Social Piranhas

Boing Boing.net mentioned a new show called “The IT Crowd” from Graham Linehan, creator/producer/writer of “Father Ted.” Their angle was the Electronic Frontier Foundation and that it appeals to the sysadmin crowd, but I think it’d be funny even to non-geeks. (Speaking as a geek; your mileage may vary).

The first couple of episodes, and more info, are available online, linked from the “AtariBoy” blog. I got them off BitTorrent and they’re worth blogging about. It’s good, bizarre stuff, and you don’t have to be a fan of nerdity to appreciate it any more than you have to be Catholic to like “Father Ted.”

Still, my favorite line from the first episode is “I’m sorry, are you from the past?”

Helpless, Damp, and Warm

TiVo LogoThese days when I’m watching my stories, they all start out with the reminder that I could be watching them in glorious High Definition. Why wouldn’t I? I blew a ton of money that could’ve otherwise gone to a charity on a television that was state of the art for at least two weeks after I bought it. And DirecTV makes entering the HDTV generation easy!

Well, easy if you buy a $600 HD DVR with TiVo. And a two-year service agreement. And the additional antenna to pick on-air HD signals, which because of an FCC ruling, satellite providers like DirecTV can’t duplicate. And you may or may not be able to get the $200 rebate on the DVR if you’re an existing customer; I’ve asked four different people (including a confused woman on DirecTV’s call-in customer support, who didn’t know what I was talking about and had to read the website along with me).

And you may or may not be able to find a unit other than through the company directly, as I discovered when I went to two separate Best Buy stores (I wanted to use a gift card, to help soften the blow) and finally was able to chase down somebody to answer my questions. They didn’t know the answers, and it was irrelevant since they were out of stock on the DVRs and weren’t expecting any more.

Because of the break-up between DirecTV and TiVo, they’re now pushing their own separate brand of DVR. But only for the regular models; they’re still selling the HD version using the TiVo service, until they can come out with their own HD equivalent. But they have just launched a new satellite to support MPEG-4 broadcasts of HDTV — which the current HD DVRs can’t work with. So if you buy one now, you’re spending 400 to 600 bucks on something that isn’t guaranteed to be compatible with the service that may or may not launch sometime this year. Possibly.

I looked into EyeTV and other ways to use a computer as a DVR, but haven’t found one that works with satellite providers. Plus the only computer I could spare is the mini, which isn’t fast enough to record HDTV.

The whole business is just giving me flashbacks to when my brother would chase me down the hall, tackle me to the ground, and tickle me until I peed myself. It’s at the point where even I have to take a step back and just say that the whole business is ridiculous. A stupid amount of effort and money for something as dumb and frivolous as television.

In other entertainment frustration news: I lost interest in “24” sometime around the middle of the third season, and I didn’t watch any of last season. But I’d read that the premiere of season 5 was spectacular, not to be missed and all that, so I set it up to record. When I got back from LA and settled down to have my socks metaphorically blown off by the gripping adventure, I found a “partial recording” of the last 30 minutes of the two-hour premiere.

I started trying to piece together what had happened, and as far as I can make out, the TiVo decided to record “Iron Chef” and “Harvey Birdman” over the first hour and a half of the premiere. Except that I can’t find those recordings; they only show up in the recording history. It’s almost like the TiVo knew it’d done something bad and was desperately trying to cover its tracks. I still can’t tell what happened, since it’s supposed to be set up to avoid stuff like that. I can only guess that it’s upset about the whole DirecTV deal and is lashing out at me. All I’m saying is I don’t need my DVR giving me no lip.

I Said Lady, Step Inside My Hyundai

I’m going to take you up to Glendale.

Land at the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank and groove to the hot hits of the 80s played constantly on the PA system. What’s that playing at the rental car booth? “Who Can It Be Now?” by Men at Work? Oh yeah, gonna get my groove on while I slide up to spend some time with My Lady. She knows how I like it; she always makes me wait, take it nice and slow before she asks me for my driver’s license and credit card. Lady knows how to treat a man, insisting on a second phone number even though I don’t got one; I’ve learned to just make one up, give her what she wants. She gives me a mini-van and won’t hear no back-talk from me. That’s all she’s got. And she knows I gotta drive.

Pick up the key and there it is at the far end of the lot — my Dodge Caravan. Oh yeah, that’s my ride. Got a lady on the side in the security booth. She asks me every time what I do for Disney, and gives me that same look every time when I tell her “programmer” instead of “casting agent.”

