Saturday, November 21, 2009
Thursday, October 1, 2009
Some time back, Everybody Loves Raymond was my favorite show. Not "favorite sitcom," or "favorite non-reality show" or "favorite network program." Favorite show. I enjoyed watching no other TV show as much as I enjoyed watching that one.
As a result, I've always tried to follow the efforts of its stars in the event that lightning struck twice. Hey, it happened to Bob Newhart, right?
I was happy to see one Raymond star, Patricia Heaton, return to TV a couple years ago with Back to You, a traditional sitcom I enjoyed immensely until they started tinkering with it. Even with the tinkering, I still liked it.
But Back to You never had a chance to find its audience during the writer's strike-shortened season in which it debuted and was not renewed. After that, if I wanted a Raymond fix it was either through Raymond reruns or new episodes of 'Til Death -- a consistently unfunny comedy featuring Raymond co-star Brad Garrett.
Word came that Heaton would be back on the air this season in a sitcom called The Middle. I looked forward to it with great anticipation and was encouraged when early feedback was good.
And then, last night, I watched the pilot episode.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
I should own a Kindle. I should be all over a device that takes the various stacks of books I have planted around the house and condenses them into a handy little gadget. I should marvel at the ease with which I can access a library of some of my favorite writers and some of the greatest works of literature the world has ever known. I should stare in awe as the first chapter of that title I've been meaning to try downloads wirelessly to the Kindle.
I should ... and yet I don't.
I don't own a Kindle and don't have any plans to buy one. The root of the problem? Cost.
Hey, that's the root of just about every problem with a purchasing decision, right? But the Kindle is so expensive that I -- and you're less likely to find a more rabid book lover, seriously -- cannot even dream of affording it right now.
I used to blanch at the $10 per book cost. After all, without spending money actually printing or shipping the thing, how much can it really cost? And that's currently $10 more than I spend on 99 percent of my books, thanks to a local library system that is so good it's almost scary. Oh, and I can't loan a title to a friend or family member, making that $10 seem just a little wasteful. And not just wasteful for me, either: wasteful for the writer, too. After all, no writer would object to me generating greater exposure for him or her.
But I got over that. I recently spent an entire day sorting through boxes of books and decided on the spot that spending $10 per title to spare me the expense of warehousing hundreds of books probably isn't a bad investment. And sometimes the library books have mysterious stains on them , which always freaks me out. (Why aren't people more careful with these things?)
But the device itself is monstrously expensive. Sure, they just lowered the price of their smaller version to $299 (still easily $100 too much), but the Kindle DX -- AKA "the one with the realistic screen size" -- is $500 (I'm rounding up $11: sue me) PLUS $50 for a leather book cover (a good idea to protect the thing, right?) AND another $100 for a two-year extended warranty, which I've read is a really good idea for these things. And suddenly the Kindle is a $650 proposition for me, a guy who currently spends $0 on books.
A quick aside: I used to spend upwards of $1,000/year on books. Operative words: "used to."
Tech kingpin Leo Laporte mentioned on a podcast some time back that the Kindle is so expensive because Jeff Bezos decided he wanted to sell it for what it cost and not subsidize it in any way. That's all well and good until you realize that Amazon took years of losses on their sales and real estate deals in order to lay the foundation for an eventually successful company. It was a safe bet predicated on the fact that the Internet was going to change the way we shop forever. They didn't charge me what it really cost them to send me a book: they lost money for a time until they could make it up in volume. Even now, they'll send me a book for free. That doesn't mean it doesn't cost anything to ship me that book; it means they're underwriting the expense in exchange for my continued business.
So why not do the same with the Kindle? Is Amazon hedging its bet a little? Maybe they don't want to go too far out on a limb with this thing. Maybe they fear it'll become their Apple TV: fine for the "hobbyist" but not for us regular folk.
