Monday, November 12, 2007

Temporary Hiatus...

Since I, like many other fledgling writers, find myself irresistibly drawn every November to take on an overly ambitious writing project (NaNoWriMo), I am taking the month off from blogging. I didn't plan to, but I find blogging and writing a novel at the same time is a teensy bit too much work.

Back, therefore, in a couple weeks. Happy November, everyone!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Heroes Review -- 2x06, "The Line"


We're back in the pub where Heroes left us off last week -- with Caitlin crying over her dead brother and Peter promising to avenge his murder. They decide to go to Montreal, with Peter resisting taking Caitlin till she points out that she was in the painting too. When she finds Ricky's murderer, she's going to "kill the bitch." OK Caitlin, there's cute spunky, and then there's annoying cliched spunky where you're just saying things that overly-macho men say in movies. We don't see the outcome of their little field trip till we have sat through the rest of this messy, aimless episode.

Claire, in California, tries out for the cheerleading team, and she's good according to a Kristin Kreuk lookalike, but the head cheerleader Debbie has taken a dislike to her. And it's not a democracy, people -- it's a cheerocracy. Unfortunately, the show isn't quite as clever as Bring it On, and I think we can all agree that when you're being compared unfavorably to Bring it On you might want to stop taking yourself so seriously, but oh well. It ends up that Claire doesn't make the team, and she and West gang up on Debbie to stage a fake abduction in which West scoops Claire up into the sky and drops her to the ground. Debbie gets humiliated on top of being traumatized, and the police also discover that she's been drinking. With Debbie suspended and out of the way, Claire gets a spot on the team. West tries to assuage her guilt by saying Debbie deserved it.

Noah brings the Haitian to Russia, where he confronts one of the elders, Ivan. He wants to know about the paintings, but Ivan refuses to tell him until Noah begins erasing his most treasured memories. Finally he breaks, and then Noah calmly says that actually, once the Company sees the memories are gone, they'll know he was here. So unfortunately, he pretty much has to kill Ivan anyhow. Poor Ivan. Noah's pretty damn cold when he shoots him. He and the Haitian go to look at the paintings, one of which shows a blonde woman struggling, one of which shows a man pulling a gun, and one of which is the dead!Noah painting. It's a good scene, one of the few that actually makes you feel like something might happen in the near future. (Clearly a delusion.)

The Longest Road Trip Ever continues with Maya and Alejandro still not over the fucking border. Sylar convinces Maya to use her gift for evil -- to defeat a vigilante border patrol, which is admittedly a bit gratifying, but also incredibly sinister and wrong. Alejandro starts a fistfight with Sylar, since he sees the danger of trusting the guy. But he can't convince Maya to get rid of him: she keeps saying he's a gift from God. Her superpowers don't include super deductive skillz, obviously. So then Sylar takes his first opportunity to corner Alejandro alone and tell the incomprehending Spanish speaker that he plans to kill them both and take their powers back, and also to use Maya as a new toy.

In a plotline completely unrelated to these, we see Mohinder testing Monica in the Company facilities. He basically treats her like a lab rat, even though she's kind of tired and the whole thing feels extremely exploitative. But he balks when Bob asks him to inject Monica with a modified form of The Disease that might stop her abilities. Somehow, this changes Bob's mind, convincing him to stop trying to inject people without their consent and to keep Mohinder around as a sort of ethics expert. (When you're a Company Man, pretty much anyone who can grasp that murder and violence are wrong probably has a much more advanced understanding of morals than you do.) He also assigns a supposedly recovered Niki to join Mohinder as his partner, but Niki is so confident and glinty-eyed that I bet she's Jessica. In the end, Bob drops Monica off at home with an intrusively product-placed iPod on which are loaded all the videos she needs to learn new skillz.

And, Hiro. He and Yaeko and Kensei free Yaeko's dad from the White Beard camp, who reveals that they have to destroy the guns of the White Beards so they can't ruin the way of the samurai. At one point as they try to escape, Hiro just scoops up Yaeko and teleports her out to the fields. She realizes that it was he who had the time-traveling power all along, and he who did the cool cherry-blossom thing, and says "everything I loved in Kensei came from you." So they kiss, but Kensei sees them! Hiro promises it will never happen again, but Kensei betrays Yaeko and her father to the White Beards.

At the end of the episode, Caitlin and Peter find their destination in Montreal and ener a large abandoned building full of old artifacts. Peter finds a note to himself on a mirror, signed from Adam (the same name as a file that Bob gave to Mohinder, BTW), saying that they were right about the Company and the world was in danger. He and Caitlin hug and are magically transported to New York in 2008 -- a totally empty New York with evacuation notices randomly and conveniently floating around the street. "This is next year!" Peter announces helpfully. End of episode.


In a highly self-conscious show, one particular instance of meta-textual commentary stood out for me in "The Line." Ando, in trying to decipher Hiro's scrolls with the help of a lab technician, gushes about how much suspense he's in with regard to Hiro's adventures, and how much he wants to hear every single detail. Rather than reinforcing any hypothetical sense of excitement I had, this scene simply highlighted the difference between the hoped-for response and the apathetic actual response we've all actually had to season 2.

This, like the episodes before it, contained only a few developments sprinkled in a large number of meandering, disconnected or loosely-connected, often pointless plots. The discovery of the note, for example, suggested the larger concrete purpose and project that the season might contain for our heroes: stop the disease from spreading. Fine, but why didn't we see this back in episode 2 or 3? Yaeko falling in love with Hiro all of a sudden doesn't have the ring of truth that it should have after so many minutes of screentime -- it's a simple event, with as little emotional resonance as a seventeenth-century fable has once it's filtered down to our time. Also, Bob's near-instantaneous change of heart is explained by one simple monologue; it's simply ridiculous to have a character so separated from ethics that he wants to infect people with diseases without their consent, and then to have him change his mind just because Mohinder throws stuff and yells a little.

The fact that Maya and Alejandro are still on their roadtrip is ridiculous. It's been six weeks, and the only significant development is that Sylar has joined them: why has Maya been added to the cast when she's barely, if at all, connected to the main story? Not to mention that the culmination of the Alejandro-Sylar conflict, in which Sylar reveals his evil plan to Alejandro in English, is anti-climactic. Even in its unsubtle comic-book style, Heroes should, and I would argue did, show us what Sylar is doing and why he's doing it. Before he said any of it, it was clear that he meant to kill the sibs to take their power, and it was equally clear that he enjoyed manipulating Maya simply as a manipulation, separately from the part where he wants to slice off the top of her head. Having him reveal it to Alejandro was neither chilling nor surprising nor dramatically useful; it was a lazy attempt at sensationalizing a conflict that itself lacks basis in real human emotion or character development.

Meanwhile, the characters who were arguably at or near the center of it all last year, Claire (the object, the person to save) and Peter (the subject, the constant agent, the one who saves), have spun off into their own worlds. Maybe that's the problem: the show is working to connect Matt, Mohinder, Nathan, Niki, and the Company without the benefit of already-established nodes.

Let's not even get started on the dialogue. Actually, okay, let's. West to Claire: "You're a total babe, and you have powers!" (on why she is not ordinary). Caitlin: "Kill the bitch" (already mentioned, but worth resurrecting). Monica comparing Bob to Oprah (because he gives her gifts): seriously? The list goes on, but it's all kind of like this -- forced, cheesy, or just plain nonsensical.

Heroes, I thought you were going to replace Alias in my heart with your cheesy addictiveness, but that show had the most amazing second season ever and right now you are actually worse than the Sydney-Vaughn-Lauren debacle that was season 3. This isn't a slump. This is an emergency. Heal thyself!

In Summary: *whimpers*

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Devil's Backbone (2001) (aka "El Espinazo del Diablo")

Last year Pan's Labyrinth took the world by storm with its chilling horror, fable-like storytelling, eerie mysticism and deeply human insights into the life and mind of a child. Recently I had the pleasure of watching The Devil's Backbone, an earlier work by the same director, Guillermo del Toro, exhibiting the same qualities. This also involves a child and the Spanish Civil War, this time a young boy of about ten, Carlos, who is abandoned at a dirt-poor orphanage haunted by a ghost who sighs. The orphanage is run by an aging woman with a wooden leg, her equally venerable support and romantic love, and a younger man with a sinister side; in the center of its courtyard functioning as a constant reminder of the war outside is a large bomb that landed once, didn't explode, and was eventually disarmed. Reflecting the cruelty of their environment, the other boys bully Carlos at first, but he manages to befriend them and solve the mystery of the ghost.

The grittier camerawork and burnt-sienna color scheme distinguish The Devil's Backbone immediately from del Toro's more recent hit. The ghost itself is grotesque and truly horrifying, and the violence in the film reflective of both the personal cruelty of the human heart and the social cruelty of fascism and poverty. Unlike a Hollywood film, the movie doesn't begin its resolution at the biggest explosion or the most bodies acquired; it isn't over till the ramifications have been played out, till everything is even more ravaged than you thought it could be; like ghosts, the characters live on, demanding attention after they've been written off as doomed.

This short review can't begin to do justice to such a film, but I highly recommend it, especially for anyone who loved Pan's Labyrinth.

Disgrace (J.M. Coetzee)

Penguin :: 2000 :: 224 pp. :: $14.00 :: paperback

Read for the Complete Booker Challenge -- winner in 1999.

"For a man of his age, fifty-two, divorced, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well," opens Coetzee's slim, coolly-narrated novel of a middle-aged, divorced professor at a South Africa university named David Lurie who has, in fact, not solved the problem of sex very well at all. Regular appointments with a prostitute eventually don't suffice to quell his fears of aging, and so he seduces a young student in his class named Melanie, not even realizing how close he comes to destroying the girl. When the affair comes out and David refuses to apologize, he's fired.

