Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vault of Coolness: Station West--The book!

I've always been a big Dick Powell fan, not least because of his fascinating transition from crooner to hard-boiled noir star to behind-the-scenes power broker. If you ask me, to paraphrase Norma Desmond, Hollywood is still big; it's the Dicks that got small.

Ivan's excellent TDOY post about "western noir" Station West inspired me to visit the Vault of Coolness and retrieve this artifact: a beat-up Bantam paperback of the Luke Short's novel RKO adapted. Of course, this version is one of those nifty movie tie-in deals, so we get to see Dick and Jane (Greer, that is) in their glory on the cover. It's nice to know that the Hollywood-Publishing Industry connection did this kind of thing way back in 1948. Of course, today if this happened, I'd be complaining about how they wrecked the book with a stupid tie-in cover. But since this is from 1948 and features Dick Powell, it's cool.

Here's a look at the back cover:

Should You Watch: The Forgotten

Of the many new shows dotting the networks' primetime schedules this fall, "The Forgotten" is...one of them. It plays like just another procedural show, albeit with the interesting twist that the people solving cold cases (and restoring peace to the "forgotten" victims and their loved ones) are volunteers, a sort of ad-hoc special crimes unit. I could buy that premise and I could buy Christian Slater as their driven ex-cop leader, but I'd have to get stories a lot sharper than what I saw in last week's pilot.

You should watch "The Forgotten" if:

*You feel it's about time that poor, struggling producer Jerry Bruckheimer finally got a break.

*You're guilty about Slater's last show, "My Worst Enemy" tanking last year, and you feel you owe him one ("Enemy" was flawed, but it was much more compelling).

*Hey, you'll watch any scripted show at 10:00 just to stick it to NBC and Jay Leno.

*You get confused and think "The Forgotten" is somehow solving real cases.

*You're so excited to see someone from "The Wire" (State's Attorney Rhonda Pearlman, or rather actress Deirdre Lovejoy, appeared in a small but key role in the pilot) that you think, hey, maybe it could happen again.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Should You Watch: Accidentally on Purpose

Before I tell you why you should watch "Accidentally on Purpose," a new sitcom airing Monday nights on CBS, let me tell you if you're interested, you had better do it quickly, because this is already a candidate for cancellation.

In this series, Jenna Elfman is a movie critic who embarks on a one-night stand with a much younger guy she meets in a bar (is "embarks" an appropriate word for picking up a guy in a bar?) and gets pregnant. Yay, younger guy's sperm! Complications are sure to ensue as we follow Elfman and the baby daddy, who she is letting stay in her apartment because otherwise he'd be living out of his van. You know, despite how I'm making it sound, this show is a lot more silly than seedy.

You should watch "Accidentally on Purpose" if:

*You really like Jenna Elfman. I mean, really like her. I'm talking you taped "Dharma and Greg" on WE, even though you had seen every episode, on the remote chance that maybe you'd catch one you had never seen, and even if you wouldn't, well, you'd go ahead and watch it, anyway. "Accidentally" is totally based on Elfman, and if you don't like her, don't even try it.

*The thought of a thirtysomething woman hooking up with a much younger guy makes you go, "Mm-HMM! You GO, girl!"

*You believe that the best way to illustrate a male character's youth and emotional maturity is to establish that he owns and uses a Wii.

*You're nostalgic enough for the idea of a newspaper employing a full-time film critic that you're just happy to see it be someone's occupation on TV.

*A whole week's worth of pregnancy-related reality shows on TLC just aren't doing it for you.

*You want the show to go long enough to see the inevitable stunt casting of Lauren Graham as Elfman's sister.

*You don't want to miss the cool old movie posters on Elfman's character's wall. I saw "Gilda" and a few others in the premiere.

*The new "Melrose Place" has awoken your Grant Show Fever from remission (Show is the newspaper owner who has just broken up with Elfman's character when the pilot begins).

As for me, well, the next time I see the show, it'll be an accident and not on purpose (as opposed to the Show--you never know when ol' Grant will turn up on my TV). It's not terrible, but you can see the whole thing laid out for you by just watching a few minutes, and it's not a direction I feel like going.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to

I apologize for not keeping up with "People" magazine lately, but what can I say? What with work commitments, family commitments, and being-lazy commitments, I've been busy, and sometimes it's just hard to find the 3 1/2 minutes needed to read a whole issue.

That said, I did look at the September 17 issue--not that I read it, you know, my wife just had it laying around--and I discovered that Nick Hornby had a new novel coming out soon. This is a big revelation to me. Hornby is one of my favorite authors, and this is news to me. So I should really be thankful for "People" magazine and not even mention any of the, shall we say, less useful bits in the issue.

BUT I feel I owe my faithful readers, so let me mention the "Body Watch" column on page 136. Tyra Banks, it seems, has lost 30 pounds, and we see a pic of her "new bod" alongside "her famous 'fat' photo" of 2006.

"People's" obssessive coverage of celebrities' weight always amuses me, but then, so does the spin celebrities themselves put on their own weight gains and losses. In this article, a close source claims that this was just Banks "wanting to get healthier."

"She didn't do it to lose weight. Tyra loves her body no matter what size she is--and thinks every woman should feel that way."

So in other words, Banks didn't lose weight to lose weight. Ahhhh, yeah, that makes sense.

News flash: If you're overweight, losing weight makes you healthier. Why parse words like this? I guess it's because Tyra Banks, as the article mentions, told everyone in 2007 to kiss her fat ass, and she doesn't want to be seen as admitting she wanted/needed to lose weight. Even though she clearly did. And even though she wants to be healthier.

I guess you can argue that the idea here is that Tyra went on a mad exercising spree just for her cardio health or whatever and just happened to lose 30 pounds as a result, but it all goes together. Why be so particular about it?

More importantly, why spend several paragraphs on a blog talking about it? Hey, did I mention that Nick Hornby has a new novel coming out?

Friday, September 25, 2009

This Week in DVD

Ghosts of Girlfriends Past: Matthew McConaughey plays Connor Mead, who--ah, you know what? You don't expect much from this romantic comedy, I don't expect much from this romantic comedy--let's just call it even and talk about that name: Connor Mead. What a classic McConaughey name. Much like Tripp ("Failure to Launch"), Dirk Pitt ("Sahara"), and Denton Van Zan ("Reign of Fire"), you know this guy's an alpha male with a cocky streak and charm to spare. OK, "Reign of Fire" sees him killing dragons, not charming them, but I had to include it because, come on, DENTON VAN ZAN. Wasn't he the keyboard player in the original Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Connor Mead. Yeah, that sounds right. Connor Mead.

Observe and Report: Remember when this dark comedy came out and all the buzz was about whether a certain key scene constituted date rape or not? That's the joy of modern filmmaking--you get the kind of spirited dialogue among moviegoers that you just couldn't generate after seeing a Martin and Lewis film.