That's a mistake: a small Kindle at $99 and a Kindle DX at $199 would sell, and sell well (Jobs is right to point out that Amazon doesn't boast sales figures for the devices because there's nothing to boast about). Well enough, I suspect, to allow Amazon to make up the difference in book sales.
Here's why: e-readers will change the reading game the same way online retailers like Amazon changed the shopping game. Not "might" change it; "will" change it. But with a $650 e-reader, Amazon has priced itself right out of the conversation, and Apple is getting ready to shut them up for good. When Apple's new tablet device comes around, Amazon's premium-priced single-purpose device will look like a joke compared to something that also does music, video and Web for a hundred dollars more.
Oh, and don't tell me reading on a back-lit tablet will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will be. And no one will care.
It's not too late: ask Sony how they feel now that the PS3 is priced to sell. Don't bother, I'll tell you: they're happy. Because they're selling them now, not sitting back staring at piles of them collecting dust in warehouses while Nintendo eats their lunch.
Lower the price, Amazon. Apple's eyeing your lunch as we speak ...
I'm still surprised by Fallon. His show is lively, funny and fresh enough (hey, it's late night ... even the best are recycling bits Steve Allen did 50 years ago). I didn't think this show would amount to much of anything, and I really believe it's one of the best out there.
Note: Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert -- very, very funny guys with terrific shows -- aren't really doing "late night TV" and therefore aren't being considered here. Still, if you add them, that makes for four hours of decent programming per night. Nothing to shake a stick at.
I watched last night's show, but not because it was his first since suffering a concussion on set last week. Rather, I tuned in on accident: flipping channels and hey, there's Conan, talking about his concussion.
He was obviously ill at ease recounting what happened, and actually seemed a little shaken up just watching the replay with an audience there. But he soldiered on and it made for pretty compelling TV, especially his back-and-forth with Andy Richter -- a guy who should be infinitely more popular than he is (see also: Patton Oswalt).
Drew Barrymore was fine -- personable, funny, attractive (and I do want to see her new movie) -- but I left the station during her second segment. I thought, "Dave would really make this interview work." And then I thought, "So why aren't I watching Dave?" Which is what I ended up doing.
Giant corporations are as loath to admit their mistakes as regular folks, but I still think it's possible that we see Jay Leno back on the Tonight Show in a few years. I don't know if enough Americans are going to decide they like Conan enough to make him number one, and it's possible he might be looking at number three some nights. Right now, I have a difficult time believing NBC's bet that a bunch of younger viewers will somehow gravitate back to the network at 11:30 pm -- leaving behind the Internet, Comedy Central, buddies and video games -- is going to pay off.
But at least they have a Plan B. Or a Plan Jay, as the case may be.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
- Clear navigation, both at the top and throughout the page
- Modest integration of ads
- Nicely delineated sections (Health, Sports, Most Viewed, etc.)
Most newspaper websites look like an ad rep vomited on them, the result of bean counters trying to eke out enough advertising dollars to justify the expenditures related to providing so much free content. The ad placement here is so modest, in fact, that I wonder if this redesign is a precursor to a pay website strategy. Can the Times be making enough off the (relatively) few ads on its pages to continue like this? (Granted, their page visits are undoubtedly enormous, but big enough to warrant pricey ad buys?)
Regardless, I'm a fan.
Look, we aren't trying to glamorize crime or anything, but this is the stuff GTA heists are made of.See what they did there? They absolved themselves of responsibility for humorously condoning a felony right before they humorously condoned a felony.
Friday, August 21, 2009
I don't know if it's considered bad luck to eat more than one fortune cookie at a time -- will the clashing fortunes disturb the space-time continuum? -- but I indulged myself recently and came across the following fortune in my first cookie:
"Be careful! Bees with honey in their mouths have stings in their tails."
It took me a second to understand this one, but when I did, I decided I liked it. See, "bees with honey in their mouths" means any garden-variety sweet-talking snake (copy machine salesmen, for example) and "stings in their tails" means that, all sweetness aside, you're likely to be stung by one of these bees eventually.
