Friday, May 29, 2009
Prague is basically heaven. The money here is called crowns!
I just discovered Photoshop's gradient maps.
More later, hopefully, unless I'm too busy communing with Kafka, hating the world.
Click here for the full post
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Spanning from Holly-nirvana through the Michael Scott Paper Company to a thoroughly delightful company picnic, Season 5 of The Office has been proclaimed one of the series’ best seasons and one of the most consistent comedies on television this year. The season has certainly featured plenty of gut-busting funny, awkward, and butterflies, but count me among the loyal opposition.
About halfway through the year, when everyone was riding high on the Angela love triangle and Jim and Dwight’s party planning committee, I began to see the cracks. There’s no denying that the longer this mockumentary series continues, the more its credibility stretches. It may never break, since some documentary crews take years to get a handle on the story they’re telling, but five years in, the luster has faded. Every time we’re privy to out-of-office events, like Pam at art school or Angela and Andy at Schrute Farms, I cringe a little. I want the show to achieve its Season 2 heights, and I’ll use a condescending rule Alan Sepinwall coined to describe his appreciation of 30 Rock: funny forgives a lot. So I’ll cut the documentary strictures some slack if they’re in service of some serious funny. But more often than not, I wish we were back in the office.
The Office tends to give a little space to only one relationship on the show, the courtship that got everyone buzzing back in 2005, Jim and Pam. They have no problem eavesdropping on Angela’s conversations with her kept men, but when it comes to the flagship romance, they rely on a trick used by the original BBC Office: When Tim confesses his love for Dawn, he takes off his mic like any real person and takes her into a room away from the cameras. It was one of the best scenes I’ve seen in television history. Back to Scranton, we’ve kept our distance this year during Jim’s proposal and the final pregnancy scene, but we’ve also had a healthy amount of other landmarks in the Jim-Pam relationship including Jim buying a house, Pam’s parents’ divorce, and the possible elopement. All of which adds up to an oversaturated market. Jim and Pam are never going to break up, and the closest thing they’ve had to a bump in the road was the brief period of Pam’s dad walking out, but even that was resolved as soon as Pam realized it was because Jim loved her so much. So of course they’re going to move in and get married and have a baby. I’m not remotely as surprised or excited or anxious about Jim and Pam as I have been in the past. Which is fine—the show’s excellence does not depend on their romance, and both characters have been splendid on their own since the season began, especially Jenna Fischer, practically the co-lead—and I'm certainly not suggesting the writers contrive arbitrary drama for the couple, but I'm tired of the show leaning on their relationship as its dramatic foundation. I love Jim and Pam, but I'm not as hooked as I was.
It might sound weird in a year where Michael has engaged in physical and emotional slapstick including planting caprese salad on Toby, running after Meredith to force her into rehab, and crawling around on the floor seeking recruits to say Steve Carell has become this kitchen sink show’s prime draw. But thanks to the aforementioned Amy Ryan and Michael Scott Paper Company arcs, he has. This show is all about the awkwardness Carell’s oblivious, offensive, and obnoxious boss provokes, but we’ve had hints throughout that he’s sometimes a competent salesman and boss and underneath, he’s a big, sweet, loyal, friendly kid. This year, we have those facets in spades. The growth of Michael Scott has replaced the Jim and Pam courtship as what gives me goosebumps, and I'm more invested in Michael-Holly than any other romance on television. His trip to help Holly move to Nashua is a masterpiece of the slow-burn drama that fueled Season 2, and “Company Picnic” is the perfect bookend. Michael still hasn’t confessed his love, because the timing wasn’t right, so my butterflies will go on to live another day.
Meanwhile, he finally got the confidence up to quit. David Wallace has walked all over Michael, and “The Deposition” was a particularly nasty point of no return for the character, so I was simultaneously embarrassed and happy for Michael when he looked at him in the eyes and waxed cliché: “You have no idea how high I can fly.” It’s a cringeworthy moment, Michael declaring something he’s probably heard on television or read in a Hallmark card, but it’s also inspirational the way Michael Scott of all people can recognize and act on his self-worth. After a month of will-they-succeed-or-fail anxiety, Michael expertly negotiates an enormous buy-out by Dunder-Mifflin, returning to his natural habitat a little wiser.