From there what has been a claustrophobic, evenly-paced story of academic sterility expands messily outwards, sending David out to the country where his lesbian daughter Lucy is eking out a living from the land. There, what at first seems to be an entirely different story begins. Living with Lucy, David helps a plain woman named Bev put down sick dogs, and begins to write a libretto on Byron, whom he takes as a romantic idol. Only when a horrific act of violence is committed on himself and Lucy by do things really fall apart, however. Then the romantic, complacent, masculine solipsism with which David has always been able to view his life really undergoes a challenge. The problem of sex and the problem of power, so terrifically manifest in the novel's setting of post-apartheid South Africa, come to seem similar, even as one.

"Because a woman's beauty does not belong to her alone," David says to Melanie when he cajoles her to stay the night, in the beginning of the book. "It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it." He quotes Shakespeare to support his point, but the point is no longer appropriate, no longer acceptable, in our time. In fact it is merely a prelude to the violence of rape, and the novel takes us through the spectrum of violence and violation with a dooming sure-footedness.

I found this book subjectively difficult to get into, because its sexist, oblivious protagonist was naturally, immediately antagonistic to my sensibilities. But the book seems to draw back from David further and further as more characters from lower in the hierarchy of social power are allowed to view him, and to speak. The terror that enters the book when David and Lucy are attacked, the sheer physical horror of it, is like a release of tension from all the subtler attacks that David carries out earlier on in the novel, not only on Melanie but on the prostitute he believes he's treating well, the daughter he believes he's a good father to. They say there's no surer way to create sympathy for a character than to punish him far more than he deserves for a small sin, but the irony of it is that David's crimes against others are inextricably linked to the crimes committed against him.

Eventually, David begins to change his libretto and give Byron's women a voice. As he does so, he makes an attempt, which I see as doomed, to understand his daughter. Befitting the large and unsolvable problems with which it grapples, Disgrace doesn't wrap things up tidily at the end, not even, really, with a complete redemption for its protagonist. The David Lurie we see at the end of the novel is still a product of his environment, still essentially rooted in the power structure to which he belongs, and still easily recognizable as the same crudely, deeply flawed man he was when he was visiting the prostitute every week -- but the story and the subtle change in his perspective are all the more moving for that.

In Summary: Complex and beautiful and quietly moving despite its theme of violence. I highly recommend this book and definitely expect to pick it up many more times throughout my life.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Gossip Girl Review -- 1x06, "The Handmaiden's Tale"


The Party of the Week on last Wednesday's Gossip Girl is a masquerade ball, once again arranged by the peerless Blair Waldorf, who spends her prep time ordering Jenny around to get things. The poor girl even borrows a bracelet from a jewelry store Blair patronizes, believing she'll get to wear it tonight.

Blair and Serena are busy curling up in Blair's bedroom and discussing the plan for tonight. Blair is casually explaining that she's sending Nate on a scavenger hunt tonight, during the ball: she'll give him a clue leading to the first handmaiden, who will give him a clue to the second handmaiden, and so on and so forth until, eventually, he finds Blair. She concludes that if Nate finds her before midnight, he gets a prize. What's the prize? inquires Serena. Blair gives her a look that clearly says, My virginity -- duh! The most brilliant part of this scene is the way Blair nonchalantly explains the whole plan like it's a totally normal thing to send your boyfriend on a scavenger hunt for your virginity.

Of course, Serena's a little surprised, and even more so when Blair asks her to be the handmaiden who gives the last clue, saying she trusts them both. After making sure that Blair's certain of this kooky plan, Serena makes light of the awkwardness, the way I'm sure she's learned to make light of the fact that basically, she always, always wins. The girls move on to discuss inviting Dan. Serena insists he would never go to something so "pretentious." I'm sorry, I think that word is completely misused here. It's not pretentious to be rich, dress up, and get drunk. It's pretentious to believe you're too deep for such activities as having money and spending it. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being uninterested in Serena's lifestyle -- but as the one who's sitting around and judging everyone else for their shallowness, Dan gets the Pretentious Award.

Aaaanyway. While this is going on, Dan is talking to his father about how he's not invited and says it's because S. knows he'd never attend something so pretentious. (Grr.) Just then, a mysterious entity named Vanessa -- the very name brings a significant look onto Rufus' face -- calls Dan on his cell and asks if he has her copy of The Crying of Lot 49 (which is written by the supposedly great but super-challenging Thomas Pynchon, reading whom is often the very epitome of pretentiousness). He gives her crap for getting in touch with him after a year incommunicado when he rounds the corner and -- there she is, sitting in his apartment like she owns the place. She's cute, dark-haired and dark-complexioned, and very smiley. And she's back in town for the rest of high school! I smell a threat to Serena!

Just then, Miss van der Woodsen herself calls Dan, describes the event with her typical bashful acknowledgment that it's "pretentious," and Dan starts being totally shifty, saying that the female voice Serena hears is his sister. Just then, of course, Jenny walks into Blair's room and Serena looks absolutely crestfallen, following up her description of the party with a "Have a good night" instead of an invitation. In the Humphrey Hovel, Vanessa brightly asks what they're doing tonight. In the Waldorf Palace, Serena says sadly that she thinks she needs a date.

Prep time for Saturday night: Nate wanders downstairs to hear his mother and father preparing for Eleanor Waldorf's party that night. Dan and Vanessa try to pick a movie as they wander along the streets of New York -- The Angelika is suggested, a theater that's great for seeing cool indie movies, and I love the Angelika so I guess I'm pretentious like these two. I hope their relationship gets nicknamed VD. Think that'll catch on? Anyway, Blair finds Serena a hot date, who IMs her later on. And Blair spends her prep time crushing the hopes of Jenny Humphrey, saying that freshmen never get to come and gently making her feel like an ass for having borrowed the bracelet. "Your time will come, I promise, now if you'll excuse me, I have to get ready," she breezes. Lily asks Serena for dress advice and denies having a hot date, but her pants are very much on fire, as we will see later.

Anyway, Nate finds his dad's drug stash. And it's not marijuana, if you know what I'm saying. He calls Blair, but the girl is of course unavailable, so he goes to Serena for help. Having answered the door in a bathrobe, she acts all uncomfortable -- Serena honey, I'm sorry, the boy's already seen you naked, now just think how awkward you'd feel if it was someone who hadn't yet! Basically, just don't answer the door in a bathrobe. She's happy to comfort him, but when he tries to hold her hand she uncomfortably jumps up and kicks him out of the house, basically. For this scene, and basically the entire episode, Nate walks around like a robot whose emotive software has been destroyed by a virus. I know his acting is normally bad, but not this bad, so I suspect he pulled a Robert Downey Jr. on his dad's stash.

Night arrives, and the Humphreys resolve not to let their lives be ruined by B. and S.'s B.S. Dan cancels on Vanessa in order to stalk Serena at the ball (aka, "write his history paper"), while Vanessa, ditched, saunters into the Humphrey Hovel and encourages Jenny to crash the party ("Handmaiden is Jane Austen for 'slave,'" she counsels). Meanwhile, Rufus, who turned out to be Lily's date (duh), realizes he's there to make Bart Bass jealous and is both shocked and, when he sees Bart brought a hot young thing as his date, sympathetic. He also makes out with Lily "to make Bart jealous." Lily goes weak at the knees, but when Bart calls, she goes.

So now Dan and Jenny are at the ball, and so is the dazed-looking Nate. Poor Nate is doing really badly at the whole scavenger hunt thing -- there's an amusing scene where Kati and Isabel give him a clue that's actually about one of them, and all he can say is "What?" -- and Blair's getting upset about it. Meanwhile, Serena's dancing with her date and getting really bored, so the minute she excuses herself Dan waltzes in, so to speak, and sweeps her off her feet again. Vanessa finds them and gets all upset, saying that Dan said he loved her before she left! "Loved," Dan says, "In the past. In a pre-shaving, sixteen-year-old kind of way." Erm, ouch, Dan. She chokingly says it looks like he's traded up, and runs out. Dan runs after her.

But Jenny's having her own little drama, since the mask she's wearing hides just enough of her face for Chuck to mistake her for a new victim instead of someone he's already tried to date rape. She gets him to strip and then locks him outside. I was looking forward to an actual naked!Chuck scene, but unfortunately, Jenny only gets him down to undershirt and boxers. Cheap! She finds Serena and they have a brief girltalk about Dan, wherein Jenny convinces Serena that Dan really likes her. Serena gives her her own mask and sweater, and since they're both wearing yellow and have luxurious enviable masses of gorgeous blonde hair, it's kind of foreseeable that people might, just might, get mixed up about their identities. So Nate chases after Jenny, thinking she's Serena, to tell her he loves her. Then Dan, who changed his mind about the whole chasing-Vanessa thing, tries to follow Jenny around yelling pathetically, "Serena! Serena!" But Dan and Serena find each other eventually and avow their feelings once again. Nate gives up on Serena and finds Blair, but she says he didn't even try to find her and tells him there's no happily ever after. He arrives home to see that his parents have found "his" stash. And Vanessa apologizes to Dan and they decide to be friends. The end.

Whew. Masked balls are complicated!


Gossip Girl had a major opportunity to go big and glamorous with the masked ball concept, but it didn't. The visual appeal factor was high, but the mistaken identities and intrigues were sort of minor and accidental. Instead, Blair and Serena were at an all-time high for tranquility, "doing besties" for real by supporting and trusting each other. I like to see that, and they make it feel real, and Blair's trust in Serena kind of breaks your heart because it's so doomed to be disappointed.

The introduction of Vanessa, which I realize came from the books, was just a poor choice in my opinion. She's an extremely annoying character who's always sailing into the Humphrey apartment like she's part of the family and asking prying questions about Rufus' and Jenny's love life, not to mention her being all up in Dan's grill all the time (to use an old and beloved phrase from Josh Schwartz's first TV masterpiece). She's also too easy a foil for Serena, too smiley (it's annoying!), too one-note a character (likes pierogis, movies with subtitles, pomo writers -- got it), and doesn't have any obvious potential to interact with the main characters outside of the Dan-Jenny-Serena bubble of social marginalization. Let's see something better than one of Schwartz's patented lightning-fast love triangles.

