Saturday, February 28, 2009

Baby Steps (Dollhouse 1.03 "Stage Fright")

This was a tough ep of Dollhouse to evaluate. The case of the week was mildly interesting, even though several aspects of it aggravated me. On the other hand, the ongoing shenanigans in and around the Dollhouse were fascinating.

There were lots of opportunities for humor to be mined from the surreal nonsense that surrounds pre-fab pop divas, and except for a couple of lines (working for the "Mouse," and "Who is eating a mint?!"), we didn't get any major chuckles. Instead, we got a clumsy parallel between the life of a wholly created pop tart and the manufactured personas of the dolls. The motivations of the singer, Rayna, and her stalker, seemed rather mechanical and unbelievable to me, as did Rayna's sudden "BFF!" attitude toward newly hired backup singer Echo. Plus, it didn't help that the actress playing Rayna, while she could sing and dance and slink with the best of 'em, didn't handle the "acting" part of the role with any subtlety. (In her defense, the part was poorly written, too).

However, outside of the case, things were much more interesting. We got to meet Sierra's handler, who is kind of a dick, and that served as a nice contrast with the character of Boyd and his fatherly dedication to Echo. Dr. Saunders had some nice moments with Boyd as well, and as always, those were well played by Amy Acker. And we had a couple of nice surprises:
  • Lubov, the low level Russian mobster than Ballard has been squeezing for information on the Dollhouse, turns out to be "Victor," an active. I had thought that Ballard's neighbor, the friendly lasagna chick, would turn out to be an active keeping tabs on our FBI agent. (She still may be, but that would seem like overkill at this point). This nifty reveal poses a couple of questions: if Victor was still in the same programmed persona, why did he need to come back to the Dollhouse for "treatment?" Could it be to just download what he's learned? Also, who exactly was behind the ambush of Ballard? Was it a total management operation, or perhaps Laurence acting outside of Adelle's knowledge to set this up?
  • Both Echo AND Sierra seemed to have retained a little something of their identities once they were wiped and returned to the tabula rasa state, as evidenced by the nods at the end. Nice.
In the ongoing debate over "why hire a doll," this one did seem fairly plausible. The Lou Pearlman manager figure was an old friend of Adelle's; they did point out that regular security wasn't exactly working, and the diva behavior of the pop tartlet made it more difficult for a typical protector to get and stay close.

Other random thoughts:
  • Is it just me, or did Eliza look too skinny this week?
  • Eliza's singing was quite unexpectedly lovely.
  • They did keep the imprint fairly close to the regular "Dushku" tough gal persona, so it wasn't necessarily a stretch for her acting muscles. However, I thought the transition from "eager, wide-eyed backup singer newbie" to "badass, tough talking Southie" was jarring and inconsistent.
  • What was the point of Sierra as the "number one fan?" Maybe it was to use her as bait, to escalate the actions of the real stalker and bring him out of the woodwork. However, if she was to be used as bait, wouldn't it make sense that some harm might potentially come to her? And in that case, couldn't she have been imprinted with some serious whoop-ass skills to allow her to take care of herself? Between this, and the motivations of the diva/stalker, I thought there was some sloppy writing and plotting.
  • Even though he's completely amoral, I continue to love Topher. At least someone is bringing the funny. We had the "scowly babies" comment, and then "Of the two people in here, who's the genius and who's the security guard in the pretty, pretty suit?" Hee.
  • I also liked the argument between Laurence and Adelle at the end, and Adelle's view that Echo DID perform her job admirably, executing all the mission parameters, albeit creatively.

Overall, "Stage Fright" was hit and miss, with just enough Whedony goodness to keep me hanging around until the show (supposedly) hits its stride around eppy 6 or 7. B-

How was the Nerdfecta?

Check out the original post below for reactions to the expectations for the Friday night geek block. More later on Dollhouse and BSG.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tonight's Expectations

Just like last week, I thought I would lay out some mild expectations for the 3rd week of TV's Nerdfecta.

I read somewhere this week that there is a 3 ep "mini-arc" that really explores the psychological toll the war against the machines is taking on Sarah. That arc supposedly concludes tonight, before we start ramping back up the main plot with lots of people dying and more hardcore action. While I don't mind the more contemplative eps, coming back from the hiatus with them probably wasn't the best move business wise, and the plummeting ratings seem to go along with that. All that said, I would like to see:
  • More Cameron. A little more. She reasoned with a snack machine.
  • Ellison pulled apart like taffy. Sadly, no.
  • More Derek. Nope.
  • More funny. Not really.

  • The dolls are going to be backup singers for a pop tart. How about some funny? There were some funny lines, actually. More from Topher than the tarts, though.
  • No imprint glitching. Not in the sense that "glitches" caused the mission to go awry.
  • More Acker. Some nice moments from the lovely Amy.
  • Eliza did a nice job last week. How about making that two in a row? She sang pleasantly enough. However, she was also a "southie," and seemed a little "tough girl" for a random backup singer.
  • Another airing of the Eliza Hulu commercial, which though not as good as Alec Baldwin's, cracks me up. Yep.
  • Again, a legit reason why the client would use a the Dollhouse, vs. just a merc or security guard. I think so. Client is old friend of Adelle, which helps. And there was an excuse about the diva not letting "real" security too close.

  • I think we're going to get the skinny on just what the frak Starbuck is. Wheee! (My guess? Some type of "reincarnated" version of Starbuck, with all her memories and personality downloaded, a la Cylon technology, into a new "shell" created from the ovaries taken from her back in "The Farm." This is possible because her long-lost dad was Daniel, the "other" Cylon -- 7, the "sensitive artist type" -- that Cavil killed). Didn't get the full explanation, but it appears that I was onto something with this theory, since Starbuck was obviously "projecting" the piano player, her dad. And her story paralleled that in the ep of another "hybrid," Hera.
  • More of the same, because this ramp to the end has been unbelievably good. Oh yeah, this was good. Dark, tragic, and goooooood.
  • More Gaius, the harem and Head Six. Nope. But everything else was awesome.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Passion of the Locke

I know it sounds like a broken record, but...another Wednesday, another great Lost, with "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham."

The Locke-centric eps tend to be fan favorites, and this one should be no exception. We got details, conspiracies, surprises and knockout acting from all involved. Plot-wise, a lot happened, though we as viewers knew most of it already. Locke would try to play Jake and Elwood, and get the band back together. However, instead of finding the trumpet player as a maitre'd and the the guitar player cooking for Aretha Franklin, Locke got soundly rejected everywhere he went. All that was missing was Dikembe Mutumbo wagging his finger. Sayid had been playing Jimmy Carter in the DR, and told Locke to give it up. Hurley thought John was a ghost, until he saw Abaddon with him, and then freaked the fuck out. Per Jin's request (and ring), he didn't ask Sun. Kate cut him to shreds emotionally. He checked up on a much taller Walt, who seemed to be doing well despite not knowing what's shaking with his dad (he got blowed up, as we know, but Locke spared him that detail). Abaddon found Helen, the only love of his live. Except that Helen appeared to have died of a brain aneurysm, and is now buried. Abaddon got shot and killed, Locke tried to drive off, got in a car wreck and wound up in the same hospital where Jack worked, while Jack is in his sketchy bearded phase. He too emotionally bitch slapped Locke, leading John to the lowest point he could imagine.

So we knew all that, right? That Locke would get rejected at every turn in his attempts to get the O6 back to the island, become disconsolate, and eventually hang himself. But even though we knew the basic points of the journey, we did learn a few more things, and get to see the devastating Passion Play of John Locke and its emotional toll.

