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Posts in: March 2008

Omar Coming

Breaking Bad (AMC)—“You wanna cook?” What a downer.

I read a great comment from somebody who clearly hasn’t seen the show, arguing that it glorifies meth cooking as a source of easy money and isn’t something that should be watched by kids. Well, the commenter got that last part right, though AMC wasn’t exactly marketing it with a cartoon Erlenmeyer flask named “Crystal” who begged small children to watch and enjoy it. I don’t think kids tuning in will be a problem. If they do, I’m pretty sure acid-softened guts falling through a ceiling every few episodes will discourage them from taking up meth-cooking as a career.

Could this episode have been more depressing? Jessica Hecht’s odd cameo from a few weeks ago comes into sharp focus here, as we learn Walt’s old girlfriend is married to a former peer and colleague. We’re introduced to what Walt could have been if he had made different choices. The show smartly played it so we don’t get a clear indication of what those choices were—we just know they were wrong, and he regrets them and hates seeing how the other half live.

Also to the show’s credit, Walt’s old college buddy—whose birthday they were celebrating—was genuinely touched by Walt’s gift of cheap old ramen noodles, more touched than the Clapton-owned Stratocaster he just tossed aside. It’s that kind of depth and unwillingness to play stereotypes that makes this show a cut above. Then it reached its tragic apex, as Walt is offered a job—a nice, high-paying job, doing what he loves. Out of pity. Because Skyler spilled the cancer beans.

We’re then treated to a possible indicator of where Walt went wrong: pride and hubris. He storms out of the party and refuses the generous financial help extended to him by the wealthy couple. Instead, while he does finally opt for treatment, Walt decides to start cooking to pay for it. What’s going to happen when he gets deep into it and can barely walk? I don’t know.

Meanwhile, Jesse hooks up with some old friends and tries to cook using Walt’s formula and methodology. He can’t do it—it’s too cloudy. And suddenly his standards are too high to smoke this slightly inferior product. He forces the friend to just keep doing it again and again, until the friend finally ditches him.

In the end: “You wanna cook?” The band’s back together, reluctantly but necessarily. It’s funny that this line comes across both triumphant and tragic. If not for The Wire raising the stakes beyond anything we’ve seen before and Lost just airing the best show its ever done (ever), I’d call this the best show on television. Right now, it’s a close third.

Jericho (CBS)—This show is getting crazy again—in the best possible ways.

So the Hudson Valley Virus jumped the “blue line,” Dale bought vaccine, but the Cheyenne government wants to confiscate it? Is anyone else thinking “genocide”? I wish I could say it was something as simple as stockpiling so the “important” folks in Cheyenne have access to the vaccine, but I don’t think that’s it. They’ve already vaccinated Jennings & Rall peons, which seems awfully presumptuous considering it only recently jumped the line. That, to me, means exterminating those who rebel against the new government (like, for instance, Jericho) while blaming the Columbus government for letting the disease get out of hand. Too conspiratorial?

Elsewhere, Darcy and Hawkins are becoming malicious partners in crime (good!), Bonnie wants to take a trip to Cheyenne (bad!), Jake wants to kill Goetz (good and bad!), and the plucky blonde whose name I don’t know (okay, I looked it up, and it’s Trish) is apparently undermining Jennings & Rall. Does this mean Bonnie’s trip to Cheyenne will end well, or is hooking up with Trish a recipe for disaster?

King of the Hill (Fox)—Poor, pathetic Bill. Poor, delusional Dale. One of the great things about the running John Redcorn gag is the way everyone ends up supporting his wild conspiracy theories because it’s easier than letting him known the truth about John, Nancy, and Joseph. So when a new woman enters Bill’s life, and her daughter gets a little too friendly with Joseph, neither Bobby nor Dale are happy. However, Dale takes the initiative to do a DNA test (because the daughter looks familiar).

In Dale’s world, the aliens who kidnapped and impregnated Nancy also kidnapped and impregnated Bill’s girlfriend. Unfortunately, when Bill’s girlfriend learns John Redcorn is also in Arlen, she’s very pleased. Bill is less pleased, because he has turned into little more than a babysitter for kids he can’t stand. In typical King of the Hill fashion, the ending is happy for both Dale and Bill, but in the worst possible ways. Dale continues living his lies, and Bill is relieved to have the kids out of his hair (but not the woman). Kind of a downer.

LostLost is one of those rare shows that has particular moments that just…completely blow your mind. The ending of “Walkabout,” for instance. Or “We’re gonna need the boy.” However, this is the first episode that has been a full hour and two minutes of complete, mind-blowing insanity. I hung on every second of it, absolutely loving it. Desmond has been such a wild character from the start, and his psychic premonitions last season felt a little far-fetched (even for Lost)—but if this is the payoff, it was all worth it.

Now I want to know what’s going on with Farady, perhaps the most interesting new character since Eko left this mortal coil. I don’t want to harp on the intricacies of time travel (or why this was such a well-constructed example of it), because that’d be worthy of a column by itself. All I know is, I’m both baffled and hooked and kinda want this show to go on forever.

Medium (NBC)—In the best episode of the season (so far), Allison finds herself working for shady defense attorney Larry Watt to find out whether or not a client (the underrated Bill Sadler) is guilty. The labyrinthine plot showed deft use of misdirection in Allison’s dreams, while the very setup of getting sent to Watt by Devalos, and the family’s financial situation in dire enough straits for her to accept the “job,” allowed for some great character conflict all around. Even the subplot, with Joe discovering Arielle is charging classmates for psychic readings, was solidly constructed. This more than makes up for last week’s lackluster offering. Gold star for Medium!

