brilliant, well-executed pilot hour in TV history.
Lost, created by JJ Abrams (the man behind Alias), is brilliant from the word "Go!" even as it pays homage to the works to which it owes a debt. The opening shot echoed that of Fox's lamented John Doe, but this man stranded on a remote island is in for an entirely different experience. The first act plunges us directly into the aftermath of a passenger jet crash, as Party of Five's Matthew Fox shakes off his shock to help his fellow victims amidst the chaos. In the space of an hour we get introduced to just a handful of the 48 survivors, with only tantalizing glimpses of others (please, please let Terry O'Quinn not be a government agent / military operative for the first time in his career!). Knowing that nothing's scarier than the unknown, Abrams takes a page from Hitchcock's book and keeps the jungle threat mysterious and unseen. The Jurassic Park sequence, while predictable (I knew the pilot was a goner-- the actor is still part of the Alias cast!), was well-executed and effective. The pacing was spot-on, and the tension palpable.
For those who watched the show, here's my theory. It can't be a dinosaur. That would just be too... too. My money's on something else-- note that the pilot wasn't eaten, just killed. I'm just not sure what killed him. The comment the black woman made early on about the sound being familiar from the Bronx made me think of the subway, so I'm thinking there's a secret government (not necessarily US) underground base on that island. Their countersurveilance tech took out the plane's systems and crashed it. The noises are from underground machinery and are being heard through venting ducts. And they've got some kind of big machine roving the jungle, and the pilot got sucked into a turbine or something.
The two-hour pilot got split into two episodes, so we've only seen half of the setup. And that half was dynamite. Lost has been getting great reviews, so it wouldn't surprise me if ABC decides to rerun this episode later in the week. Watch for it. And add the show to your season pass list. In Elaine terms, it's sponge-worthy.
September 22, 2004
The Amazing Race: Best... finish... ever. Colin and Christie were so consistently dispicable throughout the race, I couldn't bear the thought that they'd walk away with the money. I was thrilled when they fell into last place, and writhed in anguish as Colin overtook Karen during the climb. With the bowling moms gone and Brandon and Nicole blaming their successes and failures on God instead of themselves, that left Chip and Kim as the team to root for. Then they took forever changing clothes in the taxi instead of on the gondola, putting them in last. When they crashed twice on the luge, it was killing me.
Then they got a miracle.
From that moment on, my gut was in a knot. As they struggled to switch from the delayed flight to an earlier arrival, I was as stressed as the teams were. When Colin had the inspired idea to call ahead for a towncar driver who drove fast and knew the area well, I thought that might make the difference. The editing of the drive to the final pit stop was the most effective suspense-builder of the season, and when we saw that it was Chip and Kim I cheered out loud. Not so much because they won, but because Colin and Christie didn't.
Never underestimate the value of a good villain.
I don't think The Amazing Race deserves the Emmy for best reality show-- Survivor is still the king in my book-- but this was a super finale.
If The Amazing Race is reality writ large, nothing's smaller than Big Brother 5. Hypocracy was the order of the day, as bitter contestants with no shot at the prize railed against the perceived slights against them by the remaining contestants, oblivious to their own flaws. The most glaring example was Nicomus, who claimed for her blood is thicker than water and yet she was the one who, after promising she'd never nominate her half-brother, went ahead and did it anyway. Pffft.
And despite the 4-3 count, to my eyes it wasn't even close. Drew played a much better game than Michael who-- let's face it-- couldn't strategize himself out of a paper bag. He earned his second place by being the village idiot and flying under the radar. Which would be respectable if it had been his strategy, rather than his personality. As is so often the case, the best player in the game (Diane) finished in third place.
September 21, 2004
Culinarily, I can't recall a nastier surprise than when today's artichoke heart and barbeque chicken pizza slice at lunch turned out to be a slice of artichoke heart and salmon pizza. Chocolate and peanut butter has nothing to worry about from that flavor combo. I've had tuna fish on a pizza before, and it was actually rather good, in a why-didn't-I-just-get-pepperoni-instead-of-trying-something-different kind of way. Salmon swings Cajun, blackened on a roll with creole mayo and grilled onions. It dresses up French, in papillote with lemon and dill. But if you must ship salmon off to Italy, leave the mozzarella and marinana sauce behind. Your gastrointestinal system will thank you.
September 20, 2004
I'm swamped with poker. The new television season is upon us, and my Tivo is still crammed with dozens of hours of cards-- World Poker Tour, World Series of Poker, Celebrity Poker Showdown, Ultimate Poker Challenge-- at this point, I've watched far more poker than I've played. But wait, there's more. Harrah's-- who bought both Binion's Horseshoe and the World Series of Poker name last year-- has announced they're starting a new World Series of Poker Circuit of seven televised tournaments, competing head-on with the World Poker Tour. Players will earn points as well as cash, with the high-ranking players earning seats at the Main Event (which will be held at both the Rio and Binion's next year, to accommodate the expected 5,000 players).
In my ideal universe, we'd have a World Pinball Tour. But I don't think the pinball-cam would be very popular.
September 17, 2004
Let's start with Survivor. Was it just me, or was this the least interesting premiere episode in the show's history? That opening ceremony was a lame-brained idea. We watch the show to see the interplay among the contestants, not to see them sitting on the sidelines watching a show. A complete misfire. Worse, it caused the players to arrive at their camp sites after dark, so we missed out on the usual first day food/water/shelter dynamics. We never did see the men build a shelter. Then Brook gets blindsided and voted out by a cowardly band of his teammates who are already thinking of individual survival instead of the good of the team. Loudmouth Chris singlehandedly brought his team to tribal council, and should have been the one to pay for it.
