There are no jingle bells, Batman doesn't smell...

...and fortunately Robin's barely in picture. Regardless , I'm off for the holidays – hope you all have good ones.


Remake or Not To Make?

As with most questions, the answer is yes and no. Or no and yes, in this case. Recently they (as in "they," the nefarious group that lives in shadows and is blameable for anything and/or everything) announced plans to remake both Romancing the Stone and They Live. I don't adopt the zero-tolerance policy for remakes that many do, but I am tiring of mining recent movies for inspiration. Here's the thing – to remake a movie, you've got to have a better reason than the inability to come up with a fresh idea.

And it helps if the original film wasn't all that great. Case in point: there's absolutely nothing missing in Romancing the Stone. Yes, the cars look all boxy and they don't have cell phones, but most of that movie is set in the jungle – it's not like what would've really made it great were more flat screens. Leave it alone, it's fine. Bring out an anniversary edition on blu-ray if you like. Enjoy.

They Live, however, is a perfect candidate. Apologies to Rowdy Roddy Piper fans (or, um, fan?) out there, but the movie is basically a neat idea, horrible one-liners and the longest, boringist fight scene in recent memory. John Carpenter's made some masterpieces, but this ain't one of 'em. So if JJ Abrams or whoever wants to polish up this misfire, I'm all for it... because it'd be fixing a failed film, not trying to recapture a recent success.

So, "they," stick with your substandard science fiction films and leave Romancing the Stone alone. And as for other upcoming remakes, namely Red Dawn, Clash of the Titans, Adventures in Babysitting, Robocop, A Nightmare of Elm Street, Friday the 13th, The Karate Kid, Weird Science, Arthur, Footloose, Flashdance and The Thing, I'd say... sure, sure, I guess, no, if you want, don't bother, prolly not, no, whatev, ok, already did and no.


Better Late... with Whoever

Despite over a decade of remixing and mocking, Guns n' Roses (which basically amounts to Axl Rose, a bunch of guys, and a million Pro Tools) finally released Chinese Democracy... The Offspring, China, Dr. Pepper and an oddly placed apostrophe be damned.

So Buckethead's been replaced by Bumblefoot, but how's the record overall? While I'm certainly not the final word on most music, I did wait in line outside Tower Records in Hollywood to buy Use Your Illusion I & II at midnight, so I'm feeling free to weigh in. What follows is the first thought that popped into my head upon hearing the disc (by which I mean iTunes downloads) for the first time:

Chinese Democracy
Opening guitar riff sounds an awful like a Judas Priest song... oop, Axl's screaming – I guess it is Guns.

Shackler's Revenge
Really good for both guitar and bass in Rock Band... not so much with the vocals.

Hmm... kinda forgettable metal – listeners beware.

Street of Dreams
Pretty good. Sorta like if both versions of Don't Cry had a kid.

If the World
Sounds a bit like Axl wrote this while listening to Yesterdays and watching porn.

There Was a Time
I think G n' R has basically become a power ballad band – not that that's a bad thing.

Catcher in the Rye
aka November Rainstorm?

Interesting Axl screamy harmony with himself... then some mishmosh about don't try to stop us now. Whatev.

Riad N' the Bedouins
Just reading the title sets the expectations for this one at "spectacular failure," and it delivers pretty quickly – Axl opens by screeching that he doesn't care about the story and guess what? Neither do I.

Sounds like Axl's sorry he's not Everlast.

Lines like "could it be the weight I've carried on, like a broken record for so long" are kind of apropos at this point in the album – oh, and the IRS isn't exactly the toughest target in the world.

Not, apparently, that "move it move it" song from the kids' movie – too bad. And a Martin Luther King "I have a dream" megamix? Seriously?

This I Love
Civil War part II – this time it's personal. Down to the "failure to communicate" clip.

Jesus, lighten up – way to go out on a high note. And haven't we heard this song already?

So how's it stack up overall? Ok, I guess. It's not the complete disaster (or no-show) that people predicted, but it's certainly not the next great anything.
If you're looking to cherry pick, download Shackler's Revenge, Street of Dreams and Catcher in the Rye and you'll be good. Those are the standouts – as an album, it's inoffensive but inessential.


Is Jack really back?

Day 1: "You probably don't think I could force this towel down your throat, but trust me I can. All the way. Except that I'd hold onto this little bit at the end. When your stomach starts to digest the towel, I pull it out. Taking your stomach lining with it. Most people probably take about a week to die. It's very painful. "

Day 2: "I'm gonna need a hacksaw."

