March 2003 Archives

Stump the Band

What's the deal with check-cashing shops?

One opened recently near me, and it got me wondering. You see these places all over. I've never used one, but I imagine they charge a fee to cash your check. As opposed to, say, a bank, which will cheerfully do it for nothing. I find it hard to believe there are enough people desperate for Haagen Dazs at midnight who lack an ATM or credit card to keep these places in business, and yet there they are, sprouting like kudzu.

Honestly, I'm just not understanding the market need here. Explain it to me.

Comments (8) | last by David Waldman, Apr 3, 9:23 AM

Tick Tock

Episodes of 24 have been stacking up on my Tivo for months now. I knew I'd want to watch them all in rapid succession, and this weekend I caught up. And damn if this isn't one of the best shows on television. If you're not already watching, there's not much point in jumping in now-- you'll be better off picking up the inevitable DVD and watching the entire season. Which you should certainly do. This is good stuff.

Comments (9) | last by Larry, Apr 7, 8:10 PM

It's Wafer Thin

I just returned from a second visit to my new favorite local eatery. It's a Brazilian grill (Rio, on the Ave, for any Seattle locals), which is to say, it's where good little carnivores go when they die. The all-you-can-eat buffet, a concept so divine as to secure its inventor a seat at the head of the heavenly table, has been impossibly improved by the most simple of ideas.

The food comes to you.

No more lulls in the digestive process while you drag yourself away from your table, stagger over to the buffet, and dirty yet another plate with sneeze-guard-protected vittles. While you and your companions pass around an assortment of simple yet delicious side dishes, a parade of servers visit your table. Each offers a sword-like skewer for your approval, sliding a morsel or two onto your plate at your merest nod. Grilled pineapple, mushrooms, assorted veggies, corn on the cob, bacon-wrapped turkey breast, pepper steak, chicken, shrimp, sausage... you'll want to shout "huzzah!" and pour mead on the court jester. Upon sampling the tri-tip steak, sliced off the skewer to your specifications, your eyes will roll so far back you'll see the pleasure centers of your brain doing the samba.

All of life should be like this. I want an endless stream of people walking past my door, offering services throughout the day. "Out of toilet paper, mister?" "Chevron Man-- I'm here to top off your tank." "You look tense, sir. Massage?" After all, they say life's a buffet. I want mine to be Brazilian.

Comments (5) | last by Your Father in New Jersey, Apr 14, 9:47 PM

Varekai

Few reality series are as compelling as Bravo's Cirque du Soleil: Fire Within, which concluded its run on Monday and will begin its repeat cycle next week. That's because unlike all the fabricated reality we've been fed lately, this is truly real-- a serialized documentary of the creation of the Cirque du Soleil show, Varekai. The camera stays with a handful of the performers, some veterans, others neophytes, providing beguiling glimpses of life inside the colorful Cirque. We see them mold their acts, moving through triumphs and disappointments as the show develops. The story of Gareth and Ashley is particularly gripping, as they struggle to master Acadian acrobatics ahead of the onrushing deadline. The focus on the performers means a big part of the picture is out of frame. We gain little insight into Cirque owner Guy de Liberte. We don't get into the head of director Dominic Champagne, or see much of his creative process. Some of the best scenes involve the marketing sessions where the show's poster is developed, and I'd have liked to have seen more of the back-room machinations. I hope Bravo produces more series like this one, pulling back the curtain on the creative process.

But really-- are there no dentists in Montreal? What's up with Dominic's teeth? <shudder>

Comments (11) | last by Denise, Jan 24, 12:27 PM

And the Jerk Is...

There's chutzpah, and then there's a complete lack of class. At tonight's Oscar ceremony, Michael Moore landed squarely in the latter category. Upon winning the Best Documentary award, he made a nice gesture by pulling all the other nominees onto the stage with him to be recognized. Then he launched into political rhetoric.

I happen to believe the winner's podium is not an appropriate place for airing political grievances, but that battle was lost long ago and that's not my beef. After corraling his fellow nominees, Moore presented himself as their spokesman. And then selfishly presented his controversial political beliefs as those of the entire group. If I were one of the people standing with him, I'd have kicked him in the nuts the moment we got backstage for suckering me into such a self-serving bait-and-switch.

