Sunday, September 30, 2007

Almost forgot this was on Monday

The Big Bang Theory: Mondays on CBS, 8:30/7:30 Central

I don't have a lot to say about this run of the mill sitcom. It's about two young, nerdy physicists who share an apartment. They talk about math and physics for fun and play things like World of Warcraft and Klingon Boggle in their spare time. Their life is changed forever when a beautiful woman moves into the apartment across the hall from them.

And as far as I can tell, that's all the show is about. Whereas Chuck is about a nerd who is funny, this show's jokes all come at the expense of nerdom. Didn't you know that nerdy things were inherently funny? Physics? Funny. Computer games? Funny. Star Trek and Star Wars fans? Funny.

Or maybe not. The humor on this show is very hit and miss. After watching the first four minutes, I declared this to be the least entertaining television show I'd ever seen. It didn't end up being that bad once the girl was introduced, but therein lies the flaw. I don't think the paper thin premise has all that much mileage to it. Eventually you're going to run out of things in the nerd subculture to mock.

I actually liked that I recognized a lot of the physics concepts they talked about, and I even laughed a few times while watching, but it's probably just not enough to make me want to keep watching (despite the theme song being performed by the Barenaked Ladies). If it sounds like something you might enjoy, though, you can check out the pilot episode on the CBS website.

The Best Laid Plans...

Sometimes life gets in the way of goals that you set for yourself. In this case, the goal is the rather dubious one of watching as much television as is humanly possible and then writing about it. Unfortunately, it's been an unexpectedly busy week at work. C'est la vie. I figure if I get my summary out there before the 2nd episode of a show airs, I'm still doing my public service, right? So without further ado...

Journeyman: Mondays on NBC, 10:00/9:00 Central

Journeyman is the nightcap to the great new Monday night lineup on NBC. Dan Vasser has it all. He writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and has a lovely wife and son. Then one day, he hops in a cab and finds himself in 1999, 8 years in the past. Throughout the episode, Dan uncontrollably jumps back and forth between the present and seemingly random points in the past. This causes stress in his personal life, as when he travels to the past he is missing in the present for days at a time. Ultimately, through being in the right place at the right time (preventing a suicide, preserving a relationship, and preventing a murder -- all surrounding the same person) Dan subtly changes the present so that six kids are saved at the scene of a school bus crash.

Now, if every episode ends up being like this: Dan travels through time, changes the past, and makes the present a better place, it might not be a very interesting show. But there's something I haven't told you yet. We learn that Dan had a different fiancee, Livia, prior to marrying his current wife, but that she died in a plane crash years ago. In one of the best scenes of the episode, while in 1997 Dan visits the apartment that he used to share with Livia to change his clothes and runs into her. After leaving the apartment he immediately runs headlong into another Livia, the present day version. Their conversation is brief and cryptic, but we learn that she's a time traveler, too, and never died in the plane crash. In fact, there seems to be someone behind all of the time travel nonsense, making it perhaps not as random as it first appears. This overarching story line is what's going to drive the show, and make me tune in every week.

I should temper my enthusiasm by letting you know that I'm a sucker for stories centered around time travel. From Back to the Future to Prisoner of Azkaban to Quantum Leap, there have been countless brilliant movies and shows using it as a central plot device. I especially like that when Dan changes time periods it doesn't immediately tell us when he's gone with a large "1987" scrawled across the screen, leaving us as disoriented as him initially. There are little clues provided that tell us when he's jumped to (do you know when the NFL strike was?) before a newspaper headline or conversation outright tells us what year it is.

Add in a secret organization that may be behind the entire thing and the fact that Dan could inadvertantly meddle with his own past (since he can only jump around in San Francisco within the span of his own life), and you have a recipe for an intelligent and fun drama. The acting and production is strong throughout, too, making this the complete package.

If you missed it last Monday, you can catch up by watching the pilot on NBC's website. If you give it a try, I urge you to stick it out for the entire episode. It's hard to see the whole picture until you've made it at least 30 mins in. Then tune in to NBC tomorrow night at 8:00/7:00 Central and don't change the channel.

