Saturday, October 9, 2010

WE'LL ALWAYS HAVE SPYDADDY: Though I expect it'll get at least its initial order of 13 episodes on the air, it's pretty clear that Undercovers is probably the big disappointment commercially among the new shows (yes, Lone Star and My Generation tanked harder, but the hopes/expectations for them were considerably lower). There are many reasons for this--a cast filled largely with unknowns, the strange choice of an ad campaign focused on the two leads drinking coffee, and the silly "some couples live to love dangerously" tagline they used. But I want to focus on something else that I think is leading to folks flipping over to Survivor, particularly for this week's episode--subtitles. To make clear the "realism" of the show, when action is taking place "overseas," characters are often speaking foreign languages. I can almost hear the channels changing, particularly when the show uses an opening subtitled sequence to set up the "mission of the week" (as they did this week)--especially at 8 PM, folks want to plot on the couch and turn off their brains. It's a minor tweak, but I bet one that would catch a few more casual viewers.

That said, I actually am liking the show a fair amount, even as I recognize pretty much every part of it is an inferior copy of a better show (dweeby spy handler and former boyfriend are all-too-blatant Marshall J. Flinkman and Michael Vaughn surrogates, and "oblivious sister" is done better over on Covert Affairs)--given that I'm not interested in the reality shows they offer in that slot (including Fox sensation Yelly Chef) and can't stand Patricia Heaton, it's still a good option.

Friday, October 8, 2010

AIR CONDITIONING: Pity poor Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants. If it were not for Roy Halladay's near-perfection on Wednesday, people would be saying that Lincecum yesterday turned in the greatest playoff pitching performance at least since Clemens in 2000, and possibly since Larsen's perfect game. 14 strikeouts, 2 hits, a walk, and zero runs allowed are all impressive numbers.

But consider another number: 31 swinging strikes. The point of pitching is to get people out, of course, and each out is basically the same. When swinging strikes start to accumulate, though, they indicate not just success, but dominance. I cannot recall a pitcher ever getting 31 swinging strikes in a game (it may have happened, I don't know). Halladay had a better (and unquestionably more effective) game, since he allowed only one baserunner, and Lincecum threw at least two more hittable pitches than Halladay. But other than those two pitches, Lincecum was nastier.

In conclusion, go Huskies.
TOMMY WESTPHALL IS WORKING OVERTIME: They're not yet linked in to the Master Grid, but last night we established some potential new connections for Tommy Westphall:
  • Obviously, Community is on the air in the 30 Rock universe, even if neither Liz Lemon nor Jack Donaghy can remember Donald Glover's name. (Also, the Queen Latifah character was a funny one-off, but I hope they don't keep on going back to that well, because the joke was wearing thin even by the end of the episode.)
  • Running Wilde's Wilde Oil owned the oil barrel that Annie and Britta were protesting with during last night's Community, which honestly, handled the whole "religion" thing with more laughs and more narrative unity than did this week's Glee, even if the latter standard is admittedly not very high. (And Community also featured our friend Alan in a cameo appearance as "guy leering at oil wrestling.")
ALOTT5MA TRAVEL AND LOGISTICS DIVISION:  In conjunction with my firm's retreat in Orlando this weekend, I will have a 3-4h window Saturday afternoon at the Universal Studios theme park.  My goal is to see as much Harry Potter stuff as I can, and then whatever else there's time for, and I've been told we have whatever the Universal equivalent is of a FastPass.  Give me a plan.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I'M LOOKING AT UN CONTRATO, A CONTRACT.  CAN YOU SAY UNCONSCIONABLE? The 14-year-old voice of Dora Marquez believes that her contract with Viacom has cheated her out of "millions, perhaps tens of millions" of dollars

Your choice -- we can either do legal analysis or compete for the best substitute title for this post.
I CALL IT "NEW NEW CAPRICA": Scientists just1 started a comprehensive search for planets similar to Earth, and just like that, lickety-Carnegie-split2, they found one. It's called Gliese 581g. They found it so fast, in fact, that they're estimating that one out of every ten stars may have an Earth-like planet.3 The conversation went like this:
Smart Person: Let's look for planets!
Other Smart Person: Great idea! I'll get started right aw...
Third Smart Person4: Found one!
Some cool things about Gliese 581g, assuming (perhaps overly optimistically) that it has water:
  • The same side faces the sun all the time. So everybody can choose to live in the "twilight zone" -- the part of the planet where it's not superhot or supercold, and where it's always basically dusk.
  • This would make solar power really efficient.
  • It would also mean that you could mow your lawn any time of the day.
  • Sentient beings from Gliese 581g would find our alternating day and night terrifying, or downright inconvenient.
  • It's three times as big as Earth, so everybody can have a yard.
  • It has a 37-day orbit, meaning that the Summer Olympics would happen every 148 days.
Some not great things about Gliese 581g:
  • It's three times the mass of earth, so walking up stairs would be murder.
  • Might not have water, or might be an uninhabitable planet made of sulphur-smelling gas.
Is it just me, or is your first reaction to learning of a possibly inhabitable planet in a distant solar system, "how soon can I get there?"5