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Fox)—So is Cameron going to start donning wacky disguises every week? First the cop, then the ballerina—it’s actually kind of a fun element to the show, because of the impossibility of her ever assimilating. Although, to the credit of the writers, Cameron’s clear desire to understand the human condition, and trying to use dance to do so, was effectively subtle and pretty awesome. A nice twist.

Meanwhile, Dr. Silberman from the movies returns. This time, he’s played by Bruce Davison (perfectly cast) and he’s in charge of dropping the big reveal bomb: not only did Silberman start to believe in Sarah’s future after The Incident at Pescadero—Ellison believes. I have to say, despite all the evidence to the contrary, I didn’t see it coming. There’s also the craziness of Sarah Connor saving him from Silberman’s burning cabin. Their relationship dynamic has suddenly changed—for better or worse.

I had hopes this show would be good, but had no clue it’d be this good this fast.

The Wire (HBO)—Of all the people to take down Omar…

The amazing thing about Kenard is not his youth but his anger. Granted, it’s more amazing considering his youth—but for as long as we’ve known his name, we’ve known him as a harder corner boy than thugs twice his age. His very character, coupled with his killing Omar, is just another point the writers have underscored from day one: one of the reasons for the decay of the modern city is disrespect, in all forms. In this case, disrespect for elders, for what comes before you, for legends. On the streets of West Baltimore, respect was one of the few things that kept people from just killing everyone who looked at them funny (which, you’ll note, is exactly what Marlo’s done since day one).

I also loved the way Beadie’s speech underscored Omar’s death. Nobody seemed particularly shocked or broken up about the man’s death. Maybe Renaldo will, but who knows when or if he’ll find out about it? Point is, Omar didn’t have any true family. At the end of the day, he had nothing. He was a legend in West Baltimore, and will probably remain so for a few years, but he didn’t matter. He didn’t make a difference. He just was, and then wasn’t.

Elsewhere: shit is ramping up. Templeton’s out, I’m sure, but I have this weird feeling McNulty will get off scot-free. I think his callback to Bunk’s classic line—“You’re no good for people”—is key. McNulty will be okay, while everyone around him falls. Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am, because they don’t deserve it nearly as much as he does. One well-deserved comeuppance that I think we will see: Carcetti’s going to fold in on himself. There’s no way the crime rate will go down, and without the homeless to latch onto after McNulty’s bullshit explodes in their faces, his political career will stagnate.

All in all, as we head to the finale, the elements of what felt at first like a shaky, unbelievable plot have converged and reminded me why The Wire is the best show on television.

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Script Review: Jennifer’s Body by Diablo Cody

It might surprise you to learn I didn’t hate Jennifer’s Body. I didn’t like it much, either, but it manages to eschew most of Juno‘s more egregious problems with its legitimate fantastical setting (as opposed to Juno‘s “people are accusing us of offering an irresponsible message, so we’re calling it a fantasy” fantastical setting). It also, despite its problems, doesn’t try to forget or ignore where the story should naturally head in favor of a sloppy, forced happy ending. It’s sloppy and forced in other areas, to be sure, and its ending is unremarkable, but Jennifer’s Body knows its role and, for the most part, lives up to it.

Here’s a brief outline of the story: plain-jane Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (I am not making up that name) is 17 and institutionalized. In voiceover, she suggests that we ought to know how she ended up in the nuthouse, which flashes back to her killing her best friend, the once-beautiful Jennifer Check who has now become some sort of unknown monster. Jennifer’s mother catches Needy in the act; she’s arrested and, eventually, hauled into the nuthouse. Of note is a song—a “soaring rock anthem”—which places twice during this opening sequence—once when Needy is dragged into solitary confinement, and again during the flashback where she’s arrested.

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Harry Caray: Shill

AT&T has launched a devastating attack on Chicago.

Hot off rumors that they bankrolled a dummy consumer-advocacy group to get cable deregulated in Illinois so they could muscle in on untapped territory, they’re launching a new digital cable service across the city. There’s only one problem: nobody’s ever heard of AT&T, a tiny upstart with dim associations with the telephone. They need a great spokesperson to spread the word. Who to get…who to get?

Hey, I know! How about Harry Caray, beloved Chicago icon? Oh…he’s dead?

Hey, I know! Why don’t they get that half-assed comedian, John Caponera, to do a Harry Caray impersonation so bad, it makes Frank Caliendo seem talented. Don’t forget to dress him up so he bears a stronger resemblance to that creepy Six Flags guy than Harry Caray. Also, he needs to do some mildly offensive “Harry Caray is incoherent schtick” hyping up the great AT&T cable plan. That’ll really win over Chicagoans!

Now, look, I think Will Ferrell’s Harry Caray is hilarious, but there’s something about it that’s…I don’t know, endearing, like he loves and embraces the absurdity of Harry Caray’s late-inning, Bud-fueled zaniness and wants to preserve it in his impression. There’s something weird and disturbing about exploiting his memory to sell cable, even more when you add to it the guy is no good and looks really creepy in the make-up. It also might be less offensive if they didn’t play the same three Harry Caray commercials during every single commercial break, on every single channel, everywhere. Damn, AT&T! Scale back the marketing. We already have your phone service; based on our experiences with that, you should already be aware that, if given the choice—which your fake advocacy group deemed so important—nobody in his right mind would switch to you for cable.

Unfortunately, I can’t find any examples of these horrible commercials, but I found something that might actually be worse. John Caponera, without the make-up, doing his impression.