I'll tell you one thing: Whether it was a date rape or not, if Connor Mead were involved, there'd be no debate. Oh, you could debate the action, sure, but all would be forgiven by the end of the movie because while he may be a cad, Connor Mead is a likable cad. He'll get his comeuppance, but, darn it, you just got to love him.

Taxi Season 4: What a pleasant surprise it is to see this long-stalled show continue, and with word this week that Season 5 is coming later this year, to boot. I have to give Paramount an unqualified golf clap for this--well, maybe slightly qualified; I mean, it DID wait 4 years before unleashing this set.

I'm reminded of a Matthew McConaughey quote, specifically a line uttered by his character Wooderson in "Dazed and Confused":

"That's what I love about these old TV shows on DVD, man. I get older, they stay the same age."

Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins: What the--how is this franchise continuing? That's right, it's a prequel to the "popular" series of films with Freddie Prinze Jr. and the gang.

I know that Matthew McConaughey, if not Connor Mead, would have something in common with Shaggy. One can imagine the two of them chilling out some quiet summer night, sharing some refreshments, relaxing, playing nude bongos--you know, the usual stuff.

One can also imagine someone could take a digital camcorder out there and shoot that encounter, and the resulting video would be much more entertaining than "Scooby-Doo: The Mystery Begins."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

No, no, no, Travel Channel! BAD Travel Channel!

Hey, cable television, how many times do I have to say this? Not all of us want movies on every damn channel in our lineup!

Now Travel Channel is doing it. At least according to my (admittedly not always accurate) FIOS listings, this Saturday brings an airing of "National Lampoon's Vacation" to the 8-10:00PM slot on the network.

If you want to stray from your roots and show guys stuffing themselves on 20-pound burgers or whatever, that's one thing. But movies? Come on, even if it IS related to "travel," you don't need to be airing movies. Everybody else does. In fact, everybody else airs this particular movie, and I'm pretty sure that when I first bitched about TV Land showing movies, I bitched about them airing this particular movie.

"Vacation" is a great movie--not so great in hacked-up-for-TV form, but still, it's a riot. But we don't need to watch it on Travel Channel. Even if it were appropriate, it sets a bad precedent. It won't be long till we get the crummy "Vacation" movies, then the Cedric the Entertainer road trip movies, and then, well, might as well start with the poker movies...

NO MOVIES. Show movies on movie channels. Travel Channel is not a movie channel.

Sounds simple to me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Panel Discussion: One of the lamest captures of a supervillain ever

I am not saying this is THE lamest apprehension ever of a supervillain, but it has to be in the running. Having stymied the Justice League of America for the first 22 pages of JLA #12, Dr. Light is caught like this:

OK, I'm cheating a little bit because....SPOILER ALERT...

This ain't the real Dr. Light! Still, it's a bit anticlimactic, is it not? Furthermore, the real apprehension of Dr. Light is nearly as lame, happening off panel, followed by Green Lantern telling the story to his fellow Leaguers.

Still, you gotta love that sophisticated capture technique by Superman and Wonder Woman. Not only is it effective for grabbing the most notorious baddies, it's an excellent way to help old ladies cross the street.

Monday, September 21, 2009

50 Reasons to Turn Off Your TV Part 5 (41-50)

41) "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant": Oh, come on! How could you NOT know? I'm convinced that this TLC show is bogus. Maybe one or two cases like this are legit, enough to fill an occasional special. But a regular series? No way!

42) WWE 24/7 not showing AWA footage: Vince McMahon apparently owns a bunch of old AWA footage and hardly does anything with it. To you non-wrestling fans, this is like if a TV channel had the rights to a bunch of cool old shows and just sat on them, or if a film/video company had video distribution rights to a bunch of old movies and never released them. Hmm, in other words, pretty much what happens in every sector of showbiz. Maybe I shouldn't be so worked up about this, especially since I don't even get WWE 24/7 anymore. Oh, well.

43) Food Network shows: They all make such awesome-looking food, food that I will never make. I'm not one of those "foodies" that watches a lot of Food Network, but I do resent flipping by, seeing something tasty-looking, knowing I will never have it, then going upstairs and getting some junk food before heading back down to watch sports.

44) "Your show has been canceled.": OK, so I MAY have been watching some HGTV with my wife and we MAY have watched the last X number of minutes of "Design Star." That's not important right now. What IS important is that this ridiculous catchphrase is what the host tells the eliminated contestant each episode. Apparently since the winner gets an HGTV show, see, that makes the catchphrase apt. Your show has been canceled? Clearly that's a tagline created just for the sake of having one. Let this entry in my list serve not merely as a rebuke to this particular competition show, but to all the lame competition shows that repeat the same cliches all across the dial.

45) "Deal or No Deal": Somehow, this annoying game show, bad enough in NBC primetime, infiltrated daytime syndication and GSN. It is now seen more than ever, and I still think it's lurking somewhere, waiting for NBC's new shows to fail so it can come back in and fist-bump its way into our consciousness. To me, the ubiquity of THIS, not the new Leno program, was the first sign that NBC had thrown in the towel. America, we have a long and proud tradition of idiotic game shows, but clearly we can do better than people choosing briefcases.

46) Homogeneity: No, this isn't a lame joke about Jai Rodriguez surfacing on GSN afternoons for some reason (though that does seem odd). See, I hear tell of the good, old days, when you could go to a different city and actually expect to see local programming that was characteristic of its area, something distinctive from what you'd see in another market. Nowadays, everything is the same, even the news is barely local, and cable is mostly just as bland and unsurprising as the broadcast television it originally spiced up.

47) But then again...(RTN): Of course, homogeneity isn't necessarily a bad thing if it means you at least get it right. I love the idea of Retro Television Network, and its model of letting affiliates program their own local channels from a selection of library programs sounds good in theory. In practice, it looks like all the RTN model offers is massive screwups in every market. Put old shows on the air, repeat, repeat again: Sounds simple, right? We're all rooting for RTN to get its act together, but when you see an episode repeat several days in a row, or several "reels" within an episode air out of order, well, you might feel like turning off the tube and burying your nose in one of those inky-looking things with the paper and the shiny covers.

48) Tyler Perry Broadcasting System: "House of Payne." "Meet the Browns." "Tyler Perry Interviewing People to Hype His New Movie." (I may be misremembering this last one) If this were a "Pyramid" category, it would be "Crap that dominates TBS' schedule." Any day now, I expect to see "Tyler Perry's $100,000 Pyramid," with the celebrities consisting of the castmembers of his sitcoms, and youneverknow, you just might see Madea turn up at some point. Remember when TBS aired "New Leave It to Beaver" and "Rocky Road"? Sure, that stuff was crap, too, but it was crap done by different people. I don't think any one man should have this control over TBS' primetime lineup, with the obvious exceptions of Jim Crockett, Ted Turner, and Andy Griffith.