Monday, September 24, 2007

NBC Monday Night = The Place to Be

Last year, Heroes was my favorite new television show. This year, it may not even end up as my favorite show to air on NBC Monday nights. The new lineup of quirky, genre-bending shows got off to a terrific start tonight, and it only looks to get better over the coming weeks.

Chuck: Mondays on NBC, 8:00/7:00 Central

Created by Josh Schwartz (that guy is everywhere) and directed by McG, Chuck is half witty comedy/half action spy romp and totally awesome. Chuck Bartowski is the leader of a "Nerd Herd", the tech support arm of nationwide electronics store chain "Buy More". Nerdy and socially challenged, Chuck spends most of his time hanging out with his best friend and co-worker Morgan (an even more hopeless case) and his sister Ellie and her husband "Captain Awesome". Chuck's last major relationship was in college, and ended badly when his roommate, Bryce, stole her away from him.

Little does he know Bryce has since become an operative for the CIA, and he's gone rogue. Caught hacking into the one computer that holds both the CIA's and NSA's data (a result of the information sharing mandate of the 9/11 Report), before he's shot and killed Bryce sends all of this data to the first name that comes up in his e-mail client, Chuck. The government info is encrypted in a long series of visually stunning images that dazzles Chuck into unconsciousness when he opens it. He awakes to find all of the government's secrets implanted in his memory and both the CIA and NSA hot on his trail.

There are so many good things about this show, that I don't know where to start. Schwartz definitely knows how to write the funny, dorky outsider. Much like The O.C.'s Seth Cohen, Chuck Bartowski has a dry, subtle wit that's really enjoyable to watch. Effortlessly funny, it's the opposite of most of the comedy on TV today. Meanwhile, McG counterbalances this with his bombastic action set pieces and slick MTV-generation directing. This episode alone featured tremendous explosions, a 007-esque escape, and all sorts of super spy martial arts. Think of it as a toned-down version of his Charlie's Angels movies.

The world of Chuck is preposterous: all of the stores are parodies of real life businesses (the aforementioned "Buy More" is right next door to a "Large-Mart"), every CIA operative has crazy gadgets and skills, and a single computer holds all of the government's data, but it all adds to the show's rich backdrop. Being a first class nerd myself, I can't help but enjoy all of the obscure pop and tech references sprinkled throughout. Within 10 minutes, there's a Zork reference for goodness sake. The cast (which includes Firefly's Adam Baldwin -- for any Browncoats out there) also seems to have good chemistry and solid comic timing. Coupled with the razor-sharp script, Chuck is definitely a show to watch this year.

I don't want to come off as gushing, but it really is that good. Tune in, don't take it too seriously, and strap yourself in for the ride. Chuck is highly entertaining, and really that's the point isn't it? If you missed it tonight for whatever reason, you can't catch up online (at least not officially) as NBC doesn't make very many of its shows available on their website. Don't worry, though, there's an encore presentation this Saturday at 9:00/8:00 Central. Don't miss it.

I'll get to the surprisingly good Journeyman tomorrow. I may even talk about Heroes if I feel up to it, but I have some catching up to do on the online comic first. I sort of forgot they were adding new ones all summer.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

100 channels and something on...

I promise I won't talk about everything in the same detail that I did Kid Nation. It just seems like the kind of show where you have to explain what's going on in order to talk about it. With that in mind, here are some hopefully quick reviews of the other new shows that aired last week.

K-Ville: Mondays on Fox, 9:00/8:00 Central

K-Ville is a new police drama set on the mean streets of a New Orleans trying to rebuild in the aftermath of 2005's Hurricane Katrina. Anthony Anderson (right) plays an officer doing his best to get the city back on its feet. Being a lifelong resident of the Lower 9th Ward, he has a lot of personal interest in getting the job done. Cole Hauser (left) is his new partner (his old one having deserted during the height of the storm), a man looking for redemption from his secret criminal past.

You can probably see from that attempt at briefly describing the two main characters what one of ths show's main flaws is: it just tries to cover too much ground. There's a lot of material to be used simply from the show's rich and unique setting (and believe me, they're already starting to get into major issues in the first episode) that the addition of such complicated characters is overkill. It can either be an issues show or a personal drama, but will likely be too muddy if it continues to attempt both.