Best moments of the episode: Lily and Rufus simultaneously saying "I need a drink" after their big kiss; Jenny responding to Chuck's compliment of excellent taste with "Apparently not, I'm talking to you"; and the requisite primping montage wherein the various ball-goers pull on their mask -- Chuck, particularly, donning his in a dark, creepily-lit shot. Fun stuff, but next week I want more sass from Gossip Girl and less self-congratulating blather from Dan and Vanessa.

In Summary: Shut up, Vanessa. But the sheer genius of Blair's virginity scavenger hunt made the entire episode worthwhile.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Meta on Spoilers; Also, Brothers & Sisters Spoilerrificity

I don't read spoilers in general. Sometimes when I'm anxious for a relationship to happen I'll read ahead, so to speak, for rays of hope, and sometimes with shows like Gilmore Girls that are not really about plot anyway. But, particularly with shows I care about, I've grown much more disciplined about avoiding them. The beauty of serialized fiction is that suspense factor. Knowing what's coming weeks in advance sometimes lets me pick up on small hints that I would have missed (or the super-obvious ones that are apparent to everyone but me -- it happens). That's what marathons are for -- I like to go in search of those drop-dead moments of awesomeness. I nearly fell out of my chair when Logan and Veronica first kissed, for example, and I liked that feeling.

But sometimes, when you innocently google a particular topic and a particular page title shows up that you never, EVER thought you'd see, it's pretty damn hard to resist the temptation. (Those who don't want to know freaky things about Brothers & Sisters will want to click away now...)

Ausiello of TV Guide answers a reader question:

Question: I was so happy Sally Field won best actress. With this news, can you give me any Brothers & Sisters scoop? — Nathan R.

Ausiello: Exec producer Greg Berlanti is confirming what I first hinted at back in June: The, ahem, unique chemistry between half sibs Justin and Rebecca will continue to be explored this season. "We try to examine the relationship truthfully," he says. "They are two young people who, granted, found out they were related, but they just met a year ago. That doesn't mean they'll ever act on those feelings, but it also doesn't mean that there won't be emotions that come up that will be complicated for both of them." I smell an Emmy nod next year for EVC!


So. Effing. Weird.

Another thing about spoilers is that you start making judgments about how a topic's being handled before it, you know, gets handled. So I'm not going to do too much speculating on it. I'm intrigued to know whether the producers wrote in the chemistry from the beginning or simply realized later on that they'd written two half siblings into a flirtation. I'm reluctant to blame or credit the entire thing to the actors, who obviously have chemistry; the lighting, camera and writing all contributed to my sense of that chemistry.

So color me intrigued and shocked. I won't be posting many spoilers here because (as evidenced by the fact that this report is itself weeks old) others will get there first and better, but because no one I know in real life watches, I need to express my intense anticipation somewhere!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Heroes Review -- 2x05, "Fight or Flight"

All right, it's been the Week Of No Sleep over here in the monotony that is my senior year of college and, now that my thoughts on cyclic subgroups and Elizabeth Bennett's sexual awareness have been committed to paper and handed in to their respective teachers, I am going to start catching up on posts I've been wanting to write. First, the moment we've all been waiting for: Kristen Bell's first appearance on Heroes!


Previously, Matt was a jerk who made Molly confront her "nightmare man" and sent her into what appears to be a coma. Because of that, we open on Molly, still unconscious, with Matt and Mohinder hovering over her and arguing over what to do with their baby. Matt wants to find a hospital, but Mohinder points out that since Matt's dad got Molly into this, possibly Matt's dad, you know, holds the key to the problem. Matt starts quoting lines apparently ripped off from movies he's been watching on the Hallmark channel, saying that he hasn't seen his father in decades and he's scared to find him again, blah blah blah. Matt, your father is actually THE BOOGEYMAN. Who cares about the fact that he abandoned you? He kills people for fun. Eventually he goes, however, and Mohinder brings Molly to the Company to help. Bad idea, Suresh.

So Matt's trying to interrogate Angela when Nathan, looking clean-shaven but sporting a shaggy haircut that's very Milo season 1, protests. Matt tells Nathan the whole story, and Nathan insists on coming with him. "We can probably get there faster, you know, cuz you can...," Matt agrees. "I'm not a cargo jet," Nathan mutters (heh). So they go break into the boogeyman's apartment (after a short hesitation while Matt goes into his daddy complex again), and he pulls a very convincing doddering-dad act, even showing them a photo of himself with the Red Helix of Death drawn on it. Then he lures Matt into the back room to "show him something," like, Matt, that's the line every pedophile has used since the beginning of time. Matt immediately goes into a nightmare about being locked into a jail cell, while Nathan, following him soon after, dreams himself onto the rooftop in New York from which he can see the city burning. A baby appears in Matt's cell and Matt, amusingly, starts yelling for a guard to come get the baby as if he were actually in jail and people were going to respond normally to his requests. Meanwhile, Nathan is confronted by the burned version of himself. So Matt fights the guard who shows up, Nathan fights burned guy, and after a lot of pretty cool intercutting we finally realize that it's the same fight. They wake up and realize that Matt can defeat his father's brainwashing. ("I knew it was a con," he says, like, THEN WHY DID YOU FALL FOR IT?)

Meanwhile, a tiny blonde girl shows up on the docks looking for Peter Petrelli. It is none other than the long-awaited "Elle," played by Kristen Bell, and turns out her superpower is a pretty sweet shooting-electricity-from-her-fingertips deal. When she does find the Wandering Rocks pub where Peter's holed up, Ricky, trying to protect Peter after having found the guy making out with his sister, lies to her and gets himself fried. Unaware, Peter is in Caitlin's apartment, opening The Box. After all the hype, it turns out to contain a passport, a few crumpled dollar bills, and a plane ticket to Montreal. So all he knows, really, is his legal name.

Elle calls someone to report on her progress, trying to downplay what happened until she finally exclaims, "All right, I killed him, okay? What is the big deal?!" The unseen person on the other end of the line, whom Elle has referred to as "Dad," sends her home, the very image of a pouty daughter. Peter has just finished demonstrating his mad weird-eyed painting skillz to a somewhat frightened Caitlin with a painting of a church in Montreal when they get the news of her brother's death. Arriving at the pub, she collapses into very real tears, while Peter sort of goes into self-sacrificing hero mode and, instead of comforting the girl, starts blaming himself and planning revenge.

While keeping watch over Molly, Mohinder is nearly attacked by Niki, who's gone into Evil Twin mode trying to escape her "treatment." Once Mohinder uses the Taser conveniently introduced seconds before her arrival, she calms down and explains to him that she wants to be cured. The Company sends Mohinder out on an errand with his Taser to fetch someone similarly out of control, who turns out to be... well, Monica, who's discovered Micah's secret and revealed to him her own, pontificating about the meaning of life as a muscle-mimicking superhero along the way.

Meanwhile back at the Farm of Totally Unrelated Storylines, Ando gets some expert help in deciphering another scroll from Hiro about his adventures with Kensei. Hiro is on the eve of an attack, along with Kensei and Yaeko, against a large army called the White Beard.


Kristen Bell's introduction was much better than Maya's earlier in the season. Partly because she's awesome, partly because she's a villain, but partly because she wasn't shoved in our faces like we were supposed to care on the first shot. Instead, she saunters onscreen emanating pure perky mischief and shoots some bolts from her fingertips. I think she's playing it a bit too similar to Veronica Mars -- not to mention that the first half of the episode had her playing detective to find Peter, which was just too close for comfort. But her phone call to her father was hilarious: her contrition for killing Ricky was about on the level of a teenager who stayed out past curfew.

As a threat, she's not on the same level of evil as Matt's dad or Sylar; she's like Eden, cute and wicked. The sexy villainess thing is fun, but I do think Heroes tends to devolve way too easily into that kind of gender divide in its characterizations -- men protecting women and taking the burden of the world on their shoulders, on the good side, and on the bad side, evil male masterminds bossing around Charlie's-Angels-esque twenty-somethings.

One of the biggest strengths of this episode was that it took big leaps towards tying all the storylines together. Ando and Hiro are still rotting in their irrelevant, boring subplot, and Maya, Sylar, and Claire weren't even there, but we now have Micah and Monica about to get to know Mohinder, who's married to Matt, who's now teamed up with Nathan. So that's an improvement. It sucked to have everyone moving in such separate spheres. Nevertheless, as I've said before, if several regulars have to be cut from each episode in order for said episode to have any kind of coherence, then maybe, just maybe, there are too many regulars on the show. I know that's a revolutionary idea.

The other highlight was the Matt/Nathan/burned!Nathan fight. Great editing and concept there, and Nathan's nightmare, in particular, was quite creepy. Interesting to see Matt's interaction with Janice in his nightmare, too. I think it's possible that it is simply the most nightmarish thing Matt's head can come up with to make him a father when his life has made him so afraid of fatherhood, but more likely that on some level he already knows he's got a kid out there somewhere, and has gotten so attached to Molly in part as a surrogate.

That said, I'm really still not feeling this season. Nothing's happening! I know a couple people died and Peter did the creepy painting thing and there are always hints that shit is about to hit the fan, but it just isn't happening, and rather than creating suspense the overlong build-up is just creating boredom.

In Summary: Part of the upward trend in episodes for the past few weeks, but nowhere near first-season quality.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Stars, Like Dust (Isaac Asimov)

The Stars, Like Dust
Fawcett Crest :: 1950 :: 192 pp. :: paperback (out of print)

In Isaac Asimov's first novel, a part of what I can only imagine must be the painfully boring Empire trilogy, a young man named Biron Farrell wakes up to discover a plot on his life and, his father having been assassinated, jumps on a spaceship with a beautiful, spirited young woman and her caustic uncle to overthrow an intergalactic empire run by the Tyranni, who mostly just collect taxes and assassinate insurgents and wield a "neuron whip" that sounds kind of cool but doesn't exactly save the book.