Day 3: "Once your daughter is infected, I'm gonna make you watch her die."

Day 4: "Make a sound and I will blow your brains out all over the windshield."

Day 5: "I’m done talking with you, you understand me? You’ve read my file. The first thing I’m going to do is take out your right eye, and then I’m gonna move over and take out your left, and then I’m going to cut you. I’m gonna keep cutting you until you give me the information that I need. Do you understand me? So for the last time, where is the nerve gas?"

Day 6: "You’re gonna tell me what I want to know or you’re going to start losing your fingers one by one."

Day 7: "Come on, children... everybody hold hands!"

Brings to mind that old nursery rhyme, "one of these things is not like the other." Last night's 2-hour ramp-up to the January premiere of 24 stood out from the rest of the seasons, not just because it strayed a bit from format, but in its efforts to establish a kindler, gentler Jack Bauer.

After wandering the globe, Jack has settled in fictional (but typical) Sangala, Africa, working to help relief efforts for a village beset by tribal militia. Refusing a summons to appear in America to answer for torture and other crimes committed by his Counter Terrorist Unit, he smiles at children and unloads supplies from trucks. At some point the militia moves to take control of the country, and Jack walks away for two hours. In classic 24 fashion, this action is cross-cut with the balls-to-the-wall thrillride of... a Presidential inaguration.

Don't get me wrong, there's some action and intrigue – Jack shoots some people and there're some fishy guys floating around the new President's cabinet. But 24 works best as an unhinged freefall thru a shadowy world of shifting loyalties and moralities, and it's hard to find a lot of debateable gray area when the bad guys are African drug-runners killing kids or turning them into child soldiers. And I'm not a big torture whore, but the appeal of Jack Bauer is living vicariously thru his whatever-it-takes worldview, so when the first conflict of the show is watching Jack gently reprimand a child for stealing his knife by giving him a silk scarf, it's clear we're in a bit of trouble.

24: Redemption wasn't a disaster, but it's "Jack's Back!" marketing did it no favors. Some seeds were sown for what looks to be an interesting season, but two hours of Bauer slowly leading kids thru a forest isn't quite what fans have been waiting for... for nearly two years. That said, the preview for Day 7 was packed with action, so this little slice of Madagascar 3 feels like the calm before the storm. Worth watching if you're a completist, but casual fans can make do with the "previously on" montage that'll open the season in January.


The Bond Continuum

You'd be forgiven if you got your Bonds and your Bournes a bit mixed up – 007's recent reboot owes a lot to the films from Doug Liman and Paul Greengrass. But that's proving to be a good thing, as the first two "James Blond" flicks have been a satifying one-two punch. For the first time in the franchise's history, Quantum of Solace is a direct sequel as opposed to just a "next adventure," picking up moments after Daniel Craig uttered the classic "Bond – James Bond" line at the end of Casino Royale. And it's good. Quite good.

Roiling with rage over the events from Royale, Bond embarks on an unhinged quest for revenge, going up against a mysterious criminal organization as well as MI6 itself. Much has been made of a big falloff in quality, but I've gotta disagree – It's perhaps not quite as skillfully directed, I think the only really big thing that's missing is the novelty of the new Bond. I watched them back-to-back and Quantum really feels like the second half of Casino. Craig's in top form, the action is intense (only one set piece – an airplane chase – is slightly misguided) and the plot, while byzantine, is nicely grounded in real world issues. And the moves manage to toss in references without descending into jokey parody; keep an eye out for a great Goldfinger shout-out.

I'm not pretending it's perfect – the "Bond Girls" feel somewhat tacked-on for tradition's sake, and the villains feel a little like precursors for the threequel, but it's a great gritty ride thru Bond's darker side. Shake yourself a martini or four and enjoy.


Muppets Take Manhattan

The Muppets took over the Today show this morning, locking the hosts out of the studio and replacing them with Muppetized versions – to the confusion of guests Christopher Meloni and Harry Connick, Jr. 'Twas all good (albeit slightly forced) fun, until it came time to promote what they were there to sell – the Make-Your-Own Muppet "Whatnot" Studio at FAO Schwarz. Not because of the overt product placement, mind you – I work in advertising, so can hardly complain about that. No, what was somewhat unsettling were the Whatnots themselves. Take a look at this clip at about the 3:50 mark...

