Sunday, April 30, 2006

Winging it

For the past month, that's what I've been doing. I've just been trying on this writing style and subject for size, to see how it would fit. So far, I've really been enjoying it, and I've had a lot to say. It's been fun. I'm not sure whether I'll continue to do a post a day every day for the next month, but I'll see how long I can keep it up.

If you're reading this, and you like it, and you want me to keep going, shoot me a comment to let me know.

The title of my post also refers to the West Wing, which I'll be watching tonight. We last left our beloved politicos from the Santos campaign preparing to enter the White House, with staffing being the main issue on everyone's mind. Santos was looking for a VP, Helen looking for a Chief of Staff, Josh looking for pretty much everyone else. From last week's trailers, it looks like this week we'll be seeing Vinick step up to the plate as Vice President. Implausible, to be sure, but the kind of political fantasy of partisan harmony we'd all be happy with.

For the past seven years, the West Wing has portrayed an idealized vision of public service that was entertaining and educational, if often heavy-handed. With just three episodes left to go, I have to hope that they'll end the series with the same tone they've had throughout: that no obstacle is insurmountable when a community of smart and dedicated people are working to overcome it. I love TV that's realistic, to be sure, but I also love TV that reflects the better world I'd like to live in.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fun in the sun leads to loafin' on the sofa

The weather in the Bay Area today was gorgeous! I'm hoping you were outside today, frolicking in the sun and tiring yourselves out, leaving you plenty exhausted for a nice evening in front of the television. Perhaps you'll be enjoying...

Boat Trip (8PM, TBS): "Show me the poorly written nautical themed romantic comedy!"

Radio (8pm, FX): It's a choose-your-own-Cuba-Gooding-Jr.-adventure! Boat Trip or Radio -- how can you lose? (The answer: by watching either one of these films.)

Back to the Future (7:30PM, ABC Family): For anyone who's ever loved their mother so much they wish they could travel back in time to date her. An Oedipal story for the ages!

Zoolander (8PM, Comedy Central): I recently decided that the color of my car should be called Blue Steel. Now, I just need to have a midget orgy in it, and I'll be all set.

Boiler Room (7:30PM, Bravo): Barry Pepper, Ben Affleck, Giovanni Ribisi, and Vin Diesel star as stressed out young men in a seriously sucktacular work environment. At least they're pretty!

Pearl Harbor (8PM, ABC): Horrific events in our nation's past are dramatized by none other than the esteemed Michael Bay. I haven't seen the film, but given the subtlety he's displayed in his past work, I'm sure he'll portray the Pearl Harbor bombing and aftermath in a respectful and understated fashion.

Out of the above choices, I'd recommend spending some quality time with Derek and Hansel. We can all learn a little from their fabulous catwalk strutting. Plus, after the movie's over, you can practice your Blue Steel and Magnum impressions in front of a mirror. Hours of fun!

Friday, April 28, 2006

To thine own self be...

One of the first things that drew me into Everwood last season was the hesitant almost-relationship between bookish Hannah and sometimes-boorish Bright. What's kept me watching are the realistic and rewarding relationships among all the characters on the show. Often described as "family drama", Everwood is really about the human bonds that hold us all together, whether it's between friends, family, or lovers.

The most recent episode, "The Land of Confusion," was about the conflict that arises from trying to be true to yourself while still maintaining harmonious relationships with other people. My mom has always said, "Do what makes you happy, as long as you don't hurt yourself or anyone else." My mom's a wise lady, but sometimes that's easier said than done. All too often, we find ourselves compromising what we truly want for the sake of making others happy.

The characters on Everwood get that it's important, though. Throughout the episode, I noticed a few of them mention 'who they are' with serious weight, knowing that what kind of people they are and what they want in life deserve consideration.

"If we can't be who we really are, then who are we, really?" - Bright, talking about how he and Hannah can't seem to be up front with each other about some of their relationship issues.

"I can help change these kids. Show them who they are, or who they could be." - Ephram, explaining to Andy why he wants to teach piano.

"I deliberately changed who I was, a little, to be someone who I thought you wanted, until I couldn't even remember which was me, and which was faking, which is so ironic because they only thing you've ever wanted is for me to be myself." Hannah, apologizing to Bright for losing sight of her own needs in their relationship.

From what Bright, Ephram, and Hannah say, they all seem to understand that being honest with yourself and true to who you are is the first step to having an honest and truthful relationship with anyone else. Hannah sums it up at the end of the episode, when she tells her adulterous boyfriend: "We have to promise to be totally honest with each other about everything from now on, okay?"

Honesty is the best policy...or is it? I guess Bright will learn next week.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Good TV is the best gift of all

I don't care what anyone else thinks -- Tuesday's episode of Veronica Mars was an early birthday present from Rob Thomas to me personally.

Yes, I'm aware that there are a couple million other viewers for whom the show is produced. Yes, I'm aware that I've only exchanged at maximum 100 words with Rob (during the Austin VM event). No, the date of my birth was not included within those 100 words. No, I'm not so deluded that I think Rob really remembers our brief exchange (in which I told him I had made my sister, mother, and 75-year-old grandmother devoted VM viewers). Does any of that matter? Do I care? No.

If indeed, it is a gift from Rob to me, and he has the godlike power of knowing what I wanted for my birthday, then I guess my request for "angst" must have come through loud and clear. Boy, did we get angst. The best kind of angst - hot and vulnerable and epic.

I've read some episode commentary that's a bit critical of what took place between Logan and Veronica, suggesting that like so many shows nowadays, VM is just drawing out the relationship between them, throwing obstacles between two attractive and compelling characters to keep them from getting together. To which I reply an eloquent: BOOOOO. The obstacle keeping Logan and Veronica from having a long term relationship (for now) isn't something external -- it's their own characters and choices. Veronica's inability to trust anyone, Logan's tendency towards untrustworthy behavior -- these aren't plot points thrown at them in the writer's room. They're part of who Logan and Veronica are and why we care about them.

I'm a patient girl. I know that in real life, timing can mean everything to a relationship. Why should TV life be any different? I can wait for Logan and Veronica to get it together -- so long as while I'm waiting, Logan is shirtless.

