Thursday, February 28, 2008

Can the Octopus Jump? Can He Leap? Can He?

Regular work has been interrupted slightly, here at the ISTV Global Stronghold (hidden in the shadow of Certain Doom Mountain). The henchmen are currently adjusting to new day work and a completely new sleeping and eating schedule. It's tough on the henchmen, but this is not a democracy. This is a televictatorship. They will figure it out. Or the Motivational Poking Stick awaits.

But we are not cruel overlords. For instance, we did not subject them to "Quarterlife" (though to be fair, apparently nobody subjected anybody to "Quarterlife"). In fact, to show our appreciation, we have appeased the henchmen by granting them access to "Ninja Warrior," G4's Japanese import obstacle course masterpiece.

The punishing competition (located on Mount Terror's daunting philosophical neighbor, Mount Midoryama) has won the affection of the henchmen, through the excitable spirit of its less athletic contestants (see below) and the relentless can-do-it-iveness of its superhuman All-Stars (including fisherman Makoto Nagano, who trains on his boat by doing sit-ups OFF THE BOW OF THE SHIP).

But the real draw is the announcer, whose zealous admiration of the contest (and seeming man-crush on many of the contestants) leads to some of the most goofily exciteable color commentary available along the Pacific Rim:

"Katsuga leaps across the balance bridge like an actor accepting an Academy Award!"

"The baretender is neither shaken nor stirred by the first obstacle! He is going to mix it up with the Rolling Log, like a marachino cherry by a swizzle stick!"

"He says he would gladly die if it would help him gain physical perfection!"

"The gods of Mount Midoryama have blessed this hunky model!"

"His golden skin glows in the darkness."

"It's clear from the way he's stripping off his jacket that 'Ninja Warrior' is no joke!"

"The wildman crawls like a feral baby!"

"Ages ago, before cities, culture, corporate mergers, or 'Ninja warrior, our ancestors swung from trees, much like this."

More to come, as next week appears to be just as grueling for the henchmen. In the meantime, the Stronghold offers this video to better prime you for further "Ninja Warrior" commentary (and by "commentary," we mean, "More quotes taken only slightly out of context"):

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

More like "SN-Hell!" HEYOOOOOO!

A Quick History Lesson:

It was no accident that Lorne Michaels named his sketch comedy show “Saturday Night Live.” It was a calculated move during the critical opening days of the show, because logically speaking, rooting the show in one place, at one time, promising the audience that they weren’t going anywhere, ratings be damned, unless NBC could come up with an insanely good reason to move it away from that time slot.

(This logic didn’t work as well for “Friday Night Lights,” as NBC recently concluded that it could just air the show on no night at all and make more money with it.)

As a result, the show became an institution. It also slowly but steadily, became what all institutions eventually become: punishingly unfunny. That’s primarily due to the other inherent promise in the title. The “live” part. A short list of why:

- Studio audiences are, by and large, kinda fucking stupid – mouthbreathing yokels, if you will – and yet their reactions choose which sketches make it to air (one of the greatest sketches I’ve seen in the last ten years, a “late night talk show” hosted by Michael York and Michael Caine at a Ken-Taco-Hut, only aired because whazzerface ran off stage in a panic and left them with five minutes of potential dead air).
- The best parts of the show are, more often than not, pre-taped ad parodies, the Robert Smiegel cartoons, or a digital short like “Dick in a Box.” Y’know. Non-live stuff.
- When you put men like Jimmy Fallon, Horatio Sanz, or Tracy Morgan, “performers” in front of cameras and live audiences, they can’t NOT stare into the cameras and crack up along with the audience.
- The format makes it directly responsible for “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.” I’m mildly surprised that NBC did not, after canceling “Studio 60,” also cancel SNL out of spite.

So while in spirit, I do applaud the fact that “Saturday Night Live” is triumphantly returning with new episodes starting this weekend, mostly I’m dreading its return. Because Tina Fey is hosting, god bless her heart, I might actually have to watch (this is the logic that got me to sit through Hugh Laurie’s monologue). And I know that even with my beloved Tina and a well-rested writing staff, the show will still suck late night balls.

How can we foil this tyrant of lazy sketch comedy? Well, now that the writer’s strike is over, you can watch episodes of “30 Rock” online guilt-free.

Or, you can pop over to IFC, which is currently running a second season of “The Whitest Kids U Know,” a half-hour laugh-track-free series of varying levels of comedy strangeness. It's what made me realize why sketches without audience reaction noises always hit me better - there's a more palpable feeling that the troupe is performing just for the sake of it, not just to score some laughs from the peanut gallery.