49) "Twilight Weekly" on Reelz: A whole show about the "phenomenon" that is "Twilight." I haven't watched it yet, so I don't know if it's sponsored by Hot Topic and Cinnabon, but no matter what the show's presentation or quality, it feels like overkill. I'll bet it's the highest-rated thing on Reelz, which is somehow even more dismaying. What, Leonard Maltin's not enough of a draw for lovestruck teenage girls?

50) Gilad on Fit TV: Remember back when ESPN and ESPN2 used to show afternoon and early-morning fitness programs consisting of scantily clad women bouncing and twisting around? Well, if you tried to catch any of these fine productions, you always risked running into this guy and his faux-macho, male-dominated, decidedly UNsexy "Bodies in Motion." The guy seemed to actually care about exercise or something, when all many of us cared about was Leeann Tweeden. Well, the guy is back, and though Fit TV doesn't offer the same brand of "fitness program" that ESPN pioneered, his constant presence is a reminder of the disappointment many a male viewer experienced on seeing HIM running in slow motion.

And with that, we're done. This list of 50 reasons is "a mere bag of shells," but it's representative, and I feel it's a much more accurate portrait of television than "Rolling Stone's" 50 Best Reasons to Watch TV.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Vault of Coolness: Las Vegas and 1977 TV=awesome

Check out this blurb from a December 1977 "Washington Post" TV listings supplement, and just try to tell me television wasn't better then--in fact, try telling me show business wasn't better then--as you read about the "Seventh Annual Las Vegas Entertainment Awards" on NBC:

You just don't get that kind of lineup on the tube anymore.

Friday, September 18, 2009

50 Reasons to Turn Off Your TV Part 4 (31-40)

We're celebrating the start of the TV season and answering Rolling Stone's "50 reasons to love TV" with a list of our own this week.

31) The character "Twist" on Nickelodeon's new show "Fresh Beat Team": I don't think enough research exists on the harmful effects of beatboxing idiots on young children. Until I can be sure, I don't think I want to risk my daughter's development by exposing her to this yahoo.

32) Shows that run late and screw up your DVR recordings: There hasn't been a technological innovation yet that a TV network couldn't ruin.

33) Whatever TV Land has become: Better women and men and me have ranted about what happened to the once-great classic TV outlet--including myself, back when I was better. So now I'll just say whatever you're selling, TV Land, I ain't buying.

34) "The Rachel Zoe Project": It's a reality show about a woman who picks what stars wear. She doesn't even dress them herself; she picks what they wear. The real "Project" should involve trying to locate Bravo's credibility. This vapid series makes "The Real Housewives of..." look like "Masterpiece Theater." (NOTE: Saying "The Real Houswives of..." make "Rachel Zoe" look like "Masterpiece Theater" is also acceptable, depending on which show irritates you more)

35) Results shows: In an era when everything else on TV gets smaller--the number of episodes a season, the length of a show w/o commercials, the audiences--competition shows manage to stretch 5 minutes of reveal into an hour or more of filler.

36) The NHL Network: If I cared about hockey, I'd be mighty disappointed in this outfit. During the offseason, the MLB and NFL networks have daily shows updating fans on offseason news and events. The NHL gives you...game replays--not even gems from the vault, either, but contests from, like, last year, or maybe as "far back" as 2007. Is there just not anything interesting to talk about in the NHL?

37) Pundits: They're everywhere, be they talking about sports, politics, movies, or whatever, and they get way too much airtime. What, just because everyone has an opinion means we have to see them shout it out on national television? This trend is almost as obnoxious as the ubiquitous phenomenon of know-it-alls writing blogs and framing their inconsequential rants in the form of snarky lists.

38) Reality on History Channel: Have you looked at its prime time lineup lately? We didn't know how good we had it when it was the so-called Hitler Channel. If Tony Soprano sat down and turned History on only to find an Ice Road Truckers marathon, he'd send his TV on a ride to the countryside with Sil.

39) Lack of theme songs: There should be more theme songs we can sing along to, period. What are the kids of today going to have going through their head 20 years from now? Math and science?

40) Si TV showing reruns of "Freddie" weeknights: The history of Latinos on American television must be grim, indeed, if this is a cornerstone of someone's programming strategy.

We'll finish the list Sunday. Come back tomorrow for a trip to the Vault of Coolness.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

This Week in DVD

(The Top 50 Reasons to Turn Off Your TV resume tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this brief look at this week's new releases)

Bonanza Season 1 Volume 1 and 2:
Paramount, if you think releasing both volumes of a split-season set on the same day is going to get us to stop bitching about the tactic, you're wrong! So, uh...bitch bitch bitch! There! That oughta learn you. But at least "Bonanza" fans have the privilege of overpaying for twice as many episodes this week, and maybe that IS progress.

The IT Crowd Season 3: Awesome show. One of the funniest things I've seen in TV the past few years, and I saw it on IFC, of all places. If you don't buy this DVD, you--well, you likely have your own legitimate reasons. I kind of started in like I was gonna make a threat, but I was just gonna say you'd be missing out.

Wolverine: There are only two things you need to know about this movie: If Wolverine says "Bub" a bunch of times, and if it's better than the last "X-Men" feature. I can't answer either of those questions, unfortunately, because I didn't see this. Yet eventually I will, even though I tend to be let down by Marvel Comics movies, and even though Wolverine was never one of my favorite characters (but IS one of the best things about those X-movies). Maybe then I'll get you those answers.

Wagon Master: I am including this because I jumped the gun and listed it a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, I still have nothing to say other than I'm surprised it took so long for such an acclaimed John Ford film to hit the format. But, hey, I'm admitting a mistake, and doesn't that count for something?

One Step Beyond Season 1: Paramount is releasing spiffed-up versions of this old-school show. This is a good thing, but we still must show 'nuff respect for the Mill Creek cheapo collection.

Winter Soldier: Vintage documentary that got some notoriety a while back for starring a young John Kerry...who of course was thought dead after fighting with the Red Skull on an exploding plane, then was reprogrammed by the Russians as a cold war assassin before returning and eventually taking over the Captain America persona from the deceased Steve Rogers. Unless I'm getting my Winter Soldiers mixed up.

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to: Special "Guiding Light" tribute

In honor of the departing CBS soap "Guiding Light," axed after umpteen years, a special look at what Kim Zimmer, AKA Reva, referred to as one of her 5 favorite moments in all her years on the show. I don't watch the show, but some of the ladies in my life do, and I know enough to tell you that Reva has spent a LOT of years on the show. "People" lists the last of her 5 moments as "HER FINAL SCENE AS REVA." Zimmer explains:

60% of the fans will be happy, but 40% probably won't. It depends on who Reva rides off into the sunset with."
Publish Post

I'd wager if I surveyed the "Guiding Light" watchers in my life, 100% would almost be happy the show is going off the air simply because it means Reva will be taking a hike.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

50 Reasons to Turn Off Your TV Part 3 (#21-30)

21) Local news: It makes you sit through stories that are either pointless or depressing in order to get to what really matters: The weather forecast. And then that's usually off, anyway.