1Just" is in astronomical units of time, roughly translating to 10 earth years.
2Astronomy pun.
3Based on a sample size of ten stars surveyed and one Earth-like planet found. Results may not be statistically significant.
4After pause of 10 years during which other Smart Persons invented Facebook, Twitter, skinny jeans, Pinkberry, and Plants vs. Zombies.
5Approximately 20.5 years, assuming that you are a beam of light; longer if you are not.
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS: There's few things we like better around here than reality shows that become in part about the making of the reality show itself, with Joe Schmo 2 being the ne plus ultra because of the unexpected twist (even to the producers) it took a couple of episodes in. And, without spoiling anything, that's why we need a thread to discuss last night's Top Chef: Just Desserts. It hasn't been a great season thus far, aside from an uncommon degree of weepiness and "this is so hard" speeches, though Gail Simmons works out nicely filling Padma's shoes, but in particular the quickfire last night turned into something well worth discussing.
CEASE AND DESIST: In move as sensible and inevitable as "someone getting confirmed to the Supreme Court despite major gambling and womanizing issues and then stepping down from the Court because his Liberal Lawyer Ghost Dad changed his heart and told him he could do more justice as a roving lawyer than as a Justice and he never has paying clients and can abandon the whole 'liberal' thing by episode two" was not, NBC has halted production on Outlaw with five completed episodes yet to air.
I'LL BE THERE ON TIME, AND I'VE PAID THE COST: Fifty-one weeks ago I blogged about Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town concert at the finally-about-to-be-demolished Spectrum.  Tonight, HBO premieres a documentary about the making of that album, and it's supposed to be good.  Preview below the fold.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

9 IP 0 H 0 R 1 BB 8 K:  I wasn't originally supposed to be at tonight's game -- with our partial season ticket plan my dad and I were assigned Game 2 of the NLDS, but since my Firm's having its biannual firmwide retreat in Orlando starting Friday afternoon we had to swap games, and the Phillies ticket office was nice enough to give us comparable seats for tonight.

Oh. My. God.

Mind you, I've attended two no-hitters before, one of which I've written up here, but I've never seen anything like this in person before. Such utter control.  Such ridiculously unhittable stuff.  "It's no fun out there," said should-be-NL-MVP Joey Votto.  "It's like trying to hit nothing. He's an ace among aces."

The only game I can compare to this one was The Kerry Wood Game, where the stakes were so much lower. I truly don't have the words right now, but the 700 Level has some audio/visual content which may help.

As Halladay himself said after he pitched the complete game which clinched the division title, it's only gonna get funner.
OF COURSE, STUDIO 60 WAS THE FIRST SHOW TO GET A BACK 9 PICKUP ITS SEASON: Given that we're a mere three weeks into the fall TV season and already have had two cancellations (one disappointing but not surprising, and one that I didn't even bother watching), it's surprising that it took till today to get our first official back 9 pickup. The winner in that sweepstakes is, surprisingly, not the top-rated new show (Hawaii Five-O) or even the top-rated sitcom (Mike & Molly), but Fox's Raising Hope. With that, it's time to make your allegiance known--what have you tried and picked up or decided to drop from the new season? For me, the pickups are:
  • Hawaii Five-O--Solid procedural, and Scott Caan in particular is delivering a fine comic performance, even if Alex O'Loughlin is a charisma vacuum. I've also liked how the show's iconic catchphrase has been given a clever/taunting turn, though they need to be careful not to overuse it.
  • Running Wilde--Given the pedigree, expectations were stratospheric among critics and AD fans, and it's been a bit of a mixed bag, but this week's finally seemed to be clicking, particularly with the running joke about Steve's science tutors. (I tried the first couple of Raising Hopes, but it kind of left me cold. Seemed like a pale retread of Garcia's last show.)
  • No Ordinary Family--Still in testing mode for me, but I'm just happy to see a superhero show that has a sense of fun and joy and isn't all mopey, even if "ability to understand really complicated math problems" is the lamest superpower this side of Aquaman. In particular, Romany Malco and Autumn Reeser's sidekick characters are a lot of fun.
  • Better With You--The jokes haven't been great thus far, but the performers (with the exception of the youngest guy) are all exceedingly likable, and I can identify with the situation.
  • Outlaw--Mostly, just to see if it can get any more implausible.
Had it not been canned, I would have picked up Lone Star. Sampled for potential pickup purposes and rejected The Event (great production values, pretty cast, but seemed to be little more than chain-yanking without interesting characters), The Whole Truth (almost as implausible as Outlaw, but not nearly as ridiculous/fun), and L&O:LA (may watch from time to time, but L&O needs more "chung-chung" and less TMZ).
ELEVEN TO GO:  As the rabbis explain, each of the three recitations of the Kol Nidre chant on Yom Kippur is a bit different:
The first time he must utter it very softly like one who hesitates to enter the palace of the king to ask a gift of him whom he fears to approach; the second time he may speak somewhat louder; and the third time more loudly still, as one who is accustomed to dwell at court and to approach his sovereign as a friend.
And so it is with the Phillies and the playoffs.  The first time, against Colorado in 2007, we were giddy and thrilled to have snuck in on the last day.  By the fourth time around, and with one WFC belt already, the city is full of confidence and swagger and no one expects less than a third straight return to the World Series.

