It's Christmas morning, kiddies: "Lost's" 10 most pressing questions
New night. New episodes. New island mysteries. Tonight's Season Four premiere is the first of eight uninterrupted "Lost" episodes before the bottom falls out again thanks to the ongoing writers strike. But let's not ruin the feel-good vibe heading into the highly anticipated two-hour extravaganza at 7 p.m.
As a refresher, I re-watched the "Through the Looking Glass" finale earlier in the week. Two-hundred plus days away from one of your favorite shows will cause a bit of forgetfulness. Anyway, Charlie's death scene and that fateful flash-forward still sends shockwaves, and judging by early, non-spoiler reviews from esteemed TV critics, tonight's episode doesn't let up off the gas.
Adam has admirably been holding down the fort with his awesome Webisode recaps, and hopefully we'll have plenty of rumination and speculation -- What's this about Jack being a brainwashed Other? I need more proof! -- in the coming weeks.
Here's my personal list of 10 questions I'd like answered ... sooner rather than later.
1.Is the flash-forward scene with Jack and Kate the end of the series? Logic would have you believe that the show will operate with a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, all leading to the moment where a desperate, disheveled Jack pleads with Kate to get back to the island. Will the show push beyond that scene, or is Jack's regret the end game? Either way, the rulebook officially has been changed.
2. Is the flash-forward really the future, or just part of a parallel universe? I don't really understand where I'm going with this thought because it extends beyond my feeble intelligence. But the way Jack references his dad, Christian, as if he's still alive -- once for a prescription signature and a second time in the angry hallway scene -- led to plenty of speculation among "Lost" fans that the younger Doc Shepherd wasn't merely hopped up on goofballs, which is what Matthew Fox would have you believe in interviews. Is Christian suddenly alive in the future? Is it all in Jack's head? Or are all those theories about two people existing in different places at the same time (think about the newscasts of the Oceanic plane crash) actually true?
3. Why doesn't Kate want to go back to the island? Not only does Kate look noticeably different upon return to the real world (where are the freckles?), but unlike Jack, she appears to be adjusting well to post-island madness. Not bad for a fugitive. Is Jack wracked with guilt because Locke warned him that they weren't "supposed to" be rescued, or is life with the "golden pass" really that awful? And who is in that coffin because of it, and why did Kate look at the obituary with such disdain?
4. Where have Michael and Walt been? Michael is confirmed to return this season and rumors are circulating that the show will take viewers off the island to explain his whereabouts. Has he been sipping Mai-Tais in Hawaii? Enjoying father-son picnics with a suddenly gigantic Walt? Also, will Walt's significance as a special child and "chosen one" of Jacob finally be revealed? And what's up with those dead birds, as Adam recounted in the Webisode recap?
5. Who is Jacob? Perhaps the biggest mystery of all. The island's Grand Poobah is pulling Ben's strings and was exposed in a momentary flash to nonbeliever Locke. What's the juicy backstory on the Invisible One? Is he trapped in time or space while held in the cabin? The dark powder Locke picked up seems to indicate as much. Plus, why does he look like he's wearing frilly pirate garb? Black Rock, anyone?
6. What becomes of Locke? "Listen all y'all, it's a sabotage!" Thanks to Walt giving him a pep talk, the bald island rebel killed Naomi but let Jack make the fateful freighter call despite repeated warnings. Locke seems to know what happens next, so now what's his master plan of attack? (Man, I love Locke ...)
7. What's the deal with Sawyer? James Ford, ever the literary nut, appears to have bagged his white whale. But the way he callously killed Tom in the Season Three finale seems to suggest there's a new internal struggle in play -- something his quest for the real Sawyer, Locke's dad, didn't cure. If the island is about presenting rewards thanks to the "magic box" Ben alluded to, what becomes of Sawyer now that he got what he wanted?
8. Who gets off the island, and what is Desmond's role as time traveler/psychic extraordinaire? It appears calling the freighter will be the wrong move for the "Losties," (or at least future Jack) so what does that mean for Claire's rescue per Desmond's vision? Charlie was willing to die for the greater good, but only Desmond knows that the freighter isn't part of Penelope's rescue mission. For now. Season Four previews already confirm that some folks get off the island. Will some be helped, some be harmed? Either way, as one of the most fascinating characters on the show, the enigmatic Desmond holds a lot of keys to the island's mysteries.
9. Who is Richard Alpert and why doesn't he age? Alpert owns every single scene he's in, yet "Lost" fans only know that he once had long hair and a beard. There seems to be something mysteriously powerful about this cat, even more so than Ethan, Mikhail or Ben, yet he's not the enchanted leader of the Others. Or is he? After all, Alpert precedes Ben on the island and his curiosity was piqued by Mr. Linus' vision of his dead mother. He's also taken a shine to Locke and is becoming increasingly disenchanted with Ben's leadership. This guy knows more. Much more. Plus, he hasn't gotten any older, yet Ben is all grown up.
10. Who are the "bad guys" and can Penelope Widmore find the island? You had to feel for a bloody and battered Ben as he begged Jack not to call the freighter. Is it safe to say that he's protecting something more important on the island and the confirmed new faces (Jeremy Davies, Ken Leung, among them) are the real infiltrators? Plus, with the equipment un-jammed thanks to Charlie, you have to believe that Penelope will finally be able to make headway in her search for Desmond. At the very least, she knows he's alive.
C'mon "Lost" loyalists, got any more? Share a comment or theory.
Before I dive into the final three webisode recaps (no more after this, I swear!), here are a few links to some fine stories I found about the show and its fans. The first comes from the LA Times, and basically sums up in spirit what many fans are feeling: This season, we want some answers! To which questions, per se, the Times has the list right here. Next, the San Jose Mercury News has a very nice article about some very nice, rabid "Lost" fans. And finally, SFGate.com has some advance praise for tomorrow night's season premiere. ...As if we need prodding to tune in.
Now, in the words of Casey Kasem, on with the countdown:
Episode 11: "Jin Has a Temper-Tantrum on the Golf Course." This is the webisode that makes me wonder why none of these mini-shows featured Locke, Kate or Sawyer. Did those actors want too much money? Could the writers not think of any way to flesh out their characters in a two-minute arc? Because this particular webisode offers little new in the way of Jin's character. In it, Jin, Hurley and Michael are playing golf, and Jin misses a putt. Enraged, he unleashes a torrent of anger -- all in Korean, of course -- yelling about how no one can understand him, how much he hates the handcuff still digging into his wrist, and his profound loneliness on the island. All well and good, because at this point in Season 1, Jin was still portrayed as a jerk. But now we know he's a pretty good guy, and this insight into his psyche wasn't necessary. It does serve as a fine spotlight for Daniel Dae Kim, who has turned Jin into one of the most fascinating characters on "Lost." Island secrets: None.
Episode 12: "The Envelope" opens in the same way Season 3 began: Juliet at home, burning muffins. The doorbell rings, and in walks Amelia, a member of the book club. She asks Juliet why she's crying, and if Ben is the cause. Juliet denies that Ben has "told her how he feels," and that the reason she's upset is because, quote, "I think we're in big trouble." Amelia's face drops as Juliet reaches for a manila envelope hidden in her silverware drawer. Just as she's about to open it, the doorbell rings again, and the webisode ends. Island secrets: What's in the envelope? Are they Ben's X-rays? Or something even more shocking?
Episode 13: "So It Begins" is exactly what it sounds like. We pick up almost immediately after the crash, as Vincent is pawing his way through the jungle. He comes across a man in a suit, who is revealed to be Jack's father, Christian. He kneels down by Vincent, and asks the dog to find Jack and wake him up. As the pooch runs off, Christian whispers, "He's got work to do." Island secrets: What a fantastic end to the webisode series. Does this mean Christian is somehow alive and walking the island? Or does that fact that Vincent can see him support the idea that he's a ghost? I like to think it supports my theory that Jack is really an Other who had his memory altered and was left to die in the jungle. Think about it: Why did he wake up alone in the middle of the jungle when everyone else was on the beach? Huh? Huh?