Tearin’ up the 5 past the In-n-Out, watchin’ the ladies watchin’ me in my sweet ride. Pulling all up into that ABC parking lot. Putting in my time with The Mouse, then heading back to The BUR for a night on the town. Fine dining selections await, such as the Baja Fresh. But there are cultural options as well, such as Borders and the AMC 12.

So yeah, that wasn’t really going anywhere so I’ll stop now. I got off work a little early tonight and didn’t feel like spending 2 hours stuck in LA traffic to get to Anaheim, so I just came back to the hotel. Maybe I’d be better with spontaneous entertainment if I were in downtown LA (I’m skeptical), but with Burbank there’s just no chance. At least the hotel room has an internet connection and I can smoke indoors.

I thought I would be kind of daring and look at what the titles of the adult movies were, but they’re all pretty generic and dull. Bi Bi American Pie was the closest to what you’d expect from an adult film title, although Real Japanese proudly boasts “No Pixilation,” and they relish diversity, what with Running Wild as the “Gay Alternative.” Considering the hotel, I was hoping that One Night in Paris would be available, but no such luck.

But they don’t have the Cartoon Network or Food Network for some reason, so I’ve been forced to spend hours channel-surfing and browsing the web. And being exposed to broadcast television for the first time in months has really made me realize how little I’ve been missing. In between watching the same episode of “The Daily Show” twice and an Anderson Cooper show about James Frey and his whole book scandal, I watched a whole lot of sitcoms. I keep hearing about “My Name is Earl” and “The Office,” but I just don’t get the appeal.

One that was surprisingly interesting, although I’m not convinced I’d call it “good,” was “Crumbs.” It’s the one with Fred Savage and Jane Curtin. It went overboard with the laugh track and the maudlin moments, but from the pilot it was kind of like Schrödinger’s Sitcom: it had the potential to be either really awful or pretty good (not brilliant, but okay). One thing I liked about it is that they didn’t do exactly what I’m about to do: they didn’t make a big deal about Fred Savage’s character being gay. It wasn’t a total non-issue, but it wasn’t A Very Special Topic, either. I had heard or read about the show before (probably from Entertainment Weekly), but all I took away from it was that it was about a dysfunctional family. So I was surprised when they’re in the middle of the show and all of a sudden (I’d missed the beginning), a friend starts asking him about his boyfriend.

I did a Google search on the show, and I was surprised again. Considering what a ridiculous sham the whole Brokeback Mountain phenomenon has gotten to be, I expected there to be all kinds of attention on it. There are dozens of sites that use the same stock interview, and none of them mention it until a few paragraphs down, when Savage says they talk about his character’s orientation but “that’s not what the show’s about.” Well, none of them except for, of course, The Advocate, which uses the same interview but changes the headline and spins the whole article to make the show sound “Will & Grace” meets “Six Feet Under.” Everybody else just seemed to treat it like it was no big deal. Are people finally starting to realize that it’s not really all that interesting? Whether the show turns out to be any good, I dunno. But I thought it had some potential.

Bob Loblaw Lobs Law Bomb

This is what we in the blogosphere like to call “posting just for the sake of posting.” Not sure how that’s distinguishable from everything else on here, but still thought it’d be a good idea to acknowledge that.

Because the “Arrested Development” fans don’t hate me enough: I’ve got to say I didn’t like Monday’s episode. I think I got it, what with the references to Oscar-winning actresses as stunt-casting and having it be mostly about Andy Richter who also had a critically-acclaimed show cancelled, but it just crossed some line for me. It just seemed more desperate and blatant than funny, even though they did come right out and say they were being desperate and blatant.

I did like Michael’s line about “we’ve been given plenty of chances, maybe we’re just not worth saving,” and the frequent mentions of the characters not being “relatable.” Not even because I agree, but because it was a sign that they’re aware of what went on with the show and how it’s perceived, and aren’t just doing the predictable response of saying “corporate entertainment sux!” and “Middle America is stupid!” and “we’re too smart for all these stunts!” A lot of that is true, but it was good that they acknowledged some accountability. They’ve shown that they can make a pointed comment and retain some subtlety at the same time; I wish they’d done more of that instead of going for the obvious “Not HBO, but show time” stuff.

I think that the thing that bugged me the most about it: “Arrested Development” is now going to join “Firefly” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” as a show that’s remembered more for being cancelled than it is for being good. And that’s a shame, because there’s more to it than just “a genius show that most people are too dumb to understand.”

And the gags I did like: the newspaper headline from the title, when Tobias calls it “the OC Disorder” and Michael responds with his usual “don’t call it that,” and George Michael’s response when Michael says he expresses himself just fine: “Yeah. Fine. What? Whatever, I don’t care. It’s dumb.” I still say Michael Cera’s the best actor on the show.

