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Monthly archives: September 2006


2006-09-29 09:59
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I was skeptical about the "Heroes" pilot given its premise and some of the cast members, but boy, was I wrong. It doesn't mean a thing if they can't follow it up with a second episode that sustains the momentum, but the first installment narrowly beats out the "Studio 60" pilot for the best so far of the new season. I can't point to any one thing that made the show so enjoyable. It just worked. While a lot of the new serials that have premiered so far this fall seemed rushed and incomplete in introducing their large casts, "Heroes" managed in only a single episode, and several mostly self-contained stories, to make me care about every cast member. I even found it charming that they've named the Japanese hero "Hiro," probably because Masi Oka is so guilelessly enthusiastic in the role.

"Heroes" is really well-cast, and with a lot of people you've seen before and probably didn't think that much of. Who knew Ali Larter could act? Who knew the Disney Channel's own Hayden Panettiere was capable of such angst and pathos (and could sell such devastatingly gross special effects)? The big surprise is Milo Ventimiglia. I still have a residual bit of wanting to punch him in the face for hurting Rory, but he's so sweet and believable in the "Heroes" pilot that it gives the second of the two big shock twists in the episode deluxe extra kick.

"Heroes" is about genetically mutated humans who discover superpowers, which, given, is the premise of "X-Men" and for that matter the watchable cable show "The 4400," which has a somewhat more well-articulated starting point. The show at least for its first hour illustrates the old truth that material doesn't necessarily have to be original so long as it manages to be compelling for reasons independent of its source material. In this regard "Heroes" has a lot of things going for it. For one thing, at this point, I don't care what contrived rationale it takes to gets actors of East Asian and Indian descent on TV. Whatever it takes. "Heroes" seemingly has excellent parts for Oka and for Sendhil Ramamurthy, who seems like he's being set up as the Professor X of the group, but it could go quite differently. Indeed, the pilot doesn't really tell you a lot about the specific powers of each of the characters. A few leads don't demonstrate any superhuman abilities at all. What's interesting is that while you can easily criticize a number of the other serial pilots of this season for keeping too many things hidden in their first episodes, this complaint just kind of melts away for "Heroes." It's interesting in and of itself, you're sold on each of the characters whether or not they can fly, and all in all the cryptic clues dropped as to how the plotline will progress seem more like good storytelling than cheap conjuring tricks just to get the viewer to tune in next week.

The other thing I really liked about the "Heroes" pilot was the way it managed to maintain a consistent tone even while tackling several different genres in the individual set-up stories for each of its principals. Larter is in a modern horror film (only an actually scary one). Panettiere's story is more of a traditional silver-age comic book origin tale, with a random John Waters influence in her character's show dog trainer mother. And the minor detail that the seemingly indestructible Claire Bennet has become obsessed with killing herself. "Star Trek" fan Hiro's story is light fantasy, and give the show's producers credit for thinking highly enough of their audience to play comedy in subtitles. (It works fine, thanks to Oka's expressiveness and James Kyson Lee's universality as Hiro's straight man.) It's also certainly not the first time it's ever been done, but having a character within a sci-fi show who reads comic books and watches "Trek" and therefore "knows the rules" is an effective device. Watching Oka's dreamy Hiro almost will himself to superheroism is one of the pilot's many minor joys. Ramamurthy's character, meanwhile, moves from an Indian university to driving a cab in New York in a Da Vinci Code-like quest to vindicate the work of his geneticist father. Mohinder Suresh has file folders with the powers we expect to see matched up to the various other characters in due course of time marked on them. How did he get them? From scientific deduction, or are there other forces at work here? Of course there are, and their major CSM-style actor has a surprising connection to yet another cast member. C'mon, I'm a sucker for stuff like this if it's well-handled.

The other major storyline in the first episode is a nicely drawn little family story about the conflict between Ventimiglia's Peter and his slick politican brother (Adrian Pasdar). Pay attention to Pasdar's performance in the pilot, because he completely snookered me -- I thought he was more stock than the Steven Weber character on "Studio 60," but watch what happens. This crosses over with the darker story of Isaac (Santiago Cabrera), a heroin-addicted artist whose paintings tell the future. Wait until you see what he paints at the climax!

There's nothing industrial-strength original about "Heroes" but the material just works. It's shot well, the special effects are (correctly) imperfect enough to give that comic-book feel, and I really like the way that it manages to juggle subgenres within the sci-fi/fantasy universe all in the course of one episode. NBC is already airing self-congratulatory promos informing us that the pilot won 25 million viewers. I hope all of them and more return for the second episode, which airs next Monday night. This show deserves to tell its story, which is more than I can say for "Jericho" or "Kidnapped." More on the latter later.

Early Ratings Returns: Nobody Likes These New Shows
2006-09-26 13:39
by Mark T.R. Donohue

So now that you've heard my take on many of this season's new shows, what do the ratings say? There's no breakout hits early in the 2006 season, writes The Hollywood Reporter's Andrew Wallenstein. Fox's entire lineup of new shows seems to have failed. "Vanished" and "Justice," unseen by me, didn't start impressively and are fading fast. "Happy Hour" may already be dead. It's been removed from the schedule for Thursday as the network will try to force "'Til Death" down our throats with two episodes in a row. No, thank you. Good and bad news for "Standoff": the show is halting production due to a lack of completed scripts, but former "Angel" and "Firefly" writer Tim Minear is coming on board as a consulting producer. I don't know how much of a difference it will make for most of the people who already aren't watching "Standoff," but I for one will keep tuning in to see what Minear can do with the show. If you're familiar with his work, you know why.

"Shark" was, not surprisingly, a huge flop. Prospects for "The Class" do not look good. "Jericho" and "Smith" got numbers described as "competitive" by Wallenstein, but neither has yet to show a second episode, which is the real test. "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" did OK but will probably be given some time to find an audience out of deference to Aaron Sorkin and the effusive praise of critics. "Kidnapped" on the other hand was a bomb; Wallenstein quotes an NBC executive already referring to the show in the past tense. Well, I guess I can clear that pilot off of the TiVo. That's the reality of the television business: the decision will be made on most first-year shows before the vast majority of viewers have seen or even heard of them.

Good news, sort of, when it comes to returning shows: "Grey's Anatomy" beat out "CSI" last Thursday night. I am not a huge fan of "Grey's," but I much prefer that sort of character-based drama over creepy corpse-porn like "CSI." Still going strong is "House," which is a really good show that completely overcomes my general bias against medical dramas, "ER," which I haven't watched or thought about since I was in high school, and "CSI: Miami," indicating that the audience for sunny corpse porn is still going strong.