There's plenty of pulse-pounding action as our officers run and gun through the city streets trying to solve the mystery of who's behind a series of attacks on a local charity, and the backdrop in virtually every scene is wonderful as the show is actually being filmed in New Orleans. Despite this, its shaky-cam action sequences and spastic cutting from scene to scene make it difficult to watch. Pilot episodes are often very different from the way shows end up being. Hopefully that will be the case here, too.

If you like cop dramas, the sights and sounds of New Orleans, or the high concept of the show, then you should give this a shot. Otherwise, you probably won't find a whole lot to like. You can catch up with last week's episode on the Fox website.

Back to You: Wednesdays on Fox, 8:00/7:00 Central

Back to You is a TV news sitcom starring Frasier's Kelsey Grammer (Chuck Darling) and Everybody Likes Raymond's Patricia Heaton (Kelly Carr) as the co-anchors of the Pittsburgh nightly news. Darling has returned to the station that launched his career 10 years ago after an explosive on-air tirade in LA has gotten him fired. Little does he know, he's also returning to the 10-year old daughter that he's never met, the result of a fling with Carr on his last night in town.

If there's one thing that can be said about this show, it's that Grammer can act. I never cared for Frasier as much as some, but here he brings a gravitas to the role that makes every scene he's in credible... and funny. Unfortunately, he can't be the focus all the time, and everyone else seems to make appearances solely to deliver bland and/or inappropriate one-liners. The Latina weather girl (played by Studio 60's Jeannie) is especially cringeworthy, as she singlehandedly delivers or receives every bad sexist joke you can possibly think of.

A lot of the comedies that I've been watching recently (The Office, Scrubs, My Name is Earl, Arrested Development) are not filmed in front of a studio audience, so returning to this format was a bit jarring for me. It's never entertaining to hear so many people laughing to something that you find patently unfunny. With that being said, there were enough laughs in it to make me give it another try... maybe they'll tone down the stuff that's not working.

If you still like the old-fashioned sitcom format or can't get enough Kelsey Grammer, then tune in. You can watch last week's episode on the Fox website.

Kitchen Nightmares: Wednesdays on Fox, 9:00/8:00 Central

Chef Gordon Ramsay has brought his popular British reality show to America. You may already be familiar with Ramsay from his other Fox show Hell's Kitchen, in which he does something that involves running a kitchen and yelling at people (I've never seen it, but this is what I've gathered from commercials). Each week in Kitchen Nightmares, Chef Ramsay visits a different failing American restaurant. His goal is to identify its problems, fix them, and reinvent the restaurant to make it successful. After seeing the first episode, let's hope he doesn't visit anywhere I've ever eaten.

In the first episode, he visits a stereotypical Italian family restaurant on Long Island. The kitchen is barely functional, they serve rotten food, and one of the owners skims money off the top. After a lot of yelling and cursing (surprisingly little of it by Chef Ramsay), the restaurant has a working kitchen and a new menu. Everyone is all smiles.

Essentially, it's Extreme Makeover: Restaurant Edition. If you're into that sort of thing or just want to hear a lot of inventive swears, then this is the show for you. You can catch the first episode on the Fox website.

Gossip Girl: Wednesdays on CW, 9:00/8:00 Central

Gossip Girl is one of two new shows (the other is NBC's new Heroes lead-in, Chuck) starting this fall that are written and produced by O.C. creator Josh Schwartz. It's based on the popular teen book series of the same name and features a behind the scenes look at life in an upper class NYC prep school. The Gossip Girl (voiced by Veronica Mars herself, Kristen Bell) is an anonymous student who sees everything that's going on at the school and writes about it on her blog, that all the students just happen to subscribe to.

Serena van der Woodsen (isn't that an awesome name?) used to be the most popular girl in school until she secretly went away to a Connecticut boarding school. One year later, she's back and trying to pick her life up where she left it with her best friend Blair and Blair's boyfriend Nate (who we learn Serena had a brief fling with prior to leaving). Through a chain of events, she instead ends up starting a relationship with friendly outsider Dan while befriending his younger sister, Jenny. Sleek, sexy, funny, Gossip Girl is exactly the kind of show you would expect to see come out of a marriage between the CW and Josh Schwartz.

