Baseball Toaster Western Homes
Monthly archives: November 2007


Some New-ish TV on DVD to Watch:
2007-11-26 10:16
by Mark T.R. Donohue

On the CW, preempted regularly by "America's Top Model" and promoted with all the gusto NBC gave "Andy Richter, P.I.", the last season of Rob Thomas's teen-sleuth series seemed unnecessary. Difficult to follow during its first and second seasons, the decision to break the third year into three smaller running arcs while continuing to have a fresh mystery introduced and solved every week -- while expanding the presence of independent storylines for some but not all of the supporting characters -- made the series pretty close to impenetrable. It didn't help that storytelling logic forced Kristen Bell's lovable but brittle lead into some really unpleasant behavior, and "Mars" anchors like Keith (Enrico Colantoni) and Wallace (Percy Daggs III) were ill-served by counfusing and out-of-character subplots (Keith) or just completely falling off the map entirely (Wallace).

While seasons one and two of "Veronica" were good on broadcast TV and great on DVD, season three at least becomes watchable. The last handful of desultory stand-alone episodes with which the show passed unlamented into history still insults, but the first two-thirds of the season is still solidly entertaining, particularly now that close viewing can reveal the way that threads in the first arc fed right into second -- for all of his preseason pep about dancing to the new network's tune, Rob Thomas was cheating from day one. Newcomer Chris Lowell brought a lot of energy to the show with his fine performance as sad-sack nice guy Piz, whose doomed-before-it-even-began relationship with Veronica is a lot more fun to watch than the overkill of another go-round with Jason Dohring's monumentally self-pitying Logan Echolls. Although she tends to disappear for three or four episodes at a stretch due to the CW's penny-pinching, Tina Majorino's Mac is always a welcome presence when she shows up, as is Francis Capra's Weevil.

The guest performances are a mixed bag -- the trio of angry feminists who keep popping up are about as uninteresting as the parade of equally stereotyped college guys, from frat boys to legacies to football and basketball players, but Ed Begley Jr.'s loopy Dean O'Dell is a treat (when he catches Veronica breaking into his office to steal files, he simply tells her to go ahead while engaging her in a conversation about boxing) and as the less-hapless-than-he-looks graduate assistant Tim Foyle, the gifted Season Two scene-stealer (in a different role) James Jordan provides Veronica with an unlikely nemesis. There's less star power in the guest roles than in previous seasons. Sadly, Alyson Hannigan's deliciously against-type Tina character never makes it back, and Charisma Carpenter's dangerously sexy Kendall is dispatched in the season premiere (Whedonites should be on the lookout for a brief appearance from "Buffy" Season Five's Charlie Weber, however). Paul Rudd does show up for the one decent episode of the final run, and a subplot in the standout "My Big Fat Greek Rush Week" boasts the unlikely trio of Rider Strong, Samm Levine, and Dan Castellaneta.

As always, "Veronica Mars" is Kristen Bell's show, and she's a tiny powerhouse, confident, flawed, committed to -- or perhaps obsessed by -- justice. Critics have often contrasted "Veronica Mars" with "Buffy" by noting the lead's lack of superpowers, but I disagree -- Veronica's fearlessness is a superpower, the way Bell plays it. By no means should you begin with Season Three if you've never seen a "Veronica Mars" episode (among other reasons, dialogue right in the first episode will spoil the mysteries from the first and second years), but if you tuned out during the CW's harsh mistreatment in its original airing, it's worth giving it another go on DVD. Perhaps the best sell of all is that the DVD unusually allows for a new ending to be tacked on past the first run's rather unsatisfying finale; at no extra charge Thomas has included here his half-hour presentation for a not-to-be fourth season where Veronica is in her first year as an FBI agent. It's a little weird seeing Bell playing the same character with an entirely different cast around her (and the abandonment of the show's trademark anti-noir pink-and-purple lighting schemes), but it's nice that our last memory of the character will be of her blowing away the brass on her first day in the field. No one's freshman year of college is home to many of their proudest memories.

NBC: All This and Al Gore, Too
2007-11-10 16:58
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The title is a little bit of a reach. Really, the network that brought us must-see TV is as weak as a kitten right now -- the CW now has more shows that I TiVo. But... the two shows on NBC that I watch might be my favorite drama and my favorite comedy on the air right now.

I have been meaning to address the second season of "Heroes" for a while now. I'm glad that I didn't. I probably would have jumped the gun on declaring the show's magic to have dissipated, but just as "Heroes" has always operated like "Lost" 2.0, they were able to get past their inevitable post-hype slack period much more rapidly. The first several episodes of the new season were troubled by a way-too-overt theme (family units) that was already one of the major ideas of the series without its having to be forced down our throats, and the many new characters introduced suffered from a not-as-fun-the-second-time effect. But a show that packs every episode with multiple unrelated storylines is always going to suffer slow starts at the beginning of seasons. The first three-quarters of the Hiro/Kensei, Sylar/Guatemalan twins, Mohinder/Parkman/Bob, and especially Claire/West (I hate that guy for stealing my name, by the way, and c'mon, a bowl haircut? It's 2007) storylines were all pretty predictable. But now that we're entering the fourth quarter, and that the show is finally bringing the heroes together into groups larger than three or four, momentum seems to have been restored. I still wish that they'd found a more original way to introduce the big mystery of the season; having Peter teleport to an empty New York was pretty freaking similar to the first season's Hiro teleporting to an exploded New York. Why can't evil ever target Chicago or Kansas City?