What Chuck Did

Part 3 of 6Today I got caught up on the remaining “Lost” episodes. It left me feeling sad, intrigued, and wary.

Sad because you-know-what happened to you-know-who, because I was just starting to like her. I realize that was the point, because even though it’d already been spoiled for me, I could tell as soon as they started making her sympathetic that bad things were on the horizon. It just seemed inevitable.

Intrigued because like it or not, these guys do know how to handle cliff-hangers and doling out information. Like I said about “Alias,” they’re pretty good about giving you a pay-off when they set something up. If they show you a piece of film, they’re going to show you what’s on the piece of film, instead of making you wait a month or longer. And intrigued about how much speculation on the internets is going on, including the teaser sites complete with Disney terms of use. And the total geekitude that reveals stuff I never would’ve figured out, like that the numbers in the code all add up to 108, which is the number of minutes on the countdown timer.

Wary because I don’t know how they’re going to get a whole nother season out of it without running out of big revelations. I don’t know about the rest of the fans, but I’m getting a little tired of the flashbacks. They’ve been building up to Kate’s backstory since early on, and it just struck me as kind of “meh.” The only really engaging part of all that was trying to place where I’d seen her mom before (she was one of the aunts on “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”). The only thing left for a flashback to reveal, as far as I’m concerned, is what happened to Jack’s wife, and I can’t say I’m all that interested.

Before I sound too critical, though, I should say that I’m still impressed with how the show manages to maintain a tone instead of just getting mired in its own gimmicks and plot twists. It’s consistently about morality and fate, which makes me hopeful that they’ll manage to pull it all together into a meaningful story instead of just a series of cliff-hangers and internet mysteries. (And which makes the whole “They’re in Purgatory!” theory more convincing and makes me wonder why people were so quick to dismiss it).

Whatever the case, I’m now in the same boat as everyone else, and I have to wait until January 11th for the next reveal just like the commoners. Episodic television was not designed for people with my attention span.

Teen Girl Squad

Just once I’d like to get in on something from the beginning, instead of a year and a half after everyone else. I’d also like it to be aimed roughly around my age range. Until then, here is my book report on “Veronica Mars.”

“Veronica Mars” is a show about a high school student in her mid 20s who solves crimes for her dad’s detective agency while investigating her best friend’s death and the disappearance of her mom. She used to be popular but now she is not after her dad accused her ex-boyfriend’s father of killing his daughter, who was her best friend and her ex-boyfriend’s sister. She has a pet pit bull and a friend who is black and another friend who is Latino. The biggest mystery is how the UPN managed to land a series this good.

Seriously, it’s just solid. It’s got a lot of buzz around it on the internets and in Entertainment Weekly, and you can kind of see how solid it is by the trouble its supporters have in describing it. I’ve seen it compared to Nancy Drew, Twin Peaks, Peyton Place, The Outsiders, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Philip Marlowe, the OC, Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson’s Creek, Colombo, and Star Trek. I made up the last one, just because it seems like it needs more of a “hook,” when it really should just be able to stand on being a very well-written and well-acted show. With a lead actress who’s really just perfect with the part and is also pretty hot. Which I don’t feel any guilt pointing out, because I’m just not buying her as a 17 year old for one second. And I’m the guy who didn’t believe that the kids on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” were around my age.

Like every other series these days, it does the self-contained episodes thing with a bigger storyline going on in the background. Unlike other series, it actually handles both well. And the thing that really surprises me is that it almost never panders. The dialogue isn’t affected, the mysteries are neither too convoluted nor too obvious, the plots aren’t predictable, and both the humor and the drama genuinely work 99% of the time. I thought I had a major series plot point telegraphed, and when they revealed that I was right, they pointed out how everyone was foolish for not realizing it before and put an interesting spin on it in the next episode.

I’m genuinely impressed. Not blown away by it, but you don’t really need to be. It just does its thing and does it very well. And now I’m intrigued to know how the first season ends.

The Dharma Initiative

Thanks to Steve Jobs and Robert Iger, I was able to see the first three episodes of “Lost” this season. Picture quality is lousy blown up to full-screen size, but it was detailed enough to see the Dharma Initiative logo tattooed on the shark that was threatening to attack Sawyer.

I’m not going to post any more spoilers here — I know what it feels like because my mom and brother keep trying to spoil what’s gone on in Season 2 so far. I’ve managed to resist the temptation to download the other episodes so far. I don’t understand how TV is going to work in the New Age, when everything is timeshifted; as it is I’m afraid to go on the internets until I get caught up with anything remotely popular.

