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.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Night at the Museum (2006)

Last night, a bunch of my friends, all in college and thus purportedly adults, got together to watch Ben Stiller's comedic masterpiece Night at the Museum, in which hapless failed inventor Larry gets a job as a night watchman to impress his son from a failed marriage. (Paul Rudd appears, weirdly, as the ex-wife's new hubby, for about three scenes in which he gets zilch to do. I thought he had an actual career. Weird.)

Unfortunately, as we all know from the trailers, at the Museum of Natural History where Larry gets his job, a magical tablet brings everything to life at night. Larry spends much of the rest of the movie running around the museum wildly yelling things like "Ahhhh! Huns!", being shot with tiny flaming arrows by tiny Mayans, and feeding "gum-gum" to a large stone head that keeps calling him "dum-dum." Also, some lions chase him, and some surprise non-dead villains appear at the end to wreak even more havoc.

This was the kind of movie where you're sitting there going, "Oh, um, heh, that was kind of funny. Okay, so when is this over?" the entire time. Every time another night started we all groaned, feeling tricked since the title gives no indication that you have to sit through not one, but way too many nights at the museum. Nevertheless, certain things save the movie: Ben Stiller's boss, who is constantly being incoherently fretful in a ridiculous British accent and invents the inspired phrase "humor box," and a scene where Ben Stiller's mother plays an extremely disapproving lady at an employment office. Also, Larry's eventual resolution to the problem of Attila the Hun coming alive and wanting to rip his limbs off is classic.

Ben Stiller isn't terribly funny here -- think that episode of Friends where he played "The Screamer," who was over-the-top angry all the time and was much more shrill than comedic. But there are definitely some amusing moments, and I suppose if I'd been, you know, eight, or anywhere near the intended age demographic for this movie, I bet I would have enjoyed it.

In Summary: Recommended only if you're with your kids, you are a kid, or you combine with large quantities of beer.

Night at the Museum Drinking Game

1) Drink every time the movie is clearly trying to convince kids that doing research and learning about history is both fun and useful for real life.

2) Drink every time something happens that is so nonsensical that you don't really know how else you could react.

3) Two drinks for each instance of homoerotic subtext. You may think you're just imagining it at first, but you will be well and truly rewarded for your attention by the end.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Catching Up on Books

Y'all, I tried to watch the 14th season premiere of ER tonight, and it was such a mistake. I took two years off, and now I only recognize a handful of characters (well, I do recognize John Stamos of course, I just don't know what he's doing on my once-favorite show). Where is Luka? Where is Kerry? Why is Morris still there?

So a recap is not forthcoming, as I was totally lost and gave up 40 minutes in. And I'd review The Office season premiere, which was awesome, but I don't know the show very well, as this was maybe my fifth episode. (Here's my three-word recap: Jim. Pam. Squee.)

But, here are a few books I haven't gotten around to reviewing.

Camilla, by Madeleine L'Engle.
Laurel Leaf | 1982 | 278 pp.
A flimsy novel too deeply situated in the inspirational YA genre to grasp me at this age. I bought it for $2 at a street paperback sale the day after L'Engle died, thinking it a fit way to memorialize a writer that had a huge effect on me as a child with books such as The Small Rain (a fantastic coming-of-age novel much more mature than her YA stuff), A House Like a Lotus, Troubling a Star, and of course A Wrinkle In Time. But there's a reason no one makes us read Camilla in middle school. It deals with the romance between a girl whose parents are just getting divorced and a boy who's always seen his parents as fallible. Camilla learns to accept her parents as human beings who make mistakes, there's some extremely un-subtle God talk typical of L'Engle, she falls in love, and boom, it's over. And... I will probably never think about it again.

Republic of Dreams. Greenwich Village: The American Bohemia, 1910-1960, by Ross Wetzsteon.
Simon & Schuster | 2002 | out of print
Ross Wetzsteon's book, purporting to be a history of Greenwich Village, consists largely of a series of mini-biographies of figures such as Edna St. Vincent Millay, William Carlos Williams, and Thomas Wolfe. These individuals move to the Village, usually with the hope of escaping and upending the conventions of society. Wetzsteon writes with deep affection and a satirical edge; we see that these flamboyant artist types are usually terribly lost, and that their attempts to live and love beyond the boundaries of, for example, monogamy and fiscal responsibility often end unhappily. Nevertheless, because I'm twenty years old, I could feel my soul being called out of my body by the grand dreams of the bohemians. Recommended to anyone who once wanted to be an artist.

Brighton Rock, by Graham Greene.
Penguin Classics | 2004 | 288 pp.
A story about evil, by the master of stories about the soul. I love Graham Greene to death; the sheer power of the end of The End of the Affair (snerk) changed the way I thought about spirituality; but I don't think I even finished the last few pages of this. It's about the covering up of a crime, basically, and the main character is terribly heartless and cruel. But it took a long time to get started and didn't seem to have a clear center. I feel sure that if I sat down and read this through with concentration a second time, I'd get more out of it, so I'd recommend it to other Greene fans who are willing to put in the effort.