What else we learned while John went recruitin'
  • John got off the island the same way Ben did previously, and presumably, the same way a Dharma polar bear did. (Do we know if the skip in time was the same for everyone using this portal? I don't think so). Wake up in Tunisia and vomit. Sounds like something from a Led Zep tour back in the 70s. Ben still had his gruesome leg break, but apparently, sometime between when Ben did the wake up in the desert trick and when Locke did it, Widmore has added monitoring cameras to the exact spot that acts as a portal. John is dragged to a third world hospital, and his leg is set in a fashion that makes Civil War medicine seem refined. (And also echoes what Boone went through during his "plane trip" with Locke).
  • Widmore says that he wants to help Locke, and offers Abaddon as a driver. Or, as Abaddon himself puts it, a man who "helps people get to where they need to get to."
  • Widmore claims that he was on the island for three decades, before Ben exiled him. He also states that it's been 53 years since their encounter in 1954. Let's do some math. That would make Widmore 70 at the time of this conversation. So assuming that the three decades started from the time Widmore was 17, would that make him 47 when he left the island, sometime around 1984. I think we can safely assume that Penny is older than 25 now (or 23 in 2007), so does that mean that she was born on the island? Or that perhaps she was adopted, just like Ben's "daughter," Alex? Hmmmm.
  • Sayid worked for Ben as an assassin for two years.
  • Walt, who we've known has some form of psychic powers, tells Locke that he had a dream where John was in a suit, surrounded by people who want to do him harm.
  • Abaddon was killed by an unknown gunman, who turns out to be (of course) Ben. Abaddon is now free to go glower and help Olivia and the Bishop clan over on Fringe.
  • Locke also told Jack that "dad said hi." Was this the start of Jack's Christian "hallucinations" on his beardy, pill-popping downward spiral?

Charging Extra for all the Emotional Baggage Checked
  • Wow. We've seen Locke get beaten down before, but this was a Locke-hater's wet dream. He was rebuffed in his efforts at every single turn. Most of the rejections weren't simply "hey, thanks for asking, John, but I'm busy. Good luck!" Instead, they took a cumulative toll, with Kate and Jack especially twisting the psychological knives, insisting that Locke was a broken down old man, with nothing else in his life, deluded and "nothing special" at all. He found out that his only previous chance at a happy, normal life, Helen, was now dead. He had failed at his mission to get everyone back to the island, failed at his chance to get back to the island and his own destiny, and was left with nothing more than a crushed spirit, wobbly table and a long extension cord.
  • It's funny, when I'm asked who my favorite characters on Lost are, Locke is almost always in the first few I mention (along with Sawyer, Ben, Faraday, Juliet and Des and Penny). But when I think deeply about it, I'm not sure why. After all, Locke has long been positioned as the "man of faith" to Jack's "man of science." And as we all know, I have very little faith. In anything. Locke has made some bewildering decisions, rarely achieves his goals and is often an unwitting pawn in everyone else's games. So what exactly is it about Locke? Yes, he's central to the island mysteries, but last night, it dawned on me exactly what the appeal is. TERRY O'QUINN IS A FUCKING FANTASTIC ACTOR. No matter what Locke is doing or going through, and no matter whether I agree with it or not, TOQ completely sells me on it. There's not a false moment in any of his performances, and we never see him "acting." He played that anguish beautifully, and even for a character that I disagree with on a rational level, my heart ached for him. If he and Michael Emerson aren't recognized (again) come Emmy time, then something is seriously wrong.

Okay, so John didn't get the band back together. What else did we learn? Other thoughts, comments, quotes and questions from "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham:"

First, a biggie. The DEAD GUY IS ALIVE AGAIN. HE IS RISEN! So all the mumbo jumbo about reincarnation and the corpse in the plane leads us to the fact that John Locke is now "alive again," walking and talking and corporeal on the island again. He's eating fruit with our two newbies Caesar and Ilana, and definitely "tangible," and not a "ghost" or "manifestation" like Christian Shephard. There were several cool moments involved in this. The first reveal of John, where he took off his robe, played in a distinct geek archetype. It's funny, as I was watching, I noted the same three characters EW's Jeff Jensen did: "Quasi-Mystical Pop Culture Characters Who Introduce Themselves With A Dramatic Removal Of An Oversized Hoody. (See: Obi Won Kenobi; Gandalf; Spock in the original Star Trek movies.)" Hee! We also saw the shoes -- Christian's shoes -- that Jack put on him in "316." And just like Jack's awakening in the jungle last week was a nice callback to the first ep, so too were John's actions. Enjoying standing without pain. Wondering what the hell has happened to him. Looking out at the ocean. Eating a piece of fruit.

John also knows that he died. That he was killed. By Ben. "He's the man who killed me." Can't wait to see this one play out.

“I help people get to where they need to get to."

The scene with John and Ben couldn't have been more beautifully shot and designed. You had the Christ subtext, with the big "x" beams on the ceiling, and Ben dropping to his knees. The dialogue was spot on and the lighting and staging was extraordinary. And of course, you had the show's best two actors going head to head.

I know Matthew Fox gets some crap online, but I thought he played the hell out of that scene with Locke. He does weepy, bitter desperation like nobody's business.

"Your father says 'hello.'" (surprisingly, not followed up by "and word to ya mutha.")

So did Lapidus pull a Sullenberger, and actually land the plane? Impressive. (The US Air guy wasn't dealing with an unstable time bubble and people actually disappearing off the plane. Of course, he was in reality).

And the plane appears to be down on the Hydra, the "second island." I couldn't tell from the shot on TV, but was it on the makeshift runway that The Others were building?

And this appears to be the "present," with Lapidus and a woman (Sun?) there also. So in this timeline, we have Lapidus, Sun (we think), newbies Caesar and Ilana, resurrected Locke and Ben. Back in the 70s, with those left behind on the island originally, are Kate, Hurley and Jack. Aaron and Walt are off the island, as are (we think) Des and Penny. That everyone accounted for?

Why did Lapidus and "the woman" run off with the manifest? And they took a canoe, right? But weren't the canoes that Sawyer and gang found on the main island, instead of the Hydra island?

"Am I talking to a guy in a wheelchair?"

Who the hell does Locke believe? (my guess, is he's going to be more trusting of the dude that helped him heal, and gave him a car and driver and passport, and didn't strangle him to death with an extension cord). But Widmore says he sent the freighter to the island to wipe out Ben so that Locke could be the "leader." On the other hand, Ben says he moved the island and left so that Locke could "lead."

“...there’s a war coming, John. And if you’re not back on the island when that happens, the wrong side is going to win.”

The most heartbreaking thing about Locke's suicide is that I don't think, there at the end, he was doing it because of what Alpert told him. I think he was doing it because he was truly broken, and bereft of hope and a reason to live.

Ben said Jack had already booked a ticket to Australia. Was this more Ben lying, or was this part of Jack's aimless airline trips, drunkenly hoping for a crash?

"Well, he didn't look dead to me!"

Who is really working with Alpert? If Widmore wanted Locke back on the island alive, why did Richard tell John that he had to die?

The documents Caesar and Ilana found in the Hydra office looked similar to Faraday's journal, and maybe to Rousseau's map. There was also an old Life Magazine there, with the cover story "Color Pictures of the Hydrogen Test!"

Perhaps Locke is special after all. He was playing the "Christian" role (in a coffin) on the "duplicate" flight, yet everything we've seen of Jack's dad is that he is some type of apparition or ghost, rather than a fully resurrected, flesh and blood "person."