...and tell me that the Whatnots themselves aren't kinda creepy. Or at least a little sad. The actual idea seems like lotsa fun – pop into the store, make your own Muppet... it's like Mr. Potato Head if you could stick your hand thru a giant hole in his butt.

But the on-air Whatnots? Born bald, blind, deaf and without a sense of smell? Flailing around with nothing but a simple meathole in their poor blank faces? And naked as a jaybird (if jaybirds were made out of multicolored felt and came with the aforementioned hand hole)? My heart goes out the the Whatnots – please, PLEASE, Manhattanites and tourists... rush in to their store and buy out the Muppets! Equip them with eyes, ears, maybe even some hair! Give them a life worth living – one filled with color, sound and adventure... at least until your kid gets bored and it ends up on ebay.


(Prolly don't) Try the veal

Looking at Obama's first news conference as President-Elect from an entertainment point of view, it seems like we might be in for a few genuine laughs, as opposed to the sneering asides of a frat boy who thinks he's funny.

Tip your waitresses people, he'll be here all week – and hopefully the next 415.


Zack and Miri Make an Okay Movie

It's his first real non-New Jersey film, but Kevin Smith doesn't stray too far from the flicks that made him famous (Clerks, Chasing Amy, etc.) In this case, the titular Zack and Miri live in Pittsburgh, but barely. The platonic best friends are struggling to make ends meet, and when they run out of money completely, they decide the only option they have is to make their ends meet – on film. Working under the assumption that they can whip together a porn flick and sell it to people they knew in high school, they round up a cast and crew to hit the sheets. If you've seen Smith's stuff (or, well, a movie – ever) you pretty much know where this is going, but is it worth the ride?

If you're looking for a happy ending, yeah – altho the plot isn't what pushes this movie forward, it's Smith's signature combination of filthy comedy and sweet emotion. For every over-the-top belly laugh, there's an on-the-nose touchy-feely moment, and the transitions can be a little awkward. Smith isn't the most subtle filmmaker – rather than subtext, he tends to just add more text. He's as famous for his overstuffed dialogue as his underdeveloped characters, and they're both at play here. That said, while the film doesn't have a lot of nuance, it does have a lot of humor. Unlike other pottymouth comedies, Smith seems to actually care about his characters – and it shows.

Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks bring some legitimate worth to fairly flat roles, and the supporting cast isn't just a host of jokers. But the real star of the movie is Smith's comedy – at it's heart, it's a pretty funny movie. A bit uneven and on the nose, but it'll make you laugh. And most of the time, that's enough. Enjoy.


Paradise City?

Let's hope. The Hills is still fairly tasty candy, but it's kind of like a Tootsie Pop that lasts a little too long at this point. Still sweet and all, but you're really kinda waiting to get to the good part. Anyway, Whitney's been skulking around the edges for a while, generally demonstrating that she's got more on the ball than the OC's LC and her band of drama princesses. It's not the most imaginative title in the world, as The City looks like it'll feature plenty of Sex, but then again, originality isn't why we watch ;)


Oh jeez, too bad

Gotta say, it's fine by me. I've never been much of a Trek fan past a few of the movies (yes, the even-numbered ones) but I've read the script for the reboot and it rocks. Well, at least 2/3 of the script – it was so good I didn't want to know the end. Anyway, the Shat's managed to parlay his Priceline gig into a second (or third) career, and that's all well and good, but despite his inexplicable Emmys for Boston Legal, I think he's stayed long past his stardate.


Project Runweh

Is it me, or is the finale of the last season of Project Runway before it maybe moves to Lifetime about as exciting as, well, anything on Lifetime? Seems like their victory over Bravo may be a bit hollow, as the runway looks to end not with a bang, but with a whimper.

In Part I of the finale, Superman's dad got auf'd, leaving us with three pretty talented designers who make for pretty boring television. There's Leanne, who tries to make up for her lack of personality by naming her design line "Leanimal." Uh huh. Also Korto, whose bio states that her family considers her "fun and easygoing." Thrillride! And the standard reality show search for a villain has landed on the final contestant, Kenley, who's a bit of a brat but isn't quite the next Omarosa.

Who should win? Tough call – Kenley and Korto are a bit one-note-o, so prior to seeing what they'd bring to Bryant Park, I spose I'd throw my vote to the Leanimal. Worth watching, but I'm not exactly on pins and needles.


