Eli McBeal

Ok, his last name is actually Stone, but Eli's a pretty direct descendant of the miniskirted lawyer with a penchant for whimisical visions. I suppose I should say he's a spiritual successor, as the "o" in Stone is made with a halo.

See, Eli's a big-time, big-city lawyer who takes on big cases for big clients and big money, caring only about cool cars and sharp suits, until... George Michael shows up and tells him (yes, via song) that he's gotta have faith. Ah-faith, ah-faith. He's gotta have faith-ah-faith-ah-faith.

If several reprises of the chorus don't make it clear enough, several characters directly reinforce the show's main theme, which is... wait for it... faith. Eli makes discoveries that restores his faith in his father, he argues a case that restores his faith in the justice system, and restores our faith in the institution of marriage by sticking with his fiance who dumps him when -spoiler alert- he's diagnosed with a brain aneurysm.

So do I have faith that there's a show here? Not so much. The pilot has a particularly strange vibe of over-the-top heartstring pulling (did I mention the major case concerns an autistic child going up against Big Pharma? An autistic child who's the son of the girl Eli lost his virginity to?) combined with shoot-from-the-hip philosophical meanderings. And Jonny Lee Miller plays Eli Stone with an odd sense of deliberate stammery awkwardness that I assume is supposed to be disarming and charming, but instead comes off as a hyper-intelligent insect in Armani fantasizing about George Michael.

And speaking of Jonny Lee Miller, ABC's trumpeting him as a prime reason to tune in (as in "Johnny Lee Miller IS... Eli Stone!"), which I also don't get. Here are the three things that come to mind when you say Jonny Lee Miller: he was in Hackers, he was in Trainspotting, and he was in Angelina Jolie. None of those are particularly impressive - I know, I know, visionary and harrowing Trainspotting and all that... but don't tell me that this faith-baiting show is assuming a bunch of heroin chic flick fans are part of the audience.

Regardless of who they hope will be the audience for this show, it won't include me. Pass.

Looking for the Best Show on TV?


Rerun Redux

Normally I'm not a fan of "special encore presentations," but last night's Lost did it right. ABC replayed the spectacular season three finale, Through the Looking Glass, with a pop-up video style scroll that added extra information to the on-screen action.

It served as an official peek under the tent (or at least into the writer's room ;) that illuminated some secrets of the show. The CW got in on the action, too, albeit for a different reason. They re-ran the Gossip Girl pilot with interviews and behind-the-scenes stuff – not so much in an effort to dive deeper into layers of twisted mysteries, but to court new viewers beyond the Facebook crowd buzz.

It's a perfect solution to this strike-shortened season – almost the equivalent of a free DVD-style commentary track. Rather than flooding us with wretched reality, let the writers pick up a mic while they put down their pens.


It's the end of the world as we know it...

...and I don't feel fine. In fact, in the spirit of this wretched show, I'll share a shocking revelation of how not fine I felt: during the broadcast, some leftover chinese food gave me a ripe case of the runs... which was more pleasant than watching Moment of Truth.

If you haven't followed this train as it prepared to run off the rails, Moment of Truth is a game show of sorts. Think of it as 500,000 Pyramid... of Lies! It goes like this: some desperate loser, in front of his family and friends, answers questions designed to rend his relationships apart in pursuit of a bigger bank account while a feral crowd hoots and hollers. Oh, and it's hosted by someone named Mark Wahlberg, but unfortunately he's not the one with the Funky Bunch, he's a puffy exercise in smuggery shoved into an ill-fitting suit.

If it's not clear by now, this thing is a repugnant disaster. It feels like one of those misguided faux shows that you see in near-future science fiction shows designed to illustrate how society has broken down and we'll all be living like Lord of the Flies soon. You know, like how they don't play football in 2010... instead it's "KillBall," complete with spiked walls and firepits filled with robot sharks. Or like those "I'll buy that for a dollar" segments in Robocop... except replace the satirical elements with abject humiliation and failure.

On the premier episode, a pompous personal trainer "won" $25,000 by admitting he checked out other guys' packages in the locker room and has done things in his marriage that would make his wife not trust him before he got bounced for lying about whether he's inappropriately touched any of his clients. Of course, by lying, his wife found out that he had, but that's beside the point... I guess. Then we moved on to an addictive gambler who fessed up to the fact that not only was he a member of the hair club for men, he stuffed his pants in the past to bulk things up south of the border.

At all of these things, the laugh-track like crowd went "woooooaaaahhhh" and applauded, while the wives and girlfriends alternately looked dismayed and urged their men to keep dialing for dollars. It's hideous.

