Saturday, February 18, 2006

OLE, OLE, O . . . NO: Four years ago, Mr. Cosmopolitan and I spent a long Presidents' Day weekend in Rome, where we had the great pleasure of watching several days worth of BBC coverage of the Salt Lake Olympics. As part of our general dumbfoundedness at the extent to which the BBC's Olympic coverage kicks the snot out of NBC's, we spent an hour on the edge of our seats watching Norway's star biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen win the gold in the 12.5 km men's pursuit as part of his four-gold-medal experience in Salt Lake City. What a great sport, we said to each other over magnificent pastries and coffee, I wonder if it's really this good or if the BBC guys just make everything seem fascinating.

Four years later, I am here to tell you that whether it's the BBC or NBC calling the race, the Biathlon Pursuit is everything that Snowboard Cross is not. You want your head-to-head action? Check. You want people who screw up to be meaningfully penalized but still have a chance to potentially recover? Check. You want nail-biting suspense? Check. You want both physical and mental challenge? Check. You don't want judges sticking their biased heads into things? Check. You want competitors not to do goofy things like showboat ten seconds before they were going to win the gold thereby causing a faceplant and a whole lot of embarrassment? Check. Simply put, biathlon pursuit rocks.

So here's the deal. Start times are determined by placement in the individual sprint competition. Competitors ski a 2.5 km loop with a serious uphill climb at the end and then, using the rifles they've been carrying around on their backs, have to shoot five silver-dollar-sized targets from a distance of 50 meters. They repeat this ski-shoot thing 4x, then ski a final lap to the finish. The beauty of the whole concept is that if a skier misses any target, he has to ski a penalty lap around a smaller (150 m) track before returning to the main ski course. (Miss two, ski two, and so forth.) So they've just skied up a mountain, their hearts are racing, and yet they have to get themselves into a sufficient zen zone to shoot these five coins cleanly and quickly. After each and every lap, the shooting shakes up the standings in some significant fashion so that it's all but impossible to know what's going to happen by the end of the race.

It's high drama, it's got physical and mental prowess, and it's great fun to watch. Even without Brits with a dry sense of humor calling the race.

EDITED TO ADD: My post apparently ate the post that talked about how Blogger was having some issues resulting in new posts eating prior posts and the comments associated therewith. Sorry about that, and apparently none of us (including, this time, me) will be posting until the issue is resolved.

Friday, February 17, 2006

MICHAEL VAUGHN CAN'T BE DEAD -- HE'S ALIVE AND WELL ON THE PAGES OF THE WSJ: Interesting article in today's Journal (subscription unfortunately req'd) about how actors like Michael Vartan are being hotly pursued for television pilots because of a shortage of ruggedly handsome actors-with-real-chops to carry the weight of the burgeoning surge of new dramas. Examples cited include George Clooney back in the glory days of ER, and more recently Matthew Fox and the guy with the best glistening eyes in the business, Patrick Dempsey. Besides Vartan, other actors being wooed by multiple parties include Peter Krause, Jeremy Northam, and Ron Livingston.
RESOLVED: THIS HOUSE PREFERS HALFPIPE: There's been a fair amount of discussion here lately as to which winter Olympic events are sports and which are not. The debates go more or less like this:

  • Events where a judge must exercise discretion are not sports; others are.
  • Events stemming from the X-Games are not sports; others are.
  • Who cares whether they're technically sports or not -- they're all fun to watch.

After watching much of the inaugural coverage of Snowboard Cross last night, I have to add a new category:

  • Certain events may in fact constitute a sport but nonetheless are ridiculous and have no business being in the Olympics.

Any Olympic event in which (1) the most relevant statistic is which lane the competitors are starting in (lots of commentary to the effect of "oooh, no wins for the black line tonight, it must be running slower than red or blue!"); (2) the most relevant strategic point is "he who gets the early lead wins because he's less likely to be squashed and nudged off the track by others behind him"; and (3) the sole means of overcoming the significance of (1) and (2) seems to be positioning oneself in the one spot on the track (amusingly, the one spot without direct camera coverage) from which one can try to launch a slingshotlike attack on the leader is just not worthy of being an Olympic event. Snowboard cross is a back yard dirtbike race on snow -- fun for the kiddies involved, but not so much deserving of medals and primetime television coverage.

Edited to add: Every guy I work with is now shouting at me that Snowboard Cross is the best event of the entire Olympics.

"RETAINS ITS ORIGINAL FRESHNESS ABOUT AS WELL AS SUSHI": The Times' Ben Brantley weighs in on the new star-studded revival ofNeil Simon's Barefoot in the Park--and it ain't pretty.

On Amanda Peet: "Her Corie seems as madcap as Martha Stewart in a business meeting. You can sense that she's trying, really hard, to be funny and freewheeling, but it hurts her. Us, too."