"Jericho Smith" Would Be a Good Name for a Pro Wrestler
2006-09-25 14:32
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I spent most of the weekend watching soccer. Would it kill FSC to get a Liverpool game on one of these weeks? Help a brother out. Today I mostly caught up on the pilots that encored this weekend, in addition to two returning series that I figured I should take a look at since I'm trying to have a TV site now. Let's run them down from least interesting to most.

I'm all for the increase in serialization TV dramas are seeing in the wake of "Lost." It's no secret that some of my favorite series all-time are ones that managed to tell big sweeping stories like "Deep Space Nine" and "Angel." Or "Arrested Development" or "Gilmore Girls," for that matter, in their own way. But while "Buffy" and "X-Files" and "Stargate" (both flavors) kind of eased their way into overwhelming interconnectedness, mixing in plenty of standalone adventures among all of the arc episodes, these shows on this "Lost" model require close study from the outset. That can be a good thing, but it also puts a lot of pressure on the pilot. If a completely serial show can't draw and keep an audience from the beginning, it's not going to pick one up in midseason. Even if a show improves, like "Invasion" did, it's unlikely to recover from a weak launch. Despite its obvious excellence I have had next to no luck getting people to join "Veronica Mars" seasons already in progress. That's why I don't think it's a huge stretch to say that "Jericho" is in deep trouble after only one episode.

Somewhere in Middle America, an angst-ridden group of Middle Americans sees a mushroom cloud on the horizon. We've been nuked by the commies! Or the aliens! Or possibly alien commies! The power goes out. Communications are down. A voice mail message (which is played way more times than strictly necessary, perhaps to save the writers from having to come up with more dialogue) suggests that it's not only Denver that's been annihilated, but also Atlanta. Makes sense. Obviously the aliens' first move would be to deprive us of strip clubs, OutKast, and John Elway auto dealerships. It's a decent setup for a movie but the idea of suffering through weeks of this cast just to find out the big secret is distinctly unappealing. The first episode contains about four more unbelievably tiresome speeches than it does compelling characters. Does the world really need a Skeet Ulrich comeback? We don't find out much about Ulrich's character in the pilot except he's the black sheep son of Jericho's mayor (Gerald McRaney) and he knows how to intubate someone in an emergency. You know how I know that an intubation scene is not a suitably dramatic climax for a series pilot? Because I know exactly what an intubation is and feel fairly confident that I could perform one myself in a pinch simply because I have seen them performed so many, many times on television and in movies.

"Jericho" also features a new arrival in town (Lennie James) who seems to know way more about nuclear crisis management than you would expect for a St. Louis cop. I'm sure that it could turn out that he's not who he says he is, assuming the series lasts that long, but on the face of things it's still an annoying device. There's nothing I hate more on a TV show than the character who tells me what I should be feeling. Don't tell me what I should feel, make me feel it. "Jericho" seeks to create a feeling of distraught paranoia, "Lost" in America, but for the first hour it fails completely. So it's the end of the world again, eh? Why exactly should I care?

Between watching and re-watching Serenity and my acquisition of the "Undeclared" DVD, I spent a lot of time admiring David Krumholtz this summer. I figured now was as good a time as any to get on board with his series "Numb3rs," which has been running rather under the radar for two seasons now. If the Friday night third-season premiere is any indication, I'm not going to be springing for the DVD sets any time soon. I like Krumholtz in this show just fine. I like Judd Hirsch. I like Peter MacNicol, a good character actor with terrible judgement -- he was on "Ally McBeal" and in the "Mr. Bean" movie. I'm even willing to get over the unsettling presence of a ripped Rob Morrow. But I'm sorry, I'm just not on board for "Numb3rs." I just don't buy the concept. I believe that a giant styrofoam hula hoop with Egyptian writing on it can transport people to other worlds. I believe that a ninety-pound sixteen-year-old bottle blonde can kill demons. I'll even accept that someone who looks like Denise Richards can be a nuclear physicist. But I don't think you can use math to fight crime, or at least not in the way depicted on "Numb3rs." It's not ridiculously far-fetched, but the way it would work in practice would likely be pretty dull and would involve the same basic process for each case. I highly doubt it would involve a lot of fevered chalkboard-writing montages. The hook to this show is the one thing I can't stand about it. Why couldn't they just make a drama about a brilliant mathematican and his relationships with his colleagues, father, and very different brother? Why does every hour-long show on TV have to have serial killers in it? What is the deal with all of these death-fetishist procedural shows where the corpses are always more interesting than the living?

Another returning show to which you may have never given much notice is "Supernatural," the CW's genre drama about demon-hunting brothers. Formerly the property of the WB, that backwards former network did its best to keep people from watching the show by casting two of its in-house stable of pinup boys (Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) and marketing it predominantly to young teen girls. Guess what? It's a pretty good show. The two leads are quite adequate, particularly Ackles, and the show has a distinct style that miles away from the WB's usual look and feel. The soundtrack is southern rock and the visual signature is foggy, earth-toned exteriors that could only be British Columbia standing in for the American heartland. That's not the only "X-Files" connection: producers John Shiban and Kim Manners worked under Chris Carter for years. Despite the "X" similarities there's a very different dynamic at the heart of "Supernatural," which is doing the same kind of brother-bonds-with-brother riff as "Numb3rs," only I actually care about what else is going on on this show. The second season starts next Thursday; I'm on board.

"Supernatural" is a show that's not trying too desperately to be something new; it's a little horror show with a bit of style that makes it worth watching if you like that sort of thing. "Smith" is a show that has so much damn style that there's hardly room for anything else. Everything in the last week's pilot so screamed for attention, from the creepy robber masks to the angle at which Ray Liotta's cigarettes dangle, that actually separating major plot developments from little stylistic touches was a headache. I love caper movies, and there is an established style of laying out what is going to happen for the audience before the heist goes down. "Smith" is filled with meaningless noise, and it's limited to an hour besides. There's a nice little scene with Bobby (Liotta) playing the piano for his wife (Virginia Madsen), but why does the camera linger on them doing nothing for seemingly an entire act when there's an enormous and involved museum caper ahead? Why is so little time spent on the logistics of the crime and so much devoted to a scene on the airplane ride home where the members of Bobby's team all try to out-underact each other? This is very strange. If the show's creative team doesn't have faith in the story, characters, and cast to hold the audience's attention, they're crazy.