Apart from an overly simplistic plot riddled with facile moral judgments and a lack of real interest or engagement with the social issues inherent in the fictional world, one of the novel's major flaws is in its characterization. The protagonist, in particular, is a sort of spineless, shapeless reactor to events around him, whose only major characteristic is an unconscious male chauvinism mirrored by the narrative itself.

Artemesia, the protagonist, fatefully sharing a name with a painter famous for being a victim of rape and torture, is introduced like a rather one-note imitation of a Katherine Hepburn heroine. She is spirited and not quite willing to stay within the bounds of propriety in her oddly old-fashioned yet space-travelling culture (a place where she wears skirts and makeup, premarital sex is somewhat frowned upon for women, and she is in danger of being essentially forced into an unwanted marriage). But, of course, rather like Hepburn, she is tamed by a good kiss from a decent man, even retracting her oh-so-bitchy opinions about the quality of food aboard her spaceship as a peace offering. (Though with Hepburn, there was arguably a disconnect between textual tamings of the shrew and the sense that her spirit was never defeated and would resurrect itself, if not by the end of the film, by the beginning of the next. Artemesia sort of just lies down and dies.)

There is little of political interest in this fairly straightforward parable, as one would expect when the villains are actually named "Tyranni." It's a thin novel, a pale, pasty story, with no real conclusion but also no real need to read to the next installment, and the only real interest it had for me was in the blatant misogyny. I know it was 1951, but come on!

In Summary: Graceless and backwards, Asimov's earliest novel is deeply underwhelming.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Shape of Things (TV-Related) To Come

A few weeks ago, I posted about the TV shows I was looking forward to in the coming season. With a few weeks of the season having passed, I think I have a general idea about what my posting will look like this year. There are some shows that I simply couldn't get into, some that are appointment TV to be immediately recapped and analyzed on this blog, and many on the spectrum between.

Without further ado,

Shows I'll Watch Each Week, Recap, and Review

Heroes: Though this season isn't up to the standard set by last season, I'm not going to pass up a chance to watch half a dozen gorgeous men cavort around saving the world each week, especially when one of them is Milo Ventimiglia.

Gossip Girl: Twistier than Lost, meaner than Mean Girls, and funner than The OC, GG is the highlight of my TV week.

Shows I'll Watch Each Week and Post About Once In Awhile

Pushing Daisies: This show doesn't always need a recap, because each episode is so stand-alone, but I'll definitely post about it semi-regularly, and keep up with it.

Brothers and Sisters: I unfortunately have a work shift during this, which is probably my favorite returning show right now, so I won't always keep up in time, but I won't fall behind with my favorite alcoholic family.

The Reaper: Great show from what I've seen, highly recommended and very funny but also takes place during a work shift, and I'm already weeks behind.

House: Still the same quality as previous seasons (with the only team of writers on any network, it seems, who never phone it in -- so to speak), but falls during the same work shift as Reaper.

Bionic Woman: It takes place during Gossip Girl, so what's a Josh Schwartz fan to do? Will keep up, but not necessarily faithfully; it's not good enough to motivate that kind of dedication.

The Office: This is actually appointment TV for me because my friends all watch it, but I won't be writing full reviews all the time.

Shows I've Dropped Like a Hot Potato, Despite Best Intentions:

ER: Maybe, in half a decade when the DVD release schedule finally catches up to this by-then-hopefully-defunct dinosaur of a show, I will watch season 14. But for now, I'm happy enough that my knowledge stops where Elizabeth Corday did.

Chuck: The world doesn't need both Chuck and The Reaper. And I think Josh Schwartz put all his Funness into Gossip Girl and all his Nerdness into Chuck.

Grey's Anatomy: Never even tried. I just couldn't bring myself to see where my once-beloved show had sunk to.

Cavemen: Could've been so-bad-it's-good, but I never got around to it, so I guess it's not in the cards.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gossip Girl Review -- 1x05, "Dare Devil"


After the longest previouslies ever and one of the shortest credit sequences, Gossip Girl informs us of the event of the week: Blair Waldorf's annual sleepover (a tradition since the year 2000, each more decadent than the last, says G.G.) a lavish affair with yummy-looking cupcakes and lavish beauty supplies, for which she is planning in typical over-intense Blair style. But guess who's missing? That's right, Serena van der Woodsen, who is going out on a really-truly date with Dan Humphrey that night. Even the beautiful Dan manages to become unsexy while he prepares for the date by cashing in his piggy bank, which he still has, and which was shaped like a Ninja turtle. He wants it to be perfect, meaning that, of course, it will be a disaster.

But Serena is convinced it's worth missing Blair's sleepover and Blair, cunning as always, lights upon Jenny as a replacement, assuming she'll be an easy target. Jenny, poor dear, is all excited. Meanwhile, Rufus Humphrey is acting as immature as his offspring, wanting to visit his ex-wife in person to give her the news that his ex, Serena's mom, bought her first painting.

Serena's also worried, asking Jenny what to wear on the "surprise" date. Jenny assures her that the Humphrey men do casual Friday every day, but of course, Dan shows up in a suit to the surprise of a jeans-clad Serena. "Talk to me while I change?" she says, weirdly and kind of hilariously. Serena dons a black poufy mini-dress I'm not sure I like, but again, her hair is great, and they head out to a fancy place where a gauche Dan totally embarrasses himself over the menu (because poor people don't know how to behave at nice places, and apparently also don't know that fish can be creamed) and Serena considerately picks up the tab. They decide to move on to play pool in a more casual setting, and the date gets cute, although I loathe with every fiber of my being the ultra-tired boy-teaches-girl-to-play-pool conceit as a method of getting the characters into close physical proximity.

Meanwhile, Jenny shows up at the party with a dorky sleeping bag and even the maid seems to laugh at her. You're thinking She's dead now, if you weren't before, and Gossip Girl chimes in pleasantly, "Hope that Hello Kitty sleeping bag doubles as a parachute!" Ha. The Truth-or-Dare starts immediately with Blair's sidekicks making out. Jenny tries to refuse a martini with "I don't like vodka," but Blair evilly and truly says that it's gin, "as it should be." Peer pressure! Jenny succumbs, and soon the game escalates. When we next see the girls, Blair's pulling a fake-out on the receptionist at the Ostroff clinic so they can break Eric out and take him to a bar. It's quite cute.

Of course, the Ostroff center calls Lily, who immediately calls Serena, who left her phone at home. Desperate, she calls Rufus for Dan's phone number, which he refuses to give for Lily's lame reason that "Eric is missing... from his hotel room!" -- but, showing his true colors, he calls Dan himself and ascertains that Eric's not there. By then Lily's shown up at his door, and she coolly demands that he cook for her, leading to a bit of flirtation and reminiscence.

At the club, Jenny dares Blair to make out with the nearest sketchball, "and mean it," she says, thinking she's all wicked. Blair finds this extremely easy, and saunters back having also lifted the guy's cell phone, just as he crows about his girlfriend Amanda not finding out. She makes Jenny call the girlfriend, and Jenny starts out with, "This is Bla -- Claire." Hoookay. But she immediately picks up her game, following this up with the statement that she just shoved her tongue down the guy's throat, and ending with a Mean Girls-esque grin on her face.

Things come to a nice little climax with the requisite fistfight when Dan and Serena show up at the club to get Eric. Eventually they all leave the club. Serena yells at Blair, but Eric says he's glad for any company other than Serena and his mom, "even if it's Blair -- no offense." So Serena and Dan leave with Eric, Blair leaves with Jenny, Lily reluctantly leaves Rufus. Eventually Lily tells Eric he can come home now for real, and Serena and Dan, out on the streets, make with the smoochies.

The coup of the episode goes to Jenny: Blair dares her to steal a jacket from a mannequin in one of her mom's stores. The girls all run away while Jenny's in there, setting off the alarm, but Jenny manages to pull her escape off with panache, telling the police that she's Blair and that her mom's out of town but she'd left her jacket there, and oh, by the way, I have a set of keys, see? They let her go, and she strolls back in to confront a very surprised Blair with three smaller surprises: she's not staying the night, she's keeping the jacket, and she and Blair are going to have lunch on the steps on Monday. Blair agrees, looking absolutely charmed by this turnaround. As are we all.


Well, what can I say? This show is like crack. It's mocking and mockable and twisty and knowing and also sort of weirdly innocent in the way that CW shows tend to be, with romances sprouting up on the streets of New York all the time and people earnestly talking about "who they are." I like Blake Lively more with every episode -- either she's improving or I'm just lulled into submission by the awesomeness of the show. The lack of Chuck was sorely disappointing, yet Blair brought enough tricks up her sleeve for the both of them, so nothing felt incomplete in this episode. Jenny's transformation was sudden and gratifying, but we all know it can't be complete quite yet -- look for cracks in her facade over the next few months.

In Summary: I'm cutting down the review portions of my posts about Gossip Girl because, as fun as it is to recap, and hopefully helpful for random googlers who missed the episode, I can't just keep repeating "this is awesome" every week. But, yeah. Awesome.

The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)

The Lovely Bones
Little, Brown and Company :: 2002 :: Hardcover :: 328 pp. :: $21.95

I assume most people remember when this book was all the rage with the book-club crowd. I saw so many people reading it and heard it recommended by so many of my classmates in high school; Oprah loved it; even Seventeen magazine, which I subscribed to for years, carried an excerpt in its glossy pages. For those who don't know yet, it's a novel narrated by a murdered child named Susie Salmon who looks down from heaven onto the people she left behind. The hype, combined with the prose of the excerpt, which was a little too precious for my tastes, made me completely unappetized by the idea of ever reading it.

But then I went shopping last weekend and, in the middle of a Victoria's Secret dressing room, found a slightly-beaten-up copy of The Lovely Bones sitting on the dressing room table. It said "Not Lost -- Free!" on a Post-It on the front, and was apparently a Book Crossing book. My roommate had once found one, so I knew that it was a sort of system where people leave books in public places for the next person to pick up, read, and pass on. The website keeps track of every book's comings and goings.