''Boy's gotten big.''

Back to the scene with Ben and Locke. Did Ben come there intending to kill him? The way it looked, Ben reacted to two things Locke said: first, that Jin was alive. And second, that Locke thought he should go see Mrs. Hawking. Did Ben realize that he could now manipulate Sun through the knowledge of Jin's fate and the ring? But the one that really stunned him, and seemed to spur the extension cord necktie was the comment about Hawking. Was Ben still undecided on who would play the role of "dead guy" on the flight back until that moment? What was it that made this all play out the way it did?

And will Ben know -- and expect -- Locke is going to be alive on the island? We know that he was insistent that the coffin be on the plane, but his final words to John's corpse as he's leaving to the room seemed to be a heartfelt goodbye, rather than a "see ya later." (or, as Desmond might say, "see ya in another life, brotha.")

Wow. Another great one. Seems like we're heading back to the 70s next week. Until then, Namaste.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

This week's SI Pop Culture Grid

Remember this from last week?

The new edition is out, which can be viewed here.

TNRLM take:

Song no one knows I listen to:
Wow. I have that iTunes app on the blog, so people get a feel for it. And I make no bones about my love of 70s and 80s Velveeta and other assorted less than hip picks. What about something relatively obscure that still racks up a significant iTunes play count, like Chris Isaak's "Solitary Man," or, N-Trance's cover of "Staying Alive?"

I think I'm addicted to:
Coffee. And ciggies. And diet Coke. And whiskey. And....

Most overrated TV show:
I won't include reality shows, since I don't think they get enough critical acclaim to be considered "rated." Grey's Anatomy? Or The Wire? (And shame on you, Roy Hibbert, for choosing How I Met Your Mother).

______________ would have me at "hello."
Carla Gugino.

I should win an Oscar for ____________
List making.

What about y'all?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Also, please make sure your nuclear reactor is properly shielded when you order a Frosty

Okay, I'm out running some errands last week, and I decide to swing through the Wendy's drive thru for a quick burger. I place my order, drive up to the window, and this is the huge sign I see plastered on it.

You're fucking kidding me, right?

I'm in my own car. That I paid for with my own money. Which is insured with my own money. Which is fueled by my own gas, which I also pay for. At a drive thru window, obtaining food, which I also pay for. And all these things are taxed out the ass as it is. (Not to mention the exorbitant taxes on the ciggies I might have been smoking in my car at the drive thru window where I was the fucking customer). I'm not sitting in the middle of the of the dining room, with other patrons in close proximity, who may or may not smoke, lighting up a huge fucking cubano or toking off a hooka. I'm in my own car, with the wind whistling around us, and the window only open to receive the burger that I was paying for, and I'm greeted with this shit?

Let me get this straight. The local politicos are so worried about second hand smoke from someone in their own car, wafting out of a car window, through the strong breeze, across a three foot expanse, and into the Star Trek Enterprise-esque auto sealing window of a fucking fast food drive thru, and harming the workers? The workers that spend 8 hour (or more) shifts in close quarters with griddles and deep fryers and probably go home covered in enough grease to lubricate all the engines in all the aircraft carriers in the US Navy? Because that poof of smoke that makes its way out of my car, through the wind and into the window which is open for a total of about 15 seconds might cause irreparable harm to their totally healthy, oh so vulnerable meat sack?

I was tempted to put the car in park, eat my burger at the window, and enjoy smoking an entire pack of Marlboros as a post-meal treat with all the windows (and the sun roof!) open, then write a "fuck you" check for $250.

Proof of a kind and benevolent higher power

E! is reporting that the lone holdout from the cast, Michael Cera, has agreed to join the much discussed, much anticipated movie version of the best sitcom ever to grace the television. Yep, that's right....Arrested Development is fucking on.

Monday Geeks and Dawg Favorites

The weekly poll is closed, and it seems the geeks have inherited the Earth. Or at least Monday night on the boob tube.

On TV's most competitive night, two clear favorites emerged: NBC's Chuck and CBS's Big Bang Theory. No argument from me there. I watch all the shows listed in the poll, and enjoy them all, too. (And of course this isn't a "scientific" poll with a delicately balanced sample. People that frequent these parts probably do so because they enjoy rambling thoughts and musings on all forms of geekery, from Lost and Watchmen to BSG and Dollhouse, more than wondering how Brenda Leigh Johnson will drawl her way through another interrogation). Still, Monday nights are an embarrassment of TV riches that, with the miracle of TiVo, oftens stretches into Wednesday viewing.

This week's poll changes course from the tube to the gridiron. In a post this weekend, we mused on the UGA "Mount Rushmore." The notion of the "greatest" players (or figures) in UGA history can boil down to a select few. However, your choice of "favorite" player doesn't necessarily require pantheon level statistics and accomplishments. So that's what we'll ask this week: Who are your favorite players in UGA history? (For obvious reasons, we'll leave Herschel out and assume he's a unanimous choice). You can vote for more than one selection, and if your choice isn't there, pick "other" and elaborate in the comments.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

I'll take potpourri for $5,100, Alex

Go through all 7 seasons of Buffy in less than four minutes.

Ears and language rejoice! You will no longer be defiled by a Florida education. Emmitt is not coming back to ESPN. (With a list of his top 10 attempts at a coherent sentence, and video).

Sarah Connor ratings low, but steady. Dollhouse drops a bit, does okay in the demo. Can the show get in a groove and build?

Fringe moves production to Canada. Who cares? Walter can obsess about snack food in a basement anywhere. And The X-Files filmed there forever, before moving stateside late in its run.

TWOP looks at "familiar" characters in Dollhouse.

Mo Ryan continues her series of excellent interviews with BSG writers, this time with Jane Espenson. More here with the writers of "No Exit." She also chats with BSG and Dollhouse actor Tahmoh Penikett. (Between BSG and Dollhouse, typing his name is killing my spell checker).

And BSG composer Bear McCreary chats with another Final Fiver, Michael Hogan.

"Geek" shows (and Desperate Housewives and Grey's?) dominate the torrent downloads.

And the Oscar for best red carpet nipples
goes to....

A really good list of the best movies about television.

Watchmen is coming! EW has a primer. So does TWOP. And geek icon Wil Wheaton saw the flick and says RELAX, it's AWESOME.

Info on the latest "standalone" story (about Faith and Giles) from the Buffy S8 comics.

Fast food ads vs. reality. The dream dies hard.

Five great careers derailed by the Oscar.

Cordy will be showing up on CSI.

Video of Matt Stafford showing some throwing skills (but not at the combine).

Good idea for Trek newbies: "Best of" samplers, with some very good eppy selections.

TIME has a Q&A with Joss.

This is Teh Awesomes. A "trilogy meter." Take a look.

In the SEC, who is each school's biggest rivals? Seems about right.

Looking back at the 2006 college recruiting classes. UGA's 2006 rank? 4th. Evaluated in hindsight? 4th.

The NYT talks to 24's resident nerd comics.

The 10 Worst Places to Work on TV

Two little kids recreate the diner scene from Pulp Fiction.

From Jorge Garcia's blog, a look at the cake the folks from Ace of Cakes made for Lost's 100th eppy.

Pretty cool. Magenta isn't a color.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

UGA's Mount Rushmore

Usually, the only time you might think about "UGA" and "Rushmore" being used in the same context would be an imaginary conversation like the following:
Sideline Reporter: "Coach Dooley, in the first half you ran the ball 35 times and passed the ball twice. What do you plan to do in the second half?"