You might notice something odd about this clip. That’s right, it’s taken from a semi-legitimate documentary about the life of Harry Caray. I can’t find much in the way of information at the website explaining who made it and whether or not it’s “official,” but it seems they’ve interviewed some pretty high-profile people who would respect the man’s legacy. Why they spent time talking to a comedian is beyond me, and I’m not sure if misspelling his name shows the filmmakers’ apathy toward him or just general incompetence. The whole thing strikes me as very odd, but at least in the clip (while spectacularly unfunny) he isn’t selling anything. Except, maybe, himself.

On the plus side, I suppose I need to congratulate Chip Caray, for no longer being the most embarrassing part of the Harry Caray legacy.

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Workplace Comedy

The gossip mill is abuzz with the news that the girl at work who trained me to “student surpasses teacher” level forced my former boss to make good on a lunch he owes her. He owes everyone in the office lunch, and this is the first time he’s ever actually done something about it. Why would he do this?

Simple answer: the idiot, who I left her to finish training, cannot learn. The Trainer wanted to go out and have lunch with The Boss to discuss, at length, her problems with The Idiot. But, of course, nothing happened. He’s been backed into a corner, and he’s finally admitting it. Because, remember, if she fires The Idiot, work slows from her aunt, and his lead man—brother-in-law of the aunt—has threatened at least once to make a power play to usurp The Boss’s job. This is bad because, at this point, the lead man does all the work and The Boss takes all the credit.

Turns out: it’s not just up to The Boss. He doesn’t manage the entire branch, and the actual branch manager—as well as the regional manager—are exceedingly unhappy. The Trainer has tried to keep up with it as best she can, but she’s juggling more responsibilities than she deserves, so the warranty work has slowed down. Customers have started complaining, and The Boss can only stave them off with the “the other guy quit and she hasn’t been trained” excuse for so long.

This week, shit has really hit the fan.

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A Mild Defense of On Deadly Ground

I promise I won’t go in-depth on any other Seagal movies. Ever. They’re fun, better than I ever imagined, but I think all the in-depth analysis needed has been covered in the Seagalogy book I’m reviewing.

As I mentioned, I’ve watched more Seagal movies than any sane man should, in chronological order from his screen debut in Above the Law through his directorial debut, On Deadly Ground. I plan to continue with more, but I’m pausing to catch my breath and remark on what’s regarded as Seagal’s most laughable movie.

First, a clarification for folks who don’t know much about Seagal (I didn’t know any of this until I started watching these movies a few days ago). He looks like another meathead action star, and in many ways he is, but he also elected to take the Stallone approach, demanding creative control early and often. Except, unlike Stallone, he doesn’t steal other people’s screenplays and credited himself with writing them. Seagal has done largely uncredited writing work on every movie he’s starred in, giving the writers credit for forming his strange but awesome ideological beliefs into a story that’s often coherent. He also has producing credits on every movie he’s starred in. Not executive producer, associate producer, or co-producer—the elusive produced by credit, meaning he actually had more authority over the movies than your average star.

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Special Effects

I mentioned this offhandedly at one point, but here’s the deal: CGI has ruined special effects innovation. When it is used merely to enhance the story—as in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, for instance, and also Jurassic Park (which I recently rewatched and wow, the special effects still hold up)—and populate a world with things that cannot exist in reality, I don’t have a problem with the use of CGI. Good artists manage to lend weight and texture to the objects, making them look less cartoonish than, say, Samuel L. Jackson’s death in Deep Blue Sea.

However, while there are still minor innovations in the realm of CGI, nothing compares to the insane genius of practical effects. I’ve been working on an action script rewrite, and one of the comments on the previous draft is pretty obvious: too much action. It muddles one character’s arc, which doesn’t quite ruin the script, but it doesn’t help. So lately, I’ve gone back to some of my favorite action movies to see How They Did It—mainly in terms of balancing story and character with action set-pieces.

Watching Point Break a couple of weeks ago helped. The intensity of everything in that movie, from the back-alley chase to the end, wouldn’t have much dramatic impact if we weren’t already thoroughly invested in Johnny Utah’s internal conflict. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but it’s true.

I also broke out another Cameron Classic, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which is one hell of a movie with a paper-thin third act (but fuck, they’re up against the T-1000—who needs plot twists?!). Then I tossed in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Each of these movies gave me separate goals to think about—they’re so tightly constructed. It’s very rare you have a drinking contest as both a point of character development and a major plot point.

After thinking about how to improve my script, I considered the insanity of these movies. Like, at the beginning of the movie, Alfred Molina is covered in tarantulas. Real tarantulas. When was the last time you’ve seen that in a movie? All I ever see are poorly rendered CGI bugs. Most people know the story of Harrison Ford and the cobra separated by a thin pane of glass. Snakes on a Plane (which used more real and/or rubber/”practical” snakes than I would have thought) aped that shot—with a cheesy, CGI snake.

Terminator 2, which did use digital effects extensively (but again, to enhance, not as a cheap catch-all) has some amazing practical effects, like using an amputee for the scene where the T-1000’s body freezes and breaks apart. Can you imagine a time and place where a man was paid millions to come up with a way to have a “liquid metal” machine freeze and break apart, and he comes up with “amputee”? Nowadays, the most innovative thing about a shot like that is actually making the frozen pieces look convincing.

I understand the reasons for the switch: these days, CGI is just cheaper and easier. But as a result, we’ve lost an element of movie magic. There’s rarely a sense of wonder in seeing something new on film. “How’d they do that?” has been replaced by “Wow, that’s pretty good CGI!” It’s disappointing.

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Finales and Returns

As we approach finales for two stellar shows (The Wire and Breaking Bad both finish up next week), the CW sneaks in and brings back two of their best shows (Aliens in America and Everybody Hates Chris), with a third (Reaper) returning next week. They’ll fill the quality-programming void until the CW abruptly cancels them to make room for a new cycle of Pussycat Dolls.

