Thursday, May 31, 2007

Miss me?

I'm back online, after a few days out of touch with the interwebs. New content tomorrow. I'm too tired tonight.

Monday, May 28, 2007

MUSIC: Ted Leo, "Me and Mia"

I recently had a minor revelation: I realized what one of my favorite songs is actually about.

This has happened to me a couple times before. When I figured out Ben Folds Five's "Brick" was about getting an abortion, I was floored, and it gave a song I already greatly enjoyed far more meaning and power.

I've always heard Ted Leo's song, "Me and Mia," as a kind of youth anthem, about teenage rebellion and seizing the day and what not. "Do you believe in something beautiful? Then get up and be it."

And then I realized, with the help of the internet, and actually paying attention to the lyrics, that it's not quite so innocuous. It's a song about eating disorders. And once I made that breakthrough, the lyrics suddenly became devastating.

Though I must have looked a half a person
Tell the tale in my own version
It was only then that I felt whole

Fighting for the smallest goal:
To get a little self-control
I see it in your eyes
I see it in your spine

Sick to death of my dependence
Fighting food to find transcendence
Fighting to survive
More dead, but more alive

Even the title of the song changes. The singer talks of "Me and Mia, Ann and Ana." Which means: me and my bulimia. Ann and her anorexia.

Even the video makes more sense now, with Ted slipping away from band practice, going downstairs, and deliberately eating some food -- he's showing that he's beaten the disease. Or... is it possible he's showing he's still under its control?

I'm blown away. What an amazing song.

Lyrics here.

Video here.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Monthly Sidebar Update

What better way to celebrate this three-day weekend than by spending a lot of time making HTML changes to my blog's template? It's time for the coveted Sidebar Update!

The new Object of My Affection is the lovely and talented Kristen Bell, star of the fantastic and far-too-good-for-The CW Veronica Mars, which, naturally, The CW just cancelled. She's proven on Veronica that she's equally adept at carrying heavy emotional scenes as well as light comedy. Also: she's a little cutie. And she's a hell of a singer, too! I can't wait to see anything else she does next. Wait, not counting Gossip Girl. That looks like shit. Oh, also, no more of those crummy, wimpy, PG-13 horror movies, either. Those suck. But, like, anything else. Probably.

I've decided to start keeping track on the sidebar of progress in my 2007 Kurt Vonnegut project, in which I plan on reading (or rereading) by the end of the year every book Vonnegut ever published. I just finished Slaughterhouse-Five, which I first read almost twenty years ago. It's still brilliant, in case you were wondering. I'll probably have more to say about it soon. Now, I'm on to Galápagos, which I read about fifteen years ago, and which I'm loving. It also marks the third of his books I've read in a row to feature the phrase "take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut." I should probably read Slapstick next, to make it four in a row. (The phrase is repeated frequently enough it's practically a character in that book: "Why don't you take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut? Why don't you take a flying fuck at the mooooooooooooon?")

Under Watching is the complete collection of Firefly on DVD. I found it for $20 at Wal-Mart. How could I resist? (Wal-Mart is still evil, but DAMN they have good prices!) Joss Whedon's space Western holds up tremendously well on repeat viewing (and hey, no pop culture references, Dorian!), and the commentaries are entertaining as hell (primarily the ones by Whedon or star Nathan Fillion). Good stuff.

I haven't bought a new album since the last Update, so I'm just going to leave Ted Leo and the Pharmacists' Living With the Living up on the Sidebar. I've been listening to it a lot. An awful lot. It's just tremendous. I'd say it's right up there on my very short list of "Favorite Albums of the New Millennium" with Green Day's American Idiot. And I'm going to go ahead and once again use a Ted Leo song for Lyric of the Month, but I'll switch it up a little, and use a different song from the same album. "La Costa Brava" has swiftly become one of my favorite songs of the past... ever. In fact, if you asked me right now what my ten favorite songs are, I'd probably include two Ted Leo tunes, "La Costa Brava" and "Me and Mia" (about which song I will be writing a bit more tomorrow). "La Costa Brava," as Leo has said in interviews, is the emotional centerpiece of the album, and it's a powerful and lovely acknowledgment that after all the energy spent raging against the machine and fighting the power and whatnot, you've got to take a break. You've got to rejuvenate every once in a while, you've got to take some time to regain your humanity. It's truly uplifting and wonderful.

And under Hating... I was going to put Jerry Falwell. Because, well, I hate him. He was a monster cloaked in piety, and the world is better off without him. But Christopher Hitchens did it so much better in his amazing appearance on Fox News' Hannity and Colmes. Check the You Tube video of it here. There's just no topping Hitchens' final line: "If you gave Falwell an enema, he could've been buried in a matchbox." So instead, I'll just go with Paris Hilton, and her pathetic efforts to get out of her jail sentence. We can all agree we hate Paris, right?

Oh, hell, I can't choose. Let's go with both.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2007: Fox


Later than anticipated, here comes the finale to my week of Unfair Previews. Last up: Fox.

Fox is the network that over the years has been the most frustrating to me. They almost always have the most interesting roster of new shows scheduled for the Fall Season -- unique, fascinating, packed with talent. And they almost always wind up killing those shows before the season is up.

I used to resent them for that, but now it's gotten to the point where I can hardly blame them. They try, America, they try. They put shows out there like Wonderfalls and Firefly and Profit and Action and The Tick, and then nobody watches them. I kind of feel like a network has an obligation to carry certain critically-acclaimed but ratings-challenged shows long enough to really give them a chance to catch on with the home audience. That's how, for example, Andy Richter Controls the Universe made it to a second season, or Arrested Development survived to its third season. But Fox can't carry every show, every year. At some point, you have to acknowledge that a network is a business, not an arts foundation.

Hell, if I were Fox, I might just say the hell with it, and put American Idol on every night for two hours. But, to their credit, they keep trying. Admittedly, this year it looks like they're not trying nearly as hard as they have in the past....

First up, on Mondays we have K-Ville, which is an example of what Fox has often done so well -- put a fresh and bold spin on a well-worn genre. It's a cop show, but these cops are set in post-Katrina New Orleans (the "K" in K-Ville presumably stands for "Katrina"), where the city is still a shambles and lawlessness runs rampant. It stars Anthony Anderson, who, as we have seen on The Shield, has the potential for brilliance; John Carroll Lynch, whom I always like (from The Drew Carey Show, Fargo, and Carnivale, among other credits), plays Anderson's boss. The show will hinge, I think, on Anderson's powerful charisma, and whether he has the ability to elevate the rest of a cast I'm mostly unfamiliar with to his level. I think he does. This is a yes for me.

New Amsterdam, on Tuesday, is another example of Fox willing to take a gamble, but I suspect this will fall less under the categories of "creative" and "visionary," and more under, "what the hell were they thinking?" In 1642, a Dutch soldier in the New World is granted immortality by an Indian woman he saves; he will never become mortal again until he finds his true love. Fast forward to the present. The Dutch soldier has lived through the entire history of the city of New York (formerly New Amsterdam), and now uses his centuries of knowledge to solve cases as a homicide detective. This walks the border of interesting and silly, falling more toward silly, I'd say. I don't care for the lead actor, and the preposterous set-up is not aided by the conceit that he seems to know everything that has ever happened in New York, down to every style of high fashion shoes. This looks like a miss.

The new sitcom on Wednesday, leading into the inexplicably still-existing 'Til Death, is Back To You, starring Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton as news anchors reunited after a decade apart. Grammer and Heaton set out to prove that comedic success on one show (or as one character, in Grammer's case) does not necessarily translate to comedic success elsewhere (Heaton's former castmate, Brad Garrett, has already proven this abundantly on 'Til Death). The two leads display a profound lack of chemistry, and in the clips provided, the rest of the cast might as well not exist (the wonderful Fred Willard, who co-stars as the sports anchor, is not seen in the clips). These days, Fox's live-action comedy lineup just makes me want to weep. This turkey does not change that.

Thursday's Kitchen Nightmares is the new reality show featuring Gordon Ramsay, which means it is so staggeringly uninteresting to me that I'm not even going to finish this

Friday brings us two more reality shows, The Search for the Next Great American Band and Nashville. The former is American Idol in band form, and, as I despise American Idol, you can imagine how little I anticipate a show with the same format, only featuring more people performing at once. And the latter is "a high-stakes, high-drama docu-soap" from "the creative minds behind the hit series Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County." And if that doesn't make you want to murder someone already, you and I should not watch TV together.

I'm going to break my unofficial rule for this week, and look now at two shows debuting in mid-season, because A) I don't want to end on such a depressing note as three awful reality shows in a row, and B) these are (or were) two of my most anticipated shows.

