Monday, September 30, 2013

Full-Time Teenager

Happy birthday, Frankie Lymon.  He's best known as the lead singer in early rock and roll hits with his group the Teenagers.  Frankie himself lived beyond his teen years, but not much--he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 25.


A fairly muted but solid ending to Breaking Bad. In "Felina" Vince Gilligan takes pity on his characters and allows them a bit of redemption.  In a way, it's cheap--it might have been more honest to have just about everyone die or be completely miserable, but I guess we've seen enough of that.  And this show deserved a no-nonsense ending with definite closure, and this was it.

We pick up where we left off, with Walt on the run in New Hampshire, breaking into a snow-covered car and trying to hotwire it.  The cops drive by, not bothering to look at a car not being used.  A Marty Robbins tape is in the glove compartment, and when Walt finds the keys (on the visor--people are very trusting in the Granite State) and starts the car, we get to hear a bit of Robbin's #1 hit "El Paso":

I saddled up and away I did go,
Riding alone in the dark.
Maybe tomorrow
A bullet may find me.
Tonight nothing's worse than this
Pain in my heart.

The song is about a girl named Felina, but we all know the title is an anagram for Finale (and three chemical elements in a row).

After the commercial, Walt is already in the Southwest.  He's driven a couple thousand miles and has work to do.  He fills up the car and makes a call on a payphone pretending to be with The New York Times. How else can you get the attention of one-percenters like Elliott and Gretchen? (Of course, Walt has picked up his ten million before he left, so he's a one-percenter too.) Their assistant gives up their address. Is he gunning for them? I figured he'd leave them alone and go after Uncle Jack.

He lies in wait as they return home to their expensive digs. They're shocked, needless to say. Here are three old friends, and one has gone crazy and become a wanted meth kingpin. But hey, he built his own empire and showed them.

Turns out he's not there to off them, but has an ingenious plan.  Walt's had a long trip to ABQ and thus plenty of time to figure out how it all works. With E and G's help, they carry in most of Walt's money. He has them promise to give it to Junior in an irrevocable trust when he turns 18.  Just Junior? Doesn't Holly get a taste? What about Skyler, or is she gonna be in prison? And some hazard pay for Marie?  I guess he wants it for his namesake, especially since his son told him he just wants him to die.  And two rich people doing it as a beau gests is buyable, whereas any other way would be stopped by the cops (or turned down by his angry family).  Anyway, Saul is gone, and he usually does this dirty business, so Walt's gotta improvise.

We know the Schwartz's can't be trusted to carry out the plan once Walt is dead, which will be soon, presumably. So he's hired a couple sharpshooters, who are just outside, to kill them if they don't perform in the future.  Walt exits and before driving away picks up Badger and Skinny Pete. Good to see these guys before the show is over.  Not only were they helpful pretending to be aiming guns at Elliott and Gretchen, but they're still living the simple life of Season One.  True, they've seen some violence and death, but they'd still just as soon hang out, get high and talk crap all day.  If Walt had all his money maybe he could lay a few million on them, but he hands over what looks like ten thousand to each, which is the best payday they've seen in a while. Pete can get some nice keyboards and Badger can finally get the Babylon 5 box set.

The guys know the blue stuff is still out there, and they figured it was Heisenberg, but this tells Walt that Jesse is still cooking.  So the Nazis kept him alive.  He's still got to kill him.

At the meth lab, Jesse is daydreaming about woodworking (Vince Gilligan promised there'd be woodworking in the finale). Jesse has talked in the past about making a beautiful wooden box in shop class, and dreamed about being a craftsman. He has become a craftsman, but it's at methmaking, which he's still doing, chained up, when he awakens.

We quickly go through Walt's moment at Denny's picking up the gun and at his house picking up the ricin for those fans who haven't been paying attention. (And it shows he stopped by Elliott and Greatchen's place first, in case you were wondering). He has a flashback within this flashback to a flashforward--he remembers what things were like in the house just before he went on that DEA ride-along that changed everything.

At The Grove, Lydia's favorite spot, she has her weekly meeting with Todd, and who should drop in but Heisenberg.  Another big moment. Cautious Lydia is probably thinking here's a wanted man who'll mess up her business so he needs to be dead, while Todd is probably thinking two's company, three's a crowd.  Walt has a cock and bull story about meeting Uncle Jack at the compound tonight to show him a new method of cooking. We know he just wants to drop by for a little slaughter of the men who took his money and killed his brother-in-law. After he leaves, Todd and Lydia just shake their heads.   Poor guy, he's gotta go.  Lydia puts Stevia in her tea, like always, and we realize it's ricin. Who's got Lydia in the pool? (Actually, I'd guess she was the favorite.)

Out in the empty desert, Walt is working on some sort of remote-control device that is no doubt designed to kill a lot of Aryans, and maybe Jesse.  Good old Heisenberg, never out of ideas.  I can see why they wanted him at Grey Matter.

Around this time we're wondering why no one's looking for Walt.  He may seem different with all that hair, but come on.  Turns out they are on the lookout.  Marie calls Skyler--all is forgiven, or as much as possible. She's lost everything, but still has her sister, so maybe there's hope. Marie tells Skyler Walt is in town, even been spotted, so watch out. But when Skyler hangs up, we know she doesn't need to look out, since Walt has already sneaked into Skyler's new place.

He's got something for her. Not money, which she won't accept anyway, but the lottery ticket with the GPS coordinates which will show the cops where Hank and Gomez are buried--killed by the Nazis, Walt explains.  It's only right they get a proper funeral and their families get closure--and now Skyler can use the info as leverage in any deal she needs to make.  Skyler mentions how Todd's crew (not that she knows Todd) dropped by and threatened her and Holly--as if Walt needs another reason to kill that gang.

Then he tells Skyler everything he's done was for...himself.  Walt is at the end--of his adventure and his life--and it's helped bring about clarity. He can finally admit he enjoyed doing something well, making money, having power, getting respect and all that.  She's thrilled to finally hear the truth, but I actually think he's lying a bit.  Yeah, he did love it, and did it far beyond what reason or his familiy demanded. But he still cares about his family and his plan with E and G shows what he's still thinking about.

Skyler let's him see Holly one last time.  He leaves, and then watches nearby as his son returns home from school.  It's sad.  We're watching this episode, knowing this is the last time we'll see all these characters, and the same goes for Walt.