It's a good cast, too, with Liotta, Franky G, Simon Baker, Madsen, and Trainspotting's Jonny Lee Miller. The weak link is Amy Smart. Why does Amy Smart keep getting put in things? She's not talented. She's not that pretty. I've seen her topless already. Maybe this is her last hurrah. I don't have any problem with a show reusing old setups if they can find new places to take them, but it already seems like having Madsen's character unaware of her husband's criminal activities is the wrong choice. Didn't "The Sopranos" settle once and for all that having a family be complicit in their breadwinner's misdeeds makes for more interesting TV? Besides, if you even need a counterexample, Mr. and Mrs. Smith. Ugh.

Shows, Shows, Shows
2006-09-23 08:12
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I had to watch the pilot of "Shark" in installments. That was how bad it was. After the first twenty minutes I felt so unclean that it took an entire half-season of "Scrubs" to get the bad taste out of my brain. The second third was even worse. I had to go for the big guns: "Surprise"/"Innocence," plus "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" up to the "Got the Love" sequence. Finally, my sense of duty to you the reader made me grit my teeth and bear down for the denouement. I watched it. It's over now. I highly doubt I'll ever have to watch it or think about it again. Except now I have to write about it, which by itself might be such a distasteful act that it will require seasons four through six of "Deep Space Nine" inclusive to recover.

I thought about writing a little doggerel to the tune of the "Family Guy" number. You know the one, "I' WOODS!" That would have required more time and thought than "Shark" really deserves, though. So here's a bunch of thoughts, presented as quickly as I can force them out. One: This show's direct inspiration is "House." If you can make a bland, unoriginal medical show must-see TV by having the doctor be mean and nasty to his patients and underlings, then surely the same thing will work for a generic lawyer show. If you dig deeper you can see how closely the formula has been imitated. Jeri Ryan is Cuddy, the deputies are Foreman, Cameron, and Chase (except there's more of them, since it's easier to write a half-dozen one-dimensional characters than three interesting ones), and bizarrely Shark's teenage daughter is Robert Sean Leonard. Network TV is a weird and scary place. Two: Jeri Ryan can actually act. You have to close your eyes and just listen to her speak, but she can. My theory is that the human brain simply will not accept the idea that someone who looks that much like a porn star can actually be a fairly accomplished television actor. Clearly Ryan's ex-husband had the same processing problem. Three: The dynamic between Woods and the aforementioned daughter character is all wrong. A father should not approach his estranged daughter as if he wants to do her rotten. Or wait, maybe that's me. Four: At one point an opposing defense attorney tells Shark that she will "beat him like an African drum." Why doesn't she just say "like a drum" and leave out the redundant modifier? Because she's black.

Now that that unpleasant experience is behind us forever, a few thoughts about "My Name Is Earl." Did it strike anyone else that the episode aired on Thursday was unusually low-key for a season premiere? It was a nice little episode, but it was basically a three-person show and it seemed to go out of its way to avoid the big moral conclusion that most "Earl" episodes eventually ease towards. The research department (who's really earning his four bucks an hour this week, he also pitched in with that obscure reference to Jeri Ryan's ex-husband which if you didn't get I suggest you Google) has directed me towards an interview with Ethan Suplee in which the actor says the show will be taking a turn towards a more serial direction this season. Since "Earl" has already found its audience, I think that's a pretty neat idea. Certainly the concept introduced towards the end of the premiere of Joy in prison has some fascinating possibilities. I would watch a whole series centered around Joy behind bars. It could be an extended riff on those seminal late-night Cinemax women-in-prison movies. Oh, don't tell me you've never watched them.

Whatever Happened to Fox Attitude?
2006-09-21 10:17
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Does anybody remember when the Fox network was perceived as an outsider? When they were edgy and format-breaking and maverick? Well, yes, I don't either. Fox was never anywhere near as transgressive as their ad department liked to believe, but one thing that has changed is they're not even trying to claim that role anymore. Aside from their Sunday night block, Fox is CBS. And what about those Sunday night shows? "Family Guy" never should have come back. "The Simpsons" hasn't been funny in recent memory. "The War at Home" is ugly and tiresome. And I still remain unconvinced that "American Dad" isn't a practical joke Seth MacFarlane is playing on the network. Nothing could be that unfunny on purpose, right?

"Bones" is back for a second season, which isn't a bad thing. I kind of like this show. If it starred David Boreanaz or Zooey Deschanel's sister and not both, I probably wouldn't like it. Neither on their own is quite compelling enough to make me keep tuning in to a blasé procedural show with a poor supporting cast and ho-hum computer effects, but the combo is much greater than the sum of its parts. The show is still laboring under the misapprehension that T.J. Thyne is funny (he's not) and that Michaela Conlin can act (she so can't). Jonathan Adams' prickly boss character from the first season has been replaced with a new younger, femaler prickly boss. Not a bad notion in theory but dumbly the actress cast, Tamara Taylor, looks far too much like Conlin for comfort. Since both characters spend large chunks of their screen time in identical white lab coats, it's a huge challenge trying to figure out which one is which. Booth and Brennan's Greek chorus came across as fairly generic in the first season, but at least you could tell the players without a scorecard. There was the bearded one, the black one, the woman one, and the one who was fourteen. Why try and fix what's not broken?

The producers of "Bones," judging by the first three episodes of the new season, have decided to increase the roles played by the supporting cast instead of focusing on what works about the show, which is the Mulder/Scully dynamic between Zooey Deschanel's sister and Boreanaz. At least the mysteries in the first two shows were twisty and surprising enough to hold a viewer's interest. The third one, "The Boy in the Shroud," was just boring. "Bones" is at its best when it gets really weird, like last year's episode set in post-Katrina New Orleans which featured amnesia and voodoo. Things seem to be going in the wrong direction, but judging by the all of the pilots I've seen over the last few weeks I don't think any other show is threatening to push "Bones" off of my TiVo season pass list. Now if they could just start making the no-nonsense episode titles a little sexier.

One of the freshman shows I'm not going to be wasting any more time on is Fox Tuesday's "Standoff." This show is going to get at least a few viewers, since it's on after "House," but I wouldn't set good odds on its lasting out the season. Ron Livingston from Office Space is in it. So is Gina Torres from "Firefly." I like both of those actors, but they just don't have the magnetic pull of David Boreanaz and Zooey Deschanel's sister. Casting aside, "Standoff" doesn't even approach the dizzying mediums of "Bones." It's about hostage negotiators, I guess, who negotiate hostage situations or whatever. Even after three episodes this seems like too narrow a concept. I mean, there were a couple of really good hostage-negotiation "X-Files" episodes, but that series was about so much more. And the chances that Livingston is going to rescue a hostage who turns out to be a giant mind-controlling bug seem slim. Without giant mind-controlling bugs, what's the point, really?