First is Sunday's The Sarah Connor Chronicles, which continues the story of the Terminator universe, and which either is set in between Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, or which completely ignores the existence of T3. (Some fans would probably like to ignore the existence of that movie, too, but I'm not one of them; I thought it was more than worthwhile, and you should give it a chance, if you haven't already.) The show stars 300's Lena Headey as Sarah Connor, the weasel actor who didn't want his character to be gay on Heroes as John Connor, and Firefly's Summer Glau as their mysterious protector. I love the Terminator series, and this looks like a decently action-packed successor to the films, even if Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron have nothing to do with it. I'm cautiously optimistic.

The other mid-season show is The Return of Jezebel James, which will follow Back To You on Wednesdays in 2008 (assuming Back To You lasts that long). I've been looking forward to this one ever since it was announced. A new sitcom from Gilmore Girls creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, starring my beloved Parker Posey? Uh, hell yeah. Lauren Ambrose, who was so great on Six Feet Under, plays Posey's estranged sister, and it also features Scott Cohen, who is always enjoyable, and whose most memorable role was probably as Max on Gilmore Girls, which makes this a perfect fit. Even better, right? This should be awesome, right?? Yeah, well... then I watched the clips. First of all, it's saddled with an annoyingly intrusive laugh track, which caught me off guard, and which really doesn't work. Second, it's extremely conventional. It's all set-up, punchline, set-up, punchline, which plays away from the character-based comedy strengths of both Sherman-Palladino and Posey. Third, it centers around Posey, who can not conceive a child, convincing Ambrose to carry her baby for her. Baby comedy is almost always instantly off-putting to me; it reeks of contrivance, as well as the misplaced confidence that the writer's baby experiences are as fascinating to everyone else as they are to the writer. (As I may already have mentioned previously, ABC's Notes From the Underbelly is the rare exception; it's a darn funny show, and, to my great pleasure, it is coming back in mid-season.) And, worst of all -- it's just not funny. Not even a little bit. Frankly, it's horrendous. I couldn't be more disappointed. Every single thing about this show is a misfire, starting from Posey's embarrassingly, inappropriately oversized performance on down. Damn shame.

And that's it for Fox, which means that's it for my Unfair Previews for Fall 2007! And what a lackluster load of previews it's been. There's only one show I'm looking forward to with genuine enthusiasm, and that's a dark and gritty remake of some '70s sci-fi cheese. Everything else, at best, is pretty much take-it-or-leave-it (and I would say Fox's K-Ville and NBC's Chuck are the only shows I would even rank that high). It looks to be an ugly year ahead of us, people. Keep your fingers crossed that TV won't let us down! Or maybe go outside and get some fresh air instead, for god's sake. Just kidding! Don't do that. That would be crazy.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Save THIS, Blogger! (No, seriously, please save it.)

Well, proving that the new "Save Now" button on Blogger's composition page is as reliable as everything else Blogger does, I found this morning that my entry on Fox's new shows, which I wrote last Sunday, has disappeared. I guess "Save Now" really means "Erase Everything I Spent The Last Hour Writing." Thanks a pantsload, Blogger!

I don't have time right now to recreate the post. Hopefully I'll have it up by late tonight. Be sure to check back. I know your week won't be complete without the last of my Unfair Previews!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2007: The CW


Now we come to The CW, which is looking less and less like a viable network with every passing day. They've gotten rid of two of their longest-running and highest-rated shows, 7th Heaven and Gilmore Girls, they've failed to renew their most critically-acclaimed show, Veronica Mars... pretty much their only watchable show is Everybody Hates Chris, and I don't even watch that. There isn't one second of programming that interests me anymore on The CW (I've officially given up on Smallville), and that's not going to change with this new crop.

Following Chris on Monday is Aliens in America, about an awkward high schooler whose family takes in a foreign exchange student, who turns out to be a Muslim from Pakistan. Hilarity and racial harmony ensue. No, wait, pardon me, I meant "phoniness and ignorance." Too bad, because judging from the clip, it looks like The CW must've spent upward of $2,000 making this show. Pass.

Kevin Smith executive produced and directed the pilot for Tuesday's Reaper. I wonder if the main characters will discuss pop culture much? The show is about a slacker (surprise, surprise) who discovers his parents sold his soul to the devil. Lo and behold, Satan himself shows up to collect, by enlisting the slacker to hunt down and return escaped evil souls to Hell. Points for casting Ray Wise as Satan, and a couple of the other actors are entertaining, but most everything about this indicates disaster, beginning with whoever thought Kevin Smith could direct an action scene. I'll probably give this a chance, but I'm not expecting to have my socks knocked off.

I'll tell you where Wednesday's Gossip Girl lost me. The show description begins, "The privileged prep school teens...." There. Right there. That's where it lost me. The show centers around the mysterious Gossip Girl, an anonymous blogger who reports on all the petty drama at the prep school. Even the presence of Kristen Bell (in voice only) as Gossip Girl wasn't near enough to interest me for one second in yet another show about shallow, stupid, shitty teens. That's a big no.

I'm not going to take any more note of CW Now and Online Nation, the shows leading off Sunday night, other than to say the former is a youth-oriented pop culture infotainment program, the latter is a youth-oriented harvester of You Tube videos, and that I will never watch them or, hopefully, think about them ever again.

The other new show on Sunday night is Life Is Wild, which looks like the typical teen drama The CW specializes in -- only set in Africa. But moving the same old bratty, spoiled teens from New York to a game reserve in South Africa doesn't make them any more appealing to me.

That's six new shows, only one of which I would consider to have the slightest potential of being better than awful, and that one just barely. I know I'm no longer in The CW's target demographic, but I still like to think I could recognize quality in a youth-oriented program, if it had any, and I like to think that the TV-watching youth want something better than what The CW is offering them. Maybe I'm wrong on both counts. But I think it's far more likely that this is just a bunch of crappy, crappy shows.

Tune in tomorrow for a look at Fox, and the end of Unfair Previews Week!

TV: Lost finale (no spoilers)


I hope those of you who gave up on Lost early on in this third season (and I admit, I was one of those loudly bitching -- but, as I've said before, I'm in to the end on this show, no matter what)... I hope you tuned back in over the past few weeks as word has gotten out how the show has returned to full awesomeness, and then some.

Because tonight's season finale ROCKED MY FACE, and then it KICKED MY FACE'S ASS.

I must've rewound the TiVo about a thousand times to replay some of the incredible moments sprinkled throughout the two hours. I won't describe those moments, because, as I said, no spoilers, at least not in this post. (Okay, one context-free mini-spoiler: HURLEY RULES.)

But this show is now hitting heights beyond anything since it was first revealed Locke used to be in a wheelchair. Things are paying off, big time, on several fronts. It is BACK, baby!!

Catch up on the DVD set when it comes out, if you have to, if you quit the show. Just trust me: this show has re-earned your loyalty. Catch up, and be ready for the fourth season! (Which sadly will not be until next January February.) Because I suspect the ass-kicking has just begun.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Two things about Heroes, one very spoiler-filled

This is not the spoiler-filled one.

Lisa Schmeiser over at Teevee writes about how serialized shows like Lost and Heroes have driven away viewers -- including herself -- with long mid-season hiatuses.

What I think is funny about the article is that she uses her background as a comic book fan to illustrate why she won't wait for Heroes to take seven weeks off. Comic books, she says, keep a regular schedule, and wouldn't dare lose readers by taking hiatuses.

Everyone who reads comics is already laughing, I'm sure, but I'll explain what's funny to you non-comics readers. This comes a week after the release of new issues of two enormously popular comics, Mark Millar's Ultimates 2, and Frank Miller's All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder. The punchline: the previous issue of Ultimates 2 was released eight months ago, and the last All-Star Batman and Robin came out a full year ago.

Long, unscheduled, and mostly unexplained breaks between new issues of comics have become the norm for the industry. Ask anyone who has waited way longer than they should have for Wonder Woman, or Astonishing X-Men, or All-Star Superman. Or take Civil War, a massive crossover event, on which several other tie-in comics depended. Each issue of Civil War that was late impacted every other comic that connected to it, making them late as well. Basically, Marvel's entire roster of books was disrupted by Civil War's perpetual lateness.

Quite the contrary to Lisa Schmeiser's argument, comic book fans should be trained by now to be the most tolerant of hiatuses in TV shows. Ask anyone who is still waiting for Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk, which has taken over a year between issues, with no sign of the next one in sight. Bonus punchline: Ultimate Wolverine Vs. Hulk is written by Damon Lindelof... co-creator of Lost.

This is the spoiler-filled one. It talks about the end of the season finale.

Here are three other ways Peter Petrelli could have been stopped at the end of the episode, rather than having Nathan fly him away. Three ways which make me think the show's characters, and the writers, have not been paying attention this past season.