Comments (12) | last by David Waldman, Mar 27, 1:48 PM

Cree

Stargate SG-1 is the best SF show on television. Yeah, the movie was kinda lame. But there was a great idea behind it, and the TV series ran with it. And it did it with panache. Sure, Richard Dean Anderson's Colonel O'Neill is utterly absurd-- nobody with his irreverent attitude could possibly survive in the upper ranks of the air force, let alone lead an elite team responsible for interplanetary exploration. Sure, Major Carter can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. Daniel can decipher every ancient, dead language ever written on Earth, and Teal'c has fewer notes than a test of the emergency broadcast system. Granted, all of it. But the show gets almost everything else right.

The production values are terrific. As ridiculous as O'Neill is, his dialogue is hilarious. The cast clicks and is eminently likeable. The series has an astounding grip on its continuity, with characters and plot elements resurfacing frequently (I'm particularly fond of 2010, where the team realizes the dire consequences of trusting a certain alien race and sends a message back in time to warn themselves, and then 2001 the following season where we see the team first encounter those aliens and change their behavior based on that message).

The show floundered this season with Michael Shanks' departure (he's returning next season). It says something that the best episodes this year featured his guest appearance. And while the scene with Daniel and Jack in the elevator was one of the best all year, tonight's season finale got Daniel all wrong. He'd never give Anubis the Eye of Ra, especially after learning what Anubis is, which would justify acting against Anubis directly (although not, apparently, in the eyes of Uma). This episode missed the boat in other areas as well, such as the complete lack of emotional connection between Jack and Skara and the treacly ending.

Yet even when it misses, Stargate SG-1 is still better than 90% of what's out there. If you haven't discovered it yet, check out the reruns on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Comment (1) | last by Rene Thibault, Mar 10, 1:38 PM

Justice Is Served

Ah, Karma.

When Shawna desperately wanted to get out of the game, her Survivor allies refused to vote her off. Then, after scoring the coveted role of Alex's scalp masseuse and deciding she's in it for the long haul, her tribemates tell her to not let the tent flap hit her on the way out.

I think Nelson Muntz said it best: "Ha ha!"

Comments (3) | last by Stephen Glenn, Mar 27, 2:48 PM

From Variety:

[WB Entertainment president Jordan Levin] said he expects an actual war to be "anticlimactic," arguing that the public has already experienced "the most prolonged foreplay we've seen since Ross and Rachel on 'Friends."'

Comments (2) | last by Gary Zielinski, May 16, 8:36 PM

So you want to score some cash by signing up for pay-per-impression ad services, but you need eyeballs? Offer a cash prize for whomever first reaches the end of a riddle trail you set up, where the prize amount depends on the ad income and each page of the trail brings up... more ads! Free to play, and the more people who play, the bigger the prize becomes. Brilliant.

Now screw things up by using bare-bones HTML, ads with viruses, hideous formatting, typos galore, old chestnut riddles, lousy grammar and sentence structure, and a cumbersome answer format. Presto, you've got Net Riddle, an embarrassing train-wreck of a site guaranteed to frustrate and annoy you while returning no pleasure whatsoever.

I'm on stage 1.7.

Comments (72) | last by Shadowcat, Apr 22, 6:25 AM

Big Bucks

I'll confess-- I loved Press Your Luck. It was one of the most mindless game shows on television, but it was by far the most exciting. That big board with the flashing whammies was damned compelling, and I watched it in its initial run and in USA reruns whenever I got the chance. But I missed one of the most famous moments in game show history, and finally got to see it tonight when Game Show Network aired the misleadingly titled documentary Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal.

The thing of it was, the big board wasn't random. The lights flashed in five different sequences of eighteen cells each. And Michael Larson noticed it. Armed with a VCR, he memorized those patterns and capitalized on an even bigger weakness in the system-- some of the cells never, ever held a whammy. After whammying on his first spin, before he got his reaction time nailed down, he went on to earn over $100,000 in dozens of consecutive spins-- the highest single day total in game show history at the time. The show had to be split across two episodes. The episodes were never rerun-- CBS didn't even want them to air the first time.