On Tony Roberts: "The role of the Bohemian womanizer next door is one Mr. Roberts could glide through on automatic pilot. He does."

Everyone and everything from director Scott Elliot to Isaac Mizrahi's costumes gets the business in the review, save for comparably low-wattage Adam Sietz, who plays the minor role of a telephone repairman and whose previous acting jobs include voicing the role of Boots' father in an episode of Dora the Explorer.
I LOVE SCOTCH: Maxim magazine lists the 20 Greatest Movie Drinkers from Ron Burgundy and the McKenzie Brothers to E.T. and Arthur. Will Ferrell's Frank "the Tank" is No. 1. No word on whether the Donger, Henry Chinaski, or George Bailey made the cut.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

HE DOESN'T CARE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT HIM ANYWAY (HE DOESN'T CARE ABOUT THAT): Weezer's abstemious Rivers Cuomo is back at Harvard.

Impress us with your finally graduating, do.
KISS AND CRY: Back to Gretchen for the men's free skate:


First Russian Skater, Whose Name I Cannot Remember: He frontloaded the program with jumps, and despite what Sandra Bezic called the "intensity"of it, I thought it was boring. Jumping alone is not particularly interesting. And I was entertained that at least one Russian skater hadn't given up the gloves. It's always interesting when skaters fallout of what look like basic positions or trip on their footwork-he lost his balance while cantilevered, and just went splat. It just goes to show how difficult the fluid and artsy moves can be, even when you're not leaping into the air and spinning four times.

Kevin Van Der Perren, the EXIT skater, is back! His outfit is, yet again, terrible. He's skating to Pirates of the Caribbean and has a big splash of red on his left thigh, representing a bloody leg wound, and a fake sword scabbard. Oh, I love this guy. He's clearly committed to the program-check out the "I'm imitating Johnny Depp imitating Keith Richards" face before he launched into his swordfighting-footwork sequence. And his jumps, especially those triple lutzes, are huge and powerful.

NBC is running yet another semi-incomprehensible analysis of the new judging system. One of the things that is intriguing to me is that in most of the world, when you have corruption problems, you expose them to the light with transparency and accountability. But in figure skating, they respond to corruption problems by eliminating the accountability and the transparency. You can't tell who is doing what! You don't know which judge is gaming the system! And the problem is that the program component scores judge things like musicality and artistic expression, which is inherently subjective. So basically, we haven't eliminated the corruption problems-we've made it incrementally harder for judges to cheat, because they might have the scores that are tossed out, but we've made it easier for them to get away with it.

Angela Nikodinov is coaching Ivan Dinev, a Bulgarian skater. She was a beautiful and lyrical skater in her time, and suffered a tragic loss when her mom died en route to US nationals. The commentators said that she might be back, which would be a great thing for US skating. She is a very different skater from the current US women's crop. Ivan is fun to watch because of his long lines, but his height almost seems like it's a problem for him-he can't quite get down to the ice in his spins, and his lanky body fell out of the triple axel. It's always sad to see a skater fall apart like he did, but in some ways, it's good to see it on TV--it helps remind you of the difficulty of this sport and gives you a baseline for the rest of the skaters.

* * *

The new figure skating Code of Points uses a panel of 12 anonymous judges. The computer randomly eliminates three of the judges for each skater. As a result, the scores from nine judges remain. For each element, the high and low scores are deleted, and the remainder of the scores are averaged for the final mark.

The goal? Deter corruption. Debra Pitz Gataz, the ISU spokeswoman, told the Wall Street Journal that the random procedure is intended to deter corruption, since no one knows whether a judge's score will count.

But there are several key problems with this. The most important statistical problem, as Yale statistician Jay Emerson says, is that in close competitions, the medal results can be dramatically different depending on which judges are randomly eliminated from scoring the event. There are 220 possible judge panels, depending on which judges are selected. Using the 2006 European Championships, Emerson found that after the ladies’ short program, only 50 of the 220 possible panels would have resulted in the same ordering of the top five women. While each panel put Irina Slutskaya on top, Swiss skater Sarah Meier lucked out; more than half of the possible panels would have put her in 4th or 5th. Instead, she placed 3rd. Even Italian Carolina Kostner, in 5th place, would have been ranked 2nd or 3rd by about one-third of the panels. Basically, the skaters in second through fifth place could have been in ANY order, depending on which judging panels were selected.

But, you say, this isn’t a big deal. After all, this was just the short program results. Since the scores in the short are lower already, they are bound to be more clustered. The free skate is longer and scores are higher. That will sort it out.

That was true at the European Championships for the ladies. But it wasn’t true for the ice dancing competition, where the silver and bronze medalists were separated by a mere .55 points. It’s likely that at this Olympics, the ice dancing champions will be chosen by a computer. In the pairs competition, 1/8 of the possible judging panels would have put Pang and Tong in the bronze medal position instead of Shen and Zhao.