Night and Walt drives his car/machine-of-destruction into the Compound.  He could park right up to the clubhouse, but pulls in the opposite direction so his trunk is nearer. Odd.  He gets out and is patted down.  No guns, no wire, no big deal. But they take his car keys, which are rigged to set off his invention.

He talks to the Nazis but they just want to kill him. They don't need new plans to cook meth, they're doing fine, and Lydia sure wants him gone. (I'm not even sure if I recall what beef Walt has with Lydia, but I guess he can't keep her alive, since she's the type who kills loose ends, which would include not just Walt but his family.)

So no deal, but let's cap him in the head.  Walt says wait, you've didn't kill Jesse like you were supposed to, you made him a partner.  This raises Jack's hackles--they may be Nazis, but they wouldn't partner up with a fink. So they bring in Jesse and show his miserable condition.  Meanwhile, Walt has inched toward the pool table and picked up the keys there.

Walt sees Jesse and does a Searchers on him (as Vince Gilligan has admitted). He's wanted him dead for a while, but this guy's already been through months of living death, and Walt remembers old times and wants to save him.  So he attacks him, driving him to the ground. They roll around and Todd tries to break it up.  At this point, Walt starts the remote-control machine gun in the trunk that kills everyone who's standing (not lying).

When the dust clears, Todd peeks out the window as Jesse sneaks up from behind and, in the kind of poetic justice you find in action movies, chokes Todd to death with his chains. (Early in the series Walt choked a bad guy to death, and now it's Jesse's turn.) Jack is still alive, though hurt, and says you need me to find the rest of your money, but, in another action movie move, Walt just shoots him dead. (If Uncle Jack had acted so decisively, Walt would be dead now.)

So it's just Walt and Jesse.  Walt slides his gun over to Jesse.  He wants to die.  But this isn't Gale Boetticher time--Jesse's already said he won't do whatever Walt tells him to do.  Doesn't really matter much, as Walt is bleeding out.

One more thing.  Lydia calls Todd (Todd's got a "Lydia The Tattooed Lady" ring tone) and Walt answers.  It almost wasn't necessary, but it's a chance for Walt to tell her he killed everyone and just in case you're wondering, I gave you ricin and you'll be dead tomorrow.  I felt sort of sorry for Lydia, but it reminds you that there's no such thing as a safe investment.

So Jesse takes the car and rides off.  He's deliriously happy after spending most of the last two seasons in a funk, but being freed from slavery will do that to a guy. Anyway, he's suffered more than anyone else so let's give him a (relatively) happy ending. Where will he go? Alaska? How will he make money? Woodworking? (He can always falls back on cooking meth, since he's the best in the world.) I'm guessing he won't be seeing Badger or Skinny Pete again, but certainly there's a Brock in his future.

Walt looks at the nice lab, all set up according to the way he likes it.  He lies on the floor, dying, as the cops show up to form their own conclusions, and Badfinger's "Baby Blue" plays.

Guess I got what I deserved
Kept you waiting there too long, my love
All that time without a word
Didn't know you'd think that I'd forget or I'd regret
The special love I had for you, my baby blue

So Walt did what he had to do, and his family will be okay (or at least not dead), as will Jesse.  A little sappy, but honestly arrived at.

Over the years this show has had a lot of high spirits, even within its darkness, but this episode, where we understood it was all over, was a bit more somber.  But we got closure, and it didn't embarrass itself.  The show deserves all the accolades it's gotten.  It sometimes went in unexpected directions, but it never played its fans wrong.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Coming To A Bad End

I'll be watching the Breaking Bad finale tonight, along with millions of others.  But I'll also know as I'm doing it that quite a few people are watching it outdoors on a huge screen with the BB cast at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is one mile from where I live.

The cemetery has regular screenings of classic Hollywood movies, and Breaking Bad features plenty of corpses, so it seems like a reasonable place to watch.  They'll actually start at 8 pm and show the pilot before getting to the finale.

The tickets sold out immediately, but maybe I can walk over just to watch everyone arriving.  That should give me enough time to get back. Best of all will be seeing Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul and a couple of lucky fans driving in on the meth-cooking RV.

PS  Perhaps you've seen this fun betting sheet for the finale--every major character is listed, from Walt to Lydia to Holly to the Vacuum Repair Guy--and you get to guess who lives and who dies, not to mention who kills 'em. The tiebreaker?  Who dies by ricin.

I'd make my guesses right now, but since we're going to find out the answer so soon, and since I'd be so far off, I'd just as soon wait.

Anyway, I'm off to the cemetery to see how things are going.  If I have the time tonight I'll discuss "Felina" but if not I'll certainly get around to it some time this week. (A bunch of shows premiere tonight, but if I get to them it might take me a while.)

The Early Days Of Punk

Happy brithday, Jerry Lee Lewis, one of the true wild rockers.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Battle Of The Network Stars

It's sort of sad when former movie stars who started in TV have to return to TV*. (Only sort of sad--most people wish they could fail at that level.)  And it's sort of strange that two such names competed against each other with their own new sitcoms last Thursday night.

But that's what happened with Robin William's The Crazy Ones and Michael J. Fox's easier-to-remember The Michael J. Fox Show.  Williams easily won in the ratings derby--no surprise, since his show followed the top-rated comedy on TV while Fox is part of the underperforming NBC schedule--but is either show any good?

Well, no.  But is there hope?  Well, maybe, but probably no.

The Michael J. Fox Show has to deal with the lead's Parkinson's, of course, so he plays a former newscaster who left the air a few years back due to his illness to spend time with his family.  Now he's returning to the air. (This allows for cameos from people like Matt Lauer.)

The show is one-camera and done as yet another faux documentary, a form that just won't die.  Fox is at the center, which allows those on the periphery to be as wacky or stable as necessary.  Fox himself, of course, isn't the same performer he once was, but I think he could still make it work if he were given a better script.

His wife is played by Betsy Brandt, who along with Breaking Bad castmate Dean Norris is starring in a new show before her old one is off the air.  The cast also features fine actors like Wendell Pierce and Katie Finneran.  The whole thing is set in New York, and the characters seem to be having a wild time, but not the audience.

I like The Crazy Ones a bit more, but not much.  There are actually three big names attached.  In addition to Robin Williams, there's Buffy herself, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and the creator is one of the most successful producers in television, David E. Kelley.