Coach Vince Dooley: "Rush more."
But ESPN's latest "dead sports season" gimmick has been creating a "Mount Rushmore" of sports for each and every state in the union. You can see the results of the motherland's granite visages here. Really, it's damned hard to argue with the 4 names they came up with. If I was asked to come up with the top 4 legendary figures in Georgia sports, I would have probably drawn the same conclusions.

Keeping the meme in the family, ESPN SEC blogger Chris Low did the same thing, but limiting the parameters to college football. The choices for UGA were:
  • Vince Dooley: He's the most successful coach in Georgia history and also juggled athletic director duties for much of his career.
  • Larry Munson: His famous calls over the radio airwaves are as much a part of Georgia lore as any coach or player.
  • Uga: He's been dubbed as the nation's most well-known mascot. Uga VII debuted during the 2008 season.
  • Herschel Walker: Many consider him the greatest player in SEC history. He attained near-mythical status as a freshman in 1980.
Again, hard to argue with that. You have the greatest coach (thus far) in our history and the greatest player in our history, if not the SEC or even college football. (and BTW, fuck Donald Trump. How many questions would there have been about 34's place in the pantheon of college football if he didn't bolt to New Jersey? Plus, I would have seen him live and in person as a tuition paying freshman). In addition, you have one of the legendary and most memorable college sports broadcasters of all time, and the almost universally recognized best mascot in all of sports. Quibble if you want, but that's a solid sculpture, no doubt.

The Fabulous Freebird and I were exchanging emails this week about this very topic, and couldn't find much fault with the selections. But what if we narrowed the scope to only include players? One take on that very topic is here.

Okay, we really only have 3 spots to debate, because Herschel is a given. What do we do with the other three? You would almost certainly have to include a player from the modern renaissance of the program under Mark Richt, and the obvious choices are the Davids, Greene and Pollack. But how can you make a Sophie's Choice between those two? Personally, I would go with the winningest QB in college football history, but that's really like a 50.1% to 49.9% edge in my book, and I could easily be swayed to go with the choice on D.

So now we have to select two from the remainder of the UGA tapestry. Sinkwich and Tarkenton are solid choices, no doubt. Others that Freebird and I kicked around include (in no particular order):

Champ Bailey
Jake Scott
Johnny Rauch
Zeke Bratkowski
Garrison Hearst
Charlie Trippi
Kevin Butler
Terry Hoage
Eric Zeier
Terrence Edwards
Bill Stanfill

What do y'all think? After 34, who should we immortalize on the mountainside?

Now we're cooking. (Dollhouse 1.02 "Target")

After a shaky but intriguing pilot last week, this week's eppy of Dollhouse, "Target," felt more composed and a step in the right direction.

From what I've read, the first 5 eps of the show are all supposed to be virtually self-contained, and act as mini-pilots, before getting more into the arc-alicious storytelling we all want. "Target" succeeded on that level, and hell, I think it might have served as a much better pilot that the sometimes clunky "Ghost." There were still a few awkward moments, such as Ballard's fellow Feebs taunting him about the "Gingerbread House" (which was funny, but a bit derivative of "Spooky Mulder"), and the fact that they rang the "wheel to the stone gesture" bell a few too many times. (Yes, Echo's "echo" of that in the final scene was a nice payoff, but they hung a lantern on it so prominently and so frequently, that it bugged. Do that once, and give the audience credit that they will catch it later). Still, "Target" was an entertaining mix of "The Most Dangerous Game" via "Wrong Turn," with some interesting morsels of backstory, particularly for the badass new Giles figure, Boyd. This gets an A- from me.

Other thoughts and ruminations:

The Middleman! It was bittersweet seeing Matt Keeslar (who, if you haven't watched one of 2008's best shows, played the Middleman on the eponymous program) as this week's client, knowing that just days earlier, the fucksticks at ABC Family cancelled his beloved show. After his wholesome earnestness there, it was fun to see him let go as a deranged hunter here.

I was worried about there always being a "glitch" in the programming that would provide the tension for the episode. It was almost as if the writers knew this, and subverted our expectations in the beginning as Echo was climbing up the cliff face and had her little slip, only to laugh it off and tease the client. Well played.

We also learned a bit more about Alpha (which in the NATO lingo the show seems to be using, is really Alfa, but we'll roll with it), other than the fact that he likes to sit nude among dead bodies. He was the one responsible for carving up Dr. Saunders' face, and killing quite a few Dollhouse personnel before escaping. He also has some awareness of the Dollhouse's current engagements, as it turns out he was lurking on Echo's assignment, and went behind Boyd to carve up the fake park ranger. (BTW - nice surprise on the ranger not being what he seemed). He also didn't hurt Echo during his initial freak out, which leads me to start positing crazy ass theories. Perhaps Echo's brother, or fiance, and they got into some type of trouble where they "had" to sign up for the Dollhouse? And part of his real personality bled through to the imprint and he recognized "Caroline?" Or, could Alpha be.....Paul Ballard? And part of the errors in his programming is that he's unaware of this other side of his personality? (I don't think this one will hold up, however, because it seems the DH security team, and DeWitt, would realize who he is. Unless there is some motivation for them to keep that a secret).

Even with only a few lines, Amy Acker rocked.

"Four brothers, none of them Democrats"

There seems to be a lot of hang-wringing and gnashing of teeth in some parts of the audience over the "prostitution" angle of the Dollhouse. Look, we're dealing with dark themes on this show, even if we're doing them in an action-packed, sci-fi kind of way. Is it "rape" if the actives are used for sex on an engagement? Is it "mental rape" if they do something on an engagement that they wouldn't ordinarily do? I don't think we can answer this in a few episodes, and I want to take the time to explore these questions with the show over time. But sooner or later, Whedon and company should probably throw in a scene with Adelle and a new recruit, where they discuss the types of things that might happen during their tenure in the Dollhouse, and show that the recruit is aware of what will happen, and is fine with it.

Reed Diamond's head of security is a douchebag.

Nice to see Mark Sheppard, who is popping up in almost every show I watch these days.

"Then what? Me and special needs become buddy, buddy?"

Eliza handled the imprint of "Jenny" very well, but it wasn't necessarily a stretch of her acting range. However, in one of the flashbacks, which showed her coming back in the van with Boyd, and talking about her affection for the overweight guy who was her current engagement, she had a nice, bubbly enthusiasm and vulnerability that was different from "Jenny" or "Miss Penn," and earnestly and believably acted.

Anyone else think that Ballard's friendly neighbor with "leftovers" is really a surveillance Doll?

I can see where Topher is going to be a love him or hate him character. Thus far, I'm digging him, but I can see the other side of the argument.

Next week, Echo goes all Britney Spears. Should be fun!

So how'd we do?

Reactions to my Friday Night Nerdfecta Wish List are amended to the post below.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Mild expectations

It's week two of the modern nerdfecta, with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Dollhouse and Battlestar Galactica airing back to back to back on a Friday night.

I'm avoiding most all spoilers these days, so I don't have any insidery info on what will transpire. But I can offer a few thoughts on what I would "like" to see this evening:

  • More 'splodey. Nope.
  • Lots more Cameron that we've had the last few eps. A little more, but not as much as we would want.
  • Some hint that something - anything - will ever happen with Riley and Jesse (fine actresses and eye candy though they may be). Nada.
  • John Henry and Catherine gut Ellison like a fish. Sadly, no.
It will be interesting to see the ratings on this one. Like a lot of TSSC lately, this was a quieter, more meditative piece. Everyone is doing strong character work, but the plot needs to advance more quickly. Weaver was chilling once again in the interactions with "her" daughter.