Bionic Woman Pilot Review

Bionic Woman is, like its creator David Eick's first baby Battlestar Galactica, an updated version of an old, and cheesy, sci-fi show. In it, bartender Jaime (Michelle Ryan) is in a car accident with her scientist boyfriend Chris. Not only does she lose the child she's carrying, she loses an arm, two legs, an eye, and an ear.

She wakes up... dun dun dun... bionic.

This apparently means that there are "anthrocytes" in her blood that help her to heal super-fast, and fake replacement limbs that look just like the regular shapely ones she was born with but have super-strength, an ear that apparently has super-hearing (I wasn't quite clear on the details of that one), and also some kind of optical interface that identifies potential enemies. But the group owning this technology, which her boyfriend is a part of, wants her to help them with their mission and make her a weapon or a military asset of some sort. However, Chris helps her run away back to her old life with her younger sister and job at a bar. Meanwhile, Katee Sackhoff shows up as Sarah Corvis, the first Bionic Woman, and helps Jaime discover her powers.

I have to admit, the pilot was pretty damn cheesy. I'd expected something grittier, trained by BSG to expect David Eick to make me cry, and instead it was like, "ooh, funky camera work... ooh, girlfight, yay." Which is fine, and quite fun in its own way. And the relationship between Jaime, who's solidly living in the real world, and Chris, who's mired in scientific research, military secrets, and the university bubble, could be interesting to explore now that things have changed between them. I'd kind of like to know more about her optical interface too, because it kind of seems right now like it's just green circles around people's faces and random series of numbers.

The question is, I think, what is this about? So she has superpowers now, and she has to fight not to be used as a weapon. I don't want to be hit on the head repeatedly by a large anvil with The Themes written on it in big letters, but I think what was lacking was a sense of deeper urgency and meaning.

In Summary: I'd recommend people to watch and wait on this one. It certainly has potential, but at this point there's no contest: on Wednesday nights at 9, I'll be watching Gossip Girl, and waiting for Bionic Woman to come online instead.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Gossip Girl Review -- 1x02, "The Wild Brunch"

Gossip Girl returns for a second episode in high style. Narrated by the title character, who packs on gems like "Looks like Blair and Chuck arrived with an appetite... FOR DESTRUCTION", Blair and Serena continue their power play in a ridiculously entertaining hour of teen soapiness.

Ready for a synopsis off the top of my sleep-deprivation-addled head? Take a deep breath...

So Serena and Dan's date ended with a wave from Dan, which, OMG TEH TERRIBLE, so he goes to "wait for", aka "stalk", Serena at her hotel. Meanwhile, Nate, last seen deeply regretting his promise to cut Serena off, also decides to stalk, leading to an uncomfortable couple of minutes. Serena's off trying to win Blair back again, only to find out that Blair knows she slept with Nate, so... no dice. Blair thinks Serena better not show up at the big brunch today! Anyway, Dan wins the standoff, mainly because Chuck comes and distracts Nate right as Serena's getting back, and Serena wangles him an invitation to the big brunch.

At the brunch, which is staffed by gray-painted people posing as rock statues (yeah, I... whatever), things get ugly. Chuck and Dan give each other "hateful," aka "subtextually homoerotic," glances; Nate gives Serena "meaningful," aka "vacant" glances. Nate convinces Serena to meet him upstairs in Chuck's suite so they can talk, but then stupidly lets Blair bring him to Chuck's suite for Blair's deflowering. Whoops. I must say, I wouldn't betray my best friend for someone that stupid. Blair's a wee bit annoyed and runs downstairs to reveal Serena's big sin to Dan. The five main characters stand in a circle and get all dramatic; things end with Dan pushing someone, causing a big accident (Blair's face at this is priceless, a battleground between her cool facade and her glee at the dramatic success of her scheme), and ditching Serena. Last scene, Nate and Blair make up.

Whew. Then there's Jenny's pursuit of popularity, for which she takes Blair's cast-off designer dress in exchange for support against Serena, and Dan's dad flirting with Serena's mom, who's sleeping with (I think) Chuck's dad. Or possibly Dan's dad. But hell, does it matter?

Blake Lively (Serena) definitely improved this week, in my opinion. She still does the pursed-lips thing that I thought Keira Knightley might have taken out a trademark on, but less often. Leighton Meester (Blair) is fantastic in a way I didn't notice last time. She has a bit of a big-sisterly vibe with Jenny, but her flashes of concern, even tenderness, for the younger girl are so intertwined with her need for power over both Jenny and the larger social world. It's crazy and complicated. Weird for that to happen on this show.

Half the time, when I laugh, I don't know if I'm laughing at or with Gossip Girl... and I don't care. The sheer delighted over-the-top-ness of this show just sweeps you along. The dialogue hits a perfect combination of cliches, Clueless, Bring It On, and The OC circa "The Model Home." It's audacious and ridiculous and slickly-commercialized and, yeah, kind of silly, but... awesome.

In Summary: Soon we'll all be calling each other by our first initials. It's that addictive.

09/21/07: Gossip Girl Pilot -- Full Review

Monday, September 24, 2007

Heroes Second Season Premiere

Tonight the long-awaited second season of Heroes opened with the teensiest of bangs, taking us four months forward to see what's happened to our beloved super-people. Admittedly, I couldn't see very well what had happened to them because my antenna reception sucks, but here's what I could gather.