22) BBC America: Thousands of hours of programming, past and present, to try to obtain, and this network settles for endless airings of "How Clean Is Your House?" The American Beeb doesn't show enough of what you want it to show, and when it does, it's hacked up for extra adverts.

23) On Demand...but On Their Terms: FIOS-TV's selection of NBC On Demand shows looks expansive, but there's a big problem: Fast forward and rewind are disabled on each episode! Imagine how aggravating this would be if NBC had anything worth demanding.

24) Infomercials: I miss the days when, at the end of a day of programming, you got a nice, solid test pattern. Of course, these days infomercials all over the place and all over the clock, but they never hawk anything cool--except those TimeLife CD sets. Those can stay.

25) Awards shows: The only time we care about what happens on one of these things is when someone acts like an a-hole. There are enough places to see a-holes on TV without manufacturing pseudo-events to give them more of a platform.

26) VH-1 reality shows: Hey, speaking of platforms for a-holes...Most all these kind of shows are terrible, but VH-1 somehow manages to create the most annoying (given a bigger budget, I'll bet Fox Reality could compete). Maybe it's because theirs breed murderers?

27) "Whatever, Martha": Fine Living Network airs a program that consists of Martha Stewart's daughter and some gravy-training pal (a gravy-train on a gravy-train--the sauce must be getting pretty thin) watching an episode of Mom's show and making bitchy comments. Keep this in mind the next time you trash Spike for being inane.

28) "CSI" on Spike: Fact is, Spike IS inane, only now it has broadened its horizons and replaced some of its lowest-common-denominator guy-centric programming with lowest-work-needed programming: endless reruns of the "CSI" franchises. Look at Spike's schedule. It's getting to "Law and Order" on USA territory.

29) "Meeeehhhhhnnn:" Do we need to hear this every damn time there's a scene change in "Two and a Half Men"? The annoying refrain is the reason I don't watch the admittedly popular sitcom. Well, that and the fact that I don't like the rest of the show, either. But this part of it really gets me.

30) "Fox NFL Sunday" pregame show: At some point, it became the "in" thing to turn your football pregame program into a comedy program. Fox isn't the only one guilty of this, but it's the most egregious offender. It's no surprise, either: Fox doesn't have a great track record lately of producing non-animated comedies, and the guys in the NFL studio aren't cartoons--at least not literally.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

50 Reasons to Turn Off Your TV Part 2 (11-20)

11) Larry King in high-def: Thanks for the warning, Mike. I don't even have high-def, but I shudder.

12) The I'm a PC/I'm a Mac commercials: Am I the only one that thinks the Mac guy is the smug and insufferable one and that the PC has become the appealing underdog?

13) "The Insider" without Pat O'Brien: How this show can continue without the ultimate insider is beyond me. I just don't feel...INSIDE anymore without the kind of access only he provided.

14) TV Guide Network barely showing TV listings: OK, perhaps on-screen listings are irrelevant in the age of DVRs and on-screen programming guides. But what's relevant about reruns of "Surreal Life" and "Punk'd"?

15) Sci-Fi changing its name to SyFy: Come on!

16) Elmo's World: Some of us remember 'Sesame Street" before the last third of every episode (not to mention numerous storylines in the rest of the show) was handed to this guy. Our own children will not be so lucky.

17) Home shopping channels: I really hoped this was gonna be a fad, but it's 2009 and there's still like 20 of them in my channel lineup.

18) Oprah's growling intros of her guests: We've all seen and made fun of it, so I won't go into detail, but I just saw a commercial the other day teasing her interview with "Whitney HOUUUUSTOOOOON!"

19) NFL Sunday Ticket: If you want to see something besides what your local network affiliates choose/are forced to give you, you have to have Direct TV. Oh, and you have to pay way, way too much money for it.

20) Saturday Night Live having Justin Timberlake on practically every other week: And the media making a big deal out of it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

50 Reasons to Turn Off Your TV: Part 1

"Rolling Stone" devoted 3 paragraphs of its latest issue to reviewing the remastered CDs of the greatest pop music act of all time, and it spent 30 pages detailing "The Top 50 Reasons to Watch Tv." Not even just 50 reasons--the TOP 50, as if there are SO many more!

I think most of us know that while there is some quality programming out there, most of what's on the tube is garbage, so in that spirit, I present Cultureshark's official 2009 list of 50 reasons to turn off your TV. And just think, the new season hasn't even really started yet! Check back each day for a new set of 10 reasons.

1) ION Network: You have to hand it to this channel, though. When it was PAX, it showed infomercials and a bunch of crappy originals. Then it became ION and focused on infomercials and a bunch of crappy reruns. Now the network is poised to bring back crappy originals! Go, ION!

2) Kathie Lee Gifford: The woman has quietly become a fixture of morning television again, thereby making both television and mornings a little scarier.

3) "Melrose Place": Proof that we're out of ideas. If this does well, how long before the "revamped" version of "The Heights"? Not only is this just a bad idea in and of itself, it's a national platform for the "acting talents" of Ashlee Simpson.

4) Live-action shows on Cartoon Network: They're not just on Adult Swim anymore, they're all over the place. And they stink, too.

5) Giant network bugs plastered all over the screen: I'd almost respect this if it were a tactic to sell DVDs.

6) No "Odd Couple" on TV nationally: Sure, I can watch them all on DVD, and most networks would butcher the show, anyway, but we still need to ask ourselves: What's the point of having TV if it doesn't give you "The Odd Couple"?

7) Fox's coverage of Major League Baseball (especially in the playoffs): Extreme closeup of batter. Extreme closeup of pitcher. Closeup of shivering fan in the stands. Closeup of manager. Extreme closeup of concerned fan in the stands. Repeat cycle for the rest of the game.

8) Chick rock: Here I refer to the very strong odds that if you tune into any of dozens of television shows on at any given moment in prime time, you might suffer through the likes of K.T. Tunstall while a sassy female character "gets her groove on," "gets her life in order," or just plain "gets down and gets funky."

9) The staggering amount of time it takes theatrical movies to reach Showtime: No wonder they're pushing stuff like "Weeds" and "Nurse Jackie." If you're waiting for something to come on Showtime, you're waiting a long time--and if you're lucky, watching a lot of recent movies on HBO and Cinemax in the meantime.

10) PBS' never-ending pledge drive: This renders PBS unwatchable for about 80% of the year. It's not just the commercial breaks to beg for money, but it's also the appearance of "Dr. Wayne Dyer Saves Your Miserable Life" or "My Music: Novelty Songs of the Seventies Part 2" every weekend.