1. Hiro could've frozen Peter in time. Or teleported Peter to a safe distance, then teleported back out of the blast zone. Hiro has had all season to think about what he would do when the explosive crisis arrived. These things never occurred to him? And when Peter sees Hiro, does he ask him to use his miraculous powers to save the day? No, he asks him to kill him with his sword, which makes Hiro hesitate long enough for Sylar to attack. If either of them had a brain, they would've had it done before Sylar made his final move.

2. Claire could've just shot him in the goddam head already. We've already seen it demonstrated twice this season that a head wound only hinders the regeneration of either Claire (big stick) or Peter (shard of glass) until the foreign object is removed from their brains. Shoot Peter in the brain, then take the bullet out later either when they're sure the danger of Peter exploding has passed, or until they get Peter to an area of safety where he can explode without harming anyone else. [EDITED to note: of course, considering the size of the gun she was carrying, rather than lodging a bullet in Peter's brain, she might've blown half of his head off. Which might be slightly tougher to regenerate from.]

3. Or, duh, Peter could've flown away all on his own. Has everyone forgotten he's got the same power as Nathan?? It's so simple, so obvious, that it makes the writers look like chumps for not exploring it. Or it makes it seem the writers think the audience are chumps, and won't think of it. If Peter can't use his other powers while he's going nuclear, that has to be explained. (Maybe it has been, but I haven't seen it; we already know Peter can combine other powers, like invisibility and telekinesis.) The same goes for Peter using Hiro's powers. Maybe Peter hasn't mastered Hiro's powers, but I think we've seen him freeze time once. If he can use Hiro's powers, he could've teleported himself away.

And there's a fourth way this could've gone, which, for all I know, we'll find out next season is what happened:

4. Fine, have Nathan fly Peter away, so they can have their brotherly bonding moment. But when Nathan gets Peter out of harm's way, he lets him go and flies away from where the explosion's going to be. After all, Nathan knows Peter can regenerate, so why wouldn't Nathan just toss him in the air and take off to save himself? Maybe he did -- we'll have to wait and see.

P.S. In case you were wondering, I still really, really liked the episode (despite other quibbles I won't go into), and can't wait for season two.

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2007: CBS


Continuing my Unfair Previews of TV's Fall Season, up next is CBS. Unfortunately, their promo website doesn't have individual pages for each of their five new shows, so instead of linking each show to its homepage, I'll just give you this link to the main page.

On Monday, in between How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men, is The Big Bang Theory. It's about a bunch of nerds and the hot blonde who moves in next door. I like Johnny Galecki, who plays the lead nerd, but the blonde is bland and unfunny (Kaley Cuoco of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter). And the show as a whole is extremely conventional, with a comedic rhythm on par with Two and a Half Men (which is no surprise, since it's from that show's creator). I'll probably wind up watching it, based solely on where it's scheduled, but I don't expect much out of it.

Tuesday's Cane has a very strong cast, featuring Jimmy Smits, Hector Elizondo, Rita Moreno, Rome's Polly Walker, and Nestor Carbonell, whom I always enjoy seeing (guess he's not making it to the next season of Lost!). But in the end, it's just another night-time soap opera, and I'm not very interested. Could be a pleasant surprise, but I wouldn't count on it.

Kid Nation, on Wednesday, is a new reality show, so already I'm out. It's about 40 kids who spend 40 days building their own society in an abandoned Old West town. It's an original and somewhat intriguing idea, but I always give myself a free pass when it comes to reality shows, and this will be no exception.

The new show on Friday is Moonlight, about a vampire detective. Really, CBS? Huh. Okay, whatever you say. Look, CBS doesn't do well with much of anything outside of straight-up crime dramas or something to do with the military (or both, as with NCIS); their two most original shows of the past two years, Love Monkey and Jericho, were both cancelled before a second season. So expect this thing to disappear quickly. And when the clip for this vampire show opens with the cliche, "You know what? Being a vampire sucks," well... writing that bad ain't gonna help it stick around. Just a bad idea overall, and an especially bad network to try it out on.

Take what I just said about originality and CBS not mixing, and then try to figure out how long Viva Laughlin will last on Sunday. This is part drama, part musical, based around a man trying to open a casino in Laughlin, NV. I like the setting -- I've been there many times -- and I admire the audacity behind trying to adapt the weird BBC Viva Blackpool to American TV. And I like Hugh Jackman, who executive produces and has a recurring guest role, one which, I presume, will require him to sing (there is no preview video). But there's no way this is going to work, especially not on the "we fear change" network, CBS. I'm betting six episodes, seven tops, and out.

And that's that for new CBS Fall shows. Hey, when you're #1, you don't have to replace much. Back tomorrow with the worst slate of new shows on a major network (hint: calling it a major network is an act of kindness).

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2007: ABC


I'm back with more Unfair Previews. ABC went second at the upfronts, so I'll tackle them next. And they've got a bit more to tackle. NBC is introducing five new shows for the Fall. ABC is throwing eight shows against the wall (as well as three already-announced mid-season shows), and waiting to see what sticks. I'll address the initial eight only.

On Monday, there's Sam I Am, which mixes together Green Eggs and Ham, Memento, and Regarding Henry. Mostly Regarding Henry, in that it's exactly the same as Regarding Henry. An asshole loses his/her memory, and tries to be a better person afterward. Christina Applegate takes the Harrison Ford role. Christina Applegate is easy on the eyes. Also: I hate her. She hasn't been funny since she was a Bundy. This looks terrible. And the fact that it's a stand-alone half hour doesn't bode well -- by which I mean, like last year's Help Me Help You (which, I remind you, is not coming back for a second season), it doesn't have another half hour program slotted in the same hour; instead, it follows the 90-minute Dancing With the Stars. Which means the only viewers it's going to attract are those who are already watching Dancing With the Stars. Or possibly those who switch channels because they can't stand watching Rules of Engagement after Two and a Half Men on CBS. Which, now that I think about it, might be a fairly substantial audience.

I admit, I've kind of enjoyed the series of 15- or 30-second "Caveman" commercials for Geico over the years. Interesting discovery: judging from the clip for Tuesday's Cavemen, the new sitcom based on those commercials, it takes a full 38 seconds of exposure to those characters to make me want to kill myself and anyone else within reach. Horrible, horrible, horrible. Far, far worse even than the phrase "sitcom adapted from a commercial" can conjure in your mind. Let me make you hate it even more: ABC's site describes it as "a hilarious and thought-provoking social commentary on race relations in today's America." Doesn't that make you want to punch someone in the face? I know I do!

Also Tuesday is Carpoolers, a sitcom about four suburban schmucks who bitch about stupid shit while carpooling. I like Jerry O'Connell and Jerry Minor, but this is horrendous. I mean, look at the names of three of these characters: Gracen, Laird, and Aubrey. Those names are so contrived for "quirkiness" I want to smack the crap out of them. No offense to people named Gracen, Laird, and Aubrey (hell, my name is Tom Collins, so who am I to talk?), but couldn't one of these assholes have had a normal name? What's wrong with Joe? Saul? Karl? Miguel? Sanjay? Muhammed? Wen? Ichiro? (The fourth carpooler is "Dougie," which, while slightly more believable, still bugs me.) In addition, there is a character on this show named "Marmaduke." Need I say more? Maybe just one word more: avoid.

Wednesday is all-new for ABC, which to me spells disaster, but hey, what do I know? First up is Pushing Daisies, about a guy who can bring dead people briefly back to life in order to solve their murders. It's from Barry Sonnenfeld (whose TV work includes The Tick, Karen Sisco, and Notes From the Underbelly -- which, by the way, I have been enjoying a great deal, and am glad to see will be returning mid-season) and Bryan Fuller (Heroes, Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me), so you know there's some dark humor mixed in with the fantasy here. There's an interesting cast: Lee Pace (Aaron on Wonderfalls) is the lead, and there's also Chi McBride, Kristen Chenoweth, Swoosie Kurtz, and Ellen Greene. I'm not entirely sold on it, though. Seems a little too cutesy, a little too thinks-it's-more-clever-than-it-is. And this looks to be the best of the night's offerings.

My sister and her family were visiting a couple weeks ago, and we all were staying at my mother's. The women watched the two-hour Grey's Anatomy episode launching Kate Walsh's spinoff, Wednesday's Private Practice, while my sister's husband caught some Z's and I monkeyed on the computer in the other room. I have never watched a full episode of Grey's Anatomy, and I never will, but I watched a lot of this one, drawn as I was by my sister's and my mother's groans of disgust at the awfulness of this spinoff pilot. And I have to say, despite my long-standing love for Kate Walsh (one of the Objects of My Affection), that was some terrible shit. Holy cow, was that bad. I know the episode got huge ratings, but I have to imagine that was just because of the hype; how many of them are going to say, "Yeah, I really liked that brain-dead insult to my taste and intelligence," and tune in to the new show next Fall? What a shame: it's got a fine cast, but they're stuck in a sinkhole of a show. Sort of like Studio 60. And like Studio 60, I expect Private Practice to hit big initially, and quickly lose most of its audience, resulting in cancellation after one year. In fact, I'll bet five bucks this show is dead in one year with the first person who comments accepting the bet.