There's something delicious and romantic about finding an unexpected book left behind as if just for you. In a crowded store with an impatient line for the dressing rooms, the woman who had left it there somehow got out of the dressing room at a moment my back was turned, so I never saw her. I was excited about my magical find for days, although most of my friends, being less fetishistic than I am about their books, didn't really get why I found it so cool (hopefully some readers of this blog will!).

So I read the book, and to my surprise, I found it absorbing. The concept is original, and the execution is, though trite in exactly the ways you'd expect from a book set in heaven, still graceful. Susie, of course, is one of those schizoid child narrators you find in literature, with frequent deep insights into human nature and excellent vocabulary and poetic syntax, but with random interludes of naivete and simplicity thrown in there to remind you she's a child. She watches her parents' marriage suffer from her death, watches her sister and brother grow up deeply marked by her absence, watches her murderer and her childhood sweetheart and a young woman from her school grow up in the shadow of her murder. The first part of the novel is often moving while it deals with grief, but the end sprawls out over years and meanders to a resolution far too tidy for such a story.

If Sebold had, perhaps, focused more on Lindsey, Susie's slightly-younger sister, who hardens herself in reaction to the murder, I would have enjoyed it more. Dead!Susie's relationship to her sister is part envy, part passionate identification: Lindsey is a kind of surrogate life, the only one of the two who gets to grow up, so Susie follows her through her coming-of-age. "I roved where she roved," Susie says; "in watching her I found I could get lost more than with anyone else." The strange, asymmetrical relationship between the longing Susie and the scarred Lindsey strikes at the heart of sibling-hood in a unique way.

But Lindsey's story is interwoven with those of other characters, most of which I found boring and cliched. I thought that the "miraculous event" promised by the book jacket was hokey, and that for the last 100 pages or so it seemed the novel was simply wandering around in search of an ending (which, when found, was imbued with too much sense of its own meaningful-ness to be effective).

In Summary: I was right to expect that it wasn't my kind of book, but am glad I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Now I'm off to leave it at Darwin's, my favorite hippie sandwich place in Cambridge. Maybe Ben 'n' Jen will find it!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Heroes Review -- 2x04, "The Kindness of Strangers"

When last we left our Heroes, Sylar had escaped the Company's custody and, though lacking powers, was currently at large and dangerous. This week, calling himself "Gabriel Gray," he joins Maya and Alejandro on the Road Trip That Won't End, discovering that they have "powers" because, though Alejandro's cautious of just blabbing the big secret to any random hitchhiker, Maya is blissfully unaware of the danger she's in. Sylar, unbeknownst to Maya, has already killed the man who escaped from jail with them when he threatened to call the police.

Bennett is still worried about Claire, and, given the picture of her mid-smooch standing over his dead body, especially about her dating someone. She succumbs to West's doubtful charms long enough to go on one date, lying to her dad that she's going to the library. Since the one date involves sitting on the second "O" in the Hollywood sign and some mid-air kissage, Claire decides to keep lying to her dad. She convinces him to let her cheerlead as a cover story for hanging out with West with some sob story about wanting to feel normal. He agrees, saying, "I didn't know it meant that much to you." More than your family's lives, apparently. You'd think with that kind of reason, Bennett might be a little less susceptible to his daughter's wiles. After this is settled, the Haitian appears to tell Bennett he's got a lead on the paintings and they need to go back to Odessa.

In New Orleans, we have the introduction of another new hero. Still no sign of Kristen Bell, but I like this new one, whose name is Monica (Dana Davis). She is Micah's cousin, the older sister of Damon -- a bratty kid around Micah's age whose only goal in life is to watch pay-per-view wrestling, apparently -- and works as a fast-food cashier, but dreams of passing a regional manager test that apparently has only a 2% pass rate. People like her best "friend" and her boss keep shooting her down, telling her to be content with what she has and be grateful, but Monica keeps hoping. She's also taking care of Micah, and is a little disappointed in him when he secretly uses his superpower to get Damon the wrestling for free. It turns out she learns things really fast, and her eyes go all wonky when she watches the wrestling. Then, when a customer pulls a gun on her at the fast-food place, she uses her newfound skills to wrap her hands around a pole and launch herself into an Alias-style kick at the guy's head. I'm sorry, she learned that from wrestling? I'm confused... But Dana Davis is a charming actress, and the sheer weight of the low expectations she's battling because she's poor, black, female and lives in a region battling a disaster make her a sympathetic character.

Molly's still having the nightmares, and Matt's worried about her -- until his investigation of Angela Petrelli pans out. Angela confesses to murdering Nakamura in order to get everyone to let it go, telling Matt via her audible thoughts that she wants him to accept her false confession. Going through her things, Matt and Mohinder discovers a picture of the group of 12 that have been dying one by one, and among them is Matt's father. He wants Molly to help find him, leading to the big reveal that Parkman's father is the boogeyman -- but Matt doesn't care and wants Molly to find him anyway. Suddenly not liking Matt so much. He won't like himself much either very soon, since when Molly uses her powers to locate the boogeyman in Philadelphia she falls into a dead faint. We end on Matt hearing Molly think, "Matt! Help me! Maaaatt!"

Lastly, and most importantly, Nathan, who's still a drunk and still hallucinates the face of a horribly burned man in the mirror, shaves The Beard to please his kids. THANK GODDARWIN.

I found this episode not much of an improvement over the last few, but it did have a little more coherence and some interesting interplay of storylines -- Matt, for example, reveals himself to Nathan, Sylar joins Maya and makes her odyssey a little less irrelevant (although still not in any way compelling), and the boogeyman is given a face, a name, and some emotional relevance. Still, that coherence was only achieved by ignoring Hiro, Niki, and Peter -- kind of a large contingent to sacrifice, and if every episode is so unrelated to the one that's before it, it will be hard to keep caring about each separate thread.

In Summary: Nathan trimmed his beard -- now let's see the writers trim the cast, or learn to use it properly.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Brothers and Sisters: No Sophomore Slump Here!

Though Heroes has been seriously disappointing me this year so far, that's kind of what I expected. After all, remember Lost? The second season was a severe dropoff from which the show has not yet recovered, even though it got more and more popular; Grey's Anatomy had a more consistently well-written and -structured first season than Lost, if a shorter, and became incurably soapy in the second season; Veronica Mars had a bumpy second season all the more stark because of its unparalleled first year;Joan of Arcadia didn't survive to year 3...we all know the drill. The sophomore season is supposed to suck, right?

Brothers and Sisters, on the other hand, hasn't had a noticeable drop in quality. This is a sadly underrated show, probably in part because it stars Calista Flockhart of Ally McBeal fame -- the reason I began watching without any expectation of taking it seriously. I was surprised to find that, despite the absence of any dancing babies, hallucinatory or otherwise, Brothers and Sisters was one of the most honest portrayals of family life I've ever seen.

Last year's arc was made clear in the pilot, when all five Walker brothers and sisters had to confront their patriarch's death and the subsequent revelation of his secret life with a mistress (and a love child who came on the scene later on). This gave the first season a fair amount of cohesiveness, and most episodes followed a surprisingly effective formula: at least one soapy secret is shared with at least one Walker sibling, who is then sworn to secrecy, but promptly breaks the promise, leading to loud public family drama at the end-of-episode party, where the entire clan gets inevitably drunk.

We start the second season with William's death pretty firmly in the past, except in the premiere, which is Kitty's birthday and the one-year anniversary of the death. Holly, the mistress, and her daughter Rebecca have settled into the fabric of Walker life -- Rebecca is definitely part of the family, though tenuously so, while Holly is definitely separate and finally seems almost content that way. Rather than the one big arc of William's death, the family is dealing with Justin's return from Iraq and the pain he undergoes from his wound. But the storylines are rather more diffuse, and often are more like continuations from last year than new ones -- Tommy's dealing with his son's death at the end of the first season, for example, Kitty's still campaigning for Robert's presidency, and Sarah is coming to grips with the end of her marriage. The whole drunken-Walker-family-at-climactic-party conceit has also been much less used so far, and I rather miss it, but it would be out of place for the family to be going to parties with Justin first in Iraq and then so recently returned.

Nevertheless, the show still has this uncanny sense for the rhythms and ups-and-downs of family life, and for the intricacies and quirks and voices of each character. One of the things I also appreciate is the continuity -- the return of Kevin's ex-lover Scotty, for example, in Sunday's episode made me extremely happy, and was effectively used to demonstrate how much Kevin has changed (I also think Kevin and Scotty are being set up for a reconciliation now that they're each rather more mature, and that makes me even happier). People get closure on this show, their histories matter, and their lovers sometimes come back on the scene in unexpected ways for reasons of character and story, not for the purposes of wringing cheap drama out of a current relationship.

Now that I've written the above post, though, I'm wondering if the lack of sophomore slump is merely because these first few episodes will prove to be the continuation of the first season in spirit, and the rest of season 2 will be its own separate entity. In that case I'll have to bite my tongue. Still, I'm extremely satisfied with how this year is going, and I'm glad to see the Walker clan back in full force.

In Summary: Brothers and Sisters is in top form, and deserves to have the hype that the seriously-slumping Heroes is still getting.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Pushing Daisies 1x02 -- "Dummy"

The pilot of Pushing Daisies was possibly the cutest hour of television I've ever seen.

This week's "Dummy" was, however, in a close second, and it didn't annoy me one bit. The show settled nicely into its mystery-of-the-week formula, which I find promising. Chuck resurrected a man who had been found dead on the road and found out only that the guy had been killed "by a dummy." They eventually discovered that the man had been killed to cover up the fact that a certain dandelion-powered car was in fact very dangerous. I definitely feel like with a show whose UST couple is going to be ultra-dead-end, since, you know, they aren't allowed to touch each other or she will drop dead, the week-to-week story is going to be extremely important. And it was beautifully done, managing to pull off what sounds like an overly-cutesy plot on the page with so much self-assurance that you're kind of compelled to come along for the ride (pun intended, natch).

