40 Hours of Television

The class is over, but the discussion continues. Does the media shape reality, or does reality shape the media? Art can imitate life...and life can imitate art. "40 Hours of TV" will explore the media and its impact on us all.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Review: "Dirty Jobs"

The Discovery Channel has an excellent series of programs that can be enjoyed by the entire family, including the superb Myth Busters. A new program to the network is Dirty Jobs. A bit edgier than other Discovery Channel shows, but more so for the content. More on that in a bit.

Dirty Jobs is hosted by Mike Rowe, an engaging personality with a dry wit who sounds a bit like David Letterman. Rowe is a well-known Bay Area personality and a former staff writer for The Jamie Kennedy Experience.

Each week, Rowe tackles a different "dirty" job, such as road kill collector, sanitation worker, sewer inspector and so on. Some of the dirty jobs are indeed cringe-worthy (cleaning a basement flooded with raw sewage, assisting in the insemination of a horse) which puts the show to a TV-14 rating. It's fascinating stuff, since many of the jobs Rowe explores are the kinds of jobs that most people really don't know much about.

Rowe is a true sport who tries hard in each job, injecting a sense of humor to the oft-times disgusting tasks at hand. Not all "dirty jobs" are disgusting, but most of them are. If you have a strong stomach, Dirty Jobs is a great show. Just don't watch while eating dinner.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Review: "Criminal Minds" Series Premier

This show was absolutely incredible. I am a huge fan of drama television and I haven’t watched a show that made my heart jump like this one in a long time. I came in with the impressions that this would be another CSI knock-off, but was pleasantly surprised by the fresh angle the writers took in developing the first episode.

The cast of the show is what really makes it happen for me. The mix and the interaction came across flawless. Mandy Patinkin plays the role of Gideon who is an old pro recovering from a bout of depression caused by a previous case. Matthew Gubler plays Dr. Spencer Reid who is a young genius who is full of random facts that come in quite hand when profiling criminals. Thomas Gibson, Shemar Moore, Lola Glaudini, and A.J. Cook round out the cast. The cast seems to have a natural interaction and it really works in the show.

Add in the fact that the plot of the show was absolutely intense, and you have yourself a real winner. Just when you thought it would go one way it went the other. The progression in the first episode was remarkable and the writers are to be commended for coming up with such a brilliant plot.

Criminal Minds is a must see. If you missed it this week, you should defiantly check it out next week. Let’s hope that they can keep it up and continue to bring fresh perspectives to criminal drama. It will air on Wednesdays at 9PM eastern.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"You Just Don't Fit In"

Tonight marked the debut of The Apprentice: Martha Stewart. And, I must say, a lackluster start to the series. Perhaps its the approach the show takes to the same basic template used on Trump's show. Martha Stewart is all sunshine and puppies compared to The Donald. As the show opens, we learn how she created her empire and became a billionaire. And she wants you! To work for her company. And bake the perfect muffin. Or she'll kill you.

At her side are Martha Jr. (daughter Alexis in the Carolyn role) and Charles Koppelman, Chairman of the Board of Martha's company (in the George role, natch).

On board are your standard mix of 16 annoying contestants, apparently coming from the corporate world and the creative world. Lawyers, PR types, blah blah blah.

Right off the bat, annoying contestant #1, Jim, who is all type-A and babbling about how he doesn't take orders, he gives them (something to that effect) and I'm thinking, Jim, if you're hired, guess what? You'll be taking orders. Get over yourself.

Eventually we are introduced to everyone and they are told to break off into two groups. Naturally, the creative types form one group and the corporate types form another. And they choose two stupid team names, "Matchstick" and "Primarius" and I can't even tell you which name went with which group. I don't know which name is worse.

The challenge for the day: each team will take a classic fairy-tale and re-do it to appeal to modern children. Team Matchstick went with Hansel and Gretel while team Primarius went with Jack and the Beanstalk.

Matchstick's project manager, Jeff, was all bossy boss-man as he barked orders and proceeded to pen a horrible re-thinking of Hansel and Gretel, rhymed a la Dr. Seuss. The other team took Jack and The Beanstalk and sent it underwater.

Both teams read their stories to a group of ADHD-addled children and the winner was...Jack and The Beanstalk, from the corporate team.

Bossy Boss Man Jeff took the annoying Jim and the annoying Dawn to the "conference room" but Jeff got the boot. And the irony here is, Jeff has won awards for being a story-teller, so I'm not sure how he managed to screw this one up.

Now, get ready for Martha's catch-phrase when she lets someone go:

"You just don't fit in."