However, this being the CW you're going to run into some familiar pitfalls. Most of the main characters are supposed to be juniors or seniors in high school, but they're played by 22-year olds. It's not a big deal, if you're used to watching shows like this. Heck, the actor who played Ryan on The O.C. was 28 by the time that series ended. The main problem is that the younger sister, Jenny, is played by an actual 14-year old (Cindy Lou Who from The Grinch movie), so when the story calls for her to kiss one of the older cast members it creates a whole extra level of uncomfortableness.

There are only 11 books in the series and they seem to have already gone through most of the plot of the first one, so it'll be interesting to see if the quality of story goes up or down as they're forced to stray from established canon. If the creative team behind the show stays focused, I have no doubts that it's only going to get better from here.

If you're a fan of other guilty pleasure shows (and you know who you are), I strongly urge you check this out. If you give it a chance, make sure to stick with it all the way to the triumphant end of the episode. If I'd been on the ball, I would tell you to catch up by watching the encore presentation of the pilot that aired tonight, but since I'm too late for that you can watch it on the CW website. While you watch, you can even click links to buy clothes that the characters are wearing or to listen to music featured in the episode. What is the world coming to?

In other news, new Heroes tomorrow night! Woo!

Friday, September 21, 2007

What Would Piggy Do?

A new television season is upon us, so I thought I'd do a public service by taking a look at some of the new shows debuting this year. I'll start with what is probably the most controversial reality show ever, Kid Nation.

In case you haven't caught any of the news stories about it, Kid Nation involves 40 kids (ages 8-15) being let loose in a New Mexico ghost town for 40 days. They have to successfully organize and run the town using late 19th century technology without adult intervention. It is equal parts fascinating social experiment and despicable child exploitation with splashes of "Lord of the Flies" and "Brave New World" thrown in for good measure, and as such makes for an absolute train wreck of a show that is nearly impossible to stop watching once you've started.

It's important to know from the outset that the concept of the children organizing and running the town completely on their own is a farce. The structure of the show imposes itself on them in many ways before they're able to come up with anything organically. That doesn't make it any less of an interesting social experiment, it just means that they likely won't be coming up with many novel solutions to real world problems on the show.

At the very beginning, 36 of the kids are literally dumped out of a school bus and left standing alone in the desert a few miles away from Bonanza City, an artificial reconstruction of a real New Mexico ghost town. In the first blow to the show's "reality", we learn that the other four kids have been appointed as the town council by the producers. Rather than having any sort of election or just seeing who bubbles to the top, these are the people who will be leading the effort.

Mike: an 11-year old Boy Scout from Washington

Taylor: a 10-year old "beauty queen" from Georgia

Anjay: a 12-year old spelling bee champ from Texas

Laurel: a 12-year old student leader from Massachusetts

Aww... just look at those kids. (exploitation, exploitation, exploitation)

Their first task is to haul six wagons full of goods (complete with chickens and goats) down the muddy track to town, and let me tell you... nothing beats watching kids haul heavy things miles across the desert. Dissension sets in immediately as one of the leaders, Mike, doesn't do a lot of the physical work on the trip. He spends a lot of his time waving his arms and yelling instead. One kid in particular, a tall 15-year old named Greg, takes considerable offense to this, and starts a petty rivalry the likes of which any viewer should recognize from their middle school days. We can only hope that he'll smash Mike's glasses with a shout of "Sucks to your ass-mar!" at some point in the near future.

Once they reach town, we begin to see the lack of usable skills that American kids have in today's world. Despite the fact that they "find" a cookbook in the mess hall, none of them are able to do much with it. Their attempt to make macaroni and cheese is laughable. We hear kids utter "that looks like it's boiling" as the camera shows a completely still pot of water, and we watch them fill the pot at least 2/3 full with pasta. I guess Home Ec really isn't a mandatory class anymore when kids can just feed themselves with microwavable meals.