Be here tomorrow, same web time, same web channel, for 10 more!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Half-Assed Gourmet: McDonald's Angus Burger

It will come as no surprise to eaters of fast food, or to readers of this blog, for that matter, that hamburgers often look much better in the promotional materials than they taste in your mouth. I knew this, but I was still eager to try one of those new 1/3-pound Angus Burgers at McDonald's.

I finally got my chance two weeks ago--wait, what am I saying? I'm making it sound like I don't have a McD's within 5 minutes of just about everywhere I've worked, shopped, and LIVED in the past several months. I finally got around to eating an Angus Burger a few weeks ago.

My intial reaction was that the third-pounder smelled just like a quarter-pounder. My second reaction was that it tasted a lot like a quarter-pounder, too--maybe a tad juicier from being all jacked up on burger 'roids, but still much like the standard non-Angus QP.

However, there was one significant difference: mushrooms and swiss cheese. OK, that's technically TWO significant differences, but these items go together so well, especially on top of a burger, that I often see them as one. Of course, I also see the Pittsburgh Pirates as playoff contenders every year, so my vision is suspect.

The point is, the shrooms and swiss made a great addition to the McDonald's beef blast. The burger was, considering the hype, a bit ordinary otherwise, but I sure did appreciate this new taste combo. "Why didn't the Golden Arches add these to a burger before?" I thought as I settled in to polish off the rest of the Angus Burger.

That was the first bite.

At some point--maybe it was a bite later, maybe it was a few--my lunch was wrecked as I encountered ANOTHER new addition--this one much less welcome. I'm talking about my old nemesis, my least favorite condiment, mayonnaise.

I can't tell you how many burgers I've eaten, or tried to, that were ruined by this evil sauce. Growing up, I lived within walking distance of a Hardee's, and though that chain had OK chow, it lost major points by putting mayo as a default condiment on many of its hamburgers. I can understand offering it as an extra, but why the hell would anyone make it a standard feature of anything except a mayo sandwich?

Not only is it disgusting, it's one of the most fattening, unhealthiest condiments out there as well. In fact, the only thing mayonnaise is good for is providing fodder for jokes about how square white people are--and even that use lost potency about 10 years ago. I thought we all moved past the days when it would be a default topping on an otherwise promising beef patty, but I was oh, so very wrong.

McDonald's, I'm willing to give you a second chance--after all, the fries and sweet tea were fine--but you have to 86 the mayo next time. That's right, I want to "have it my way" so I don't have to ask "Where's the beef?" while scraping off a heaping glob of my condiment nemesis.

Friday, September 11, 2009

EXCLUSIVE Universal Top Ten College Football Poll: Week 2

We got such a wonderful response to last week's inaugural edition of the football poll (i.e., no death threats), we decided to conduct another one. Feel free to print it out and wave it in front of your friends if you get into an argument at the bar.

1) Utah: Still haven't been beaten.
2) Florida: Still defending paper champions.
3) Penn State: Dominant win over Akron does nothing to scare voters. It's really only respect for 1 and 2 that keeps PSU rated so low, but all bets are off if they beat #10 this week.
4) USC: Some think as a PSU fan, I should root for Ohio State because it helps strength of schedule and boosts the Big Ten. Hell with that. Go, USC!
5) Texas: "I've been sent to spread the message: GAAAAWD blessed Texas!" I don't necessarily believe that; I just have the song in my head.
6) Hillman College: Sinbad has these guys thinking big this year.
7) North Carolina: Hey, basketball season is just around the corner!
8) Miami: This is likely a one-week reward for beating Florida State, and, wow, I can't remember the last time I wanted to award Miami for anything.
9) Minnesota: See #10. I couldn't very well put in Syracuse without putting in Minnesota--er, I mean, the voters couldn't very well VOTE Syracuse in without voting in Minnesota.
10) Syracuse: The Orange squeak into the top ten this week after a narrow loss to Minnesota, giving Penn State a chance to beat its second consecutive top ten opponent this weekend.

Also receiving votes: Alabama, Dick Nixon, Adlai Stevenson, Women's Suffrage

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Glee: I ain't feeling it

I may have officially crossed that threshold and entered the realm of not just adulthood, not merely fatherhood, but, yes, that stage known as "fuddy-duddy...uh, hood." I fear this because while TV critics tout Fox's "Glee" as one of the best new TV shows this season, I can't even get through the pilot, and part of the reason is I can't get past what big jerks the teachers are.

OK, not every high school show can be "Room 222," but still--wait, why can't it be? Or why can't it at least try? Well, I'd settle for a show as good as the season one "Room 222" DVDs I watched this year. "I could overlook the nastiness and unpleasantness of "Glee" if it were more entertaining, but I don't see it. It's a bunch of people being creepy--the adults more so than the teens--with what payoff? A glee club arrangement of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'"?

I fast-forwarded through about 20 minutes of the pilot to get to that scene. I didn't feel exhilaration or joy. I felt I kind of wanted to listen to the original version.

(Incidentally, I think the Journey version is a fine song, and I propose an FCC regulation stating that any TV show that wishes to feature it must declare it is doing so non-ironically)

The cast of features a drug-abusing gym teacher, Jane Lynch being the typical abrasive Jane Lynch character as the cheerleading coach, a shrewish wife, and her man and our hero, the new glee club adviser.

He's a nice guy, clearly both the dramatic focus of the show and the moral center. Halfway through the episode, though, desperate to get some popular talent for the club, he plants drugs on a sweet-singing football player to blackmail him into joining. Oh, he does it in a nice way, and he's conflicted about it, but he does it.

At this point, I bailed.

I know I sound like a fuddy-duddy right now. I FEEL like one. But if you're gonna throw a show out at me that features such unlikable pricks, it had better be damned entertaining. Now, a show with likable pricks, like "Rescue Me," I can get into; same with a damned entertaining show with unlikable pricks, like "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia." But there are also shows with unlikable pricks that are NOT entertaining, and I can keep it on FX to give you an example: "Nip/Tuck," which it just so happens is the product of Ryan Murphy, the creator of "Glee."

Ryan Murphy may not be an unlikable prick himself--I doubt he is--but he sure has a knack for bringing them to the small screen. He has done it again with "Glee," and while I sort of understand why the critics seem to go for it--it feels different in some ways, and those poor scribes see a LOT of television--it's not different enough in enough good ways for me to give it more of a shot.

Besides, it reminds me of "American Idol," and I already get enough of that just watching football on Fox.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

This Week in DVD

Crank 2: High Voltage: I enjoyed the original when I saw it on Showtime last year. I enjoyed it as a ridiculous, over-the-top action flick with no pretensions to anything else; a movie with a fine ending and a premise that seemingly rendered any sequel a non-starter.