I understand I probably didn't have to explain that to you.
The fortune in the next cookie read:
"Listen to the wisdom of the old."
That's it. Just "Listen to the wisdom of the old." Where's the cleverness? Where's the effort? Where the hell are the bees?
Seriously, it's as if the fortune cookie writer had one more to bust out before lunch and pulled out the generic "Old people are smart!" platitude.
Somewhere in a fortune cookie writers office (I suspect it's in Jersey) there's a guy busting his butt and another guy barely earning his keep. Which, come to think of it, pretty much describes every office I've ever worked.
(Photo copyright Michael Fletcher; visit him on Flickr.)
Monday, August 3, 2009
Friday, July 31, 2009
In this order: nothing, no, and no.
Buried -- literally buried in the story, in the ninth paragraph -- is this:
The technique — dubbed "Machiavelli" — exploits a vulnerability in the Mac OS X kernel, the heart of the machine's operating system. It only works on machines that have already been victimized, such as ones attacked with the pirated software.So, your Mac is fine unless it's been previously hacked, though no explanation is offered as to how this would happen.
That's like proclaiming in a headline "Your car could catch on fire any minute!" -- creating the impression that your little VW could mysteriously explode as if part of a Jerry Bruckheimer film -- and then going on to explain, in the ninth paragraph, that this could only happen if someone doused it in gallons of gasoline and then tossed a lit match onto it.
Way to uphold your journalistic integrity, Jim Finkle and MS (for Microsoft) NBC.
I suspect this situation is only going to get worse: we just wrapped up one serious election cycle, but there's another one coming next year, and then the 2012 campaigns heat up. This means folks are going to turn more to news-oriented programming than entertainment-oriented programming. If Conan can't win now, he'll be hard-pressed to top Nightline down the road.
Another sign of trouble:
A lot of people -- a LOT of people -- tuned in to check out the new host his first week. So much so, in fact, that NBC proclaimed him the new "King of Late Night" in an episode of PR-fueled hyperbole that ended up backfiring on them a little (it takes more than a week to claim such a crown, after all).
It was only a matter of time before those numbers dropped, but they've dropped noticeably and regularly. This means that people have sampled the new host and aren't thrilled with what they've seen. Some of them may return, certainly, and it would be as premature to proclaim the Conan O'Brien experiment a failure as it was to proclaim him the new King of Late Night.
But does anyone else get the impression that Jay Leno's Tonight Show tenure might not be done quite yet?
I mean, geez, just look at her.
My zero percent interest in these films has just increased to about, oh, two percent interest.
That small Spaced exposure was enough to spur me to YouTube, where each episode had been lovingly posted by other fans but butchered to fit around that site's file size limit. (One episode, for example, could be separated into as many as four parts.)
Now, the TV show about the budding comic book artist and his frustrated writer roommate is available on Hulu.com.
You owe it to yourself to check this show out. Brits being Brits, only 14 episodes were made over two seasons -- far less than the 44 episodes two seasons of an American sitcom usually generate -- but the trade-off is that each one is pretty darn good. All 14 episodes are online now at Hulu and I can recommend all of them, though the show really hit its stride in the second season.
No idea how long they'll be there, so don't delay.
Too lazy to click over? I'll save you some effort:
Friday, June 5, 2009
My two cents? It'd be a mistake. Now's the perfect time to show the world that Apple can run without Jobs, because even if he returns to robust health -- and I for one hope he does -- he may at some point simply want to retire. Best to avoid the stock dip that announcement would spur.
Andy Barker, P.I., lasted a whopping six episodes, and that is just a shame. The show was smart and funny, and Andy Richter was a very likable lead. Alas, it wasn't meant to be and now Richter's full-circle career is back where it began: backing up Conan O'Brien (no shame in that; this guy probably goes home each night and swims through a giant safe full of money a la Scrooge McDuck).