  • No glitches in the doll imprinting. If this starts to happen every week, it undermines the credibility of the whole show. The "problem" with the engagement wasn't the imprinting, which was nice. And I realize something has to go "wrong" with the engagements we see, or else there wouldn't be a show. (We just don't want to get into always thinking "how many damned murders can occur in Cabot Cove?"). The only real "glitch" is the fact that Echo is retaining some memories, which is a central concept of the show.
  • More evidence that Eliza can handle the multiplicity the role(s) demands. Tomboyish extreme chick was right in her wheelhouse, so no complaints.
  • More Acker. (This will be a standard request). A little Acker here, and as expected, she was good.
  • A little more about the "reasons why" people go to the Dollhouse, vs. a "real" hooker, negotiator, playmate, brain surgeon or whatever. (I provided some possible cover for this in my review last week, when the general consensus I've read elsewhere is that the reasoning is wafer thin. And it is. But help us out here, Joss). We got some of this in various snippets of dialogue. I'd love to have it all laid out, though, so we can move past this objection.
  • More giggles. “Four brothers, none of them Democrats.”
More later on Dollhouse.

  • Keep on keepin' on man, 'cause you're blowing my frakkin' mind each and every week. Yep.
  • Anyone else sign up for those texts from BSG, with little teasers and quizzes? Well, I want to get one, and with the correct answer, receive an illustrated and annotated history of the human and Cylon civilizations, from their beginnings right up to the present. Too much to ask? Or maybe I should just shoot myself in the head, since that seemed to work wonders for Anders. Nope. But I did register to win a KFC Frak Pak.
  • Some hints about what the frak Starbuck is. Nope.
  • Lots of juicy dialogue with Ellen realizing just what her "kids" and "lover" have been up to.. Oh, there was juicy dialogue galore here tonight, as scripted by Jane Espenson. Compared to the balls to the wall mutiny, and the exposition-heavy "No Exit," this was improv night at the Chuckle Factory. "How many dead chicks are out there?" "I'm gonna go to the head. Do something constructive -- a little project I've been working on." "Any mythic revelations?" "Nope. Nothing to report, sir." Almost anything Baltar said or did. BSG doesn't have as many "light" moments as other genre shows, but when it does, I enjoy them immensely.

SI's Pop Culture Grid

Longtime Sports Illustrated readers have seen the magazine evolve into several iterations over time. Originally, it was known for its breathtaking photography and outstanding, long-form journalism. As the age of the internet dawned, and the publication faced competition from ESPN the Magazine, it tried unsuccessfully to balance the light and frothy short attention span content with their heritage. Lately, it seems they've settled into a nice groove, retaining the integrity of the investigations and brilliant, longer pieces (see the whole A-Roid scandal for a recent example; or read this piece that still sticks with me today about a tragedy occurring in a "fringe" sport), while still having the breezy, fun content in the front of the book (like "this week's sign of the apocalypse" and "they said it").

One of the features I always read is the "Pop Culture Grid," where they ask some pop culture questions to a variety of athletes, male and female, from a variety of sports and backgrounds. I always think "what would I have answered if asked that?"

In what may become a regular feature, I'll do just that. From this week's edition:

Kelly Clarkson, Katy Perry or Taylor Swift
Kelly for the music, Katy 'cuz not matter how awfully she dresses, she's HOT.

Favorite thing to chew
IceBreakers gum, which I can't seem to find anymore, dammit.

What hurts right now
My ego.

Reality show on which you'd like to guest star
None. I hate them.

_____ spends too much time looking in the mirror
I had a doubles partner in high school that carried a hair brush in his racquet bag.

Michael Phelps needs to...
A. tell people to fuck off, if that's what he wants to do. And B. not be so fucking stupid with camera phones around, if he wants his endorsements.

Song that best describes you
Highway to Hell

______'s voice is like nails on a chalkboard
Stephen A. Smith

Song playing on my iPod right now
BSG Podcast. Last music was REM's "Walter's Theme"

What about y'all? How would you answer? Feel free to debate or put your own grid responses in the comments.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Wait a second, we're not going to Guam, are we?"

Another Wednesday, another wonderful episode of Lost. This is beginning to be a comforting expectation of quality, isn't it? When the producers said the O6 (or a close approximation) would get back to the island sooner than we expect, they weren't kidding, were they? "316" opened up on Jack's eye, reminiscent of the first episode of the show. But instead of confusion and panic, there was a look of relief washing over Jack. We know for sure Jack, Kate and Hurley are back on the island, but we're not sure what happened to the rest of the familiar (and new) faces aboard Ajira Air Flight 316.

The title, obviously, referred to the number of the flight that would bring the O6-1 back. But it also evokes the famous biblical verse, John 3:16, which suggests a few things. First, the literal name John, and as we all know, there was a John on the plane, too. Dead, and in a box, and wearing "Christian Shephard's" shoes. The verse also talks about belief, which was the topical entirety of John Locke's suicide note, written only for Jack: "I wish you had believed in me." There's also the matter of god giving his only son. Jack is the only son of Christian, but you could also infer that perhaps John Locke is also the "island's" only son, and made the ultimate sacrifice so that the others that "believe" in him (or the island) should live. Stretching that even further, do we know if Ray, Jack's grandfather, had any other children besides Christian? Did Ray sacrifice his only son to the island? (And we don't have enough information yet to get into other only sons, like Des and Penny's Charlie, or Claire's (and Kate's) Aaron, though we do know that Kate did something with Aaron in order to get back to the island). There's also the matter of "everlasting life," which also makes you think about a certain eyeliner-looking "Other." And pushing the "316" extrapolation further than it probably needs to go, think about this. The original flight was 815. 6 "escaped" from the island (1+5), and those remaining were stuck in an endless loop of time jumps. Would this jumping have gone on to "infinity" unless something happened to stop it? What's the symbol for infinity? An "8" viewed sideways. But now, what can we do with the numbers 316? Cut the "8" in half (graphically, not mathematically) and you have a "3." So did bringing the 6 (minus 1) back stop that loop from being closed? Okay, that's probably stretching it.

As good as "316" was, I was a little disappointed in the reappearance of Mrs. Hawking. Where before she had been mysterious, last night she seemed a little "schoolmarmish." At times it was funny, but at other times it was just annoying. Was it what she was saying, or was Fionnula Flannagan just having an off day with her line readings? I'd like to go back and watch the episode with her and Des, and see how her performance was calibrated then. Maybe that's just nitpicking. How easy could it be to walk around in a room with a giant swinging pendulum and blackboards and talk about time windows and such?

Other thoughts, comments, quotes and questions from "316:"

Can we now assume that some part of the crew on Ajira 316 were the ones following Sawyer and gang on the rafts? Wonder how they'll feel about that, once they all catch up and compare notes?

Jack's seat number was 8C. They left out of gate 15.

Speaking of numbers, the opening tease ended with "46 hours before." But Hawking said they only had "36 hours" to get back. Am I missing something with regard to the 10 hours?

Interesting parallels to the original passengers. Hurley brought the guitar case (reminiscent of Charlie). Jack put his Dad's shoes on Locke. Sayid apparently came aboard as a prisoner (a la Kate). Ben got there late (a la Hurely). Could Kate also have a bun in the oven (a la Claire, albeit one less further along) from her late night romp with Jack?