So guess which movie has a sequel.

Dance Flick: I recently had a sinus infection/strep throat (the doc wasn't sure which) that lingered for several weeks. I tell you this not to garner sympathy, but to perhaps explain why I saw an ad for this the other day and thought it looked funny: It's possible I suffered permanent brain damage.

The Alvin Show: The first episode: Uh, great that Paramount is releasing this, but they've taken the split season thing to a ridiculous new extreme. A couple dozen more sets, and we'll get the full season! Seriously, throwing in a bunch of filler like episodes of the eighties incarnation only makes the presence of one episode more annoying.

Beany and Cecil Volume 2: Hey, another set of the classic Bob Clampett car-toooooooon! Nobody tell my dad about this; this might make a great birthday present for him.

Homicide: This Criterion release is a great idea because of course you can never have too much Joe Mantegna on DVD. HA! You thought I was gonna say David Mamet, didn't you? Talk about a shocking twist!

Mr. Belvedere Season 3: Little has changed since the S1/S2 release. I still think Bob Uecker is probably funny in this, I'm still afraid to watch the show to find out.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

State of the Show: Rescue Me

I approached this super-sized fifth season (18 episodes isn't such a big deal for the networks--although soon it may be) with a mixture of apprehension and eagerness. On one hand, the fourth season ended poorly, giving me the impression the show had gone off the rails and was out of ideas. On the other hand, I thought it could turn around, and the first few seasons were so good, I desperately wanted it to be that good again.

Season 5 started out with a string of great episodes and compelling storylines, with the series maintaining its raucous humor while reintroducing some of the serious themes that had been deemphasized. In particular, "Rescue Me" got back into exploring the messy, painful world of 9/11, with a French journalist interviewing the guys in the firehouse about that horrible day (a solid device to get the characters to deliver some monologues) and Franco dishing his conspiracy theories. Michael J. Fox added a spark as Janet's new boyfriend, wheelchair-bound, pill-popping Dwight.

Unfortunately, the promise of these episodes faded rather quickly, and it was soon apparent that instead of using the extra-long season to experiment, like maybe to alter the storytelling to feature some tighter, longer-playing arcs, "Rescue Me" was gonna settle. This season wasn't bad--I think it was a step up from season 4--but it really didn't go anywhere for most of the season, revisiting already explored ground and focusing on comedy.

There were lots of good story ideas that ultimately didn't pay off. They either just faded away or were resolved abruptly. I'm talking the 9/11 stuff, Lou's wedding, Garrity's cancer, Mike's band, Tommy being a sponsor...on and on and on. The one storyline that DID survive all season is the Janet/Sheila/Tommy triangle--probably the one that most needs resolution already. It flatters no one, except Tommy in the sense that he comes off as such a magnetic sexual dynamo, and the women look worse and worse as it drags on.

So where are we after the season finale? Well, Teddy has shot Tommy and left him to bleed out--not my idea of a great cliffhanger, but I guess if someone is gonna do it, it might as well be Teddy (whose own Angel of Death storyline never really went anywhere). Denis Leary and fellow showrunner Peter Tolan hint that Tommy could even die and come back as a ghost, but I don't think so.

Janet and Sheila are still obsessed with Tommy, and it's gone to a cartoonish level, with their catfight in the finale a new low. Oh, yeah, Tommy's youngest daughter is as big an a-hole as everyone else in her family. If seeing how insufferable she was at her new fancy school wasn't enough earlier this season, she bragged in the finale about how she locked the babysitter in the basement and doped up the baby so she could take off with her dad. Tommy's personal life is getting so annoying, I yearn even more for the firehouse scenes, where the characters are a-holes, but they're entertaining a-holes.

Here's what I want to see in season 6: Tommy survives the shootings, but there are consequences, and not just for him. Teddy's character is done--write him out except for occasional jailhouse appearances (and even that's been done on this show before, after he went after the driver that killed Tommy's son). The guys in that bar who let Teddy do that should struggle with this for a while.

Resolve the Sheila/Janet thing. Pronto.

Try to make the characters viable in their own right instead of just disposable props for Tommy's storylines. Give them good arcs and follow through. Concentrate on good dialogue and situations rather than vanity showcases like the singing Garrity and Mike got to do this season.

I still enjoy "Rescue Me" and look forward to it each week, and even when it goes over the top, I find myself laughing. But I think this season wasted the great opening run it delivered early, coasted through much of the season, and ended on a sour note. A coasting "Rescue Me" is more entertaining than much of what else is on TV right now, but these guys can do a lot better.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Cable Movie Roundup #2

Time for another series of quick takes on movies I enjoyed (or wanted to enjoy) this summer while enjoying free premium cable...

The Incredible Hulk: I sound like a wise-ass when I say I didn't expect much from this and it delivered, but I wasn't disappointed, exactly. This version of the Hulk moved faster than Ang Lee's version, but it lacked the ambition. And oh, yeah, I thought the idea was to get more Hulk and get to him faster, but it STILL seemed to take forever to actually get Edward Norton to go green.

Bottom line for me: This was just kind of there, with some entertaining scenes, a pleasant enough diversion on the tube, but it wasn't nearly special enough to justify yet another Hulk movie in the near future. If you want to put him in an Avengers blockbuster, that would be the best way to go.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Everyone wanted to think of this as a Judd Apatow movie, but he didn't write or direct it. Yet like many Apatow-branded flicks, it is too long, not nearly as funny as you want it to be, and straining to inject "heart" into an often-tasteless story.

I'm a big fan of Jason Segel's work as Marshall on "How I Met Your Mother," so I hoped this film, which he wrote as well as starred in, would be a bit sharper. Instead, it set up its premise--his girlfriend breaks up with him, then they both wind up at the same resort in Hawaii--and then goes nowhere with it. Well, actually, it does go somewhere eventually, but it's the same place all those other generic romantic comedies go, and it takes too long with too little payoff (though many might enjoy Segel's character's puppet show extravaganza at the end).

The most interesting thing about "Sarah Marshall" was the casting of the title character. Kristen Bell is a glamorous TV star, but co-star Mila Kunis, the "sweet girl" in this scenario, is actually much sexier. Bell is attractive, but not the kind of knockout that would warrant obsession from Segel, especially considering how unappealing her character's personality is. So Kunis is the hot, super nice woman who appreciates Segel for who he is. What's the conflict here?

Hancock: An interesting movie with some unique ideas. Interesting movie--not a great one. It seemed like there were too many themes competing for attention, with the result being a movie that starts out as a fairly loose comedy--Will Smith as a drunken, loutish "superhero"--and suddenly becomes something quite different, but not necessarily to its overall benefit. I think fans of superhero movies should see this because it presents a different take on the genre, but don't expect too much.