...And now you all know what I wished for when I blew out the candles on my cake.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Parting is such sweet sorrow

Veronica Mars is winding down its season. There are only two more episodes left. I am one sad fan.

But on the upside, the recent episodes have been amazing. I feel like they're finally coming through with all the storylines they've been building up all season. There wasn't too much momentum for the first half of the season, but since maybe episode 16, things have been churning and twisting and absolutely delighting the pants off me. Last night's episode, "Look Who's Stalking," was no exception.

I'm astonished by how many plot points and clues they're managing to fit into these last few episodes. It reminds me of college, when I'd have to write a paper, and I'd wait until the last possible moment to do it. I would cram those final pre-deadline hours full of so much inspiration, drive, and effort that afterward I'd be completely wiped out, but I'd have one kick-ass finished product. Why didn't I do it earlier? Why did I procrastinate, and save all that work for those few hours at the end? It wasn't laziness. It was because things were too easy if I took all the time I had. I like a challenge.

Those Veronica Mars writers? I think they like a challenge too. And I'm betting they can pull off an A in the time remaining, no problem.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gilmores no more

Last week, it was announced that Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, the creators of Gilmore Girls, would not be returning for the seventh (and likely final) season of the show. Today, Michael Ausiello over at put up a great interview with both of them. Check it out.

Michael asks some difficult questions, things that the fans will most certainly be asking, and does it in a way that is respectful and shows how much he appreciates the show. I have to give him props for that. In return, AS-P and DP are very honest and up-front about the negotiations and about the future of Gilmore Girls. It's rare to see that kind of candor from people in show biz. While it's true that AS-P and DP put more of the blame for the failed negotiations on Warner Bros. (who, you know, put up the money for the show) it's also obvious that AS-P and DP are very close to this show. It's their baby, and they have a vision for it. I, for one, believe they should've been allowed to carry out that vision. But alas.

What do I think of the fate of Gilmore Girls? I'm on the fence. During the past few seasons of the show I've alternated between feeling love-ambivalence-love-ambivalence for both the characters and the storylines. This season's probably falling about 66% ambivalence, 33% love. While I'm not as invested as I have been in the past, I still care what ultimately happens to the characters, and I think it will be very unfortunate if Amy and Dan don't have some part in the end of the show. This is a very talented pair of thinkers and writers who, when they're not trying to prove something to their audience, can make TV that's supremely enjoyable and funny and heartwarming and off-beat. They have a unique voice and have managed to create an original mother-daughter bond that's filled with love, conflict, and pop-culture references (like so many of the best relationships).

I'm sure the next producer of the show will come up with a series finale that's good and appropriate and satisfying. But I worry that without Amy Sherman-Palladino, the viewers will be missing out on an ending that could have been truly amazing.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Gone but not forgotten: Sliders

During high school, I had a pretty sweet weekday routine. It went something like this:

7:30AM-2:30PM Waste time in manner that could possibly be described as "learning"
2:30PM-3:00PM Trek home from school
3:00PM-4:00PM Gorge self on crackers, Coke, and salami
4:00PM-5:00PM Lois and Clark reruns on TNT
5:00PM-6:00PM Sliders reruns on SciFi
6:00PM-6:30PM Catnap on living room couch, possibly with drool
6:30PM-6:35PM Wake angry from catnap to noise of Mom maliciously banging pots and pans in thinly disguised attempt to "make dinner"

Ahhh...memories. What - you don't remember Sliders? In it, a pre-Rebecca Romijn, post Stand by Me Jerry O'Connell plays a happy-go-lucky genius who accidentally opens a portal between dimensions. He and an unlikely trio of companions (including pre-Gimli Jonathan Rhys-Davies) are sucked into the portal and thrown into a long, tumultuous journey, traveling (aka 'sliding') between alternate realities of Earth. The crew has a limited window of time in each dimension, at the end of which they can stay or jump to another dimension. They never know where they'll jump to next, and it's no surprise that they're always hoping their next jump will take them back home.

The four main characters (l-r) Wade, Rembrant, Arturo, and Quinn (sweet names!) managed to get into all sorts of predicaments, not knowing the customs, culture, or climate of the places they jumped into - which varied from the life-threatening (hungry dinosaurs) to the lame (again, hungry dinosaurs). Using quick wits and a flair for BS, they managed to adapt to their surrounds and talk themselves out of some pretty dire and embarrassing situations. The Sliders crew sometimes encountered alternate versions of themselves in the other dimensions, which led to the expected potential for both farce and self-realization.

Sliders didn't have the highest production values, or the best writing, or the most logical of plots, and I was much more a fan of the Sabrina Lloyd years to the Kari Wuhrer years. That being said, the characters were likeable, it was light-hearted and funny, and I enjoyed even the more outlandish storylines. Plus, Jerry was an affable, attractive companion for an hour every weekday afternoon. (Too bad he's looking a bit angsty here.)

What marginally shameful programs did you watch during your formative years?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A tale of two screens

My talk of movies yesterday got me thinking about the selectively permeable membrane that is the film industry. Plenty of movie actors move on to TV shows when their luck on the big screen seems to be running out. (Think Geena Davis in Commander in Chief.) But what about folks who go the other direction--from TV to movies? It seems much harder to make the transition from television to film, and there aren't many who've done it successfully.

Two of my favorites who come to mind are George Clooney and Hilary Swank. Good old George charmed viewers as pediatrician Doug Ross for the first five seasons of ER before he went on to blockbuster films both good and bad. Hilary spent a year on 90210, of all things, before going on to win her first Oscar just a couple years later.

Which TV actor do you think will next parlay their small-screen success to the big screen? Will Michelle Williams follow up her Brokeback Mountain success with more great performances, and eradicate the memory of Jen Lindley from our minds? Will Adamy Brody's nerdy hotness on The O.C. take him to bigger roles on the screen than bit parts in Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Thank You for Smoking? Personally, I'm rooting for Lauren Graham to enjoy the same success on the big screen as she has on Gilmore Girls. (Hollywood, just accept that she is Wonder Woman and cast her already!)

What film actors do you love that got their start on the small screen? Who do you think deserves success on the big screen?

