That stupid jerk, Andrew, is making me watch ‘Battlestar Galactica’

February 11, 2009

FROM JASON’S SIGHS OF RESIGNATION –– Well, Andrew has finally convinced me to join him in his nerdery and watch stinkin’ Battlestar Galactica. I might as well start spouting pimples and debating whether Plastic Man or Reed Richards would win in a fight.

I’m only five years late; I wanted to get in on the ground floor with this one, but missed the miniseries in 2004. And if I miss the establishing episodes of a serialized drama, I can never get into it.

So here we are in 2009, with the series finale coming up, and I’m about two hours and 20 minutes into the opening act. I’ve ignored all the geek buzz and speculation about the plot that’s been so prevalent on sites like our favorite forum, so I’m still pretty much a virgin where the twists are concerned.

That said, I grasp so far that there are 12 “wetware” cylons built to blend in with humans, so I figure the show’s going to play out like an Agatha Christie who-dunnit, with the chance to spot 12 culprits instead of one. That’s turned Battlestar already into a spot-the-literary-tell-tales game, and I have some guesses.

1) One of the Adamas is definitely a cylon. It’s apparent that this show’s going to be about religious iconography, and it doesn’t get more blatant than a corrupted form of “Adam,” the supposed first man. Both characters have made decisions that sacrifice lives callously in the name of “the greater good,” and the elder made that ambiguous speech at the start of the first ep about how morally the cylons and humans really aren’t that different.

2) Tigh is probably a cylon. In an early scene, he’s seen lighting a pic of a woman on fire; Andrew says with a wink that it’s just his wife (or ex-wife, I can’t remember), but again in religious terms there’s nothing quite like purging by fire to show hatred and a desire to seek purity.

3) Baltar could well be a cylon. He’s seeing visions of Six, which she chalks up to “maybe while you were sleeping I put a chip in your head that projects images of me right into your conscious thoughts,” but I think she could just as easily be transmitting right into his CPU. She’s all about writing backdoors into software, right? And there’s nothing so far that says that all the cylons know they’re cylons — maybe they’re programmed to think they’re human until they need to complete some specific task, just like with post-hypnotic suggestion.

4) The Asian pilot (I don’t know her name) is probably a cylon. I can’t remember her name, but she’s an orphan. Now, this is completely based on a gut feeling, and also on my English degree — writers don’t typically make characters orphans unless it’s going to contribute to the story by casting doubt on their origins. If they wanted to sympathetically round out her past, they would have given her a family to lose in the Caprica invasion.

5) The following people are probably not cylons: The “president” (cancer is not an identifying characteristic of a machine), The Chief (he’s too emotional and relatable), Gaeta (he’s made mistakes that have inadvertently helped the Galactica safe), Billy (the guy who assists the lady president) is too vanilla, and the really, really cute black girl in the Galactica control room, whatever her name is. I’d get with her. Oh yeah. I would. You know it.

Whether Starbuck is a cylon remains up in the air; I wouldn’t put it past the writers to write that in there as a big 180 punch on the audience. So far, she seems to have very little to do with the plot except as a foil for Lee Adama, anyway.

Now, those of you who are five seasons ahead of me and know the answers, KEEP YOUR GOD-DAMNED MOUTHS SHUT AND HELP ME STAY SPOILER-FREE. If you ruin this for me, I will cut you.

Oh, and Reed Richards would totally kick Plastic Man’s ass. So many reasons.

‘Scrubs’ limps back to new channel with lame debut

January 7, 2009

FROM JASON’S WEDNESDAY NIGHT — I’ve been saying I’m done with Scrubs for two years. After seeing the season premier tonight, I feel validated. It looks like ABC hasn’t decided to fix the problems that NBC allowed to fester.

I’ve been a fan of the show since it launched, and purchased the first four seasons on DVD. It’s always had heart, and at first the characters were novel. As I kept watching, everything stayed static. And if you’re not growing, you’re dying.

I had such hopes that jumping networks would pump some life into the series in its eighth season. But JD is still the bumbling, naive boy who always needs rescued by Turk or Dr. Cox. He still can’t hold down a relationship. He’s grown a beard, but he hasn’t gotten over his neediness or grown into his lab coat.

Great characters change. They confront their flaws and learn from their mistakes. They don’t keep taking the same pratfalls and doing the same nerd-who-doesn’t-fit-in-or understand-social-grace jokes. Instead of working to progress any of that, the writers have decided to put all their eggs in the “crazy new crop of interns screw up” basket of gags.

Turk is still JD’s macho ID; Elliot is still underconfident and self-obsessed; Carla is still the empathic support of the team; Dr. Cox is still the reluctant father. Arguably the most interesting and complicated character of the past three seasons, Dr. Kelso has retired but still hangs around the hospital. He’s been sadly marginalized so far.Taking his place as Chief of Medicine is Courtney Cox, hot as the sun and the last adrenal hope for the sitcom.