The visuals were, once again, simply stunning. The flowers -- big puffy white dandelions being wielded by Chuck and Ned, a bulimic redhead dressed as a large yellow dandelion -- and the bright green cars and the general over-saturated design all worked wonderfully. The Chuck/Ned thing continued in the path established by the pilot, with Ned installing a glass door between the driver's and shotgun's seat of his car -- with a little hole just big enough for Chuck's little hand to slip into an airtight glove, for hand-holding purposes. I think that part might get annoying, but hopefully they'll mix it up by introducing a love interest for one of them.

The one thing I wasn't sure I bought was Olive Snook's rendition of "Hopelessly Devoted" in the Pie Hole after-hours. I mean... I understand that Kristin Chenoweth is from Broadway or something, and she has a good voice, and it was kind of funny, and I like everyone else in my (girls') school grew up loving Grease, but it was also kind of dumb and ruined the tone.

The other weird tone issue was the bulimia storyline. At first it seemed like our cute redheaded dandelion impersonator was merely a big eater, one of those quirks that this show likes to establish. She would put away an entire pie in one sitting and then ask for more, only in a good mood when she could have her food. It even started to bother me, like, okay, I'll buy that Ned can raise the dead and everything, but I also have to watch this tiny woman eating tons of pie and not getting fat?! PLEASE. Then suddenly Chuck yells at the men for not noticing that the girl has a serious problem, and we see her laxatives fly out of the car she crashes in? It was weird. Binge-eating and bulimia are odd topics for a show so replete with magic and sunshine; unlike death, which especially because it's curable, has more of a romantic and dramatic flavor in this world, taking laxatives to purge yourself of a huge pie is an unavoidably, viscerally unpleasant idea. So it was weird, but on the whole, kind of interesting. I haven't read other reviews of this episode yet (avoiding spoilers) but I'm curious to know what other people thought of it.

Both episodes of Pushing Daisies that I've now seen, I've enjoyed and admired wholeheartedly. Now I want to see some better introduction of our characters, because we all lead busy lives, and in order to keep coming back we have to care.

In Summary: Still not tired of The Cute.

Related Posts
10/10/07: Pushing Daisies -- Pilot

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark)

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie on Amazon
Everyman's Library :: 2004 :: 512 pp. :: $18.69

Read for the Unread Authors Challenge.

I don't know what I was expecting from this novel. Something prim and old-fashioned, from the "Miss Jean Brodie," something long-drawn-out and Dickensian, from "Prime"; really, I sort of expected to be bored. This was why Spark had remained on my list of authors to be read for so long.

In any case, I was very much not bored. The novel does take place at a prim, old-fashioned boarding school and spans a long period of time, but it's far from prim or old-fashioned itself. Rather, it reads like (what it is:) a New Yorker story stretched out into a novel. Spark tells of the five girls who make up the "Brodie set," a group of young women being educated by a woman named Miss Jean Brodie, who is in her prime, and who is, essentially, the school nutcase. The mystery of the novel is which of the girls betrayed Miss Brodie.

Really, though, far from a mystery, this is a sort of group coming-of-age novel. The girls' minds are opened by Miss Brodie to all sorts of insights about life -- particularly love and sex -- that they are not quite ready for. At first Miss Brodie is their absolute hero. Then, as they grow older, they learn to be skeptical. They learn to judge for themselves. And it's never quite clear whether Miss Brodie herself got crazier, or whether the girls just couldn't recognize it before.

The voice is quiet and sure and graceful in its quirkiness. It describes the five girls of the "Brodie set" in terms of what they are famous for, repeating each often -- whether they are famous for sex, stupidity, mathematics, etc. -- and this is certainly one of the most memorable stylistic tics of the book. In general the narration is distant and playful, not quite omniscient, but close to the girls' perspective, drawing closer, later on, to the mind of one of them without quite entering it.

I don't want to describe this book too much for fear of giving it away, and yet the only way I think I can tell why I loved it is to... give it away. Let me leave off the review with a quotation, one of the most memorable passages in the book. It describes the death of one of the girls years after the main events of the novel (we find out the futures of the other girls, too, though not quite as memorably as this).

"...[She] never again referred her mind to Miss Brodie, but had got over her misery, and had relapsed into her habitual slow bewilderment, before she died while on leave in Cumberland in a fire in the hotel. back and forth along the corridors ran Mary Macgregor, through the thickening smoke. She ran one way; then, turning, the other way; and at either end the blast furnace of the fire met her. She heard no screams, for the roar of the fire drowned the screams; she gave no scream, for the smoke was choking her. She ran into somebody on her third turn, stumbled, and died. But at the beginning of the nineteen-thirties, when Mary Macgregor was ten, there she was sitting blankly among Miss Brodie's pupils."

It's this kind of thing, this strange telescoping through time, that made the novel so magical. As if all the things that happened in the girls' lives, though completely separate and not causally related, were still, somehow, contained and made meaningful within each moment of their childhoods.

In Summary: Highly recommended when you're in the mood for something different.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Heroes Review -- 2x03, "Kindred Spirits"

This week on Heroes, a lot of things happen that we kind of knew were going to. Peter helps out the Irish gangbangers, winning the heart of Ricky's sister Caitlin in the process, revealing which of them is a traitor and eventually becoming an honorary member of the gang. She gives him a tattoo, which his magical healing body doesn't completely heal away, but replaces with the helix sign; he also gets The Box containing his identity, but refuses to open it for reasons of the heart that I'm not sure I buy. Claire also hooks up, with West, after he jerkily almost reveals who she is, but then reveals who he is by scooping her up and flying away to a nice romantic beach. Previously to hooking up they have such awesomely witty banter as, "Why are you such a smartass?" "Why are you so bad at lying?" However, getting close enough to lick his tonsils also gets Claire to the right angle to spot the two marks on West's neck, and he explains how he got them: a kidnapping, by a man with horn-rimmed glasses. Sounds like Papa Bennet!

We watch more of Maya and Alejandro's struggle to get to the border. Maya kills more people with black eye gunk. It's pretty much the same as last week. Present-day Ando finds a 300-year-old scroll from Hiro inside the sword, narrating his life with Takezo Kensei. He tries to make Takezo a hero by making him fetch a Fire Scroll from a temple that's being protected by the "90 angry ronin." As the aforementioned ronin storm angrily down the stairs of the temple entrance, Takezo nervously asks, "How angry are they?" Hee. But he gets the scroll, and wins the heart of the young woman Hiro has fallen in love with despite knowing she's destined for Takezo. He can't bring himself to leave this timeframe quite yet. Back in the present, we're also reintroduced to Micah and Niki, finally, as Niki leaves Micah with his grandmother in her search for a cure -- for which she'll have to give the Company something in return. (They also visit DL's grave, so he's definitely dead. He was pretty, but he dragged the pacing down a lot, so I'm satisfied.)

Also, Sylar's back! I know you're all surprised, because the disappearance of his body last year and the previews last week totally didn't give it away. He's being taken care of by an illusionist, and because of his injuries (presumably) he can't exercise his powers, so when he kills her to take her power, it turns out to be in vain. The episode ends with Mohinder being assigned by the Company to live in Isaac's old apartment. Nervous that he's going to be under surveillance, he calls Bennet and tells him about his new place -- in which he has found one of Isaac's paintings, #8, which shows Bennet dead on the ground with Claire kissing someone to the side. Claire arrives home from her date with West, and the two of them say good night to each other, each with deep suspicion.

Most of this was pretty predictable. We knew Peter and Caitlin were being set up, as well as Claire and West; the Maya thing continues to be blah; Hiro continues puttering around in 1671 which, while nice because it allows us to watch David Anders, seems pretty pointless; we definitely knew about the Sylar thing; and I wasn't terribly surprised by Niki's actions either because of hints we were given in the finale. Still, the introduction of another little snag in the Claire/Bennet relationship was done effectively, and I can tell the Sylar storyline is going to heat up soon. And I really liked some of the editing work with Hiro's storyline -- the shots of flower petals falling on Yaeko, and the transitions between time periods, were cool.

I am really feeling a sophomore slump with this show, all in all. I feel like a lot of set-ups don't pan out, the storylines aren't interconnected enough, and the action isn't twisty enough. Can we get Maya and Alejandro over the border? Please? I am SO BORED by these two. And can we go back to shirtless Peter? I miss shirtless Peter. Sniff.

In Summary: I guess we'll have to wait for Kristen Bell to come and perk things up.

Related Posts
10/01/07: Heroes Recap and Review -- 2x02, "Lizards"
09/24/07: Heroes Second Season Premiere

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Gossip Girl Review -- 1x04, "Bad News Blair"

Gossip Girl Review -- 1x04, "Bad News Blair"

I missed the beginning of this week's Gossip Girl while fiddling with my new, super-finicky HD antenna. Once I tuned in, having switched back to good old regular-def, I was catapulted into a bonding sesh with Blair, Serena, and Mommy Waldorf. We hear that Blair and Serena are going to spend the day together, and they seem very happy in their reunitedness. Meanwhile, Chuck and Nate and dozens of their friends are going to go on a Lost Weekend, meaning that they will shut themselves in a hotel and do all the naughty things Chuck tells them to do.

But the Lost Weekend is crashed! By a stubbly man named, I believe, Carter, who graduated back when Chuck and Nate were teeny eighth-graders and went off to Do His Own Thing, which means that Nate, who doesn't have the guts to do it himself, admires him. "He looks intense," says the lovestruck Nate, to which Chuck replies, "He looks like Matthew McConaughey between movies." Oh, Chuck, how I love you. Chuck spends most of the rest of the episode hating on the stubble and its owner, while Nate continues falling in love -- excuse me, I mean totally asexual hero-worship -- with his new friend, only to discover at the end of the episode that his dad has totally wiped his trust fund. Oh no! Looks like now he might have to adopt that fanny pack.