And worse, it's hideously slow. The host puts a pregnant pause between every question, and the results of the lie detector tests are announced by a futuristic robot female voice that waits so long before saying true or false that her pauses prolly need to be induced. To push this metaphor into the realm of bad taste that this show revels in, Moment of Truth should have been aborted several trimesters ago.

It's supposed to be surprising and titillating, but it comes off as horrifying and depressing. If you can't stay away, DVR it and watch in the morning before you get ready... 'cause you'll gonna need a shower after.


Look! On YouTube! It's a Bird, it's a Plane, it's...

...well, we never really find out what the thing ripping New York a new one is in Cloverfield, but let's call it the Blair Witch Monster (aka the Anti-Snakes on a Plane), because for a film built entirely on buzz, this one delivers. This shakycam story of a Godzilla-esque monster attack and a group of twentysomethings attempting to survive it is a thrilling piece of filmmaking.

What starts as a going-away party for a friend turns into a going-away party for the entire city as the monster announces its presence with authority by ripping the head off the Statue of Liberty and hurling it across the Hudson. It lands at the feet of our partygoers, and we follow their quest for safety and to save a friend entirely thru the lens of a camcorder.

It sounds like a gimmick, and it is. Much like the teaser trailer that only released the date (and not the name) of the film. As well as the viral websites that fill in the backstory that's not shown on screen. But here's the thing about gimmicks – sometimes they work. There's a sense of immediancy that the camcorder conveys – I don't really wanna test this theory, but I'd guess this is pretty much exactly what it'd be like to be terrorized by a multi-story monster for an hour and a half.

So put aside your concerns about camcorder battery life or durability and get your tension on – Cloverfield's a killer.

And the Nominees Are...

...not terribly inspiring, given that I haven't seen most of the stuff that's up for awards. Sorry, but titles like No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood just don't scream "get off the couch" for me. I'll prolly get to the big hitter of the year (Atonement) and I've seen the little movie that could (Juno) and Michael Clayton was... you know... a nice tight thriller, but I didn't come out of the theater with Clayton-mania runnin' wild. Far as I'm concerned, the best movie I saw all year was the six-minute Batman short that played in front of I am Legend at IMAX.

So instead I'll comment on the poster.

This year the Academy turned to Drew Struzan, best known for collages of photorealistic heads of science fiction stars. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Hellboy, Back to the Future... he's done 'em all. Apparently he "conceived" it, while the actual illustration was executed by his son Christian. I'm not quite sure what the conceptual role was here, given that it's... you know... the Oscar statue backed by flashbulbs.

But it's a solid effort. Doesn't measure up to a recent fave from another well-known comic artist, Alex Ross, but it's worlds better than, say, this one which has a definite thrown-together-in-the-last-ten-minutes-with-clipart feel to it. And given that if it stuck to true Struzan style, we'd be looking at the blended heads of Javier Bardem, Tilda Swinton and an animated rat, I'd say we made out ok.


I Come Not to Bury Simon, But to Praise Him

Apologies to Shakespeare (and unscripted television haters), but based on last night's premiere, season seven of American Idol looks pretty good... and sounds even better.

I'm assuming I don't need to detail the show – if you don't know, you prolly don't read this blog. What's encouraging about these auditions (so far) is that the producers seem less fascinated with the seamy underbelly of attention-starved America and more interested in creating compelling stories about singers.

Oh sure, we met the misguided Gen Yers who've been told that they can do anything! Even be a star! Don't let anyone tell you different! Even people who know a lot more about singing than you do! Plus the hideous losers who still crave their proverbial fifteen minutes even if that time is spent laughing at them. And the sad cases of hopefuls who desperately want to validate their existence by winning a contest they have no business entering.

But we also met singers who – get this – can sing. Rather than parade an endless procession of increasingly awful freaks in front of us, the cameras actually swung around to track endearing Olympics-style stories that turn these kids into characters.

Finally, the judges are in good form. Bear in mind that good form for Randy is incoherent patter (now delivered from behind an odd pair of muttonchops). And Paula sticks to her I Heart Everyone guns, but Simon seems to have put his pistols away. Or at least clicked the safety on, reserving the real rancor for the people who deserve it – unfunny fame whores dying to degrade themselves on a national stage.

So we'll see - traditionally I tire of the auditions pretty quickly, but as last year they outdrew the finale, they're not going anywhere anytime soon. Here's hoping they continue along this plotline path.


No Fate But What We Make...

...particularly if we keep re-making it. I suppose it's not surprising that Fox went back to the well in lieu of new material; what is surprising about this extension of the Terminator franchise is that, so far, it's pretty damn good.

Based on the "Two-Night Premiere Event" (which I believe means airing the first two episodes ;) I think that Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles could have legs. Shiny metal robot legs. Shiny metal robot legs with guns hidden in them, in fact, if the new Terminators have anything to say about it.