The problem is, the writers are intent on padding out his moments of maturation (yelling at David Wallace after he transferred Holly) and relapses into immaturity (his lecture at Nashua) with the most inane, unrealistic acts that weighed heavily on the first half of Season 4 (when Michael drove into a lake and kidnapped a pizza guy). Carell’s not the only actor so consigned. I hate the Dwight-Angela-Andy drama culminating in a mock wedding and then “The Duel” because not one of them acted like real people, much less the mostly-real-but-prone-to-comedic-antics characters we’ve come to know.
Speaking of Dwight, I neither believed nor laughed at his bizarre betrayal of Michael in the season's final arc. After four years of almost absolute loyalty--despite his "I want to go where they value loyalty the most" non sequitur--Dwight becomes a significant enemy to his former friend? Right. (Now, if they had played up Dwight's feeling of abandonment, I may feel differently). Then there's Jim, who's been the most likeable and smart employee in Scranton, and somehow he keeps piling egg on his face around Charles? After the first couple episodes of that, I was more than satisfied with Jim's comeuppance--he was getting kind of full of himself, wasn't he? But it continued to a point where it threatened Jim's established character. Also, much as I love the character of Ryan, I’m not sure if I believe he’d willingly return to his old temp position. Hopefully the writers will get a firmer handle on their leads by next year (though they've excelled with regards to Jenna Fischer's Pam, who has grown since "Beach Day," has had a season's worth of bonding with Michael in "Lecture Circuit" and the Michael Scott Paper Company, and remains recognizable).
One of the strengths of The Office—particularly compared to its British progenitor—is the fleshed out supporting cast, and it’s here that the show has actually improved lately. Episodes like “Prince Family Paper” where the supporting cast debate the beauty of Hilary Swank or “Café Disco” where the characters realize how much they really do like working together are sold by the believable and hilarious supporting players. Ditto fan favorites “Casino Night” and the Christmas episodes. Further, Season 5 has relished spotlighting certain supporting players, providing one of my favorites, “Business Trip,” which spends as much time with Andy and Oscar as with Michael. I also reveled in the bitchy narcissism that comes with Jan in “Baby Shower,” the popularity that drives Kelly in “Customer Survey,” and the sweetness Kevin displayed in “Blood Drive.”
For all its faults, The Office remains one of my favorite shows, and episodes like “Weight Loss,” “The Surplus,” and “Stress Relief” master the subtle balance of the awkward, occasionally exaggerated comedy and believable character drama I look for in The Office. But this has been a tremendous year for comedy, with a healthy Emmy slate of freshman comedies (Better Off Ted, Party Down, United States of Tara, The Middleman) on top of the existing trusted brands (30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, Scrubs, Flight of the Conchords). So I’m not sure The Office is among my favorite comedies of the year. But funny forgives a lot.
Click here for the full post
Thursday, May 14, 2009
At this point, Lost masterminds Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof know that they can do whatever they want and I'll keep watching. I suppose that's shame on me. Spoilers for the Season 5 finale to follow.
It's not so much that Lost is bad. It's actually been mostly entertaining this year, with this newfangled man about town La Fleur and his special lady friend Juliet, the unstuck Desmond and Dan (and Eloise!), everything with Locke and Ben, and now some insight into Jacob. As a pulpy sci-fi action-adventure (with mostly abysmal romantic subplots), Lost has been pretty engaging this year.
But the cop-out at the end of "The Incident"--Juliet activates Jughead and we fade to white without learning what happened--undermines the ostensible climax. This isn't quite true, but it feels like nothing happened that we didn't already know was going to. Like that episode in Season 1 where Boone was mortally wounded, but they held off on his death until the next episode...so it could be a surprise?
I hate to dismiss the impact of the Jacob scenes, which completely transposed my emotional alliances. I can't be alone now in thinking Jacob's the "good guy," Ben's been a misguided servant, and whatever's deceptively animating Christian 2.0 and Locke 2.0 is the "bad guy." And Charles Widmore is not quite so important to this whole story as we thought--same with Ben, until perhaps the moment he killed Jacob.