The final new Wednesday show is Dirty Sexy Money, a soap about a principled lawyer (Peter Krause) hired to protect a debauched millionaire family (headed by Donald Sutherland and Jill Clayburgh). It also features Samaire Armstrong, whom I loved on Entourage, and William Baldwin, who may be the last sane Baldwin brother, shockingly enough. The show seems like a lot of fuss and bother with very little of interest grounding it. No thanks.

Thursday's Big Shots is Carpoolers set at the country club: four men bitching about how rough they have it, only these four are super rich, which makes them even more obnoxious. It's got a decent cast -- Michael Vartan, Joshua Malina, Dylan McDermott, and Christopher Titus -- but the characters seem too vile to want to connect with. For example, Malina's character, according to the website, is "a lovable pharmaceutical big shot whose life turns upside down when his wife and mistress become best friends." Yeah, that's who I want to spend time with: one of the pharmaceutical giants who is destroying the health care system of this country, who also is a philanderer. But hey, he's lovable! Eh, maybe not so much. ABC promises these characters are "greedy, horny and competitive -- yet sexy and likable -- CEOs." I say, bite my ass. I'm going to pass on these "likable," "lovable" tycoon douchebags. That's right, I'm declaring class war, baby!

Women's Murder Club is ABC's addition to Fridays, which I would say instantly dooms it to failure, if it weren't following Men In Trees, ABC's inexplicable Friday night hit. Still, I don't give it much of a chance. San Francisco Detective Angie Harmon (SF again! Hey, maybe she can figure out what's happening to Kevin McKidd on Journeyman) heads up what appears to be an all-female Star Chamber, doling out justice where the legal system drags its feet. I don't know if they turn their evidence over to the D.A., or whatever, because it seems like they're supposed to be a secret society, or if they just carry out their own sentences. Doesn't matter. This show can't, and won't, work. I'd be amazed if it made it to 2008.

That's it for ABC's Fall Season. Back tomorrow with CBS!

Monday, May 21, 2007

TV: My Unfair Previews, Fall 2007: NBC

Last week, the major networks announced their new programs for the Fall Season. Which means once again, it's time for me to start prejudging these shows based on nothing more than title, cast, and the official promo website. Also, for the first time, I'll be watching the video clips, which should be twice as painful. Here come the Unfair Previews!

We start with NBC, since they were first out of the gate at the upfronts (quick explanation: they're called "upfronts" because advertisers buy time on these programs up front, before they air, prior to any ratings information).

Before I get to the new shows, I'd like to note that I admire what NBC is doing with Heroes. Wanting to avoid the audience erosion of the third season of ABC's Lost, which was greatly due to long gaps between fresh episodes, NBC is increasing the episode count of Heroes, and adding six episodes of the tie-in series Heroes: Origins. However, I don't like the idea that Origins has a voting aspect built into it: the home audience can vote on which of the six new characters introduced on Origins gets added to Heroes. Leaving this decision up to idiots like me seems unwise. My hope is they're striving to create six characters, all of which they want to add to the regular series, so they can later say, "We added the one you voted on... but we liked the other five so gosh darn much, we added them, too." The way the end of the first season of Heroes is shaping up, they're going to need six new characters, anyway. Minimum.

Okay, the new shows.


Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

The comparison point most people are using for Journeyman, the new Monday night drama, is Quantum Leap: it's about a guy traveling randomly through time. But since I'm currently reading Slaughterhouse-Five, I'm going with that reference instead. I guess he's trying to fix the past, which indeed is more QL than S-5, but he's also traveling within his own life, in his own body, which is more S-5 than QL.

Anyhoo. It's got a couple things going for it: it's set in San Francisco, which I always enjoy, as it's my favorite city on Earth, and it stars Kevin McKidd, who was so brilliant in Rome. (Watching the clips, I kept expecting him to scream, "THIRTEEN!!" and, like, stick a gladiator sword in Gavin Newsom or something.) And McKidd is definitely bringing the same maniacal intensity (though he shouldn't even bother with the American accent -- and he hardly is, from the sound of it). But it's a high concept show that doesn't otherwise hold a lot of promise. I have the feeling I'm going to want to like this show much more than I actually do, and that it's not going to last to 2008. Oh, also, the actress who plays McKidd's romantic interest from the past is named "Moon Bloodgood." Which sounds like the distaff version of a name made up by MST3K. "Fist Rockbone! Blast Thickneck! Big McLargehuge!"

Tuesday brings us Chuck, a dramedy about a Best Buy "Geek Squad"-type (here called the Buy More "Nerd Herd") who gets an email that downloads all of the government's top secrets into his head. I like Zachary Levi, who plays Chuck, and who used to be very funny as Kipp on Less Than Perfect, and I dig that Firefly's Adam Baldwin plays the bad government agent chasing him. (The good government agent is a hot blonde who falls for him, naturally.) Looks like this could have potential.

Wednesday has Bionic Woman. I'm so presold on this show it's not even funny. I loved the two original Bionic series of the '70s; the new show's creator is from Battlestar Galactica, a brilliant reimagining of another cheesy '70s sci-fi show; it co-stars Miguel Ferrer, basically playing the same role he did in RoboCop, which is enough to make me weep with joy -- though, sadly, his name is not Oscar Goldman; and it guest stars Katee Sackhoff, Starbuck on BSG, and one of the Objects of My Affection, as the first Bionic Woman. I'm there, front row, opening night.

Looks like this Jaime Sommers (the British Michelle Ryan, whose American accent does work, as opposed to Journeyman McKidd's) has a more adversarial relationship with her creators than the original. And it looks like she doesn't live in my hometown of Ojai, CA, anymore, which pisses me off. Also, looks like they're building up her personal life more than before (Mae Whitman, Ann/Egg on Arrested Development, plays Jaime's deaf sister) -- but where's her bionic German shepherd, Max, dammit? Despite those changes -- or, maybe in some cases, because of them -- I am all over this show. I'm not kidding: the preview clip gave me chills. This is my most anticipated new show of the season. Make of that what you will.

Also on Wednesday: Life, about a detective who is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn't commit, and then, when he is vindicated and freed, and wins a $50 million settlement, returns to his job and sets out to enjoy the rest of his life in the fullest. See how I used "life" twice there? NBC wants you to notice, too. As the tagline says: "Life was his sentence. Life is what he got back." Life, life, life!

This is the first of the shows I really don't like. I don't care for the lead actor, Damian Lewis, and I don't care for his character, who has become a Zen Buddhist in prison, which is a TV shortcut to "quirkiness." There are a couple of cute moments, and it does feature both Adam Arkin (for whom I will always have a soft spot because of Northern Exposure) and Robin Weigert (who was so fantastic as Calamity Jane on Deadwood). But this looks like a pass.

On Friday, 1 Vs. 100 will share a timeslot with The Singing Bee, which is karaoke in game show form. Mercifully, there are no preview videos for this. This is a big, big miss for me. Big. Yuck.

And that's it for the Fall for NBC. There are a couple of mid-season shows already announced, but I'll wait until mid-season to look at them. Check back tomorrow for the rundown of ABC's new lineup. It promises to be much, much worse. Much.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday

I finished Kurt Vonnegut's Palm Sunday about a week ago. When I started on it, I'd assumed that I'd read it before, but I don't think I had; not all of it, anyway. I think the bit that really stymied me when I first attempted the book, 18 or 20 or so years ago, was the history of the Vonnegut family in America, written by Vonnegut's Uncle John, which takes up 43 pages, and is fairly dry reading. But I found myself more interested this time than I had been back then, and I breezed through it. Maybe my increased interest in Vonnegut's family history is directly related to his recent passing; maybe I'm just more mature and patient these days. Maybe both.

I also found myself more interested in the entirety of the book, which is primarily a collection of various speeches and letters from Vonnegut. One section which affected me as much now as then was the opening chapter, "The First Amendment," which touches on the banning and, in at least one case, the burning of Vonnegut's books. Actually, this probably affected me much more back then; my outrage at the things small-minded people do to prevent others from accessing content and ideas which they find unpleasant or objectionable had yet to fully develop. Censorship has been one of my hot topics for many, many years, and Vonnegut surely helped me down that path. You'll find my favorite line from that chapter over at the top of my sidebar now, and I'll repeat it here: "From now on, I intend to limit my discourse with dim-witted Savonarolas to this advice: 'Have somebody read the First Amendment to the United States Constitution out loud to you, you God damned fool!'" (Don't feel bad if you have to look at the Wikipedia article for Savonarola. I had to.)