We know how Jack, Sun and Ben got there, since they all received the "briefing" from Hawking. What we don't know:
  • What convinced Kate to go? And what did she do with Aaron that she begged Jack never to ask about? Surely she thought this was a one way trip, and she was awfully attached to the little rugrat. Give him to Mrs. Littleton, since Kate knew she was in town from the previous visit to the rainy hotel room? She wouldn't have given her to her mother, would she, since Kate's mom was obviously in declining health? Who else off the island does she even know, or trust? Could a "ghostly" visit from Claire have given her some instructions? And doesn't Aaron play some larger role in the island happenings? Could he be "out of play" this easily?
  • How did Sayid get there? And why was he a prisoner? And what kind of crime could he have committed that would require a trip to Guam, of all places?
  • How did Hurley get there? Given the guitar case, are we thinking another visit from a ghostly Charlie? He obviously knew what was going down, as he used his wealth to buy as many seats (78) as possible to keep anyone else from suffering from the same "fate." (Nitpick: I know a lot of this rests on "fate," but what if he bought all the remaining tickets before Ben, Kate, Sun, etc. bought their tickets? For this to work as we saw, he would have had to find out about the trip back, and buy up all remaining tickets only after our "core group" - and only our core group - bought theirs. And this briefing from Mrs. Hawking only happened a day or so before the actual flight left. Are we to believe that the flight didn't have ANY passengers on it a couple of days before the meeting in the church?)
  • And why was Ben late, and beaten all to hell? He said “I made a promise to an old friend of mine." I think we all believe that was his promise to kill Widmore's daughter Penny. He did appear to be at a marina when he called to tell Jack to pick up Locke's body. (And of course Penny and Des were docked at a marina). Did he make an attempt, and get the shit kicked out of him by Des? Or, god forbid, did he actually succeed? (Noooooooo!)
While Hurley cared about the other potential passengers on Ajira Air 316, Ben wasn't quite so burdened: Jack: "And the other people on this plane, what's going to happen to them?" Ben: "Who cares?"

For me, the episode's best moment came when the pilot announced his name: Frank Lapidus! And the ep's best quote, from Frank to Jack: "Wait a second, we're not going to Guam, are we?"

“That’s why it’s called a leap of faith, Jack.” (Which Helen had said to Locke, and which Locke had said to Jack, among other past utterances of this particular phrase).

Was there more to Jack's grandfather Ray than meets the eye? Was this just a plot mechanism to get Christian's shoes on Locke (and perhaps explain why Christian was always wearing those dorky sneakers when he was roaming the island)? It was interesting that Jack got to the old folks home just when a magic show was going on. A magic show with bunnies (remind anyone of grainy videos in the hatch?).

I complained a bit about Hawking, but I did love her response to Jack, when he asked if Ben is telling the truth: "Probably not."

And good old Ben just can't help himself, can he? While he's on the plane reading James Joyce's "Ulysses" (which I tried to get through, unsuccessfully, in college), Jack asks Ben "how can you read?" "My mother taught me," Ben answers. While there's nothing inherently funny about mothers dying in childbirth, this did make me laugh, since we know that's exactly what happened to Ben's mom.

Another bit about Hawking. She didn't appear to react to Des's proclamation that he was sent by her son Daniel. Did she know he would be coming? Did she not care? Is Daniel not her son?

Inside joke: Hurley was reading a Spanish language comic, "Y: The Last Man," which was written by Brian K. Vaughn, a writer/producer for Lost.

“You tell me Jack—you're the one who got to stay after school with Ms. Hawking.”

The date on the photo Hawking had of a military operation on or near the island, which read 9/23/54 – U.S. ARMY – OP 264 – TOP SECRET – EYES ONLY, was almost 50 years to the day from when Oceanic 816 crashed. Or, EXACTLY 50 years, if you include the end date (according to Or 18,263 days. Or, 438,312 hours. Also, apparently, Jughead (the bomb) was tested as part of Operation Castle in March of 1954. Hmmmmm.

So, did the plane crash? Or did it land? If you'll recall, in the interminable time in S3 when Sawyer and Kate were having cage sex and eating fish biscuits, one of the "rock breaking" tasks the Others had them doing was building a.....runway. (But if they landed, how the hell did they get into the jungle? And what happens to a plane flying into the island's "time bubble" when a "flash" occurs?)

"We're on the same plane Jack. Doesn't make us together."

There are some screwy things going on with the timeline that I don't yet understand. For example, Jin has clearly caught up with Sawyer and crew. But in the episode's biggest WTF we see Jin drive up in a shiny new Dharma van, apparently a member of the Initiative, and surprise the newly returned Kate, Hurley and Jack. Have the rest of the crew left behind on the island just decided to go native and hook up with the Initiative? Or is it just Jin? (Remember, we also saw Daniel in a Dharma get up, back when they first discovered the frozen donkey wheel). And since they're apparently back in the 70s, is this when the "scary man" (Daniel) warns a young Charlotte about the island?

"Wherever you are, John, you must be laughing your ass off that I'm actually doing this."

I don't know if we'll see much "present day" off the island for a while, though I would hope that we would, since Desmond and Penny, Yi Jeon, Charles Widmore, Walt and perhaps Aaron are all there. We know that the Oceanic 6 were fairly high profile (and Kate even had restrictions on her "movements"), so wouldn't it be apparent and noticeable that they all vanish off the face of the earth, together?

"These people, they are just using us. They are playing some kind of game and we are just the pieces. Whatever she tells you to do, ignore it." You preach it, brotha.

Until next time, Namaste.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

What to drive during the forthcoming zombie apocalypse

From Jalopnik, a preview of the new Ford F-650 XUV, designed specifically to handle your transportation needs during the rise of the living dead. BRRRAAAAAIIIIINNNSSSS!!!!

One touch that would be handy that I don't see: razor sharp panels that extend from just below the window line, which would be about "head height" for the zombies.

Of course, despite the fuel tanks on the bottom, I can't imagine you'd get very good gas mileage. Will there be enough undead-free QuickTrips to gas 'er up?

Monday, Monday

Last week's poll went overwhelming in favor of the delightful Yvonne Strahovski as your favorite new Aussie actress (I guess I'm out on the island of Torv-love on my own). Not that there was a bad choice there.

This week's question: What is your Monday television viewing priority?

Monday is one of those nights that causes the TiVo to sputter and wheeze. On NBC, you have Chuck and Heroes. On FOX, you have House and 24. On CBS, you have Big Bang Theory and HIMYM. And over on TNT, you have (for part of the season) The Closer. Thank Zeus I have west coast feeds for CBS, dual tuners and TiVo in two rooms, or we might be getting into Sophie's choice territory.

So with all this goodness, what do you prioritize and watch "live?" Or "almost live?" Sure you can TiVo all the shows, but which ones to you try to watch on Monday nights? Note: you can check more than one, if you want.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Supernanny? You're fucking kidding me, right?

Fast national ratings are in for Friday's FOX block of sci-fi goodness, with Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the premiere of Joss Whedon's Dollhouse.

Sarah? Not doing so well. The show hit an all-time low, with 3.7 million viewers total, 1.3 in the 18-49 demo. In total viewers, it got beat by Jennifer Love Hewitt's ghostly whispering hooters, Howie Do It (?!), and something called Wife Swap. It was third among in the demo, and (silver lining!) first among men 18-49 and 18-34.

Dollhouse? Perhaps best categorized as "eh, okay." Did 4.7 million viewers total, which was a big build on the T:TSSC lead in. That was behind the Canadian cop show starring Keith Mars (Flashpoint) and fucking Supernanny. Say that again. Supernanny. This show had around 6 million viewers. Do we want to live in a country where Supernanny draws a million more viewers than a new Joss Whedon show? How is this even possible? Dollhouse did bring in 2 million in the 18 - 49 demo, which puts it at No. 2 for the hour.