The documentary includes both episodes in their entirety, and they're fascinating to watch. Larson's two opponents are clearly flabbergasted by what transpires, and host Peter Tomarken has no idea that the man has cracked the system despite the fact that he keeps landing on the same two squares on the board. Far less effective is the padding material, including absurd frame-by-frame analysis in which viewers are instructed to watch Larson's crinkled, inscrutable eyes for insight into his "trance-like" focus.

The writing continually insinuates that Larson was somehow in the wrong, beginning with the loaded use of "scandal" in the title. But there was no scandal. Everything Larson did was perfectly legal. Tomarken says as much at the end, even congratulating the man for earning his $100,000 through keen observation and determination. That should have been the editorial angle from the get-go, celebrating an enterprising man's achievement while examining the production decisions which created the flawed system that made it possible. Instead, the subtext of the program is that Larson was some kind of con man who scammed the network, instead of beating them at their own game.

If you'd like to see for yourself, Game Show Network will be running the show again at 9PM Monday and next Sunday, and midnight Tuesday (that's Tuesday morning).

Comments (7) | last by Jon, Jan 31, 10:24 PM

In the Air Tonight

With all the billions of research funding that's been funneled into the malodorous gas sector, it's about time somebody solved the problem of untimely flatulence. But this product from Dairiair (I kid you not) doesn't go far enough. The company offers an industrial-strength version for clients with more powerful blast furnaces, but that only helps the sedentary cheese-cutters. A cushion offers no security for the walk down the hall to the mail room or the casual water-cooler chat. What about wind-passers on the go? Until this technology is refined enough to be incorporated directly into undergarments, the gastointestinally challenged will remain ostracized and isolated from society.

Comments (3) | last by Sharron Huza, Feb 14, 3:59 PM

Men Are Pigs

Watching Survivor: The Amazon this season, in which the men have been pitted against the women, I've felt embarrassed for my entire gender. With the exception of Butch, one of the older men, the rest of the bunch have behaved like peurile frat boys. "Heidi's cute." "Jenna's got a sexy ass." "Shawna's the hottest." Hello? You're not on Elimidate. There's a million bucks on the line, people-- how's about keeping your eyes on the prize? Not that the women have been bashing down female stereotypes, either, with their shabby shelter, recurring cattiness, and the young, attractive women going off alone to revel in heir youth and accuse the older women of being jealous of their beauty.

Tonight the tribes got shuffled. Most of the annoying men and women wound up together, while the two players I'm most cheering for. rocket scientist Dave and deaf, spunky Kristy (a lost cause, I'm sure; you'd have to be insane to let someone with a disability make it into the final two-- you might as well just sign over the check on day one and save yourself a lot of time), are on the same tribe. And of course, the annoying people won immunity. Not that the other outcome would have been much better-- the most worthy player on that side, Deena, is living on borrowed time.

I suppose I'll be content with any outcome as long as drama queen Shawna gets her whiny butt booted. Unless, of course, it comes down to her and one of the three allies who refused to vote her off last week despite her weepy entreaties to do so. That karmic justice would be sweet indeed.

Oh, and Jeanne: Take what consolation you can, but nobody-- I suspect not even you-- buys the "I didn't win the game, but I'm the winner in life" dodge. Self-righteousness is the last refuge of the loser. You're no nobler than they are, you just got beaten sooner.

Comment (1) | last by Scott Hardie, Mar 16, 10:57 PM

When talk started about spinning Eliza Dushku's Faith into her own series, I was skeptical. Season three of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the high point of the series in large part because of Faith, but it was the tension between her and Buffy that made it work. Faith and Buffy were yin and yang, the Luke and Vader of the Buffyverse. Put Faith on her own and the equation is out of balance.

I should have known better. The same could have been said of Angel, and the past season and a half of that spinoff has been stronger than the last couple of years of Buffy. Lilah's death disappointed me (take Fred-- please!), and I'm worried that it's jumped the shark with evil Cordelia (they've gone way too long without explaining that one already), not to mention Cordy sleeping with Connor, leading to pregnant Cordelia... but I'll wait until the storyline has played itself out before passing judgment.