Hiro's still in 1671 Japan, and I don't think it's four months later, but whatever. He finds Takezo Sensei, but discovers he's actually -- gasp! -- a white dude from England, and -- double gasp! -- in fact, that he is Sark. (Actually, that was my discovery. But it made me much happier than most of this sleepy-making pilot did.) He's excited about that, but immediately becomes afraid that he's pulling a Michael J. Fox and changing his own future/present.

Meanwhile, back in the present-time-but-four-months-later (whatever), Claire and her family have moved to Cali and are trying to blend in. Claire flirts with a pretty boy named West who, it turns out, can fly. So is he also related to the Petrellis, or do some superheroes repeat powers, and why didn't we know that before, and can Claire ever have sexual tension with someone who's not, you know, possibly related to her?

Other developments: Nathan grew a beard, Mohinder and Parkman are taking care of Molly, and Mohinder's plotting with Bennett to get an in with The Company. Ando is now the lackey of Mr. Nakamura, but when the latter receives a death threat in the form of a photograph of himself with The Symbol printed on it in red, Ando tries to fetch him a sword to defend himself. Meanwhile, Evil Grandma Petrelli also receives a death threat... and the photo of her is the other half of Mr. Nakamura's! She and Nakamura posit that the killer is "one of them," whatever that means (there are apparently nine left). This was actually somewhat intriguing.

New character Maya's trying to make a run out of Mexico for America. Her storyline would have been exciting, what with the human trafficking and the threat of separation from her brother and the eventual revelation that her powers have somehow killed everyone around her, but... I don't know Maya, so I managed to keep pretty calm. Mostly I was wondering when I got to stare at Milo Ventimiglia's face again.

This didn't happen till the end, when a bunch of Irish iPod thieves (it was bad reception but I really think this is what they were) discover Peter Petrelli chained inside a warehouse. He doesn't remember who he is! That was exciting! But it only happened in the last thirty seconds and the rest of the episode was about as exciting as the History channel!

Good things: there's definitely a new villain hovering just offstage, one who gives Molly nightmares; I assume that will be the second-season nemesis, and that's a relief, cause I was getting tired of Sylar. Also, Hayden Panettiere is still a cute, talented actress, Hiro's still a cute dork, and Nathan's beard was so hideous that it almost became cute again. I think it should get separate, possibly top, billing in the credits. It definitely stole the show.

So, there were good things. But... I was bored. I didn't find the first-season finale quite as disappointing as everyone said it was, but this was just painful. I almost did homework during it. I don't feel like it did a great job setting up an arc for season 2; the characters were too separate, when the action should have been more unified, and important characters like the Bennetts barely even got a story at all (to say nothing of the Niki-Micah-D.L. clan, without whom I frankly think the show was better off). Fastforwarding and showing us that, yep, after the big season finale things did change a lot: that's not surprising, and it didn't make me need to watch more.

We know that the writers of this show are capable of putting together addictive, fast-paced episodes that keep our attention glued despite an unwieldy cast size and disjointed episodic storytelling. They were off their game for the premiere, but hopefully things will pick up in the rest of the season.

In Summary: As Hiro would say, tsumaranakatta! ("That was boring", obvi. Sorry for the repetition, but it's kind of all I've got to say...)

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

The Blind Assassin | $18.98 | 544 pp.

Read for the Complete Booker challenge (my original review is here).

The Blind Assassin opens with the statement, "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge." Only at the end of the book, when everything about this meandering, tragic, cryptic narrative of two sisters comes to its point, do you understand this sentence, down to the significance of its indefinite articles.

From the vantage point of old age, Iris, Laura's older sister, writes the story of their comings of age in the Depression. Laura is "strange," "odd"; she has deeply-held, unconventional religious beliefs, and exhibits a naivete dangerous for a young girl who is soon cut adrift by the falling apart of her family. Meanwhile, Iris understands more about the world around her. Two men dominate the lives and minds of each of the women in complex ways that Atwood only fully reveals near the end: one is a sinister figure, wealthy and powerful; one is an idealistic activist in hiding, easily worshipped.

Meanwhile, the story of two nameless lovers, written in the present tense, third-person, close but not too close to the consciousness of the woman. They tell each other stories, they sleep together, they play emotional games. He's harsh and often needlessly brutal, she's brave but vulnerable. Then there are newspaper articles, which use an amusingly cheesy style to encapsulate in puff pieces events which often have deep implications in Iris's or Laura's life.

To say more about the plot would give too much away, even though Atwood's beautiful prose is so prominent and memorable that it might be more of a draw than the story she spins. The deft way that she weaves this story and explores the identity of the two sisters, the artistry of it, become more and more apparent and then just dazzle in the climax. Iris's voice is authoritative and convincingly that of an old woman; her view on her own actions as a young woman is slightly more distant, and so focused on trying to find out more about the people around her that sometimes Young Iris is more of an enigma than her distracted, "odd" sister. Though the people in this book are very real, they're also separate and isolated in the labyrinth of human society.