Finally, in most of the world, when you have corruption problems, you expose them to the light with transparency and accountability. But in figure skating, they respond to corruption problems by eliminating the accountability and the transparency. You can’t tell who is doing what! You don’t know which judge is gaming the system! And the problem is that the program component scores judge things like musicality and artistic expression, which is inherently subjective. So basically, we haven’t eliminated the corruption problems—we’ve made it incrementally harder for judges to cheat, because they might have the scores that are tossed out, but we’ve made it easier for them to get away with it.

* * *
Evan Lycasek looks infinitely better tonight. He has a great sit spin, his jumps are on, and those landings are clean and elegant. I’m not sure I understand the red ribbon tied around his hand. Is it supposed to be blood? I think he’s skating to Carmen, so that would make sense, sort of. I am a huge footwork fan—I think Michelle Kwan did this best, but when it’s timed to a big crescendo in the music, great footwork, more than jumps, can inspire the crowd. His is great, not necessarily for the quality of the footwork but for the choreographic integrity. I’m so happy for him. After his really disappointing short skate, this must be tremendously gratifying. It’s a beautiful, inspiring, clean Olympic skate.

Matt Savoie, dressed as Robin Hood. Or possibly a peasant. Oh wait! It’s the soundtrack from The Mission. This is some of my favorite music, so again, I’m already biased in favor of Matt. Awesome triple axel as his second jumping pass. He creates incredibly lovely angles against the ice with his body, leaning into spins and really working the edges. In some ways, he reminds me of an ice dancer; you’ll see in the ice dancing that part of what they do is work their spins and spirals very low to the ice, which requires tremendous control. Matt does some of that too, in a really lovely and elegant way.

Emmanuel Sandhu is skating to original music, which is really interesting. The choice of music is one of the most essential decisions that an elite skater can make. Good music can create life and character and artistry in a program; it can also inspire an audience to their feet. But good music is hard to find, and even harder to edit together into a 4.5 minute suite. For example, Evan Lysacek’s first program this year was to music from Grease. According to the NBC Olympics site, he found a Los Angeles music studio whose owner had played in the orchestra pit for the Broadway production of "Grease" for several years; that musician created an original arrangement of the music and then recorded and produced the medley for Lysacek's free skate

As a result, you hear skaters use the same music over and over—Carmen, Tosca, Romeo and Juliet. Using original music is an interesting bypass of all the old familiar melodies. Too bad his program didn’t live up to his potential, his reputation, or his musical inventiveness.

Plushenko is skating now.

Best line of the night by Dick Button, commenting on Plushenko’s tendency to do arm flailing instead of actual choreography: “He divides the program: first jumps, then arm movements, then jumps, them arm movements.”

Most mysterious comment of the night, by Scott Hamilton: “[Plushenko] has made every one of the judges his friend. He makes them smart, and they reward him.” What does that mean?

I think that this long program was solid, but not particularly inspiring. The music was fast, but never really soared. I love the arm flailing, but it was a little egregious in this program—there was no choreographic intent.

Ultimately, the thing that you can say about Plushy is that he is tremendous athlete and a smart one; he’s learned how to work the COP very effectively, and perhaps faster than the other skaters. The system works for him and he works it. Some call this code-whoring; I think it’s smart. But it doesn’t result in particularly lovely or inspiring skating. (And just wait until Irina Slutskaya in the ladies’ program; she’s even more guilty of this than Plushy is.)

Lambiel was dressed like a sunburned zebra and is skating to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. One of my pet peeves about the NBC coverage is their refusal to tell us what music the skaters are using. You can sometimes figure it out from the internet or familiar melodies, but I wish they’d make it easy on us. And if Stephane had a vision behind his costume choice and music choice, I couldn’t figure it out.

My fun fact is that Stephane and Carolina Kostner, the Italian skater who carried the flag at the Opening Ceremonies, used to date.

Another quirk of the COP is that skaters get points for jumps even when they fall, as long as they complete the rotations. Overall, I just don’t think the COP penalizes you enough for falling (and oh, Lambiel just had two really bad ones.)

Johnny Weir looks really nervous. He changed his long program mid-season, and is now using an old program, Otonal. Johnny has a beautiful presence on the ice; you want to watch him. This music is perfect—meditative and very moody. It’s an interesting performance—he never fell, but he left out a jump and had to struggle on some others. He would have been smarter to do something—anything—to get that eighth jump into the program, even if he threw it in at the end—because without it, he was missing an automatic five or six points. And as I talked about earlier, even if he had fallen, he would have still earned more points than he lost by not doing it at all. My fiancĂ© declares that he’s the Michelle Kwan of the men—choking at the Olympics.

One thing that always surprises me about skating is how many of the skaters succumb to killer fatigue. Yes, it’s four and a half minutes, but this is what they DO. It’s what they train for. And it’s not like it’s unexpectedly longer than normal.