But it's not just repetition that provides confidence.  This team may not have scored quite as many runs as its predecessors (though injuries have played a part), but it's given up far fewer.  Having Two Roys and the Boy on the mound for potentially 17 of 19 playoff starts is a weapon that we've never had before -- indeed, you have to go back at least to the mid-aughts Astros of Clemens-Oswalt-Pettite to find any team that had starting pitching like this for a playoff run.  Moreover, it's the way they won the division crown this year with that blisteringly-awesome (yet Rollins-free) stretch run that makes me believe that on my 38th birthday, November 3, I'm either going to need my World Series Game Six ticket or I'll be at a parade.  As the 700 Level suggests, Welcome to Doctober:
The postseason in South Philly is where Brett Myers walked and Shane Victorino hit a grand slam. It's where Joe Blanton hits home runs. It's where Pat Burrell's final Philly swing sent one bouncing off the high wall in center. It's where Brad Lidge remained perfect. It's where Harry called the game of his life and Wheels celebrated like Wheels. It's where "Get me to the plate boys!" happened. It's where "Jimmmmmmmy!" was born. It's where Chase Utley joins the likes of Reggie Jackson. It's where championship pipe dreams become a reality.

The games simply mean more in the postseason. As the ticket gods may have it, the people who appreciate that meaning tend to, one way or another, find their ways into Citizens Bank Park when it matters most.

And they will get loud.
[Predictions: Phillies in 3, Giants in 5, Twins in 5, Rays in 4.]
THE FLORRICKGIRL VIDEO: I would like to believe that the Smoke Monster is a smart enough State's Attorney that he won't keep assigning Cary to prosecute every single case defended by Lockhart/Gardner, especially if he keeps losing like this. Add to that the unreality of the alleged conflicts situation (although if you're going to double-down on the random cameos, Joe Trippi's a nice step from Vernon Jordan), and you've got an episode of The Good Wife that's a bit low on the legal realism if high, as always, on the fun details -- Will Gardner as Chicago's 16th most eligible bachelor, a military judge on The Cleanse, the aforementioned video (which I hope will be released in full) and the return of Zach's shit-stirring techie girlfriend Becca.  Yes, I like this show.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

TWO GREAT TASTES THAT ... Y'KNOW, I DON'T WANT TO FIND OUT:  Thanks to joking references on the show iCarly, our children may want us to serve them spaghetti in ... tacos?
THANKS TO RICK SANCHEZ, IT ONLY TAKES ONE MORE FOR THIS TO BE AN OFFICIAL TREND:  A caller to a Tampa radio station asks whether the only reason James Shields is starting in the Division Series** is because he, like the owners, is Jewish.  (He's not.)

** This post originally called it the "LDS," but that's way confusing.
GOD IS IN THE DETAILS: I should have posted this 12 or 16 hours ago, but let me pose a question: About what do you care less: Robin's bland, generic ex-boyfriend Don, or Ted's career as a (lousy*) architect?

*Why can't the show just spend a couple grand to have an actual architect draw up an imaginary building, or even just buy the right to use some conceptual drawing from some architecture grad student? It's one thing to show Lily's crappy paintings (while acknowledging that they're crappy). It's quite another to make Ted's love of and genius at architecture the A-plot of several episodes while trotting out a dumbed-down version of a tacky 1982 tax writeoff disguising as an Omaha office tower as Ted's signature building, or to show the nonsense that Ted spews when he teaches his class or holds forth with his friends about his supposed passion. I don't mind when shows are offhandedly unrealistic about their characters' jobs (which 60 hours of the week is Marshall working?), but when they're making the jobs an important part of the plot, they need to follow the West Wing Directive and to avoid the Studio 60 Disproof: If you're going to tell us how brilliant a character is at something, you either need to nail it onscreen or keep it offscreen in its entirety.
GENTLY, WITH A CHAIN SAW:  Back in 12th grade, we each had to "teach" one session of our health class, and so my friend Craig and I asked if we could combine our responsibilities over two classes and show our classmates a recent film about teen suicide, and since he said yes we just popped the R-rated Heathers into the VCR and completed our curricular responsibilities.  We thought we were really cool.