In a part inspired by advertising legend John Montgomery, Williams is Simon Roberts, who can sell anything to anyone, but has been through a lot, including marriage and rehab.  His daughter, played by Gellar, is now the other "Roberts" on the door--she may not have her fathers quicksilver talent, but she gets the job done.  Several other actors fill out the agency's roster, including James Wolk, recently seen as creepy Bob Benson on Mad Men.

The pilot has the agency threatened with losing their big account, McDonald's--like Mad Men, real brand names are used--until fast-talking and thinking Williams convinces the company to give the agency one more shot. He's going to get the voice of today to sing the old "You deserve a break today" jingle.

And who's this name?  Kelly Clarkson, who makes a guest appearance (and for some reason is more unsettling than seeing Williams back on TV).  After some doing they convince her to work with them and everything is peachy.  It's hard to say where The Crazy Ones (title from a 1997 Apple ad) will go, but presumably each week on this single-camera show they'll be fighting over one account or another. (The Crazy Ones--"Bewitched without the magic!")

Williams isn't bad, but we've seen his shtick before and it's a bit tired, as is Williams.  Gellar so far is mostly playing the uptight one next to her freewheeling father, and the rest haven't quite formed their characters.  So the show's not there yet, and we don't know how Williams will wear this time around.  But it might be worth watching if it develops, and if it gets to keep following The Big Bang Theory it might be around for a while.

*Actually, Michael J. Fox returned to TV years ago when he starred in Spin City, which he starred in for four years before leaving because of Parkinson's disease.  His new sitcom could be seen more as a triumphant return, but I was going for a cheap parallel.

Stop The Hate

As readers of the blog may know, I oppose hate crime laws because I don't believe you should have extra time put on your sentence due to the fact you held unpopular political beliefs while you committed your crime.  But even if I agreed in principle with the concept, I think I'd still oppose such laws since they would be administered politically, not consistently.

Even what's considered a hate crime and what isn't is essentially an impossible categorization to do fairly.  Many, probably most, violent crimes are borne out of hatred, so how can you decide which hate is acceptable and which isn't?  Case in point, the recent trial of Floyd Corkins, who was convicted of a violent attack, but didn't commit a hate crime.  (He was convicted of committing a terrorist act, which is a different argument.) He shot an unarmed security guard at the Family Research Council before that same guard subdued him, but was ready to do quite a bit more.

There's no question he was motivated by his politcal hatred of the group--he said so. (He was also mentally ill, as many who decide to shoot up places are.) Just before shooting the guard he announced at the group's front door "I don't like your politics" and after being subdued told the guard "I don't like these people and I don't like what they stand for."

Corkins volunteered at a gay community center and had grown to hate organizations he thought were anti-gay, includng the Family Research Council and Chick-fil-A.  In fact, he had in his backpack fifteen Chick-fil-A sandwiches, planning to shove them in the faces of his victims to make a statement.  He also had a list of three other conservative organizations he was planning to get to.

I'm not saying he should get extra years for targeting a group of people he hated, I'm just saying if he doesn't, why should anyone else.

PS  The judge apparently made a remarkable statement during sentencing:

You are not alone in criticizing those who oppose gay rights, but a man killing opponents does not change the opponents’ minds. It does not open their hearts. It does not bring about gay rights. If anything, it makes opponents more entrenched. If anything, it feeds whatever moral arsenal they perceive to fight against gay rights. Many indications show the opponents losing favor, but it has not been because of anyone killing them.

When a president thoughtfully spoke up, it shook loose many of the entrenched opponents in his faith community. When some women and men highly revered in America chose to come out, that added far more support for gay rights than murder ever will. That’s how we affect positive change in this country, not by shootings.

So essentially he's saying he's down with Floyd Corkins, he just doesn't like his tactics.  Presumably, if these tactics worked the judge might change his mind.

He's also giving political analysis of the gay rights situation (and questionable analysis at that) that would be fine in a newspaper editorial but has no place in a courtroom.  A judge should know better.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Shakespeare On Bass

Today, I have it on good authority, is the 60th birthday of Robbie Shakespeare, one half of Sly and Robbie, the great rhythm section that produced so many memorable musical moments, by themselves and with others, reggae and otherwise.

(Also known as the "Independent Anniversary Ska.")

(Yes, it's "Breezin'," but they did plenty of original stuff, honest.)

What Did They Know And When Did They Know It?

An interesting document has turned up on the interweb: the 27-page pitch for Lost.  It's May, 2004, and at this point, the pilot had been shot and just getting that massive amount of work done in a short time had almost destroyed J.J. Abrams and Damon Lindelof.  But now they had to explain to ABC just how the premise--a group of survivors from a plane crash stuck on a mysterious island with some sort of monster--could play as a weekly show. (I believe this was the end of J.J.'s involvement in the show. Lindelof would take over and bring aboard Carlton Cuse to help run it.)

They admit there'll be trial and error, and the first season would spend a lot of time finding what the show is actually about.  But here's their blueprint.

They say Lost will be many shows in one--a medical show, a cop show, a lawyer show, a character drama--and I think, especially with the flashbacks, they called it right.  But there was still an overarching concept, the mystery of the island and the fates of the Losties, and it was the ultimate job of Lost--even if they didn't understand it yet (some might say never did)--to serve that.

They say the show will have elements of the fantastic, but grounded in reality, and sometimes it'd be fully realistic.  I think they tried this with the first season--probably because they knew that's what ABC wanted--but moved further and further toward the fantastic as the show went along.

They promised, even with the overarching concepts and the character arcs, that each episode would be self-contained.  I think they generally stuck to this, but the mythology was never so "easy to follow," as they promised.  I suppose they put this in not only because they believed it, but also to reassure the suits--shows with huge arcs weren't so common on network TV a decade ago.  Executives were frightened (especially in the days before widespread DVDs and Netflix and On Demand and so on) that if you couldn't drop in on any episode and understand what was going on, you'd simply lose fans as you went along without adding any.

They promise in the first season it'd be about the day-to-day struggle of the Lostaways, and they got this right.  They predict the first season would take place over about forty days, and that's pretty close to how it worked.

As to the mysteries of the Island, they had some ideas, but they were fuzzy.  They knew there'd be bunkers, and the castaways would discover them, also discovering that they go further and further back in history.  There would also be at some time a corporate think tank/military contractor building on the Island and doing cutting edge experiments.  This is essentially correct, though we're now talking about the Dharma Initiative, which was sort of hippie-dippy and sort of not, and which also was there in opposition to the "natives."