Aliens in America (The CW)—The CW’s only good sitcoms are back for awhile, and I’m happy. Rumors started floating this week that they’d cancel Aliens in America and Reaper because they were the only two CW shows that didn’t receive an early renewal. Am I the only one thinking there’s no logic in this “imminent cancellation” rumor? Neither show has been on since, like, November, and both are scheduled to come back this month. Why wouldn’t they wait to see how they perform over the next month or two?

At any rate, this episode’s quality was typically high, though more cartoonish than usual. Justin telling the sociopathic, homicidal bully that his mother slipped into a coma so he can avoid getting killed (quite literally, we’re led to believe) was a great setup for a fairly stereotypical high school story. Even funnier was the subplot in which Franny scratches a car and leaves a note that they’ll pay for any damages. Keep in mind Gary’s unemployed, which sort of justifies his logic in going to remove the note, but turning this into a story of escalating lies just illustrates what this show does so well: taking outlandish comic ideas and pinning them down with real emotional truth. That might sound a little too deep for a sitcom, but it’s what makes this the most satisfying new comedy on television.

Breaking Bad (AMC)—Holy shit! Breaking Bad has a week before its (strike-induced?) finale, and by mirroring the pilot’s structure they managed to build a taut, insane episode. Cutting mild-mannered Walt explaining his “silent” partnership with skinhead psycho Walt walking away from unidentified carnage or mayhem. I had no idea the transition would come so quickly, but then, when I watched the pilot, I wondered how the entire season would play out over the course of 12 hours. What I’m saying is, I’m not smart.

One of the great moments on this show is Walt explaining the chemical process leading to an explosion—the quicker the reaction, the bigger the bang. A great, subtle metaphor for his transition. Another great metaphor: Walt complaining that Jesse has no real drive to make money, juxtaposed with Walt’s desperation-fueled MacGyver antics. It’s almost like Walt was a drug kingpin waiting to happen—all his pent-up anger about so many things (illustrated by the ultra-depressing birthday party a few weeks ago) and desperation for money have led him to this.

Meanwhile, Jesse has become 100% more interesting. First, his sympathy (and extreme knowledge) of Walt’s cancer, because he had an aunt who died of cancer. Then, his thorough incompetence in dealing with distributors. Of all the ironies, he’s the one not cut out to be anything more than a small-time dealer. Walt’s not only the brains of the operation—he’s the rage.

I can’t imagine pissing off the biggest distributor in town will end well for either of them, but I’m really looking forward to the season finale.

Everybody Hates Chris (The CW)—I confess I was looking forward to some well-observed southern satire, but they win: it was a lot funnier that they never left the bus station. I think they could have found a less clichéd way of losing their money than three-card monte, but that’s a minor nitpick. The real joy was watching Chris and Julius try to get out of the jam. Also, I enjoyed Wayne Brady. He’s a very funny comedian and great in a supporting role like this, so I hope they keep bringing him back as they have Todd Bridges, Ernest Thompson, Antonio Fargas, et al.

Jericho (CBS)—Shit, they killed Bonnie! Does that mean every other actor listed as “Special Guest Star” will be offed before the end of the season? Doesn’t bode well for Dale or Heather…

The subplot in which Mimi discovered the book-cooking (by Goetz or somebody else?) was unusually intense—in a good way. I honestly didn’t see it ending with the death of Bonnie or the wounding of Mimi, but I’m willing to accept that yes, the show has balls, and yes, it’s going to keep up the level of surprise, intensity, and action in the hopes that maybe somebody other than me will start watching. One thing I admire about Bonnie’s death: she went out fighting, balls-to-the-wall, shotgun-in-hand. Also, I have a strong suspicion that Mimi hid her corrected ledger. In fact, if she was really smart she would have made a fake, uncooked “oops, I’ve made a huge mistake” version of the ledger hidden in plain sight. It’s a little late for something like that to save lives, but at the very least I hope it casts suspicion away from Mimi so she can figure out what’s going on in secret.

Esai Morales continues to surprise me. He plays the improbably named Beck as a brusque, tough-as-nails soldier—but he’s not cartoonishly evil. He’s just trying to make the best of a bad situation, and let’s hope Hawkins has finally convinced him that neither the Cheyenne government nor Jennings & Rall have the best intentions of the American people at heart. I’m not convinced he’ll join Jake, Hawkins, et al, but he might turn a blind eye for the time being.

King of the Hill (Fox)—Poor, easily bamboozled Hank. I have a love-hate relationship with episodes that showcase Hank’s biggest vulnerability—his misguided trust in others. I love them because it’s such a consistent part of his character, and his optimism and enthusiasm make him more lovable. I hate them because it’s really depressing to watch him get screwed all the time.

Any episode that prominently features Strickland is bad enough, but this took it to another level: since he bought his first car from local salesman Ted Hammond (voiced by Ted Danson), Hank has proudly paid sticker price. He foolishly believes that this is a real deal. I guess one flaw of the episode is the lack of explanation as to why he’d think the price written on the side of the car is a deal. If they’d tossed in a throwaway line or two about him avoiding the price increase of optional features, it would have worked pretty well.