Zoinks! I don't think that one will be catching on with the kids. And, instead of just sending the losing contestant packing, Martha actually writes a letter. "Dear Jeff, sorry you were a jerk and no one on your team liked you, love, Martha." That's an approximation, I think the real letter was nicer (but signed "cordially" instead of "love").

Fifteen remain. Who will be the next to not fit in? Tune in next week.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The Death Of The Sitcom: WB's "Twins"

Readers old enough to remember the late 1970s and early 1980s may recall that many a TV critic bemoaned the death of the situation comedy. Being a fan of Three's Company I disagree with that assessment, but still, critics wondered when sitcoms would "return." Critics got their wish with the debut of The Cosby Show in 1984.

Fast-forward 21 years and, with the current television season of new programming underway, and I will say it: the sitcom is dead. Exhibit A is The War At Home, which I reviewed here after its debut. Exhibit B is Twins, airing Friday nights on The WB.

The pilot episode introduced us to the "twins": Mitchee (Roseanne's Sara Gilbert) and Farrah (Passions Molly Stanton). The two are twins in the same way that Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzeneger were twins in the movie of the same name, meaning, it would have made more sense to just have the two are sisters, not twins. I'm just saying.

Writers Dana Klein and Kari Lizer must have dusted off The Complete Idiot's Guide to Situation Comedy Writing (I know, it's not a real book, but still...) and decided to make one twin super-smart (Mitchee) and the other, well, dumb as a box of rocks (Farrah). Just the recipe to get the laughs rolling! Of course, the smart twin is a brunette while the dumb twin is a blonde. Originality in a sitcom, finally!

The family is rounded out by a freakishly bloated Mark Linn-Baker (Perfect Strangers) as father Alan and a freakishly preserved Melanie Griffith as mother Lee, who apparently is, shall we say, developmentally disabled (the dumb blonde! Brilliant!) The family is in the lingerie business, and in the pilot, the "twins" are faced with the dillema of taking over the business.

Twins is brought to you by the same folks who created Will and Grace, but I think they forgot the whole comedy aspect of a situation comedy in creating Twins. What in the hell happened to wit? Wacky humor? A script that is funny? Here's an example of a joke from the show: Alan and Lee are at a fashion show to promote their latest line of lingerie, and after Alan talks about how his girls are going to take over the family business, Lee pipes up that giving birth to them was like "pooping out two watermelons," or something to that effect. Ha! Funny! Well, funny if you're an eight-year-old. A poop joke?

Anyway, bottom line is I hated just about everyone on the show, with the exception of Sara Gilbert. She was good on Roseanne as Darlene and she's good in Twins. The show isn't good for her, I think. As for everyone else, well, it was hard to get past the freakishly bloated Mark Linn-Baker, as he brought back bad memories of Perfect Strangers. Melanie Griffith played her role too well, but if we have a season's worth of dumb blonde jokes ahead of us, I need to find something better to do with my life, such as watching a freshly painted wall dry. Time for my sitcom prediction: this one will stay around for a while, unfortunately. Grade: C-

Friday, September 16, 2005

New Posts Coming Soon

Sorry for the lack of recent updates, folks. I've had some health issues to deal with over the last few weeks. I was recently diagnosed with diabetes, so I've been spending time trying to come to terms with this disease and everything associated with it.

With that said, I'd like to start posting a series of movie reviews I've written. I'd say they're more analysis than review, so they will be in the form of an essay, rather than a standard movie review.

Next week should be fun with the start of the new fall TV season, so there will be plenty of new shows to write about.

I'll kick things off with my review of The Night of The Hunter, Charles Laughton's classic 1955 thriller starring Robert Mitchum. This one is definitely worth checking out. It was way ahead of its time in terms of narrative and a unique style of filmmaking.

The Night of The Hunter
Directed by Charles Laughton

Famed British actor Charles Laughton (Mutiny on The Bounty, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) made his directorial debut with 1955’s Night of the Hunter. Film audiences of 1955 undoubtedly found Laughton’s expressionist vision impossible to decipher, and the film was a commercial and critical failure. Laughton, according to the Internet Movie Data Base, was so distraught over the reaction to his film that he vowed never to direct again. Clearly, Night of the Hunter was ahead of its time, and it took a few decades before moviegoers could appreciate all that Laughton accomplished with his film.

The concept of expressionism has to do with taking reality and reshaping it into a vision that becomes something not quite natural. The world as we know it is represented, but the effect of expressionism has our perception of that world tweaked in subtle, and no so subtle, ways.
Laughton opens the film with a darkened sky filled with stars. Suddenly the frame is filled with a woman (actress Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper) as she reads a bible story. Smiling children surrounds Rachel, as if they all were angels observing the world from above. And in the first few minutes of the film, we learn what expressionism is in that scene.
Another expressionist vision Laughton crafts introduces us to the character of Harry “Preacher” Powell (Robert Mitchum). Powell is driving, and the frame is filled of him and his vehicle (stolen) as he glances up to heaven and “prays” to his god, complaining about his mission in life, which is to kill wealthy widows and steal their money.
As Powell drives, Laughton shifts the point of view to the back seat of the car, so we are observing the back of Powell’s head; this terrific shot creates the feeling that we are driving in the car with Powell.