What the second half-hour of the premier did well, on the other hand, is tell a compelling story about a 70-year-old man scared to face death. Had the writers stuck with that story instead of throwing around cheap and not-so-funny intern jokes, the episode would have been near-perfect.

Where once I was a rabid fan, now I’m quite apathetic. I’m not sure ABC’s pick-up of Scrubs was a great choice, and I’m not sure this new season will garner any more than its previous five-or-so million viewers unless something drastic is done. Guest stars aren’t the answer. Stunts aren’t the answer. A larger cast isn’t the answer. Call-backs aren’t the answer.

Letting the characters move out of their safe zones is the answer.

Are you smart? A love for ‘Jeopardy!’ is mandatory

January 7, 2009

Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

FROM JASON’S CHANNEL 5 — What is the Chang Jiang River? What is Zorba the Greek? Who was Jose de San Martin? What is the square of the hypotenuse?

I think, looking back, that it’s very possible I learned more from Alex Trebek than any other single teacher through high school. The man shotgunned bullets of information into my head, one every 10 seconds or so, 22 minutes a night, five nights a week, for most of my formative years.

Watching Jeopardy! wasn’t exactly mandatory in my house, but there was rarely a reason good enough to miss it (until I started to notice boobs) or the competition it brought into my living room. Ever since I was able to read, I wanted to soak up information. I pored over the Golden Treasury of Knowledge and  a used Encyclopedia Britannica set found at a yard sale.

Those heavy volumes opened my mind early to how to receive and retain information — so I was ready for Jeopardy!’s perfectly empirical, entirely apolitical, soundbite-sized lessons on everything.

The reason I bring this up is that I recently discovered my friends in England, the Continent, and Australia have never seen Jeopardy!.

This blew my mind. It’s a core part of my education, a nightly ritual, and an infallible father figure (in Trebek, although you could say he’s not perfect because he’s Canadian — that dig is for you, Kevin). This is a show that started in 1964, running continuously in its present format for 25 years come September 2009.

Finally, I found an American product I’m proud to export to the rest of the world.

Now, there are some out there who would insist watching Jeopardy! is a geriatric pastime. That is just not true, and I think it’s based solely on the 7 or 7:30 p.m. time slot in which it runs in most markets. But if you can get past the Geritol and Polydent commercials to the meat of the show, you’ll see that if you are to rank anywhere above “Invertibrate” on the Jason Scale of Relative Intelligence, then you need to love Jeopardy!.

What I like best about the program is it’s pacing. Unlike every other game show ever aired, its success lies in the rapid-fire format, the complete opposite of quiz-the-idiot shows like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

I never got the feeling that I was actually playing along with Wheel of Fortune because the contestants refused to call the letters I would scream at the television. With Jeopardy!, the contestant’s success is irrelevant; it’s all about whether I get the right answer. And that benchmark can be measured every few seconds.

I also like that it’s a pure meritocracy. You either know the answers or you don’t, and you are awarded dollars based on skill, not blind chance. Three people compete; one of them is the best not because of the spin of a wheel but because they are interested in the world around them.

If that doesn’t appeal to you, then I have to say we have very different value systems.

So this is my appeal to you, non-American, non-Canadian readers: Be my friend. Prove it by watching the old-ish epidode I’ve posted before. Become a trivia-phile. Love the Trebek like you would love the Shatner. Show me how much you love to learn for learning’s sake. Be awesome.

Well, at least it didn’t have magic skulls and aliens….

December 14, 2008

FROM JASON’S SUNDAY MORNING — It’s no secret that I love the odd crappy television movie. With nothing else to do, I tuned in early today to TNT for 2004’s The Librarian: Quest for the Spear, the first in a trilogy of cheap Indiana Jones knock-offs.

I say Indiana Jones because drama powerhouse Noah Wyle’s (sarcasm!) title character races against an evil cult to recover the mystical spear that supposedly pierced the side of Christ. In The Librarian, the spear gives its bearer unimaginable powers, and “Hitler had only one of the three pieces and it took the combined countries of the world to stop him” (paraphrased).

But while it aspires to Indy status, this made-for-television bad-ass is more like an inexperienced Sherlock Holmes who gets commissioned by the Men In Black to fight the villains from Crocodile Dundee II on behalf of Santa Claus.

A quick overview: Wyle is a 30-something way-overgrad student who’s amassed 22 collegiate degrees, including a handful of doctorates. When he’s forced to leave school, his great intellect, powers of observation and deduction land him a job as a librarian. He learns that his employers aren’t so much bookkeepers as they are the guardians of powerful and fantastic artifacts; they’re more or less those “top men” hired to be curators of the warehouse from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

At first, Wyle is the reluctant and bumbling genius, but as he gets sucked into a circle of cultish intrigue, he starts to enjoy his role as a globetrotting adventurer.