If I had a complaint it was that the first couple hundred pages started so slowly. They were beautifully written, to be sure, but almost too mysterious -- I needed more. On the other hand, maybe it kept me reading, and I'm certainly glad that I did.

In Summary: Highly recommended.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Gossip Girl Pilot -- Full Review

In the frothy pilot of Josh Schwartz's new show Gossip Girl, Kristen Bell narrates as Gossip Girl, an anonymous internet blogger who texts everyone in a Manhattan prep school to keep them updated on the doings of the It girls. Blonde ice-cold party girl Serena has returned to this world from a year off for mysterious (brother's-suicide-related) reasons to find that her erstwhile best friend Blair, the virginal brunette, is occupying her spot at the top. Blair's boyfriend Nate is just a touch too happy that Serena's back -- turns out they slept together right before she left -- and when Blair finds out, the catfight's back on after a brief reunion. Meanwhile, friendless child of divorce Dan, who's been "romantically" interested in Serena for years (read: "stalking"), manages to charm Serena on the night of a big party.

Fistfight? Check.

Big party as backdrop to climax? Check.

Perky use of abbreviations in inappropriate places? Check.

The spirit of The OC has totally returned to us. A little less funny, a little bit more unabashedly girly, Gossip Girl is like cotton candy. I have to admit, I couldn't have enjoyed it more.

A rundown: Kristen Bell makes as good a V.O. here as on V.M. If you found Blake Lively's seductive-blonde mannerisms annoying in Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, you'll want to rip your hair out when you watch her in this (join the club). Leighton Meester is mediocre as Blair, Chace Crawford (Nate) and Penn Badgley (Dan) do a great job of supplying pretty faces (and not much else) as Serena's moony suitors, and Ed Westwick alone has a little life in him as the villain, Chuck.

Terrible actors? Check, check, check, check.

In Summary: All snarking aside, and all considerations of quality aside, if you're the target audience for this show (and you know who you are), then you should set aside an hour on Wednesday nights to squee. And if you're not in the target audience, but you're willing to be entertained... you might still want to check out Gossip Girl.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My life as a TV viewer just got a whole lot better.

It's too late to write a full-fledged review tonight, but I have this to say: I feel like the first season of The OC met the movie Mean Girls and popped out a snarky, cheesy, sex-and-booze-filled, shiny little baby pilot.

What did they name it? Gossip Girl.

Californication Review -- 1x06, "Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder"

I'm starting to really understand the fact that the Dawson's Creek people did Californication, too. I mean, I knew it in my head before, but I could never quite believe that the dreamy-eyed creators of the Dawson-Joey "soulmate" debacle could really come up with Hank Moody and his plethora of skanks. But boy, do I believe it now, because Monday's episode was sappy beyond the suspension of disbelief.

Hank meets a girl in a bikini at the grocery store and immediately gets high with and sleeps with her. Of course. (There's a pretty amusing eye-roll from the frumpyish blonde cashier while Hank flirts with Bikini Girl, but Hank spoils my amusement by comforting her with the always-romantic line, "I'll make a run at you, Frosty. I will." I was like, ...please let this be another dream sequence. Please let this be another dream sequence... nope, this is really happening.) She rips him off, but returns later to give back his stuff.

Meanwhile, Mia continues to cause trouble by stalking Hank and asking for his work to borrow. He offers to help her edit her own draft instead, and she follows up her acceptance of his offer by crying wolf about a sketchy teacher from last week. Also on the family front, Hank flirts ridiculously with Karen and cries (cries!) when he sees Becca's band play onstage. (This is where the writers' training on Dawson's Creek was in full play.)

Also, Hank's agent Charlie juggles his slavish secretary and horny wife by asking Wifey to try bondage with him. "I could bring you to the brink of orgasm and without ever letting you come," he suggests, to which she says, seeming near tears, "I feel like we've done that." It's grotesque and awful and ridiculous, but my one emotional response to this episode was intense sympathy for Charlie's wife, who gamely tried to balance respect for and willingness to try out her husband's fantasies with a deep sense that something had gone terribly wrong in their relationship.

The Hank-Karen bonding in this episode ratchets up a notch. They get drunk and high, have a silly little conversation about who makes who happy or crazy and who misses whose smell, and then they make out; then she shoves him in a pool. Like, okay. Hank is not that charming, Karen's engaged, and they don't have any real chemistry, so the whole thing just got on my nerves. It's the attempt at creating romantic tension where there is no reason to see any that reminds me of Dawson's Creek. To be honest, I loved that show with all my corny little heart, but I don't really want the soft-core-porn, David-Duchovny-vehicle version of it on my hard drive.

In Summary: Holding onto my patience by a thread. Please be funnier next week, writers. Please. Also, kill Charlie off.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Damages 1x07 "We Are Not Animals" Summary and Review

"Do you want to play mind games like these people or do you want to be yourself?"

Damages Official Site

A top-form episode of "Damages" sees Patty's home life and the attempt to subpoena Greg Malina both come to a head. With her son refusing to come home from the camp, Patty bluffs him with emancipation papers and manages to get him to return voluntarily. Meanwhile, Fiske tries and fails to stop the subpoena. Greg is essentially kidnapped by Hewes to ensure his presence at a deposition, but flees. And at the office, Patty drives a wedge between Ellen and Tom by asking whether he tried to hire Ellen when he'd quit. Ellen decides to protect Tom and asks him to trust her, and he immediately stabs her in the back by revealing to Patty that he did try to hire Ellen -- and at the same time revealing that Ellen lied to protect him.