Same with Desmond, and that's perhaps the most frustrating aspect of "The Incident." Overwhelming fan favorite Desmond and his time-tripping ways have been mostly ignored this season. We got close with Daniel's return in "The Variable," but then they killed him off, too. At this point, Cuse and Lindelof need to drop their artistic pretensions. Lost is straight-up B-movie pulp, and however well-produced it is and however interesting it may be from a philosophical or political or religious standpoint, it's not quite so deep as it thinks it is. But because the writers like to pat themselves on their backs for naming the latest character Heidegger or something, they're committed to the facade that Lost is too high-brow to succumb to changes like diminishing the importance of mostly boring leads like Jack and Kate and focusing more on the interesting background players like Desmond and Daniel. So the eternal supporting character Desmond will always be merely an afterthought, however purportedly significant he is to the mythology.
On the other hand, I was elated to see that not only did the writers have Rose, Bernard, and Vincent in their back pocket the whole time, but they gave them the skeptic outlook. Rose was me, in this episode, only she was telling Kate and the rest to their faces that she's bored with what they're doing. I know it's been said, but how is it that everyone on this god-damn island has paramilitary training except for the out-and-out comic relief? Even Charlie wielded a gun perfectly when called to! But back to Bernard. When he talked about his idyllic life in his seaside cabin with his wife and dog, I was overjoyed. It's nice that the writers can at least acknowledge that the characters in the central story they're telling aren't everymen. Some of us would much rather relax on the beach than form squabbling quasi-dictatorships bent on destroying one another.
I briefly mentioned the religious undertones--er, overtones or tones or TONES!--and it's here that I think "The Incident" really soared. It's up there with Battlestar Galactica as an exploration of religion. I especially liked the archetypal flourishes: They touched on Locke's past as a carpenter with Sun and the cradle, they revealed Benjamin Linus as a disgruntled servant who turns on his master, and they got Jack (and Juliet and others) to spread the message with words not arms. And of course, with the ending, they denied us immediate gratification, forcing us instead to endure further trials before entering the realm of enlightenment.
But it's that ending which reinforces the show's B-movie status as opposed to some artistic storytelling unit. The season builds to an event that we know is going to happen, and then it happens. But it's not a climax, because we don't know what even really happened.
There are more than two options, but here are the two leading theories. First, they did what was supposed to happen all along. Radiation forces an evacuation of the island, save Desmond's predecessors in the hatch. And Oceanic Flight 815 will crash on schedule in 27 years. But the problem from a television perspective is: If this is what was supposed to happen all along, then all the main characters who went back in time and killed themselves to ensure the flow of history are now dead and gone. Barring flashbacks and ghosts--and how sick are we all of those?--Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Juliet, Sayid, Miles, Hurley, Jin, and others (like Daniel and Charlotte) ought to be dead. I trust the writers to work around that if need be (for instance, maybe the electromagnetic pocket or whatever sends all the Lostaways back to 2004 or 2007), but there's always option 2:
Which is that they changed history after all. The problem here is that simply by virtue of deciding to detonate Jughead, or perhaps the act of dropping the bomb down the shaft since that's the direct cause of the temporal change (and it's here that we realize history can't be changed, because it will always have been that way), they successfully "changed history," an act not dependent on the detonation itself. Which is to say, if history is changed, that timeline should cease to exist the moment the first change happened, but I'll give them the same leeway I give Star Trek on the subject of changing history. This frees up Season 6 to be about anything and involve anyone from the show's history, which thrills me. If they can bring back any of the dead characters, even if just for an episode, Season 6 could be very interesting. And they'll have nostalgia on their side.
But Sawyer's right. What happened happened. And Cuse and Lindelof gave us an anticlimax with a lot of fun character beats (I can't believe I haven't mentioned Sawyer holding tight to Juliet or Hurley's heartwarming chat with Jacob!) and plenty of awesome action. But it was an anticlimax nonetheless. Not even a hydrogen bomb can change that.
Click here for the full post
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
As we speak, I'm finally catching up on the episodes of Chuck I missed. Much as I find all this "best show on television" hooplah tedious, I have to admit Chuck is one of the most fluffily enjoyable shows around. It isn't all that deep, but the action, comedy, and romance swirl to form a pleasant concoction. But Chuck doesn't need any cheerleaders. Three other worthy series on the verge of cancellation hell do.