I’m still looking for something to fill the time until I get back and get caught up. The wireless internet connection here is way too slow to waste as much time web-browsing as I do at home. I guess I should technically be embarrassed that all my leisure activity involves a net connection more than things like oxygen and sunlight. But in my defense, it is Georgia. And we keep seeing reports on the news that the world’s largest aquarium is sold out for tickets.

Skip got season one of “Veronica Mars” on DVD for Christmas, and I’m going to borrow those and see if that’s worth watching. In case it gets cancelled, I can’t be blamed because it’s on UPN and that’s pretty much equivalent to being perpetually on the brink of cancellation.

You All Everybody

I finished the first season of “Lost” sometime over the past week. I like it a lot; I can’t say that I’m wetting myself to see what happens next, but I do have to admit to downloading the first few episodes from iTunes so I can watch them on the flight back home. (TiVo has been recording a few, but not all of them from season 2. According to the episode guides, I’m missing episodes 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42).

Favorite moment so far is when Hurley is running through the airport and there’s the soccer team with the numbers on their shirts. Next favorite would be Arzt’s final scene, and I got more about that to say in a minute. Most annoying characters are now Walt and Michael. Yeah, they’ve had a tough time and yeah, you’ve got to feel sorry for them, but come on. All they do is pick fights with people and fail to connect and conjure polar bears. The annoying people you feel sorry for are the worst kind of annoying people, because you can’t just come right out and be mean to them and tell them to go away.

I admit that Sun and Jin’s story gets me every time they have an episode with them. Also, Sun is hot. And I also got a little weepy at Jack’s story where his dad told him he wasn’t able to let go. That was like a double-whammy of sad, in the flashback and the present day.

I’m thinking that this is one of the rare shows that’s better in weekly episodes instead of watching them all in one go. It’s still good, but I get the impression that the reason it caught on with so many people is because they had time to ponder all the cliff-hangers and mysteries and build up the speculation around them. When you watch the whole thing in two weeks, it’s hard to have a reaction more profound than, “Well, that happened.”

One thing that concerns me, though, is that I watched a couple of the documentaries on the last disc and I’m worried that I might already be too much invested in what’s going to end up being a disappointment. Obviously, there’s a lot that they’re just making up as they go along, but that’s not that bad as long as the stuff they come up with has payoff and isn’t just filler. (They’ve proven they can come up with stuff on the spot and make it work; according the documentary, they invented the characters Sun and Jin at the last minute just because they knew they wanted to cast Yunjin Kim).

What bugged me was how they were talking about the pilot and how it originally had Jack be killed by the monster when they find the cockpit. Kate was originally supposed to be the hero of the show. It was that way pretty late, too, apparently; they have footage of both Yunjin Kim and Evangeline Lilly auditioning for Kate’s part using her dialogue after Jack’s death. The reason that annoys me is because it’s such a cheesy gimmick. It’s the kind of stuff high schoolers write when they’re trying to be daring and bust up cliches. You get attached to the hero, and bang! He dies! Sure, Hitchcock did it, but he kind of ruined it for everyone else.

Now, you could say that the bit with Arzt was the same thing, but it’s not. The reason I liked it was because it was such an obvious gimmick, that everyone could see coming from a mile away, and there was never any doubt whatsoever how that was going to play out. So it played with the gimmick by making it all about timing. Your suspense doesn’t come from wondering what’s going to happen, but when. And the timing of the punchline was just about perfect.

So I’m still hoping that what’s down the hatch is cool, and the monster is cooler than just black smoke, and whoever The Others are is cool, and the story behind the numbers, and Claire’s baby, and Walt’s “being different,” and the whispering, and the island itself all turn out to be worth the investment. I’m actually highly skeptical that the revelations themselves will be all that great, but I still have faith that they can make the lead-up to the revelations great. Like in “Twin Peaks.” Finding out who killed Laura Palmer wasn’t all that impressive on its own, but leading up to it were some of the most downright horrifying moments in television ever.

And unlike “Twin Peaks,” and “The X-Files,” and “Buffy,” I’m hoping that they know when to quit.

The Moth

Speaking of cancellation: I don’t want to scare any of the “Lost” fans, but I started watching the series on DVD. And I like it. There’s a good chance I won’t jinx it and get it cancelled though, because I’m not crazy in love with it; I’m merely enjoying it. I’m actually two discs into it already, and I hadn’t realized how many episodes I’ve already seen. Without context, I didn’t like them as much, and so I just remembered all the initial spoilers.