But even more exciting, there's a lot of maneuvering in the present. Ellen tells Nye what happened to bring her to this situation -- she was staying in Patty's apartment after a fight with David when she was attacked -- but no one can find Hewes. Then Ellen asks Tom to help her find Patty. He says he has no idea where to find her, but leaves and immediately calls Patty, telling her not to return. Ellen, however, is on the phone herself -- to Nye, to whom she says, "He's full of shit. Stay on him: he'll lead you to Patty."

Great episode this week. The present and past storylines have sometimes seemed unrelated except in the most basic causal sense in past episodes, but with this episode's emphasis on the mind games being played with Ellen by both Tom and Patty, the present and past meshed in far more meaningful ways than they ever have.

Three Patty Hewes character moments of note this week. The first was her inability to work a DVR remote, which she insists on trying to handle herself despite her husband offering to do it (eventually tossing it at him in irritation, but only after screaming at him that she can do it herself). The second was the tapping of fingers while waiting for Greg to show up for the deposition -- a hint of not only impatience, but the vulnerability that she accidentally displays by showing her impatience. And the third was the naked gladness in her eyes when her son returned.

Meanwhile, we see Ellen at two different stages of her metamorphosis into a clone of Hewes. Damages is doing a great job of showing the dangers and manipulations that will eventually prove to Ellen how difficult it is to be naively herself in Patty Hewes' world.

In summary: Maybe the best episode yet.

08/22/07: Damages 1x05 "A Regular Earl Anthony" Summary and Review
08/15/07: Damages 1x04 "Tastes Like a Ho-Ho"

Friday, September 14, 2007

The TV Premiere Season is Upon Us...

...and thus I give you a blanket post of all shows to whose return or premiere I am looking forward in some degree, listed by the system of "The Order I Thought Of Them In This Morning." I figure this is a useful guide to my likely interests in the coming year, since this is a new blog.

1) Battlestar Galactica (back in Jan. '08, Sci-Fi)
Returning for its fourth and final season in January, Battlestar Galactica is sure to dazzle us all. The third season dealt with the Cylon occupation and its aftermath on levels personal and public, from Kara's transformation into ice queen to the fleet's hatred for Gaius Baltar, and concluded with Baltar's trial, the death and triumphant return of Kara Thrace, and the revelation that four of the fleet's own are... not quite the fleet's own. I personally can't wait to hear what happened to Kara between "Maelstrom" and "Crossroads"; to understand Saul Tigh's past in relation to his new identity; to find out who the fifth cylon is; to see Earth. Despite the heavy predominance of sci-fi on my current list, I don't in fact enjoy sf much of the time. But Battlestar Galactica is no conventional genre-bound show; it's a brilliantly written, beautifully acted, and incredibly moving one and in my opinion the best on TV.

2) Heroes (9:00 Mondays, NBC)
Another sci-fi show on the list, this one more of Alias' ilk: good story, great cast, might not change your life but could eat up several days of it at a time in marathon sessions. The first season was uneven, as noted by many others, and I personally would love to see Sylar go away and stop bothering everyone (I prefer villains a bit more complicated, a la Arvin Sloane)... but with little Hayden Panettiere's fantastic acting, Milo Ventimiglia and Greg Grunberg's general awesomeness, the balanced ensemble feel of the show, the acrobatic juggling of storylines, and the promise of Kristen Bell (squee!) I hope that Heroes will survive the inevitable sophomore slump with our love for it intact.
Premieres: September 24, 2007

3) House (9:00 Tuesdays, Fox)
This show needs no explanation. Gregory House is one of the great TV characters, sharply written, terribly human, fatally flawed, intelligent, challenging, funny as hell, and let's face it, pretty damn sexy for someone who's probably older than my dad. The end of season 3 saw a big shake-up with the loss of the ducklings, but Wilson and Cuddy, the essentials, remain. I can't wait to see the new underlings House gets to torture in season 4.
Premieres: September 25th, 2007

4) Lost (back in Feb. '08, ABC)
Always terribly uneven, Lost took a rather large dip for the worse in season 3. The writers displayed a basic lack of respect for character and plot development, an increasingly aggravating tendency to portray Jack as a hero without any real justification, and seeming disinterest in answering our questions. Also, Bai Ling? Seriously? But the season finale was intriguing (flash-forwards were a nice change) and I hope to see the plot fairy uncurl herself from her long hibernation and give us a little love in season 4.

5) 24 (back in Jan. '08, Fox)
Didn't watch season 6, I'll admit it, and unless one of my friends buys the DVDs I can't afford to catch up. I heard it was terrible; I have no comment. With the deaths of Tony and Palmer in season 5 and the super-blah romance of Kiefer and Audrey, I had somewhat lost interest. But I hope to tune into season 7 and see what's going on. Fox wants the rumor mills churning about a better year ahead, and I'm taking the bait (and mixing my metaphors).