The major poor decision that "Standoff" makes is putting Livington's savvy veteran together romantically with his rookie partner (Rosemarie DeWitt) right from the beginning. The show clearly doesn't want to burn too much screen time on character study, and despite Livingston's best efforts the overall effect is to recall the vaguely familiar feeling of a random blend of about two dozen Bruce Willis movies. Like Striking Distance or Color of Night, I don't really have any strong feelings about this show. It exists. It isn't harming anybody, and while it doesn't tax Livingston's acting ability one bit, it's nice to see him in a leading role again. Anything that puts the regal Gina Torres on the screen can't be all bad. She comes away from delivering the bland dialogue required of her FBI superior character utterly without harm. She floats above it, like the goddess she is. (And if you don't recognize that as a reference tying Torres' presence in this show to Boreanaz's role on "Bones" then you're just not cool like me.)

One of the nice things about all of these corporations merging all over the place: instant reruns. I missed the first runs of "Jericho" and "Kidnapped" but both pilots are going to be on basic cable this weekend. Who's excited? Also, the worst thing about being an aspiring TV critic is actually having to watch TV. James Woods' new lawyer show premieres tonight. There is absolutely no way in hell this is going to be good. Seven of Nine is his co-star. And yet I feel compelled to watch it. The sacrifices I make!

The Premieres of Monday
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Let's get the routine stuff over quickly so we can go into depth about "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," which debuted last night with one of the most fully realized pilots I've ever seen. If it maintains its current level of intensity Aaron Sorkin will not survive the season.

I laughed a lot at the second-season "How I Met Your Mother" premiere. I anticipated the breakup of the Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and Marshall (Jason Segel) characters leading to interesting new romantic opportunities for both actors, but I did not foresse Lily's becoming involved in a sordid fantasy three-way with George Clinton and a ferret. Ted and Robin's fledgling relationship seems to be serving mostly as rationale for Cobie Smulders to appear in her underwear or less. Which is OK, I guess. Neil Patrick Harris continues to be the engine that drives the series out of the doldrums of averageness. Best Barney line: "When I get sad I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story." And to think, we owe his entire career renaissance to Harold and Kumar.

Anyone who was a fan of "Freaks and Geeks" or "Undeclared" knows that Jason Segel has some acting chops. His performance as Eric, the strangely endearing yet utterly psycho townie boyfriend on "Undeclared" is some kind of minor landmark. "Mother"'s biggest problem is that it persistently gives Hannigan and Segel, the best actors in the cast, the least to do. As such, an entire episode built around the theme "Lily absent/Marshall mopes" doesn't really deliver the goods in the way a season premiere should. Hannigan's characters only appeared in flashbacks and dream sequences up until the very end, when she merely peered through a window at the rest of the cast. One of the things that was annoying about "How I Met Your Mother" in its first season was a rather ridiculous over-reliance on gimmicky cliffhanger endings, like the one where Barney was assimilated by the Borg. It's a half-hour sitcom; it should resolve a storyline every now and then. Although to all appearances Aly looks smokin' hot as a brunette.

"Mother" is preceded on CBS's Monday night lineup, for the moment at least, by "The Class," a pallid wannabe sitcom that made me long for the comparative laugh riot of "'Til Death." Even the premise sounds dreary: an overcompensating boyfriend reunites his third-grade class as a show of affection to his lady love whom he met that year. She dumps him, and an overly large cast of generic central casting types bond to magically form a sitcom cast. It's never a good sign for a new show when every regular can be described with a minimum of effort. There's the slacker, the gay, the bitch, the trophy wife, the hippie-ish girl who's either a free spirit or retarded (could go either way), and the suicidal guy. Yes, a sitcom with a suicidal character! This is not your parents' CBS! I'm not so terribly offended by the idea of a guy with a death wish in a sitcom, but it is alarming that Jesse Tyler Ferguson's Richie has the only two funny lines of the entire pilot.

For some reason, the creative forces behind "The Class" have found it necessary to give every single series regular a hideous haircut. This seems like a peculiar choice. Jason Ritter ("Joan of Arcadia") is a good-looking guy, but he can't carry off a bowl cut. Lizzy Caplan (who played Jason Segel's disco-loving girlfriend on "Freaks and Geeks," small world) is lovely but her 'do looks like Joan Jett's worst nightmare. Perhaps the collective bad hair the cast sports in the pilot is meant to symbolize how these lost souls have come adrift since their innocent school days. If that's the case, tough luck for them. The complete lack of laughs in the first episode strongly implies that the cast will not stay together long enough to find better stylists. Their old teacher drinks! The football star's wife can't keep her hands off the musician who lives with his mother! The suicide guy finally meets a nice girl and then he runs her over with his car! Stop me if things are sounding remotely funny.

Almost forgot, there are actually two bitches in the cast of "The Class," one upmarket and one downmarket. I am sorry for the confusion.

It's not surprising that my memories of "The Class" are imperfect, since later in the evening an infinitely more promising and thoughtful series got off the ground. "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" is a breed apart from the first minute. It manages to be edge-of-your-seat exciting using nothing but breathless dialogue, something at which there are few better in the television industry than Aaron Sorkin. Indeed, the industry itself is Sorkin's target. If it's even possible, "Sunset Strip" sets itself up as even more of a bully pulpit for Sorkin's philosophies than "The West Wing" was while he was still in charge. However, the vapidity of modern network TV is a broader and less polarizing target than current American politics. The pilot goes out of its way to establish the network exec played by Amanda Peet as sympathetically as Sorkin's more obvious proxies, showrunners Danny Tripp (Bradley Whitford, solid as ever) and Matt Albie (Matthew Perry, who is going to win bushels of awards if this thing catches on).

Making a fictionalized "show behind the show" based on "Saturday Night Live" might seem like an idea whose time has passed given that "SNL" hasn't been funny since before I had a driver's license, but it works for "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." Since everyone in America has a pretty good idea of how "Saturday Night Live" works, or at least thinks they do, the show is free to concentrate on the high-stakes politics of network TV. Peet's Jordan McDeere notes in passing that the day she was appointed as president of the network, the NASDAQ index dropped in response. Sorkin gets off on the wrong foot by presenting a stagey "Network"-derived scene with guest star Judd Hirsch for his cold open; having every character in the show thereafter mention "Network" by name does not make up for this. Hirsch's meltdown is just the MacGuffin, however, the excuse to begin manuevering Sorkin's cast of characters into position. Perry has a knockout introduction scene that could well have been prefaced with a "Farewell to Chandler Bing" title card. His Matt is seething, sarcastic, and self-loathing, he's wired on painkillers from back surgery (the fate that seems to befall all obsessive television writers) and yet he's the one supporting Whitford's more outwardly genteel character rather than vice versa. It's rare to see TV handle non-romantic relationships with delicacy. The nuances in Whitford and Perry's interplay hints at so much good material to come. It's also clear that Sorkin made the right decision in refusing to film the series until he had cajoled a relucant Matthew Perry into taking this role.