The loudmouth did get the axe over on NBC's The Apprentice, in the most controversial firing yet. Ok, cockily stripping yourself of immunity is a stupid thing to do, but Bradford could have saved himself with a little sleight of mouth. All he had to do was say that he believes himself to be the strongest player, and he's willing to put himself up against anyone else in the boardroom because his skills are better than anyone else's, yada yada yada. We never saw him do that. Trump seemed fixated on the stupidity of putting himself at risk, but it was clear to Bradford that he wouldn't be at risk if Trump made a rational decision based on that week's performance. Instead, Trump blindsided him by throwing out everything else that had happened that week, including Bradford's own success at sales, and canning him for that one display of self-confidence. It was capricious and bordering on unfair, depending on what rules the contestants are given beforehand. Had Bradford been judged based on his performance at the task, he was safe and abdicating his immunity might have been a crafty strategic move to gain respect within his team. Trump ignored all of that and canned him, instead of the ineffectual Ivana or reviled Stacie, and to top it off was a royal prick to Jennifer for no apparent reason.
Good television? Sure. But distasteful. Trump didn't know the first series was going to be such a hit. Now that he's a superstar again, one wonders if he's playing to the camera.
September 16, 2004
I've started to contemplate a kitchen remodel, and I'm wondering about downdraft vents for the stove. I've never actually used one-- how well do they work? The whole design seems... backwards. The vent is only a couple of inches off the stovetop's surface, well below the edge of many pots. The steam and smoke intended to get vented will emanate from well above the level of the vent. Traditional hood venting sucks the vapors upward, which seems like the way God intended it. Do downdraft vents really get the job done?
September 15, 2004
The guys who founded Hot or Not are offering up a $100,000 sweepstakes. Ostensibly, it's to get people to vote in the upcoming election. But due to federal laws making it illegal to pay someone else to vote, the sweepstakes itself has nothing to do with voting and is open to any U.S. citizen 18 or older.
The twist is that there are actually two prizes. The first goes to the person who gets picked at random. The second $100,000 goes to whoever referred that person to the sweepstakes. Wired News did a write-up on the contest earlier this month.
Frankly, the whole concept seems lame-brained to me. Since it's not connected to voter registration or the actual voting process, I can't see how this sweepstakes will make one iota of difference in voter turnout. But hey, it's their money.
Naturally, if you'd like to toss your name into the ring, I'd love for you to do so via this link to credit me as your referrer so we can win together. Good luck!
September 13, 2004
If ABC is hoping The Benefactor is their Apprentice-killer, they're fired. The show misfires on every level. Mark Cuban comes off as a self-indulgent doofus caught up in the idea of playing Geppetto to sixteen human marionettes. The first episode was all talking heads, with no real action or drama to speak of. The apparent structure is that Cuban has devised 15 rules for success in life, and each one will cause someone to get eliminated. The problem is, the contestants are playing the game without knowing the rules. The first player got axed within seconds of Cuban's appearance, for making an off-handed comment about thinking the game will be "stupid, but not stupid stupid." Cuban showed him the door as an example of how you only get one chance to make a first impression. It came off as capricious and cruel, an emperor exercising his power simply because he can. The lesson appears to be to cowtow before him or risk eviction. Mark Cuban's game isn't one I'd want to play, and it isn't one I'll be watching.
September 12, 2004
TiVo, bless its heart, grabbed Saturday's rerun of The Apprentice which included 20 extra minutes of the boardroom. It's a shame they don't do this every week, because this was good stuff. The boardroom scenes are the most compelling part of the show, and I'd much rather see more of that than the players goofing around in the suite. Ditto for Survivor-- show us more tribal council. Those climaxes are where all the good stuff is. You listening, Mark Burnett? Don't leave it all on the cutting room floor.
September 8, 2004
According to a blog report, it already has. Is it accurate? Time will tell.
September 5, 2004
Against all odds, Cartoon Network is becoming the hip network du jour. Its Adult Swim lineup is an enormous hit on college campuses, thanks in no small part to the network's shrewd use of college students to host keggers and give away schwag to their peers. The Navel Lint Network could become a campus sensation with that strategy.
Be that as it may, there's some great stuff to be discovered on Cartoon Network. My latest find is The Venture Brothers, a sensational homage to the adventure shows of yesteryear. The formula is lifted straight out of Jonny Quest-- two boys have adventures with their scientist father and a beefcake protector-- but refracted through a Gen-X lens that simultaneously updates the genre and retargets it at a more mature audience. If I mention that muscle-man Brock (voiced by Patrick Warburton) lusts after Russian femme fatale Molotov Cocktease and dispatches any threat with indiscriminate violence, the boys' father sports a hipster goatee and can't stand his children, and the boys hold each other down and dangle loogies over their faces, you'll get the general idea-- Jonny Quest was never like this. The artwork is crisp and bold, the writing witty and engaging, and the opening credits captures the style and conventions of the sixties adventure genre to perfection. It's funny, engaging, clever, and brilliantly executed. I'm hooked.
September 1, 2004
A big posthumous high five to the founding fathers for including that little Constitutional provision requiring our president to have been born in the United States. The idea of President Schwarzenegger is just too terrible to contemplate. And thanks to them, we don't have to.
On the other hand, major points off for the ambiguous wording of the second amendment.