Check out what may be my favorite episode here:
All this online chatter about late night talk shows has spurred me to watch a few.
My biggest surprise? Jimmy Fallon is fantastic. Seriously. This guy will be around for a very, very long time.
I was prepared -- heck, I was primed -- to dislike Fallon's new Late Night. I don't have anything against the guy, I just wasn't sure he could make the transition from "Weekend Update" on Saturday Night Live and several forgettable film roles to the seat originally filled by David Letterman. I strongly suspect that "talk show host" is one of those jobs that looks easy but is really extremely difficult. It ain't for everyone.
Watching Fallon, you can see how difficult it is. He's by no means a natural at reading cue cards, seems just a little too eager at times and applies too much pressure to his interviews.
(Brief aside: his interviews sometimes remind me of "The Chris Farley Show" on SNL: "Um, hi. Welcome to The Chris Farley Show. I'm ... Chris Farley ... and, my guest tonight is ... one of the ... greatest musicians ... uh, rock musicians ... I guess songwriter ... ever. [Hits himself] God! That sounds stupid! God, I'm an idiot! I never know how to start these things!")
But Fallon seems so genuine, seems to be having so much fun learning on the job, that you don't care. Watch Seinfeld and you can see Jerry Seinfeld clearly trying not to laugh in just about every episode; who cares, right? It was still a terrific show.
In a few short weeks, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon has become my favorite late night talk show.
I know: weird, right?
Here's my mid-year late-night talk show host rankings:
- Craig Ferguson: Ferguson desperately needs to broadcast in HD (his show looks like black and white compared to the others) and get a band. I haven't mentioned them yet, but I think The Roots contribute mightily to Fallon's success. Also about Ferguson: best interviewer of the bunch, unless it's a more serious topic, and then I'd pick ...
- David Letterman: Big fan of his -- in Leno vs. Letterman, it was always Letterman in our house -- but 50 years of Dave might just be enough Dave. Still he's an easy number three.
- Jay Leno: Currently out of the loop, but I'm ranking him based on his Tonight Show. I was never a huge Leno fan despite my impression that he is, in real life, a terrific guy and someone worth rooting for.
- Conan O'Brien: I know I'm supposed to like Conan and his brand of comedy, which is aimed straight at guys like me. But I never really got into him and was shocked NBC threw Leno over for him. I expect Tonight Show ratings to reveal that other people share this sentiment. Best set on TV, though. They did a great job. (This isn't a backhanded compliment, either; even if you're not a fan, tune into the show at least once to check out the set.) Oh, and Andy Richter: trying too hard. Someone tell him to relax. Loved Andy Barker, PI, by the way. Wish that show had continued.
- Jimmy Kimmel: Someone who was recently rescued from standard definition prison. Needs more Matt Damon.
- Carson Daly: I liked him more as a golfer and hopes he gets his drinking under control and loses some weight.
But I'd recommend any of those top three right now, and strongly recommend the top two.
Jimmy Fallon. Who woulda thunk it ....
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Two of my favorite shows on television, The Office and 30 Rock, feature a number of similarities:
- Professional colleagues who, though they may disagree at times, tend to find ways to work together as peacefully as possible
- Humor derived from characters more than situations
- No laugh track
- High production values
- Terrific acting
- Great writing
- A high "rewatchable" factor, where seeing the same episode two or three times isn't such a bad thing (when I was a kid, "rerun" was a four-letter word ... or a character from What's Happening)
All of these traits are currently shared by one other program, of sorts, currently on the air: Apple's "I'm a Mac, I'm a PC" commercials.
I'm not sure if that speaks to the high quality of the Apple ads or the low quality of the current sitcom crop. I think it's the former; though I have my two aforementioned favorites, I'm not willing to concede that literally every other sitcom on the air stinks. I do, however, think that this Apple campaign is a master stroke.