Guess we'll just have to keep watching if we want any of these questions answered. Sounds good to me!
Episode 7: Named "Arzt and Crafts," seemingly for the hell of it, this is probably the funniest of the webisodes, if the least informative. Fan-favorite Arzt (they love him to pieces) is in a tizzy because Jack wants to move everyone to the caves -- where "bugs will lay eggs in our mouths while we sleep!" Hurley and Michael don't seem to share his concerns, however, and after a distant roar from the island's monster makes a cameo, Arzt beats a hasty retreat with a simple, "See you at the caves." Island secrets: None really, save for Sun and Jin sorting laundry in the beginning and watching an unseen Boone and Shannon on the beach. "I think they are lovers," Jin tells his wife. If you only knew, Jin...
Episode 8: "Buried Secrets" goes a long way in building on the unexplored chemistry between Sun and Michael. Sun has sneaked into the jungle, and is hurriedly digging a hole in order to bury her California driver's license so Jin never finds it. In tears, she is interrupted by Michael, who, after hearing out her plans to leave her husband, attempts to console her ... the naughty way. Their smoochies are also interrupted, this time by Vincent. Damn dogs, anyway -- such mood killers. Island secrets: Nada.
Episode 9: "Tropical Depression." Arzt is back, this time on the hunt to capture a Medusa spider (you know, the ones that later paralyze Nikki and Paulo). Michael, in the final stages of building the raft, approaches him and inquires about wind conditions. Arzt says he has no idea, and admits to lying about the coming monsoon season in order to speed the raft's departure. In a fit of despair, he tells Michael why he was in Australia: To meet a woman he met on the Internet, who left him with the bill at a fancy restaurant. (Poor sap. I can really see why he'd go to pieces over that.) Island secrets: Again, sadly lacking. But a nice wrap-up for the Arzt character.
Episode 10: "Jack, Meet Ethan. Ethan? Jack." Shortly after the crash, Jack is foraging through luggage in search of medical supplies. Ethan, decked out in a UW-Wisconsin sweatshirt, drops a suitcase full of pills at his feet and introduces himself. He thanks Jack for thinking about long-term needs, including the possibility of Claire giving birth on the island. Jack jokes about finding in Ethan an assistant, and Ethan freezes up. Relunctantly, he tells Jack that his wife and baby died during childbirth. Island secrets: Is he telling the truth, or is this more Other chicanery? My money, knowing the experiments Ben and Juliet had been conducting, is on Ethan's tale being true. He likely had a wife on the island, and she died in labor. This adds a nice dimension to one of "Lost"'s first (and best) villains.
Wow, I'm getting kinda lengthy with these. How about I save the last three for tomorrow. Remember, you can head over to ABC.com and watch them for yourself, and you really should if you're a fan. They're not only well-produced, but offer great periphery to this great show.
The lack of new episodes is making me cranky. Like almost Dr. House cranky. I haven't resorted to painkillers, yet, but I may start my own Survivor-type contest to help me pass the time.
Since I haven't watched "Lost" since Season 1 and I'm not really into "American Idol" and I don't hate myself enough to watch "Celebrity Apprentice," the weight of the writers strike has finally sunk in with most of my favorite shows - save a few - on semi-permanent hiatus. I was so giddy last night to see the label "New" next to an episode of "Gossip Girl" that I continued to watch it even though it turned out to be an extended version of the pilot with a few cast interviews. (Also, how is that NOT misleading?!).
Entertainment Weekly did an entire issue devoted to ways to survive the writers strike blues, but here are a few of my personal tips - tried and true - to live in this wretched strike-addled world.
1. Rent or Buy TV on DVD: It's a no-brainer. Since the strike killed many of my favorites, I've found new ones via Netflix including Showtime's "The Tudors" and HBO's "The Wire." Best of all, there are no commercials. That means you don't have to watch those annoying Cadillac commercials five thousand times in an hour.
2. Reality TV. Love it or hate it, at least it's new. Take your pick of a wide field of candidates - from the ridiculously perverse ("Moment of Truth") to the suprisingly intriguing (anything on the Food Network or Travel Channel), there's a reality show for all of us out there.
3. Don't give up hope: Many shows that are currently in reruns still have a few new episodes left, including "House," "Law and Order," "Nip/Tuck," Friday Night Lights," "Boston Legal," "Psych" and "Smallville." Plus, there are several midseason replacements including "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Lipstick Jungle" and "Eli Stone."
4. Election 2008: Sure, it's politics and that's "boring," but the Presidential campaign is the most interesting reality (or scripted) show currently unfolding on the small screen. Don't believe me? Go to youtube.com, type in "Mitt Romney" and "AP reporter" and enjoy. Rinse and repeat with any candidate of your choice.
5. Watch sports: It's college basketball season and you want to be prepared for your March Madness office pool, don't you? Start picking early favorites. Not a tried and true sports fan? The jersey colors are pretty. Also, not that it means anything, but the championship often goes to a team wearing blue, orange or some combination. (Editors note: this strategy has never helped me in my aspirations to win the March Madness pool).
6. Old Favorites: When I've lost all hope, there's always an episode of "Seinfeld," "Friends," "The Cosby Show" or "M*A*S*H" to save me. Rediscover an old show or rewatch a favorite episode. It's better than selling your soul to watch "1 vs. 100." I promise.
The final installment of "Lost: Missing Pieces" -- the web series ABC has been cranking out in the interim between seasons -- debuted today for Verizon phone users, and boy is it a doozy. At least, it is if you're a "Lost" freak like me, and every little clip is like ambrosia from the gods. In case you haven't been keeping up, the "Missing Pieces" are short narratives involving the "Lost" castaways that fill gaps at varying points in the show's timeline. They were a long time in the making -- nearly two years -- a product of financial concerns and negotiations with the cast and crew.
Blah blah blah, the point is they freaking rock, and were a great way for fans to satiate themselves before the season four debut, which is -- woot! -- Thursday. So here's a quick breakdown of webisodes 1-6, which you can watch for yourself at ABC.com.
Episode 1: "The Watch" takes place as a flashback shortly before Jack's wedding. Jack's dad, Christian, gives Jack his watch and makes Jack promise to be a better dad than he was. Island secrets: None really, just a sweet moment between father and son.
Episode 2: "Hurley and Frogurt" sees our rotund Romeo scrabbling to find some wine for his picnic date with Libby. He's waylaid, however, by previously unseen castaway "Frogurt," and hilarity ensues. Island secrets: Michael is gunning Libby down in a panic as all this is happening.
Episode 3: "King of the Castle." As Jack and Ben play chess shortly after Ben's operation, they discuss Jack's impending departure from the island. Ben says there may come a day when Jack will want to return, to which Jack replies, "Never." Island secrets: Well, we all know how season 3 ended...
Episode 4: In "The Deal," Juliet visits a tied-up Michael in the Others' camp, sometime during Season 2. She tells him that Ben, who is being held captive by the castaways, is the one who can get him and Walt off the island. As she leaves, she says, "You have your list. Good luck." Islandsecrets: Juliet mentions spending time with Walt, and comments that he's a "special boy."
Episode 5: There's a big reveal in "Operation: Sleeper," when Juliet confesses to Jack that she's infiltrated the castaways on Ben's orders to identify any pregnant women. Jack feels betrayed, having believed she wanted off the island as much as he did. This is the moment where Jack's seemingly questionable trust in Juliet is cemented. Island secrets: Juliet says that if Sun does not leave the island in a month, she and her unborn baby will die.
Episode 6: "Room 23" is one freaky little webisode. The Others' compound is on red alert, and Juliet is confronting Ben about a problem with the "special" captive they have in Room 23. She says everyone is afraid to go in there, and that "he" has "done it again." When Ben argues that "he's just a kid," Juliet takes him outside, where there is a pile of dead birds outside Room 23's window. Island secrets: Ben claims he didn't want to kidnap Walt ... "Jacob did."