Yeah, it’s that rough.

Do-nothing director Peter Winther gives us styrofoam and plastic sets. Bob Newhart as the M character looks bored and delivers his lines monotone. There’s a horrid computer-generated parachute, foggy CG junglescapes and temples, and airplane depressurization that doesn’t cause any turbulence, a criminal mastermind who faked his own death, and a romance between Wyle and his motorcycle-riding amazonian bodyguard, Nicole Noone (which allows Newhart to crack, “Trust Noone”).

The effects look worthy of an episode of Charmed, including a couple in the climax that look inspired by Tron. There’s even a moment where Noone pulls an obligatory Matrix jump five or so feet in the air. The scoundrels trying to steal the Spear of Destiny all predictably wear emo-altered black military garb and Neo sunglasses. You’ve got to wonder how hard-up for a paycheck were Newhart and Noah Wyle — though the later hasn’t done very much to earn his household name, other than his 249 episodes of ER.

Oh yeah — for all you Third Rock from the Sun fans out there, Jane Curtain also stars.

And if you want to hear grating dialog, click play:

It is seriously difficult to understand how The Librarian scored as high as 5.9 on the IMDB-o-meter. Maybe there are thousands out there who, along with me, are equally hypnotized by epically low-budget turd-fests.

Maybe that’s the power of Kelly Hu’s midriff, which is honestly what kept me tuned in all 120 minutes — that and the sadistic need to find out just how much further into underfunded straight-to-the-small-screen mediocrity the flick could fall.

Just to get all you Trekkies excited, guess who directed the 2006 follow-up, The Librarian: Return to King Solomon’s Mines? None other than Jonathan “Two Takes” Frakes(he also has a small role).

Riker also returned this year to direct The Librarian: The Curse of the Judas Chalice (perhaps the most unfortunately named chalice ever), which is about vampires and stars Bruce Davison as Dracula.

I’m going to be totally honest: As horrible as was the first in the series, I totally intend to sit and watch the two sequels.

TV is suddenly empty without Denny and Alan

December 9, 2008

There are going to be spoilers in here. I’m warning you now.

blFROM JASON’S BRIEFCASE — Well, I said goodbye last night to Denny Crane and Alan… Shore-Crane.

As stupid as it sounds, I’ve lost two of the best (fictional) role models I’ve ever had.

William Shatner and James Spader cultivated over the past five seasons the most real relationship, in my opinion, to ever appear on television. Two grown, heterosexual men who unabashedly share their feelings, their money, their fears, their beds, and their scotch with each other: what a rare situation to see on television.

I was raised pretty blue-collar puritanical, even a little homophobic (I’ve gotten over that). Men drink beer together. They talk about sports. They joke about sex. They don’t share cigars on a balcony and peel away their emotional masks while saxophones play — which is how just about every Boston Legal episode ended. It’s just not manly.

Flamingos are not macho.

But those final scenes of each episode between Denny and Alan always left me aching for that kind of deep friendship that knew, really, no boundaries at all. Sex didn’t matter. Politics didn’t matter. Age didn’t matter between them. Here were two men who couldn’t be much more disparate, yet they found they were perfect for each other on a fundamental level — so perfect that they often joked about being married.

Denny: We drink.
Alan: We smoke.
Denny: I’m unfaithful.
Alan: Not to me.
Denny: Never to you.
Alan: We’re not setting examples. We’re just being true to who we are.
Denny: Who are we?
Alan: Denny Crane.
Denny: Alan Shore.
Alan: Leaders of men.
Denny: With bull’s eyes on our asses.

Well, the final episodes aired Monday night validated that little in-joke about their husband-wife relationship as Denny and Alan married each other.

Sure, it was for tax reasons, so Denny could give Alan millions to start up a legal aid charity without Uncle Sam cashing in. At least on the surface. Really, looking back, there’s no more profound way such close friends could have ended their run, same sex or not. And what’s wrong with that? The whole point of marriage (allegedly) is to be with your best friend.

“You’re the man I love… Take my hand, Alan. Take my money,” Denny said.

It sounds schlocky, I know.

The finale left me wanting a little more in the way of exploring Denny’s deterioration and Alzheimer’s disease. He suffered a big lapse, but I would have liked to see it play out over another few episodes — something that the shortened 13-episode season order wouldn’t allow.

Another major turn of events, in which Crane, Poole, & Schmidt was purchased by Chinese investors (to become Chang, Poole, & Schmidt) also felt rushed. I think both the (rather hostile) takeover and Denny’s condition should have been stretched over another 13 or so episodes.

I would have also loved to have seen former cast members pulled back into the story (Denise, Brad, Jeffrey, Garrett, Claire, Sarah, Tara, Lori, Sally).