The pilot focuses primarily on Jordan, Matt, and Danny, and with good reason, but the seeds are there for the rest of the cast to fill out. With D.L. Hughley, Timothy Busfield, and Evan Handler, "Studio 60" has a vastly better cast than the actual "Saturday Night Live." It's yet to be seen whether Sarah Paulson ("Deadwood"'s Miss Isringhausen and, randomly, an exposition-spouting hologram in Serenity) can be believable as a comedienne, but the pilot gives her character a twist -- she's religious -- that few shows would be gutsy enough to include. The only wrong notes in the ensemble are sounded by Steven Weber as the generic Slimy Network Guy. His character is so stock they should have just hung a lantern on it and gotten the network exec-bots from "Futurama" instead. I mean, what gives, was William Atherton unavailable?

At times it grows a little too obvious that Sorkin's characters are merely the vessels through which he rams his message home, but "Studio 60" on first impression seems less didactic than "West Wing" by a wide margin. Its expanded budget gives it a very different feel than the earlier "Sports Night." The scenes on the TV set are downright suspenseful. Are they going to get everyone in makeup by the time the cameras roll? You find yourself holding your breath despite yourself. Felicity Huffman has a cameo in the pilot as a talisman from "Sports Night," a great show that never really found its level. "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" has the bigger-name cast and it doesn't have the word "sports" in the title (not that "Sports Night" had anything to do with sports) so with any luck it won't suffer the same fate.

All the pieces are in place, as they say. The success of "Studio 60" from here on out will have more to do with whether Aaron Sorkin can successfully delegate and stay healthy than any internal flaw with the cast or premise. I don't know what to think about this. He seems to be deeply invested in the material -- at times during the Hirsch monologue, the fictional creator stepping in front of the cameras of his show to speak the truth, I half-expected Sorkin himself to cut in front of the real cameras filming the fake cameras and start speaking in tongues. I hope for the sake of all us entertained viewers that it doesn't come to that.

"Death," Alas, Is Not Too Good
2006-09-15 08:58
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The networks have taken in the past several years to stretching the debut of a new TV "season" all the way from September to the new year. I don't know why this is. Perhaps putting their new shows on a few weeks in advance of their returning shows allows them to artificially boost the ratings. Maybe some sort of shady collusion is at work, forcing all of our eyes to the uninspired, dire pilots out of desperation since there's nothing else on besides reality shows (that'll be the day) and last's seasons reruns for the third time over.

Last year was nothing short of a miracle for network TV. Out of the 900 billion sitcom pilots that aired in 2005, three of them were actually pretty good: "My Name Is Earl," "Everybody Hates Chris," and "How I Met Your Mother." The success ratio in '06? I doubt it will approach the same dizzying heights. The merging of UPN and the WB into one network is actually bad news. Not that those guys were ever precisely paragons of taste. I just mean that for all of the brain cells irrevocably destroyed by "Homeboys in Outer Space" and "Shasta McNasty," at least those shows were unique in their wretchedness. Even though the success of shows like "Earl" and "Scrubs" and "The Office" ought to clue network executives in on what's what, it seems like 95% of the shows debuting every year are still either about a schlumpy comedian feuding with his anachronistically hot wife or a group of attractive twentysomethings with lots of money and very little melanin being witty over coffee.

A half-hour comedy doesn't have to have an original premise to not suck. "Arrested Development" never got the audience it deserved in no small part because with every installment it got more and more difficult to concisely explain what it was about the show that was so great. Two of the successes from last year fit one of the two cookie cutter schemes. "Everybody Hates Chris" is a family comedy that trumps formula with its honesty and the emotional depth of its fine cast. "How I Met Your Mother" is a "Friends" knockoff that distinguishes itself with good writing and smash-cut editing. And Alyson Hannigan. (I love you, Aly.) But these are the exceptions. For every "Mother" there's nine or ten shows like last midseason's crappy Seth Green show, "Four Kings," or CBS's smug, relentlessly product-placing dramedy "Love Monkey." For every "Chris" there's dozens of failed family sitcoms, like "'Til Death," the new show with "Everybody Loves Raymond"'s Brad Garrett, which ran its second episode last night.

"Raymond," of course, wasn't at all original either, but thanks to its amazing supporting cast of Garrett, Doris Roberts, and Peter Boyle and smart writers it overcame a small hurdle (Ray Romano's extreme unfunniness) to run for nine seasons. As a result of this success and a small pile of Emmys, you'd expect Garrett would be in the sort of position where he could demand the best situation possible for his triumphant return to series television. No. Really, no. "'Til Death," which also stars Eddie Kaye Thomas of Freddy Got Fingered fame, is as rote a sitcom as they make nowadays. In the first episode, Thomas and his character's wife argue over a pool table. In the second episode, Garrett and his character's wife argue over patio furniture. Where do you suppose they'll go next?

The hook, such as it is, is that Garrett and his wife have been married for years and years and Thomas and his spouse are newlyweds. The two men work together and give each other advice that inevitably leads to marital conflict. This could be easily avoided if these people, and the show's writing staff, weren't all utterly devoid of brain activity. Was Garrett so afraid of being forgotten by the American public that he jumped upon the first project he was offered? The guy is eleven feet tall. I doubt he would fade from our memories that quickly. And Thomas needs a new agent. If the creepy guy from Road Trip is doing "Lost," then the creepy guy from American Pie should at least be doing something better than "'Til Death."

What's really disturbing is that the show isn't really any worse than any number of sitcoms that have had long, productive, syndication-enabling runs: "Yes, Dear," "King of Queens," "According to Jim," "My Wife and Kids," "Still Standing," or even "Home Improvement." It's not even the worst show of its kind on Fox. That title belong to the noxious "The War at Home," which was given "Arrested Development"'s old slot after "The Simpsons" and lives on somehow. What a country.