Check back tomorrow for a breakdown of episodes 7-13.
Looking to kill three hours? Unedited VHS footage of a 1983 MTV broadcast with original VJ Mark Goodman is floating on the Web, and man, its a great nostalgia trip for anyone looking to relive the glory days of -- gasp! -- music video. And no, I don't mean "great" in the "I bet 'Perfect Strangers' is as funny as it was when I was 10-years old!" kinda way that Adam Reinhard would have you believe. Instead, the footage makes me feel warm and fuzzy for multiple reasons.
One, Goodman doesn't appear comfortable on screen -- even two years after MTV's debut -- which is pretty refreshing for a popular TV personality. The lack of polish in the early days serves as a reminder of the foreign territory being explored by revolutionary minds. Goodman awkwardly cracks wise a few times and seems uncertain of his cues, but still delivers the goods when promising Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" video in the coming hour.
Two, that same "Burning Down the House" video still stands the test of time. David Byrne's disembodied head on the side of a house is an awesome snapshot from childhood. If my brothers and I had listened to my dad and not sneaked repeated glimpses of MTV when he was at work, my passion for music probably wouldn't be as great as it is now. Thanks for the reverse psychology, dad!
Three, it's proof the channel actually showed videos. It's easy to blast MTV for its modern-day format change, but showing videos isn't a money-making enterprise anymore. MTV2 abandoned the track early on even though the channel promised 24-7 coverage of new and old. Even VH1 Classic, which used to show rare, vintage videos in continuous blocks, is airing movies like "Ghostbusters" now. When videos were revolutionary, the 'round-the-clock format worked to perfection. Plus, as some of the promos during the three hour block demonstrates -- there's a great one that proclaims, 'Without MTV these past two years, how else would you have heard of the Stray Cats?" -- music fans actually watched MTV to discover something new. That influence waned dramatically by the late '90s, though the beginning of the end dates back to "Remote Control" being such a popular "original programming" experiment in the mid-'80s. At least that show had a music video theme, which can't be said of most reality-based dreck currently polluting the network. Still, it's no surprise today's youth relates more to Tila Tequila than the Thompson Twins.
Four, the original Atari 2600 commercials are hilarious. In particular, there's one for "Mountain King," a game I owned, but could never beat because it had absolutely no point whatsoever. It felt nice to re-open that wound again.
Five, it's just crazy fun to watch Huey Lewis segue into Split Enz into the Romantics into Madness into really, really bad Michael Bolton. Maybe I'm the only one who appreciates the 25-year-old footage, but at least stick around long enough for the 1-800-HOT-ROCK commercial with free ZZ Top key chain offer in the early-going of part one.
I'm off to Musicland to buy the new Billy Idol album for $6.99.
(Hint: For some reason on Google Video, you can't scroll ahead without the footage starting at the very beginning again. But if you press play, then pause, allowing both videos to fully load, you can skip ahead and watch what you want. This is especially useful when choosing to avoid the early Night Ranger video.)
Adam already fell on the sword regarding Fox's latest ratings bonanza, "Moment of Truth," but there's a riveting conversation going on at the Onion AV Club's TV Blog about the same show. I watched a minute of the premiere and found the pacing and premise so off-putting, I couldn't even force myself to freeze the remote for the sake of making fun of it on this very blog.
Writer Sean O'Neal, on the other hand, doesn't attempt to hide his glee at watching the very worst television has to offer.
O'Neal writes, "In college, I missed an awful lot of afternoon classes to gawk at the filthy, titillating laundry being aired on daytime talk shows. I have yet to miss even an episode of "Celebrity Rehab." So when "Moment Of Truth" was first announced, I’ll admit that I got that same old evil glint in my eye, tenting my fingers like Mr. Burns in anticipation of all the excellent pain I’d be witnessing."
All good, right? Well, O'Neal doesn't appear to have reached deep into his soul for empathy in a sudden moment of weakness while plowing through a bag of Doritos. Instead, he claims, "I found my schadenfreude quickly turning to self-disgust amidst the 'oooohs' of the ceaselessly hooting studio audience, that old reliable Greek chorus of man’s basest instincts, which I swear has never sounded more like the baying of bloodthirsty jackals (and I used to watch a lot of "Jerry Springer"). Is this what we’ve been reduced to now? Selling out our secrets - and with them our carefully constructed personal lives - for the viewing pleasure of (expletive)-flinging monkeys, all in exchange for a little bit of attention and a pittance of cash? "Moment Of Truth" left me moaning about "values" and "morals" like a Brylcreemed '50s preacher burning an Elvis Presley record, and for that I hate it."
Great, great stuff. Even better is the subsequent discussion taking place in the "Comments" portion of the post. The funny thing to me is that everyone is analyzing the show as if it's an exercise in real pain. REAL marriages are collapsing! REAL friendships are at stake! I can't watch because it feels too REAL!
As Adam pointed out a few posts below, America clearly didn't have problems watching complete strangers reveal "deep, dark secrets" on a cheesy game show with a complete tool for a host. Not surprising. I, on the other hand, wouldn't feel uncomfortable watching this because, well, I'm not buying it for one damn second. It didn't take an Ivy League education to figure out that most of what was on "Jerry Springer" back in the day was completely manufactured. So I'm making an educated guess that most of "Moment of Truth's" drama is similarly scripted. I mean, c'mon, a physical therapist who apparently cheats on his wife was the first contestant. A physical therapist? Could they have picked a more obvious occupation to have access to good looking members of the opposite sex? Why not just make the dude a Hollywood talent scout or a cameraman for "Girls Gone Wild?"
Anyway, it's fake. I'm not astute for saying it, but I'm making that declaration right now without watching the show (or ever watching the show in the future, for that matter.) And while I fully accept that the general public is stupid enough to risk an entire marriage or relationship for a shot at paltry sums of cash, I just don't think this show is worthy of debate when it comes to greater issues of morality or our responsibility as humans regarding the private nature of innermost thoughts or tendencies. Instead, I'm giving the producers a thumbs down for creating false drama and scripting the embarrassing questions as if they're somehow exposing massive flaws in the delicate fabric of society. If anyone wants to get mad, they should be upset that people are falling for this latest "reality" ruse, not what the potential fallout could be for contestants on a plane ride home. I mean, geez, give me 10 minutes and I'll manufacture a compelling "lie detector" scene fit for the public's gluttonous consumption. Man, you think we'd all have learned not to trust TV networks by now.
That said, I'd still love to see "Celebrity Moment of Truth" with Colin Powell.
For my amusement -- and perhaps my amusement alone -- I've decided to chronicle each week of MTV's "Gauntlet III" until the bitter end. There's nothing else on TV. It's the way it has to be.
I also enjoyed how MJ stole Bill Simmons' Power Poll idea for her "Project Runway" recaps, so I'm going to use a similar format to run down each drama-riddled, testosterone-fueled installment. Without further ado ...
Week One recap: Thirty-two former "Real World/Road Rules" cast members reconvene in PuertoVallerta, Mexico for a shot at $300,000. That's enough money for Danny to buy more horse roids and Coral to get a breast reduction. Teams are separated by tenure on past challenges, with the "Veterans" boasting a heavy advantage over the "Rookies" by way of familiarity. That, and in the case of someone like Beastly Beth who has been on 7 of 15 challenges, it means a lot of rest from not being employed all these years.
Experience proves beneficial from the start, with the Veterans winning a preliminary tug-of-war for the right to sleep in luxury bedrooms. The newbies get uncomfortable mattresses full of bugs (which is still better than Crazy Tonya bringing crabs.) A brutal game of mud football - played musical chairs-style with less balls dropped from above during each round - ends in a stalemate thanks to Beauty Queen Tori destroying Robin in the final round. Loose Cannon CT runs over one of the series' freshest, but fiercest faces, Derek, in a tie-breaker. The resulting male rookie Gauntlet places Nehemiah on the chopping block. His teammates allow him to handpick an opponent -- Pretty Boy Alex, who gives up in an endurance challenge after roughly 15 minutes. Hey, at least he gets a free T-shirt for his short stay.