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Saturday at spud central

Ah, Saturday night. The night when normal young people go out on the town to indulge in some good natured revelry and relaxation after a long work week. I could be out conquering the world, of course, but I've got a cold so it's a fair bet that I'll be couch-bound. What movies can my fellow couch potatoes look forward to tonight?

Deep Blue Sea (6PM, TNT): Super-intelligent sharks battle/consume the scientific team at their underwater research facility. But do the sharks have lasers? Because every animal deserves a warm meal.

Uptown Girls (6PM, ABC Family): Brittany Murphy does her best to make viewers like her in this heartwarming tale of a spoiled rich girl learning life lessons from the kid she's forced to babysit. Unfortunately, she fails with this viewer.

Pretty Woman (8PM, ABC): This baby corners like she's on rails.

The One (8PM, FX): Jet Li fights his alternate selves in this Jungian fable exploring the darkness...oh, who am I kidding? I don't really care what the movie is about. I only care that it has Jason Statham, the object of many a man-crush.

The Firm (8PM, Bravo): See Tom Cruise before he got creepy! Heck, Wilford Brimley is creepier than Tom in this movie! It's a win-win!

Something's Gotta Give (9PM, CBS): Keanu Reeves and Jack Nicholson romance playwright Diane Keaton in this film targeted to baby boomers. I can think of more than a few ladies from any age group that wouldn't mind being the cream filling in a Keanu-Jack sandwich.

Now that I've sufficiently grossed you out, I'll leave you to your television.

Friday, April 21, 2006

The pursuit of recappiness

I saw Veronica Mars on Tuesday. So why do I feel like I haven't really processed the episode? Because I haven't read Couch Baron's recap. Who is Couch Baron, you may ask? He's one of the talented staff members over at Television Without Pity, a site that recaps, mocks, analyzes, and praises the latest on television.

Observe his comment about a recent VM:

Logan: "Excellent! The bar is so low we can step over it." Wallace shakes his head, probably because he knows that when push comes to shove, there's no way drama-queen Logan isn't doing the limbo under that shit.

Good times.

Good television necessitates conversation. There's a reason why certain shows are labeled 'watercooler' shows - because we viewers are driven to talk about them after watching. It's kind of a duh. In high school I used to watch my favorite shows in groups of girls and dish endlessly with my friends about the love lives of various WB characters. However, now that I'm older, and my friends live further away (many in different time zones), it's harder to maintain that same kind of dialogue.

Enter the internet. Online forums have taken the place of my friends (only in regards to TV discussion - not as far as emotional support). Chief among the forums is the snarktastic TWoP, which rocks my world weekly with its hilarious and often insightful commentary on a variety of programs. The TWoP recaps and forums draw my attention to things I've missed, make me say a 'hell yeah' to things I agree with, and just generally make me appreciate the effort that goes into making quality television. Though many of the recaps are laced with bitchery and criticism, many are quite funny and complimentary.

For TWoP, I think it's important to get a recapper that matches the show. Couch Baron is a perfect fit for Veronica Mars and Jacob is just right for Battlestar Galactica. Though it's possible that each of them watch both shows, I wouldn't want them to switch - that would be like dishing about The O.C. with my grandmother and talking JAG with my sister. Ain't gonna happen.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Hard-working and humble

I wish I could work with them. Top Five Reasons why the cast of The Office rocks:

1. They're supersizing the finale. A press release on The Futon Critic reports that The Office will be adding a mega-awesome 10 minutes of glee to the finale on May 11. Who knows what drama, hilarity, or Dwingela-filled freakishness they could fit into those ten minutes? The mind, it is boggled.

2. They're working over the summer. As noted on GMMR, several of the members of the Dunder-Mifflin accounting staff (the lovely Angela, Kevin, and Oscar) will star in a series of "webisodes" over the summer break. Now, back before I started working full-time, I remember loving my summer break, so this is truly sweet of The Office cast members to come in to work. (And ironic, considering how none of them wanted to work Saturday.

3. They do double duty. Many of the actors are also writers on the show. B.J. Novak (aka Ryan the temp) is a writer and co-producer. His "can't take a hint" paramour Kelly is played by Mindy Kaling, also a writer on the show. And Michael Scott himself, Steve Carell will be writing the finale.

4. They're real people. Phyllis Smith, who plays (who else?) Phyllis, was a casting assistant who did so well with the line readings she joined the show. Paul, known to viewers as HR employee Toby, is a writer who'd never done any acting before. And Jenna Fischer, better known to viewers as Pam, was a secretary back in St. Louis.

5. One word: Jam.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Lovin' the love triangles

Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg had a triangular theory of love; he thought it was based on a combination of intimacy, passion, and commitment. Smart guy, that Sternberg, but he clearly didn't write for TV. If he did, he'd know that there is a triangular formula for love - but it's two attractive guys plus one indecisive girl equals a whole lot of unresolved sexual tension.

Love triangles are an absolute staple of romantic drama. Think about it: Felicity, Ben, and Noel. Angela, Brian, and Jordan. Joey, Pacey, and Dawson. Kate, Jack, and Sawyer. Lorelai, Luke, and Christopher. Rachel, Ross, and Joey. I tell you, if a writer is running low on drama, they just have to throw a love triangle into the mix to get the audience invested. It's a formula that goes back to Ilsa, Rick, and Victor and certainly further back than that.

Why are love triangles so darned effective? Because they get you to care about and root for the characters. Maybe you're rooting for the underdog in the triangle, the shy guy who doesn't usually get the girl. Maybe both romantic options have their good sides, and you're torn because you want them all to be happy. To a degree, it doesn't matter who ultimately ends up with whom because you, the viewer, are the real winner. You get to care about the characters.

Plus, you get to define yourself in terms of your favored romantic competitor. "I'm a Noel girl" or "I'm a Pacey girl", you might think. Can thinking in those terms actually help you define yourself and what you might theoretically want from a romantic partner? Probably not. But who knows? It sure is fun.

One thing I've noticed: It's more often a girl who forced to choose between two guys. Why is that? Are we more comfortable seeing men chasing women than we are women romantically pursuing men? Are men less monogamous and more likely to get all Big Love on us and choose both women? Whatever the reason for its relative rarity, a man being forced to choose between two women can certainly make for worthwhile viewing.