6) Bionic Woman (9:00 Wednesdays, NBC)
David Eick and Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar fame produce and guest star respectively. For fans of BSG I'm sure I need not say more, but NBC's new drama is getting lots of hype and I can't imagine that it won't live up to our expectations.
Premieres: September 26, 2007

7) Gossip Girls (9:00 Wednesdays, CW)
A bunch of it-girls in NYC, their sex lives, and their drug use. Josh Schwartz betrayed his promise once with the steady downward spiral of The OC, but I hope that his new creation Gossip Girls, like the former, will have at least one season of teen-soapy glory. Plus, Kristen Bell. Again. Best TV season ever.
Premieres: September 19, 2007

8) Pushing Daisies (8:00 Wednesdays, ABC)
Looks like a charming little bundle of magic and quirk and romance. It remains to be seen if the combination gets too relentless.
Premieres: October 3, 2007

9) ER (10:00 PM Thursdays, NBC)
The biggest TV obsession of my life has been showing its age for seven or eight years now, and I haven't watched this season, or seasons 11 and 12, very regularly. With the reunion of Abby and Luka after three years apart though, one of my craziest TV wishes was fulfilled (as unexpected and welcome as the resurrection of Starbuck and the triumph of Pacey over Dawson). Hope to have the time to tune in for season 14...
Premiered: September 13, 2007 (and I had no idea till I looked it up this morning! Bad blogger!)

10) Brothers and Sisters (10:00 Sundays, ABC)
With a cast full of pretty boys (Matthew Rhys, guy who plays Justin, Rob Lowe), the talent of Rachel Griffith and Sally Field, and a sugar-sweet mix of soapy romantic drama, snappy family humor, and genuine character insight, Brothers and Sisters deserves much more attention than it got. Season 1 saw Kitty, Sarah, Justin, Tom, and Kevin gossiping, squabbling, gossiping, bonding, and gossiping some more as they dealt with the death of their father and the insinuation into their lives of his mistress (played with aplomb by Patricia Wettig). Also, they have a Crazy!Mom, which Sally Field already won an Emmy for playing on ER. I look forward to the return of the Walker clan, and I hope the show gains popularity with others as well.
Premieres: September 30, 2007

11) Grey's Anatomy (9:00 Thursdays, ABC)
I loved the first season of this show, found the second season a drop-off, and the third a travesty (what I saw of it). I may be one of the few people mourning Isaiah Washington's departure -- whatever the actor's personal flaws may be, Burke and Christina made my romantic little heart glow. Perhaps the fourth season will go back to the magic, wit, and heart of the first. Perhaps it won't. But I think I'll at least tune in for the premiere to find out.
Premieres: September 27, 2007

12) Chuck (8:00 Mondays, NBC)
Josh Schwartz, creator of The OC. Need I say more? Even better, Rachel Bilson is supposedly going to appear (thanks, TV Addict). Apparently involves an electronics retail worker becoming a government spy. Sounds goofy, but might be good for some pre-Heroes fun on Monday nights.
Premieres: September 24, 2007

13) Cavemen (8:00 - 8:30 Tuesdays, ABC)
It's... about cavemen, and inspired by Geico commercials (?!). That's kind of all I know. But, I'm curious, it sounds like it could be funny, and it can at least function as my Tuesday-nights-at-8 rebound fling, for sure. (Gilmore Girls, how I miss you.)
Premieres: October 2, 2007

With the demise of Veronica Mars, the OC, and Gilmore Girls, my list is suddenly very light on the teen soaps -- fitting, I suppose, since this is the first season I start past my teens! It's also lighter on shows that have truly gripped me, but I'm willing to go back and give several another chance, and I'm excited about the new shows.

That said, until January comes and BSG returns to light up my life, I'll be counting the minutes.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Californication Review -- 1x05, "LOL"

"Bee, Arr, Bee, Hank."

Californication Official Site

So Hank, in addition to being a pubic hair snob (see episode 3), is also a language snob; he's a hater of people who use IM-speak in particular and denizens of "cyberspace" in general, all of whom are involved in a conspiracy of morons which will eventually destroy language and culture. What a sweetheart.

We open with another dumb church dream. This one involves Bill as a priest and Karen as a nun, and wakes up Hank in a sweat... right next to his cute red-head. She uses the phrase "LOL" out loud, which admittedly I've never heard anyone say unironically, and he bitches at her for it. She then goes down on him, and he bitches at her for using the term "BJ", like, great job Hank, that's definitely the way to show your appreciation.

Later he makes fun of people who say "LOL" on public radio and Meredith overhears him and decides to break up -- which is justified for that reason alone but is really caused by her married boyfriend's decision to leave his wife. Meanwhile, Hank speaks at Mia's school (as a favor to Bill, for which he demands the latter's jacket), and Becca's big crush on her hot guitar teacher crashes and burns when Mia seduces him instead.

Well, I'm going to be predictable and say: the dream scenes have got to go. Watching last week's Damages, I was truly creeped out by the dreams one character was having, in which his teeth fell gruesomely out of his mouth. Those are dream scenes worth having. The ones on Californication are trite and predictable, and now they involve cheap, obvious shots at Catholic priests.