Meanwhile, on the subject of Bad Parents, Blair's mom picks Blair as the face of her new line! Unfortunately, Blair is horribly stiff in front of the camera. She and Serena, once again BFFs, go to the shoot together and Serena helps her loosen up, and it's adorable and touching (really), but you totally know what's coming. Sure enough, next day, Serena is picked over Blair to be the new model -- Eleanor Waldorf tricks Serena into showing up alone by telling her that Blair is coming "later."

Serena's got her own drama on the side -- she keeps ditching poor annoying Dan Humphrey for Blair. To Dan (and to Serena, who, like Nate, chooses to live like a trust fund baby but constantly try to disown her own choices), this is kowtowing to the Shallow World of the Wealthy, rather than female solidarity or, hell, I don't know, trying to make up to your best friend for the fact that you stole her boyfriend. Anyway, on the day of the second shoot, Dan shows up just in time to disbelieve that Serena was tricked, just as Blair disbelieves her. They share a great moment of bonding in the hall, despite Blair's having been constantly mean to Dan the entire episode, and Dan's deeply-held belief that Blair is barely even human. They are so Pacey and Joey. I give it a season and a half.

Meanwhile, Serena confronts Blair's mom (who makes a hilarious, snotty, Mean-Girls-esque face at Dan when she asks what he's doing there) and quits. Eventually Blair realizes that her mom is the baddie, and she and Serena decide to steal all the Waldorf clothes and have a nice day out on the town, taking pictures of themselves and being generally silly and adorable. By then, Dan's out of the picture. Good riddance -- that deeper-than-thou thing is so sexy when you're in high school, as Serena is, but it gets tiresome afterwards!

So the first half of this episode was, I'll admit, a touch boring. It was nice to see Serena and Blair bonding and all but let's face it, we're here to see them bring on the mean. Chuck, of course, saves any scene he's in with his own particular brand of laid-back, rich-boy evilness. And once Blair's mom enters the picture, acting like a snobby high-school girl herself (the actress goes a little over-the-top for a woman of her age, which is what makes it so funny), the plotting and wickedness grows exponentially.

Plus, I love Serena and Blair being nice to each other. The photo scene was, though ominous, sweet as pie, and the last scene with the two out on the town was even more light-hearted and adorable. The dynamic between them is complicated partly because Serena, though she obviously doesn't mind attention, would attract it whether she wanted it or not. She's that girl who literally turns heads when she walks down the street (there's a scene this week that shows Blair noticing, and half-resenting, it). And her relationship with Blair is obviously colored by the fact that Blair understands why people are drawn to her friend, yet still can't help being envious of it. So it's sometimes impossible for Blair, or the rest of us, to tell, whether she steals the spotlight on purpose, or thoughtlessly, or simply because she has that quality, that charisma, that people can't ignore. Although I think Blake Lively is basically the last actress on earth other than Mischa Barton to actually possess that kind of charisma, she does have fantastic hair, she did a pretty good job this week and has great chemistry with Blair, and the writing is good enough for me to suspend my disbelief.

This episode really demonstrated the ways in which Blair is a great character. She's a huge improvement on her obvious predecessor Summer, who was shallow and bitchy at first, but was eventually turned into that spunky girl with a heart of gold we've seen in a dozen other movies. Blair, in contrast, does things weekly -- hourly! -- that are undeniably wrong and that heart of gold has kind of shrivelled to a tiny kernel as she works her way to the top of her social sphere. Dan's justified to wonder if she's really got anything going for her, but as viewers we can enjoy all facets of her awesomeness.

In Summary: Bit of a fall-off, but saves itself by the end!

ETA: good news - Gossip Girls was just picked up for a full season. For a link on this story and other meta-gossip about this show, visit gossipgirlchat!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pushing Daisies -- Pilot

Pushing Daisies premiered on ABC a week ago, brimming with quirk and magic. Narrated by a male voice that's sort of a cross between the narrators of George of the Jungle and Amelie (I'm serious), it tells the story of Ned (Lee Pace, when he grows up), who at age 9 discovered that he could touch dead things and bring them back to life. He used this power to bring his mom back after she died in the kitchen of an aneurysm.

Then, when pretty next door neighbor Charlotte "Chuck" Charles' dad dropped dead after sixty seconds, Ned figured out the First Catch: someone in proximity will die if he resurrects anyone longer than a minute.

That night, when his mom kissed him and dropped dead again, he figured out the Second Catch: the second touch brings death back. Forever! So his mom dies, her dad dies, and Ned and Chuck have their first kisses at a funeral. Then Chuck moves away, and they never see each other again -- in this lifetime.

Fast-forward to Ned's life as the secret weapon of Chi McBride's Emerson Cod, who uses him to resurrect murder victims, figure out how they died, and collect the reward. Coincidentally, Ned sees a news story about Chuck's murder on a cruise ship.

Long story short, he can't bring himself to re-kill her (allowing the funeral director to die instead), and they set about solving Chuck's murder (giving Chuck's aunts the reward to brighten their sad old ages), and becoming a team of three with Emerson Cod. Too bad Ned can't touch Chuck a second time, 'cause they're in lurve! So they just pretend to hold hands and/or smoosh the mouths of small monkey statues together as surrogate kissers (weird, I know. Think when they move to the next level).

Anyway, I didn't get to watch the pilot till today (and I'm still behind on most shows), but I hope lots of people will be watching tonight, as I'm excited to see another episode of this. The murder-solving aspect makes me hope it will serialize nicely, but this level of quirk will be hard to maintain. And is the narrator dude going to be this talkative the whole time? Because he's not nearly as entertaining as Gossip Girl (who returns to grace us with her presence when Pushing Daisies is over -- best TV night of the week!)

In Summary: Highly recommended! A great pilot, and I have high hopes for the rest of the show.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Jailbird (Kurt Vonnegut)

Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut
Dial Press Trade Paperback :: 1999 :: 320 pp.

For the Unread Authors Challenge, Book #1.

I picked this up because Galapagos and Cat's Cradle had already been checked out of the library, and I very much enjoyed it. It basically follows a "Harvard man" in his first days out of jail for his involvement in the Watergate scandal; the biggest preoccupation is his betrayal of an old friend during the McCarthy era. He has only loved four women, and he mentions each of them.

I felt quite off-balance reading this short little book, which didn't surprise me, given what I've heard of its author. I enjoyed the snappy humor, particularly when directed at the concept of the "Harvard man" ("I've heard you can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much") -- I'm always, narcissistically, intrigued by literary portrayals of my venerable school -- and I liked the portrayal of the central character, who was very fully-developed and human and kind of crazy.

I wonder if I should've started with one of the classics. If I had read Jailbird out of context I would not, despite its dealings with major complications in American history, have immediately pegged it as an Important Book. Next I'll read Slaughterhouse 5 or Cat's Cradle. But I will certainly continue to read Vonnegut's work.

In Summary: A solid read.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Arcade Fire at Randall's Island

I went into New York yesterday to see the Arcade Fire concert at Randall's Island (with Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead, LCD Soundsystem, and Wild Light (only one of which I've even heard of -- I haven't been keeping up with my mp3 blogs lately).

In any case, the bus line to get there was insane; I arrived at 4:30, an hour after starting time, but still waited five hours to see the Arcade Fire come on. So worth it, though. They started with "Black Mirror," one of my favorites from Neon Bible, and I realized that even though I was there alone and felt a bit awkward, sitting on the grass on the sidelines just wouldn't do it, so I made my way up to where I could really hear. And it was fantastic.

I almost cried during "Neighborhood #2." I couldn't even believe I was seeing human beings actually make this music. It seems like it comes from something bigger than just a few young people who worked in obscurity to write songs about dead family members way back when; but even as they sang this grand, unforgettable anthem, there was something humble about their faces up on the big screen.

I left during the first encore, trying to beat the rush, worried about getting back to the train station in Harlem in time for my train, so I had to listen to "Wake Up" (the second encore) from the bus line. Really, listening to "Wake Up," live, would have been worth waiting around in Harlem for a late-late train, but because I was alone, I chickened out. I totally hate myself for it, though!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Gossip Girl Review -- 1x03, "Poison Ivy"

This week's Gossip Girl opens with our protagonists, the rich and not-so-rich, getting dressed for school. Amusingly, every single girl shoves a headband onto her head. Is that part of dress code? Gossip Girl Voiceover explains that one thing, other than catfights, these guys all have to care about is getting into an Ivy League school. So the big social event of this episode is the mixer at the end of the week with the Ivy League reps (at which Blair's charitable society will also honor a community group). Here comes a quick recap, but forgive my fuzziness on certain details, as I watched this while surrounded by many talkative girls!

We're promptly informed which Ivy each character has been assigned to. Serena really wants to go to Brown (is this supposed to indicate to us that somewhere inside her there's a free spirit? Because, please); Blair wants Yale; Chuck settles on Princeton (I think because of a hot rep); Nate's been destined for Dartmouth by his father since conception; and Dan wants Dartmouth because of some intellectual reason I don't really care about. They all compete for usher positions at the mixer, and of course Dan loses out because he's POOR and there's CLASS CONFLICT (this is an important concept). Until, that is, Daddy Humphrey seeks out Mommy Van Der Woodsen and "offers his services," meaning sexual favors entertainment for the mixer, and secures Dan a position at the mixer.

Meanwhile, Blair and Serena have a little tiff on the field hockey, um, field, and Serena wants truce but Blair plays wounded. She decides to carry out "total social extraction" on Serena. What a great phrase. Secretly, Blair convinces Chuck to spy on Serena for her in a fairly flirtatious exchange; she pretends to be disgusted when he hints at wanting something special in return, but I think we all know these two unabashed schemers are destined to hook up. Chuck sees Serena heading into the Ostroff Treatment Center for family therapy with Eric and her mom, but Blair assumes she knows something big about Serena now, and outs her as a recovered addict when she decides to honor the Ostroff Center at the mixer!