First up, the universally despised Mitchell Hurwitz sitcartoon about the staff of a ludicrous high school. The upshot to bad reviews is that audiences embark with lowered expectations. To be honest, it takes a while to adapt to the show's bizarre, quirky attitude, but I nevertheless concluded the pilot with a few great laughs. Four episodes in, it's clear that Sit Down, Shut Up is an animated stepchild of Arrested Development, with all its hallmarks: a broad cast of archetypes, an impossible density and diversity of jokes, healthy doses of social and political satire, and all the meta you could ask for. I know some find the meta nature of Sit Down, Shut Up offputtingly postmodern, but I can't get enough (see also: 30 Rock). Then there's the cast. I think Sit Down, Shut Up would have scored positive reviews were it live-action, but it makes do with just the voices of its actors: Jason Bateman as the straight-shootingish gym teacher, Will Arnett as the himbo (I forgot what he teaches--probably English given this show's cynicism), Kristin Chenoweth as the new age, magic-loving science teacher, Will Forte as the idiot vice principal, Kenan Thompson as the rotund, female principal, Henry Winkler as the suck-up German teacher, Cheri Oteri as the outcast librarian and Nick Kroll as the omnisexual drama teacher. Oh, and Tom Kenny plays the British narrator of the Arab janitor's dialogue and actions, like a well-meaning but aloof BBC or NPR commentator. Told you it was meta. If you're interested, I'd suggest holding off judgment until you've seen the first two episodes, by which point I was laughing steadily. It's going to be canceled anyway, but that's no reason not to partake of some appetizers for the Arrested Development movie.
Dollhouse ended its season and probably series on Friday, and like Sit Down, Shut Up, I enjoyed this one from the start much more than most reviewers. True, it improves as it progresses, but even the early outings are philosophically and comedically remarkable. If you haven't heard, and judging by the ratings you haven't, Dollhouse is Joss Whedon's latest soul-busting deal with Satan, er, Fox which explores a warehouse in LA where people known as dolls are hired out. Dolls have their existing personalities wiped clean and can be imprinted with whatever personality a client desires, ranging from--you guessed it!--the perfect sexual partner to an expert police investigator. Eliza Dushku plays our lead, Echo the doll, and while her range is somewhat limited--especially damaging given the malleability of her character--she's a fine protagonist. But the rest of the cast consistently raise the bar, particularly Dichen Lachman as the doll Sierra (whose versatility puts Dushku to shame) and the studly Enver Djokaj. The dollhouse is overseen by Rushmore's Miss Cross, also known as Olivia Williams, a delicious villain, with Reed Diamond, Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz, and Amy Acker playing the other main staff members. The final stunning performance comes from Tahmoh Penikett as an FBI agent trying to locate and bring down the mythical dollhouse (many think it's just an urban legend). Penikett is trapped in a noir plot of informants, job insecurity, and paranoia, and the number of times he's beat down in the first half of the season recalls Philip Marlowe. But like I said, the primary draw of Dollhouse is the philosophy, and given Whedon's feminist background, prepare for some especially stomach-churning scenes about the female dolls. At one point, the series asks, if a person actively chooses to become a doll, whether that doll is their "real" self. The series' mythology grows exponentially as the season races on, and I would caution against looking at Dollhouse even on IMDb or Wikipedia. Again, Dollhouse is almost certain to be canceled, which is a shame given the series' uniqueness and potential, but maybe Joss Whedon, however diplomatic he's being about the whole mess, will finally see the light about Fox's mercilessness.