If I had to list my three favorite sitcoms, then, the list would go like this:
- The Office
- 30 Rock (and this show may be on top soon)
- I'm a Mac, I'm a PC
Monday, May 18, 2009
Courtesy of the Associated Press:
The Belgian bodybuilding championship has been canceled after doping officials showed up and all the competitors fled.
A doping official says bodybuilders just grabbed their gear and ran off when he came into the room.
“I have never seen anything like it and hope never to see anything like it again,” doping official Hans Cooman said Monday.
In related news, scientists were stunned to discover that water is wet.Seriously, though: why bother wasting a doping official's time? Who can't take one look at these guys and know instinctively that they're full of more pharmaceuticals than your neighborhood CVS?
I once read that "good genetics" in bodybuilding circles referred more to a person's tolerance for ingesting large amounts of steroids and related substances than it did to his or her innate potential to develop huge biceps. I believe it.
Many large companies (looking at you, Weider) make a fortune essentially defrauding people into believing they can achieve a certain body type simply through a rigorous training regimen and some vitamins. The reality? Taking the drugs necessary to achieve such physiques can kill, as it did in the cases of Mohammed Benaziza and Andreas Munzer.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
You're looking at something I used to mock. No, not girls. (Well, maybe in grade school.) Rather, girls -- and/or boys -- wearing superhero costumes at comic book conventions ("cons").
I've been attending cons off and on for the last 25 years. But only in the last 10 years or so have I seen this particular sartorial phenomenon.
And when I first saw it, I laughed. How silly, I thought, that anyone would take affection for a fictional character to such an extreme as to dress like him or her (or, in some instances, it). If I was with a brother or colleague, I'd deride them aloud (though quietly). Alone, I would silently chuckle.
But an odd thing happened since those first few years: I grew to enjoy the spectacle. Quite a bit, I might add.
Why? Because of my son. When I took him to his first big show, the costumed folks were one of the biggest attractions to him -- they were like tiny one- or two-person shows (the Storm Troopers especially like to wander in groups) at which he could marvel. This jolted me into seeing them with a fresh perspective. Suddenly, I no longer thought it was silly. In fact, I think there's some serious effort going on here.
It got so that I actually complained to one show's producer for relegating the costume contest to a back corner of the convention space without so much as a stage. Only people in the front row saw the costumes these folks busted their butts putting together.
Unfortunately, the costume contest is typically the Saturday of this Friday thru Sunday show, and I think I'm done with Saturdays. It's the biggest day of the event, drawing thousands upon thousands of fans from two countries and several states. My problem with that? It's the biggest day of the event, drawing thousands upon thousands of fans from two countries and several states. Sunday's out, too: even with hours to go on what is the event's final day, some vendors are already busy packing up. That's not worth a day's admission.
Which leaves Friday. I snapped the above pic on Friday, and if I hadn't cropped it, you'd be able to see actual aisles behind these gals. Not throngs of folks pushing and shoving -- although no one is rude about it; imagine cattle milling about and you'll get the idea -- but actual aisles. And you can speak to the guests without waiting in long lines. It's actually very nice.
But, again, fewer costumes. It's funny how I went from hating them to appreciating them so much that I'm disappointed I won't be seeing too much of them in the future. But the peace that comes from the relative paucity of thronging masses is too much to pass up. From now on, I'm a Friday guy.
A note about the above photo: as you can see by the name tags, these gals were probably paid to dress up and sit at a booth. I'm just using this image to give you the general idea of what many, many people do for free.
(Sign reads: "Tigers & Casino Trips All Sumer Long"; sorry for the poor image -- my cell phone camera stinks.)
I know what you're thinking: the worst part about that sign is the fact that the word "summer" is misspelled "sumer." But you'd be wrong, IMHO. There are a couple problems here, the least of which is a misspelling.