Think of Grey's Anatomy, currently rocking an XY-XX-XX triangle with Derek, Meredith, and Addison. The writers have certainly handled it well, keeping viewers invested and having them flip-flop week to week between rooting for Addison or Meredith. They're both lovely ladies. No matter who McDreamy settles on, we're lucky just to be watching.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Keep 'em coming back for more has gradually, over the past several weeks, been moving towards a bloggier format. Sigh. I remember when I didn't know what 'blog' meant and wouldn't dream of using it as a comparative adjective. The times, they have changed, not just for me, but for online entertainment sites as a whole.

I use a blog format because it suits my low-tech, low-budget style. But why is TVGuide heading in the blog direction, when they have beaucoup d'argent and likely some tech-savvy people on staff? I think the answer is community.

When done right, a blog is a living thing, thriving off the comments and the feedback of those who visit it. When visitors express their opinions and the blog owners respond to it, there's an interaction. The site's visitors aren't just spectators, they're participants, helping even to create the content on the site with their comments. Along with the creation of content, blogs create a sense of loyalty. And what do loyal people do? They come back, because there's a relationship there. They're part of a community.

I'll keep on reading every day, no matter the format. But there's something different about it now, knowing they "can't wait to hear from [me]." And you know something? Seeing the faces of the TVGuide bloggers, I actually believe it. Because everybody wants to know their work is having an effect on someone else. Even me.

( much more shameless a request for comments could this post have been?)

Monday, April 17, 2006

Blast from the past: Beauty and the Beast

I'm not talking Lumiere and Gaston and singing cutlery. I'm talking Ron freakin' Perlman.

Does anyone else remember this show? Beauty and the Beast ran for three years, from 1987-1990, so someone else must have seen it.

The basic premise of the show: beautiful attorney Catherine Chandler (Linda Hamilton) is saved from attackers one day by Vincent (Ron Perlman), a beast in appearance but a hottie at heart. (Did I really just use the phrase hottie to describe him? What are those four horses doing in the sky...?)

Catherine and Vincent make an immediate connection, but Catherine has a life and a job above ground, while Vincent and his Father are below-ground dwellers. He woos her guardedly, but poetry and candle-lit mystique can only go so far. You need a guy who you can show off to your friends! However, Vincent does benefit from the well-known bonus of underground habitation: your main mode of transportation is riding around on top of a subway car, wind blowing majestically through your mane of hair.

Will these two crazy kids get it together? Will Vincent exchange his 80's hair band do for something less leonine, perhaps a faux-hawk? Will Catherine convince big V that New York is full of the bizarre and beastly, so he should quit his self-pitying shame spiral and join her above-ground?

Unfortunately, it's not out on DVD, so perhaps I'll never know.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The men of VM

Veronica Mars is lousy with guys. I mean that in both senses of the word - Veronica herself doesn't have the best luck with the fellas, and VM the show is teeming with hombres. While I love that the show has been able to create such a variety of interesting male characters, it's a bit odd sometimes to look at cast photographs and see Kristen Bell backed by a bevy of dudes.

Do the writers not find women not as interesting to write for? Or is Kristen Bell so good she's the only woman they want to write for? Or, I wonder, is Veronica such an uber-cool female lead that the writers can't bring themselves to make another woman the focus? Hard to say - and probably none of those things. There have been some female characters I've loved -- Mac, Meg, and now Jackie's growing on me -- but I'm not sure any of them have been the same stellar treatment Veronica has.

Don't think I'm complaining, though. Even the supporting actors on Veronica Mars are more layered and entertaining than main characters on some other programs. I find myself consistently impressed with all the supporting studs in Veronica's life.

Sheriff Don Lamb: Michael Muhney is awesome in this role, especially considering what a lovely, humble guy he is in real life. Once described as "a cross between Greg Kinnear and an eel," he brings just the right amount of arrogance, corruption, dim-wittedness, and glee to what could have been simply a one-note villain. Also, the abs.

Cliff McCormack: I like this character - he's...tawdry. And when he's played by the same actor who voiced Spottswoode in Team America: World Police, you've got a real winner. He manages to combine seediness, sarcasm, caring and competence to create one hell of a lawyer. Plus, he knows how to wear a $250 suit like nobody's business.

Dick Casablancas: Dick Casablancas is the bastard child of Satan. So why do I love him so much? Because he gets so many great lines. ("Sometimes you don't need the prettiest horse. Just one that lets you ride bareback." Shudder.) He's what Logan might have been, minus the woobie nougat center. It's a testament to sweet Ryan Hansen's talents that we buy him so completely as a douchebag of epic proportions. Every show needs an obligatory psychotic jackass. He's ours.

And on a related note, let me just say: Wallace!=Weevil. For those of you who don't speak geek, "!=" means "does not equal", and I bring it up because several of the synopses I read prior to the airing of "I Am God" indicated that it was Logan and Weevil who worked together on a physics project. I love Weevil, but we've already had our shoe-horned-into-the-plot Logan and Weevil interactions back in season one's "The Girl Next Door. This time around, it was nice to get some Logan-Wallace interactions instead, since they're two central figures in Veronica's life, and prior to last week we hadn't see them utter two words to each other.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Saturday night's all right for watching movies

Let's face it: there's no good TV on Saturday nights. Programmers just assume everyone's off having fun elsewhere, and they're probably right. But on the off-chance that you find yourself couch-bound this evening, here are some options you might want to navigate over to using your remote control:

The Replacements (TNT, 8PM): Keanu Reeves as quarterback to a motley crew of replacement football players. Not unpleasant to watch, but you could probably do better.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (TBS, 8PM): This is definitely better. Viggo Mortensen rocks my socks as Aragorn, though certainly some ladies lean more in a Legolas direction, and they can't be blamed. You Gimli girls out there, I'm concerned for you. Definitely worth a watch.

Die Hard with a Vengeance (FX, 8PM): Is it really possible to die with a vengeance? Bruce Willis explores that philosophical question in this searching, soulful drama about mortality and revenge. Oh, who am I kidding? Bruce blows shit up, and it's kind of awesome, though it would be better if he were Viggo.