Finally, the best new show of the year (sorry, Party Down & United States of Tara) aired only 7 episodes before being prepared for interment. I'm talking about ABC's Better Off Ted, a lightly serialized, single-camera sitcom where America (or Society) is an unfeeling, monolithic corporation. Or, you know, Fox Broadcasting Company. Like its spiritual predecessor Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Better Off Ted follows a businessman surrounded by wacky coworkers and an ultraserious boss at Veridian Dynamics, which produces and markets such necessities as "hurricane-proof dogs." Jay Harrington offers a wry charm as fourth wall-breaking narrator Ted, but his job description seems to be "handsome," so most of the comedic heavy lifting is left for his castmates, particularly Portia de Rossi as his manager Veronica. If there's a television god or gods--Gods, right? It's gotta be plural--De Rossi will be nominated for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy. Veronica is Ted's direct superior and has some of that Jack Donaghy business aggression (she even teaches Ted's 7 year-old daughter how to sculpt power hair), but she's best using her sarcasm on Linda, one of Ted's underlings who has a crush on him and both an independent streak and a deep insecurity. Last, we have Phil and Lem, two scientists in Ted's employ who are reliable comedy relief whether fighting over a single HAZMAT suit or babysitting a drugged Linda. Representative of their view of Ted, Phil delivered my current banner quote: "He's like a god, only it hurts more when he judges us." Since the cast is so small (and when did five become small for a sitcom cast?), everyone gets plenty of funny, and there's even time for an obliviously hysterical Veridian Dynamics commercial in each episode (comprised of stock footage and soothing narration). If I could renew one show, it would be this one, but it's not quite a definite goner--ABC has almost no other comedies, and critics seem to love Better Off Ted--so do what you can to help keep Ted alive. Veridian Dynamics: Life. Better.
Click here for the full post
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Saddled with decades—decades!—of fandom, I walked into Star Trek worried it would disappoint me. For much of the opening, my fears were realized—but I’ll get to JJ Abrams later. Suddenly we arrive at the glorious exodus shot: a dozen or so shuttlecraft slowly fleeing a giant squid. They’re going as fast as they can, the squid just sits there floating, and it’s all set against a wondrous sea of stars.
That’s the first image that stuck with me. To be honest though, Abrams started to win me back with Papa Kirk’s final moments with Dr. Cameron via communicator. The problem is, dude likes his camera. Settle down, Ritalin-child! If you could make out what was going on during most of those battle shots aboard the Kelvin, congratulations. The rest of us were busy fuming at JJ Abrams and his obnoxious Technicolor dream-camera.
Either I adapted to Abrams’ frenetic direction or he cooled it toward the middle of the film, because I could interpret the geometry of the later battle scenes fairly well, specifically the fight aboard Nero’s ship. But instead of earthquake-cam, we beheld an incessantly roving, swirling, swooping, and diving one. I’m reminded of Spock’s interrogation by the Vulcan elders. I would have greatly preferred an Orson Welles’ Trial shot, something stationary and low-angle, emphasizing the inexorable might of the elders versus puny, insignificant Spock.
Aboard the Enterprise, how many times did Abrams move to a diagonal to send the far corners of his widescreen image stretching to cover as many faces as possible? How’s that Dutch angle complement the story you’re trying to tell, eh, Pythagoras? Remember the shot where we were upside down looking at the top of the Enterprise? My mind kept trying to decipher what I was looking at, and if that was the bottom or an inverted view of the top of the ship, for most of the shot. I suppose this is what happens when Best Director goes to Danny Boyle, master of needlessly kinetic camerawork.
Abrams seems to be his own biggest obstacle though, because despite his inability to sit still for a moment, he managed to frame some searing compositions—the slow push in on Spock reaching to someone who isn’t there on the transporter pad, Chris Pine in a gold uniform taking his seat on the bridge, Elder Spock’s view of the destruction of Vulcan, any shot of San Francisco.
The lens flares which split audiences worked for me. You know when you first go outside on a bright day and have to squint because it’s so bright? To me, this reintroduction to the franchise (and to the revamped Enterprise specifically) is like going outside for the first time in a while.
With the exception of the Kelvin ambush, I was absorbed by most of Abrams' action scenes. You could feel the danger when Kirk was hanging off the floating drill, and watching the Enterprise ram through wreckage was thrilling.
Unfortunately, the man who should have been the prime contributor to the new Star Trek franchise was far surpassed by his cast and crew. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have crafted a story that feels like another episode. This works against the outing in that it feels quite small despite some of the enormously consequential events (like the destruction of Vulcan, which, like the apocalypse of Watchmen, failed to hammer home the horror, though the blame there lies more at Abrams’ feet). But mostly, it was a nice way to wade back into the waters of a Star Trek film franchise.