Daisuke Takahashi had a terrific program in the short. But his first jump, a quad attempt, crashed and burned. And the rest of the program had moments of elegance, but seemed sloppy to me.

You know, this last group of skaters has been really disappointing. The really memorable programs of the evening, in my book, were Evan Lysacek and Matt Savoie, and Shawn Sawyer (the uber-flexible Canadian.) But the rest of them—especially Emmanuel Sandhu, Brian Joubert, and Jeffrey Buttle, were really disappointing. These are great skaters, but none of them had great performances tonight. I can live with the standings, but the fight for the silver and bronze medals finished with a big thud instead of a bang.

One final question: under the old system, would Evan Lysacek’s beautiful performance tonight have gotten him onto the medal stand? I think it might be possible. In the old system, the short program was worth one third of the total score. Looking at the point totals, it looks like under the COP, the points from the short program comprise more like 40% of the total score.

BEYOND THE BARRICADES: Hot rumor of the day--Les Miserables may return to Broadway this fall. Would you see it? Does it deserve to be returned to the Broadway stage? Personally, my view is that it's by a pretty good margin the best of the British megamusicals of the late 80s-90s, but that I have no particular desire to see it again.
TRUTH TAKES TIME: For those who are confident that ABC will find someplace and sometime to let Alias's conclusion unfold, you can find a fair amount of semi-spoilerish info as to what (and more relevantly, whom) to expect here.
COINCIDENTALLY, DANE COOK JUST CANCELLED HIS THREE NIGHT RUN AT THE TEHRAN LAUGH FACTORY: Hey Iranians, want a side of Freedom Fries with that Danish?
WHY, I'M NOT A WITCH AT ALL -- I'M HENRY GALE, FROM KANSAS: So if you're casting a role with the intent of leaving the character's motivations ambiguous, do you really cast William Hinks from The Practice? Creeeeeeeepy. More creeeeeepiness came in the form of bright red hieroglyphics.

And in a continuation of last week's tigers-that-don't-change-their-stripes theme: "My name is Sayid Jarrah and I am a torturer." So let's see: Jack saves, Kate runs, Sawyer cons, Hurley apparently eats, and Sayid tortures. Anyone else?

More in the comments.
JOHN PATRICK SHANLEY PREFERS JOEY, AND DAVID AUBURN GOES WITH ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT: This New York Times article about the end of That '70s Show would be utterly banal, were it not for this one throwaway paragraph:
One well-known critic of the modern condition recently discovered "That 70's Show" in reruns and became a fan. Edward Albee said in an e-mail message, "The characters are outrageous stereotypes and yet sweet and believable at the same time, and, oddly, the expected always surprises us."

First a play about a man's love for a goat, and now finding joy in a mindless and banal sitcom? Edward, we're going to have to talk about that Pulitzer Prize.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

AND THEN THERE WERE THREE: I have to say that I was underwhelmed by the outfits presented by the Project Runway final four tonight. Simple challenge that allowed great room for indivual creativity, but we didn't see it from the designers. Really -- did any of those outfits compare with the skill demonstrated by last season's final four?

A decision was made, and I can live with it. You?
AND THEN THERE WERE 24: Meet your American Idol semifinalists. (Is there anything more fun than the roll-out Do A Little Dance for the Camera! lineup at the end of the preliminaries?)

Who are your favorites? (I mean, other than Mandisa, whose train we're all on, right?) Is it Young Seth Cohen? grey-haired Taylor Hicks? And who do you predict will be the Vote for the Worst crew candidates?
IT SUCKS TO BE ME: ''Avenue Q'' is closing in Las Vegas a week before I'm going to be out there again.
THWOMP: That thwomping sound you hear is the sound of American Idol stomping all over the first hour of NBC's prime time Olympics coverage last night.

Oh, and can those ridiculous holier-than-thou-except-when-we-engage-in-fraud-or-accidentally-quit-the-show twins please go home already? Please? And how cute was the little group of 16 and 17 year old crooners all singing so sweetly and happily together?
DEAR ABBY:
A new family moved into our neighborhood a couple of weeks ago. They have this gilded lower case "t" with a downcast looking man in what appears to be a diaper hanging from it tacked to their living room wall they call a "croo-sa-phix." I'm embarrassed to ask them what it's for. Have you ever heard of one, and can you answer my question?
-- CURIOUS IN IRVINE, CALIF.
(Scroll down to second letter, though I wish I had read the first one before last night.)
WILLIE NELSON RELEASES GAY COWBOY TUNE: No, really.
CLUBS IN SHINJUKU ARE EXTREMELY SHORT-LIVED. THERE IS NO MONKEY BOXING: But The Electric Sheep Company is putting together a hybrid RL/VR "happening" in which a benefit party at a DC Coffee Shop will be made to simultaneously and interactively occur in Second Life. No word on whether Rei Toei will be making an appearance.