In the requisite drama segment, a completely wasted CT starts spouting off to everyone in the house and tells his girlfriend Diem that it's his "time to live it up." Dude reaches Lohan levels of crazy when he gets smashed, which Diem claims is never the case "off-camera." There's a clinical term for that. It's called "(expletive) in the head."
The David Edwards division (losers who get an early kick to the curb): Pretty Boy Alex
The Eric Nies division (crusty old folks who keep returning because they have nothing better to do but sell "Grind" workout tapes): Beastly Beth, Coral, Robin.
The Puck Rainey division (crazy mofos who know to keep the camera on them, and who may or may not use their fingers to eat peanut butter): Loose Cannon CT, Bipolar Katie, Lesbian Come Lately Brooke.
The Derrick Kosinski division (ultra-competitive hard asses who believe winning the challenge will make up for the fact that they can't score chicks or dudes unless they're all really, really drunk): Evan Almighty, Evelyn DeGeneres.
The Wes Bergmann division (loathsome individuals who deserve a one-way ticket back home, and if we're lucky, a bout of herpes and food poisoning): Roid Rage Danny (at right).
The Mike Mizanin division (likeablemeatheads worth rooting for, no matter how immature they might be): Meatball Brad, "The Italian Stallion" Kenny Venci, Johnny Bananas.
The AmayaBrecher division (crybaby drama queens who'll have a mental breakdown - or two, or three, or four - by season's end): Airhead Casey, Rambo Rachel, Tyler, Melinda.
The Kyle Brandt division (seemingly nice, normal contestants who should be doing so much more with their lives): Diem, Adam
The Landon Lueck division (fast-rising unknowns who might make an immediate impression because of their physical skills or smarts): Tyrie, Derek, Janelle, Beauty Queen Tori.
The Simon Sherry-Wood division (seriously, who the heck are these people?): Zack, Jillian, Angel, Ryan.
The Alton Williams division (the strongest physical competitors who have the best shot at surviving if they don't shoot themselves in the foot): Beth, CT, Evan, Coral, Brad, Evelyn, Johnny, Diem, Tyrie, Derek, Janelle.
Remember that famous psychology experiment that studied participants' willingness to obey authority figures by giving people increasingly dangerous electric shocks? That's what came to mind while I watched Fox's new reality show, "The Moment of Truth." Instead of high voltage, contestants are strapped to a lie detector and peppered with a series of embarrassing questions like "Have you ever cheated on your wife?", all with their families watching in the audience. If they answer honestly, they get money, which presumably they will later use on alimony. And who, in this analogy, are the mindless sheep who kept cranking up the amps? If the ratings figures are to be trusted, the answer is: America.
According to this article from TVWeek.com, last night's debut of "Moment of Truth" was the highest-rating series premiere of the season, seen by 23 million viewers. It retained nearly all of "American Idol"'s audience, which is reasonable, because "American Idol" fans have already lost all sense of shame. The high ratings can probably also be attributed to Fox's advertising campaign for the show, which trumped it up as "the end of Western Civilization." Who wouldn't want to watch that?
Whether or not it will keep such high figures week-to-week is doubtful, since the clips I saw during commercial breaks from "Mythbusters" were not so much outrageous as they were boring. The pacing was dreadfully slow as each sucker took his sweet time playing Faust, balancing the desire for cash with the potential for destroying all who love him.
While the concept of the show may turn my stomach, I can't really feel bad for the poor schmoes who volunteer as contestants. They're no different from the "Fear Factor" idiots who eat disgusting things for prizes, or the "Rock of Love" twits who make out with a disgusting thing for ... something, I don't know. The thing that bugs me about "Moment of Truth" is that it's really nothing new: people making asses of themselves on national TV. We've had that in this country since "The Newlywed Game." The thing is, I can't help but wonder how much more electricity we as audiences are willing to pump into the limp, smoldering body of reality TV, before its nothing but ash.
Which reminds me, I've got this great idea for a new reality show. You give contestants a series of buttons, see, that deliver electric shocks to someone in another room...
I don't often admit weakness, so it's with a tremendous amount of personal shame that I roll naked in my love of MTV's "Real World/Road Rules" challenge spin-offs. According to Wikipedia, tonight's premiere of "The Gauntlet III" will be the 15th gratuitous installment of the "RW/RR" series that assembles quasi-celebrities from past shows for further lessons in extreme humiliation and debauchery. And yes, like a soap opera obsessed housewife, I've watched all 15.
Is it wrong that I can recite stats and key moments from the show's past better than I can recall milestones in, you know, actual sports history? (Wait, don’t answer that.) So yeah, while I can barely remember who scored a touchdown in the Packers' 1997 NFC championship game against Carolina, I know all too well that pint-sized Derrick took down Ace and Syrus like a rabid pitbull in consecutive "Beach Brawl" appearances. Shameful. I know.
Perhaps my obsession can best be explained this way. Obviously I don't watch solely for the ramped-up spirit of reality competition. If that were the case, I'd be enjoying the lethal combination of steroids and spandex on NBC's "American Gladiators" re-incarnation. But if you mix that same sense of competition with say, oh I don't know, the fact that Mormon Julie from Delafield, Wis. once tried to unsnap Veronica's safety harness while suspended from a wire in mid-air so she could win a challenge, yes, I will admit that it's pretty compelling TV. I also watch for pure horror, or more accurately, the show's spot-on reflection of out-of-whack societal values and sense of phony celebrity "cray-zay" when cameras are turned on. As author Chuck Klosterman memorably wrote, being on the "Real World" means you're famous enough to be recognized by a few fans at Burger King. But in the ultimate slap of ignominy, it also means that you're not famous enough to avoid eating at Burger King.
While watching, I also like to ponder deeper philosophical issues. For instance, "Is it acceptable to cite your 'Real World' experience on a job resume?" When a potential employer asks you to describe your handling of a difficult situation, do you score points for saying, "I once pulled a machete away from Puck as he was about to turn loose on some cameramen after finding out his wife and child had been detained in Jamaica?" Better yet, do any of these people have real jobs? Do they only hang out with and date each other? Does having 10,000 friends on MySpace, but actually being lame enough to manage your own MySpace site still mean you qualify as a celebrity?
In the end, I've concluded that I watch because the rotating cast reminds me of people I went to high school with. And instead of reliving moments with perpetual adolescents who still wear their football jerseys or talk about the time they outran the cops while fleeing from an underage drinking party, I'm more content watching from a safe distance as folks like Old Man Mark, Crazy Tonya, Testosterone Tina, Loose Cannon CT, Beastly Beth and Roid Rage Danny make asses of themselves on Satan's favorite channel, MTV. Plus, watching the ridiculous intros they put together for each new installment is still less embarrassing than wearing a stupid name tag at a godforsaken reunion.
The "Gauntlet III" airs tonight at 9 p.m. on MTV. Look for me to keep tabs on the show, and give a few history lessons in list form, as the drama progresses each week.
I'm taking back all the compliments I lauded on "Project Runway" for being a reality show that rewards talent.
Talent cannot possibly be why Ricky is still on the show, right? Both Kevin and Kit were sent packing respectively in episodes 7 and 8 even though teary-eyed, whiny Ricky was in the bottom of both those challenges. Yes, he kept the lid on the weepiness, but Ricky produced nothing that was vaguely wearable or creative (a pale pink negligee-like dress for the prom challenge and an equally hideous take on "Little House in the Prairie" for the avant-garde challenge). Still the judges picked obviously more talented designers to take the fall. Maybe Michael Kors got a little spray-on tanner into his eyes, rendering him blind to Ricky's obvious flaw - that he sucks.