Serena, who spends the early part of the mixer sabotaging Blair with the Yale rep, is now mortified and trapped; rather than outing Eric as the one in treatment, she allows herself to be humiliated. But Jenny, last seen bonding with Eric over his secret and promising never to tell anyone, immediately tells Dan what's really going on. Eric, order your "I'm with stupid" T-shirt now, because when you hook up with Jenny, you're going to need it. Impressed with Serena's selflessness, Dan withdraws his earlier objections to the fact that she's, you know, human and flawed, and they end the episode on a happy note. "If you want someone to talk to, or not talk to..." he offers, and she says she might take up his offer "to get together and not talk" sometime. Dirty!

Heroically, Eric outs himself to Blair, who, to her credit, looks absolutely devastated at what she hears; this catalyzes the best scene of the episode. Blair goes to the place where she knows Serena goes to think things over. At this special place, she finds a large ugly hat with a Serena attached to it, "reading." (Um, sure, show.) Eyes teary, Blair reads aloud a letter she wrote to Serena during Serena's year away, which she never sent. "Dear Serena, my world is falling apart, and you're the only one who would understand [...] Where are you? Why don't you call? Why did you leave without saying goodbye? You're supposed to be my best friend. I miss you so much. Love, Blair." There's a lot of tears and apologies after that, and it's (god help me) truly moving.

Aaaaaanyway. There are, obviously, a lot of problems with Gossip Girl. The class-conflict, parents-planning-everyone's-futures stuff is ridiculously un-subtle and Nate is so boring a character that I stop paying attention whenever he's onscreen. But Chuck is just delicious in his unadulterated evil ("Why should I be chosen to be an usher? I'm... Chuck Bass."), Blair is equally delicious when she's being evil, and the Gossip Girl voiceover is the syrup on top of the fluffy pancake that is each episode. (Dumb simile, my bad.) Josh Schwartz's work on The OC demonstrated his lack of ability to pace story arcs, and Serena and Blair change their feelings about each other about six times a week, but so far, I'm pretty happy with how things are moving along.

In Summary: Whoever's not watching this is missing out on high drama, low blows, and lots of general fun.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Sexing the Cherry (Jeanette Winterson)
1998 :: Grove Press :: 192pp. :: $12.00
My latest read, and I don't think I understood it well enough to review it properly. It involves a very fat woman who may not actually be fat so much as she has memories of being so, and her son Jordan. They live in like the 16th century, have lots of sex, and alternate narrating. I don't know, I really didn't pay enough attention to the first few pages, and then I was in the middle of a book that was way too confusing for me to follow while trying to read standing up at the cafe where I work part-time. I decided to just enjoy the language and images so far as I could, and certainly Jeanette Winterson, who I believe is known for her queer fiction (I read her Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for a Literature & Gender class a couple years ago, a lesbian coming-of-age novel -- forgive the pat labels, I'm trying to be brief -- that I very much enjoyed), can come up with weirder sexual imagery than anyone I can think of.

Also, I found this deleted scene, which I'd never seen, from season 8 of ER that reminded me of my intense love for the show, and for Alex Kingston's challenging, complicated portrayal of strong-willed surgeon Elizabeth Corday.

Thirdly, The Critical Lass just had its 1,000th visitor. Cool.

Now I need to go do math problems, so all the shiny pretty TV (Brothers & Sisters, Chuck, Reaper, House) will have to wait till tomorrow.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Heroes Recap and Review: 2x02 "Lizards"

Tonight's episode of Heroes opens with Peter Petrelli being beaten up by our favorite gang of Irish thieves. Little do they know he can heal himself and phase through stuff! They want him to remember things, but he says he can't. Girls across America melt into a puddle because sweaty Milo is kinda hot. Eventually a cute girl named Kaitlin, the sister of one of the thieves, comes in to sponge Peter off (as girls across America melt further out of sheer jealousy) and realizes that he's totally healed. Later, when she's left alone to keep watch over him, he escapes from his ropes and is about to climb out the window (it's not really made clear why he can phase through ropes, but he needs a window to get through a wall) when he hears some guys come in and threaten to rape Kaitlin. So Peter goes Sylar on their asses, throwing them across the room with a mere gesture, and Kaitlin is sort of shocked and awed by the whole thing, enough to try to protect Peter from her brother. But her brother has other plans for Peter, which unfortunately I missed because I got a phone call!

Meanwhile, Claire is having a bit of a tough time settling into playing normal. She shows off by reaching into a pot of boiling water to rescue her mother's ring. Mama Bennett's response? "You don't need to be flashy." After she heads to school, Bennett sees the news about Hiro's father's death, and shows his wife Isaac's painting predicting that exact event. Apparently there are a series of eight that have yet to come true. Bennett has embarked on a quest to get these paintings, using Mohinder's in with the Company to get him to cure the Haitian from his mysterious hero-disease and procure him a job at Bennett's Kinko's. Mohinder's memory is erased, but the Company sees it as just an honest bungling of the job. But poor Bennett also has to deal with an idiot of a daughter who not only gets her car stolen but has an unfortunate tendency to talk loudly about sensitive information (like the fact that she can regenerate, or that they're running for their lives) in the middle of Kinko's. Claire's fascination with the idea that her blood could help wounded people heal or regenerate leads her to use household scissors to cut her pinky toe off. After a fairly long moment of suspense, the toe does grow back, and West, who was creepily staring in the window, sees the whole thing. Claire chases him outside, but all she finds is a copy of Suresh's book.

Hiro, meanwhile, tries to right the wrongs he created in 1671 Japan by convincing Takezo Kensei to woo the right woman and become a hero. (Part of the convincing involves dunking. Toughguy!Hiro is pretty amusing.) He saves the young woman Takezo was destined to love by using his power to steal swords instantaneously from his enemies. She's a lot more grateful than Kaitlin. Like, take-me-now grateful. But Hiro convinces her that it was Takezo himself who saved her. Then he almost gets Takezo killed by leading him into the path of three arrows, but turns out Takezo heals pretty damn quick after an arrow is pulled out. Very interesting.

Parkman investigates Hiro's father's death, accidentally tipping off Angela Petrelli that he can read minds. She demands a lawyer, ending the interrogation. The Beard shows up (with Nathan Petrelli in its evil clutches) to pick up his mom, but she's being attacked by an unseen force. They save her in time, but find the threatening picture from last time on her person. Ominous! It's actually a really great scene. Meanwhile, Maya runs and makes people's eyes bleed again. It's still boring. In case you care, though, they're on their way to Mexico, and apparently Maya's brother has either the superpower of healing song, or he just likes to sing while exercising his healing powers. It's unclear--but then, I have trouble paying attention to subtitles.

Great episode. I was totally into it, except when Maya was on, and I'm not missing Niki and company at all; it was a very action-packed, well-rounded, well-paced hour. We have the introduction of a few longer arcs, what with the mysterious long-distance attack (the Boogeyman!), the series of eight paintings, and the insinuation of Mohinder into the Company.

In Summary: All I could've hoped for.

September 24, 2007: Heroes Second Season Premiere

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Leftovers from Premiere Week: House, Chuck, and Reaper

Lightning-fast, the three premieres I watched this weekend:

House (9:00 Tuesdays, Fox)

Dr. House is back and hotterbetter than ever. We return to season 4 without the Team, and House is, typically, not at all happy about the change. Wilson resorts to holding House's guitar hostage in an effort to convince him to hire a new team, leading to House, hilariously, holding one of Wilson's patients hostage. Cuddy wears a tight dress and promises to leave House alone in return for said hiring, also unsuccessfully. But when House takes days to figure out why a woman who was crushed by a collapsing building is having so many other symptoms, he realizes he needs a new team and picks 32 candidates to undergo a six-week "interview" for the positions.

I was a bit nervous when House made a move towards hiring someone who was just like Cameron. It's in character for him to hire people who are sort of facsimiles of his old team in a desperate attempt to avoid dealing with change. In-character, but not at all good for the show. The best thing they could do would be to introduce young doctors who are actually funny and could do more than react to House in any given scene. So I hope that happens. The six-week job interview could be awesome. It would be like the beginning of American Idol.

The patient story was so-so. The case didn't have as many cool symptoms and there was no funky camera work inside her body, that I recall anyway. But one of the eeriest things I can remember seeing on television was Cuddy's realization that her patient, whose face was swollen and unrecognizable from injuries and burns, was silently screaming. Horror.

In Summary: Definitely still one of the best shows on TV.

Chuck (8:00 Mondays, NBC)

Chuck is an $11-an-hour Nerd Herd employee who receives a mysterious email from an old friend containing thousands of pictures with encrypted government secrets. Basically, someone died and made Chuck the new human computer. So of course the CIA and NSA (or is it FBI?) start chasing him, trying to use him. He survives a car chase, defuses a bomb, and develops sexual tension with a hot blonde NSA agent (or is it CIA...), all while looking and talking remarkably like Adam Brody's not-quite-as-cute older brother. I'll take it.

So Josh Schwartz strikes again, but unfortunately, this is no Gossip Girl. It's kind of uneven and, for a show about spies, not all that action-packed. Nevertheless, by resurrecting Seth Cohen under a new name, and adding Schwartz's slightly-nutty sense of humor and an awesome scene where two stoned skaters narrate Chuck's car chase ("Whoa, computer emergency"), Chuck succeeds. If my crazy TV/class/work/workout schedule doesn't wear me out, I'll keep watching.

In Summary: I'll give it a dece. Bonus points for cute nerd hero.

Reaper (9:00 Tuesdays, CW)

This was the nicest surprise of my weekend. Funny and original, it centers around Sam, a 21-year-old guy who just realized that his parents sold his soul to the devil before he was born. Now he has to mini-vac fugitive souls that have escaped from hell and return them right back where they belong, via the portal at the local DMV.

Possibly the best character, certainly the funniest, is Sam's best friend Sock, who's basically a cross between Jack Black and Seth Rogen, and made me laugh out loud like a dork to myself several times while I watched this streaming on The CW's site. Andi, meanwhile, is the UST character and as such mostly acts charming and causes Sam to be cutely nervous. I love me some painfully obvious UST, and even better if the rest of the show is funny. Plus, you can't beat a concept like this one!

In Summary: Enthusiastically recommend.