Slashdot? Yeah, slashdot.
MATCH ME, SIDLEY: In an article sure to be of interest to at least a subset of our readers, today's NY Observer takes a look at the question of law firm salary increases, and the role the Internet has played in creating an (arguably) more efficient market for law firm associates.
ONLY DICK CHENEY SHOOTS WORSE THAN PRINCETON: The Quakers bested the Tigers last night, and apparently some signs were brought to the Palestra.
ONE'S GOT A WEASEL AND OTHER'S GOT A FLAG: Sure, Olympic winners get a bagel-shaped medal and fame and glory in their native lands. But what do Olympic losers get? Meet the DFL Blog.
IT'S NO BATTLE OF THE BRIANS, BUT NOT EVERYTHING CAN BE: Regular reader Gretchen knows more about figure skating than most of us, and has graciously agreed to file regular reports on the competition. Here's her take on the men's short program:


As a disclaimer, I don't actually know anything about figure skating. I'm just a law student with free time and Google, so this is my internet-educated take on the men's short program, skater by skater.

One preliminary note: At each event under the COP system, there is a technical caller who makes the actual calls on each element that is attempted. Was it a lutz? A flip? The technical caller decides. The judges subsequently issue grades of execution on how well (or how poorly) the element was executed. The NBC cameras showed that the technical caller tonight was Viktor Petrenko. Intriguingly, when Plushy got married this summer, guess who was in attendance as an honored guest? That's right-Viktor Petrenko. In a small community like elite figure skating, this is bound to happen - but it's still a little alarming, especially in a sport that has been plagued by scandal.

Takahashi (Tango Roxanne and selections from Moulin Rouge): Once he got his feet under him, he did really well. It was a great choice of music, great expression, great timing of footwork to the music-footwork can be incredibly inspiring when it's choreographed to a big build in the music. Love the style. He's 19, he'll be a face to watch.

Plushenko (Puccini, Tosca): I love Plushy! He's skating tonight to Tosca, which is music that Michelle Kwan has also recently used. He's dominant, he's an artist, he's an athlete, and he's a Russian diva. He has had some ridiculous-looking costumes in the past, but tonight's black is classy, and thank the lord that he's not wearing the hideous gloves of yesteryear. Plus his hair, while still mullet-esque, is much better. The quad toe triple toe was fabulous to watch, mostly because you got the sense for a moment that he could have lost it and he didn't. I love his hands on his spins-the movements are clean, intentional, well executed. He just has so much more choreography - his skates with his whole body and throws himself into the work. You can see it in his spins, in his transitions, in his footwork. Lots of people say he "flails." I can sort of see their point, but it really works for me. His final spin combo was not particularly theatrical, as Scott Hamilton points out, but gets him the points. That's the problem with the COP. Just imagine what it would have looked like to hold the spin in a classic position and just work it all the way around. He would have gotten the crowd to their feet. Instead, he got the highest men's point total in the short program.

Jeffrey Buttle (Louis Prima, Sing Sing Sing): This is light, jazzy, sassy. That's the amazing thing about the shorts - they are jam-packed with these eight required elements, but the choice of music and choreography makes them really different. He uses music with a vocalist scatting. The rule is that you cannot use music with sung lyrics, but you can use music where the human voice is used as an instrument. You'll hear this again in Sasha Cohen's short program. Love the finale to his skate. You're not allowed to touch the boards-but he skated right up to it, then kicked back and ended up in a slouch on the ice. It's so charming and adorable. Wow, the cameras sure pulled up to his face the minute the producers saw tears. This is why they call it the kiss and cry - with the trouble he had on the jumps, I'm sure that he's just really disappointed. But honestly, folks, he FELL. And his marks weren't that bad. One of the major criticisms of the COP is that it fails to adequately penalize falls (Zhang and Zhang, I'm talking to you) and Jeff Buttle's marks may indicate that.

Stephane Lambiel (Cirque du Soleil). This is an interesting music choice. I really love the strength in his body and his power. I am just amazed by these quad-triple jump combinations. They're so hard to do and the skaters have to be moving so fast to rotate their bodies that many times. Stephane's triple was partly amazing because he literally just hurtled his body into a triple with very little momentum to propel him forward.I like the footwork, but this is a footwork sequence that could be really brilliant if he timed them to more of a crescendo in the music.There was something really sexy about the program - and I swear it's not just that I think he's cute! But the pulse of the music and his choreography create an intensity and a physicality that I really like.

Johnny Weir (The Swan, by Camille Saint-Saens): Oh, Johnny Weir. I love this guy. But instead of rhapsodizing about how charming I think he is, I'll just give you a few choice quotes:

On his delight to be in the Olympic Village with other athletes: "We're [usually] just subjected to figure skating people and tiny skinny girls."