Star Trek was a pilot, an episode whose purpose is to establish the series that will follow and introduce the prominent characters and settings, while giving an example of the kind of story the series will tell. In that respect, Star Trek soared. The lead cast is better—more believable, funnier, and more evocative—than I expected. I was most concerned about Zoe Saldana’s Uhura after her grating performance as Anna Maria in Pirates of the Caribbean, but she confounded me, and I anticipate learning more about Uhura 2.0.
As everyone has praised, Uhura has an increased presence in the new series, which is a double-edged sword: sure, the lone female lead finally has a role to rival the more significant male leads, but her primary function so far is as a love interest. Still, it was gratifying to see that Uhura’s an unrivaled exolinguist and her Academy zeal uncovers the information that leads Kirk to warn Captain Pike what he was getting into.
And while the supporting players are heretofore, alas, only supporting players, each member of the senior staff got to play a great scene or two: Chekov and his wictors, Chekov and Scotty showing off on the transporter, and Sulu in a swordfight! Bruce Greenwood is so engaging as the den father slash war hero that I’m a little disappointed he has to step aside in order to get Kirk in the captain’s chair. Eric Bana excelled with what little he was given, exuding an alien quality in his animalistic demeanor. The moment where he bellows, “Fire all weapons!” has earned a place in Valhalla alongside the last stands of Khan and General Chang.
I’m convinced that this series has found the perfect actors to play the core trio of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. Karl Urban delivered my favorite performance, and I hope Episode 2 focuses more on the trio than just the Kirk-Spock dynamic. But this film is understandably about the parallels between Kirk and Spock—their parental issues, their competition, and their complementary personalities. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, as all apparently agree, surpassed expectation and earned their iconic roles with aplomb.
The one performance I loathed? Winona Ryder as Amanda, Spock’s mother. She absolutely failed to play an older woman, and I’m not clear on why JJ Abrams couldn’t find an age-appropriate actress to play the part. The other nagging issue is the film’s misunderstanding of black holes, but then Star Trek science is more like Dr. Laura’s doctorate; it’s close enough.
I warned you I’m a fan of the material. I could talk about the changing location of Delta Vega. But I’m more irritated by the need to distinguish Romulans on film. In both Nemesis and Star Trek, the filmmakers decided that Romulans shouldn’t look exactly like Vulcans as they do in the series, but rather they should be hairless and tattooed. Star Trek should sell Romulans and Vulcans as close cousins rather than aliens distanced through evolution.
Interestingly, none of those fan nitpicks took away from my enjoyment. But on the other hand, when it makes concessions to fandom, the film carried me away. I had no idea how important it was to hear Bones say, “Dammit, Jim!” Or how much I’d missed Kirk’s gold uniform after being deprived of it for two hours. The kicker? The closing credits music. I didn’t need Leonard Nimoy’s voice-over, not that I minded it. But that iconic, wailing, utterly ’60s tune? That made me a happy kid.
The strength of Abram’s Star Trek is in its characters, lived beautifully by the cast. I hope the next episode delves into some of the political or philosophical trenches that distinguish Star Trek’s best outings, and I hope the rest of the senior staff get more to do. I hope Kirk is equally or more undressed. And I hope that camera pulls off a single stationary shot. As a cinephile, I thought Star Trek was terrific entertainment, a solid but hyper pilot for a promising franchise. As a trekkie, I can’t wait for the future.
Click here for the full post
Wanda Sykes got the Colbert lecture chair at the White House Correspondents Dinner this year. In her speech she crossed all possible lines insulting Rush Limbaugh, bringing in references to 9-11, kidney failure, and pedophilia, while feasting on aborted babies and peeing on the president. And now, everyone (read: mass media) is asking if she went too far. What do you think?
Here's the transcript: "Rush Limbaugh said he hopes this administration fails . . . To me, that's treason. He's not saying anything differently than Osama bin Laden is saying. You know, you might want to look into this, sir, because I think Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker, but he was just so strung out on OxyContin he missed his flight . . . Too much?" Oh, and she went on to say, "Rush Limbaugh--I hope the country fails. I hope his kidneys fail. How about that? He needs a water-boarding, that's what he needs."