They also claim there's no "ultimate mystery" to explain, feeling this is a rabbit hole down which they don't wish to go.  They were wrong about this.  As the mythology got more complex, the mystery that would "explain" the Island was foremost on viewers' minds.  They were forced to give an ultimate explanation, one which didn't satisfy many.

As for the Monster, they have vague ideas--it's man-made and has rules and is some sort of an elaborate security system.  They hinted about this in the first couple seasons, but then decided on a very different explanation that's hard to square with their original ideas.  They do know, however, that the Monster is related to others on the Island, opponents of the crash victims, who'd make themselves known in the first season.

There were 47 survivors but only 13 regular characters, so what to do with the rest?  By the third or fourth episode, they were to start disappearing mysteriously, perhaps returning at a later date with half-remembered stories.  This didn't quite happen. Instead, the rest of the characters were mostly in the background and used as cannon fodder.  Meanwhile, new survivors would be introduced in the second season--though most of them would be killed as well.

For practical reasons, Abrams and Lindeloff recognized it would be good to have regular, standing sets to shoot a lot of scenes, rather than have everything done outside.  So, they figured, in the first season the Losties would have to relocate, near where there's food and fresh water.  This became a huge deal in the first season, but in the wider story simply didn't matter, and was essentially dropped as a plot point (or even as a set, I think).

How to service 13 regulars in an hourly show?  They figure Jack and Kate will be front and center, while each hour, with its self-contained story, will be focused on three or four others.  Interestingly, they don't seem to have hit upon the flashback concept yet, which was central to the show and made it different from anything else.  They also recognize some characters will be more popular than others, so they can concentrate on them (and, though it's not explicitly stated, kill off the ones who aren't working).

They go into a paragraph for each character, much of which points toward the flashbacks we'd see.  But some ideas never made it onto the show.  Boone suffers from schizophrenia?  Shannon falls for Sawyer?  Hurley a repo man (and not a lottery winner)? And they don't seem to know Locke was paralyzed before the Island cured him, or Walt has magical powers.

They also come up with 33 potential storylines, most generally realistic, and most of which were ignored.  A few were followed, and at least one would blossom into quite a lot--the Losties find a mysterious Hatch.

This is how TV pitches are, even after the pilot is shot.  No matter how much you plan, the show, the actors, the viewers, often tell you what direction you need to go in.  As far as the mythology, Lindelof and soon Cuse were so busy just creating hourlong stories that I'm not sure they had too much time to prepare for the long-range.  They couldn't even be sure, after all, that Lost would last more than one season.  But eventually, before the second season started, they had time to work out a lot more regarding the Island's mythology.  And by season three, when they got ABC to agree to end the show at a certain point, they could even decide specifically how things would go.  But this early, it's often catch as catch can.

PS  Someone asked Damon Lindelof about the pitch, and he explains its main purpose was to show new president of ABC Steve McPherson that this show could work as a weekly series.  They were especially interested in distancing it from J.J.'s previous show, Alias, which was serialized and was genre and had a big mystery behind it.

Once the show started and real writers had to come up with real episodes, they soon realized they had to do it their way and could ignore the pitch.  I'm sure it helped that the show was a huge hit from the start (and was shot far away from Los Angeles or New York) so ABC would give them the freedom to find their way.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Family Funnies

One of the first TV sitcoms ever was The Goldbergs, a radio hit that transferred to the boob tube in 1949.  I guess ABC figures that was long enough ago that they can try the title again. This time the subject is a bit different.  Sure, it's another family named the Goldbergs, but this is a nostalgic look back at the wacky 1980s. (It's kind of frightening to realize the 80s are further back now than the 60s were when The Wonder Years debuted.)

It's a one-camera show, but also a one-video show, as some of the footage was allegedly shot by the youngest son, narrated in the present by Patton Oswalt.  The leads are all Goldbergs. There's the dad (Jeff Garlin), big and loud, the mother (Wendi McLendon-Covey), who's really in charge, the granddad (George Segal), who tries to be hip but is out of it, and the three kids, oldest sister Erica, middle brother Barry and the youngest, Adam.  Adam Goldberg also happens to be the name of the show's creator, and The Goldbergs, as you might guess, is based on his life.

The show wants to be both funny and warm, and in the pilot was sort of both, but not quite enough of either.  We've seen this kind of family fun before, but done better.  If it moves in the right direction, however, it just might get where it needs to be.

Following The Goldbergs on ABC's Tuesday night is Trophy Wife, also a one-camera, narrated sitcom.  It's about a good-hearted party girl (Malin Akerman) who marries an older man and has to deal with his two ex-wives and kids.  All sorts of wild things happen, and there are talented actors like Bradley Whitford and Marcia Gay Harden here, but, in the pilot at least, things are more crazy than funny.

I'm not sure how it happened, but ABC, with Modern Family and The Middle and even shows like The Neighbors, has become the go-to network for family sitcoms.  Here are two more.  They're not ready to join the big leagues yet, but let's see what develops.

Good Ferry

Happy birthday, Bryan Ferry.  He was the founder, lead singer and main songwriter of Roxy Music, as well as a reasonably successful solo artist.  He was huge in England, but he's done okay in America too.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I Hate Jargon (Doesn't everyone?)

In my inbox today, I received the following article from my alma mater- "Practicing Wisdom by Mindfulness  "  produced by no less than the "Wisdom Research" center.   I took  a  quick glance and  the article doesn't seem bad, but the title set me off.  Why is this?   I think its an inherent hatred for specialized language or jargon.  "Wisdom" is a fine word and "mindfulness" though a bit awkward is OK too  but imposing an artificial usage  on them full of, I presume, smarmy academic knowingness, made me want to punch the author in the nose (metaphorically only, as I'm sure Mr. Williams is a very wise and mindful gentleman and an editor could have picked the headline).

Its not just academia and not just me- my brother recently came to visit and while waiting for something else, we were in line at a hotel Starbucks in a line behind 5 or 6 budding young career women (there was a conference going on for them).   After about 2 minutes of listening to a variety of specialty orders, he sort of lost it and had to walk away.   After I got my "venti unsweetened black iced tea" (luckily he missed that- but in my defense, you have to say all that or else get 3 separate questions from the "barista" [grrr]), I caught up with him.  He was still muttering "What's wrong with just coffee, goddammit?"