Here's the breakdown for Week 9, which will hopefully redeem itself.
The Vincent Libretti division (Vincent from Season 3 was dreadful and contentious, but managed to stick around for far too long) Ricky
Dark Horse Chris: Although Christian got a lot of the credit for "Team Fierce" in episode 8 and their layered organza fest (see photo above), Chris was a big part of why they won. Sweet P: True, she turned on the waterworks a la Ricky, but she managed to produce a cute dress, despite dealing with Rami's attitude all day.
The Contenders Jillian: Her turtle-like pace will be a problem sooner or later. For now, she's gotten by thanks to some lucky timing, and of course, talent. Victorya: Ego-check, lady. Saying "We had three looks, so we should win" is neither helpful nor endearing. It's obnoxious. Christian: I can still only stand about two seconds of him at a time, but I can't deny that he's good. Rami: The draping fetish needs to be nipped in the bud - which the judges finally called him on this last round - so let's hope he learns.
Predictions: If Ricky isn't gone by the end of this episode, I may have to swear off PR. The only way Ricky should stay on the show is if he can fashion an outfit from his own tears.
Sam the Butcher has died, and yes, it cuts like a knife.
I haven't felt this kind of nostalgic sadness for the TV of my youth since ... well, since the Rev. Alden (Dabbs Greer) of "Little House on the Prairie'' passed away last April.
Allan Melvin was 84. He was known for various sidekick roles throughout his career, including Archie Bunker's friend Barney Hefner on "All in the Family,'' but for those of us who watched "The Brady Bunch'' every single day after school like my brother and I, he'll always be Sam the Butcher. That jolly, lovable lug who flirted with Alice every time she came into his shop, always ready with a corny cut-of-meat pun, usually a rump roast.
Sam (last name Franklin) got plenty of mentions in the Brady kitchen, but, according to episode credits, he only actually appeared in eight shows from 1970 to 1973:
1. "Snow White & The Seven Bradys.'' The Brady kids come up one short for the dwarfs for their theater version of the fairy tale, so guess who helps out?
2. "The Elopement.'' The kids mistakenly think Alice and Sam are eloping. Silly, kids, we all know Sam could throw a strike at the bowling alley, but he had serious commitment issues on the relationships front.
3. "The Big Sprain.'' Best Sam episode ever. When Carol is out of town, Alice slips and sprains her ankle, leaving Mike and the kids to run the household. It doesn't go smoothly. Worse yet: Alice is heartbroken that she can't go to the Meatcutters' Ball with Sam. Sniff, sniff.
4. "Sorry, Right Number.'' With no cell phones to help them out, the Bradys are having phone-hogging issues, so Sam recommends Mike install a pay phone at home. Bad idea, but, as was so often the case with Sam, his intentions were good.
5. "Alice's September Song.'' Alice makes Sam jealous when her old flame, Mark Millard, shows up. Mark bad. Sam good.
6. "Top Secret.'' Bobby and Cousin Oliver think Sam is passing secret plans to the Russians. OK, so not Sam's best storyline, but we'll blame chronic annoyance Cousin Oliver for that.
7. "The Show Must Go On.'' Marcia, Carol, Greg and Mike perform in the Frosty Frolics talent show at school. There's Sam laughing -- he was a great laugher -- and clapping in the audience next to Alice.
8. "Big, Little Man.'' Bobby has size issues, so he does stupid stuff like hang from the backyard swing set to try to stretch himself. And Sam is involved how ...? Help me out here, "BB'' fans!
Technically, Melvin, who is survived by a wife of 64 years and a daughter, wasn't a cast member of "The Brady Bunch,'' just a guest star. But to those of us who watched, he was very much part of "the whole blooming Brady bunch!''
I did myself a favor yesterday and picked up one of those "a lot of trusted folks on the Web rave about it, but for some unexplainable reason, I've never seen it" shows on DVD. Actually, I just like a good deal and as the writers' strike drags on, also feel the need to combat extreme TV boredom by adding to my DVD collection. So with that in mind, I grabbed the first two seasons of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" for a measly $20 at Best Buy.
Only six episodes in and I'm already giving the show my highest recommendation, particularly for fans of "Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." "Curb" has long been called a crass, uncensored version of "Seinfeld" because of how Larry David (he plays himself on the show) reveled in ratcheting up George Costanza's worst qualities, leading to unspeakable havoc in the personal lives of those around him. Plus, being on HBO allowed David to really take the gloves off, for instance, giving sweet Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) an opportunity to drop an unabashed f-bomb during a Season Two story arc, or gratuitously stabbing Ben Stiller in the eye with a toothpick in Season Four.
Truthfully though, "Curb" is David's show, not an ensemble piece in the purest sense. Like "Seinfeld," "It's Always Sunny" revolves around four central characters (childhood friends Dennis, Mac, Charlie and Dee, Dennis' sister) who run an unsuccessful Irish bar in Philly called Paddy's Pub. The theme is roughly the same: four incredibly immature, emotionally stunted individuals riffing of a variety of controversial topics with no real censor for what's right and wrong. Except in the case of "Sunny," the conversations aren't quite as random and the dialogue is much looser (lots of "dudes") giving it a fresh, improvised feel like "Curb." "Sunny" builds its episodes around a singular explosive topic, for instance, "Gun Fever," in which Paddy's is robbed and the male bar owners invest in a gun, only to become intoxicated by its ability to make them feel bad-ass. Even worse (read: funnier), entire episodes are devoted to meeting women at abortion rallies or setting up the floundering bar as a safe haven for underage drinkers, which spirals out of control and traps the foursome in a clique-ish high school web that gets three of them asked to Prom. Most absurd of all, the newly "popular" trio (plus "going stag" Mac) plans to attend.
Danny DeVito is also on the show, but has yet to show up (presumably he comes in Season Two), which means he's the most recognizable actor among a group of talented unknowns. In a not-so-odd coincidence, Kaitlin Olson, the actress who plays Dee, made guest appearances on "Curb" as Cheryl David's sister, so there's another parallel.
Anyway, because the show is on FX Network, it's easy to ignore. Then again, if it were a network show, it probably wouldn't be as edgy, demented or funny (Dee's repulsion at the sight and touch of old people is especially hilarious.) So my advice: quit whining about the strike or relying on the 800th viewing of the Soup Nazi episode for laughs. Instead, go buy some cheap DVD sets and find new favorites.
I am not what you would call "a football fan." I do not, how do you say, "care" about the sport, nor do I follow it to any extent. But I root for the Packers to win because, hey, this is where I grew up, and the Packers have been good to this town (stadium tax notwithstanding.) I especially rooted for them this season, because A) it seemed so unlikely that they were doing so well, and B) because I hate those freaking cheating Patriots and want them destroyed.
So I watched last night's NFC Championship game. I wish I hadn't -- I wish I had merely curled up in bed and dreamed beautiful dreams about the "Cloverfield" monster attacking Gillette Stadium -- but that's beside the point. I watched it, and felt what I'm guessing was the common mix of emotions: "ARGH!" "YES!" "NOOOO!" "YOU SON OF A!" "GULP!" "%!#@!"
But before all that unpleasantness came the high point of the game, in the form most high points in football games appear: a beer commercial. This one was for Bud Light, which I wouldn't drink, because it tastes like, let's be fair, pee. But their commercials are usually top-notch. Who indeed can forget those stupid frogs, croaking out "Bud - weis - errrr," or those even even stupider jerks shrieking "WASSUP!" ad nauseam until you wanted to kill yourself.
The ad last night -- I don't know if it debuted last night, but it was the first time I had seen it -- was clever and stupid in the great beer-commercial tradition, and made me laugh even harder than the name "Plaxico Burress." Its concept was simple: Drinking Bud Light is not only refreshing, but now gives you the ability to talk to animals. This is demonstrated by a man asking his dog how his day was. The dog responds as you would expect a dog to respond to any question: by demanding sausages. Over and over. "Sausages! Sausages! Please, sausages! Sausage? Sausages!" It's a simple gag, but it was carried out beautifully.