The next morning, when not everyone gets their allotted ration of one pancake for breakfast, the council realizes that without organization they'll be in trouble so they throw an impromptu town meeting to try to sort things out. Unfortunately, the meeting quickly gets out of hand due to said lack of organization. Kids yell at each other, tempers flare, and Mike and the aforementioned Greg nearly have a scuffle before Greg and his toady decide to walk out. Just as everything is about to break down completely, 14-year old Michael saves the day with an impressive speech about cooperation and working together to achieve their goals.

I've read commentary in various places that call the show fake because of speeches like this, "Nobody would ever talk that way", "Kids don't act that way", etc. I think people are overlooking two important things. One, some kids are more well-spoken than you think, and for every impressive speaker they've shown there's been an equally inane kid. Two, these aren't kids in a school yard. They know they're on national TV, and that's bound to create subtle pressures to do the right thing more often than not.

At this point, everything begins to go all "Survivor" for awhile. The leaders read a book in the town chapel that encourages them to split the kids into four different districts: Blue (Anjay), Red (Mike), Green (Laurel), and Yellow (Taylor). As soon as Meaghan finishes telling me about how breeding competition between kids that should instead be working together creates a dangerous social environment, the proof is in the pudding. Chants are started to pump up one district at the expense of others while Greg and his toady (both now in the Blue district) scrawl "Go Blue!" on every surface in town with chalk that they've found. You know that when a 9-year old is calling your behavior juvenile, you're probably not doing the right thing.

The show continues to impose its organization upon the kids, as the next day they compete in an inane challenge to see which district is assigned to what job and how much pay they receive each day. Despite its artificiality, it proves to be an interesting idea. Demonstrating that it's usually luck that determines what socioeconomic class a person ends up in and that the hardest workers don't always get the biggest reward are both important life lessons for these kids to learn.

The Green district gets last place, making them the Laborer class earning 10 cents a day for hauling water and cleaning the lone latrine. Yellow comes in third, so they become the Cooks earning 25 cents a day for preparing all of the town's meals. Blue stumbles down the stretch to finish second, earning them jobs as Merchants making 50 cents a day for running the town's general store and saloon. Mike leads the Red district to the win, meaning that they become the Upper Class getting $1.00 a day for doing whatever they want (helpful or not). The consequences of this social stratification hasn't really been explored yet, but hopefully issues of fairness and social conscience will arise in the future. I know if I were in the Upper Class I would spend all day in the saloon guzzling root beer and playing cards.

The saving grace of the competition portion is that if all of the districts complete the challenge within the allotted time, the entire town will earn a special reward. It was refreshing to see the concept of the whole town banding together to survive not be completely discarded in favor of a more traditional reality show approach. The Green team finished the task with 14 seconds to spare amidst cheers and encouragement, giving the town the choice between seven additional outhouses or a television set. In a shining moment of lucidity, the town council chooses what they need, not what they want, and goes with the additional outhouses.

It doesn't last, though, as none of the kids show any amount of fiscal responsibility with their daily wage. The ones with money blow it quickly on frivolities like candy and pop, and the ones without don't really have enough to buy much. Just when you think someone is going to show some discipline and save over the course of the experience to buy an expensive item, they end up somehow getting the money out of all of the other kids. Sophia, a hard-working Laborer, wants to buy a $3.00 bike so she tries to make money by busking in the street. In no time flat, she's able to get the $2.90 she needs by dancing (badly, I might add) in the main crossroads. You could either view it as an overwhelming act of charity or a horrible misuse of funds, but somehow Sophia was able to get over 15% of the town's money in that single day. It just goes to show you that if charitable organizations had worthy goals (like getting a bike) people would be more willing to give to them.

The show ends with an official town meeting. During these, kids get the option of leaving the show to go home if they think it's too hard for them. Did I mention that there are a lot of crying kids throughout? Homesickness and loneliness make for some horrible television (exploitation, exploitation, exploitation). In the end only 8-year old Jimmy, the youngest kid in the show, goes home because he misses his parents too much.

The leaders also get to hand out a gold star to the hardest worker (as decided by them) at each town meeting. The stars are made from real gold and are worth $20,000 each. The first one is awarded to the street dancing Sophia for her hard work and ingenuity. It's a shame that the creators of the show felt the need to introduce a reward system like that to encourage good participation, but you could see the attitudes of everyone in the room change noticeably once the stars were unveiled.