Lowering the Bar

Raising the Bar

So I decided to let this one go – Raising the Bar's an ok show, but once a few eps start clogging your DVR and you're not inspired to watch 'em, it's time to free up space. Much of the show's buzz, such as it is, conerns Mark-Paul Gosselaar's hair. Which I think is part of the problem – while it was one thing to have a big hair story in the middle of the show (see: Felicity... no really, see Felicity) but I'm not sure that you want your lead topic about a pilot to concern how horrible the main character's hair is.

Once you get past Zack's shaggy locks, and aside from some strange stylistic touches (particularly the fact that some scenes open with characters fading into the landscape), you'll find a fairly run-of-the-mill lawyer show. A host of hunks and hotties on both sides of the bench go head-to-head in the courtroom and the bedroom. Ok. It's not as over-the-top quirky as the David E. Kelley stuff, not as ripped from the headlines as the Law & Order stuff, not as aggressively aggravating as Shark, and so on. It could've been launched as "Lawyer Show" and would've have about the same impact. Or perhaps "Scraggly-haired Lawyer." Regardless, it's pleasant but certainly non-essential watching. Enjoy. Or don't. Won't matter much either way.


Mr. McCain Goes to Washington?

I normally leave the political discourse to some other guy, but this crossed over into my bailiwick, so thought it was worth a post. Worth a watch – it's a bit long, but finishes strong. I don't watch a lot of Letterman anymore (my late night DVRing consists of Daily Show and Colbert Report) but in this case... well played, Dave.


9021no, but yes to 33401

Ok, I'm done. Last night's 90210 wasn't particularly awful or anything, but it seems like this show has found it's level... which isn't particularly interesting. Some people hook up, some people fall down, some people were on the original show – I simply could not care less. The only compelling thing about the new class of West Beverly high is guessing whether the combined weight of the young cast is over a thousand pounds. And the initial novelty of seeing Kelly and Brenda (and, ok, Nat... I guess) has long worn off, to be replaced by the unsettling realization that it's really just Jennie Garth and Shannen Doherty – nothing about them feels much like the original characters. So it's time to say goodbye to Hollywood and welcome to Miami...

...well, West Palm Beach, actually, but the reference worked better the other way. Anyway, Priveleged is an incredibly winning piece of fluff that's worth a watch. It's about Megan Smith, a Yale grad with literary dreams who's eking out a living in Alphabet City instead. Fired from her tabloid job, she stumbles into a career tutoring the spoiled rich twins of a cosmetics magnate played by Anne Archer. Ok, so it's a little reminiscent of a judge decreeing that you have to be someone's butler, suspend your disbelief a bit and you'll find something fresh, funny and totally worth it. Lead actress JoAnna Garcia is legitimately quirky – by which I mean she's an interesting puddle of believeable contradictions, not a haphazard assemblage of things the showrunners felt were funny. Instead, she's kind of channeling Anne Hathaway in Devil Wears Prada. Regardless, watching her juggle the goofball twins and her iffy family history is breezy, bubbly hour that's way better than its lead-in. I've given 90210 four or five episodes to establish itself, but was hooked on Priveleged in four or five minutes. The first three eps are online, but it's not the deepest dish in the drawer – you could prolly catch up with next week's show. Enjoy.


Hell and Back

Both shows may have climbed their way out of the pit with their season premieres. Smallville's more of a metaphor – the show's been a hit and miss mess for several seasons – while Supernatural took it a bit literally, with one of the Winchester boys clawing out of his own grave before the credits rolled. So let's look at 'em in order...

Smallville: Clark actually summed it up at one point by saying (and I'm paraphrasing) "I'm clinging to a past that never really existed." Couldn't be truer – for every step toward Clark's super future, they'd take several back into the land of "meteor freak of the week." But kicked to the curb in last week's opener were Lex, who we won't see moping around his mansion endlessly swirling his sifter of brandy and Lana, who'll stop getting thinner and shriller as she abandons running some sort of shadow government something and instead opts for guest star status. In place we've got the Junior Justice League (Green Arrow, Aquaman and Black Canary) as series regulars.

Supernatural: For a show that looked like an abject disaster (two hunky brothers take on a buncha demons), it's turned out to be terrific. In last season's finale, the elder brother Dean got dragged down to hell by the proverbial hounds. Unsurprisingly he rises in the opener (lead actors don't stay dead for long) but it's a tease toward a much larger story – turns out he wasn't summoned by a demon, but ripped out of hell by an angel... because God's got work for him to do. It's impressive – Supernatural keeps exceeding expectations, and this latest story setup is no exception.