By the way, there's a significant twist that occurs in this, one which was withheld from the marketing but which plays out relatively early and changes the whole tone of the film. I watched "Hancock" with my wife, and, though I forget how the subject came up, she quickly got the info out of me. So neither one of us experienced it "cold," but maybe that enhances your enjoyment of the story.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

5Q Movie Review: Green Lantern: First Flight

Q: We know what you're gonna say--this is another excellent DC Animated feature, these movies are all awesome, etc. Should we just skip ahead to that part?
A: Uh, no, because, well, this Green Lantern movie isn't awesome. In fact, I'm kind of disappointed. It has some cool scenes and visuals and is overall a competent production, but that's just it--it's competent, more like the typical Marvel animated features, without the spark or the humor that, say, the recent Wonder Woman movie has.

Q: Are you just hating on Hal Jordan because he's the GL in this one?
A: Actually, he is just one of many Lanterns; it's more a Green Lantern Corps story than a Hal Jordan story. That's fine, but it's just weird, considering DC has spent so much energy pumping up the Jordan character on the comics side, that here he often seems just like another guy. More to the point, his origin and setup is rushed at the beginning to get us into outer space. Now, I'm grateful not to slog through another drawn-out retelling of an iconic superhero origin, but the Hal Jordan character, through no fault of star Christopher Meloni, is more colorless than "green" throughout "First Flight."

Q: Well, what about those cool parts?
A: I like the outer space battles, and there are a lot of them. There is a neat little "Training Day" scenario that plays out with Sinestro and Hal Jordan. There are no bad scenes here (a few illogical ones, mind you), but none that really make the movie stick in the mind, either. But if you want to see a Green Lantern Corps cartoon, this is it, and it's entertaining enough.

Q: Then why are you bitching about it?
A: Hey, Im not bitching! I'm just saying that it doesn't live up to the standards of some previous DC animated features. While there are some intriguing ideas in the story, particularly in Sinestro's motivations, the emotional resonance just isn't there. It's solid but forgettable.

Q: How are the bonus features? Don't these DVDs always have great extras?
A: Well, maybe someone can point out to me what a moron I am, because I rented this from Netflix, got one disc with no option for a second, and could only find one screen's worth of disappointing extras, none of them specific to Green Lantern. What a bummer! What's the deal, Netflix? Or am I just a complete "poozer," to quote Michael Madsen as veteran Lantern Kilowog?

Friday, September 4, 2009

This Week in DVD

It seems like the last several weeks, there are a ton of new TV releases but not many big movies. What, didn't any movies come out this year?

State of Play: Well, this is a movie that came out recently, but of course it's based on TV--a brilliant British mini, of course. Now, normally I'd be willing to take the snobbish approach and assume this American theatrical adaptation is rubbish that desecrates the memory of the original, but I have it on good authority that this one works in its own right. Plus I'm still afraid to say anything bad about Russell Crowe.

CSI Season 9: About time! Fans have been waiting...weeks for this one!

Desperate Housewives Season 5: About time! Fans have been...ah, you get the idea.

Heroes Season 3: Known here in our household as the season that finally made us all but give up on the show. But I can understand why they wouldn't want to put that on the box cover.

Two and a Half Men Season 6: Though I rarely watch this series, the most interesting thing to me about it is the vanity card producer Chuck Lorre puts up at the end, usually with some essay or rant. I wonder if the DVDs include those in easier-to-read type.

Rescue Me Season 5 Volume 1: Aw, come on, "Rescue Me." Just because you decided to act like a big boy and do a nice, long 18-episode season this year doesn't mean you have to split 'em up for the DVDs.

Unwigged and Unplugged: Live in Concert: Basically, Spinal Tap goes acoustic. Can this not be awesome?

Wagon Master: Wait, there's a classic John Ford western still not on DVD? Or wasn't till this week? How did this happen?

The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Set 1: Collection of stories featuring British sleuths other than the big guy.Maybe they all face off in a giant battle royal in the last episode.

Cultureshark Universal College Football Top Ten Poll

It's time for college football season, and that means it's time for polls. That's right, NCAA big-time football is the one major sport that is bold enough to determine its champion not on the field, but where it really counts--in the ballots of a group of allegedly qualified voters.

Our poll is even better than those BCS polls because 1) We include the whole universe, not just the USA, and 2) we don't water our results down by surveying "different people" and getting "a variety of voices."

1) Utah: Or as I like to call them, "The Real World's Champion of College Football." Undefeated, untied, and unloved last season...and also unchallenged by Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
2) Florida: You have to give the champions respect until they get beat, even if they are paper champions.
3) Penn State: Some of my brethren may think I'm putting the Lions way too low here, but, come on, folks, let's be objective. They DO have some question marks in the secondary, after all.
4) Akron: This is gonna be one DANDY of a game Saturday at noon between # and #4, folks.
5) Huxley College: I hear they've recruited some real up-and-comers this year.
6) South Carolina: Hey, they're 1-0.
7) Boise State: 1-0 PLUS a blue field.
8) Rainbows: No, not the Hawaii Rainbows, just rainbows, period. What, I can't put something in the top ten just because it's pretty?
9) USC: Might as well rank them high. They have as much talent as anybody, and they'll dominate until their token annual letdown game in the Pac-10.
10) Appalachian State: They're still gold for me because of that Michigan win.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tweet tweet!

Good Lord, I feel ridiculous even typing "Tweet, tweet," especially considering I always root for Sylvester. But Cultureshark is now on Twitter. I decided to wait toll the whole Ashton Kutcher-Larry King competition blew over. Hey, who wants to get caught in THAT crossfire?

The layout of this page will change a bit as I'll be putting my Shark Bites, brief comments that don't warrant a full post, on Twitter and echoing them here (My full posts that don't warrant a full post will still run as usual). Eventually, that Shark Bites box will fade away and be replaced by...I don't know, lottery numbers?

You know, I don't mean to brag, but I was doing Shark Bites before Twitter was cool. And now, of course, I'm doing them on Twitter AFTER Twitter was cool. So really not much is changing. If you want to read all this stuff, this page will remain your main destination. On Twitter, I'll put up the Bites, announcements of new posts, maybe some previews, and who knows what other sub-140-character goodness I can create. So if you want to follow me there, you can.

However you read/follow Cultureshark, I appreciate your support! Remember, any and all feedback is always welcome, unless it's negative, capable of being construed as negative, or expresses an opinion contrary to my own.

Tweet tweet!

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to: double feature

So it's not that I intend this to be a weekly feature, but I have fallen behind a bit in my mission of extracting the vital nuggets from "People," and I worry that some of you are disoriented without this information. So today I look at two issues--er, my wife looked at two issues, that is.

In the August 17, 2009, issue, "People" lured readers in with a touching cover story about the late Farrah Fawcett's friendship with Alana Stewart...but it won their hearts with an EXCLUSIVE look at "Justin Timberlake's Favorite Things."