On his fashion choices at a press conference: "The next morning the papers came out and all of a sudden I was causing a stir because I told Phil Hersh he looked thin and I was wearing a chinchilla scarf that someone thought was a boa. First of all, boas are so out. Secondly, I would never wear a boa to a press conference."

On his one red glove, Camille: "He's my evil side. He didn't get to rock it today because that was all me, but when I skate poorly, I blame it on my glove."

For lots more Johnny Weir fun, including scandalous photos taken by Nigel Barker(yes, the Friend of Tyra and ANTM judge), check out his website.

Tomas Verner: This is a great program, but he can't quite pull it off. Still, he's 19 and he's got time.

Kevin Van Der Perren: I could hardly pay attention to this because I was so distracted by the big red EXIT on his back. But when I focused, I really enjoyed it. It didn't seem to have the transitional elements of the other top skaters, but his jumps were powerful and I really liked the techno-inspired choreography. Sandra Bezic said that he was a better skater than the program allowed him to be - and I really see what she means. The choreography is essential here; your program has to be a brilliant synthesis of the very most difficult elements you can get in without losing speed or style or technical merit. And Kevin's program just didn't have enough built into it, I think.

For a really fun take on techno skating, go find a video of Stephanie Rosenthal's short program in the US 2006 Nationals. It's totally unusual and very fun. [Note from Adam: I absolutely agree. She's the future.]

Matt Savoie (Samuel Barber, Adagio for Strings): Matt's going to law school in the fall and he has a master's degree in urban planning, so I'm automatically fond of him. His first three jumps were just gorgeous - his landing positions were so clean and elegant. One thing to watch is the fluidity of Matt's skating - he has what the commentators like to call soft knees. I was really disappointed to see that he stumbled out of the lutz - what a bummer. But his musicality and his performance was just beautiful. I love that final spin he does - almost like a death spiral.

Brian Joubert (James Bond music): I don't think you get to dress like James Bond (complete with more lettering across the back- this one a"007") unless you can land your first jump!

Evan Lysacek (paso doble): He had a painful fall on his first element, a triple axel. Bummer, because he is a really talented guy. I had hoped that he would do better.

Emmanuel Sandhu: It's ridiculous, because he could be so amazing and instead he's just so inconsistent. He's like the Sasha Cohen of the men's skating world!

* * *

I thought that tonight was a huge improvement from the pairs competition - there was more energy, more speed, and more passion. One interesting thing is that because of the COP, you just don't see as many quads as you used to. They appear in combinations, but not as often as we saw in Salt Lake. Why? Because the COP doesn't reward you enough for the risk of a quad. They continue to be very important - but they're not everywhere. It will be interesting to see if Johnny Weir goes for a quad (or the quad-triple-triple that he tried in practice) in a last-ditch effort to shoot past Plushenko.


Seriously, Gretchen, thanks.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

INSTA-STOLE-IT: Glenn Reynolds fans have seen this already, but it translated my quiz answers into a nigh-perfect ranking of my favorite sci-fi shows, so go check you out some quizfarm re: which spaceship you most belong on.

After the tie-breaker, I got Serenity followed by the Be-bop, and I'll happily take the former. ...hope I get to work in the engine room.
LOVE TV STYLE: There's no George Michael and Maeby, Newbie and Barbie, Dwight and Angela, or even Natalie and Snake, but the Onion does a good job in listing its 10 TV Romances for the Ages.
AND THE THETAN SHED ONE SMALL TEAR: In news almost as shocking as the recent expose that Charlie Sheen likes hookers, apparently Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are splitting.

Update! For what it's worth, Cruise's publicist denies to Star.
CAN WE AGREE TO CALL THESE THE 'GRAN TORINO' GAMES AND SEE IF HUGGY BEAR WILL COME OUT OF RETIREMENT? Some random, potentially belated thoughts on the Olympics:
  • How can Jim Caple hate short-track? Short-track relay is my favorite winter Olympic sport. Sixteen participants dressed like superheroes race counter-clockwise on an oval the size of a two-car garage. Twelve of them are inactive, but can tag into the race at any moment, for any length of time or distance, at any point on the track, for maximum confusion. The track is separated from the infield not by a clear line or rail, but by a handful of paperweights that recall the days when you'd use your notebook as first base and a garbage can lid as second. For the first 3/4 of the race, everybody moves approximately the speed of junior-high free skate, as if it's really not cool to look like you want to win. For the last few laps, people make screaming left turns on a surface with a friction coefficient approaching zero, with the predictable result that one is almost certain to see one or more participants spinning ass over teakettle into the walls. Because of this, you can never tell who is going to win. Basically, this is the perfect sport for people who like to watch the jumbotron cartoon races you see at basketball games.
  • Speaking of speed skating, it's nice to see that the Canadians have gone with a look that is only slightly less evocative of what the athletes would look like if they were flayed alive than in 2002.
  • And while I'm on a fashion note, one of the best indicators that figure skating is as insular and self-deluded a community as beauty pageantry, religious zealotry, and appalachian inbreeding is the continued international dominance of the Patrick Swayze Roadhouse look. My hypothesis is that one judge fifteen years ago made it known that he really liked the kind of roughneck bar bouncer who might also wear tight pants and teach teenaged girls how to dirty dance, so a bunch of skaters started wearing that look. Then those skaters got old and became judges, coaches, or style coordinators, passing the look on as gospel to the next generation. Now you can't get rid of it -- it's just as entrenched in the sport as the flesh-colored fabric intended to connote nudity without a hint of sexuality. (Note: I have a similar theory about how one judge's curiously strong bond with his mother indirectly led to the acceptability of the Sarah Hughes look.
HIGHER LOVE: WXPN is once again counting down the 88.5 songs of love. The station is almost halfway through the list so far.
I MAY NOT BE NICE, BUT AT LEAST I'M ACCURATE: Hey, did anyone see the look on legendary Chinese figure skating coach Yao Bin's face last night after that nasty spill Zhang Dan took on the throw quadruple Salchow? Back to the gulag with you . . .