The effects of expressionism on the viewer are numerous. At times we feel like silent observers from above. In several scenes Laughton provides a god’s eye view of the world below, and in brilliant tracking shots, we soar through the air to the village below. Other times we seem to be looking through the eyes of young John Harper (Billy Chapin), a little boy with baby sister Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce) in tow. Powell will figure largely in their life soon, when he marries their widowed mother, Willa (Shelley Winters). Willa is a widow because her husband Ben had been convicted of killing two people in a bank robbery and sentenced to death – but before he goes to prison, Ben Harper (Peter Graves) instructs John to hide the money that had been stolen from the bank. When Harper and Powell end up cellmates at prison, Powell learns of the $10,000 Harper had stolen from the bank, which will provide Powell with another widow to kill.
Preacher and some of the other adult character are, at times, painted in broad strokes with particular personalities. Harry “Preacher” Powell is probably crazy and certainly sexually repressed. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar, and sometimes a switchblade knife is not a switchblade knife. In one disturbing scene, Preacher is watching a burlesque show, silently seething at the “sin” on display; he has hidden his switchblade in his coat pocket and violently ejects the blade through the coat pocket, in a frankly explicit display of sexual repression. Preacher is, as they say, out to lunch.

Icey Spoon (Evelyn Varden) is one of the town’s gossips and Willa Harper’s employer, who tells Willa that a single mother cannot raise children on her own: “No woman is able to raise growing youngsters alone. The Lord meant that job for two.” The two being Willa and Preacher, an arrangement Icey immediately approves of.

Uncle Birdie (James Gleason) is an adult friend of John’s, his confidant. Birdie has great affection for the boy. Birdie also has a bit of a drinking problem. In the end he fails John and Pearl; the two are on the run from Preacher, and they head over to Uncle Birdie’s for help, but find the man dead drunk.

Willa Harper, mother to John and Pearl, seems to be in a sort of daze. The execution of her husband Ben did not appear to affect her at all. Like many others in town, Willa finds herself drawn inexplicably to Preacher, and the two marry. On their wedding night Willa approaches Preacher to consummate their marriage, only to be rebuked by Preacher, who probably would not have been up to the task, anyway. Preacher just wants Ben Harper’s money.

Rachel Cooper is the opposite of Preacher. While Preacher falsely claims to be a man of God, Rachel Cooper is a devoted, deeply religious woman who takes in orphans and, as we see in the end, is fiercely protective of her flock. When Preacher comes to Cooper’s home, looking for John and Pearl and lying about why he was looking for them, Rachel immediately sees Preacher for what he is and is ready to shoot him dead with her rifle should he try to do anything to her flock of children.

Night of the Hunter’s vision of childhood is rather bleak. There isn’t much happiness for John and Pearl in the film. Laughton illustrates this bleakness in a scene where John and Pearl are observing children in a playground as they sing a song to mock John and Pearl (“Hing, Hang, Hung, See What the Hangman Done”) and even draw a picture of Ben Harper in a hangman’s noose. Pearl, who is a little too young to understand what is happening, starts to sing the song. John, a little wise beyond his years, tells her to stop.
Night of the Hunter is an ambitious and original film. It’s a shame it wasn’t appreciated when it came out. Charles Laughton obviously had a unique imagination, and it would have been interesting to see what that vision would have brought to the world of cinema.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Let The New Season Begin

Ah, September, the month when the world of television blossoms as the new season begin. Which shows will viewers be watching five years from now? I don't know, but I can make a prediction on a show that viewers will probably not be watching five weeks from now: Fox's horrible The War At Home.

It's sort of like Grounded for Life combined with Arrested Development AND Malcolm in The Middle. And I didn't laugh once. I don't think I even smiled. I'm smelling...flop! Worst of all (and careful viewers can correct me if I'm wrong) the show appears to be using a laugh track. Not "recorded in front of a studio audience" laugh track but the old-fashioned kind, canned laughter, the fake laughter you hear on The Flintstones or The Brady Bunch (and sounding like the same friggin' laugh tracks used by those two shows). I dunno, I might be wrong, but I can't imagine a real studio audience laughing so hard and so often at The War At Home, unless said audience was drugged/drunk/forced to laugh at gun point/fake.