So Supernatural's heavenly and things are looking up in Smallville – Clark may just be super, man. Seems like a decent jumping-on point for Small and Super's worth catching up on. Enjoy.


The NeXt-Files

Hollywood goes back to the well pretty often, and the results are often pretty, well, bad. The new Knight Rider is a waste of time, people are up in arms about the upcoming take on Life on Mars and the jury's out on the 90210 reboot. So while Fringe comes with a pretty solid pedigree (created by J.J. Abrams of Lost, Alias and Felicity fame), it also carries the baggage of looking like nothing more than an X-Files update. But in a world where even The X-Files can't update itself successfully, that might not be so bad.

And fortunately, it's pretty damn good. Fringe wears its inspirations proudly on its sleeve, but also with its tongue slightly in its cheek. There are similarities to a Mulder/Scully relationship with the two leads, but this time she's the believer and he's the skeptic. And the show launches with echoes of a Lost-like airplane disaster, but with notably different twists. So it ends up being much less of an X-Files clone and much more of a spiritual successor.

The plot (so far – it's pretty clear that we're going to encounter layers and layers of story) concerns a female FBI agent named Dunham who stumbles across a case that the CDC can't handle – victim's skins are crystallizing, turning translucent as they die. When the symptoms start to hit closer to home, she turns to the lone expert in what's called "fringe science," i.e. stuff that seems almost supernatural but has some foundation in reality. Unfortunately, that lone expert – Walter Bishop – has been in an asylum for decades, and only accessible to next of kin. Enter Pacey from Dawson's Creek, playing Bishop's son Peter, a high-school drop-out with an incredibly high IQ... and gambling debt. They team up to delve into the fallout from Bishop's 1970s-era experiments to uncover "the pattern," a series of unexplainable phenomena that seem to be connected to a mysterious corporation called Massive Dynamic.


So yes, it's fairly X-Files and yes, it's a lot to swallow, but so far it's pretty tasty. Dunham and Bishop cook up solid chemistry, the scientific oddities they're encountering are interesting and it's shot with style – including the oddly entertaining touch of Panic Room-style supers that seem to actually cast shadows on the scene they're explaining. Hopefully Abrams and co. can learn from the shows they're following and avoid drowning in overly intricate backstory – based on Lost, I'd say they've got a leg up. We'll have to see where it goes, but based on this pilot I'm ready to follow. If you missed last night's premiere, it encores on Sunday night – give it a watch.


Super Bad

Like most red-blooded Chicagoans, I opted to watch the Bears stun Indianapolis (if not the world) last night instead of the 2008 MTV VMAs. From the looks of it, Superbad is the greatest movie of all time and what tha kidz are still txting about constantly, as two "highlights" of the show were a sketch starring Jonah Hill and a surprise appearance by McLovin. Unfortunately, "super bad" is a more apt description of the show overall... however, I did fast-forward thru it this morning for your reviewing pleasure, so here are some random reactions from when I shifted from FF to Play on my remote:

The much-ballyhooed opening by Britney Spears consisted of a staggeringly unfunny bit where the star from Superbad purported to be calming her nerves, but was instead trying to kiss her. Several times. Yes, she's gotten herself back into shape and looks great. Move on. And then we tracked her from the dressing room to the stage, where she kicked off the show by saying (I'm paraphrasing here) "Welcome to the show – it starts now." Uh, thanks.

Russell Brand is, well, not funny. It's kind of typical of these "rock & roll" comedians like him, Andrew Dice Clay, etc... despite all the leather and hairspray, it's still a guy with a mic telling hideous dick jokes.

Demi Moore forgot her microphone and I've forgotten why she's even here.

Michael Phelps is really really gonna bomb when he hosts SNL. The Greatest Swimmer Ever looks uncomfortable doing, well, anything else.

Katy Perry's overhyped performance of "Like a Virgin" turns out to be a 30-second bumper to a commercial. Huh.

Staging the show in the Paramount lot does provide from some cinematic entrances but mostly feels like a cost-cutting measure by MTV/Paramount corporate overlord Viacom.

Looks like Pink's nipples are, in fact, pink.

I guess Christina Aguilera really really wants to be Catwoman in the next Dark Knight movie. Or at least Black Cat in the next Spider-Man.