Which is more than you could say for the Packers' game plan last night.
Sorry, but the Channel Surfing folks don't have any hot leads on potential celebs who may or may not be trolling the area prior to Sunday's NFC championship game between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants. But if history is any indication, you'd be wise to stake out the Pancake Place on Military Avenue since that's where Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel enjoyed a day-after heart-shaped pancake in October.
We did, however, see ESPN funnyman and "Dancing with the Stars" reject Kenny Mayne talking to Mark Tauscher in the Packers locker room on Thursday. "The Mayne Event" is known to hit unusual spots for its ESPN comedy segments. If you're in the right place, you might be in prime position for a national TV debut. A cheesehead will probably be involved somehow.
Yeah, we know, the accompanying photo isn't as sexy as the Eli Manning-Seinfeld-Fox 11 publicity stunt, but really, what is these days?
I proclaim this the Winter of Seinfeld! (As if those endless plugs for "Bee Movie" weren't enough).
As has been widely reported, discussed and dissected across all spectrum of media, WLUK's decision to pull a Seinfeld rerun on Saturday to rattle New York Giants Quarterback Eli Manning has generated plenty of buzz wth everyone taking sides. The latest development - as reported by the New York Daily News - is that Sony is sending Manning "Seinfeld: The Complete Series" and a DVD player.
Cross your fingers that the only time Manning sees the Super Bowl is in the Season 6 episode "The Label Maker." Arguably this entire brouhaha is all very Seinfeldian - one can only hope that Eli will regift the DVD player - but it's also approaching uncomfortable levels of bizzare. I'm half-expecting Green Bay-area electronic stores to boycott all Sony products until after the NFC Championship game.
Ironically, Jerry Seinfeld's monologue at the start of the Super Bowl-themed episode begins "Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify."
Care to revise that statement, Mr. Seinfeld?
UPDATE: Apparently, Jerry Seinfeld has decided to enter the fray and offer Manning "a complete collection of "Seinfeld" DVDs and a partial collection of "Hogan's Heroes" for inspiration," according to this article.
Since Manning claims he already owns the entire collection, I sense a few regifts in the near future.
It's ugly out there, kids, and no, I'm not talking about the snow, and the snow, and the snow and ...
I'm talkin' TV land, where the harsh reality of the writers' strike is finally starting to settle in, like a chronic winter cold and all the unpleasantries, annoyances and bad tastes that come with it. Anyone have a box of Kleenex and the first season of "Weeds'' on DVD?
It was bound to happen sooner or later, and by the looks of my pathetic TiVo menu, later has arrived. Rather cruel of it to happen right smack in the middle of the dregs of winter, don't you think? That time of year when even people who think they don't watch much TV are exposed for the channel-surfing, time-wasting, reality-watching frauds that they are.
So how bad is it? Let's recap recent activity, or lack thereof:
No Golden Globes. The awards season is in shambles. In case there was any doubt, Sunday's Golden Globes press conference was a pitiful reminder. Jack Nicholson mugging for the cameras at a table with a lot of wine in a room full of Hollywood stars: party! Entertainment TV anchors reading the names of winners in between clips: less fun than even the constant parade of talking heads dissecting the lastest presidential primary. Just goes to show what those of us who live for awards season already knew, that it's not whether you win or lose, it's who you wear, who you show up with and who you thank in your speech. Someone, anyone, please save Oscar Night on Feb. 24!
No "24.'' For those of us who live and die (and die, only to live again) by Jack Bauer, January is our month. Our holiday calendar goes something like this: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, Two-Night "24'' Premiere. But not this year. With the show shelved because of the strike, we're forced instead to endure the torture of FOX endlessly hyping 'Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles'' during its NFL playoff broadcasts. Pfff. A painful reminder that if there wasn't a strike and Kiefer Sutherland wasn't in jail and "24'' wasn't MIA, that maybe, just maybe, FOX would've choppered Jack into Green Bay on Sunday for a spot on the Fox NFL Sunday pregame show from Lambeau Field.
Return of "American Idol.'' Good news for those who love it, the equivalent of two-night root canal for those of us who hate it. It rolled out this week with its traditional early auditions of karaoke castoffs embarrassing themselves before the judges and the nation -- a k a "Freak Week.'' Had the misfortune of catching exactly 2 minutes of it on Tuesday, just enough time to see a rejected wannabe in hideous green glitter eyeshadow flip off the cameras as she vowed revenge by making it in "actressing'' instead. That'll be enough "Idol'' to hold me all season, thanks.
Return of "Rock of Love.'' A recession? Soaring gas prices? Stagnant housing market? Hey, what the world needs right now is "Rock of Love 2''! VH1 shamelessly went back to the Bret Michaels well -- which isn't real deep -- one more time for Round II of this reality sleazefest. Same drill as last time, but with the skank factor ratcheted up. Loved the intro on Sunday's premiere with the chronically bandana-ed Michaels describing rock 'n' roll as his "b---- goddess.'' And how about scary Angelique, who looks like a Botox experiment gone bad, getting a VIP pass?
That (minus the shoving) pretty much sums up my reaction to the news that WLUK is pulling an episode of "Seinfeld" at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday because New York Giants Quarterback Eli Manning enjoys reruns of the show. The thought from general manager Jay Zollar is that they don't want Manning to feel too comfortable in the Frozen Tundra before Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
We here at Channel Surfing are not exactly immune to the green-and-gold madness sweeping through the area, and, hey, it's more entertaining than yet another silly bet on the outcome of the game between the mayors, senators, governors or secretaries of state involving cheese or vegetables. But, come on, why couldn't Manning's favorite show be, I dunno, "Judge Mathis?"
Plus, if Eli's room has cable - which I suspect it will - he'll still be able to catch not one, but two back-to-back episodes of the show about nothing on TBS at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
As a new season of Western Civilization's greatest achievement takes its first baby steps out of the primordial ooze we call prime time television, let's take a moment to reflect on how it all started. How did this cultural behemoth, this last bastion of human intellect, begin? The way all reality TV shows do: by the hand of God.
On the sixth day, God created Man. On the seventh day, because He was already bored, God created karaoke. Thus did karaoke begat "Garden of Eden Idol," which tanked in the ratings, since Adam was its only contestant. Yea did God not want to lose sponsors, so He created Eve out of Adam's rib bone. This severely affected Adam's diaphragm, and he was never able to sing again. Thus did Eve score a major recording contract with Apple Records.
It was during the height of the Roman Empire that "Idol" began to take the form we know today: one of unimaginable cruelty. Emperor Simonus Cowellus presided over weekly singing contests in the Colosseum, joined by Grand Inquisitor Randimus Jacksonicon, and the emperor's most beloved slave girl, Paula Abdul. (Yes, the same one. Paula Abdul is thousands of years old.) Together they would pass judgement on the feeble of voice and flamboyant of character, and those who received the "thumbs down" from the emperor were fed to the lions. Those who won ... well, they were fed to the lions, too. Emperor Cowellus had a thing for feeding people to the lions. He was kind of a jerk.
The American West in the 1800s was a time of lawlessness, violence, and horrible covers of R&B standards. Among all the famous outlaws "Wild West Idol" produced, two names stand out: Butch Aiken and the Ruben Kid. Once friends, this notorious duo's relationship strained when allegations of voting irregularities shocked the Union. The story goes that close to 150 viewer votes, sent by telegraph, weren't counted, and victory was given to the Kid. The gruff gunslingers settled their dispute like men: Barry Manilow at high noon -- choose your ballad. The Kid's interpretation of "Can't Smile Without You" made even the most hardened cowpoke cry in his sassparilla, and Butch Aiken was forced to accept defeat -- and a lucrative record deal.