The Wedding Singer (Comedy Central, 6PM): Wedding singer Adam Sandler is going crazy, and you are reaping all the benefits.

Hmm...looking at these movies, you better get out of the house tonight.

Friday, April 14, 2006

In defense of sarcastic, soulful blondes everywhere

Numerous comparisons have been made between Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. People can't seem to avoid drawing parallels between two smart, sassy, petite blonde girls who try to right wrongs in the world. I think the comparison is reasonably apt, however a friend of mine recently pointed me to an article suggesting that Veronica comes up short.

The article discusses an "emptiness" that prevents VM from reaching the heights that Buffy did, saying that while Buffy "aspired to explore a higher meaning of life and purpose in the world", Veronica Mars "lack[s] soul and an overall moral compass." It goes on to applaud Buffy for bringing depth to the supporting characters as well, criticizing VM for showing supporting characters with "an ethic of selfish laziness and apathy that never seems to change."

I couldn't disagree more. It's the struggle to do good and find one's place in the world that I find compelling, not just the knowledge that one is good and has a place. And Veronica Mars knows that struggle well.

One of the things I love about Veronica Mars is the moral ambiguity. Every season, Buffy had a 'big bad' that was clearly the villain of the season. Buffy and her Scoobies were clearly the 'little good' meant to combat that evil (though in later seasons they explored that the big bad was perhaps within the characters themselves).

Veronica Mars doesn't have such clear-cut definitions of good and evil. Characters who start out as good can do things that are perceived as evil; characters who we meet as "obligatory psychotic jackasses" can turn out to have a core of goodness. This applies to the supporting characters as well -- Troy, Celeste, even Lilly. And if there are characters with an "ethic of selfish laziness" (Dick Casablancas, anyone?), these characters are almost constantly disparaged even as they're made sympathetic.

What I think stands out in the world of Veronica Mars is the presence of choice.

Buffy was good because it was her destiny to save the world from evil. Sure, she wasn't always comfortable with it, but the universe had chosen it for her. She didn't have to define which side of the eternal battle to be on -- the powers that be had marked her squarely in the "good" column.

Veronica, on the other hand, is driven by the force of her own free will. To get justice, she operates according to an admittedly flexible moral compass, but her ultimate goal is the truth. She takes it upon herself, and at great personal cost, to investigate her best friend's death. She does this not because she is an instrument of the greater good, but because she as a person cannot rest until it is resolved.

In other words, Buffy was chosen. Veronica chose herself. What's more meaningful than that?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Office-ial business

The Office is showing a repeat from early on this season, but I'm excited because it's one I haven't seen. According to Jenna Fischer's blog on, "The Dundies" focuses on office awards given out at Chili's by an overly enthusiastic Michael. As an added benefit, it features a drunken Pam. Sounds like good times - especially for Jim.

One of the things I enjoy so much about The Office is the way it blurs lines between fiction and reality. This is partly due to the nature of the show taking place in a somewhat realistic office environment, and partly due to the fluidity between the actors and character's lives.

The actors spend probably 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, in the office environment. The whole group of them, even the smaller characters, are sitting at their desks, playing on their computers, and interacting with each other for the duration of a regular work week. While the cameras are filming, they have to stay "in character" even when they're not directly involved in a scene. To a degree, the jobs their characters perform on The Office must feel a bit like their real jobs.

In addition, several of the actors maintain blogs or myspace pages - some of them in character, some of them are partly in character and partly personal, and some are entirely personal. It's nice to see actors who are so involved with their fans and who really appreciate the audience that watches them every week.

So, in conclusion, Jim is adorable.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lonely Wednesdays

Now that Veronica Mars has moved to Tuesdays, I'm feeling a little off-kilter. I used to enjoy watching VM knowing that the work week was halfway over and I only had to tolerate two more days of stress. I've become so accustomed to this schedule that I feel quite discombobulated at work today, knowing the majority of the week still lies ahead of me.

My mental imbalance aside, the VM move is also a bit disappointing because it leaves Wednesdays wide open. I know there are plenty of other things on TV on Wednesdays, but I feel like the kid staring into a full pantry complaining to her mother that there's nothing to eat. Let's see what I theoretically could be watching on Wednesdays:

Lost: I used to watch Lost, then I kind of lost interest. There weren't any characters that I really connected to, and generally I have to like at least one character in order to like a show. Plus, I prefer when some mysteries get resolved, rather that just more questions brought to light. I get that it's good TV; I'm just don't care. (Please don't hate me.)

America's Next Top Model: Absolute trashy fun -- but the kind of fun that really needs to be watched in a group and trash-talked to be appreciated. I don't have the group now, so I'm not really into the show.

American Idol: Same goes for Idol. So much better when you have people to discuss it with! Of course, I think you could really root for someone talented on Idol and it might be enough to sustain your interest throughout the season. Not exactly so with the vapid attention whores on ANTM.

One Tree Hill: Chad Michael Murray, you gross me out.

CSI:NY, Criminal Minds, The Evidence, and Law and Order: Ah, procedurals. How difficult I find it to get emotionally involved with you! I suppose not everyone needs to be emotionally involved to enjoy a show, but I have trouble staying interested when I could give a frog's bottom what happens to any of the characters.

So...what else is there? There's got to be something out there, some stone unturned, right? What do you recommend?

Alternatively, I could make Wednesday my DVD-TV night, and go through gems I missed on TV the first time around. There sure are a lot of them!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Haaaaaave you met 'How I Met Your Mother'?

When I first started watching How I Met Your Mother, I was cautiously optimistic. (Willow! Doogie! The cute guy from Freaks and Geeks who was/is dating Linda Cardellini!) The first few episodes were excellent, establishing the friendships between the characters and creating memorable catchphrases like the inimitable "Suit up!"

However, I'm concerned about the momentum of a show that's built upon Ted's search for/winding road to the mother of his children. HIMYM doesn't work as well when Ted's storyline is the driving force of each episode; Ted does better as the friend you don't see all that often. You care about him, and you wish him well, but he's so earnest and just a wee bit desperate that you're worried it'll rub off on you if you hang out too much. Better to see him when you need someone to commiserate with about your less-than-stellar love life.