Dushku's turn in the past few Angel episodes, however, has been dynamite. The sense of debt Faith feels toward Angel gives her much-needed humanity and depth. In facing Angel's inner darkness personified, Faith has been forced to face her own dark side and reaffirm who she is and will be. That inner turmoil makes Faith far more interesting than Buffy, who has had all the flair and personality of a corpse since reanimating from one at the start of last season. And the vibe between Faith and Wesley, her once-dorky, now-studly former Watcher, is electric. These two have one hell of a troubled history, and they acknowledge it. Their interactions are rich with subtext. Now the idea of a series crafted around Faith excites and intrigues me.

Not that it matters. Dushku turned down the concept to star instead as a morgue employee who talks to the dead, reliving the same day over and over again until she sets things right. Kind of a Quantum Groundhog's Day. In the meantime, Faith's about to wrap things up in L.A. and pop over to Sunnydale, where she'll hopefully give Buffy a much-needed jolt of something-interesting-to-watch.

The Buffy/Angel romance was inspired. She kills vampires, he is a vampire. They yearn to be together, but can't be without risk of setting Angelus free in a moment of true happiness. Classic tragedy. But the platonic relationship between Faith and Angel could be something even richer, bound with many layers of nuance and emotion. If Dushku's pilot fails, I hope she reconsiders picking up the stake again.

Comment (1) | last by Larry, Mar 16, 8:16 PM

The writers got evil on yesterday's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The following question appeared at the $4000 level:

On the 1980s sitcom Growing Pains, what was the nickname of Mike Seaver's best friend?

A) Cockroach
B) Skippy
C) Six
D) Boner

The contestant didn't hesitate before answering B, Skippy, and crashing back to $1,000. The correct answer was D, Boner. For a $4,000 question, the choices here were evil-- they're all best friends of 80's sitcom characters. Cockroach is Theo's pal from The Cosby Show, Skippy is from Family Ties, and Six is from Blossom. Nasty, nasty, nasty.

Of course, the real crime here is the lost opportunity to have Meredith read Woody, Dick, and Willy as the wrong answers. Now that's television.

Comments (12) | last by Ryan, Jul 22, 1:42 PM

Let he who is without 500 board games cast the first stone, but where exactly is the line between academic analysis and irredeemable geekiness? Because from where I sit, this site has catapulted beyond it. I'm just not quite sure in which direction.

Comment (1) | last by Chris M. Dickson, Mar 13, 8:26 AM

Holy Corpulence!

Speaking of The Superfriends, last night CBS aired Return to the Batcave. Like last year's Surviving Gilligan's Island, the behind-the-scenes segments revealed fascinating glimpses into the creation of a cult TV phenomenon. Padding the thing out to two hours by adding a framing story where Adam West and Burt Ward chase down a stolen Batmobile, however, was an intensely bad idea executed poorly. West pretty much parodied himself and Burt Ward was mesmerizing-- he sounded exactly the same as he did 35 years ago, but was about triple the size. And when he talked, only his mouth moved-- it was like he was trapped inside a really bad fat suit. Too many Bat pastries at the ol' Bat craft services table. Frank Gorshin looked like he'd been pulled out of the grave, but Catwomen Lee Meriwether and Julie Newmar have still got it.

Form of... Crap!

We often romanticize our childhood, seeing it through a scrim of bowling parties, Good Humor trucks, and Wacky Packages. We forget that Bubble Yum poisoned us with spider eggs, Pop Rocks threatened our survival, and the modulated <bloop> of filmstrips sapped the very will from our bodies. The latest evidence of this phenomenon turned up last night. As with all that's good and true in the world, it came courtesy of my Tivo <genuflect> which, in light of recent recordings of The Simpsons, Monsters Inc, and Lilo & Stitch, decided I might enjoy an episode of The Superfriends.