I had the same feeling early in my career (oops almost said "back in the day") when business jargon used to find its way into discussions- "Proactive"  "Synergies" "Granular" (instead of "nitty-gritty")  and even "cut to the chase"  and "push the envelope" are a few quick memories of what used to set my teeth on edge.  Also the current usage of "goal" "impact" and "mission".  Also "SCOTUS"  (sounds like a variety of crotch rot).and all that rhymes with it. 

On the other hand though, I get a charge out of using jargon for other than its intended purpose-especially if it is uttered in deep tones of seriousness. Really, everyone, except the military, should try to work "target rich environment" into their discourse everyday. 

I know these jargon words are serviceable and perform a function and apparently most everyone understands them so why does it bug me?  Is it a genetic thing?  I think because it smacks of subconsciously feeling that someone is trying to force an artificial meaning on me- sort of big brother-y.    There is probably academic literature on this but I probably couldn't stand to read it. 


Happy birthday, Dmitri Shostakovich--a lot of fun for a serious 20th century composer.

He's Got A Lengthy List

I watched The Blacklist, NBC's highly-touted crime thriller.  The debut rated well.  Now the question is will viewers stick around. I can only speak for myself, and I'm wavering.

The concept is mostly Silence Of The Lambs, with a little Person Of Interest thrown in.  James Spader is Raymond "Red" Reddington--a criminal mastermind who acts a lot like James Spader--who walks into the FBI HQ and surrenders himself.  But don't let this worry you. As a mastermind, he can do whatever he wants, including escape whenever he wants, so surrendering doesn't really cramp his style.

The point is he promises to help the agency track down the worst terrorists and criminals in the world--shouldn't he be working with the CIA then?--but he'll only talk to profiler Elizabeth Keen (played passably by Megan Boone). Keen is a newleywed strongly devoted to her family, and also just starting out in the Bureau, so the already-confused authorities don't get Reddington's request.  It's never fully explained, because it's a mystery the show is saving for later (though most people speculate he's actually her father).

The pilot, jam-packed with action, is nothing but secrets and twists.  Reddington has deep dark secrets he's not telling.  Keen has deep dark secrets she's not telling. It even turns out her milquetoast husband has deep dark secrets he's not telling.

Meanwhile, though she's a tyro, Elizabeth walks around like she owns the place.  Reddington tells her a terrorist is in town who's going to kidnap a general's daughter, and for some reason the whole Bureau not only accepts it when she says he's telling the truth, but Keen the Profiler is allowed to go protect the kid.  Which the terrorist expected and, using major firepower in the middle of town, takes the kid anyway as the useless FBI help watches.

Next thing you know she walks right into the room where Reddington is being held and without so much as a how do you do stabs this very important prisoner in the neck.  Later, after committing this felony, she's allowed to walk alone into his hospital room--to talk to him one hopes, or maybe just stab him again.  Except he's gone, because there's no reason when you've got a criminal mastermind in a hospital to worry about his escaping through the window.

By the end, the general's daughter is saved through the machinations of Reddington and Keen and some pretty helpful clues, but not before the entire FBI is befuddled and Keen's husband is attacked.  Reddington once again allows himself to be picked up so the series can continue.  Apparently each week he'll give out information about a new criminal who, with the help of Keen, will be stopped just before he strikes.  Also, presumably, as the series continues, more of the shady past will be unveiled.

I guess The Blacklist has the potential to be fun, but I'm not the biggest fan of procedurals, and I'm not sure if I want to see more of this week in week out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Thousand Voices Silenced

Phil Hartman would have turned 65 today, if he hadn't been murdered by his wife 15 years ago.  Some SNL performers are stars, who shine through no matter what parts they play--John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Mike Myers.  Others, just as valuable, are utility players who are as funny as anyone but hide behind their roles--Dan Aykroyd, Bill Hader.  Hartman belonged to the latter group, and no one played it as real as he did, which made his stuff that much funnier.

PS  All the videos I embedded seem to have disappeared.  I knew SNL was protective but this is overdoing it.  So you can take my word for it or Google stuff like "The Sinatra Group," "Let's Fix Robots," "The Guy Who Plays Mr. Belvedere Fan Club" and whatever else strikes your fancy.

The Darkest Timeline

Things keep getting worse on Breaking Bad, but we already knew that.  This week's episode, "Granite State," reminds us the entire show is a long fuse and in this last season we're finally seeing everything blow up.

The hour (plus) starts with Saul taking up that offer to disappear that he told his clients about.  We finally meet the magician--I figured he'd be a shadowy character, but it's a fairly pleasant and open guy played by Robert Forster.  Saul's move surprised me, as much as or maybe more than Jesse cooperating with the DEA.  He's been in big trouble before--the first time he dealt with Jesse and Walt they took him out in the desert and put a gun to his head. Why leave now?  He's always been breaking the law.  And during that fight with Gus and Mike he had plenty to fear, but he kept at it.  Is it that fact that he's now closely tied to a guy suspected of killing to DEA agents, so they won't let him alone?  What have they got on him?  For that matter, how can he hide?  He's famous in ABQ, if not Nebraska, but if he's any sort of witness or wanted men the feds won't let him go.  Is he scared of the Aryans?  Why?  Is he scared of Huell going missing?  I just don't get why he's on the lam, except they needed him for a scene to talk to Walt, who's still waiting to take off.

Now we see Marie, being driven back home.  Sure, she's been an annoying character, but I feel more sorry for her than any other character right now.  As opposed to Hank and Skyler, she had nothing to do with Walt's activities, and now her husband is dead.  Once she gets to her place the authorities see it's been ransacked. The neo-Nazis knew Jesse cooperated, so they looked around and got anything incriminating, especially the confession tape.

Which they watch at their compound.  There's Jesse onscreen telling about Todd killing Drew Sharp.  Todd didn't tell this part of the story earlier when he was talking to Uncle Jack, but he seems almost proud of what he did.  Certainly his Aryan brothers don't care.  About Todd.  They want to go kill Jesse, though.  But Todd wants to keep him alive.  Uncle Jack--who, if he weren't a scummy racist murderer would be a good guy to have on your side--figures out it's because he's sweet on Lydia. They sure don't need any more money.  Okay, let Jesse live a while longer.

Jesse's still locked down below, with a photo of Andrea and Brock to remind him to play nice.  He's also got a paper clip and can get out of his handcuffs.