Poor Jimmy

Dancing Sophia

Despite my better instincts, I'll probably tune in again next week to see if it fulfills any of its sociological promise or if it simply devolves into a sensationalistic nightmare. I don't know what new wrinkles will be thrown the kids' way now that the basic structure of the show has been established, but there's only one way to find out. If you want to check it out yourself, you can watch the first episode on the CBS website. Otherwise, you can tune in on Wednesday nights at 8:00/7:00 Central.

Thursday, September 20, 2007


The Last Round Draft Picks (my touch football team) continue to live down to their name, as we dropped a 19-13 heartbreaker last night. After surging out to a 13-0 halftime lead, we sputtered miserably after the break. It probably would've helped if I'd been able to catch anything at all in the 2nd half.

The nail in the coffin came when the other team's best player ran over Urrv to make an interception and return it for a touchdown. But hey, a guy could really get used to this whole playing a full game without the mercy rule coming into effect thing.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kirk Cameron is God!

This is where I type about Growing Pains. Woo!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Great Weekend

Let me tell you about the great weekend that I just had.

Friday was my birthday, so to celebrate Meaghan and I took over the basement of the downtown Dos Amigos with 22 of our friends for a dinner party. Thanks for the wonderful turn-out everybody, I really appreciate it. I had a great time, ate good food, and even got some fun presents (comics, DVDs, lunchbox, etc.) out of the deal. We didn't bring our camera, but if you were there and you happen to have some pictures to share from the event, they could soon be featured here.

Saturday was "Get Together Day", the 6 year anniversary of when Meaghan and I started dating. Since our real anniversary fell on a Monday (today) this year, we decided to use this occasion to celebrate instead. We used our "Great Escape" package that we won in the Rochester Library's Amuzing Race, so we enjoyed a relaxing night in a suite at the Kahler Grand Hotel. I won't bother telling you what our presents for each other were, but we both managed to (sort of) integrate the traditional and modern 2nd anniversary gifts of china and cotton.

Meanwhile on Saturday, just one week after stating that I thought they wouldn't win a single game this year, my good ol' alma mater was kicking the pants off of Iowa 15-13. Apparently any sports prediction I attempt to make will quickly be proven wrong in all cases. From now on, I promise to only present the facts and offer no opinions. I'm still not confident that the 'Clones are going to win much of anything this year, but this at least prevents the first year of the Chizik era from being a complete failure.

In the NFL, the Lions managed to beat the Vikings in overtime 20-17 in what was possibly the ugliest football game I have ever seen. Play was marred by 10 turnovers, countless penalties, two potential game-winning field goal misses, and general ineptitude al over the field. A win is a win as they say, so I guess the Lions will take it, as that brings them to 2-0 in a season for the first time since who knows when. My research department tells me that since 1990 (the start of the wildcard era), 65.7% of teams starting 2-0 have made the playoffs. I expect the Lions to help decrease that number a little this year.

I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that the Tigers swept the Twins in the dome again over the weekend. We all know what happened last time, so I'll keep my mouth shut. Big series against the Indians starts tonight. If you can watch it, please do, and be sure to root for the good guys.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

A Long Season

The game's not even over yet, but I can definitely state with authority that Iowa State is going to lose to Northern Iowa tonight. We could be back to the days of 0 wins here as I'm not sure there's anybody on the schedule that the Cyclones could beat. I don't know what defense they're trying to play, but UNI has rolled up 265 yards of offense through three quarters while completing 83% of their passes.

Did you watch this one, too, Nate? What are you seeing?

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Never mind, we don't deserve fans

The Last Round Draft Picks successfully demonstrated last year's form by being shutout via the mercy rule. It's a good thing nobody came out to see us as there was a ridiculous amount of mosquitos out there. Even the wives' club couldn't be enticed out of their car.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

We Need Fans!

My Rochester city league touch football team, the Last Round Draft Picks needs fans. We're taking the field tonight for our first game of the season, so if you'd like to show your support by coming out to the game or lending moral support in the comments section here, we'd appreciate it.