Ted does have some pretty awesome friends, though. Lilly's sweet but no blushing bride-to-be, Marshall is a nerdy, delightful marshmallow, and Barney...well, like Barney's job, you're not quite sure what it is, but you know it is "steak sauce." Their humor helps speed up episodes that might otherwise be a bit slow. Plus, they're mad quotable.

For example, Barney let this fly a couple episodes ago, while impugning Marshall's level of zest for life: "I should feel tremors of psychitude rock my body like a seizure. That was like a declawed pregnant cat on a porch swing idly swatting at a fly on a Sunday afternoon. Show me your psych!" When the window into Barney's odd brain opens, it's a pleasure for all of us who get a peek.

Got some time on your hands? Go enjoy Barney's blog for more insights into his twisted psyche. Get it? psych-e? (I know, Barney would be ashamed of my pun. I doubt he'd consider it "legendary.")

Monday, April 10, 2006

Blast from the past: Rainbow Brite

As a child of the 80's, I was very much into Rainbow Brite. (Not, perhaps, quite as much as my mother, who insisted for years that she was Rainbow Brite. But I digress.) Like so many great cartoon characters, good old RB had

- a head grossly disproportionate to her body
- powers that originate from an accessory (in this case, a belt)
- a can-do attitude

She's described as "a girl in charge of changing the seasons and keeping the universe colorful," which she does with the help of her color-coordinated companions the Color Kids. (Indigo was my favorite, or maybe Shy Violet.) In order for her to be an appropriate role model for six-year-old girls, she also has a pony, Starlite. I'll ignore my irritation at things being spelled "-ite" when they should be spelled "-ight" to say that Starlite is one kick-ass equine.

Her exploits were also the subject of a feature film, Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer. It almost goes without saying that it's quite the cinematic masterpiece. RB's interactions with the villainness from the film (cleverly named 'The Evil Princess') are chilling indeed. However, I found RB's relationship with Krys, her partner in the movie, a bit forced and unorganic. ;)

If you think you might recall Rainbow Brite's infectious prismatic power, check out Retro Junk for the theme song, which might help jog your memory.

Or for all things ROYGBIV, visit Rainbow Land.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Where did the good go on Gilmore Girls?

I watched Tuesday's episode of Gilmore Girls, "I'm OK, You're OK," and I couldn't help but feel that they were just going through the motions. Seriously, this season lacks the magic of the past two seasons. To me, it feels a bit like they're going through the motions rather than having things happen organically.

The fifth season wrapped up so strongly, with Luke finally acting on his years-concealed attraction to Lorelai. Season Six kept the momentum going, through the ups and downs of their relationship. Season Seven, however, seems to have them just running in place. The writers seem to be throwing unnecessary roadblocks in the way of Luke and Lorelai being together.

Why is that? Why is two people being together any less interesting than two people working to get together? It shouldn't be, though I know it often is. We're trained to think that sexual/romantic tension is more interesting than fulfillment. I think the creators should consider it a personal challenge to keep their relationship as interesting and vital as a couple as it is when they're apart.

Look at Lily and Marshall on How I Met Your Mother. It is possible to write funny, romantic, unsentimental television about two people who are already together. I think the Gilmore Girls are capable of it, if they'd only let it happen.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Only...7 more months?!@$#&

Last night I lay curled on the couch, after a hearty pizza dinner, reading Thank You For Smoking. (See? I do have a life outside TV. It mostly includes other forms of pop culture, like TV and movies, but...okay, I don't really have a point. Or a life.) But you know what? Something was missing. It took me a while to realize what it was: Battlestar Galactica.

I didn't start watching BSG from the beginning. It was only after it started to appear on a few top ten lists, and became one of the most talked-about shows on TV, that I finally jumped on the bandwagon.

Boy, am I glad that I did. I watched the miniseries first. I wasn't hooked, but I was intrigued. The creators managed to update it to be relevant for some of today's current events, and in those first few hours set up a number of interesting dynamics and story arcs. Plus, I loved the thumping pounding tribal music and the gritty special effects of the battles in space.

The series thus far has been even more ambitious. Season 1 progressed along nicely and certainly held my interest, but Season Two upped the ante, churning and twisting through a series of intense, intelligent, storylines that defied cliches and made the viewer think. The stand-alone episode and overall season plots are compelling, the characters are three-dimensional and forced to make challenging decisions every day, the interpersonal relationships are complex, and there's even eye candy. (What? Jamie Bamber is so pretty.)

Season Two of BSG ended last month, and we've got until October for Season Three's new episodes to start airing. Now is the perfect time to get caught up on one of the sharpest, smartest, fast-paced shows on television. Don't be put off by the fact that it's on Sci-Fi. It is science fiction, but it's so much more than that.

Friday, April 07, 2006

How do I love thee, VM? Let me count the ways.

Note: This review discusses "Plan B", the April 5th episode of Veronica Mars. If you don't want to know about it, you'd better stop reading.

Three Things I Love About Veronica Mars:

1. Continuity. A show with a memory of past events? How novel! In this one episode, they managed call-backs to:

- the 'freedom' essay assigned the previous week
- the nasal teacher, Mrs. Murphy
- Logan making his ladies watch Easy Rider
- Veronica's photography skillz
- the shocker
- Weevil beating up Curly Moran
- Mr. Wu + study hall
- Jackie's dad (Terrence) being in the hospital
- the real witness to Felix's death
- Woody's incorporation plan
- Hannah's departure
- Keith's throwing Logan out of the Mars apartment
- Molly + Felix 4-eva!
- St. Mary's as drug-smuggling HQ
- Mrs. Woody being "tough"

2. Quotability. The writers on this show are so good, it shames me.

Veronica: "I need you to do something for me."
Logan: "Veronica, ask not what Logan can do for you, but what you can do for Logan."

Logan (to Veronica): "When something stops being important to me, my memory gets a little fuzz--wait...who are you?"

Woody: "Bet you have some fun with the ladies, huh?"
Logan: "The ones that survive."