Nonetheless, the setup served the episode well, first giving Peggy some conflict as she wonders how to handle this revelation, then leading Hank to one of the show’s oddest conclusions: while making some inflammatory flyers to put on the windshield of every car on Hammond’s lot, a teen agrees to join Hank’s fight…and blows up a few cars. Hank’s the only one seen on the security cameras, so he’s brought in for questioning and, in the end, let off the hook thanks to the generosity of Ted Hammond—reaffirming Hank’s faith in quality salesmen relationships. (Of course, Hank misses out on the ironic ending in which Hammond confesses he believes Hank is guilty but doesn’t want more bad publicity.) It’s not that this was a bad course for the story to take; it was just more bizarre and Simpsons-esque than usual.

Lost (ABC)—It would have been difficult to follow up last week’s triumph with something better, but having a Juliet-focused episode took things to a new extreme. Okay, that’s kind of mean, but I’ve never been hugely fond of Juliet as a character. Of course, this episode did very little to make me like her. One of the nice things about Lost—the flashbacks help us to understand the characters, whether we like them or not.

Since we only had minor revelations—Goodwin had a wife, she’s still alive (maybe) and in communication with Ben (so is that a confirmation of the astral projection theories?), and she doesn’t like Juliet. At all. Can you blame her? Meanwhile, Ben is obsessed with Juliet (something that has been subtly portrayed in Michael Emerson’s performance since her first appearance) and basically led Goodwin to death to keep him out of the way.

The new information on Charles Widmore and his obsession with the island was interesting, but I think the biggest piece of the puzzle was the introduction of the Tempest. It’s clearly what Ben used to cause The Purge, but I can’t help wondering what kind of power source would not only vent toxic gas—it’d vent it in such a way that it’d kill everyone on the island. Why wouldn’t Dharma have taken precautions against it? My only thought is that Ben—with Alpert’s help—rigged the power station for his nefarious use. I hope that turns out to be the case, because otherwise none of it makes much sense.

Medium (NBC)—Was I the only one who found himself really affected by the Bridgette-Joe-credit card operator subplot? I admit it was sort of hokey—right down to him being in Bangalore, which I know is becoming a cultural norm, but it still feels like a stereotype—but it really got to me, especially the resolution. I actually kind of think that’s why he had to be Indian. I would imagine if an American CSR were told to buy a lock, then he was robbed a few days later, he or she would take that as a retroactive threat and start pointing fingers at Joe. The gratitude of the rep on this show made me feel warmer and fuzzier than this show usually allows.

To balance that out, we were treated to some of the show’s most disturbing dream sequences: cannibal Gregory Itzin (the best part of 24‘s stellar fifth season, here again playing a smarmy, murderous politician) dining on the flesh of a gentleman who looks like a hobo. As the dreams clarify, we discover, while imprisoned in Vietnam, Itzin’s state senator suggested the others kill a man dying of dysentery, so they could ward off starvation. (It also begs the question: if you eat a guy with dysentery, wouldn’t you get infected, too?)

As the mystery unfolded with the help of the dreams, it revealed itself to be one of Medium‘s most well-crafted mysteries. The conclusion wasn’t totally obvious, and in the end they actually dove into the murky gray area of whether or not both the Vietnam murder and the contemporary murder were deserved. Well done!

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronciles—Damn, I hope this show gets renewed. My fear is that Fox expected much more from a show with a built-in audience (who among current 20-somethings didn’t grow up loving Terminator 2?), and probably expected much less from an action show. Sure, the show has plenty of action, but it also keeps the spirit of the show: weighty sci-fi involving issues of fate versus free will and good versus evil, surprising character depth and drama that comes more from the small moments than the big set-pieces.

The sequence of FBI agents repeatedly dropping into a motel swimming pool, cut to Johnny Cash singing about the Apocalypse, may be the most artistic, cinematic moment ever aired on the Fox network. They should be prouder of this series than they are The Moment of Truth, but this is the network that has unfairly canceled more high-quality shows than I can recall (off the top of my head, Undeclared, Firefly, Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Arrested Development are just a few recent examples), so I guess we should say our goodbyes early.

The Wire (HBO)—Herc, you fucking moron! How many times have I said that in the past? After I thought he finally redeemed himself by handing Carver Marlo’s cell number, he fucks it all up by insisting to Levy that they used a wiretap, not a C.I. Ugh! The whole thing’s falling apart, and it’s not solely because Kima ratted McNulty and Freamon (and to a lesser extent, Sydnor) out to Daniels.

I don’t think anybody will argue too much with me when I say I haven’t been quite as emotionally affected by this series as I have in the past. The biggest emotional spikes involve McNulty’s treatment of Beadie, which is horrible, and my rage at Scott Templeton for being such a jackass. (McNulty’s not exactly off the hook, but at least I understand why he’s doing what he did—Templeton’s just an ass who wants to get ahead.) I even felt a little numb to Omar’s death. It wasn’t that I saw it coming (I didn’t) or that it wasn’t horrific and tragic to see Kenard as the trigger man. It just felt so inevitable—if it had to happen, it’s harder to get upset. The whole theme of last week’s episode was how wasted Omar’s life turned out to be. He had his code, but in the end, that was about all.

But now…that last scene hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve read some “debate” on the Internet (among both professional critics and fans) stating a belief that Michael was “pretending” not to remember because he didn’t want to be overwhelmed by the emotion of the moment. Bullshit! The tragedy of that scene is the innocence lost. So much shit has gone down for Michael since that happy day of piss-filled balloons, ice cream, and ass kickings—he really can’t remember. Can’t remember the good times, can’t remember the fact that two short years ago he was just a kid, and now he’s hardened. Dukie remembers because he’s never been hard—that’s been the whole point of their relationship this season, and this scene was the culmination of that. And yes, it was absolutely as depressing as seeing Dukie on the corner in last season’s finale.

So I guess I was wrong in my belief that McNulty would get off scot-free while destroying the lives of everyone around him. I’m afraid to watch the finale next week. I really am.