Ah, the Superfriends. Despite my allegiance to the Marvel Comics line and general disdain for D.C., I was a devotee as a child. Don't get me wrong-- I watched Spiderman ("Is he strong? Listen, bud-- he's got radioactive blood!"), the 60's Marvel cartoons-- Captain America, Thor, even (yawn) Sub-Mariner. But if you parked your tuchus in front of the TV on Saturday morning, the highlight was The Superfriends. I watched religiously, even through the inexplicable "Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder Dog" period (I always figured the only reason a jerk like Marvin got to hang with the Superfriends was that Robin was boinking Wendy. "Hey Marvin, why don't you come check out the groovy pad me and my friends have. Oh, and bring your hot sister along.").

Things definitely improved with the arrival of the Wonder Twins, Zan and Jayna. Zan really got shafted in the super powers department though. "Form of... water!"? Oooooh, that'll have Riddler and Gorilla Grodd cowering in their boots. Still, we forgave a lot thanks to that killer catch phrase: "Wonder Twin powers... ACTIVATE!" That phrase rang out in schoolyards nationwide and, twenty-five years later, can still be heard during geek foreplay across America.

The Superfriends didn't become Must See TV until The Legion of Doom came along and the show morphed into Challenge of the Superfriends. Lex Luthor's band of archvillains (apparently all of Batman's A-list enemies had other engagements, and the best Lex could manage was... Toyman?! A third-rate effete poseur who never even made it onto the 60's Batman camp-fest-- and even Liberace took a shot at the Caped Crusaders there. Granted, killer toys are pretty cool to a kid, but Solomon Grundy should have pounded this loser into paste the second he opened his mouth) operated from a swampy Vaderesque HQ. To help stop them, the Superfriends ditched the Wonder Twins and "space monkey" Gleep in favor of Green Lantern, Flash, Hawkman, and the Affirmative Action Trio of Apache Chief, Black Vulcan, and Samurai ("Look ma, we're diverse!"). Less air time for Aquaman? Now we're talkin'.

So I settled in to watch as The Legion of Doom tricked the Superfriends into changing the Earth's environment to more closely resemble that of Venus (which-- alert NASA-- is apparently a humid fern-covered swampball) so that Venus' native three-headed Fearians (why not Venusians?) could invade, turning Earth into a Venusian colony and ceding dominion over Earthlings to Lex and his cronies. And one of the foundations of my childhood crumbled.

It sucked. Really, really sucked. The story sucked. The dialogue sucked. The art sucked. The animation sucked. It Supersucked.

More than that, it displayed an egregious contempt for verisimilitude of any kind as if the writers, too lazy or underpaid to do the job right, simply decided that the kids would never know the difference and knocked off early to spend the rest of the day knocking back Billy Beers at the disco. That they were correct only makes it more galling.

Here's an example. The Justice Computer alerts the Superfriends to the impending impact of six meteors with the Earth. Green Lantern sees that they were sent by his nemesis Sinestro and heads into space to stop them. Now, I love Green Lantern. He's a walking deus ex machina-- he can do practically anything he wants with that spiffy power ring. But he's apparently not the sharpest tool in the shed. GL's ring can't affect anything yellow (so why doesn't Sinestro walk around in a yellow body suit? If I were Sinestro, I'd do it just to piss Green Lantern off) and, wouldn't you know it, the meteors are yellow. You'd think maybe he should have noticed that on the Justice Computer's screen and perhaps sent Superman to handle it instead. A simple trade. "Hey Supes-- be a bud and fill in for me on this one, and I'll take the next maniac with a Kryptonite pelvis." Maybe Superhero union regs dictate that any threat from a hero's nemesis may only be met by that hero. "Giganta's stomping tourists in Central Park? Ooh, love to help you, but my hands are tied. Union rules. You need Apache Chief. Sorry, he's off on weekends. Try back on Monday." So GL reaches orbit and finally notices the yellow problem. Since he can't affect the meteors, he does the next best thing-- he moves the Earth out of the way. Earthquakes? Tidal waves? Gravitational shear? Of course not-- the kiddies wouldn't understand. Worse, GL isn't just a color blind idiot, he's a slob. He doesn't put the Earth back where he found it. Let that be a lesson to you, kids-- always replace what you take, or else the ambient temperature of the Earth will increase by a few degrees and the Venusians will enslave you. I won't even get into the problems inherent in later plot developments, when the Justice Computer determines that unless the environmental changes to the Earth are corrected within 15 minutes, they'll become irreversible ("Terminal radiation exposure in 15 minutes, Captain.").