The pilot is still phenomenal, two of the best hours of television ever made. Seriously. The others I’m liking but I’m not blown away yet. I noticed that Paul Dini is a story editor and wrote a couple of the episodes; whether it’s his influence, or just because I know who he is and am making connections that don’t exist, the episodes remind me a lot of the Batman animated series. Tightly written stories with a clear message and interesting symbolism, but a little too “neat.” I don’t want to sound overly critical, because I think they’re very, very good, but there’s just something keeping it just short of great. The symbolism is a little too blatant (Charlie digging out of the cave is just like that moth digging out of a cocoon and look! there’s a moth right there!) and the message is a little bit too clear. But I’ll say again that that’s me being over-critical because the show is so well done otherwise.

And the music is perfect. Unless I’m reading it wrong, it’s by the same guy who does the music for “Alias.” The score doesn’t draw attention to itself, but just works perfectly for setting the mood. And even their song choices work — in “Alias,” whenever they would start playing a song and show a montage of people thinking, it just seemed sappy and obvious, but the couple of times they’ve done it so far on “Lost,” I didn’t even notice it was happening.

Also, I’m going to have to add a couple of things to my “Llorando” post below, apparently: the end of Locke’s story (in “Walkabout”) and the end of Sun’s story (in “House of the Rising Sun”).

Crap, I was just looking on imdb and saw another spoiler in the cast list. Dammit. I’m going to have to hurry and get caught up.

And I’ve got a question for those who’ve already seen season 1: The first few episodes have a lot of flashbacks to the plane crash. Do those go on throughout the season, or are they kept mostly to the beginning of the series? I don’t want to be watching an episode during a plane flight and then all of a sudden have another one of those flashbacks pop up and freak my shit out.

God Speed, Screw-On Head

My favorite comic book of all time in the history of the world ever is The Amazing Screw-On Head by Mike Mignola. It’s just brilliant; the art is Mignola’s usual Hellboy style, which is to say awesome, and then the concept and the writing is dead-on perfect absurd humor.

It’s all old news at this point, but to keep up the hype and because I’m excited: An animated series based on the comic for the Sci Fi channel is in production and scheduled to air in 2006. Mignola was described as “art director” in one of the previews for the series.

The show’s going to be directed by Bryan Fuller of “Wonderfalls,” which I haven’t seen but is another one of the series that geeks are yelling at Fox for cancelling. This old article from SciFi.com has an interview with Fuller where he describes the concept:

“We took [the] concept of the comic book — which is a robot head that screws into a variety of robot bodies and fights crime with President Lincoln in the late 1800s — and decided to tell the ‘real’ story of the history that we read in books, like what would be between the pages of the history books.”

Fuller, who discussed Amazing Screw-On Head while promoting the DVD release of his acclaimed but short-lived Fox TV series Wonderfalls, added: “That gives you the opportunity to tell these outlandish stories that are grounded in historical fact. For instance, President Harrison died of pneumonia after 30 days in office. But you discover it wasn’t pneumonia, and it wasn’t fluid in his lungs, but some sort of agent that he was using to get everlasting life because he wanted to be the president of the United States forever. But what it did was turn him into a frog-man, and now he lives at the bottom of the Mississippi, and he’s about to launch an attack on the Capitol. So it’s those kinds of stories.”

I hadn’t heard about the casting, so that was a nice surprise. Paul Giamatti as Screw-On Head, David Hyde-Pierce as Emperor Zombie, Molly Shannon as Patience the Vampire, and Patton Oswalt as Mr. Groin. The only way it could be any better would be to cast Patrick Warburton and Gary Cole.

So far, it sounds like everybody involved gets it and understands what makes it cool. I can’t wait to see how it turns out. One of the things that was neat about the comic was that it was a total one-shot: it came out of nowhere (for me, anyway), and stood on its own as just 20 pages of concentrated genius. I’m wondering if it’ll work as well extended into a full series, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

And in other somewhat belated news: the trailer for the third X-Men movie is up on Apple’s trailers site. Looks great. Fans are bitching (no, really — comic book fans are actually complaining about something on the internet) that it’s directed by Brett Ratner instead of Bryan Singer, but I remain optimistic. The series is in full-on franchise mode at this point, so you’d have to be colossally incompetent to break the momentum now. And I actually kind of liked Rush Hour, which considering it had Chris Tucker in it, is saying a lot.

I’m not sure what gut level these X-Men movies are working on, though. I never a fan of the comics, and my exposure to it was limited to reading (and not liking) one or two issues, and seeing the old animated series and the more recent “X-Men Generations” series. But I loved the first two movies, and even just watching that trailer I kept having moments like, “Is that Kitty Pride?” and “Whoa, that’s Angel!” and “Beast looks bad-ass” and then wondering where the hell that all came from.