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Welcome to the Party, Pal…

Here’s what nerds argue about:

Where’s the first act-break in Die Hard? I watched this movie today, for the first time since I was maybe 10-years-old, in my continuing effort to analyze the way movies in this genre are put together. In particular, this movie was recommended to me because it shares one common element with my action thriller: an extremely long first act. I’m not ordinarily one to follow the goofy script-guru “if [insert jargon] doesn’t happen on page [number], your story will fail” line of reasoning. For me, screenwriting is about 30% mechanics, 70% instinct. Anybody who has seen a lot of movies could write a screenplay with a rough but definable three-act structure, even if they don’t know that’s what they’re doing. The structure may be the only thing they get right, with all the plot points and arcs hitting the right beats, because it’s been ingrained in drama since Ancient Greece.

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“Journalism”

It’s the story “everybody” has been waiting for: just who is the woman Eliot Spitzer wanted to sex up? I know I was desperate to know. After all, there’s so little going on in the world. It’s nice to finally see a meaty story. And here’s one, from the New York Times:

For an Aspiring Singer, a Harsher Spotlight

By SERGE F. KOVALESKI and IAN URBINA

Published: March 13, 2008

She left a broken home on the Jersey Shore at 17 and came to New York City to work the nightclubs as a rhythm and blues singer. Now, at 22, she is the unwitting, and as yet unseen, star of the seamy drama that is the downfall of Gov. Eliot Spitzer of New York.

Kristen, the prostitute described in a federal affidavit as having had a rendezvous with Mr. Spitzer on Feb. 13 at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, has spent the last few days in her ninth-floor apartment in the Flatiron district of Manhattan. On Monday, she made a brief appearance in federal court, where a lawyer was appointed to represent her. She is expected to be a witness in the case against four people charged with operating a prostitution ring called the Emperor’s Club V.I.P.

In a series of telephone interviews on Tuesday night, she said she had slept very little over the past week, with all the stress of the case.

“I just don’t want to be thought of as a monster,” the woman said as she told the tiniest tidbits of her story.

Born Ashley Youmans but now known as Ashley Alexandra Dupré, she spoke softly and with good humor as she added with significant understatement: “This has been a very difficult time. It is complicated.”

She has not been charged. The lawyer appointed to represent her, Don D. Buchwald, told a magistrate judge in court on Monday that she had been subpoenaed to testify in a grand jury investigation. Asked to swear that she had accurately filled out and signed a financial affidavit, she responded affirmatively.

A person with knowledge of the Emperor’s Club operation confirmed that the woman interviewed by The New York Times was the woman identified as Kristen in the affidavit. Mr. Buchwald confirmed various details of Ms. Dupré’s background but would not discuss the contents of the affidavit.

Ms. Dupré said by telephone Tuesday night that she was worried about how she would pay her rent since the man she was living with “walked out on me” after she discovered he had fathered two children. She said she was considering working at a friend’s restaurant or, once her apartment lease expires, moving back with her family in New Jersey “to relax.”

She did not say when she had started working for the Emperor’s Club, or how often she had liaisons arranged through the ring. Asked when she met Governor Spitzer and how many times they had seen each other, Ms. Dupré said she had no comment.

As of Wednesday morning, Ms. Dupré’s MySpace page recounted her “odyssey to New York from New Jersey through North Carolina, Miami, D.C., Virginia and Austin, Texas;” public records show that she lived in Monmouth County, N.J., in 2001, and in North Carolina in 2003. She owns a company, created in 2005, called Pasche New York, which her lawyer said was an entertainment business designed to further her singing career.

Music is her first love, and on the MySpace page, Ms. Dupré mentions Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra, Christina Aguilera and Lauryn Hill among a long list of influences, including her brother, Kyle. (She also lists Whitney Houston, Madonna, Mary J. Blige and Amy Winehouse as her top MySpace friends.) In the interview, she said she saw the Rolling Stones perform at Radio City Music Hall on their last tour after a friend gave her two tickets. “They were amazing,” she said.

On MySpace, her page says: “I am all about my music and my music is all about me. It flows from what I’ve been through, what I’ve seen and how I feel.”

She left “a broken family” at age 17, having been abused, according to the MySpace page, and has used drugs and “been broke and homeless.”

“Learned what it was like to have everything and lose it, again and again,” she writes. “Learned what it was like to wake up one day and have the people you care about most gone.

“But I made it,” she continues. “I’m still here and I love who I am. If I never went through the hard times, I would not be able to appreciate the good ones. Cliché, yes, but I know it’s true.”

Ms. Dupré’s mother, Carolyn Capalbo, 46, said that after her daughter finished sophomore year in high school, Ms. Dupré moved to North Carolina. “She was a young kid with typical teenage rebellion issues, but we are extremely close now,” Ms. Capalbo said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

In 2006, Ms. Dupré changed her legal name, according to records in Monmouth County Superior Court, from Ashley R. Youmans to Ashley Rae Maika DiPietro, taking her stepfather’s surname since she regarded him as “the only father I have known.” But in the interview, she referred to herself as Ashley Alexandra Dupré, which is how she is known on MySpace.

On the Web page is a recording of what she describes as her latest track, “What We Want,” a hip-hop-inflected rhythm-and-blues tune that asks, “Can you handle me, boy?” and uses some dated slang, calling someone her “boo.”

“I know what you want, you got what I want,” she sings in the chorus. “I know what you need. Can you handle me?”

Her MySpace biography says she started singing professionally after a musician she was living with heard her singing the Aretha Franklin hit “Respect” in the shower and burst into the bathroom with his lead guitarist. She says she toured and recorded with them, then moved to Manhattan in 2004 and “spent the first two years getting to know the music scene, networking in clubs and connecting with the industry.