Lamb (to officer): "Look up Eli Navarro. There's got to be something outstanding we can book him on."
Weevil: "Oh, if I did it, it's outstanding."

Veronica: "Getting admissible evidence seems like the least you can do."
Lamb: "Oh, there's less I can do. Trust me."

Logan (while selling dance tickets): "Don't worry, gang -- if she's a 2 at 10, she'll be a 10 at 2."

Veronica: "Dance with me."
Logan: "I've dreamed of this moment. I've Had the Time of My Life was always playing. What can you do?"

3. Logan. Obligatory psychotic jackass with a beating, bleeding heart. Scenes that make me want to give Jason Dohring an Emmy include:
- when Veronica asks him for info about the witness to Felix's murder, he's flippant and unhelpful. Only after she gives up does he volunteer the information. As long as he's got the upper hand, he's happy.
- placing his hand on the Bible to 'swear in' as Honorary Deputy Commissioner, he jerks it away, saying, "oww...oh...that burns!" Way to mess with the Woodman.
- the chemistry between him and Veronica is off the charts. He thought he was scalded by touching the Bible? He had no idea what really generates heat. Whew! I think I need a cold shower after watching the dance scene.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

"It was for...other issues."

Before I take the time to write out a long, thoughtful analysis of last night's episode of Veronica Mars, I thought I'd give a combined shout-out to last week's episode, "The Rapes of Graff," and our dearly departed Arrested Development.

Last week's episode found Veronica visiting a nearby college with Wallace and investigating a crime that took place there. (Keepin' it vague for the relatively spoiler-free.) While there, Veronica ran into Michael Cera and Alia Shawkat, who played George Michael and Maeby on AD. They did a great job in their roles, and I'm hoping that should Veronica end up attending Hearst College, she has a couple classes with them, at the very least. These are two talented actors and they deserve to be on a high-quality show.

Considering their experience with AD, Cera and Shawkat would probably be familiar with working on a high-quality show that receives critical praise but can't seem to find enough viewers. I just can't believe a show that hilarious and off-beat is done for. Sigh. Take a moment and reflect on the awesomeness.

Then, take a moment to remember how awesome Veronica Mars is. Consider that the same fate could befall VM! Make sure to watch it next Tuesday at 9pm on UPN, or you'll have only yourself to blame when it's gone.

Well, yourself and the folks at the CW.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Idol-izing: Thoughts on last night's performances

Other than really liking Kelly Clarkson over Justin Guarini in the first season, I've never cared much for all the Idol hoopla. However, a friend of mine recently got me a bit sucked into it by making me watch the '50's night two weeks ago. I thought most of the performances that night were stellar, but the two nights of performances since then have been a bit lacking.

Last night, the theme was country. Do you like country music? Not everyone does, but I do. I don't think it's a trashy or overly sentimental form of music, and if it is, well then perhaps I'm trashy and sentimental too. But the more important question is: can the Idol hopefuls sing it? Let's see.

Taylor - I missed Taylor's performance at the beginning, so I only caught the snippet at the end. He sang "Take Me Home Country Roads," and I have to say I didn't like it as much as I usually like him. One of the things that appeals to me about Taylor is his unabashed enthusiasm for the music. He's involved, he's enjoying himself, he doesn't care if he looks good--usually. Last night, he was too restrained for my taste.

Mandisa - Oh, honey. Shania Twain is an excellent singer, with a personality and a style all her own. Trying to take one of her songs (Any Man of Mine) and modify it to make it your own, sadly just didn't gel for me. You've got a great set of pipes, but this probably wasn't the best use of them.

Elliot - Elliot's performance flew a bit under the radar. Singing Garth Brooks' classic "If Tomorrow Never Comes," he put in a solid display of vocals without a lot of fancy vibratos and showing off. However, closing my eyes, I couldn't really see his voice being a hit. He's got a great personality, but I don't know if he's idol material.

Paris - Paris chose Leann Rimes/Trisha Yearwood's "How Do I Live" as her song selection. Picture three or four teenage girls singing this song off-key in a Ford Taurus station wagon, and you've pretty much got an idea of how I'm most used to hearing it sung. Paris's rendition was good, but I think it was a bit clinical. There was no fire, no emotion in her voice or her actions as she sang. You've got to have some yearning in your soul to sing it right.

Kellie - I'm not really a Kellie fan. I think she's got a decent voice, but she lacks subtlety. However, subtlety was most certainly not necessary for her song choice, Reba McEntire's "Fancy" - a tune that begs to be belted out in sassy fashion. Kellie did just that, so I give her a certain amount of credit, even if she didn't quite win me over.

Ace - Let's get one thing straight: Ace is a very pretty man. Whew! Pretty as he is, I think I'd prefer to watch him smile than sing; his face can get a bit spastic and overly emphatic when he sings. However, compared to his previous performances, I thought his rendition of "Tonight I Wanna Cry" was relatively understated and had the right amount of emotion. Not bad.

Chris - I heart Chris. Though I can't back him on thinking Creed is a good band (seriously, man? yech.), he seems to be down-to-earth, talented, and sure of himself. After several standout rock-and-roll performances, the only question was whether he was versatile enough. I think Chris proved it by singing "Making Memories of Us," a sweet and mellow tune. He sang it heartfelt and simply, as I think it's meant to be sung, and when I closed my eyes I really believed his voice could be on the radio.

Katharine - In general, I really love Katharine's bluesy singing style and classy personal style. I think she picked a fairly boring song, "Bringing Out the Elvis In Me", but managed to have a lot of fun with it. I like when a singer doesn't look like they're working too hard and are just enjoying themselves onstage. She is a true performer when she gets in front of an audience, natural in front of the camera, and willing to straight talk when necessary. (Her comment to Simon, "maybe you just don't like country music" followed by a reassuring yet dismissive "that's okay" may have endeared her to me permanently.) Brava!

Bucky - The song Bucky chose, "Best I Ever Had," is a great song. I've loved the versions recorded by both Gary Allan and Vertical Horizon. I like the song so much, and he sang it so assuredly, that I actually found myself enjoying it. However, there's something a bit squirrely about the guy. He's probably a great husband and good friend, but something about him doesn't sit right with me. Hard to see him being the idol.