Other points of note throughout the book include: Vonnegut's story for Harlan Ellison's anthology, Again, Dangerous Visions, called "The Big Space Fuck," which Vonnegut proudly (if questionably) claims is the first short story in history to have the word "Fuck" in its title; his observations on fame, and comedy, and famous comedians; and his thoughts on religion, which seem to vary throughout the course of the book, which I find very interesting. At times, Vonnegut's views seem to be staunchly atheistic, and at times, they tend more toward a lackadaisical agnosticism, and at times, mostly in the pieces written at later dates, Vonnegut seems tolerant, even accepting, of the concept of God, if not religion in general. I was a bit surprised by this. Am I misreading his attitudes? Or was he just growing mellow with age?

Anyway. That's two Vonneguts down in my plan to read (or reread) all his books in 2007. Next up: I checked Galápagos out from the library, but then I discovered my old paperback copy of Slaughterhouse-Five. So... what the heck. Why not get the biggie out of the way? I should be done with Slaughterhouse-Five in a day or two, plenty of time to get through Galápagos before it's due back. And after that, Cat's Cradle. I guess I'm not going to try to go in order of publication after all!

One final note: when I post about books in my Sidebar Updates, I try to find an online image that most closely matches the cover of the edition I've got in hand. But for Palm Sunday, I couldn't turn up a picture from the original hardback I was reading. And I prefer this cover, with Vonnegut grinning and laying on the lawn next to his beloved dog. So here are some scans I made of the cover sleeve, for the benefit of the internet community as a whole. You're welcome. Click 'em to enlarge.

Palm Sunday, front cover
Front Cover

Palm Sunday, front and back covers
Front and Back Covers

Palm Sunday, full cover jacket
Full Jacket

Friday, May 18, 2007

TV: Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye

When the TV networks announce their new Fall Seasons, they generally don't come right out and tell you which shows have been cancelled to make way for the new ones. They don't like to talk about the failures. So they leave it up to us to figure out, by process of elimination. For example, The CW didn't say Veronica Mars is cancelled; they just listed everything that was going to be on their channel next year, and Veronica wasn't on the list.

Here's a complete list of which shows that aired during the 2006-2007 season are not coming back next year. The list was compiled with the help of Laurel's TV Picks -- and by "the help of," I mean, "She did all the work, and I just added the two shows I noticed she missed, The Class and The Knights of Prosperity." Every year, when I go through my new TV rundown, Laurel's website proves to be an invaluable tool. Check out her nifty, shiny grid for the new Fall Season!

Anywho, the cancelled shows:

20 Good Years
Man, it seems like 20 bad years ago (see what I did there???) that this show aired. I had forgotten all about it. Now, reminded freshly of its awfulness, I hurt all over again.
3 lbs
Oh, yeah, the Stanley Tucci show. That barely even aired.
According To Jim
All of Us
I don't even know what this is.
Andy Barker, P.I.
Now, this is a damn shame. This was very, very funny; Andy Richter and Tony Hale were fantastic. I'm amazed NBC didn't give this more of a chance, especially considering the overall success of their return to Thursday night comedies. Looks like they only want comedy on Thursday night, and since they already had four sitcoms, this one had to go. (NBC is not introducing a single new half-hour comedy to their Fall schedule.)
The Apprentice
Don't celebrate yet; Laurel warns us, "NBC says it might be back after all." Please, no!!!
Big Day
Just barely remember this one. This was about the wedding, right? Looked so awful, even I didn't watch it.
The Black Donnellys
To borrow a term from Tim Goodman, I TiNoed this show -- which means I kept recording the episodes on TiVo, but never watched them. I eventually deleted them all, unwatched. Maybe I would've liked the show, but then I would only be disappointed that it's gone.
The Class
I'm surprised to find myself very disappointed by this cancellation. When this show first aired, I declared it to be one of the worst shows of the new season. But then, somewhere around mid-season, I tuned into an episode out of pure laziness, and I found myself liking it. And the more I watched, the more I liked it, to the point where I thought it was pretty darn good. Too bad.
Close To Home
I'm puzzled by this. I thought this was a relative success for CBS. Not that I ever watched it (beyond the first two episodes).
Crossing Jordan
It's about time this one went away for good. Every year for the past five years, I've assumed this show was cancelled, but NBC kept sneaking it back on the air when I wasn't looking. Not that it was a bad show (although, at times, well... it was), but I'm not sad to see this zombie put into its grave, once and for all.
Day Break
Ah, the detritus of ABC's grand plan to bridge the gap between Lost's split season. Final result: this show was prematurely cancelled, and Lost lost a buttload of viewers due to the extended break. Well played, ABC!
This show never had a chance, especially the way Fox dumped it on the airwaves unceremoniously, with its first three episodes airing over two nights, a schedule which only those actively seeking it out (like me) would follow. Its last two episodes are set to air on the Fourth of July. Yeah, lot of TV watching going on that night; nothing interesting happening outside, or anything. What a pleasant final "Screw you" from Fox.
Extreme Makeover
Good riddance.
George Lopez
Or, as I like to call it, According To Jim with Hispanics. Not a big loss to television.
Gilmore Girls
Some would say, this cancellation came a year too late. I'd be more inclined to say it came two or three years too late. But then, I'm mean.
Grease: You’re the One That I Want
Does anyone care?
The Great American Dream Vote
I don't have the slightest idea what this is.
Happy Hour
I considered this the least awful of Fox's live action comedies. Still wasn't really good.
Help Me Help You
Took me a while to remember this was the Ted Danson sitcom. Well, now he can go back to Becker full time. They're still making new episodes of that show, aren't they?
In Case of Emergency
ABC's companion show to Knights of Prosperity. About a fifth of the quality, yet it lasted months longer. Shame.
Kind of surprising. This seemed like a decent hit at first, then it went away for a long time, and when it came back, it tanked in the ratings. That seems to be happening a lot more frequently over the past couple of years than it used to. Viewer loyalty is way way down. Hopefully the networks will pick up on that, and adjust their schedules accordingly.
Another show I barely remember.
As is this one. I boldly predicted who the bad guy was going to be during my Unfair Preview of the show last year. I wonder if I would've turned out to be right.
King of Queens
Eh. It was okay filler-TV -- something you watch when there's nothing else on -- but it was never appointment TV for me, despite the presence of Patton Oswalt, who is awesome, and (for a long time) Nicole Sullivan, whom I love.
The Knights of Prosperity
Damn shame, but this one has been dead and buried for a while now. I'm through mourning it.
The Nine
The show many critics picked as one of the biggest winners of the 2006 Fall Season. Whoops! It started spinning its wheels by the second episode, and I wasn't all that interested in the first episode to begin with.
The O.C.
Don't care.
No big surprise there, though I did like the first episode a great deal. Also, it had Nicole Sullivan, whom, as I may have already said, I love.
The Real Wedding Crashers
Every time a promo for this show came on, I started yelling at my TV set. This was an unforgivably awful idea, and I rejoice in its quick cancellation.
The Rich List
This was a true missed opportunity, which most likely none of you even remember. I thought this was a very clever and engaging game show, but Fox aired exactly one episode of it before yanking it. Ouch.
One of those CW shows I never watched.
Seventh Heaven
As was this. Actually, I used to watch it, about seventeen years ago. I can't believe how long it kept avoiding the axe. Goodbye for good.
Show Me The Money
Wow, William Shatner plus a Cuba Gooding, Jr. catchphrase did not equal ratings gold. Who'd have believed it?
Six Degrees
I thought this was cancelled months ago, yet ABC started airing new episodes again recently. I guess they ran out of other shit to put on the air.
Another show I can barely remember.
Here's a show I don't remember at all. Oh, shoot, just as I was typing that I remembered that it was about hostage negotiators, starring Ron Livingston. Still, it was terrible, so good riddance.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore! Yes, this inexplicably, awe-inspiringly horrible show has officially been killed. I loved this show when it first aired, I admit it. As did many critics. But it quickly devolved into a bizarre spectacle which I could only watch in order to rip it apart afterward. One of the best casts ever assembled for a TV show, absolutely squandered by the boundless ego of Aaron Sorkin. What a pity.
Thank God You're Here
Thank god it's gone!
It did.
Veronica Mars
Another damn shame. But I've been prepared for this one for a long while. I think it's okay for it to end, really. It was its time to go.
The Wedding Bells
Another wedding show I never watched.
What About Brian
What about him?

If you think of any not on the list, let me know. And tell me: what are your biggest disappointments here? Which shows do you really wish were coming back? And which couldn't be cancelled quickly enough for you?

I'll be back soon (probably Monday) with my Unfair Previews of next season's new shows.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Blogs of Note. Aside from this one.