“Now it’s all about my music, it’s all about expressing me.”

In the affidavit, the woman the Emperor’s Club called Kristen is described as “an American, petite, very pretty brunette, 5 feet 5 inches, and 105 pounds.” She apparently was booked at about $1,000 an hour, placing her in the middle of the seven-diamond scale by which the prostitutes were paid up to $4,300 an hour.

Ms. Capalbo said that she was “shell-shocked” when her daughter called in the middle of last week and told her she had been working as an escort and was now in trouble with the law. She said she was not sure that Ms. Dupré realized who Mr. Spitzer was when he was her client.

“She is a very bright girl who can handle someone like the governor,” Ms. Capalbo said. “But she also is a 22-year-old, not a 32-year-old or a 42-year-old, and she obviously got involved in something much larger than her.”

Benjamin Weiser contributed reporting.

So here’s the thing: I didn’t give two shits about the news until the epic 2000 election—the first election I voted in—and while I know this isn’t exactly a new thing, the moment I started caring was the moment I (slowly but surely) realized how fucking awful the media covers “news.” Since about 2004, I haven’t been able to look at a newspaper or watch the TV news without feeling mildly disgusted at not just the selection of “stories” but the way in which they are covered. However, the article above goes far beyond any level of badness I’ve witness. Seriously, when the most valuable source you have in your story is a fucking MySpace page, maybe it’s worth holding off the report for a day or two. I don’t even care about the mostly incoherent quotes from her mother, the article’s subtle tone of pity*, or the bland biographical details that barely paint a picture of who she is as a person. I’m bothered by the fact that there’s no story here. Not yet, anyway.

The New York Times is supposed to be all classy and shit, so why did they print this sub-Enquirer bullshit? I mean, their lengthy profile of Axl Rose and his struggle to complete Chinese Democracy was totally pointless and barely newsworthy (especially in 2005—at the very least, 2007 was a red-letter year for Axl continually saying Chinese Democracy will be out without ever releasing it), but it went into a great deal of depth, didn’t editorialize—author Jeff Leeds just told it, from beginning to end. The worth of a story like that is definitely questionable, but the bottom line is, the story was there to tell. The article on Dupré gives us the fascinating details of somebody’s MySpace profile, with only one or two legitimate quotes from humans worth talking to. Not exactly front-page material. Hell, that’s barely worth burying in the back with follow-ups and Alessandra Stanley retractions.

Is this just a “new kind of journalism” that I’m not understanding? I totally get the value of utilizing “new media” to cover a story. It may have been bad form to publicly release Cho Seung-Hui’s writing and videos, but at least they helped (in some way) to complete our psychological picture of a killer, using his own words. Forget the platoons of pundit/psychologists invading newsrooms nationwide; the fact that we can read his writing, listen to his voice, see his face saying the words—it allows us to draw our own conclusions and understand the situation.

In this case, the MySpace profile is not the story. Generic “insights” on a blog post and faux-profundity don’t paint any kind of portrait of this person. At least, not anything different from any other MySpace profile on the planet. Her terrible song is the closest thing to getting at the truth of this person, her situation, and why she was backed into the corner of whoredom. I hate to sound mean, because I’m not exactly Eric Clapton, but that song screams “don’t quit your day job.”

Still, MySpace is an artifice that exists, in many (dare I say most?) people’s minds, as an avenue to hype themselves up. Every person I’ve ever talked to who had a MySpace profile, even if they decide to make it private at some point, has mentioned putting some kind of lie on their profile, from tiny and white to outlandish and mean.** MySpace is the high school/college reunion of the Internet, a place where many people actively hide their true selves from the people they know will be looking, because it’s a lot easier to just lie than to explain why being the assistant to a big-shot producer is an impressive job even if it only means a tiny credit at the very, very end of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 sandwiched between CATERING MANAGER and FIRST ASSISTANT ACCOUNTANT.

Should this really pass as news, or as substantive information about a woman somebody, somewhere wants to learn about?

*I don’t think she’s a monster—I mainly think she’s exploiting the wealthy as much as they’re exploiting her, so the whole morality issue is kind of neutralized. Also, living in an apartment in Flatiron and vacationing on the French Riviera? I’m pretty sure if she wanted to “make it” as a singer, her money could be put to better use elsewhere. I do think we should feel sorry for Spitzer’s wife and daughters, though. They can now look forward to an endless series of awkward holidays and family events.

**Like listing your status as “married” because you know it’ll piss off all your old boyfriends.

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More Bad News

Note: This will be my last post on this subject. This blog isn’t about politics, or the atrocious ways the media covers the news, but I dunno…the whole thing makes me feel uncomfortable. Why do people feel the need to be so invasive?

Be sure to read tomorrow’s post: More about masturbation and bowel obstructions!

I still believe the New York Timescoverage of the Spitzer whore was atrocious, but CNN managed to outdo them pretty quickly:

updated 1:19 p.m. EDT, Fri March 14, 2008

Dupre’s MySpace page evolves with scandal

By Mallory Simon

(CNN)—In three days, Ashley Alexandra Dupre went from being an unknown 22-year-old aspiring musician to the fifth most-searched subject on Google because of her alleged sexual encounters with New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

After she was identified by The New York Times, throngs of journalists staked out her home.

At the same time, she appeared to have jumped on her MySpace page, which was identified by the Times, and a Facebook profile with the same name and photos.

It seemed she was trying to stay one step ahead of journalists, attempting to limit what information they could access.