Back at the waiting room, Walt and Saul have a talk--probably their last.  Walt is still feverishly trying to figure out how to handle his situation, even if he's going into hiding. He wants to hire killers to take out Jack's gang--they murdered Hank and stole his money.  He'd like Saul's help, but Saul doesn't understand what he can do.  He does give him some lawyerly advice, though--you can't leave your family now.  Walt believes he's convinced the police Skyler is the victim.  Good move, says Saul, but she'll be held for over a year and they will go after her hard if they don't have Walt.  She knows nothing and has nothing to trade, which only makes it worse.  The feds are not going to let two missing (dead) agents go.  So they'll RICO away the house, the car wash, the condo, the bank accounts, everything. And there's no way to get money to her--even Mike couldn't get money to granddaughter and this is worse.  Stay and face the music--you're dying anyway, so give up yourself and your money and they may leave your wife alone.  But Walt still believes he's doing everything for his family and the one thing he can't give up is his dreams.

In fact, he now insists Saul come with him since he can use him.  He repeats the line he said earlier--this is over when I say it's over.  Except he goes into a coughing fit before he can finish.  It is over, notes Saul, who leaves--the series, presumably (though he'll get his own series soon).

Over at the Feds' office, Skyler can hardly hear what they're telling her, just like Walt in the pilot when he got his diagnosis.  But she and her outgunned public defender (wonder what her former lawyer to whom she spilled the beans is thinking right now) understand they're going after her and her kids unless she can help them with Walt, which she can't.  So it's not looking good. Meanwhile, they stake out her house, and she knows it.  She goes to check on Holly and finds Todd and a couple others have dropped by, wearing ski masks.  They are not the ones who knock. They warn her not to talk to anyone about anything, especially Lydia, whom Skyler saw at the car wash.  They might have killed her except they have mad respect for Mr. White--maybe they just like anyone called White. (Some surveillance, by the way--come in the back door and you're invisible.)

Next Lydia meets Todd at her favorite restaurant. He's willing to put up with her silly back-to-back meeting style, which Mike and Heisenberg had no patience with.  Todd is doing this all for her, of course--and proving, once again, he's the creepiest character on the show.  Lydia is the type who says kill first, ask questions later, but Todd explains he warned Mrs. White but didn't remove her.  Lydia isn't thrilled, but then Todd drops the real bomb--his latest batch is blue-pure.  Well, he admits, it helps they've got Pinkman.  Lydia likes killing people, but she likes making millions even more, and is ready to open up the Eastern European floodgates again. Todd thinks this could be a start of a beautiful relationship.  Better act fast, Todd, since the last episode is next week.

Robert Forster let's out Walt, his passenger. They're in the Granite State, New Hampshire.  It's winter, and here's your cabin and two acres in the middle of nowhere.  Necessary, since there's a huge manhunt for you.  No TV reception, no computer, no phone out here.  Enough supplies for a month,  Forster will make another supply run next month--for $50,000.  Seems like a lot, but it's for the risk.  Usually his clients just disappear, but he'll keep tabs on Walt for money.  Oh yeah, you can walk away, but the closest small town is eight miles away and as soon as you surface anywhere you will be arrested.  So Walt's all alone, with a terminal illness and a barrel of money, and plenty of time to think.

Almost immediately he grabs a few fat stacks, his Heisenberg hat, and is on his way. But he stops at the gate, coughs a bit, and decides to wait another day.

Meanwhile Jesse is trying to break out of his cell. Todd, who's pleased as punch at Cap'n Cook's work, stops by the give him some ice cream.  After he goes, Jesse's at it again, and Aaron Paul does some nice stunt work getting out.  But it's for naught since he can't get out of the compound on time, and is stopped at the gate.  Just kill me, he says.  Look at our two "heroes," Walt and Jesse. How the mighty have fallen.

And they certainly would kill him, if Todd didn't need him. Next thing you know, Todd is knocking on Andrea's door, late at night.  Todd isn't wearing a ski mask, which is bad new for Andrea.  He says Jesse is in the truck parked on the street. Turns out he's telling the truth.  At first you might think they're just going to kidnap her to get Jesse motivated, but no, sweet-faced dead-eye Todd caps her in the head.  One of the most heartbreakikng deaths ever on the show.  If this were the middle of the series I might stop watching now.  And Jesse has front row seats--he's uffered more than anyone else on this show, but it never ends.  It's also a reminder that even people peripheral to Walt die.  I thought she'd make it, but no one is safe.

Back at the cabin, Walt excitedly awaits the monthly visit from the vacuum repairman. Walt's hair has grown out so we can figure it's been a few months.  Probably just short of his 52nd birthday.  Forster brings newspapers and other goodies, including news of all the trouble Skyler is in.  Also the White residence has been fenced in by the bank, since it became a tourist attraction, so to speak.

He also brings the chemo bag for some homemade medical help.  Heisenberg is a weak old man, near death.  Not so long ago he thought he could control everything, but now he can't even leave his cabin.  Lonely, pathetic Walt begs the guy to stay a couple more hours. He'll pay him $10,000.  He also says some day Forster will return and he'll be dead, so would he promise to get the money to Walt's family.  Forster knows enough not to even make the promise--could Walt believe him (even if he could somehow get the money to a family that's getting so much attention)?

Walt is defeated.  Time to officially give up?  Next morning he puts $100,000 in a parcel and walks into town.  Now we see Junior in high school, pulled out of class (by the hot pricinpal whom Walt made a pass at seasons ago).  Supposedly Aunt Marie is on the phone for him, but it's really a woman at a bar in New Hampshire--Walt put her up to it.  Once Flynn has answered, Walt talks, almost crying to hear his son.  He tries to explain why he did what he did, even if it fell apart. He also plans to send the money to the friend--Louis--whom Junior is staying with.  But Junior is done with his dad.  He doesn't want anything. His father--he believes--is responsible for Uncle Hank's death. (And isn't he?) Junior screams at his dad to just die already.

Wouldn't the principal figure out who was on the other end and let the authorities star 69 it?  Turns out she won't have to.  Walt calls the DEA and admits he's Walter White, and leaves the phone off the hook.  The authorities should be by soon enough.

He goes up to the bar and orders a drink.  It's over.  Then he sees something on TV that intrigues him--Charlie Rose (who let out a while ago he did a Breaking Bad) interviewing his old Gray Matter pals Elliot and Gretchen.  It's nice to see them again.  I thought they'd be gone for good, but you never know who'll be pulled back in on this show. (It's the middle of the day.  I don't recall Charlie Rose being on in the middle of the day, but who knows what goes on in New Hampshire).