In one of the closest and most controversial elections ever, audience and judge favorite Melinda Doolittle lost to George W. Bush when the Supreme Court ruled in his favor, plunging the country into darkness and despair. Only time will tell if voters learn from their mistake and use a little more care in choosing their next presi -- er, "Idol" -- this season.
Looking back, what lessons are there to glean from "American Idol's" rich and storied history? What basic human truths can we pluck from a tree grown of music and humiliation? Only one springs to my mind: I sure would like to see Ryan Seacrest eaten by lions.
Watch the game before the game, Part II: Tecmo Super Bowl picks the Giants
Last week, I posted Armchair GM's Tecmo-ized version of the NFC divisional playoffs with current NFL rosters (I still can't get over seeing names like Mason Crosby and Greg Jennings in the classic game.) Well, since the Packers advanced to the NFC Championship Game, it only makes sense to continue with the old-school Nintendo karma.
Except my beloved childhood game has betrayed me. Even after punishing the Seattle Seahawks 37-6 in a virtual beatdown, this week's computer-vs-computer simulation has Plaxico Burress playing out of his mind against the Pack. At Lambeau Field! With Eli Manning throwing to him!
Also, Ryan Grant's 13 carries for 19 yards seems pretty pathetic coming off his career 201-yard, three TD day last week. Maybe they should go back to calling him "Brian Grant."
(In case you're too lazy to follow the above link, the same site has the New England Patriots topping the San Diego Chargers 35-31 in the AFC Championship Game. And that's with Billy Volek at the Bolts' helm, not a gimpy Philip Rivers.)
There are a lot of ridiculous reasons to back a political candidate this early in the election cycle. One Iowa voter's frontrunner is another Nevada voter's Kucinich. Either way, after years of digesting primetime punditry from the O'Reillys', Matthews' and Scarboroughs' of the world, I'm completely cutting myself off from cable news nonsense.
No more "insight" from the frontlines of the latest "Did Hillary cry real tears?" media circus. No more McCain straight-talk. No more 9-11 grandstanding from Guiliani. Thanks to the Las Vegas Sun, I've already made up my mind.
I'm voting for Barack Obama.
According to the paper, the Illinois senator's favorite TV show is "The Wire," and his favorite character, Omar.
“That’s not an endorsement. He’s not my favorite person, but he’s a fascinating character,” Obama said, while noting in an audio clip that Omar, who is gay, is also “the toughest, baddest guy on the show.”
Hey, no need to convince me, Obama. You had my vote when you answered the question with "The Wire."
The Chicago Tribune's TV Blog goes on to point out that Sen. Hillary Clinton told Essence magazine awhile back that her favorite show is “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Hmmm. How ... safe.
Does anyone think Mitt Romney's answer would be "Big Love?"
You've no doubt seen the "Hollywood" promos airing incessantly on FOX. But to the best of my knowledge, none of the four Channel Surfing bloggers chooses to watch "American Idol," which is back tonight for another unstoppable run atop the ratings. Now, if any of us were actually getting paid to watch TV, I guarantee that wouldn't be the case. Being a TV critic and not watching "Idol" would kinda be like a Packers reporter deliberately avoiding Brett Favre. It's what everyone knows and talks about. You have to do it. Except Brett Favre is extremely talented and transfixing so ... oh, nevermind.
Anyway, covering "Idol" isn't a forced issue for us here at the PG, which might be a good or bad thing. If we keep track of "Idol"-mania on a weekly basis, who knows, maybe a ton of local fans will check out the site and decide to stick around so they can leave comments about the next Sanjaya. If we don't, well, it'll preserve our sanity and allow us to make time for more important matters (ahem, "The Wire") by avoiding such dreck.
Simply put: I'm not volunteering for the post. I can't stand "American Idol." I'll write stories about it when called upon. Will review its live show objectively (as I did after "Season Three" at the Resch Center). But I won't watch it unless there's some added incentive. Especially the next few weeks of it.
These next few weeks are what I call "lowest common denominator TV." Mind you, a lot qualifies as lower common denominator TV these days, so to be alone in that distinction must really mean something. That's because these next few episodes of "Idol" -- the much-anticipated and overhyped audition shows -- are the absolute worst thing to ever grace a TV screen. Ever. In fact, it's so awful, I actually need someone to explain the fascination with watching people sing badly. On purpose. Or at least with the knowledge that you were bad to begin with.
Please. Someone. Explain.
According to USA Today, "Audition shows accounted for Idol's seven most-watched episodes last season, topped by the season premiere's 38.1 million viewers. Viewers can expect a hairy-chested guy in a harem costume and a performer who rivals all-time horror William Hung during Season 7's four-week audition round, beginning tonight in Philadelphia and Wednesday in Dallas.
"You'll see the usual parade of the absolutely useless believing they are the best singers in the world (and) hating me when I say they're not good enough," judge Simon Cowell said. "But I'm used to that."
If you're out at a bar with friends and a guy or girl you're with decides to drunkenly make a fool of him/herself by performing an off-key karaoke version of "Dancing Queen," that's kinda funny. For five seconds. And really, it's only funny because you know the person, it was spontaneous, and most importantly, you can make fun of them while knocking back a few more beers ... blah, blah, blah. But why would anyone want to watch someone who knows they're bad -- or even if they don't know they're bad, think they're actually good and make a fool out of themselves -- just so they can get on TV? Even when I see promos for this season's Hung House of Rejects, the only thing running through my mind is, "Man, that person is sitting at home right now loving every minute of the fact that they're on TV." Heck, they probably put up a MySpace page the next minute, just so they can proclaim in bold letters, "As seen on 'American Idol.'" And tons of people will write about their scathing rejection, ask for interviews, plaster their face on "Extra," and visit that ridiculous MySpace site, however short-lived the attention might be. And that bothers me. That ruse. The idea that this person is now under the impression that they're a celebrity, they're famous, and they're remotely important because Simon Cowell told them they were dreadful on national TV.
So again, I ask you, loyal readers. Explain. If it's fun to watch a delusional idiot get ripped to shreds by Cowell, doesn't that speak volumes about what kind of person you really are? And if it's fun to watch a delusional idiot get ripped to shreds by Cowell knowing they were going to get ripped to shreds just to grab 15 minutes of fame, doesn't that speak volumes about what kind of person they are? Why would you want to feed into that? Why would you want to help a person get attention by the laziest and most asisine means possible? Why would anyone want to watch this same, tired routine after it already ran its course during the first season? Why am I still wasting my time writing about this stupid show?
Each week, I'll attempt to break down odds as "The Amazing Race" continues to shed dead weight and move towards its usual thrilling conclusion in the race for a million dollars.
After one of the more disappointing "Race" episodes in recent memory, the show (or more accurately, Nate and Jen, pictured at right) pulled out all the stops as contestants clawed for spots in the coveted "top three" during next week's million dollar finale. If the "Race" functioned like the NFL Playoffs, Ron and Christina would be the New York Giants. They're comfortable on the road -- Christina speaking Japanese certainly didn't hurt in Osaka -- continually underestimated by flashier teams, and have a militant, unpredictable leader ("Who's Your Daddy?" Ron/Coach Tom Coughlin) who needs to work on being less abrasive. Still, the end sometimes justifies the means, leaving Ron and Christina in good standing with two consecutive strong finishes. TK and Rachel are the Green Bay Packers -- young and athletic, models of consistency throughout, except for one brutal toe-stub (the Chicago Bears game at windy Soldier Field) near the end. TK's beard is also much grizzlier than Brett Favre's. Nic and Donald are similar to the San Diego Chargers. Broken down (Don's lack of energy/LaDainianTomlinson and Philip Rivers banged up on the sideline) and never really in control, but somehow still alive. Nic carrying Don's bags and keeping the team in survival mode has a bit of Billy Volek to it, no?