Sand in My Joints
2006-09-12 06:51
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Last week when the second-season "Lost" DVDs hit stores, I conscientiously set aside several days for marathon viewing. After experiencing the first season in that format a year ago, I made up my mind to wait for the DVD release before watching "Lost" again. I did my best not to read anything about it, either. Quite a trick given the multiformat phenomenon the drama has become, but I lead a relatively hermetic existence. Other than a few random whispers about buttons and "tailies," I made it out OK. Even a Harold Perrineau appearance on the Ellen show didn't hurt. Despite being an actor on the show, Perrineau clearly had no more idea what the hell was going on on that damn island than you or I. Perhaps less.

Maybe I don't need to take this any farther than two paragraphs. The DVDs have been out for a week, and I've just finished them today. I watched the first several discs all in succession, but then I got distracted somehow or another, and to tell you the truth I didn't feel deeply compelled to go back and finish. With the first season, a buddy loaned his set to me safe in the knowledge that he could expect them back after a weekend, since once I started viewing I wouldn't be able to stop. He was right. A few months later when I saw that first-season set available for a reasonable price used, I sprang for it so I could do it all over again. It wasn't as great the second time, but it holds up. I wouldn't rank it above the first season of "Veronica Mars," which debuted at around the same time to far less accolades, but it's good TV. There's nothing wrong with being high-concept, and the cast is remarkably good. Honestly, who knew Matthew Fox could act? Jorge Garcia is fabulous. At times he carries the show. It makes me happy he's a TV star. What other show possibly could have afforded him the opportunity? Josh Holloway is remarkably adept at making Sawyer's constant motivational zigzags seem to stem from character depth rather than writers' desperation. Even Evangeline Lilly is an acceptably good performer for someone so undisputably smokin' hot, not that the show particularly leans on her acting skills. Daniel Dae Kim (quite familiar to genre types from his roles on "Angel" and "Enterprise") and Naveen Andrews (who was in The English Patient -- remember The English Patient?) are making the most of their once-per-decade meaty roles for "ethnic" actors. Ditto Dom Monaghan for ex-hobbits.

However, the show has a real problem that's evident from the pilot onwards. You can only see it for the first time once. There's a scene in the first episode where some of the castaways hike up a hill to get a radio signal. They get a repeating message and figure out that it's been going for decades. Someone asks "Where the hell are we?" and there's an act break. That was as good as it got and likely will get for "Lost" right there. For that one moment you were right there with them, utterly terrified, utterly alone, vaguely aware of the mystical/supernatural/metaphysical implications of the whole quagmire but with no conception of what was to come. From that point you can either attempt to resolve things, which will ultimately prove unsatisfying (see "Twin Peaks") or you can continue piling on the misleads, false bottoms, and red herrings until the audience just doesn't care any more (see "The X-Files"). Either way, you're never reaching that height again. "Lost" is almost cursed by getting off the ground too quickly. Even the last couple episodes of the first season before the finale didn't quite have that magic. It's kind of like building up a tolerance to a drug in a way, I suppose. But by the second set of flashbacks for each of the major characters, "Lost" was stuck in a rather unique predicament. The show was at once in a rut (with the overly constricting flashback structure for some reason being imposed on every episode) and so compelled to move at all times forward that with every new episode it risked contradicting itself and losing whatever credibility (suspension of disbelief, whatever) it once had. I don't think the second season is a complete catastrophe, but I definitely don't regret waiting for the DVDs. Especially with "Veronica Mars" sharing its timeslot.

The trouble with coming late to the party on a show as popular as "Lost" is every original idea you think you might have about it has already been trumpeted somewhere or another, and probably more articulately. I never should have gone to see what Tim Goodman and TWoP had to say before tackling my own review. I imagine if you've been following the show at all, you've heard all the boilerplate Season 2 nags yourself. One is that every episode is fast-forwardable until the last five minutes. (Which is kind of like saying you should zip all the way through The Crying Game to get to the dick shot.) Another is that the whole device of introducing a second group of survivors from the same airplane crash is a lazy way of propping up the already-stale flashback device without moving the main story at all forward. (Totally true, except Mr. Eko is, like, awesome.) Finally, everybody hates Ana Lucia. I have no defense for that one. The show's uncanny luck with casting hits a brick wall with Michelle Rodriguez. She's brutally bad, and what's more, there's no less than three episodes in a row right at the head of the season in which she's a major player. One of them, "Collision," is completely broken due to Rodriguez's wretchedness. It's supposed to be a tense hostage situation, but it comes across as a jungle-themed dentist's office waiting room. I believe in some of the wide-angle shots you can catch Naveen Andrews napping.

Unlike the first season's unified heady rush, there are some standout episodes in Season Two. "The 23rd Psalm," which fills in the background of warlord turned holy man Eko, is dynamite. "One of Them," the only Sayid episode, has an interesting setting (Iraq at the close of the first Gulf War), a great guest star (Clancy Brown from "Carnivàle"), and a story that actually gives additional insight into the character's actions back in the main storyline, unlike a lot of Season Two's lesser offerings. Anything featuring Hurley is bound to be good. Since he was used mostly as comic relief in the first season, he's one of the few regulars about whom there is still additional new information to be revealed. "Everybody Hates Hugo" is a surprisingly subtle and touching episode, and it's always nice to see DJ Qualls continuing to get work. "Dave" is a keeper too, but I for one am tired of the Hollywood device of depicting schizophrenia with an "imaginary friend" character. Fight Club, A Beautiful Mind, that "DS9" where O'Brien has the implanted prison memories, I'm over it.

"Lost" has a nagging problem with female characters. Kate is the most regular presence because all of the male leads are hot for her, but her indecision regarding with whom to finally shack up is growing old. Emelie de Ravin's overprotective mother hen is the lone cliché in a cast of characters that against all odds is largely free of them. The relentlessly bland Maggie Grace joins her equally milquetoast TV stepbrother, the first casualty of the first season, in the ground, and none too soon. The best women on the show are Yunjin Kim's Sun, who the writers tend to lose track of for several episodes at a time, and L. Scott Caldwell's Rose, who isn't even a regular. Happier times may be on the way, though. Tania Raymonde is a welcome presence as a possible ally among the sinister Others.

Towards the end of the season, the writers find a way to get around the self-imposed "every episode must have flashbacks" hurdle by flashing back to earlier events on the island, and as a result things pick up quickly. Harold Perrineau finally gets to do something besides holler "WAAAALT!" at the top of his lungs (another nitpick seemingly every critic has made me before me), Ana Lucia dies (USA! USA! USA!), and while not actually giving away any real secrets, one starts to get the impression that progress down the rabbit hole has resumed when for a midseason stretch it seemed to have utterly abated. It's entirely possible, in fact likely, that the third season will be much better. There were some decisions made here that just didn't work, but the writers have managed to kill off nearly every uninteresting character -- sadly, I doubt they can kill Claire -- among the castaways and they've begun introducing some very juicy villains.