It snuck up on me, but I kept watching it, and then I watched the reruns all summer, and now I'm saving the new episodes to watch more than once -- "30 Rock" is a hysterical show. I personally have an odd relationship with it, but not a dynamic that's unfamiliar. "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is my favorite show ever. I love that show. I have action figures. And yet I loathe the lead, Sarah Michelle Gellar. She's always bugged me, in everything else she's been in and from what I've heard about her real-life personality (she declined to sign an extension for an eighth season of "Buffy," in effect canceling the show, and jetted off for a vacation with Freddie Prinze, Jr. without telling any of the people she'd been working with for seven years that they were all out of a job). She bugs me. I don't particularly like Buffy the character, either; I just love everybody else on the show in general and Alyson Hannigan, Anthony Stewart Head, and Joss Whedon's dialogue in particular.

So "30 Rock" is weirder still because while Tina Fey's onscreen persona really rubs me wrong (she's supposed to be a plain jane and yet she appears in cleavage-baring, fashionista outfits practically in every single episode) clearly I love her writing, because I find the rest of the cast and the plotting on the show to be wonderfully funny. Fey's skill as a comedy writer has been put to the test this season as NBC has foisted a steady stream of celebrity guest stars on her ensemble show, and unlike, say, "Arrested Development," "30 Rock" has only gotten funnier as people like Jerry Seinfeld, Vice President Gore, and David Schwimmer have wandered through. Tracy Morgan is a born sitcom actor, Alec Baldwin continues to kick ass and take names, and Fey has found a better balance for the supporting cast than in the first season, where she tended to overplay whomever was on a hot streak until they just weren't funny anymore (although I would have trouble cutting Jack McBrayer's lines too). I like this show a lot and I don't know why more of the cult that has formed around the American "Office" (which I admire very much, but just isn't for me) hasn't become accustomed to switching the set on a half-hour earlier.

You'll Only Have to Sell 2,000 Audio Greeting Cards to Get One
2007-11-06 00:31
by Mark T.R. Donohue

"Flight of the Conchords" comes out on DVD today and, interestingly, HBO has decided not to employ its usual predatory pricing scale ($35 for half-seasons of "Entourage," $70 and up for 12-episode seasons of "The Sopranos" and "Deadwood"). For only twenty dollars (US) you can watch that sequence where Dave teaches Bret and Jemaine how to give people the finger over and over and over again. And also I presume there will be special features.

The Writers Are Striking...
2007-11-02 14:31
by Mark T.R. Donohue

...but I'm not. New Western Homes content, just as soon as I actually have time to watch some scripted television.

In the meantime, it's been an interesting few weeks for the music business, hasn't it? Madonna left her label to sign with a tour promoter, Radiohead left their label to sign with... nobody, and a lot of midlevel people in the "industry" are starting to feel like their jobs are in danger. If the established model of distribution for music were to completely fall apart, would artists suffer? I contend that they would not. Like many, I elected to pay quite a lot more than the price of a single CD for the download of Radiohead's In Rainbows last week. I doubt there are enough groups -- or really any other groups -- with the sort of colossal cred Radiohead has earned to make this business model the norm, but let me give you a smaller and perhaps more relevant example.

I recently got a turntable hooked back up in my apartment after years doing without one. Immediately I was reminded of the difference -- especially with an even halfway-decent hi-fi, vinyl records just sound better than CD's or mp3's -- they just do. There might be a physical reason for it or it might be more metaphysical, an article-of-faith sort of thing. So I've been really enjoying myself cruising record stores in Boulder, Denver, and Chicago trying to find copies of the best records of the last couple of years -- The Strokes' Room on Fire, Radiohead's Kid A, Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, the Decemberists' Picaresque -- that I have already listened to many times in digital formats and now wish to enjoy in pristine vinyl fidelity.

It may come as a surprise to some people that vinyl editions of brand new recordings are still made. They have, as a matter of fact, been persistently available for the sort of people who seek those things out through the entire cassette, CD, minidisc, and iTunes eras. Spoon's heavily Motown-themed Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, which came out this spring, really needs to be heard on an LP -- and it comes with a coupon to download the whole album online. Shake the double gatefold to the 180-gram Sky Blue Sky and a free copy of the CD falls right out on the floor.

The point is, true music snobs have ignored and will ignore the iPod in the same manner as they spurned the CD. And for people in the middle, like me, a renewed appreciation for the turntable leads to a much more ethical attitude towards acquiring new music. Will I still download stuff in big chunks? Yes, I will. I am too poor and too music-hungry not to do so. But when something I've downloaded and listened to hundreds of times -- like those Spoon and Wilco records -- really sticks in my mind as worthwhile I'll probably go and get the LP to get the record-nerd "complete experience." Meaning that rather than paying up front for a CD with a bunch of tracks I don't care for, I'm only paying for the albums that I know from experience are exceptional. This extends to buying concert tickets for bands I have come to admire from prolonged exposure to their recordings.

So bands that make the best records and put on a superior live experience will continue to make a living. Maybe fewer people will get disgustingly rich, but on the whole I think that's not such a bad thing. And no matter what happens, I still have my audiophile reissue of Big Star's Radio City and there's not much anyone can do to take that away from me, short of cutting off my electricity. And if they do that I'll get a hand-crank turntable.