Bottom line? Stay true to yourself, enjoy yourself, and do some kick-ass singing. That's what'll get my vote. So bring on next week!

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Confessions of a TV evangelist

One of my great joys in life, in addition of course to watching television, is enlightening others to great television. I consider it a victory for the populist art that is TV whenever I can get someone hooked on a show I know they'll love.

Veronica Mars has been far and away my biggest success when it comes to evangelizing a show. How could it not be, considering the quality of the show? Just by taking the time to sit down people down and watch it with them, I've made new fans--7 of them.

I don't have to convince my friends it's good. Veronica Mars does its own convincing.

Most people I talk to, on hearing the show's description, are turned off by it. Maybe on first glance, it sounds a bit silly, but it's not a cult program or one that would appeal to only a narrow group of viewers. Veronica Mars has a wisdom and a range that makes it entertaining and watchable even outside the usual 18-24 bracket. I've managed to get my two best girl friends, my sister, my mother, my grandmother, and my boyfriend's parents all involved with the maddening mysteries Veronica investigates weekly.

Consequently, I've watched season one on DVD more than 5 times, start to finish, but it's worth it for those new viewers. Keep this show alive!

(Persistence is essential for a good TV evangelist. I'm nothing if not persistent--and persnickety.)

Monday, April 03, 2006

Grey's knows the gray territory of the heart

I've been watching Grey's Anatomy since it premiered as a midseason replacement back in March of last year. No one expected it to do well. Indeed, I was a little chagrined to tune in, expecting some soapy blend of ER and Passions. It didn't start out with as distinct a voice and as dependable laughs and drama as it has now, but over time, Grey's evolved into the genuine article: good TV that actually makes you feel good.

One of my favorite things about the show is its willingness to play with the good and bad sides of the characters. My 'favorite' character isn't fixed - it changes with every episode. Sometimes I find myself rooting for Cristina's blunt brand of wisdom, and sometimes I just want to sit her down for a time-out until she learns a little patience. When I first met Addison, I was disappointed that I couldn't incinerate her with the power of my glare through the TV screen, but now I sort of hope she can repair the marriage she offhandedly destroyed last year. At the end of pretty much every episode, I find myself thinking 'won't those two crazy kids get it together?' - but the people I'm hoping will make it work change week to week.

Some people argue that the character of Meredith has gone too far into pathetic territory, mooning over McDreamy far past any rational mourning period over their brief-but-blissful relationship. But personally, I like that they're willing to make Meredith unsympathetic. I like when people do things wrong. It's like life. Sometimes you make choices you'll regret, you settle for something mundane in the short term instead of waiting for something better, you don't know which direction to go in. You wallow. I like that Meredith is a real person.

I don't expect characters on TV to be better than people in real life. I just expect them to be more interesting. Life isn't made up of black hats and white hats. We're all just shades of gray.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

The West Wing starts a resolution

With just a few episodes to go before the series finale in May, the West Wing is finally taking the time to tie up their loose ends and resolve some storylines. If the previews for this week's show are any indication, some of the Josh-Donna tension that's been simmering for years will finally come to a head.

While it's nice to see them get it together (like Josh and Donna themselves, the audience has been longing for some action between them for a long time), it also leaves me wondering about how shows should leave us. Should they tie up everything with a pretty little bow? Should they leave things open for the audience to decide the fates of the characters? I'd say, for me as a viewer, satisfaction from a series finale comes somewhere in between. I want resolution for a few things, but I also don't want to be talked down to. Things in life don't end so cleanly; why should we expect things in TV to come to the perfect conclusion?

Here are my thoughts on a few finales I've found memorable:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Characters hook up, learn something about themselves, fight, and/or die, and the world is changed forever. It isn't the best Buffy finale (that title falls to "Becoming" or "The Gift"), but it had the right feeling - closing some things and leaving some open for you to decide for yourself. It feels like it should: like the end of a chapter, not the end of everything.

Dawson's Creek: Yes, I watched the show. Yes, I'm kind of ashamed of myself. Let's move on. The finale of DC is all about tying up loose ends. Every loose end. Ever. (I'm pretty sure my shoes were untied at the beginning of the finale, and when I looked down at the end, they were magically double-knotted.) We find out who's meant to be with whom, who gets to croak for the requisite finale sobbing, and where our friends end up living and working in the future. And you know what? I love it. I think it works for DC. You don't watch DC for the mental gymnastics. You watch it for soapy goodness. So when you find out everyone lived happily ever after, it's the logical fulfillment to a childish story.

Farscape: Technically it's got two finales, but I'm talking about the one they creators got to prepare for - the miniseries. While I loved the series, I think the miniseries ends just a bit too much on the bow-tied side. It could just be the semi-cheesiness of the final note of the show, but it could also be that after so many years of fighting and darkness, it didn't sit right to have the characters totally happy at the finale. Perhaps "Bad Timing" worked better for me; maybe to me Farscape will always be about two characters who are meant to be, but couldn't quite get it together.

Felicity: I wouldn't have thought it possible, given that I always preferred Noel over Ben, but this finale was completely satisfying. Strung between two romantic options for years, Felicity finally figured out who was right for her. Characters are in peril, different futures are explored, but it comes to a close that sits right with your heart. (Wow. Did I really just say that? I'm becoming quite sentimental in my doddery.) I think this finale had a little something for everyone, and left you hoping only good things for the characters.

One finale I'm looking forward to is Alias, another J.J. Abrams show. If it's as good as Felicity was, I'll be a happy camper.

What finales are you looking forward to (or anticipating with dread)? One series finale I most certainly do NOT want to see this May is Veronica Mars. Season finale only - I insist!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Happy April Fool's Day!

Have you seen the April Fool's Day PSA's featuring castmembers from The Office? If not take a look. They're random, amusing, and in character.

I was definitely surprised when NBC ran a few of them during Thursday's episode. It's both unusual and refreshing for a network to have a sense of humor about itself. I hope they'll keep exploring humor that isn't completely safe, because it's more satisfying for the audience when they try something new - especially when it's funny.