I can tell from the general indifference my last couple of posts have generated that either A) people have gotten out of the habit of checking in here for new content, or B) the new content isn't all that interesting. Since B) is too horrible to contemplate, I can only say that I hope word spreads that I'm trying to get back into the groove of regular posting here -- though by no means can I guarantee it -- and that those who have given this blog up for dead will give it another chance.

Though posting at this blog has been spotty at best for a while, my reading of other blogs has continued apace. I've tried to comment where I feel I have something relevant to say, but rest assured, blogosphere, I am still monitoring you! Just to prove it, here are a few that have been particularly engaging me recently.

Bully, the little stuffed animal who maintains a blog, has started a project I only wish I had thought of first: a Wodehouse a week. He's going to read every book P.G. Wodehouse ever wrote, one per week, and report on it in the blog. That's tremendous. I think Wodehouse is one of the most fantastically funny and entertaining writers in the history of the English language, and Bully clearly agrees. He's gone through three books so far; he should be done with the project in another, oh, two years or so. I envy him.

I also wish I had thought of this first: Greg of Delenda Est Carthago has been going through the seasons of Seinfeld and grading "The Women of Jerry" -- the many girlfriends of Jerry Seinfeld, the character -- based primarily on the fame index of the actress, but also taking note of the quality of the episodes, and the increasing age difference between Jerry and his fictional paramours. Part 6 has just been posted (featuring a shout-out to me, which I swear I didn't even realize before I started writing this post). Good fun!

Lyle at Crocodile Caucus has been reporting on the television "upfronts" (during which the various networks announce their fall schedules, including what's new, and what's been cancelled). I hope to get into it myself sometime very soon, and add a new chapter to "Tom's Unfair Previews" over on the sidebar. For the past two years, as you may or may not know, I've been boldly singling out the Fall Season's failures and successes, and more failures, based on nothing more than the networks' sketchy website outlines of each series. Hence: Unfair Previews. While you're waiting for my venom to be unleashed on TV at large, why not check out Lyle's thoughts in the meantime?

Chris's Invincible Super-Blog (aka the ISB) has moved to a new address. But it still features the old site's customary rundown of every week's new comic books, including the best weekly kick to the face (yes, there's always a kick to the face somewhere, every single week), as well as entries on many other awesome comics and comics-related items (caveat: to Chris Sims, everything is "awesome").

It's Sci-Fi (aka "Skiffy") Week over at SamuraiFrog's Electronic Cerebrectomy. Here are his thoughts on Entertainment Weekly's list of the best 25 science fiction movies and TV shows of the past 25 years. It is a very stupid list -- two Paul Verhoeven films are mentioned, and neither of them is RoboCop, and at #1 is The Matrix, which pretty much destroys the integrity of the list right there -- and SamuraiFrog does not hesitate in exposing that stupidity. And here are his top ten episodes of Futurama. Personally, I'd put either "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings" or "Roswell That Ends Well" (which has possibly my favorite line in the whole series, Fry's nonchalant "Welp, I killed my grandfather!") at #1, but it's still a fine list, and includes about a thousand of the best Futurama quotes. Warning: this blog sometimes has pictures of naked boobies. Which, as Chris Sims might say, is awesome.

Fellow ACAPCWOVCCAOE* member Flesh-head's Treehouse of Random Goodness has returned to regular posting after a long hiatus (at about the same time my recent hiatus began here). And, remarkably enough, he credits little ol' me with inspiring him to get back in the blogging game. Aw, shucks! You're only sayin' it 'cause it's true. Well, I'm proud of, and humbled by, any influence I may have inadvertently had on young Mr. Flesh-head, and I'm glad to see him reviving his blog. And, even more pleasing, he's as big a fan of the Dodgers as I am, and he even came about to Dodger fanhood pretty much the same way, and at about the same time, as I did. Very cool. Go Dodgers!

Over at the AV Club, Nathan Rabin has been engaged in a year-long blogging project, "My Year of Flops." Every week, he's been taking legendary, and not-so-legendary, cinematic flops, reevaluating them, and breaking them down into the categories "Failure," "Fiasco," or "Secret Success." (According to Nathan, My Super Ex-Girlfriend was merely a Failure; Elizabethtown, which was kind of the impetus for the whole project, was a Fiasco -- with which assessment I heartily disagree; and, surprisingly, Ishtar was a Secret Success.) His most recent entry, #32, is the bizarre and awful Exorcist II: The Heretic (Fiasco).

Hopefully, if a few of these blogs are new to you, you'll go check 'em out and enjoy 'em. Just as long as you keep coming back here, too! See you soon with a new post. (I hope.)

*As spelled out on my sidebar, that would be the Associated Comics And Pop Culture Webloggers Of Ventura County, CA, And Outlying Environs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Free Comic Book Day 2007, Part 2

Here's the second half of my reviews of the 2007 Free Comic Book Day titles. Only 11 days late! Enjoy.

Part 1.

Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century
Despite my overwhelming love of the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm animated worlds of Batman, Superman, and Justice League Unlimited, of which the Legion cartoon is the most direct follow-up on TV, I am not interested in that cartoon, nor its comic book inspirations, in the least. I've tried, really I have. But I just can't care. And this Free Comic Book Day book did nothing to change that. I think part of the problem was setting it as an origin story (Superboy's introduction to the Legion), when frankly, the Legion's continuity (even in this cartoon-based continuum) is so ridiculously convoluted and incestuous, they might as well have just jumped in in media res instead of wasting space attempting to explain the inexplicable. Just take it for granted that Superboy is part of the Legion, in the 31st century, and create something new from there. As it is, with the confusing stab at explicating Superboy's backstory, as well as the muddled use of talking head flashbacks, I thought this was a poor entry issue for anyone who might otherwise be interested in this series. *1/2 stars.

Liberty Comics
Four tales of Liberty Girl, who appears to be a cross between Golden Age Superman and Wonder Woman. The first reads like a technical manual, and makes Liberty Girl look like a dumbass. The second appropriates iconic images (Action Comics #1, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks) to tell a lackluster gangster tale. The third is the oddest, in which Liberty Girl seems to take an anti-environmentalist stance, declaring an animated cactus creature, who is trying to preserve its desert homeland from industrial encroachment, to be her sworn enemy. Harsh! And the final story is even more fascinating in its twisted idea of "liberty" and "freedom." It centers on California's Japanese Internment Camps of World War II. A Japanese demon is involved -- conjured not by the prisoners, but by an American soldier. But the real cringeworthiness occurs at the end of the tale. A Japanese child, unjustly imprisoned by our racist, paranoid government (remind anyone of Gitmo?) pleads with Liberty Girl to do her duty and free them. "Someday, I will, honey..." she says, turning her back on him and flying away, "...but not today." What the FUCK is that? I want to read this in a favorable light -- that it shows the writer's hope that those unjustly imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay will be freed, someday, when right-thinking people regain control of the country (here symbolized, of course, by Liberty Girl) -- but that may just be wishful thinking on my part. On the surface, this is some appalling shit. * star overall.

Little Archie: Legend of the Lost Lagoon
I've never cared much for Archie in general, and Little Archie in particular is almost completely devoid of interest to me. Especially when there's no Little Jughead. A cover blurb declares this comic to be an "All New Story By Bob Bolling." I don't know who Bob Bolling is, but, in the generally anonymous world of Archie Comics, as compared to the generally anonymous world of Disney Comics, Bob Bolling is no Don Rosa. Or Floyd Gottfredson (see entry for: Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse), for that matter. I will say, I was a bit surprised by the orgiastic reception of Betty's older brother, Chic, by the Girls' Camp Counselors (sample dialogue: "Breathe deeply, like me!"; "He'll have to stay overnight!"). Naughty! Also, when looking at the map provided in this issue of the boys' and girls' campgrounds, did anyone else think someone at Archie Comics was attempting to be deliberately dirty?

Pop the Coochy

Are you freakin' kidding me? "Coochy Canal?" "Beaver Brook?" "Wam Bam Dam?" More like "Wam Bam Thank You Ma'am Dam!" Filth! Pure filth! Which, frankly, only helps to increase my opinion of this comic. All the way up to ** stars.

The Lone Ranger/Battlestar Galactica
The Ranger story is cute and mildly entertaining. The BSG story is better written than the one BSG comic I read before, which was beyond horrid, but the artwork here is just as bad. *1/2 stars.

Love and Capes
A cute, if slight, soap opera-ish parody of various DC/Marvel characters and their significant others. My only other major note is: I hated the word balloons. There is no reason to make a word balloon transparent. Ever. Very, very annoying. And the way the word balloons had gutters in between them, rather than seamless connections, also annoyed me. Yes, surprise, surprise, small things annoy me. *** stars.

Lynda Barry Free Comic Book Day Activity Book Special
Long title! I generally find Barry's art cluttered and ugly, and really, this isn't much of an exception. But I like what she's doing here -- it's a step-by-step, finely-detailed guidebook to novice writers, with many practical tips and generous encouragement. I don't know if it will actually help anyone to write or not, but I admire the thought put into it. *** stars.