Last year, we only managed to win two games (one by forfeit) so we're looking to improve on that this time around. Game time is 9:00 PM under the lights at McQuillan Field (Field #1). Look for us in the bright yellow shirts. Be there or, uh, don't be.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

#93: David Lynch's Lost Highway

A mere two months after watching Lost Highway a first time, Meaghan and I sat down Saturday night to watch it again. You may ask what took us two months? Well in the interim, we took advantage of our Lynchian mood by watching the entire second season of "Twin Peaks" which I received as a present sometime last year. Allow me a quick digression before I get back to movie #93.

For those not familiar, "Twin Peaks" is possibly the greatest television show ever. Critically acclaimed and much loved by fans (just check out that 9.5 rating at IMDB), it aired on ABC back in 1990 and 1991. Sadly it only lasted 30 episodes before ending due to poor ratings. I actually watched it when it was originally on the air (somehow my parents decided it was fit for a 12 year old -- thanks Mom and Dad). Counting that, this was the third time I'd watched the show.

The show's hook in the beginning is the mystery of "Who killed Laura Palmer?", the homecoming queen in the small Washington town of Twin Peaks. From that humble beginning, we spin into a surreal and supernatural world where we explore the very nature of good and evil. The show follows the investigation of the FBI's Special Agent Dale Cooper (expertly played by Lynch regular Kyle MacLachlan -- now seen on "Desperate Housewives") as he delves into the world of Twin Peaks. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. If you want to borrow it, let me know. If you want to watch it with someone to help you make sense of the trickier bits, let me know, and we can try to set up screenings somewhere.

If you've seen "Twin Peaks" and think it's strange, it is nothing compared to David Lynch's movies. Free from the constraints of ratings-driven television, his movies are entrenched in the surreal as they jump from one mind-blowing scene to the next. I saw it described somewhere that he makes extremely right-brained films. Attempts to break apart and analyze the plot can leave one frustrated. Instead, you almost have to feel the movie instead of think about it. Being a left-brained person, this is hard for me to do most times, but there's no denying the visceral impact of many of his works. Lost Highway is no different.

Fred Madison (Bill Pullman) is a jazz saxophonist, living a quiet life with his beautiful wife Renee (Patricia Arquette). Like all husbands who marry above their level, he's suspicious, paranoid, and distrusting of her. He "sees things his own way, not necessarily the way they happen". After someone begins leaving creepy videotapes on their front steps that show various parts of their house in the middle of the night, including the couple sleeping in their bed, they go to a party where Fred has a run in with a mysterious man (Robert Blake - yes, that Robert Blake). After that, his life is never the same.

Obviously, that 2nd grade reading of the plot doesn't begin to tell the full story. Without giving too much away, Lynch has said in recent interviews that the film was unconsciously inspired by the O.J. Simpson murder trial of 1996. Keep that in mind if you see it, and you're probably well on your way to understanding most of it. Aesthetically, the movie's spartan sets are shot beautifully and the script and sound design creates a duality between different parts of the film by reusing songs at key points and repeating entire sections of dialogue. In short, it's a masterful, but difficult movie that deserves a watch.

If any of that sounds good, or you just want to see a lot of naked Patricia Arquette, then you should see this movie.

Next up is #94, the 1997 special edition release of The Empire Strikes Back.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Road Trip Pt. 1: Nebraska Wedding


The first leg of our three part August road trip took us to a friend's wedding in the tiny northeast Nebraska town of Bazile Mills. We started out Friday night by staying another night at the wonderful HarrisWorld B&B where we would be leaving Zelda for the duration of the trip. Many thanks to Mike & Kim for continuing to look after her whenever we leave town.

We left Rochester early Saturday morning in order to arrive with enough time to secure our lodging and change before the 5:00 ceremony. We knew there weren't a lot of places to stay in the area, so we opted to camp for the night at the nearby Willow Creek SRA. We don't take the time to go tenting often enough, so this seemed like a good excuse to get out there for a night. The catch was that Nebraska state parks don't take reservations on the weekend if you're only planning on staying for one night, so we had to get there as early as possible.