Then there's Nate and Jen, leading to the quintessential Dallas Cowboys comparison. Too many distractions (Tony Romo's vacation plans with Jessica Simpson, Jerry Jones on the sidelines) and off-the-charts potential for extreme volatility (the always-amusing Terrell Owens.) Predictably, things ended with a teary-eyed meltdown (again, Owens and his "that's unfair" weep-a-thon press conference/Nate crying at the end while embracing his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend, Jen) and snickers from a slew of haters.
The bigger question is, who are the all-but-crowned New England Patriots? That remains to be seen, with Nate and Jen's long and whiny road finally coming to an end in Taipei, Taiwan. Of course, it may have hurt Nate and Jen that they kept referring to Taipei as Ta-PIE, while at the same time declaring they don't know anything about Taiwan except that,"Thai food is pretty good." I'll take Grade School Geography for $100, Alex! (Or maybe I'm just sensitive about the lack of global awareness because my mom is from Taiwan and they're one of the United States' biggest trading partners. C'mon, Americans! Get up to speed with your Far East ally!)
The standings: Ron and Christina, first place; TK and Rachel, second place; Nic and Donald, third place.
Nate and Jen's Weekly Moment of Romantic Bliss: It was Jen's birthday, and nothing says "celebrate!" like telling your significant other, "Honestly Jen, I can't stand you" with every hate-filled bone in your body. For the dyspeptic duo, Sunday's episode reeked of ugliness and desperation (coincidentally, that's what Bill O'Reilly's cologne smells like.) With their backs against the wall, neither could avoid revealing their true colors (again), which for Nate was an exasperated plea for Jen to shut her stupid trap while sarcastically referring to her as a "good teammate." For Jen, it's an equally exasperated plea for Nate to grow a pair and act like a man. And while no one watching the "Race" could have possibly been rooting for them to win the million dollars, it's a bit sad to see them go. The remaining three are all relatively good-natured and deserving of the cash. But to make a reality show really tick in its finale, you want a team to rally against. That X-Factor is gone. Still, how fun was it to watch a bunch of mild-mannered Taipei residents stare in stunned silence as Nate and Jen bickered like angry teenagers on the street corner? Way to combat that ugly American stereotype, guys!
The X-Factor:TK and Rachel are all caught up. Amazing. Well, not really amazing when you consider that the three teams ahead had to wait for the Observatory to open, which allowed TK and Rachel to make up ground without really trying. Still, the pair deserves to be in the thick, and with Ron and Christina potentially peaking too early, have to be considered the frontrunners with the other finalists bogged down by age (after all, Ron and Don are really old. Like, they were around in the '60s!)
Next episode: According to CBS, "in a final 'Amazing Race' leg unlike any homestretch before it, the racers are surprised to learn upon checkout that their next flight is their last for the entire race. The entire leg, all the way through the finish line, will play out in the city, the wilderness, by the ocean, on glaciers, and in the national parks of Alaska. One often combative team comes together, while one usually cohesive team clashes. One team misreads a vital clue. Will this lead to the team's downfall? After 10 cities, four continents, and nearly 30,000 miles, who will cross the finish line first and win the one million dollar prize?
Who I'm rooting for: No villains in this bunch, so TK and Rachel get the nod. From the preview, it looks like a two-horse race, with Nic and Don getting confused by a clue along the final leg. The concern here is that Ron and Christina are better as underdogs, not frontrunners, so the pressure that comes with leading the pack might turn Ron into Mr. Hyde again. Either that, or his hernia will explode in Alaska. That could make for good TV.
Skepticism aside - seriously, how can you make a "Terminator" series without Ah-nold in the title role - Fox's "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" could be the one non sucky thing to come out of mid-season television.
Last night's premiere (part one of two) was a brilliant example of how the pace of movies can be translated to the small screen format without being lame (anyone remember the TV version of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off"? Didn't think so). Taut, action-packed and with an impressive amount of destruction rarely seen on television, "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" plays up the chapter-a-week attraction of shows like "Heroes" and "24."
Quick refresher course on the "Terminator" mythology: The world ends in a nuclear holocaust when an artificially intellegent computer system (Skynet) becomes self-aware and allows the takeover by machines bent on destroying humanity. In the first two movies, cyborg assassins (terminators) are sent back to the past to kill John Connor, who is slated to become the leader of the human resistance against the machines.
Although the series ignores the storyline of 2003's "Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines" in which an older John Connor attempts to destroy Skynet with the help of a reprogrammed terminator, it picks up where 1991's "T2: Judgement Day" ended. After destroying the assassin sent to kill her son, Sarah Connor (Lena Headey in Linda Hamilton's role from the films) and her son (Thomas Dekker) live as fugitives, running from town to town until coming to face yet another future assassin. Once they hook up with a guardian-angel cyborg, sent back from the future disguised as a teenage girl, they go on the offensive to destroy Skynet before it can wreck havoc on the world.
A lot has happened since 1984 - when the original "The Terminator" was released - both in the real world and the mythic timeline the movies operated on. What's nice is that "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" revises the world created in the movies without completely rewriting it, even though it's got 24 years on the first movie. It also channels a lot of the goofiness that made the "Terminator" movies standout from the average sci-fi-action flick - even if it is missing the Governator's ridiculous one-liners. Best of all, we're finally getting a closer and more intimate look at the shotgun-wielding single mom whose son is the future leader of mankind. Score one for feminists everywhere.
Part 2 of the premiere for "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" airs tonight on Fox at 8 p.m., which will be its regular time slot. Check out a recap of the first episode at Entertainment Weekly.
The "Lost" season 3 DVD set hit shelves a little over a month ago now, which means any fan worth his Dharma Initiative-issued beans will have scoured every nook and cranny of every episode, searching for hidden clues to the secrets of the island. "Lost" is well-known for planting "easter eggs" throughout the show -- my favorite being the shark stamped with the Dharma logo in season 2 -- that give hardcore followers pieces of an ever-expanding puzzle.
But the egg hunt doesn't stop with the show. If you want to get really crazy, every DVD set has approximately 108 million hidden bon mots scattered throughout. Mostly they're behind-the-scenes featurettes -- some insightful, some just silly -- but every now and then you'll come across something ... unsettling. The best example of this is on disc 7 of season 3, where hapless egg-hunters stumble across the full-length brainwashing video that the Others used on Karl in episode 307. The 3-minute "Clockwork Orange" freak-o-rama cobbles bizarre imagery, screeching music, and flashes of "inspirational" phrases, such as "God loves you as he loved Jacob." I don't recommend watching it straight through, or you'll end up barefoot in the woods, kidnapping pregnant women.
I didn't find, and have never been able to find, all the easter eggs by myself. Luckily there are far more intrepid explorers at work on the Internet, and they're willing to share the spoils of their search. The good people at Lostpedia -- the best source for anything "Lost," period -- have compiled a handy-dandy list for us egg-challenged fans. Now you too will be able to watch Dominic Monaghan (Charlie) and Jorge Garcia (Hurley) discuss their between-takes Scrabble match, and how Dominic manages to cheat. Or discover just what went into making those nasty-looking fish biscuits that Sawyer seemed to enjoy so much.
One amusing easter egg on the main menu of disc 3 features a television with Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) holding the signs from episode 305, asking Jack to kill Ben. If you wait, she'll hold up a sign that says, "By the way, your wife is much prettier than me." This easter egg is simply ridiculous, because no one is prettier than Elizabeth Mitchell.
The DVDs and subsequent easter-egg hunt are a great way to tide yourself over until the premiere of the new season on Jan. 31. As a bonus, executive producer J.J. Abrams' highly anticipated creature feature "Cloverfield" opens Friday. The movie -- supposedly about a monster attacking New York City, but really, with the amount of secrecy surrounding it, could be about anything -- was co-produced by "Lost" showrunner Bryan Burk and written by sometime "Lost" scribe Drew Goddard. And seeing as how director Abrams thanked the Dharma Initiative in the end credits for "Mission: Impossible 3," you'd best keep your eyes peeled for some "Lost" goodies in "Cloverfield" as well.