Oh well. I own all four released seasons on DVD, and there’s no doubt I’ll be buying the fifth. I’m just very sad to lose such an intellectually honest and challenging commentary on issues. Boston Legal gave me so much to think about, challenged my beliefs, and often started paths of contemplation that led me to change my mind about some very controversial topics.

That’s not something that can be said for much else on the air today. It’s not like Chuck, Fringe, or Family Guy are likely to do. There’s simply nothing to replace this highly educational and poignant show.

Terminator season premier: Stop, or my robot will shoot!

September 8, 2008


FROM JASON’S NIGHT OFF — Sarah Connor Chronicles is back tonight for the start of season two, and we have some answers and some new intrigue.

There’s a T-1000 on the loose, and it’s not Robert Patrick. But she’s got some of the same tricks.

Let’s start at the beginning, which is to say the ending of season one. Cameron (Summer Glau) the friendly Terminatrix was ‘sploded by a car bomb. Guess what? She’s not dead.

Did anyone think Glau would be killed so easily? I mean, the whole show is about the “is-the-Terminator-a-human-too” premise. Plus, she brings geek cred and hottie appeal to the show (not to diminish how incredible looking Lena Headey is).

The big twist — using an old writing ploy — is that the explosion gave Cameron some programming damage. Now she’s malfunctioning and set on terminating John Connor. Like we didn’t see that coming. It’s the sci-fi equivalent of the old hypnosis device. Or KIT getting hacked on the old Knight Rider.

But Sarah Connor Chronicles has a knack for taking worn-out tropes and making them work. It’s not so much that the writers are breathing anything new into the formula, it’s more that they’re just making you care about the characters enough that you don’t care about the set-up. It’s very Buffy the Vampire Slayer that way.

The bulk of the show is a chase. Cameron (this is priceless) staples her skin back to her face and tracks the Connors’ blood to a church, then uses her iron fist to end an SUV getaway.

Three-quarters into the episode we come to the crux of the whole show. John finds a way to disable Cameron, and to stop him, she yells that she loves him. It’s clear that he loves her, too — which brings up some weird man-machine love questions. I’m sure they’ll be explored. He reprograms her and Homer holds his 300th weekly “Everything is Back to Normal” barbecue.

By the way, it seems Cromartie left Agent Allison alive in hopes that he’ll beat a path to Sarah and John. They have a nice little talk about it.

Meanwhile, Garbage lead singer (you remember that band? Only Happy When It Rains? Stupid Girl? When I Grow Up?) Shirley Manson joins the cast. She’s running the company that hired a bounty hunter to find and steal the Turk, the chess computer that will give rise to SkyNet.

She’s a shape-shifting, mercurial T-1000. She finger-knifes a mouthy employee in the forehead in her reveal as another big Terminator baddie, bringing the total number of machines sent back to the past up to 237. Want to place bets on whether she’ll be in an epic showdown with the Connors in the season finale? Time will tell, unless somebody travels back in it and sparks an alternate timeline. It’s been done before.

Hear that? It’s Puddy. Again. No joke.

May 20, 2008

FROM JASON’S TOTALLY HETERO OBSERVATIONS — This is so unlike me, because he doesn’t have boobs.

But everywhere I look, I see David Puddy. Or more accurately, I hear the very distinctive voice of Patrick Warburton.

This guy is on every channel, simultaneously. He’s got his own sitcom, Rules of Engagement, which is bad (mainly because of David Spade). But he’s also the voice of Joe on Family Guy, the voice of Brock on The Venture Bros., and Kronk in both The Emporer’s New Groove movie and weekly cartoon (which is surprisingly still running).

He’s been in Bee Movie, Robot Chicken, Kim Possible, Underdog, Less Than Perfect (thank god that was canceled), The Batman, Sky High, Men In Black II, Big Trouble (Dave Barry, your humor does not translate to the big screen), Buzz Lightyear of Star Command (an awesome cartoon that I watched every morning before work), Scream 3, Hercules (the Disney version), and let’s not forget The Tick….

OK, I’ll stop IMDBing you now.

But my point is that just about I every time I flip through the channels with my wife, she ends up muttering, “Is that Puddy?” The reference, of course, goes to Warburton’s… um… stoic?… character on Seinfeld. Spotting his voice has even become somewhat of a game with us. Can you imagine the number of W-2 forms this guy has to turn in every April? Day-um.

So the thing I can’t figure out is motive. A lot of the stuff Warburton does is geeky, but I’m not sure whether he’s being typecast because of his signature elocution or whether he’s a real geek like Andrew and me. If his sense of humor matches (a lot of) his characters’, then I think he’s the kind of guy I’d want to hang out with. I mean, I think Joe has more spin-off potential than Cleveland.