So, "The Whitest Kids U Know." First off: these dudes really are quite pasty. Second, here's a little bit of what to expect. You may see a guy running up to his friend’s window with a baseball bat, excitedly yelling, “Hey Steve, c’mon! Race War!” You might finally learn whether or not sailors in a submarine think the phrase "submarine sandwich" is funny. Or you might learn an important lesson on how to perform the “who-gives-a-shit” air-jerkin’ motion:

If that worked for you, pretty much every sketch can be found on their website.

(Thanks to Will for showing the sketch that caused me to seek out this show in the first place.)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Huzzah (Redux)!

It's good to not feel stupid for posting that bit a couple days ago. Now, officially, the writers' strike is over.

What does this mean for your favorite shows? Well, screw your favorite shows, let's talk about mine. Comedies like "How I Met Your Mother," "The Office," and "30 Rock" are working on anywhere from four to nine episodes, "Lost" might be able to pull out a truncated season, "House" can now work on getting Jesse Spencer and Jennifer Morrison on-screen for more than 30 seconds at a time, and...uh...well, that's about it.

"24" will show up again next January (start working on getting that whole "Tony's alive and is now the bad guy" idea to make sense, guys!). "Heroes" will figure out how to pace its series better by the fall. And all the other great freshman shows like "Pushing Daisies" and...okay, "Pushing Daisies" will return in September with a big fat marketing push behind them.

In the meantime, let's enjoy tomorrow night's fully-staffed "Daily Show" and "Colbert Report."

So: Huzzah! Again! Some more!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"My Buddy Bill"

"It's weird. The conversation we're having isn't the least bit stilted. It just kind of flows. To be honest, if was a single woman, or a gay man? I would've wanted to jump his bones."

This is Rick Cleveland, writer for "The West Wing" and "Six Feet Under," speaking on his brief but memorable friendship with former president Bill Clinton, a friendship that started out based on mutual dog ownership and somehow ended up with Cleveland in Amsterdam, smoking hash with Christopher Walken.

Cleveland's special "My Buddy Bill" (apparently, if you do stand-up on only one subject for the whole set, it's called a "one-man play") is currently featured on Comedy Central. Because it's easily the best standup I've seen on Comedy Central in years, it's just about right that its "world premiere" aired at 10:00 PM on a Thursday. Because apparently it's important that the network air American Pie Presents: The Naked Mile during primetime.

More can be found on Comedy Central's website here. You can also download it from Amazon here. Or, you can wait a month or two and get it on Netflix.
"He asks if Mary and I would like to have dinner with them when they come into town. Apparently the Spielbergs, the Hankses, the Dansons, and the Bloodsworth-Thomesons will all be out of town."

Sunday, February 10, 2008


The writers' strike seems about wrapped up, as the heads of both the east and west coast WGA accepted a deal, putting it out to vote on Tuesday as showrunners get back to the pain-in-the-ass business of re-establishing everything from producers to actors to craft services.

I'm no labor lawyer, or even what you'd call "all that bright," but the way the copy reads is: Not nearly as good as they were hoping, but hell, it'll do for now.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Eli Stone": Receding Hairline Fights Stupidity

What the hell is it about ABC shows? On paper, or even by the pilot, I’m happy enough with them. They’re generally pretty clever, and always well-filmed. I liked “Knights of Prosperity” (liked it a lot more when it was called “Let’s Rob Mick Jagger”). “Dirty Sexy Money” was a clever nighttime soap version of “Arrested Development.” I even gave “The Nine” a chance, mostly because I wanted to see SOMETHING succeed in the post-“Lost” timeslot.

But when it comes to the shows themselves, I just can’t find it in me to care. They lack some essential element that would otherwise make them worth watching. So add to the list “Eli Stone,” which has “Don’t worry, it’ll be cancelled soon” written all over lead actor Johnny Lee Miller’s cleverly hidden receding hairline. Okay, yes, that was mean. I don’t care about the show enough to feel bad.

Miller stars as the eponymous title character, a slick, materialistic lawyer who, after being diagnosed with an inoperable brain aneurism, decides to Become A Better Man. At least, we’re told he was slick and materialistic, but from the get-go he seems like such a well-meaning doof that it’s hard to buy any of it.

That would be a show telling us, rather than showing us, about its premise. The show pushes this type of lazy writing to its limits. Other featured cliches include Sassy Black Assistant, Most Important Closing Argument of the Attorney’s Life, Misunderstood Father, AND Very Special Case of the week – in a stunningly exploitative move for a pilot, a kid with autism whose mom is suing a pharmaceutical company over additives in its vaccine. (ABC managed to cover its ass with a disclaimer…that ran at the end of the show. Good work, gang.)