- Whoever hung this sign -- and it's probably a two-person job -- noticed the misspelling. It's simply too egregious to overlook. But instead of noting the misspelling, delaying the task and notifying a supervisor, the sign went up. You have to imagine there's some supervisor resentment going on here. Something like, "I know there's a glaring mistake on this sign and I shouldn't hang it, but I'm gonna stick it to the man! Haw!" Employees so openly contemptuous of their work environment are a great big problem.
- But our employee fun doesn't stop there. Because I'm willing to bet that another employee, and possibly more than one, noticed the sign and committed to doing something about it ... later. Like, maybe on their next shift. Maybe after the weekend. Maybe when they had the time. Perhaps they'd already punched out and couldn't be bothered until they punched back in. So the actions of the openly contemptuous employees are supported by the inaction of the candidly disinterested ones.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
My wait was much ado about nothing, it turns out. Entertaining enough, but that's about it. Just wanted to let everyone know NetFlix finally delivered.
Now if only they'd delivered a better movie.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The argument for "Best Sitcom Ever" is nowadays often made on behalf of Seinfeld. I always appreciated that show (and continue to watch it even today, 25 years after it went off the air) but I'm not sure it makes my top three.
The show firmly entrenched in my top spot is Arrested Development, as carefully orchestrated a display of familial folly as any ever aired. It's a joy to watch so many talented actors romp around with such terrific writing.
Oddly enough, I think the show's commercial failure -- it was a ratings dog and ran for only three seasons, the last of which was just 13 episodes long -- contributes to its greatness. Many shows start out strong but simply lose steam, something Arrested Development never had the opportunity to do. (Recall the disappointment with which the aforementioned Seinfeld left the air.) And the series ended on a great note, capping its run with an episode that offered just the right amount of closure without totally slamming the door on future tales.
As proof, here's that "great note," the final episode of Arrested Development. Never seen an episode before? Watch this one anyway, and I'm sure you'll want to go back to the beginning to get the full story.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Yesterday, I sat down with Criminal Volume 3: The Dead and the Dying, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. I actually put off reading it because I've already read all the other volumes; after this, there's no new Criminal for me to turn to. (The creators will return to the title, but I don't believe there's a firm date for that yet.)
No one is crafting a better crime comic right now. There are some terrific titles out there -- I'm just getting into Scalped, for instance -- but Criminal sets the gold standard. Haven't read it yet? Here are five reasons I think you should:
- It's authentic: The characters think, act and look like the denizens of a shady world. We've all read crime comics where every man is as handsome as Hugh Jackman, every woman is as beautiful as Jessica Biel and they're all either perfectly mannered or perfectly villainous. Problem is, such representations frequently fly in the face of reality. Honest-to-gosh real criminals can be an unsightly and unpredictable lot.
- The writing is terrific: This is something of a continuation of that first point, but it deserves to be underscored. With Criminal, Ed Brubaker is writing scripts worthy of Elmore Leonard and Jim Thompson. One thing I really like: the plots aren't Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions, which goes a long way to lighten the load on your willing suspension of disbelief.
- The art is fantastic: There's no one better suited for these tales than Phillips. The best comic artists are part actor, part director, part cinematographer and all magician. And that's exactly what you get here.
- The price is right: Times are tough and we're all watching every penny. Each volume (there are four) costs about $10 each at Amazon.
- The monthly issues contain extras: Want single issues instead of a trade paperback? You're in luck: the monthly Criminal comic features additional artwork and copy not collected in the trades.
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The most recent James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, has been at the top of my NetFlix queue since about two months before it was released on disc.
And it's still there. "Long wait," the queue tells me.
Granted, I've requested the Blu-ray version, but should it really be taking this long? I actually had the SD version IN MY HAND at the library -- yep, a freebie -- but passed on it, because I want to see the film in HD.
Unfortunately, it seems I'll be waiting until the next Bond movie comes out.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Monday, May 4, 2009
Clearly, though, I've erred. I should have named the strip "AAA Gone Zombie," just to make sure I had the first spot.
Go directly to the strip: http://www.zudacomics.com/node/1296.