Britney Spears wins everything – either she had an incredibly great year that I completely missed, or MTV just really really needs her not to be a joke anymore. Unlike, you know, this show.


Peach Pit After Dark

Not only was the premiere of the new 90210 delayed until "a special time" because of a ballgame, the Cubs waited until the 11th to lose. So given that the show didn't start until after midnight, I'm gonna blog during the ad breaks in an effort to stay awake. SPOILERS ahoy!

Initial thoughts based on the pre-credits intro:
  • The Brandon and Brenda characters are really annoying. One's over-the-top surly and one's over-the-top peppy. I mean, really annoying.
  • I'd heard they'd be trying to out-Gossip the Girls from the East Coast, but I didn't quite expect it to feature a 9021-0ral scene before the credits rolled.

After the "rockin" update to the classic song:
  • Hey look – It's the mom from Arrested Development! And she's drunk! Could be fun.
  • Hey look – Andrea and Jesse's kid is the broadcaster for the campus news station! Decent joke about her looking 30.
  • Hey look – apparently Kelly and the guy who showed up on Melrose Place eventually dated! When she was 10 or something? Huh? And now Kelly's little sister is back at West Bev, and she's cool because she likes some local band and that's how she bonds with the Brenda girl, whose name I can't remember yet.
  • Hey look – Nat still works at the Peach Pit, but he can't work an espresso machine! Even tho he's had over a decade to learn!

Back from the break:
  • Kelly's sister, who's known as "Silver," runs a bitchy blog and attacks the Brenda girl with it. OMFG she got so Facebooked!
  • Lots of talk about lacrosse – along the "hey, the adopted black kid from Wichita's got some moves" and "hey, let's start a fight with the black kid so he gets kicked off the team because, you know, he's black!" lines.
  • Arrested Development Mom again – still drunk! Making jokes about cracking eggs on her ass!
  • Side note: so far, all the girls are perilously close to exhibiting Tori Spelling disease, where they're so thin that they look like unbalanced lollipops.
  • The Brenda girl, who's been overacting her way thru the show, has now been cast in the school play, so she can really start chewing some scenery. Which she does by the mouthful. Huge, shouty mouthfuls. Oh dear.

Getting a little tired:
  • Boy, couldn't see this plagarism plot coming... particularly with the "I wrote a paper just like the one that you're blowing off to go party at clubs like so many fifteen year-olds do" foreshadowing. More like fiveshadowing.
  • Just realized that Silver is the girl who played the Daughter of Darkness on Reaper. Was better as the Spawn of Satan.

So where the hell is Brenda?:
  • The omnipresent ads for the show "Privileged" look better than this one.
  • Apparently the Brenda girl is named "Annie." Still can't remember the brother's name.
  • Oh, and the girl that she outsung in the play is a druggie. How LA!
  • And she broke up with her boyfriend from back in Wichita. I guess his name was Jason. She's sad, altho I can't imagine why, since... we never met him and only just learned his name.

On to Part II of the pilot:
  • Full House girl is taking the news that Silk Stalkings guy husband fathered a son with his high school girlfriend pretty well – wonder how she'll hold up when she finds out that (I think) Kelly adopted him. Stay tuned for sweeps!
  • Annie hasn't stopped overacting from the pilot. Warning signs that she may not be able to stop for the whole season.
  • The rival lacrosse team has trashed the hallowed halls of West Beverly! Are our boyz gonna get them back? Tough to care because, well, it's about lacrosse.

During the break:
  • The "live" check-ins from the launch party don't do viewers any favors. It's like walking a red carpet with an EPK.

These breaks are getting harder to sit thru, particularly when you come back to this:
  • While the show hasn't shied away from branded integration (I think I need some Aquacurrent science – it's putting moisture where I need it!), they clearly couldn't land a videogame partner, as they just showed the worst fake on-screen gaming action in the history of fake on-screen gaming action.

Ok, maybe the breaks aren't so bad:
  • As the extended trailer for Confessions of a Shopaholic looks pretty good for the Devil Wears Prada crowd.
  • Oooh, we're back. And the scruffy cool teacher just botched his chance at asking out Kelly by referring to her son as "baggage." Oh, and the baggage is four and a half, so I guess he can't be Melrose Place's kid.
  • It's Brenda! The actual Brenda! Who updates us on Brandon – apparently he's in Belize, still loves Megaburgers... and Kelly. Whuh? At this point, I'm really just wishing that they made a show about the original 90210 kids all growns up as opposed to this Superman Returnsish reboot/remake. The only plot point I gave half a damn about was Scruffy McTeachy giving Kelly flowers and a cap at the end of the show.