It's worth mentioning that the DVD set comes labelled as "the extended experience" and features, as did the first season, an entire additional disc of supplementary material and several commentaries. I imagine that just as I did for the first season I will completely ignore almost all of this. Past a certain point the trademark "Lost" stance of telling you stuff without actually giving anything away gets spectacularly annoying. Some shows are richly worth examining and digging into the creative process of, and others, less so. One thing about the "Lost" second season DVD set I can give an unqualified rave. The sound design is amazing. This 5.1 remix of a TV show sounds better than almost anything else I've got in the apartment, DTS or otherwise. If you close your eyes you can tell where scenes are set just by the background ambience, whether it's the beach, the jungle, the hatch, or a flashback. It's balanced so that you don't have to keep turning it up for the quiet dialogue scenes and down for the action sequences. At times the sound completely makes the show. The climactic gunshot at the close of "Two for the Road" is, like, martial. If you're on the fence about laying down the cash for the DVDs, maybe that will tip the scales.

In Retrospect, "Final" Was a Poor Name Choice
2006-09-08 03:50
by Mark T.R. Donohue

What I'm about to write about, at length, will expose me forever as a complete friendless loser, a modern-day hermit who wouldn't suffer any human contact whatsoever if it wasn't for his mother's regular family tech support calls. But you know what? Whatever. Like you don't have problems.

It has long been a goal of mine to beat all of the Final Fantasy games in rapid succession. You know, kind of like watching all of the extended edition Lord of the Rings DVDs in one sitting, only even more grueling, and with infinitely less hot and more pixellated elves. At the moment, I am something like two-thirds of the way through Final Fantasy IV. It is time to see whether I am the sort who will "get going" and is therefore "tough," because that is exactly how the going has just recently gotten. I played through the first two games in the Game Boy Advance versions, which are substantially less difficult and time-consuming than the NES originals. The third game has never been released in this country so I played it on an emulator. This allowed me to use the "save state" function, making dying a lot less painful and boss battles a whole lot quicker. Technically, this is cheating. But who can blame me? I wasn't terribly interested in spending more than a few days of my life playing a sixteen-year-old NES game with a dodgy, incomplete homebrew translation. And the point of my odyssey isn't to get every treasure and to complete every sidequest. The point is to beat all of the games within a reasonably impressive-sounding window of time. To this end, I'm using walkthroughs to get through all of the games as fast as possible. Normally, I like to play through a game at least once on my own before going through again without outside help, but I have played most of these games before. And if I really had to wander through each village by my lonesome trying to find the exact house in which to find the exact dude who opens up the next section I would go completely insane by the fourth game. Not that I wasn't well on my way there already by deciding to embark on this little adventure.

What is it that makes the Final Fantasy games so compelling? The first game is still playable and a lot of fun even 20 years after its initial release. The second game is even better than the first, with a way less minimalist storyline and a rather broader framework for character customization. The third one is kind of a dud, but every game afterwards from IV (originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1991) through X (PS2, 2001) is a classic save one. FFVIII, the weak link in the chain, is a solid game that only pales in context. That's a pretty excellent track record. It's hard to imagine another major video game franchise that doesn't have an obvious misstep or two along the way. The NES Mega Man games are all terrific except for the first one, which is so difficult as to be unplayable and ugly besides. The original Legend of Zelda, Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, and Wind Waker are all superb, but Adventure of Link and Majora's Mask are lame. I doubt there are many other Metal Gear fans out there who have suffered through the dreadful NES game Snake's Revenge. (And a lot of people, not including me, disliked MGS2.) Resident Evil 3 wasn't so good. Things have gone disastrously wrong for the Sonic the Hedgehog series after it graduated from the Genesis. Over on the PC, strategy games like Civilization and SimCity have gotten more complicated without actually getting any more fun as the sequels have amassed. All of the WarCraft games are pretty good, but there's hardly much point in replaying the first or even the second one now; they've been rendered obsolete. I can't think of another series of more than three or four games that maintains such a consistently high standard of quality as the Final Fantasies do. Particularly since games made the big shift from cartridge to CD. Check the used racks at your local video game dealer for the endless piles of lousy Tomb Raider and Crash Bandicoot sequels. Those franchises got old before you'd even finished the first game.

Final Fantasy, on the other hand, crossed over from being a cult hit on the NES and SNES to an enormous, gargantuan hit on the PlayStation. At a time when a lot of other classic gaming properties were trying to find a way to make a graceful transition to the world of polygons and full-motion video and failing, FF publisher SquareSoft completely seized the moment. When you think about it, a lot of the things that kept the series cultish in the cartridge days allowed for it to get huge on CD-ROM. The gameplay of the first few games is as cerebral as NES titles got. Because the games require very little in terms of processing power -- you walk around on a map and in battle, select your actions from a menu -- they had storage space allowing them to be the longest, deepest, and most involved of their generation. Well, I can only say for a fact that the first one was. The other two NES Final Fantasy games never came out in this country. But the original was epic and challenging and featured a brilliant twist that keeps it replayable to this day. You get to choose your party. You can go fighter, thief, white mage, black mage or fighter, fighter, red mage, white mage, or black belt, black belt, black belt, black belt. Anything you want. The game can play pretty differently (given the era) each time through depending on this choice you make the minute you start a new quest. There are FAQs out there explaining how to get through the entire game with a single red mage. (Of course, there is also an FAQ explaining how to get all the way to the final boss of the Legend of Zelda without ever picking up a sword. Just because these things can be done doesn't mean you should necessarily do them.)

Starting with the second game and blossoming in the fourth and especially the sixth, Square hit upon the idea of rewarding players for their time investment with elaborate storylines. (The first game barely has any story at all, which was part of its unique charm. In 1988 it was perfectly normal to spend 100 hours beating a game that had no characters or story and indeed involved 95% fighting repetitive random enemy encounters to level up your party enough so that they wouldn't get slaughtered in the fiendishly punishing dungeons. Those were simpler times.) All of these various threads combined to make Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997 for the PSone, huger than imaginable. Because the series' established play mechanics were so simple, it was relatively easy to make the maps and characters gorgeous. Nearly every non-RPG game from the PSX/Nintendo 64 era has aged horribly, since the shift from 2D to 3D graphics was such a difficult technical leap. Final Fantasy VII hinted at the sort of look that wouldn't become the norm in games until a whole other hardware generation had passed.