I loved that while the camera was following Yao Bin around, commentator Sandra Bezic was discussing how the Zhangs hadn't seen their families for more than a week at a time since they were 13.
AMERICAN IDOL BEAT THE GRAMMYS, SO WHY NOT THE OLYMPICS? Someone raised the question the other day of which networks were airing new shows during the Olympics. From what I can tell, the non-NBC networks are betting that plenty of people will be looking for diversion from the wide array of snow and ice sports going on in Turin.

Some of the shows running new episodes this week according to the relevant websites: Lost, Gilmore Girls, American Idol, Survivor, Desperate Housewives, House, Grey's Anatomy, Dancing with the Stars, and Project Runway. Many of these shows will go to reruns after this week, when the higher profile Olympic events (read: men's and women's figure skating) get rolling.

Not new: HIMYM, Without a Trace, the O.C., and (I'm sure) many others about which I don't care.
'L' IS FOR THE WAY YOU LOOK AT ME: So much of the popular culture we consume is about the process of falling in love or being in love. But there's a lot of formulaic crap out there -- trite or rote stuff that goes through the motions without coming close to describing the real feelings involved.

For this Valentine's Day, name a book, tv, song or film which gets love right.

Monday, February 13, 2006

TWO INDEPENDENT REASONS WHY SHONDA RHIMES NEEDS TO EMAIL ME, SINCE SHE CHANGED ADDRESSES AND I DIDN'T GET THE UPDATE: Ready for a wow? Grey's Anatomy topped both the Housewives and the Olympics in last night's ratings. (And if you haven't yet, read Shonda's take on "Dylan explodes".)

Relatedly, or not, we've got our first discernible Spelling Bee controversy of the 2006 season. Less than four months until The Big Dance.
I'M MARSHALL J. FLINKMAN, AND I'M HERE TO EDIT YOUR BOOK! Now, I've only picked up one of SmartPop's books (the interesting Finding Serenity, which takes an overly serious look at Firefly). Several others are tempting, such as their examination of Alias, a post-modern examination of Pride & Prejudice, and what appears to be a forthcoming sociological study of World of Warcraft. But do we need an attempt at quasi-scholarly analysis of Charmed?
MAKE A LIST OF ALL THE PLACES YOU'LL NEVER VISIT. ADD TO THOSE PLACES "SCHMIDT": Has 'Boston Legal' gotten too message-y?
NO APPETIZERS, NO COCKTAILS: Sure, the florists are busy, but did you ever stop to think about how busy private investigators are on Valentine's Day?
JACK BAUER TAKES HOME THE GOLD! WOOF! Seriously. How can any one person be expected to watch this much television all at once? I mean, I'm only one person! What do they want from me? Seriously.

And why am I the only person posting today?
PAUL ANKA!? Ok, so they don't have a blog. But Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino reach the same place in interviews.
"DEREK." "PRESTON." I wish that every good television show had a writers' blog as enlightening as Grey's Anatomy's. Check out Shonda's post on last night's explosive GA.

On the whole, a magnificent conclusion to the Super Bowl extravaganza. There were only two moments I didn't like. The first was when Meredith imagined McDreamy. Just a leetle cheesy. And the second was when Yang chose that particular moment to spill the beans to McDreamy. I mean, seriously.

But don't get me wrong: while I don't want Very Special GA Episodes every sweeps period, this one was exceptionally well done. Discuss away.
WE'RE GONNA TURN IT ON, WE'RE GONNA BRING YOU THE POWER: My Best of the Electric Company DVDs arrived over the weekend. Once you get past the clothes and the hair and the unexpected boppiness of Morgan Freeman, the whole thing is pretty impressive. For those of you who by dint of parenthood are familiar with Professor Quigley and the Leap Frog videos, the Electric Company is definitely their direct predecessor. Oh, and the theme song is fantastic, especially the version from the first couple years of the show. (Even without the HEY YOU GUYS, which for reasons still unclear isn't part of most of the episodes I skimmed through.)