Anyway, the show bored me to tears and I'm just too lazy to write anything in-depth about it, so I'll let the IMDB do my work for me.

At least next week we get The Apprentice and The Apprentice 2.0 with Martha Stewart.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Counselor, Where Art Thou?

MSN has a photo gallery up of the contestants for season four of The Apprentice. And what's fascinating is that there are no lawyers this time around. Well, there's a recent law school grad, but no practicing attorneys.

In seasons past there has been at least one attorney, sometimes two or three. Perhaps the producers of The Apprentice realized that lawyers are not the most popular of people to put into a reality show -- as evidenced by the dismal failure of another NBC reality show, The Law Firm, which was cancelled after only two episodes.

If you happen to be a fan of the attorney reality show contestant, take comfort in knowing that The Apprentice: Martha Stewart has two attorneys as contestants, as well as a recent law school grad. Sparks will fly! Okay, maybe not.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

So Long, Little Buddy

Actor Bob Denver -- television's Gilligan from Gilligan's Island (not the horrible reality show) -- has died at the age of 70 of complications from cancer treatment he was receiving.

Gilligan's Island is one of those classic shows that I think everyone has seen at least once. Somewhere around the world someone is tuning in to an episode of creator Sherwood Schwartz's supposed "social" commentary/sitcom. I'm not sure what the social commentary was (something to do with coconut pies?) but perhaps the show was deeper than I'm giving it credit. I'm hoping my enlightened readers will let me know about the deeper social meaning of Gilligan's Island, because I'm not seeing it.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Brian Wilson Smiles in Portland

I guess reviewers are supposed to be objective, so I should warn you right now that I'm not going to be objective. Instead, I'll take the awed concert-goer approach.

Brian Wilson's "Smile" tour came to Portland, OR on Aug. 31, playing at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

It was an amazing experience. Not only to actually see Brian Wilson perform, but to enjoy his terrific band. Along for the tour is a small string and horn section from Sweden.

In attendance at the show were a very diverse mixture of people, from aging baby boomers to teenagers and everyone else in between. And it was clear that everyone loved Brian. I think Brian's audiences are a bit protective of him, knowing how he's struggled with mental illness for so many years, and knowing how hard it can be for Brian to tour. So, the crowd embraced Brian (and his band) and roared its approval after every song.

The first part of the show was a trip down memory lane, as Brian and his band performed a string of Beach Boys hits, from early classics like "Surfin' USA" to the Pet Sounds era "Wouldn't It Be Nice."

Brian's voice isn't what it used to be, but he sounded fine, better than he did when the Smile tour began in 2004. Seated at a keyboard, Brian isn't very animated, but his band is, as they run around the stage, some going from station to station, playing different instruments at each.
A standout for me was "Sloop John B." Wow. Band and Brian were amazing.

After an intermission, the band returned to perform Smile, the "lost" recording from the late 1960s. Brian was unable to finish the record, and shelved the project. He was inspired to finish Smile in 2003, enlisting the help of his original Smile collaborator, Van Dyke Parks. Brian has called this album a "teenage symphony to God." From the opening vocal harmonies of "Our Song/Gee" to the famous end-piece, "Good Vibrations," it was a thrilling performance. I think it's probably a bit of a challenge to sit through if you've never heard Smile, because of how the album is arranged. The band played it through nearly without a pause, and the crowd was wanting to applaud every number.

Brian and his band returned for an encore, playing hits like "Barbara Ann" and even "Johnny B. Goode."

It was an exciting night, and thrilling -- and inspiring -- to see Brian perform. It was even more thrilling to see Brian animated, smiling, waving his arms around, and even talking to the crowd, something he didn't do in early performances in 2004. And while it wasn't a sell-out crowd, it was nearly a packed house, and when someone would shout out "We love you, Brian!" it was a sentiment shared by all.
edited: ME

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Bad Reality Show Concepts

Like it or not, reality shows are now a permanent part of television viewing. For every good show there is a horrible show. Actually, I think for every good show there are several horrible shows.

A new concept in reality programming debuted this summer: the "replace the dead rock star" concept. I'll admit to not having seen Rock Star: INXS or R U The Girl, so I don't know how good (or bad) the shows are, but it just seems wrong to replace a popular member of a band (INXS' Michael Hutchence, who died in 1997 and TLC's Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez, killed in a car crash in 2002) via reality show. I don't know what INXS was thinking when this concept was presented to them. "Michael's been dead for eight years, it's time to replace him with someone we'll pick from a reality show!" Oy. It just seems to be an insult to the memory of Hutchence and Lopez. Post if you have any thoughts on those shows -- maybe I'm way off in my analysis. So, go ahead and set me straight!