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man & Hulk
As opposed to the similar DC offering, this was a much better, much more accessible entry point to a younger-reader-friendly, alternative-to-mainstream continuity than Legion of Super-Heroes. The first story, an intro to the upcoming Marvel Adventures: Iron Man comic, was decent, straightforward entertainment, that made me want to read more; the second story, an intro to the upcoming Marvel Adventures: Hulk comic, despite featuring a character I like approximately a million times more than Iron Man, was sloppier and far less involving, leading me to believe the eventual regular series will be entirely skippable. And the back-up Franklin Richards story, as has always been the case for this feature, just made me wonder why Bill Watterson has yet to sue Marvel for oh-so-blatantly ripping off Calvin and Hobbes. Overall: **1/2 stars.

The highlight of Free Comic Book Day for me. A collection of greatest hits from the brilliant history of Nexus, featuring the gorgeous artwork of Steve Rude and the unparalleled, manic genius of writer Mike Baron's story and characters. Plus: a preview of the upcoming brand-new Nexus mini-series from Rude and Baron! Nexus is one of the best comics ever published, and its imminent return is the biggest thrill in the world of comics since Ostrander and Truman brought back Grimjack. ***** stars.

Pirates vs. Ninjas
Too late to capture any genuine interest in the pirates or ninjas fads, and too unfunny to work as a satire of the pirates or ninjas fads, this is a painful flop. * star.

Sonic the Hedgehog
Not quite as awful as I would've expected this book to be. However, also not that much better than I would've expected this book to be. *1/2 stars.

Transformers: Movie Prequel
Unreadable. Literally. This was so rotten, I couldn't get past page four. And, in all honesty, I believe my general disinterest in all things Transformers had no effect on my opinion of this garbage. Let's face it: no matter how terrible a comic is, it's not all that difficult to read one to the end. I read Sonic, after all. And yet, I couldn't accomplish it with this awful comic. The art is an ugly, blurry, crowded mess, and the writing is sub-Todd McFarlane. Zero stars.

The Umbrella Academy
Too many characters with too many powers all piled on at once made The Umbrella Academy difficult to get into, but once I did I enjoyed it. I loved the intro page from the inside front cover, which is written as if it were translated from English to Japanese and back again. "Spooky power! Talking to dead people and floating. But ghosts don't exist?! Dracula!" Or, "Strong! Can I share your lasergun! Can't make him laugh!" Gabriel Bá's art is very Hellboy-esque, as is the overall tone of the book -- a not-so-serious take on superheroing and the supernatural, featuring, among others, a character named "The Rumor," who warps reality to match whatever lies she makes up, which I thought was unique and interesting. The second preview in the comic, Pantheon City, featured nice art, but didn't reveal enough about itself to make me want to read more. Nor did the third preview, ZeroKiller. Overall: *** stars.

Viper Comics Presents: Volume Two
First up is a preview of Sasquatch, a graphic novel about, well, sasquatches, telling very different stories in very different styles. The first example is a series of four-panel comic strip funnies. The second is a sci-fi battle between sasquatch and alien. The third is a Garth Ennis-esque soldier tale. Next up is four pages of Karma Incorporated, which kind of introduce the main characters but don't tell us a damn thing about them or their world. Then there's Hero Worship, which feels like a ripoff of Aaron Williams' ps238. And finally, The Underworld Railroad, which reimagines the Underground Railroad of Harriet Tubman fame as a pipeline for lost souls, rather than slaves. Then, on the back cover, there's an ad for The Middle Man, a comic I love. Why the hell wasn't there a preview of that instead? All that other junk adds up to *1/2 stars.

Virgin Comics Special
Previews of four comics from a company I didn't even know existed. I skipped the first preview, Ramayan 3392 A.D., because of four little words: "Created by Deepak Chopra." You know what? FUCK Deepak Chopra. Fuck him sideways with a chainsaw. And look, the second sample is by Gotham Chopra, Deepak's son. Fuck him, too. I actually read his story, though. Trying to be fair. Shouldn't have bothered. It's not good. The last preview, Devi, joins Gotham's and (from what I gleaned by skimming) Deepak's stories as mystical horseshit with awful writing and inaccessible chracters. The only winner here appears to be the third preview, Walk In: three pages of a possibly demented British drifter. Three pages isn't enough space to really learn what the main character is about, or where his story is going, but it was enough to be charmed by him, and his method of narration, which is often directed, in deliberate fourth-wall-breaking fashion, toward the reader. One "maybe" out of four choices still makes this an awful comic. * star.

Wahoo Morris
A reprint of a comic first released in 1998, published by a company calling itself Too Hip Gotta Go Graphics. Despite too many characters and not enough explanation, I found myself enjoying this issue, with its pleasing art and its entertaining relationship moments. It gets a little too cutesy, what with one character having a spellbook, but I liked it well enough, though perhaps not so much that I would want to buy the TPB collection of the series solicited herein. **1/2 stars.

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse
This comic collects two series of Mickey Mouse Sunday funny comic strips from 1936, written and drawn by Floyd Gottfredson. I've only relatively recently come to discover the genius of Don Rosa, who is quite possibly the greatest artist in the history of Disney comics (at the very least, he gives Carl Barks a run for his money); thus it should be no great surprise that, to my great regret, I have never before encountered the amazing work of Floyd Gottfredson. With this one slim reprint comic, Disney has made me rue my former unfamiliarity with this master of the art of comics. These strips are unbelievably clever and hilarious and eye-pleasing and entertaining, packing more plot and character into about 12 panels a week than the average comic these days can produce in a full year. ***** stars.

Oni Press offers a reprint of the entire first issue of Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber's Antarctic murder mystery, Whiteout, first published in 1998. I have to call this a strong success, because, despite some rough patches (primarily in the clumsy introduction of multiple characters), I really wanted to continue the story when the issue ended. By a remarkable coincidence, Oni is republishing the entire story in TPB any day now, and I am leaning toward buying it. Well played, Oni. **** stars.

Worlds of Aspen
Apparently, Aspen is a comic book publishing company. Huh. Who knew? Anyone who likes Michael Turner probably knew, I guess, but I did not. I find his art, with the elongated torsos and the waif-faces and the sketchy, knocked-out-eight-pages-in-pencils-in-an-afternoon-and-couldn't-be-bothered-cleaning-it-up quality severely off-putting. And his writing (he is credited as co-writer, or creator, or both, of all four titles sampled in this issue) is god-awful. Not only do I not want to read anything else ever by Michael Turner, I can't imagine how anyone else in this world ever would, either. Since I actually read all of it, as opposed to some other comics I could mention (and have), I'll be generous and give this 1/2 star.

Addendum: I took a peek at Dorian's rundown of the Free Comic Book Day books... and it appears I'm missing several of them! Amelia Rules: Hangin' Out and Unseen Peanuts are the most painful omissions -- I love Amelia Rules, and I consider the whole of Schulz's Peanuts to be the greatest work in the history of English literature (and yes, I'm including Hamlet, and The Da Vinci Code The Bridges of Madison County Tuesdays With Morrie DAMMIT, I need to start reading better books!). Also missing: Arcana Studios Presents, Buzzboy/Roboy Red: The Buzz and the 'Bot, the webcomics collections Comics Genesis and Keenspot Spotlight 2007, and the reality series-based Who Wants To Be A Superhero. I might have enjoyed the webcomics collections, but none of the other missing titles fill me with a sense of regret. Still: what's up with that, Sterling? Where my Amelia and Peanuts, yo?!?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Free Comic Book Day 2007, Part 1

Just in time to be a week and a half late, here are my thoughts on the free comics I received from Ralph's Comic Corner on "Cinco De Mayo" -- or, translated from the Español, "Free Comic Book Day."

Graded on a max of 5 stars (*****), here are my impressions of all the comics I received.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Dan Slott has already proven he can write a tremendously entertaining Spider-Man, with his Spider-Man/Human Torch series, but he drops the ball here. It's not awful; there are enough clever, funny bits to make it worthwhile, but Slott was definitely off his game, overall. And what the hell is the deal with "Jackpot"? Mary Jane is now a superhero? Is that shit for real? Oh, my aching head. That is stupid beyond belief. I couldn't tell if this was a one-shot story especially for Free Comic Book Day (as suggested by Spidey's timely exchange with onlookers: "Yo!" "Hey, web-head!" "YOU SUCK!" Spidey: "Yeah, yeah. Happy Cinco De Mayo to you too!"), or a preview of an upcoming regular run by Slott on one of the Spider titles. I'd love to see Slott take over one of the Spider books -- but only if he can raise the quality a bit from this effort. **1/2 stars.