The first time I heard it, I laughed louder than Obama, whose polite smile is now a point of some controversy driven by ostensible newsmen (including cheerleader Keith Olbermann) who should perhaps focus on real stories (by which I mean papers like the New York Times, for instance, are apparently more concerned that Sykes may have crossed some lines with her words than they are that Bush may have crossed some lines with his torture.)
Whoa, off topic. Back to the subject at hand: I laughed at Sykes' jokes. So I'm now in a position where I feel the need to defend my laughing. Maybe I'm equivocating. But I laughed nonetheless, and I laughed again the second time.
I hate to say I get what the hubbub is, because acknowledging that there's an issue with what she said legitimizes this culture of over-apology. But I do understand that people are anxious about the September 11th attacks still. I buy that some people are put off by the joke.
However, I don't completely get why Sykes' joke about Limbaugh participating in the attacks is so wrong, so overbearingly offensive that people are waiting for a public apology. Obviously it's not true that Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker. She wasn't seriously asserting that Limbaugh helped 3000 Americans die. (But let's not pretend that Limbaugh hasn't loudly and blindly supported various deaths elsewhere in the War on Terror.)
Is it that she criticized his patriotism? If so, then it seems the Right can dish it but not take it, but then maybe it's not fair for me to lump Limbaugh in with Spencer Bachus, Michelle Bachmann, and Ann Coulter. (But between you and me, it totally is.) Of course, I haven't heard Limbaugh himself asking for an apology and don't expect to, so it's more a matter of the media struggling to stay relevant. Furthermore, Limbaugh's patriotism is certainly fair game after that declaration of his that Sykes was shredding. Can wanting the Obama administration to fail be patriotic?
As for the kidney failure joke, I have no sympathy. For Limbaugh, that is--I thought Sykes was hysterical and audacious. And hey--guy likes his painkillers. He's a loudmouth, and she's calling him out. What kind of culture are we living in where something like that is a topic of controversy? Were Rush Limbaugh's kidneys to implode today, I would feel sorry for him, but I wouldn't blame Wanda Sykes, because I have a functioning brain. I often wish bad things on the guy in front of me who can't drive correctly. Should I publicly apologize for my actions, which reflect poorly on myself, my parents, and my wife, with whom I have raised three fabulous dogs? Or do I have as much right to my opinions--including mean-spirited but funny jokes--as anyone else?
Press Secretary Gibbs decided that "there are a lot of topics that are better left for serious reflection, rather than comedy. I think there's no doubt that 9/11 is part of that."
I understand Gibbs needs to be as far from perceived controversy as possible, so I'll cut him some slack on not standing up for free speech. But a lot of people would agree with him, and I must protest. Setting the idea that offense is a pointless endeavor aside, comedy can probe those areas of our consciousness that need examination. I think some of us need to get over September 11th, which isn't to say we need to forget it or ignore it or diminish it but that it's time to accept that it happened and it sucked and get on with our lives. In this one little joke, so much energy has been expended worrying about September 11th-related offense.
I suppose I'm sick of the idea of freedom from offense. Which recalls Judd Hirsch in the Studio 60 pilot: "Living in a country where there's free speech means sometimes you get offended." The idea that Sykes owes us an apology for speaking--especially when she was being absurdly hyperbolic, a characteristic of humor not earnestness--bothers me.
Carrie Prejean and Perez Hilton can say whatever they want. In Miss America, it's not about what you say but how you say it. I thought she had mediocre delivery (what was with the fidgety looks?), but Miss America is graded on a curve. And Perez can go on drawing penises on celebrity photographs. They're both douchechunks, and I have less than zero respect for pageants and everyone involved in them, but they don't owe me an apology.
I didn't care when Isaiah Washington called TR Knight a faggot, and then repeated it later, and then said it again right now. I don't much care to support his career, but I also didn't want a public apology--and who would buy his sincerity anyway? I'm also of the libertarian mindset that business owners ought to be allowed to refuse service to anyone, whether it's because their customer isn't wearing clothes or because their customer is black. I'm either optimistic or foolish enough to think racist businesses won't succeed all on their own, with no need for government intervention.