And it sold. An awful SquareSoft fighting game called Tobal No. 1 sold thousands of copies to people who never even played it -- they just bought it so they could get their hands on the twenty-minute-or-so FFVII demo that came bundled in the package. FFVII has been called both the best game ever and the most overrated game ever. In a way, both are true. In retrospect it's not the most fun of the games in the series to play. The magic system is inelegant compared to some others, the characters aren't the best, and the story has not aged well. I would say VI, its immediate Super Nintendo predecessor, is the best game in the series. A lot of true believers would agree with me. It may be more controversial to say that absent the hype and the colossal sales figures the relatively unheralded FFIX is the best of the post-cartridge games. But then again....

The release of Final Fantasy VII was an event. It was the first video game I remember preordering. I still have the shirt I got with my $10 deposit. Expectations were out of control. All of my friends got together when Tobal No. 1 came out and each of us played through the demo one by one. Those summon animations...crazy. (If you have a great memory for these sorts of things, you will recall that the demo contained the first dungeon from the full game only tweaked to include an extra character and those summon spells. Oh, those summons.) When the real game came out, it was a constant race between everyone in my clique to see who could beat it first. There were a lot of phone calls. "Nyah, I finished the first disc!" "Nyah, I got the gold chocobo!" And so on. It was a watershed moment in my high school social life. On weekends we would all gather in someone's basement and everyone would bring their own TV and their own PlayStation (and many power strips). We'd all sit, together alone, each absorbed in his own personal version of the same shared fantasy, occasionally yelling out for boss strategy assistance or snack refills. My mother, who holds a master's degree in education, was fascinated by this behavior. She called it "parallel play." She also said it was something usually observed in 1- and 2-year-olds, not teenagers.

Not to drive the point home too plainly, but my friends in high school and I were geeks. Big geeks. We were the chess team, the bridge team, and the scholastic bowl squad. Our lives revolved around "Star Trek," Dungeons & Dragons, and our video games. It was not at all unusual for us to all geek out en masse over a new game. Sure, the last major example was Final Fantasy VI (which was originally titled "III" in the US, long story) but I also remember getting deeply into a game involving cavorting anthropomorphic unicycles. The point is, our spare time was going to be largely devoted to this hobby anyway. Had it not been Final Fantasy VII, it would have been some other game. But what was different about that game is that everyone was playing it. By which I mean, girls were playing it. For a moment, it looked like the geeks would inherit the earth. My friends and I, having beaten the game into submission, were sought out for our knowledge. That was pretty damn cool. (This happened again in college when the Tolkien movies started coming out. There was a time there when I would go to parties and talk to pretty girls in earnest about the Fall of Númenor. I knew there was a reason I struggled all the way through the Silmarillion in junior high.)

Well, I have a lot more to say on this subject, including some of my criticisms of the whole MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) genre and why I don't consider the Final Fantasy MMORPG, FFXI, to be a true part of the series, but I have really been slacking as far as my questing is concerned these last few days and somebody has to stop the evil Golbez. I still have a lot of Final Fantasy to go and as I update you the reader on my progress, I'll continue my informal history of the series. We haven't even mentioned the disastrous Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within yet. I saw it in the theaters!

Inaugural Address
2006-09-08 03:09
by Mark T.R. Donohue

This is Western Homes. Meet the new site, same as the old site. Well, not so much. Several years ago I had a site where I would write about all of the junk that got sent to me in my job as a college paper arts editor that I couldn't fit into the print edition. Mostly that meant rambling on about many indie rock bands that never made it past their first EP, let alone a proper album. But I also wrote about older stuff, some things that I had just discovered and some that had been my friends and companions for years. Why would anyone care what some callow college kid thought about Television or Big Star? Well, perhaps no one really did. But it has always been my philosophy that any good criticism tells us just as much about the critic as it does the work of art being deconstructed. That's why we have so much loyalty to certain music writers, certain film critics, certain video game sites. We feel that we have a good grasp on what their tastes are. We understand not just upon what we agree, but also and equally as importantly where our tastes differ. I can read a negative Roger Ebert review and come away from it dying to see the film. Pretty much anything Pitchfork likes, I know I am going to hate. I will never approach their pure geek credentials, but when the Penny Arcade guys wax lyrical about a particular video game, I go out and play it.

I don't work for a college paper anymore. That means the gravy train is more or less over. Although I'm striving to make a living as a writer, progress has been less rapid than I might have hoped back when I was chugging away at two paying writing jobs at UC Berkeley. Nowadays I don't get big stacks of free CDs, advance copies of books, and preview screening passes. I do book reviews here and there and some local theater stuff but none of it is the kind of art that got me really excited about being a critic back when I was writing album reviews for the freshman/sophomore newspaper at New Trier High School (Winnetka, IL). The kind of stuff that I would write about even if I wasn't getting paid for it, in short.

That's what this is going to be. I'm going to watch my DVDs, listen to my records, game my games, TiVo stuff, and share my thoughts. Some of it will be new stuff. A lot of it will be old. Whatever will keep me occupied, keep my brain working, and justify the alarming amount of money I have spent over the years on "Complete Season X" DVD sets. Every now and then I might go see a local band, but I'm not promising anything. The music scene in Denver is not good, and I don't have much money. I hardly ever go to concerts these days except when Billboard pays me to, and then I owe them my thoughts so I can't really put them here. I wouldn't worry about it, I have plenty of other things about which to write. Maybe in time, people will want to send me things for free again. That would be sweet. I'm going to put my e-mail address up just in case.

This is the first day and I already have a list of like nine things in my head about which I can't wait to write. Hopefully I will be able to get to all of them before I collapse from exhaustion, other even more exciting ideas supplant them, or even more likely, something good comes on TV. Welcome to Western Homes. If you remember the old site (, good for you. I hope this one lasts even longer, gets me recognized more, and inspires greater and more bitter feuds.

Postscript: I would be most ungracious to not acknowledge the support of the Toaster posse for making the long-discussed possibility of an entertainment-themed spinoff site a reality. Especially Ken Arneson. Ken is so awesome that if he was a TV show, he'd be an instant critical success, get persistently mispromoted and preempted by clueless network execs, get cancelled after 18 episodes, and then emerge several years later as a hugely beloved cult DVD hit.

And yeah, I still have a Colorado Rockies site that seems to keep on rolling no matter how bad the team gets. It's worth a look.