My favorite part of this episode was that Hank had a moment of honest self-doubt. He went to Karen after the upheaval with Meredith and asked her almost humbly if he had been mean to her while they were dating. Humble is a new style for Hank, and I liked it.

But the Meredith character was one of the few compelling ones, and now I am afraid she's gone. The actress had a bit of fire, especially when Hank pissed her off by being Hank, that I quite enjoyed in contrast to Natascha McElhone's studied imitation of a robot. I already also wrote that I liked her combo of vulnerability and toughness, and found her a convincing match for Hank. They do a little in-another-lifetime-we-could've-rocked moment when she leaves that I actually found kind of moving.

There's a subplot with Hank's agent and his horny, deserted wife. It ends with the conclusion that wives shouldn't be too adventurous with their husband's assholes. I don't really have much to say about this; hopefully that summary speaks for itself.

Why do I keep watching this show? Aside from the fact that I'm a TV whore who will watch anything, I can't really explain it. Partly, I suppose, because now I am in the habit of blogging about it. Partly because it's fun to watch bad stuff and snark at it. But I also genuinely enjoy it. Maybe it's a subconscious crush on David Duchovny? Fascination with explicit sex scenes? (I wouldn't be the only one, I suppose.) Attachment to the writing style, which reminds me of this dude's earlier work on my beloved Dawson's Creek?

Who can say?

In Summary: I certainly can't give a good reason to love this show. Long live so-bad-it's-good TV!

Californication Review -- 1x03, "The Whore of Babylon"
Californication Review -- 1x02, "Hell-A Woman"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Which I Love Used Book Sales and Expand My Library with Abandon

I had a lovely time in Maine, but the only part I'll bore anyone with in this venue is my glee at the books I scored while I was up there. The first was at a library in Bar Harbor, which was selling books at a ridiculously low price. I bought:

1. The Alpine Path, L. M. Montgomery
2. The Stars, Like Dust, Isaac Asimov
3. Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Czenzi Ormonde
4. Blood and Guts in High School, Plus Two, Kathy Acker
5. Revolution From Within, Gloria Steinem
6. The Terminal Man, Michael Crichton
7. In Dubious Battle, John Steinbeck
8. Sphinx, Robin Cook
9. Coma, Robin Cook
10. Killed in the Ratings, William L. DeAndrea
11. Harvard Hates America, John LeBoutillier
12. Poet in the Gutter, John Baker
13. The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, L. Frank Baum
14. They Cage the Animals at Night, Jennings Michael Burch

All for $4.75. Fourteen books for under five dollars, which just blew my mind, even if some of them will probably suck (see nos. 12 and 3, and possibly 4) and some of them I will probably never read but bought because they were a quarter (see nos. 13 and 14). Nevertheless, I'm excited about the Steinem, I picked up a respectable Steinbeck and a Crichton I've never read, and I love L.M. Montgomery so much that I will probably devour her slim autobiography like so much chocolate cake. And I mean, Killed in the Ratings. A novel that is apparently about TV, thus combining my two favorite things in a way that will probably be laughable but still totally awesome.

Then I went to one of the antique shops with a used book section that dot Rte 3, and bought Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, for somewhat less exciting prices. Which means that I will soon start in earnest on the Complete Booker challenge.

Looking forward to catching up on what everyone else has written.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Another Vacation

That's right. This time it's off to lovely remote Maine, where I expect to take real time off from internet, till a week from today.

Someday I want to have a little cottage in Maine where I can curl up in a thick sweater and write novels that carry the smell of ocean water.

American Psycho (Bret Easton Ellis)

"My conscience, my pity, my hopes disappeared a long time ago (probably at Harvard)."

American Psycho on Amazon

Patrick Bateman is a yuppie who works precious few hours on Wall Street, spending most of his time on alcohol, coke, consumerism, sex, and brutal murders. Bret Easton Ellis' novel is a narcissistic first-person account of a life of name brands and expensive restaurants, mixed with psychotic episodes of violence.

I don't know enough about the whole name-brand-dropping tradition in contemporary fiction to know whether Ellis invented it, but he certainly does it like it's about to... well, go out of style. In a totally deadpan tone, he describes the rat race of the Wall Street lifestyle, the competition for authority on everything from fashion to bottled water (aka "hardbodies"), the inability to think of anything except in terms of how it will look to others. Despite the whole serial-killer thing, Bateman will remind you of some of the i-bankers you know.

Plus, there's all the sex and violence. It's totally over-the-top, sometimes random -- Bateman will be in the middle of a discussion of some innocuous subject and suddenly switch to graphic plans to kill the person he's talking to. There's also a lot of humor, mostly, as stated, deadpan, but still quite funny. And then at the end Bateman sort of comes face-to-face with his total lack of humanity. (See the above quote, which amuses me partly because I also blame my time at Harvard for curing me of my adolescent hopefulness.)

In any case, I found the book exhilarating and absorbing. Sometimes the murders were too gruesome for me, but the writing was excellent, not only as satire but as an inventive, gripping story.