Turns out even the Schwartz's have been harmed by their association with Walter White.  Now the world knows their co-founder was a meth kingpin.  So they're putting millions into their foundation to fight drug abuse. Elliot and Gretchen say Walt did nothing for the company except come up with the name.  And Gretchen (a little off-book--did she clear this with Elliot?) says the old Walter White is gone, this Heisenberg is not the real Walter White.

Which helps bring back Heisenberg, who is the real Walter White. He'd given up, but he can't let these two people who took away everything he believes he was owed write his obituary. By the time the cops show up, Walt is gone.  We sort of knew this was going to happen, thanks to the flashforwards, but it's what we want.  A lot of people, even loved one, may die, but we don't want Heisenberg giving up, we want him to go out in a blaze of glory.

So that's it.  Nothing but the last episode, and we know how it starts. Walt and his hair return to ABQ where he celebrates his 52nd birthday with some bacon, a lot of firepower and some ricin. Just what his plans are, and how he expects to kill people to help his family, is unclear.  For that matter, the fate of Jesse, Skyler, Todd, Lydia and all the others is uncertain.  Anyone can die, and there's no reason to expect anyone will end up happy.

And who's responsible?  We're supposed to think it's all due to Walt, and that's true as far as it goes.  But still, if Hank had just kept his mouth shut once he got off the crapper, he'd still be alive, Gomie would still be alive, Marie wouldn't be a widow, Jesse wouldn't be in a dungeon, Andrea would be alive, Skyler wouldn't be threatened by prosecution, Saul Goodman would still be putting up billboards. The only guy who made out well isn't Uncle Jack, since his day may still come, but Robert Forster--he got two new clients, including one who pays him $50,000 a month.  I bet he's behind it all.

It also turns out the bad guys in the end are Uncle Jack's crew. They may seem a cheap and slimy letdown after Walt defeated someone as elegant and classy as Gus.  But that's what he deserves. Nothing glorious about it.  And don't forget, Gus was really no better. He might have dressed better, and been smarter, and had better motivations, but he was just as ruthless and deadly as anyone.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Growing Up

Today is the birthday of Bruce Springsteen.  I suppose he gets enough attention already, but let's listen to a few of his songs.

What I Watched Before Breaking Bad

So, the Emmys. I won't review the show itself, which had some highs and plenty of lows as entertainment.  As for the awards, same thing. Let's go over some of the major ones:

Supporting Actor in a Drama--Bobby Cannavale for Boardwalk Empire.  Worst choice of the night.  A good actor stuck in a cliched role in a dull series beats five actors all doing (much) better work--Aaron Paul, Jonathan Banks, Jim Carter, Peter Dinklage, Mandy Patinkin.

Supporting Actress in a Drama--Anna Gunn for Breaking Bad. Always nice to see a BB win, even if she deserved an Emmy less than others in the show who didn't get it.  She wrote a piece about all the hate she got for this role, so maybe there was a sympathy vote.

Supporting Actor in a Comedy--Tony Hale for Veep.  Well-deserved, but a surprise--is the era of Modern Family over?

Supporting Actress in a Comedy--Merritt Wever for Nurse Jackie.  She's the best thing is a weak show, though I'm surprised Modern Family didn't take this one.  Actually there are seven women in the category and except for Jane Lynch they all made sense.

Writng in a Drama--Henry Bromell for Homeland.  Not a single Mad Men nomination, so times have changed.  Not sure if he deserved this one, but he did die of a heart attack this year which gave him the sentimental vote.

Writing in a Comedy--Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield for 30 Rock.  Why not?  Let's send them off with an Emmy. (Though I'm still smarting from Community's "Remedial Chaos Theory" not winning last year.)

Actor in a Drama--Jeff Daniels for The Newsroom.  This was absurd.  He's a fine actor who does as good a job as he can with the ridiculous things he's required to say, but Daniels over Bryan Cranston and Jon Hamm (who's never won)?  Is the TV Academy on the take?

Actress in a Drama--Claire Danes for Homeland. She's won before, but deserves to keep on winning for this role.  No surprise here.

Actor in a Miniseries or Movie--Michael Douglas for Behind The Candelabra.  The boring, obvious, wrong choice.

Actress in a Miniseries or Movie-- Laura Linney in The Big C: Hereafter.  Another case of a good actor stuck in a bad piece.

Actor in a Comedy--Jim Parsons for The Big Bang Theory.   I could see maybe Alec Baldwin or Louis C. K., but it's hard to complain with Parsons, who's been the best thing in the series from the start.

Actress in a Comedy--Julia Louis-Dreyfus for Veep.  The Academy loves Julia and she's doing a fine job in Veep, and she certainly deserved it more than any highly touted woman with the initials L.D., but I'd think Tina Fey or Amy Poehler deserve it a bit more.

Best Reality Series--The Voice. Who cares, except that finally The Amazing Race didn't win (like it did through all those years American Idol should have gotten the Emmy).

Variety Series--The Colbert Report.  Beating The Daily Show, which had the biggest streak of wins in TV history.  I don't think The Daily Show should have won all those times, but I don't think The Colbert Report should have won this time. (And since when are all these talky shows "variety"?)

Drama Series--Breaking Bad. Finally.  Last year Homeland broke Mad Men's streak, but it should have been BB.  This is the best category at the Emmys so no one should feel too bad about losing. Maybe next time it'll be Game Of Thrones.

Comedy Series--Modern Family.  A lot of people thought the era of MF was finally over, but I guess not yet.  Four in a row.  Can't say it doesn't deserve it, even if the bloom is off the rose.

Miniseries or Movie--Behind The Candelabra.  What else?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Joking Aside

I just read Franklyn Ajaye's Comic Insights: Comedy The Art Of Stand-Up .  Ajaye, a pretty decent comedian himself, gives some advice on how to develop and perform an act, but most of the book is interviews with major comedians such as George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno and so on.

Comedians by their very nature are analytical.  They look at things in our world, take them apart, and reconfigure them to get a laugh, often based on an original insight.  And reading how various top comics came about their style is intriguing. Yet, it's hard to avoid the feeling that their advice is of limited use.  Sure, there's plenty one can learn from others, but, ultimately, you've got to go up there in front of people and make them laugh.  And if you want to write your own material, you've got to figure out how to get a take on the world.