Flash forward to 2010, and skip past the overstated objections to Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan for their nudity and violence to find out that in the Philadelphia suburbs, they were showing Larry Clark's unrated Kids in high school Health and Sexuality classes?

Looking through the catalog of R-rated films being shown (as compiled by the objecting parents), there's very little that I wouldn't let a 16- or 17-year old see.  I think it's silly to complain about using Frost/Nixon for AP American History just because it "contains one use of 'motherfucker', and a few uses of 'fuck'" as well as "occasional mild coarse language" like "prick"?  Or objecting to the use of the first twenty minutes of There Will Be Blood to illustrate Western expansion?  That's more than a stretch.

Still, including films like Kids and Glengarry Glen Ross (for 11th grade English, in conjunction with Death of a Salesman) in the curriculum feels a bit gratuitous. Or maybe I'm just become a prude prematurely.
A MOOSE SHOUTING "MAZEL TOV!" JUST LIKE WILL.I.AM INTENDED:   First you should read this revealing WSJ piece on how the Black Eyed Peas became "the most corporate band in America." Only then will you be prepared for this Backyardigans music video.

Monday, October 4, 2010

YOU DON'T SEEM LIKE A PUBLIC MENACE TO ME:   Itchy and Scratchy parody the opening montage in UP.
DAD, PROMISE ME SOMETHING.  WHEN MY FRIENDS COME OVER ... DON'T DO THAT:  Since we often talk about "tv that's good for kids," I wanted to alert you to a show that our seven-year-old has grown deeply found of lately.  It's called "The Cosby Show," and reruns from season one are airing daily on the Centric channel.

Do I have to sell this one?  The show holds up remarkably well -- its morals are timeless, and Bill Cosby is an inexhaustible comic resource.  I think as a grownup I appreciate the mugging and the physical comedy more than I did as a kid, but there's nothing about the show I'm not enjoying right now.
108 STITCHES:  Congratulations on Dan Suitor for winning A League With Thrown Baseballs 3, our sixteen-team head to head fantasy baseball league.  He beat me in the finals, and if you think I'm going to whine about losing my first two picks down the stretch, Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia, you know me well.  But Dan had a damn good team, winning the regular season as well, and he is to be commended.

[Side note: we all pretty much agreed that a 16-team league was a demanding experiment which we're not eager to repeat.  But we didn't want to lose any owners either.  What we'll do is that the bottom four (or six) owners from this season's standings have agreed to be relegated into a new ALOTT5MA Baseball League hosting 8-10 owners which will serve as the entry point into the league for new owners and provide a less intense experience.  Every year, the top four teams from that league will be invited into the ALOTT5MA Premier League for the following season,with the bottom four from Premier agreeing to be relegated in exchange.  More details when the snow melts.]

Yesterday also concluded the real-world regular season, and we'll have time later this week to talk playoffs and awards. For now, let's just focus on memories of the season which won't be captured in those later discussions.  I was lucky to attend a 16-inning game with my dad that finished well after midnight with Roy Oswalt playing left field and which was so giddy and exhilarating by the time of the second "seventh inning stretch" in the 14th that the result felt irrelevant. What will you remember?

added:  Thanks to the work of intrepid blogger Peter J. Nash, the National Baseball  Hall of Fame has determined that a donated jersey allegedly worn by "Shoeless" Joe Jackson in 1919 was a fake.  I mention this because you'd know avid baseball collector/historian Nash more by his former stage name -- he was the Prime Minister, "Sinister" Pete Nice of early 90s rap group 3rd Bass.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THE UNIVERSE WITHOUT A CONSPIRACY THEORY?: Are Tivo and Burger King property of the same corporate parent? Does some highly placed party in the BK marketing department have their entire retirement portfolio in companies that hold or exploit patents covering DVR technology? What dark secret, what network of cynical calculation explains this on-going effort to make live television unwatchable, and why it has taken the form of saturation advertising for this particular fast-food franchise's breakfast menu?
A NOBLE SPIRIT ...  It's got to be a pretty cromulent day in the Simpsons' writers room, as another word they've invented has made its way into mainstream vocabulary.
WOOOOOO.....WHEE!  The return of "What's Up With That?" with Academy Award winners Morgan Freeman and Ernest Borgnine?  Awesome.  (As always, it's the Sudeikis leap into his dancing which elevates it even further.)  Samberg-as-Rahm?  I'm always a fan, even if it was just another let's-see-who-breaks-character-first challenge.  Kanye?  That was ... different.  (As always, give him points for ambition.)  But the Wiig Showcase sketch on the basketball court didn't end as strongly as it started and the rest ... fast-forwardable.  Free Jay Pharaoh!