And I think that's the problem. Right now the cameos from fan faves are sorta fun and the rest of it's sorta... not. It may get better – the Gossip Girl pilot was pretty damn bad, and that's turned out to be tons of fun. It passed the Pilot Test in the sense that I stuck with the second episode since it was attached to the first. And I was invested enough in the original show to give this one a bit of a go, but right now it's a little bit of 9021uh-0.


Shark Tale

It's prolly too early to tell for sure, but Prison Break may just have jumped back on the proverbial mammal and ridden it to respectability. A quick recap – the first season was terrific, the second was surprisingly fun, and the third was a complete mess. Instead of smart spins on classics like Shawkshank or the Fugitive, a handful of the escapees got sent to some bizarro world version of a Panamanian prison called Sona and they rutted around in the mud trying to cobble together a plot amidst the writer's strike. About as entertaining as it sounds.

But it looks like Michael Scofield and the boys are back on track, as the show has been retrofitted into a "Prison's Seven" of sorts, as the characters you care about are sent on a videogame fetch quest to find the pieces of The Company's little black book in order to take them down. Speaking of characters you care about, Sara Tancredi is back from the dead (and a contract dispute) and Whistler, a con from Season 3 whose motivation, backstory or, you know, point, was never explained took a bullet pretty quickly after the credits rolled. And the entire Sona section of the saga was dismissed by mentioning that "it burned to the ground" during a phone call. Works for me.

Now, let me be clear about some stuff – the show strains credibility constantly... and that's being kind. The Feds turning to "Scofield's Seven" as their last best hope is (phrased kindly) unlikley. Watching T-Bag trek his way across the border, turning to cannibalism in the process, was a bit bizarre. The shadowy Company's goals are, well, absent, aside from "being evil." All that said, they've culled the cast to the main players and seem to be showing the ingenuity that made the show a hit in the first place. I'm in.


Not Much of America's Got Talent

"The biggest talent show in the world" is into the live performance shows, which is both good and bad. Fortunately, the producers have scaled up people's acts to fit a Vegas-type stage... unfortunately, many of them don't deserve to be there. Like, say, the first five acts that got cut tonight.

To recap, the first act cut was Ronnie B, who demonstrated a minor bit of weird "wacky foreigner" charm in the auditions, but showed his true colors as
a sub-William Hung embarrassment last night. Next to pack his bags was a magician named Shimshi, who chose, strangely, to downgrade his act from sawing a woman into several parts to a card trick-slash-backflip. And toodle-oo to the DC Cowboys, an posse of middle-aged gay cowboy dancers. America then opted for brilliant tenor Neal E. Boyd as opposed to a Derrick Barry, a cross-dressing Britney Spears impersonator. And then host Jerry Springer manufactured some faux tension by having each judge name who they wanted to go on: The James Gang, an interesting if occasionally underwhelming blend of hip-hop and vaudeville or Elite, a little girl who dresses her dad and his friends up as pirates and pretends to beat them up. Tough call, huh?

Surviving until next week (in addition to Boyd and the James Gang) were Jessica Price, a sweet countryish girl who'd prolly be a better fit for American Idol, Extreme Dance FX, an unfortunately titled troupe who perform about as poorly as their name, and The Cadence, a Blue Man-type drum act that isn't, well, blue.