I remember the Electric Company as having been my favorite of the PBS trifecta (Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers being the other two, for those with 70s amnesia). That being said, I was surprised at how few sketches I specifically remembered. In many cases I could remember the concept (for example, the two silhouetted profiles saying things like "C" "UP" "CUP!" "C" "UT" "CUT!"), or had a general memory of the character without any recollection of an actual sketch (for Letterman, I remember the whole introductory sequence without being able to come up with any plot details).

One other interesting tidbit: the Electric Company's head writer was Tom Whedon, father of Joss.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

MORE TRUTH PER SQUARE INCH THAN WE'VE HAD IN TWELVE YEARS: That's how James Lipton tagged Dave Chappelle's appearance tonight on Inside the Actor's Studio. If you missed it, and have been wondering after Dave since he split the set of Chappelle's Show a year ago, set your Tivos for the repeat on March 6. I was very happy to see the man, to hear his very real reservations about fame and the mechanisms by which it is generated and exploited, and to have some thin (oblique, suggested, half-hinted) insight into the issues that led him to take his leave. Also, it was funny funny funny.
OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Just a few random Olympic thoughts, approximately 48 hours into the Games.
  1. I have to confess that I miss the Soviet Gulag style of Olympic athletes, as I have during every Olympics since the USSR ceased to exist. There just isn't the same patriotic oomph as there used to be, cheering for the sunshiney torchbearers of freedom, peace, and light to knock off the Iron Curtain athletes who'd been locked away in training facilities since they'd been identified while still in diapers as potential medalists for the Motherland. And while I know that I can toss the Chinese into this category, the petite Chinese athletes just don't pack the same Central Casting punch as, say, East German swimmers.
  2. What I love about the Olympics, especially the winter flavor: announcers who do a great job of educating the uneducated as to the nuance of each sport just through their commentary on each competitor. Examples from the first hour of tonight's coverage would include half-pipe snowboarding and K-95 ski jumping.
  3. What I hate about the Olympics: announcers who assume that each spectator is an expert in the nuances of the sport. Example: the coverage of the pairs short program last night, in which the new scoring system was "explained" in a manner that left me pretty much as clueless as I'd been before they explained it. Also, shouldn't we all get a quickie reminder of the differences between the salchow, toe loop, axel, and flip during the first figure skating event of an Olympics so that it's not just "hey, that guy spun around a bunch of times in the air and landed cleanly, and somehow that's more impressive than that other guy's spinning around a bunch of times in the air and landing cleanly"?
  4. Okay, so Michelle Kwan withdrew. Big deal. She didn't qualify in the first place, and the one thing I do understand about the new scoring system is that it was likely to hurt her anyway. Plow a runway and get that Hughes girl onto an airplane, pronto.
  5. TiVo is already enhancing my Olympic experience immeasurably. I got to watch three hours of coverage this afternoon in approximately 20 minutes and so was all caught up on what happened without having to skip my appointment for a facial. Good stuff. And I didn't have to watch the men's 5000m speed skating races in real time last night. Thank God.
I NEED A SNOW DAY (HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY!) Much of the readership of this blog -- and, indeed, most of its authors -- will be parked at home today as a blizzard blankets the East Coast.

This thread is open for all related topics -- how's the weather where you are? what will you be doing all day? any favorite snow songs? Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.
THE MUSEUM OF LOST SOUNDS: Great concept from Inquirer columnist Tom Ferrick: let's catalog the sounds which no longer exist in our culture:
The cracking open of aluminum ice trays. The click an eight-track tape made when it "turned over." The music made by coin returns on pay telephones. The claps and flaps made by a record changer. A needle scratching across the surface of an LP. The sound an AM radio made when you dialed between stations.

A few years ago, my youngest discovered an old portable typewriter we had tucked away, hauled it out, and began to play with it.

He was amazed at the symphony of sounds it produced: the clack of the keys, the ping of the bell, the springy slide of the carriage return, the clip-clip of the paper feed. . .

How about the sounds of an old-fashioned cash register? And I have a feeling you've got more.
SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE STARRING MICHELLE TRACHTENBERG AND MING NA: So Michelle Kwan has pulled out of the Games due to injury, opening up the slot for Emily Hughes, but first Ms. Hughes is going to have to find a way to get from NYC to Torino amid a major winter storm in the northeast United States (and practice in the meantime). Co-starring Breckin Meyer as the gutsy pilot/love interest willing to risk everything to fly her to Gold, and Amanda Bynes as The Evil Russian Skater.