Andy Runton's Owly: Helping Hands
I know there are many comics connoisseurs who treasure Owly in the highest regard. I am not one of them. I will acknowledge that the comic is often charmingly drawn, and cleverly laid out. But: the thick linework of the art often looks blocky and clumsy, the supposedly young-reader-friendly pictogram word balloons are frequently more difficult to decipher than they should be, and, all too often, the main character's overpowering despair and depression makes me want to kill myself. "Hey, kids! Life is a big fat wad of loneliness, failure, and mental illness! Enjoy!" Still -- that owl can be darn cute. And the audacity to make clinical depression accessible to five-year-olds impresses me. *** stars.

Ape Entertainment's Comic Spectacular!
Six mediocre stories, some better, some worse. None of which interest me in Ape Entertainment as a publisher. ** stars overall.

The Astounding Wolf-Man
Having wrung every drop possible out of the zombie fad, and then some, Robert Kirkman turns to werewolves. The results are not promising. ** stars.

The Black Diamond Detective Agency: The Train Was Bang On Time
I'm not a huge Eddie Campbell fan. I respect his work, and I appreciate some of it, but much of it leaves me cold. This story happened to fall on the positive side for me. It's a mystery set in the Old West, featuring a Pinkerton-like detective agency investigating a train bombing. There's a lot going on here, requiring a rereading to sort it out in my mind (and there are still characters whose identities remain unexplained), but that's only to be expected when taking a sample from a larger work. The story and the art worked for me, and I'd be inclined to buy the eventual graphic novel. **** stars.

Bongo Comics Free-For All! 2007
About as good as any previous Free Comic Book Day offering from Bongo Comics, which are the only comics from this company I've ever read. Solidly average, despite my wanting, but failing, to like the opening story, written by one of my favorites, Evan Dorkin, a bit more. Was that sentence convoluted enough for you? *** stars.

Boom! Studios: Hunter's Moon/Salvador
This is a flip-book, with a Hunter's Moon preview on one side, and Salvador on the other. Hunter's Moon is the real missed opportunity here: the characters are interesting, and the dialogue is tight and engaging, as you might expect from the screenwriter of Ray. It felt like it was going somewhere. But it stopped before it got there. It just cut off, abruptly, right in the middle of things, before really giving us an idea of where these characters were headed and why we should care. Pity. Salvador, on the other hand, never comes anywhere near catching my interest. It's just nine inexplicable, wordless pages of a silver guy with two big feathers in his hands falling. What the? Inside the front cover, there's an introduction by one of the comic's writers allegedly explaining what Salvador is about, but it makes me want to follow this series even less than the comic did. Here, see if this makes sense to you:

A savior or DNA discards; he is the salvation for genetic engineering gone array.
Does that make sense to anyone? First of all, obviously, that last bit should be "gone awry," not "gone array." But it took me a long time to leap to the conclusion that the first clause should probably read, "A savior of DNA discards;" not that it makes all that much more sense, although it is a step in the right direction. Seriously, Boom! Studios, if you want people to start taking you seriously as a publishing company, you need to hire a proofreader. I don't say this to be mean; it is a simple fact. Hell, I'll do it for you, if you like. Check this blog: nearly pristine in its grammatical rectitude. (If you do find any errors, there is an easy explanation: I was drunk.) Hunter's Moon might have gotten ** or **1/2 stars on its own, even considering its abrupt non-ending, but Salvador drags this down to an overall *1/2 stars.

Choose Your Weapon
A square-bound anthology of Korean manga samples. I enjoyed the first two previews -- the bizarre, humorous fantasy of Archlord, and especially the stark, hard-boiled (but playful, in a Frank Miller sort of way) Gyakushu!, with its tremendously appealing and decidedly atypical (for manga) art style. The other three previews -- the futuristic mech of Phantom, the overly-rendered, senseless Utopia's Avenger, and the tentacle-heavy Warcraft: The Sunwell Trilogy -- were a chore. Gyakushu! is one of the only samples of manga that has interested me much at all. By itself, it gets ***1/2 stars. For the whole book overall, ** stars.

Comics 101: How-To & History Lessons From The Pros!
I have no interest in reading a comic art guidebook. Doesn't mean it's good or bad, just means I didn't wanna get into it. No review.

Comics Festival: 2007 Edition
This is a highly entertaining showcase for various Canadian comics creators. Darwyn Cooke and Bryan Lee O'Malley each contribute 4-page stories, plus cover art, to the openings of their respective halves of this flip-book. Most of the remainder is filled with one, two, or even half-page snippets from a variety of talents, almost all of which made me want more. (Hope Larson's self-indulgent 8-page tribute to her simple poetry is the primary exception.) The two Scott Pilgrim pieces from O'Malley (the 4-pager I mentioned above, plus another half-page strip) guaranteed this comic would get high marks from me; the overall quality of everything else makes this a ****1/2 star treat.

Devil's Due Publishing: Family Guy/Hack/Slash
The Family Guy story had a few funny bits, but if you enjoy the cartoon (as I do), you can see how important the voice acting is to this style of humor. Hack/Slash is an uninspired horror comic about a woman who hunts down supernatural serial killers because her mother was a supernatural serial killer. A cover blurb promises this is "slated to be a major motion picture from Rogue Pictures!" Judging from the state of horror movies these days, I'm not surprised. Rogue Pictures are the people who brought us Hot Fuzz, so I'll cut them some slack, but if they actually make a movie out of this, they are high. Which means I should probably pitch something to them. ** stars.

Digital Webbing Jam 2007
Five snippets are presented here. Bloodrayne is terrible -- is she supposed to be a hero? Every person she supposedly is trying to save gets killed! Way to go, dumbass! I was ready to dump on Fist of Justice for blatantly recycling pieces of the Superman and Spider-Man mythoi (no, I am not making up that word), but then the twist ending revealed it was all the ravings of a madman who thinks he's a superhero. I thought that was clever, for a second, but then I wondered where the series (if it is indeed a continuing series) could go from there, and then I realized I didn't care. I wanted to like E-Man, if only because of its previous association with First Comics (I'm a First Comics fanboy of the highest caliber), but I never read E-Man back when First Comics published it, and this three-page preview gives me no reason to want to start reading it now. Zombie Highway involves zombies, as you might guess, which already makes it completely uninteresting. And when a dude who actually maintained a zombie blog tells you zombie comics are lame, that means something. (The Walking Dead remains the exception.) Punks is an eyesore. * star.

I love the recent issues of Gumby, created by Bob Burden and Rick Geary. They're pure wonder. But this particular comic is written by Shannon Wheeler (of Too Much Coffee Man fame, as well as, more significantly to me, the comic strip "Tooth and Justice," which ran in UC Berkeley's student newspaper, the Daily Cal, while I was a student there in the late '80s/early '90s -- I still own Children With Glue, the "Tooth and Justice" TPB collection), rather than Bob Burden, and only a portion of the art is by Geary. Which makes it not quite as wondrous as it could have been. Still, it's solidly entertaining, and Geary's art, what little of it there is, is unreservedly gorgeous, as always. ***1/2 stars.

How To Draw
Another guide to comic art, in which I have no interest. No review.

Impact University: Volume 3
As with Comics 101 and How To Draw above, I have no interest in reading a guidebook for comic art. I admire much of the talent here, whether they're writing the introduction, providing instructions, or merely name-checked (Gail Simone, Colleen Doran, and Peter David, respectively), but there's no way I'm reading this. No review.

Jack the Lantern
Wretched. Completely unfathomable (the recap page inside the front cover made my eyes cross) horror comic that involves a guy turning into a pumpkin-headed demon and traveling through his own corrupted soul... or something? I don't know. The art was ugly, and comprised of about 85-90% black ink (it looked like a movie when the projector bulb is too dim), and the writing was abominable, featuring character names a 12-year-old would make up for his D&D characters (Argotakar, Jadugar, Izralwisp). I had to stop reading it. I tried, I really tried to read every Free Comic Book Day comic. But this was one of those very few that I couldn't force myself through. Zero stars.

Justice League of America
Brad Meltzer is going to destroy your love of the DC Universe if it takes him the rest of his life. If you like the promise of future action, rather than actual action right now; if you like superheroes speaking like robotic icons rather than people; if you like talk, and a lot of it, none of which adds up to a coherent story; if you like your favorite characters, the strongest, bravest people in the world, puling and crying and trembling in fear -- then this is the comic for you! If not: good for you. 1/2 star.

Last Blood
The zombie comic fad is over. Give it up. That said, I had to admire the balls of the people behind this one, who steal copiously from The Walking Dead, then add vampires into the mix. Sure, why the hell not! I thought that was just audacious enough of a twist, despite the sketchy, blurry art, to bump this up to **1/2 stars.

This is already getting way too long. Look for the other half of the reviews tomorrow. Boy, it's feast or famine around these parts, isn't it?

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