In Summary: Not for the faint of heart, but if you can take (or skim) the violence, it's worth it for sheer delightful insanity.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Superbad (2007)

"You scratch our backs, we'll scratch yours."
"Funny thing about my back, is... it's located on my cock."

Superbad on IMDB

I almost don't want to give a synopsis here, even a brief one, because that would make this movie sound even sillier than, admittedly, it is. Basically, two awkward teenagers about to graduate high school, whiny asshole Seth and shy geeky Evan, try to get alcohol to impress two girls. Seth likes Jules, who's planning to throw a party, and Evan likes but is oblivious to the overtures of Becca. Meanwhile, their friend Fogel is the only one with a fake -- and he chose to change his name to "McLovin." Chaos ensues when McLovin is interrupted in his large purchase by a burglary, and taken on a wild ride by two cops -- one played by Seth Rogen, a writer of the script. Meanwhile, Seth and Evan have to deal with their impending separation, since Evan got into Dartmouth and Seth didn't. The last half of the movie actually kind of goes haywire, with a bunch of pointless digressions that make the ending seem twenty or thirty minutes late. (But it's still pretty damn funny getting there.)

If you liked Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, you'll probably like this movie, as it involves a lot of the Apatow crew if not Apatow himself, and a similar sensibility. It's funny and incredibly crude and a little bit wise. The two friends are so clueless about girls that it's almost unbelievable, except that most of us -- except the lucky few who were cool in high school -- have been there.

I saw this over a week ago, and it's taken so long to post about it because I was mulling over this review (via Cinematical), which sparked a controversy. Flick Filosopher's review took issue with the film's treatment of women's sexuality, or lack thereof, saying that "[Superbad] suggests that these mysteries have yet to be solved, or even broached, by anyone involved in making this movie." I think it's a valid point that there's precious little adult wisdom about sexuality to be found in Superbad except insofar as the adolescents' "wisdom" is so ludicrous as to be clearly immature. And the treatment of the girls in the movie is minimalistic in the extreme; they don't behave exactly according to the boys' expectations, surprising them by being actual autonomous beings, but the movie doesn't care all that much about them.

Well... in the end, that's fine with me. I mean, teenaged boys don't always care about girls as autonomous beings either. (Grown-up boys, ditto.) Superbad is about the two boys and their friendship, and it does a great job with that -- it's funny and over-the-top but still real. Jonah Hill's character is a huge asshole, but he's hilarious; Michael Cera as shy Evan has great comic timing with his straight-man bit; and Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fogell/McLoven is perfect as the ridiculous tool that we try to pretend we're not really friends with. They really want to relate to girls, but they just can't, and that's their whole problem. Superbad doesn't give them big epiphanies about girls (just one or two little ones), saving the big breakthrough for the Evan/Seth friendship. In the end, the boys don't understand much more about girls than they did in the beginning. And that's the way high school often goes.

In Summary: Funny and crude and spot-on, if a little bit too long. But if the Seth from the movie is anything like Seth Rogen in real life, then my drooling crush on Seth Rogen will end.

07/27/07: Knocked Up (2006)

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Complete Booker

Oops, silly me! I forgot to post here when I joined this challenge -- things have been busy. The Complete Booker challenge is a nice, relaxed challenge to read all the Booker Prize winners. Apparently inspired by the Pulitzer Project, which was way too intimidating for me!

The list is as follows, and I'll go back and bold each one that I've read -- with a link to a review if I write one. As of the start of this challenge, my number is an unprepossessing 3...

2006 - The Inheritance of Loss (Desai)
2005 - The Sea (Banville)
2004 - The Line of Beauty (Hollinghurst)
2003 - Vernon God Little (Pierre)
2002 - Life of Pi (Martel)
2001 - True History of the Kelly Gang (Carey)
2000 - The Blind Assassin (Atwood)
1999 - Disgrace (Coetzee)
1998 - Amsterdam: A Novel (McEwan)
1997 - The God of Small Things (Roy)
1996 - Last Orders (Swift)
1995 - The Ghost Road (Barker)
1994 - How Late It Was, How Late (Kelman)
1993 - Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha (Doyle)
1992 - The English Patient (Ondaatje)
1992 - Sacred Hunger (Unsworth)
1991 - The Famished Road (Okri)
1990 - Possession: A Romance (Byatt)
1989 - The Remains of the Day (Ishiguro)
1988 - Oscar and Lucinda (Carey)
1987 - Moon Tiger (Lively)
1986 - The Old Devils (Amis)
1985 - The Bone People (Hulme)
1984 - Hotel Du Lac (Brookner)
1983 - Life & Times of Michael K (Coetzee)
1982 - Schindler's List (Keneally)
1981 - Midnight's Children (Rushdie)
1980 - Rites of Passage (Golding)
1979 - Offshore (Fitzgerald)
1978 - The Sea, the Sea (Murdoch)
1977 - Staying on (Scott)
1976 - Saville (Storey)
1975 - Heat and Dust (Jhabvala)
1974 - The Conservationist (Gordimer)
1973 - The Siege of Krishnapur (Farrell)
1972 - G. (Berger)
1971 - In a Free State (Naipaul)
1970 - The Elected Member (Rubens)
1969 - Something to Answer For (Newby)