I won't drown you in arcane mythology, because the show doesn't either. If you've seen T2, you're good to go. The show picks up a couple years later, where Sarah Connor and her son John drift through life, apparently safe from the threat of SkyNet, the computer system that, in the future, is due to become self-aware and destroy humanity. Emphasis on "apparently," because both good and bad Terminators show up quicker than you can say "it's not a tumor... at all."

Speaking of tumor, these Chronicles, while clearly following in T2's giant cyborg footsteps, does give a nod to T3, where we learned that Sarah Connor died of cancer – in ep 2 of this show, she learns the same and gets herself tested. The showrunners have stated that their intention is to lead into the new franchise, not T3 specifically, but it's nice to see that little Claire Danes film not left out in the cold. The kid cast as John Connor in the show, too, seems to be a bridge between the films, as he looks sort of like if T2's Edward Furlong and T3's Nick Stahl had a son. If that were possible. Of course, we are talking about time-traveling killer robots, so who knows.

And speaking of nods, the Sarah Connor Chronicles tosses quite a few affectionate ones to the fanboys. The opening and closing shots mirror the iconic dark highway and apocalyptic swingset images from the films. The Connor's initial alias is "Reese," as in Kyle Reese from T1 – John's father from the future. The good Terminator (played by Summer Glau as a spin on her River Tam character from Firefly/Serenity) is named "Cameron," as in James, the director of the first two films... and she also delivers the classic "come with me if you want to live" line. No one's said "I'll be back" yet – perhaps we'll have to wait 'til sweeps.

But it's not all fun and games. While the show preserves the occasional offbeat note from the films (Terminator Cameron gets blindsided by a car, raises her head from thru the windshield to calmly tell the family inside to "please remain calm" ;) it also retains the sobering undertones of humanity's responsibility in their own destruction. A sequence where Sarah learns about 9-11 is actually pretty moving.

So overall, a big thumbs up. A worthy successor to the Terminator saga with a nice time-travel twist. Give it a whirl – we've got to find something to watch until the computers grow up and destroy us all, right? Or at least until the writer's strike ends, whichever comes first.


Cock 'n Bull

Shoot 'em Up may well be the worst movie released all year. It's easily the stupidest, and bear in mind I've recently watched Evan Almighty, License to Wed and American Dreamz. Dreams... with a Z.

I'd warn you of SPOILERS AHEAD, but I'd be doing you a disservice in that you might not know what an abject failure this movie is. The "plot," such as it is, concerns a baby-breeding ring organized by an evil Presidential candidate who needs their bone marrow and colludes with a handgun maker to kill all the babies and their mothers to cover up the conspiracy. I think. The "hero," such as he is, is the son of a legion of British pistol experts who fled to America when the gun laws tightened, who was taken in by Black Ops when he was ten only to reemerge into society in time to inherit his father's gun shop where he unwittingly sold the shotguns to criminals who would later hold up a McDonald's, killing his wife and son with the guns he sold, driving him to live on the streets as a nameless hobo nihilist, surviving solely on carrots until this blissful existence is interrupted by a meeting with one of the baby-breeding mothers who is killed, leaving the last baby in his care – a baby he proceeds to take on an hour and fifteen minutes of the worst "gun as phallus" adventures imaginable.

The fetishistic gun/penis connection is nothing new, but the depths to which this movie plumbs the cliche certainly are. A few of the most egregious examples include the "hero" severing an umbilical cord with his gun, getting in a gunfight while he's delivering the baby, getting in a gunfight while he's making a baby, cleaning his gun on a baby-changing station in a decrepit bathroom and bonding with the baby by showing him how to use a loaded gun. Not to be outdone, the villain of the film uses his gun to both masturbate with a nude woman's corpse and attempt to burn off a hooker with a heart of gold's labia.

The movie attempts to be sort of a giddy ultraviolent take on MacGuyver, but in its quest for kewl it serves as perhaps the most idiotic and insensitive example of an already callous genre. Avoid at all costs.


Next in the City

Cashmere Mafia, the newest attempt to be the next Sex in the City (and from the same producer) premiered Sunday and encored last night to prep for its regular timeslot tonight. Whew – that's a lot of Lucy Liu in one week.

In attempting to inherit Sex in the City's tiara, Mafia follows it pretty much note for note. A foursome of sexy sassy gals take the Big Apple by storm, leaving a trail of guys in their wake. There are a few differences – they seem to have more money than SJP and crew, one of them really might be a lesbian for more than just one episode, and all the male characters seem to have been crossbred with swine to prove the cliche that men are pigs.