And then there is The Whimsy. Oh GOD, The Whimsy. Which I am not against in theory. But in practice, everything here is just a bit too on-the-nose, from the visions of George Michael singing “Faith” to all Eli's other visions being childhood recollections that take on greater importance. The show wants balance quirkiness and realism, but doesn’t really bother thinking either through. After being diagnosed with an aneurism that, medically speaking, WILL cause delusions and hallucinations, Eli is then told by an acupuncturist that he may be some kind of prophet. Uhm…what?

If you have a medical diagnosis that would in fact cause crazy shit to appear before your eyes, then there is no otherworldly mystery. Your brain is just fucking with you. And if you believe some hippy-dippy acupuncturist who tells you you might be a prophet? That’s STILL YOUR BRAIN FUCKING WITH YOU.

I am not against The Whimsy in television. “Wonderfalls” sits on my DVD shelf as an all-time favorite, and “Pushing Daisies” managed to get through my defenses to become the only new show this year that I actively enjoyed. But in “Wonderfalls,” the brusqueness of the lead offset the cuteness of the talking animal dolls that told her what to do. In the other corner, “Pushing Daisies” commits completely to its strange designs in dialogue, costuming, set, and even dialogue.

“Eli Stone” wants to be cute and clever and magical, while also being down-to-earth and everyday. But all it succeeds in doing is making me want to punch Johnny Lee Miller in his receding hairline.

Sorry, that wasn’t necessary. It’s just REALLY distracting to me.

The Greatest Moment in All of Superbowl History...

...was watching the Terminator robots beating the shit out of the Fox football robot.

That showboating fucker's had it coming to him for a long time.

Fight the Future (No, Wait, That's a Different Sci-Fi Franchise)

(ISTV Archive, originally posted January 23)

Genre television is full of parents screwing up their kids. It could be Jack Bristow on “Alias,” who subjected his daughter to mind-control conditioning as a child so she could withstand brainwashing as an adult. Or it could be Jack Bauer in “24,” mollycoddling Kim to the point that she ended up prey to cougar traps (seriously, this never stops being funny to me). And while the king of lunatic-parenting still belongs to "Dexter" foster-dad Harry Morgan ("Therapy, shmerapy! I can sort out my future serial killing son!"), we’ve got a new contender.

Sarah Connor, eponymous lead of "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," does a bang-up job of fucking up her kid (with the best of intentions, of course) by relentlessly drilling into her teenage son's brain mantras like "Nobody is EVER safe!" and "Resist the urge to be seen as special or important!"

Lena Headey's tightly-wound performance in the pilot episode is meant to be viewed as lioness-protective, but mostly all you can think is "Climb down from your crazy tree, stress monkey." Her intensity begs the question: Can you still consider someone dangerously paranoid, even when you know she's being hunted down by killer robots from the future? Answer: Hoo-boy, yeah.

Between Headey's repressed-spaz-attack, her agonizingly ponderous voice-overs, and her teenaged son John whining, "You changed the future, you just didn't change it enough!" - one of many lines that makes you wonder, "Okay, just how much is the time travel aspect of this show going to hurt my brain?" - it's easy to think that maybe this just isn’t the show for you.

And it gets a little worse before it gets better, as good robot Summer Glau (who, between this and "Firefly," has got to be wondering what it is about her that keeps getting her cast as hardcore weirdoes) constructs a time machine to shoot them into 2007. This show wasn't initially meant for midseason, which means even when they jump ahead, they're still six months behind the viewer.

Weird, yes, but no weirder than the logic behind the time-jump, which is, "So the bad robots can't find you here." But...just how much damage did you do to the timestream, lady? Unless you were always supposed to, in which case...wouldn't this missing chunk of John Connor's history be pretty well-known to the bad robots already? And if that’s the case, then….uuuuuuggggghhhh. (That would be the sound that tells you to just stop worrying about logic, lest blood rocket out of your eye-sockets from the stress.)

The real reason, of course, is that otherwise the producers would have to film the show as though it took place in 1999, and who's got the energy for that kind of set-dressing? So here we have an entire episode devoted to clarifying that future episodes will place in the present, so don't ask so many damn questions.

You’ve likely gotten the impression that the pilot didn't exactly floor me. You are astute. But one night later, the strangest thing happened: the second episode was miles ahead of the pilot.

(A strange occurrence, as the general notion is that creators get six months to put together their pilot, but once they get greenlit, they have to slap together a second episode in like three weeks - so the quality usually suffers.)

But here we are, with a second episode that manages to find its footing by loosening up a tad. Headey’s mood drops from panic-mode into darkly-ironic, and future freedom-fighter John tries proving his mettle against that most daunting of stress-tests: high school. Not helping in this case is his robot bodyguard, who is busy learning how to act hoo-man (and seriously, thank god for Summer Glau, because with someone less adept at playing Dangerous Weirdo, this bit could get pretty obnoxious otherwise).