So what does all this mean? Well, Dollhouse is a not a runaway ratings blockbuster out of the gate. The lead in is not helping it. And I think we can all be glad that it was moved out of the harsh spotlight of airing after Idol, where similar numbers would have made it decidedly DOA. However, it's doing better than any scripted shows on FOX have done on Fridays. And all 13 eps of the first season have already been produced. We'll have to see when final ratings come in. We'll also have to see how it everything shakes out when you consider iTunes purchases, Live + DVR viewing and online streaming. Plus, according to most early reviews, the show only improves in quality over the next couple of episodes. So, stay tuned.

Sigh. Fucking Supernanny. Time to mix a drink.

Ratings Round Up:

TV Week
TV By The Numbers
The Live Feed

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Young Love

In honor of Valentine's Day, I'm taking a trip down memory lane and recalling those gals that made my young heart go aflutter.

(And for those who may not know me, I was a kid in the 70s, so it was totally appropriate to have a crush on Tatum O'Neal's Amanda Wurlitzer. Just like it's totally appropriate to be strangely attracted, years later, to the train wreck that is Maggie Gavin. Crushes die hard, y'all).

So, without further ado, let Cupid's arrow fly toward TNRLM's Top 10 Childhood Valentines:

Anne Lockhart as Sheba on Battlestar Galactica (Original Recipe). Not only was she a badass Viper jock, she was also the daughter of Admiral Cain. (Bonus points: Anne came from a geek lineage, as her mom, June, was the matriarch of the Robinson clan on Lost in Space).

Yvonne Craig as Batgirl. Comic book crime fighter in skintight spandex. (Serving as a gateway drug to later efforts by Kate Beckinsale, Angelina Jolie, Famke Janssen and others). 'Nuff said.

Oh, even better? Yvonne Craig was also a green Orion slave girl in the OG Star Trek.

Tatum O'Neal as Amanda Wurlitzer in Bad News Bears. A cute girl that could bring the heat (from a baseball perspective), cuss with the best of 'em and get Buttermaker a cold beer? This Little League shortstop's heart went pitter-patter.

Kim Richards as Tia in Escape to Witch Mountain. One of the first Disney sci-fi movies I remember seeing. And who better for a lonely only child to bond with than a girl that was a bit....alien. (Even the fact that Paris Hilton is now her niece doesn't ruin this childhood memory).

Jessica Lange as Dwan in King Kong. Twas beauty that stirred the beast of puberty.

Jenny Agutter as Jessica in Logan's Run. This movie came out around my birthday, and I thought it was a perfect gift from the geek gods directly to me. After seeing Jessica prance around in that outfit trying to find "Sanctuary," I didn't care if my Lifeclock turned red.

Haley Mills as Sharon and Susan in the original Parent Trap. Ahhhh, young love before Hef would redefine the notion of hanging out with identical twins. This would probably foreshadow my long time love of short hair.

Grace Lee Whitney as Yeoman Janice Rand in Star Trek. My dad introduced me to the show on late night cable reruns when I was 11 or 12, and I was fascinated with the major babeage on the show. Whuppin' Klingon and Romulan ass every week was cool for a starship captain, but as we can see, there were other benefits as well. Plus, Yeoman Rand probably served as a precursor to my love for Cindy from the B-52s.

Farrah Fawcett as, well...Farrah Fawcett. What kid of my generation didn't have this poster in their room?

Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. What geek collection of hotties would be complete without the Mona Lisa of nerd love? Even without knowing that she would grow up to be a boozy, brilliant slinger of bon mots as a writer, Carrie captured my heart from the moment her sassy princess from Alderran graced the screen with her cinnamon bun hair, lip gloss and gauzy dress (as George Lucas famously said, "there's no underwear in space"). And that was before the slave girl bikini.

Ahhhh, good times, when the heart was young and innocent and unbroken.

Happy Valentine's Day to all the TNRLM readers and their significant others.

I'll take potpourri for $5,000, Alex

If Dollhouse continues, someone is obviously going to die, since Joss just loves killing. :-) Here are "his" 16 most painful deaths.

BSG composer Bear McCreary interviews four of the final five Cylons. (And holy frak! What a mind-blowing expositionarama last night with "No Exit." I'm still wrapping my noodle around the Cylon history lesson).

Sam Tyler may have a Life on Mars, but it looks like he won't have much of one on our TVs, if these ratings are any indication. Damn.

E!s Kristin chats with real life couple Michael Emerson and Carrie Preston. More here with Ben. And Juliet, too.

More thoughts on science and religion, and how the twain shan't meet. Related: "Oh, it's a miracle! Oh...that one, not so much."

I don't get into hockey, but some of these "goal" calls crack me up.

TV Gal isn't panicking about Dollhouse (quality-wise).

If Emily Blunt can't be Natasha Romanoff, then Eliza wants in. How's her Russian? Or maybe ScarJo?

A peek at Watchmen's "Tales of the Black Freighter."

A chat with the Ellen Tigh herself, Kate Vernon.

Matt Stafford the top rated QB in one scout's eyes.

To any gals excited about this, I'm ready to beam up.

Put your money where your mouth is, when it comes to Octomom.

Dragging down the collective IQ of the country.

I don't have any stories about him being a bad tipper, but I did have my own brief Michael Stipe encounter. In college, I made a late night trip to Kinko's to make copies of a paper I was writing, and there he was hanging out. (Why "hang out" in a Kinko's at 2 in the morning? No clue). But to call him "disheveled" would do in injustice to hobos. And I don't think I've ever been in proximity to someone who smelled quite so bad. Either he was living out of a dumpster in those days, or had decided to roll around in a compost heap with a sack full of dead mackerels before making a few copies. Ahhh, the exciting life of a rock star.

A chat with dear, departed Charlotte Staples Lewis.

A profile in asshattery. If your first impressions where that this guy was a douchenozzle, then read on.

The geek worlds collide. Summer Glau on Big Bang Theory? AWESOME. Just as awesome? Felicia Day on Dollhouse!


Klingon night school.

An interesting profile of Herschel Walker
, from Jeff Pearlman's blog (he wrote the recent Cowboys book, "Boys Will Be Boys."). Pearlman also worked at ESPN for a while, and here are his top 10 things that irk him about the WWL.

Baseball Prospectus looks at the 2009 season
. Braves with a winning record, and tied with the Phillies for the Wild Card? Wonder how the season series with the World Champs turns out?

If this program was used in Columbus, GA, I think the application would require all the geopbytes of all the internet storage in all the world.

Every single filthy fucking thing said on The Sopranos. EVER.

Did Peter Bishop want to be Captain Kirk?

Richard Hatch "defends" Tom Zarek.

Guess I'm not going to retire (or even buy some Whiskey and Ramen Noodles) doing this here blogging thing.

Does the brain make up the need for god?

AOL's "Best Shows of the 90s." Some highlights: Star Trek: TNG 29, SportsNight 19, South Park 16, Northern Exposure 15, Frasier 14, Law & Order 11, The Sopranos 10, The X-Files 6, Buffy 4, The Simpsons 3, Seinfeld 1. You look through that list, other than what I've noted, and realize there was a lot of crap on in the 90s.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! (Amazon is offering Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" as a FREE download today!)