The pilot certainly suffers from what I'll call Startup Syndrome, where a season's worth of themes, character traits and subplots have to be shoehorned into forty-four minutes, often resulting in some awkward plot contrivances. Like when Mia (apparently a media buyer pit against her fiance for a promotion) calls the Cashmere Mafia together for an URGENT! meeting... by emailing them all individually. By scrolling across the address bar, we learn that Zoe's a VP of this, Juliet's a VP of that, and Caitlin's a VP of the other thing. Or when their rival, fresh from a nooner with one of their husbands, stops by their lunchtable and proclaims "The Cashmere Mafia... that's what they call you, you know." Thanks. Got it.

We also learn about the men in their lives, all of which exist to showcase how awesomely full of Grrl Power the titular characters are. One of them calls off an engagement because he can't compete with her at the office. One of them cheats on his wife because he's jealous of her in the bedroom. One of them makes whiny objections to everything because he can't keep up with her at home. And one of them complains about what he's not getting from the relationship, because he can't satisfy the (maybe) lesbian.

It's not like we don't need more examples of strong female characters in the media – guys are fairly well represented, so it's not an unforgivable crime that the male element of the show is a little weak. What won't work over the long haul is that the show is so one-note. It has potential, particularly in some of the performers – Bonnie Somerville was pretty terrific on NYPD Blue and Kitchen Confidential, and Miranda Otto (Eowyn from Lord of the Rings) is a stage-trained actress who, in explaining the unspoken bargain she's arranged with her cheating husband, provides the best scene in the show. And once the showrunners stop trying to illustrate how crazy sexy busy everyone is by having them constantly flash their blackberries, the characters might get some room to breathe and develop.

So it passes the Pilot Hurdle, particularly because the next one's on tonight and we're mired in the writer's strike. When Lipstick Jungle, the next next Sex in the City clone, premieres in February, we'll see which one sleeps with the fishes.


I Also Fight Like Seven Hundred

Frank tagged me, which is nice. He also apologized for doing so, which is even nicer. So, without further ado, I'll drop seven nuggets of knowledge on you:

1) I once rigged a White Sox ticket sweepstakes at my local Jewel (or "the Jewel" as some people inexplicably say). In direct violation of the "one per person" rule, I filled out all the remaining entries in the top tear pad. In direct violation of (I'm sure) some other rule, I stole the remaining tear pad. Oddly, I won. Even more oddly, I now work in promotions, often on... sweepstakes.

2) I designed the pre-Sesquicentennial logo for my hometown of Elmhurst, IL. I was prolly eleven, I not exactly a designer, and I was apparently not a photographer as I never got a picture taken of myself with the "149 and Counting..." banner that spanned the length of a bridge – despite it being up for a year.

3) When asked to create a team name for a six-person group project in college, I presented the name "Six Pack," unaware that "Six Pack" was the example given in the textbook to explain the exercise... as I hadn't bought the book, opting to skim sections in the university library when it seemed appropriate.

4) I had a catch with my dad on the Field of Dreams.

5) As a college intern, I asked Kristy Swanson to my office Christmas party, only be rejected by her publicist because she was currently dating Chad Lowe. Whose ass I prolly could've kicked if need be.

6) I spent last summer watching all 7 seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, all 5 seasons of Angel, the first 2 seasons of Grey's Anatomy, the mini-series and first 2 seasons of Battlestar Galactica and the entire series of Kitchen Confidential.

7) In office softball leagues, I regularly played second base in a pair of baseball pants worn by former White Sox hurler Rich Dotson.



Well, no – not really. Here's hoping the re-launch of American Gladiators gets launched from the prime-time schedule soon, because it's a disaster. These "re-imaginings" are tricky business; sometimes you get Battlestar Galactica, sometimes you get Bionic Woman. And sometimes you really strike out and get Planet of the Apes.

The original Gladiators wasn't exactly high art, but had a certain schlocky charm for its time. Unfortunately, as it is wont to do, time marches on. But Gladiators hasn't – aside from repainting the Power Ball cones and adding pits of water... or fire... or firewater, it's exactly the same show. Which in a world weaned on wrestling, action sports and reality TV, is completely irrelevant.

Instead of battling blank "personalities" like Crush (pictured above), Titan and Insert Generic Power Word Here, contestants should be going up against former UFC and WWE champs. If you wanna dust off 80s relic Hulk Hogan, put a pugil stick in his hand instead of a microphone. And update the events instead of polishing retreads that seem like holdovers from the Presidential Physical Fitness Awards.

Overall is it watchable? I guess, in the sense that it's people hitting each other with brightly colored objects. But you'd prolly have a better time throwing Twizzlers at each other. Pass.

As Michael and Arnold Have Said...

...albeit with far less impact, I'm back. Was out for the tail end of the year on vacation; Dave wondered where I went – here's a clue:
Any guesses? No prizes to the winners, but I will do a review if you want me to...