How did I watch-- even crave-- this crap? Compare it to today's crop of animated superhero fare: Batman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, X-Men Unleashed, and most tellingly The Justice League. These modern shows display remarkable production quality and sophistication. They manage to respect the viewer while entertaining him. Adults can enjoy these shows without irony. Twenty-five years from now, today's children will be able to look back on them and find that they hold up.

Is that so much to ask from one's childhood?

Comments (11) | last by best cheap authentic nfl jerseys, May 10, 10:42 PM

I Can't Read!

So I'm in the car with, er, "Dave" when he turns to me and asks, "If I were to say to you 'I can't read!', would that mean anything to you?" My face lights up as I retort, in an anguished yet enthusiastic voice, "Only one thing smells like bacon, and that's bacon! What's that say? I don't know-- I can't read!"

I'm quoting, of course, from one of the most inspired commercials of all time, for Beggin' Strips dog treats, wherein the camera careens around the house from the viewpoint of a manic dog desperately searching for the origin of a bacony smell. It seems Dave had tried to describe this commercial to his girlfriend, but you might as well describe Michaelangelo's David to a blind man. Until one basks in its glory firsthand, it's just a giant naked guy with a sling.

And therein lies the problem. I searched the web, font of all things pirated from television, and came up empty. The best I could find was this sound clip which lacks soul. The full commercial captures the existential angst of the hungry dog driven to the brink of madness by a tantalizing aroma from an unknown source. It makes me chuckle just thinking about it. Be the dog.

I want that commercial.

Surely someone out there can come to the rescue?

Comments (4) | last by amos, Feb 10, 7:08 AM

WWMMD?

A friend-- we'll call him Dave-- is my houseguest for the week. The two of us are pretty much a game waiting to happen, and we've been playing quite a bit of Scrabble (with the help of the G8 Game Timer). When I discovered he hadn't read Word Freak, a terrific examination of the obsessive world of competitive Scrabble, I directed him to my hardcover copy and he began reading.

Last night Dave went to a birthday dinner for his nonagenarian grandmother, who enjoys Scrabble. Sometime during the Saddle of Lamb with Jerusalem Artichokes, Pinenuts and Peperoncini Farciti Piccanti, he noticed the stack of ribboned gift boxes and realized he'd arrived empty-handed. Rather than admit the faux pas to his grandmother-- who, since Dave lives on the other side of the country, was undoubtedly thrilled simply by his presence at the dinner-- Dave reached into his backpack and presented her with a copy of Word Freak. My copy.

For those keeping score at home, that would be faux pas number two.

Perhaps you're amazed at his resourcefulness and chutzpah. Perhaps you're pondering whether it would be George or Kramer who'd do this on Seinfeld. Or perhaps, like me, you're merely left dumbfounded and wondering... what would Miss Manners do?

Comments (4) | last by David Sidore, Mar 10, 8:49 PM

Props up front: it's all Matthew Baldwin's fault. His Defective Yeti blog, a potpourri of anecdotes, reviews, and satire, has become part of my morning ritual-- the crackle between my snap and pop. The more I read it, the more I came to realize what a good gig Matt's got. Sure, it's a monkey that demands to be fed daily, but the beauty of it is that he can write whatever he wants, on whatever topic he wants. And if the bananas don't come for a couple of days, the monkey will still survive.

With The Game Report, I'm limited to a specific sphere of pawns and dice. Other topics just aren't appropriate. And there are other topics I'd like to talk about. Because I live alone in a big house with a big TV and an even bigger Tivo (compensating, are we?), many of those topics concern television. I watch a lot. And though it's fashionable to disdain television as a vast wasteland and proudly point at the fish tank in the corner formerly occupied by your Zenith, I offer no apologies. I embrace television. Or I would, if I could get off the couch. As Homer Simpson put it, "It asks so little and gives so much!"

And so this weblog is born-- a forum for a zombie awash in a phosphorescent static glow, and his thoughts on television and less important things in life.

Comment (1) | last by Windopaene, Mar 10, 1:38 PM

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