Now, to break down the rest of the "talent:"
  • Beyond Belief proved that being the twenty-one best dancers in Mesquite, TX doesn't amount to much in, you know, the real world
  • Paul Solas knocked out his version of "My Way," which was tremendously endearing and won over the judges, altho I think he's a better raconteur than singer
  • Brutally bad Kazual demonstrated why no one's particularly interested Boyz II Men type groups anymore
  • Next was Zooperstars!, a bizarre band of inflatable mascots that have a strangely engaging charm, if not a ton of actual talent
  • Mini-von Trapp family castoffs The Wright Kids abandoned their bluegrass roots to cute their way through a nightmarishly psychedelic rendition of Daydream Believer
  • One-joke loser Jonathon Arons performed his "I'm a dork with a trombone that tries to drop some sexy dance moves on ya'll" act, much to the delight (inexplicably) of the judges
  • Iraq War veteran Daniel Jens soldiered on (sorry, couldn't resist) put away his uniform to bring out his version of "Every Breathe You Take," which proved that without the war story, he's unfortunately an ok bar singer... at best
  • The Slippery Kittens performed a Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B burlesque, apparently in an effort to officially retire the term "milf"
  • George the Giant, who had primarily carved out a niche as a seven-foot version of Jackass, bored the judges (and I'd wager the national audience) with schtick about escaping from a straight jacket while being mistaken for a pinata by a bunch of annoying kids and their schoolmarm
  • Queen Emily closed the show by rearing back and belting an Aretha Franklin-style inspirational; good stuff, altho I'm less impressed than the judges
So. After the first half of the top forty have taken the stage, nothing's changed since the first time I've watched the show – at this point, it's Boyd's competition to lose. Stay tuned to see if anyone can topple this tenor. Or, you know – don't... I'll take care of it for you ;)


Best. Ads. Ever?

OMFG! I spose the VWs, Nikes and Absoluts of the world might say otherwise, but I'll give the CW this: they know what to do when reviewers give them lemons. Make lemonade... sweet, hot, sexy lemonade. And pour it all over some nearly naked twentysomethings.

Season 1's out on DVD and Season 2 starts next week. Tune in and turn on.



Who Watches the Watchmen?

iTunes users, apparently. The landmark comic series has debuted as what Warner Bros. calls a "Motion Comic," meaning they've brought the story to life with animated art and voiceover narration. Is it worth a read... er, watch?

Contrary to popular opinion, I'm gonna say yes. In short, Watchmen is a superhero deconstruction set in an alternate 1985 where costumed crimefighters have been outlawed... and potentially targeted for murder. Oh, and it's also a staggering piece of visionary brilliance.

The motion comic's animation isn't extravagant – don't expect The Incredibles here – but for a generation comfortable with blurry YouTube clips and Flash webcomics, it makes the material fairly approachable. More is accomplished playing with pans and different depths of field than I imagined. The narration is a little less successful – I didn't realize it was a single actor until I heard him read as the first female character... or attempt to. And at some point, all these characters will be burned into our brain with the faces and voices of the upcoming film.

But until then, watching it chapter-by-chapter on your iPod isn't a bad way to go. Purists will claim that the only way to experience Watchmen is to turn the printed pages, but for those unlikely to venture into the corner comic shop, this makes for a decent download. Overall, it's nice to see the medium treated with respect, and frankly, if well-intentioned efforts turn new audiences on to comic classics, I'm all for it.


If you have $300 million lying around...

...you could buy this:
The Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Games

Pretty impressive, as these things go, particularly the scale and precision. Opening ceremonies are traditionally an explosion of symbolism and confusion, but the messages of this spectacular was fairly clear: China's a much more open society than, well, it's acted like it is, we can coordinate armies of people with a snap of our fingers, and we've got more money than you could possibly imagine. While the show did feature some slight head-shakers (like a parade of adorable children presenting the Chinese and Olympic flags to... stern goose-stepping soldiers) overall the performers used a novel combination of digital technology (a 500-foot LED screen) and traditional discipline (2008 dancers forming and re-forming perfect circles in unison) to highlight China's cultural contributions through history. In case you missed it, a quick recap:

2008 drummers that coordinated light patterns with every strike

Traditional costumes presented on a mass scale

A rippling ocean simulated with incredible precision

Snow ninjas and, um, glowing frogmen

Spectacular Cirque du Soleil-style displays and China's famous fireworks

Bob Costas and Matt Lauer provided the commentary, along with their Chinese analyst, Joshua Cooper Ramo. Lauer talked a great deal about the scrim that surrounds the entire stadium; in this ceremony, it was used to project supporting images on – in the future, one imagines it'll support advertising for the Chinese soccer team. Costas kept upping the ante of bombastic praise, finishing with something like "for Opening Cermonies competition, you can now close the book!" Guess Muhammed Ali and this guy can go screw, huh? And Ramo skirted China's brutal human rights record and other controversial issues, urging everyone to focus on the future... or at least the impressive dancers. One odd note they all kept repeating was the fact that all the formations featured 2008 performers, as testimony to the host country's huge population. Yes, China's got a lot of people – but it's not like Vancouver's gonna be unable to scrounge up 2010 dancers for the opening of the Winter Games in a couple years. Overall, tho, good show. Now bring on the underage gymnasts!