For example, Justin loves "a really great Italian wine." He says he's "such a foodie," and "People" indicates this with a picture of that rare, exotic dish: chocolate chip cookies. He loves Cartier's cuff links, and, most illuminating of all, Justin says, "I actually like my own funk smell sometimes."

In the next week's issue, you might think the big story is the interview with Brad Pitt (about Angie! His Kids! His future! His thimble collection!), but I beg to differ. He does irritate right off the bat with this response to the first fan-submitted question, asking if he and Jolie will ever get married: "When everyone who wants to get married can legally do so, we will consider the same." What kind of a BS answer is that? If you support gay marriage, fine, but don't hide behind the issue to avoid saying you don't want to get married.

Nonsense like that explains why the pertinent Q&A in this issue is "5 Questions for...Marlon Wayans." First of all, Marlon Wayans is 37!!??

But here's the essential info from this piece. "People" had the GUTS to ask Wayans the first thing he does in the morning, and here's his reply:

"You know those soap operas where they wake up and they start kissing and making out? I don't do that! I have to brush my teeth, and then we can get busy!"

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On the cover of the "Rolling Stone"...or the "Entertainment Weekly," for that matter

I'm not ashamed to say that I still get a kick out of seeing a cool cover of "Rolling Stone" arrive in the mail. Case in point: last week's Beatles issue. It's always awesome to see them on the cover of anything, and it's a plus when there's a big feature story inside. So not only do you get a decent-looking issue you can leave out on your coffee table without embarrassment, but you know at least there'll be one thing worth reading inside.

This is one thing that magazines have all over online material. There is just something about the tangible cover of a periodical, especially when you fish it out of a mailbox, that fills you with an enthusiasm you can't get from a page click. It's why I like to keep my websites distinct from my magazines and not spend a lot of time at my magazines' websites--I like to be surprised.

There's often a bad surprise--Lady Gaga and The Jonas Brothers come to mind as recent mood killers--but when you get a good one, hey, you feel good about subscribing. Oh, how I miss the days of "Premiere" and "Movieline," which had the potential to really make my week with a Salma Hayek cover.

"Rolling Stone" alternates between dinosaur rockers and idiotic younger acts, with a good dose of political covers thrown in. As I said, sometimes it delights, sometimes it disgusts. Here are a sampling of my reactions to some of the other magazines I get in my mailbox:

"Entertainment Weekly" Usually, it's an eye roll these days. For example, the same day I got the Beatles on "RS," the cover of "EW" spotlighted "Twilight" for what feels like the fifth or sixth time this year.

"The Atlantic": I generally scan the contents of the cover--often a lot of words detailing the big stories--and do a quick calculation of how smart the issue will make me look if I'm seen reading it in public.

"Comics Buyers Guide": I usually don't have an opinion, as it's a predictable back-and-forth deal between covers showcasing Marvel and DC properties. Sometimes, though, I get a chuckle, as with this month's Red Circle artwork. It's funny to think that DC is actually trying to revive the old Archie Comics superheroes.

"Consumer Reports": "Consumer Electronics Guide AGAIN?" I swear they do flat-screen TVs every other month now.

"Spin": Why in the hell am I getting this magazine? (I never ordered it, never paid for it, and assume it's a make-good from something else that went out of business owing me issues or money.)

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cultureshark Recommends

Every now and then I like to add a big, heaping dose of positivity to this blog and use the space to promote some stuff I like.

*Assault in the Ring: This is an excellent HBO Sports documentary running now about a 1983 boxing match between veteran Luis Resto and rising contender Billy Collins. Resto's gloves were tampered with--much of the padding was removed--and Collins absorbed a brutal beating in the fight, a mauling which led to severe injury, the end of his career, and arguably his death in a reckless auto accident shortly afterwards.

The film explores the culpability for the tampering, focusing on Resto, a shell of a man since the incident, and his old trainer Panama Lewis, a real boxing character if ever there was one (In boxing, "character" often means "sleazeball." At first, you wonder how in the world they can get nearly 90 minutes out of this incident, but the movie takes you through a series of amazing turns as the filmmakers try to get to the truth. It's a sports movie that becomes increasingly personal and penetrating; a gripping, emotional work that appeals to boxing fans, lapsed boxing fans, and non-fans--my wife watched most of this with me and enjoyed it. Another fantastic addition to the roster of notable HBO Sports documentaries.

*Wednesday Comics: I have heard that DC Comics weekly tabloid-sized newspaper-insert-like comics assortment is not selling well, or at least is declining steadily. That's a shame because, whatever else DC is up to, the company really has something here. The sheer size of it makes this unique, and it's enjoyable to just lay out each week's issue and stare at the 16 regular features. The format and the white gutter space makes the art and the color stand out, and it's easy to be absorbed by the spectacle of it. Plus the stories are pretty cool, too. There is a great variety of "strips," each feature a page long each issue, with war heroes like Sgt. Rock in there alongside Kamandi (which plays like a throwback to classic adventure strips of yore) and standard superheroes like Superman and Batman. Check out the Flash/Iris West feature which pays homage to romance strips. Overall, "Wednesday Comics" is something many old-timers wish more comics were today: FUN.

*Michael and Michael Have Issues: I think Comedy Central ended its short run of this series last week, but I hope more is on the way. Unfortunately, it looks like this another funny but low-rated effort from "The State" vets Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter. This time out, they're sketch show stars who feud with each other during the production of their series. The gimmick is that we see some of the sketch segments, but those are much less interesting than the "behind the scenes" material. It's solid if not spectacular show, with the two Michaels hilariously petty and selfish and mean to each other. I don't think this batch of episodes quite fulfilled the potential of the premise, but I'd like to see more.

*Carson's Comedy Classics: I have no idea why Reelz Channel (Motto: TV about Movies) is running the old syndicated half-hour package of comedy skits from "The Tonight Show," but I check it out from time to time. Some pieces are funny, some are awful, some are fun for the time capsule aspect or the guest stars...but I really love Carnac. Even though it's the same formula every time, I love watching it: The corniness of the punchlines, the mock irritation with which Carson as Carnac treats Ed McMahon, the insults he levies at the audience when it cheers the announcement of "the last envelope"--it works for me just about every time. If you get Reelz, look for this one to pop up several times each weekday.

*Aaron Barnhart's story on the late night talk show scene (Click here): One of many analyses of the late night situation now that Jay Leno is on the verge of launching his 10:00 P.M. show. I've read "K.C. Star" critic Barnhart before, and he's a savvy observer, but I give credit to Mark Evanier for tipping us off about this piece and for adding his own comments. Evanier doesn't often do the longer-form kind of stories such as Barnhart's, but he always has an interesting take on any given late-night TV development in his always-essential blog. I'll tell you one thing about all this: For about 10 years now, I've been way more interested in following the "late night wars" than in actually watching the shows.