Relatedly, Congress can't stop adding stuff to the hate crimes bill, and bedazzlingly liberal though I am, I wish the Supreme Court would put an end to this malarkey. Again, I take you to Aaron Sorkin (told you I was a commie) in one of the first episodes of The West Wing. As I recall, the episode observes that hate crimes legislation is a method of policing thought. If Wanda Sykes kills Rush Limbaugh, does it matter if she did it because she blindly hates fatties or not? Isn't it just as bad either way? We already have a provision for manslaughter and different degrees of murder.
But no. We can't have people getting offended, can we?
Click here for the full post
Posted by Brandon Nowalk at 3:56 AM
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I'll get back to regular blogging soon now that my swine flu's in remission, but I have another quickie to discuss that dovetails conveniently with recent posts on favorites. What are your desert island media?
Specifically, I'm interested in your desert island movie, book, and television series. That's right--you get the entire series of your choice! The only catch is that you have to have seen or read these works already--no picking Finnegan's Wake just so you can spend your next sixty years deciphering it. Also, your island is an abandoned resort overseen by brutal alien warlords that will remain unseen until you make any attempt to escape and/or contact the outside world. For your cooperation, you will earn internet access, gourmet meals, and what remains of your liberty. There are no loopholes.
I've thought about this perhaps too much, but you can never be too prepared for the important hypotheticals. My book was the easiest, possibly because I just whittled down my ten favorites. Still, as I went through my list, I found it easy to cross off most. Much as I may love Frankenstein, for example, or the collected works of Shakespeare, they would not be my go-to books for my personal eternity. In fact, most of my top 10 would be discarded for something more wondrous and inspiring. And while I already tend toward natural and pastoral and transcendental-in-the-Emerson-sense works, on a desert island, I would be further inclined. Thus, I narrowed my list to Cannery Row, His Dark Materials, and Dinotopia. Ultimately, I think my desert island book would be Dinotopia, which I overlooked when compiling my top 10.
My desert island movie was difficult to pinpoint. I kept rejecting movies I love, like Mulholland Dr. and Last Year at Marienbad and Aguirre, the Wrath of God and The Trial and Persona and Mean Girls. Finally, one film clicked, and it's the perfect choice for me: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. It's already my comfort movie. No way could I get tired of it, even during monsoon season when I'm stuck inside all day.
It was most difficult picking a television series. Were I forced to choose a single episode instead, I would almost certainly pick "The Menagerie" from classic Star Trek, pictured above, an episode that notably reflects my own nostalgia having grown up with it on VHS. But we're picking entire series. Star Trek: The Next Generation or Deep Space Nine would give me 7 seasons of characters I grew up with. But for all their imagination, I fear I'd grow bored with the relative shallowness of the dialogue and the abundance of obvious performances. The Wire would fulfill all my arty standards and provide five whole seasons of entertainment. I could spend eternity dissecting that. Firefly didn't last long, but I don't imagine I'll ever get tired of watching it. And Battlestar Galactica has four brilliant seasons under its belt with a tremendous variation in the stories it tells against the overall tapestry.
But. I think I would want a comedy as my desert island show. Now I have to choose among Seinfeld, Scrubs, Freaks and Geeks, 30 Rock, The Office, and Arrested Development. And Entourage. My medalists are Seinfeld, The Office, and Arrested Development, and I picked The Office over 30 Rock solely based on episode number--and I've seen every 30 Rock to quoting degree. Really, though, the winner could only be my favorite show Arrested Development. It was tough, but I never get tired of the Bluths.
During one of the vacant hours I spent staring at my bookcase determining my picks, I also thought of an interesting variation. You still have to go to the same desert island, but you can either have every book/movie/TV show/music you've ever experienced or every book/movie/TV show/music you haven't. For books, I'd gladly sacrifice everything I've read for everything else that's out there, which speaks more to how little I've read than to how much I've enjoyed what I've read. Music is tough, but I think I'll be happy with what I already know. Television is easy--give me the shows I know and love! And movies are impossible. I've seen so much, and so little. I have so many loves in film, but there are probably even more still out there. Since this particular insidious dilemma does not affect your memories, I would pick every movie I haven't seen, and I would make sure to regularly stage one-man productions of my favorites that I'll never see again.
Now I'd love to hear your desert island picks.
Click here for the full post
Posted by Brandon Nowalk at 3:08 AM