After three episodes, the show seems to have developed a solid long-form plot goal that doesn’t involve trotting out a Terminator-of-the-week to menace the regulars. Instead, the characters are on a mission to stop the future before it occurs, by tracking down the new potential creators of Skynet and…uhh…

Well, that’s the fun thing. You can’t have Sarah Connor killing everyone she thinks might be a potential threat week after week, because A) that gets boring pretty quick, B) this is a network show, and C) even after a few justified killings, it would become difficult not to question her sanity. So we see the character instead becoming humanly empathetic to these people who clearly don’t mean to bring about an apocalypse, and as a result, finding non-lethal ways to subdue their threat level.

It’s a theme John asserts in the third episode, questioning the point of hiding, denying their own humanity and behaving like robots to stay safe. And it’s a good theme to have. But based on a steady ratings slide since the premier, I’m not sure how much time they’re going to get to explore it. But lone benefit to the writer’s strike is that the show will get the full run of episodes to prove its worth. Hopefully, that will be enough.

Friday, February 1, 2008

New TV? Oh Thank God

Thanks to Fox hording all their new episodes during the strike, this week we got “A Very House Christmas”! And I don’t mean you see a bit of tinsel or anything. I mean Secret Santa plays heavily into the B-plot, and the whole show ends with the cast socializing warmly at a Christmas party. Held in the lobby.
(I’ll just say this and then we’ll move on: HorseSHIT the Christmas party is held in the lobby. I hate it when shows do this. Last year, the Christmas party at my job was held at Dave and Buster’s. In March.)
Anyway. The closing shot, of House’s old staff meeting his new one, was there to bluntly inform viewers: “Kutner is your new Chase, Taub is your new Foreman, and 13 is your new Cameron.” To which viewers could be forgiven for wondering, “Why can’t we just keep the old ones?”
Turns out, as much as this show is about maintaining a formula (53 minutes of being frighteningly wrong, followed by a Wilson-induced Epiphany), the supporting characters have actually grown incrementally over three seasons to become capable doctors and more mature human beings – in other words, characters that offer no conflict for House. Whoops.
Weirdly, the show doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with having twice as many cast members, and so far this season, until they work the kinks out, we get a couple of Foreman scenes, and if we’re lucky, one for Chase and one for Cameron. Sometimes we get one or the other. This week, Cameron got as much screen time as a donkey. Possibly less.
If there’s any difference between the new support staff and old, it’s that the newbies seem to lack moments of actively despising their boss, no matter how many quirky insults he tosses their way (and while the plentiful racial jabs don’t seem to bug Foreman or Taub, it’s a little conspicuous that House hasn’t lobbed one playful slur Kal Penn’s way – that’s a good agent you must have there, Kumar).
As a result, House is coming off as little more than a crazy uncle figure. Which is quite a switch-up from last year at this time, when House – sweating, bug-eyed, and out of his mind in need of a Vicodin fix – ripped into Cuddy for what an awful mother he thinks she’d be.
So yes. Enjoy the Christmas episode. Then enjoy the Superbowl episode, which looks to be a slight departure from standard format. And then one more, and then HOPE THE WRITER’S STRIKE ENDS early enough that they can film a few more.

General internet reaction to return of “Lost”:
Omigod Hurley is off teh island and is Charlie alive or no whose that black guy did you know his name means like hell place or something omigod peeeeeeeeeeeeeee
My reaction to return of “Lost”:
Okay, seven episodes to go before frustration sets in….
“Lost” is one of those shows I really like, but fucking HATE listening to groups of people talking about it. I think it’s because this show generates speculation from people who aren’t really equipped to do it properly. It leads to left-field guesswork (good for you if you somehow deduced that Jack and Claire are siblings eight episodes into season one), or an attempt to link ideas when there’s simply not enough real information to go on (that goddamned four-toed statue).
Personally, I like to sit back, let the information I’ve received stew in the “Lost” section of my brain, allow it to make a few connections, and accept that some things I will not figure out until I am explicitly told (goddamned four-toed statue…!).
So my feelings are:
- I am glad this show is back on. I hope the strike resolves soon enough that we can get something closer to a full season;
- I am FREAKING ECSTATIC that Lance Reddick is on the show (but seriously, writers, you’re giving him a name that’s Hebrew for “hell”? Why do you have to do that to people?);
- If I have to do any speculating, I will say sure, that could have been Jack’s dad in Jacob’s cabin, since John Terry was listed in the guest starring credits, but didn’t otherwise show up in the episode;
- I am terrified that we’re going to have to sit through another “How’d Jack get that tattoo?” episode, based on a new one Matthew Fox got on his arm for some reason late last season.