She was seemingly aware that the press would have access to her friends and every word, photo and comment on her profiles, so she began by deleting connections between her friends on Facebook.

Facebook and MySpace have become one of the go-to background tools for journalists in the past couple of years, allowing members of the press to put a face to the subject of their story and find out more about them.

As more people make profiles on these Web sites, the information they make available is more frequently becoming public fodder.

Pictures from her apparent MySpace and Facebook profile were splashed across media Web sites—and Dupre appeared to take notice. Time stamps and activity on what appears to be her Facebook profile shows she was staying up all night cleaning up her profile and responding to critics on the Internet.

American University Professor Chris Simpson, an expert in Internet and privacy law, said there is no expectation of privacy when it comes to social networking Web sites.

If you post photos or comments, there is a chance your information can end up on the front page of The New York Times, although in most cases it won’t.

“A week ago, only [Dupre’s] friends cared,” he said. “But once you put it up for the world to see, you can’t control which fraction of the world will see it.”

Simpson also said while Dupre may have originally left her profiles open hoping someone would discover her music, it also left her susceptible to media scrutiny after the Spitzer scandal.

“Unfortunately, you can’t say, ‘Oh well, I didn’t want that kind of publicity, I only wanted positive publicity,'” he said.

While most people may understand their profiles are subject to public viewing, Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist for the Pew Internet and American Life Project, said focus groups have shown they generally can’t think of a scenario where their information would become so public.

Early Thursday morning, it appears Dupre realized she needed to make some changes to alter what the public would be able to know about her.

At 3 a.m., there was an entry that she had completed a “thorough profile scrub,” leaving only a couple of photos of herself on Facebook.

At the same time, the self-described aspiring musician left a clip of one of her songs on MySpace and frequently linked to a page where users could download it.

So does Dupre want the attention that comes along with this scandal or not?

“Maybe promoting herself and her music on the Internet means she does want to make it available to everyone in a very public way,” Lenhart said.

Some of her close friends made sure their feelings were known to the press, too. Some posted on her MySpace page telling her to ignore the media, that they would be there for her and reminding her to stay strong.

But even those who weren’t close with her seemed to want in on the action. Some identifying themselves as her high school classmates created a group on Facebook devoted to those who had classes with her.

The early morning hours slipped by and Internet activity on Facebook continued until 5 a.m., when she apparently confronted the high school classmates on the group page. It seemed she believed they were trying to exploit her situation.

“Do me a favor and don’t try to cash out… thanks,” she wrote on the Facebook group page.

Thursday morning, the Dupre Facebook status gave the impression she wanted no part of the attention.

“Sneaking out the back door,” she wrote under her “current status.”

But as the day went on, it seemed Dupre’s feelings were changing and she might have been embracing the newfound spotlight.

The page had received more than 1,100 friend requests on Facebook. Initially, she ignored them.

By the afternoon she apparently gave in, but the feelings were short-lived.

By 2:30 p.m. Thursday the Facebook and MySpace profiles were gone, but they reappeared Friday.

If your attention span is too short to properly digest such thorough journalism, here are the story highlights:

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Dupre becomes the fifth most-searched subject on Google
  • After being identified by The New York Times, Dupre cleans up her profiles
  • Dupre to high school classmates: “Do me a favor and don’t try to cash out…”
  • Facebook and MySpace pages that appeared to be Dupre’s are deleted

So here’s the problem this time: it’s incredibly lazy, bordering on incompetent, to write a lengthy “news story” whose primary source is a MySpace page…

…but it’s still better than writing an article from the perspective of a MySpace-stalker, obsessively checking the profile and recording every minute detail, justifying your actions by talking to “experts” who toss around “maybe” like it’s the only word they know.

I’m not denying that Ashley Alexandra Dupré is newsworthy. Other than her ridiculous hotness (marred only by her comically fake giant boobs), I don’t give half a shit about her. I can understand why people would, and that’s fine. I don’t object to the media covering the story. What they’ve covered so far, however, isn’t a story. Also, Rick Sanchez is a fucking idiot. He has nothing to do with any of this (as far as I know), but he works for CNN and it must be stated. Not even Tony Harris, Paul Zahn, or Soledad O’Brien can match his stupidity. It’s astounding.

Sorry for that diversion. It just has to be mentioned every time CNN is mentioned.

I’ve complained about two “news” sources (so far) stooping to sensationalism (more than usual) because, basically, I’m really angry. Still, at the end of the news cycle, the real idiots have revealed themselves: the American public. As the New York Daily News “reports”, some of Dupré’s songs—featured on a pay music website with a sliding scale—has blasted to the top.

“Move Ya Body” was the quickest cut ever to hit the site’s maximum price of 98 cents per download, said Joshua Boltuch, co-founder of the music Web site, the only place where Dupré’s songs can be purchased online.

“It went up to 98 cents in just five hours during the middle of the night,” Boltuch said. “That’s incredible.”

I can understand going to her MySpace page and listening to the one song she posted there for free out of morbid curiosity. I can’t imagine anybody who wouldn’t after hearing the only interesting fact of her life—her musical aspirations. But to listen to that song, then click her link to the pay site, and lay down money? After hearing one piece of shit song for free, you then pay for two or three more songs? Who does that?*

So far, this has netted Dupré $200,000, or 200 hours of “labor.” That is astounding. Also, nobody in the world—including the billions of people who didn’t pay for her songs; we all deserve to be lumped together for this one—is allowed to accuse her of indecency, immorality, or any of the other disparaging epithets leveled at prostitutes. The most indecent thing about the story to date is how much money gullible idiots gave to her. What the fuck, guys?

*Coldplay fans not required to answer.

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