Welcome to the Dollhouse

Has it really been six years since we had shiny new Joss on our televisions? Yes it has (not counting Dr. Horrible, of course, which started on the web but is often on my TV via the miracle of DVD), and last night we had the premiere of his new show, Dollhouse. Was it worth the wait, and could it possibly live up to the expectations of the rabid fanbase (of which I count myself a member)?

The short answer is a guarded "probably."

Pilot episodes are a tricky thing. You have to introduce the audience to the characters, to the concept and to the world in which the show will be taking place, all while moving a plot along and keeping the audience entertained. The easier the concept is to understand, the more you can focus on the other elements. For example, take USA's wonderful Burn Notice. Once you get the notion of what exactly a "burn notice" is, which takes about 30 seconds of exposition, you can jump right into the plot and start chugging merrily along. The other end of the spectrum is something like Lost, where the pilot (or "Pilot") just drops you right into the middle of this incomprehensible situation and makes no attempt to explain the larger mythology and concept right away. In fact, NOT explaining things was the whole point there; it just introduced you to characters and provided an adrenaline shot of mystery and danger. Dollhouse had a lot of 'splainin' to do to set up exactly what we were going to be watching, and for the most part, it succeeded.

We got enough information, through both "showing" and "telling," to understand the basic concept of the Dollhouse: it's a high tech, shadowy and highly illegal operation that uses blank slate "actives" who can be programmed to be anything that the well paying clients need or desire. In this regard, there's one place I felt that the script really fell down and didn't do the show any favors. Many of the early reviews and questions about Dollhouse have asked "why rent an active for sexcapades when you can just get a hooker? Why rent an active as a hostage negotiator when you can just rent a 'real' hostage negotiator?" In the scene where the FBI honchos were coming down on Dollhouse-obsessed agent Paul Ballard, they attempted to address this, and went off on a tangent about the rich who have everything, and just want more everything and the quest for perfection.

While this has some interesting psychological underpinnings, I think that was a bit oblique for a pilot episode set up and was a big missed opportunity. There's a much better prima fascia case to be made for using "dolls" rather than their "real life" counterparts: once the "engagement" is over, then all records and memory of the whole engagement are gone. Erased from existence. Wanna spend a weekend getting your freak on with a hottie, engaging in all manner of deviant and/or embarrassing behavior? If you use the Dollhouse, once the weekend is over, there's not a hooker walking around that remembers you, can identify you or could ever come out of the woodwork to blackmail or humilate you. Or take the hostage negotiation situation last night. I thought through what would be my motivations if I were the client. No police involved. No questions from the authorities on the "whys" of the kidnapping, that might expose some of my shady business practices. No paperwork or record of the kidnapping that might encourage or embolden other kidnappers in the future. If the whole thing blows up, then there are no complicated legal scenarios from which to extract myself. If the "active" gets killed, then there is no one else (such as the FBI, local police or even an independently contracted negotiator's friends and family) to ask questions. The beauty of using the Dollhouse is that once the engagement is ended, it's like it never existed, and that is one of the primary things you pay top dollar for. I don't think Joss and company did a good job of establishing that.

The other quibble I had about the pilot was the reliance on the plot contrivances of the asthma. I understand the concept of "building" an active's profile, which includes both strengths and weaknesses of "real people" to create the doll for the engagement. But having the asthma come up at the exact same moment that the exchange was taking place? And at the exact same moment that the personality programmed into Echo recognized that one of the kidnappers was a bad man from her past? It's all a little too neat and convenient, and below the standards we've come to expect from Joss.

Those shortcomings aside, I think Dollhouse was an engaging hour of television, with an intriguing and complicated (in a good way) premise that should allow for some multilayered storytelling going forward.

If we think back on past Joss pilots, they've been kind of a mixed bag. Buffy set up the concept pretty well, but the dialogue and characters probably needed to be dialed down a notch, and as good as that series was (one of the best ever), it really took until the second season for it to find its groove and start firing on all cylinders. Angel was dark and noirish, with a sprinkling of humor (hi, Cordy!), but didn't truly settle into what it was going to be for a while. Firefly, when viewed in the intended order, did have a spectacular pilot that expertly laid the appropriate groundwork for what was to follow. So all things considered, I would put Dollhouse somewhere on par with Angel as a pilot, ahead of Buffy and behind Firefly.

Other than the inevitable hand wringing over the ratings, the only other concern I have going forward is the versatility of lead Eliza Dushku. Now, I loved, loved, loved Eliza as Faith. One of my alltime favorite characters from any series, Whedon or not. And Eliza is absolutely gorgeous (definite Top 5), fiercely intelligent and eminently watchable. Hell, I'd tune in for a weekly show where she sits on a stage and does nothing but read various recipes for guacamole dip. And I hate guacamole dip. (It would help if there was dancing, though). But there's a lot of sass and attitude and personality that's uniquely Eliza, and I'm not sure that she, as an actress, can always sublimate that for the various and different "roles" she'll be playing each week. The counterbalance to that is twofold. One, in Joss We Trust, and he lurves her. He's had a magic and long running genius when it comes to casting and characterization, and if he's hitching his wagon to Eliza for this show, then I think we can give him (and her) the benefit of the doubt to see where it's going. And Two, who is to say exactly how the "imprinting" process works? Yes, a doll loses all their memories and major points of identity before being imprinted, but does each "active" retain just a thread of their personality or mannerisms under all the programming? So perhaps the loving "biker chick" and the "hostage negotiator" were completely different personalities, only personalities filtered through what remains of the Echo/Caroline true identity. (For comparison, each week Jennifer Garner put on a different wig, outfit and ridiculous accent, and was supposed to fool master spies as Sydney Bristow, and we all went along and suspended disbelief). Still, it would have been interesting to see what someone like Amy Acker (who here is playing the scarred and mysterious Dollhouse doctor Claire Saunders) would have done with the role. Her ability to completely be Fred Burkle, or Peyton Reed on Alias, or amazingly, ancient god Illyria, was astonishing.

The rest of the cast was uniformly excellent. We didn't see much of Dichen Lachmen as Sierra, but she was appropriately convincing kicking ass coming to the rescue at the end. Harry Lennix did a fine job acting as the "handler," and kind of our surrogate into the workings of the Dollhouse. I already mentioned Acker, who is just spectacular in anything she does. Fran Kranz did the morally questionable, nerdy, quippy thing well. We had Homicide's Reed Diamond as the no nonsense security chief. And in my opinion, the best casting of all was Olivia Williams as Dollhouse head Adelle DeWitt. She was brilliantly icy, menacing, fascinating and engaging. She took a lot of basic line readings and twisted them into something far more than was on the page with her voice and face. Just wonderful.

And finally, we have Tahmoh Penikett as FBI agent Paul Ballard. Obviously, Penikett comes from another television masterpiece in BSG, and as a person, I've always been impressed with him. I've heard numerous interviews and podcasts with him about both BSG and Dollhouse, and he's an actor that truly "gets it." He loves the fans, loves the material, and is endearingly earnest in his appreciation of getting a chance to work on complicated programs with genre kings like Whedon and Ron Moore. It goes without saying that he's just as much eye-candy for the gals as Eliza is for the guys. But I've never really loved Helo as much as some of the other characters on BSG, and I'm not sure whether his acting can be kind of one-note, unnuanced and stiff, or that's just the way Helo is written. So IMHO, the jury is out on that one until we see more of Ballard.

So, overall what did I think of Dollhouse and the pilot episode "Ghost?" A few misses, a lot of hits and a provocative set up for what will surely be a fascinating series, given time to breathe. A solid "B" to start. What about y'all?