We made it all the way to South Dakota before we realized that we had forgotten to bring any of our cameras, so we stopped in at the Yankton Wal-Mart (the first time I've set foot in one since the great Boo-Berry search of 2006) to get a couple disposable ones. As a result, we had no zoom, and everything you are about to see looks like it was taken from at least 100 yards away. We tested it out with this picture of a bowling alley/family fun center there in Yankton. Only in the heartland can you get away with painting the word "SH-BOOMS" on the side of your business.

We made it to the state park in no time, but that's where the trouble starts. It would seem that the park system doesn't receive a lot of funding in Nebraska, especially the ones in extremely rural areas, so the signage was poor to nonexistent, there were no maps anywhere, and everything is self-service (meaning that there are no offices or rangers where you can get help). I had looked at a map of the park while drawing up this plan and had picked out the tent campground on the NW edge of the lake as our destination, but when we got there all we found was a barren loop with a bunch of signs saying, "Do Not Camp Here".

I hadn't brought a map of the park with me and there wasn't one to be found, but I luckily remembered that the main trailer campground was around on the south side of the lake. I just didn't know how to get there. After many false turns due to poor signage, we made it there and picked out a site by around 3:30. That left us about half an hour to pitch our tent, fill out all the forms, pay for our park pass and camp site, and change into our nice clothes for the wedding. We managed it in about 40 minutes and bent a few speed laws to get to the church on time. (I understand they're loosely enforced 'round those parts anyway.)

I suppose I should probably tell you whose wedding this was we were going to. The groom, Brett, is a friend of mine from work. We play on the same Rochester city league football and basketball teams, are bitter foes in the work volleyball league, and have been to each other's game nights, etc. He was marrying his lovely girlfriend since college, Sarah, whose father presided over the ceremony. The ceremony was in the lovely little 19th century Lutheran church where Sarah essentially grew up. Here's the happy couple now, being bombarded with bubbles on their way out of the church.

Their getaway vehicle was a school bus (which we somehow managed to not get a picture of) with enough room for the entire wedding party and more. I landed a seat on it, and we whooped and hollered through the streets of nearby Creighton (where Brett grew up). It was fun to see how they knew everybody that we passed on the streets. There was even a sign congratulating them in the window of one of the local businesses. I guess that's small town America for you.

The reception was relatively uneventful. Instead of a toast, Brett's best men (his twin brothers) sang him a song to the tune of "Don't Worry Be Happy". Thank you for not doing that, Steve. As you might expect, the DJ played a lot of oldies and country music. Despite the urgings of our friends, Meaghan and I managed to not find a song worth dancing to before retiring to the campground relatively early. We had a long drive ahead of us the next day.

Before hitting the road the next morning, we took a quick spin down to the beach and took a walk out on the stone jetty that protects the swimming area. It reminded us of the much longer jetty protecting the much larger beach in Pärnu, Estonia that we walked along on our honeymoon. Here's me with proof that there are bodies of water in Nebraska (even if they are man-made reservoirs).

I'll continue with the next leg, visiting with Meaghan's family in Pflugerville, TX, sometime in the next couple days.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Coming soon: Road Trip Review

We just got our pictures back from Target yesterday, so a big overview (with pictures!) of our sprawling road trip across the country will be coming soon. For now, I'm off to the Mall of America to meet up with friends and partake in my 2nd of a possible 4 fantasy football drafts. For a guy who doesn't like it that much, that seems like an awful lot of drafts. Oh, well. Keeping true to form, I'm selecting 10th out of 10 in this one.

Lollipops for the Homeless

Last night we watched a quirky little movie from Netflix called LolliLove, directed by and starring Jenna Fischer (Pam from "The Office"). It's a pretty funny mockumentary that satirizes charitable organizations that take people's donations and don't actually do anything worthwhile with them.

In this case, Jenna and her husband James Gunn create a charity called LolliLove whose goal is to produce and distribute lollipops with custom-made inspirational wrappers to the homeless to make them feel better about themselves. The movie is hit and miss funny throughout (and incredibly dark from time to time), but the big treat is the end where there's 5-10 minutes of the cast handing out lollipops to real homeless people in LA. Some of the reactions are priceless.

If you're at all a Pam fan, I would recommend checking it out. Fans of Christopher Guest movies would probably enjoy it, too.