So if you're interested in stand-up, you could do a lot worse than this book. But if you want to learn to be funny, this is, at best, the first in many tricky step you'll need to go through. Perhaps it'll be useful to understand that the top comics had to go through them as well.

PS  The first celebrity I remember seeing when I moved to Los Angeles was Franklyn Ajaye.  He was in a bookstore.  I left him alone, and have been leaving celebrities alone ever since.

Watch For It

Tonight is the big night--another episode in the diminishing supply of Breaking Bad.  Oh yeah, it's also the Emmys, where perhaps Breaking Bad will finally win its first Best Drama statuette. (There's also Boardwalk Empire and a bunch of other Sunday shows that aren't a big deal but some seem to care about.)

So what will I watch?  Well, both of course.  But which first?

I guess the Emmys.  First, if I don't watch it as it airs, I'll probably see the winners on the internet (or just hear someone shouting it outside my window--this is Los Angeles, after all).

Any episode of Breaking Bad is a bigger deal, and no one wants to be too late finding out what's happening.  But I believe in saving the best for last.  And anyway after I watch the episode, anything would seem like an anticlimax.  I just hope I can avoid any spoilers when half the internet will be talking about it.

PS  I'm now hearing the Emmys will be broadcast live, which means they start at 5 pm here, so should be over before BB starts.  Never mind.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Doggin' It

I was recently at a Dodgers game.  It was fun, but there wasn't too much at stake.  The team has got their division.

I was, as always, impressed--if that's the word--with how much everything costs inside the stadium. It makes you long for movie prices. If the parking and tickets haven't broken you, this takes what's left.

Beer costs ten bucks, for instance.  The garlic fries are over seven bucks, a Coke is over five, peanuts over six, all-beef hot dogs over six, etc.  A smart person would eat before he gets there.

Everyone was buying the Dodger Dogs, still a deal at five bucks.  (I'm not that big a fan of hot dogs in general. I live around the corner from Pink's, the most popular hot dog stand in town, and I never go there.)

There's a problem, though.  The dogs are longer than the buns.  I guess this is supposed to make them seem overflowing, but I don't get it.  If you're going to have a hot dog, the bun and the dog should be about the same length, so you can have both in each bite.  For that matter, the bun is a good holder for condiments, but who wants mustard, much less relish or onions, sliding off your dog onto your shirt.

Do the dogmakers and the bunmakers work separately?


I missed it, but a exactly a month ago we had a blue moon.  So let's look back at all that moony splendor.  This should last you till the next one:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bowled Over

Did you know today was National Punch Day?  Neither did I.  But why not take some time to have a refreshing cup of punch.

New Timeline

Syndication of Community has started on Comedy Central and elsewhere.  It's not uncommon after a sitcom has been on for four years and has enough episode to play five times a week.  Often it creates a kick in the ratings, as new fans catch on.  Look at The Big Bang Theory (often scheduled against Community), which is going gangbusters in syndication and is bigger than ever on CBS.

I doubt Community--which has a rabid fan base but one that never seems to grow--will see its ratings improve much. Anyway, the fifth (and probably final) season won't even begin for a few months, so there's nowhere for new fans to go.  Still, anything that spreads the word is a good thing.

PS  I also see Parks And Recreation is in syndication. It's the only other sitcom NBC picked up from last season, and could also use some ratings help.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Two New

I'm not going out of my way to see every new fall series--I watch too much TV already--but a couple sitcoms debuted on Fox last Tuesday and I had nothing to do, so...

First came Dads, a multi-camera show featuring Seth Green and Giovanni Ribisi as successful business partners who develop video games, and, of course, their dads, played by Peter Riegert and Martin Mull.  The basic business of the pilot was having the fathers move in with their sons, even if it means two sets of odd couples.  There are also a few women sprinkled in, both at work and home.

The show comes from Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild of Family Guy, and it features a lot of Family Guy's trademark offensive humor, which seems to work better once-removed in animation.  The cast is game, and reasonably appealing, but the sons are essentially hipster douchebags and the fathers a collection of bad and unpleasant habits.

The work situation sort of works, but the dads moving in and messing with their kids' lives is a tired cliche, and the jokes are even more tired.  If this show wants to find an audience, it needs to move in a better direction quick. (Though look at 2 Broke Girls--there may be hope.)

Considerably better is Brooklyn Nine-Nine, a one-camera show starring SNL alum Andy Samberg as a murder detective. (His first case is who killed his movie career.) It also features Andre Braugher as the new, no-nonsense captain. Creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur come from Parks And Recreation.

Samberg's detective is a smart-ass, but one who gets the job done.  He's also got a relationship with his more serious female partner, played by Melissa Fumero.  There's also a fairly decent cast of supporting actors, each with their own quirks, filling up the precinct.

While it may not have been laugh-out-loud, many of the jokes landed, and the performances were sharp yet low-key enough that characters commenting on the action, a common comic trope these days, was less annoying than usual.  I'm not thrilled with mixing cops and comedy--though it's certainly been done before--but as long as the crime-solving is mostly in the background I think the show could be fun.

Jimmie In A Little More

I really enjoyed yesterday's taste of Jimmie Rodgers, so let's have a little more.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Hollow Experience

I've been so busy watching the final episodes of Breaking Bad that I hardly noticed the new TV season is upon us.  Exhibit A, Sleepy Hollow, the new Fox adventure/fantasy/mystery series that debuted to good numbers on Monday night.  There was a lot of action, and an interesting idea overpowered by a lot of bad ones.  Spoilers will follow.

At the heart of the show is Ichabod Crane. (The show takes a few names from Washington Irving but that's the end of the resemblance.)  A Britisher who has decided to fight for the colonists in the American Revolution, he shoots a rider and then cuts off his head shortly before dying himself.  Except he wakes up in 2013, still in Sleepy Hollow, where he picked up by local authorities, including Abbie Mills, a young police officer who'll soon be joining the FBI.

So far, so good.  It's a bit silly, but a character from long ago dealing with the present can be fun.  But this story has so much more plot--way too much, in fact.  We've got Abbie's partner, played by Clancy Brown, who--in a move much beloved by showrunners these days--is killed early on.  Beheaded, in fact. Turns out he's been researching odd cases in Sleepy Hollow and elsewhere for years, and Abbie discovers his work and follows those clues--including a weird incident that happened to Abbie and her sister when they were young, which drove her sister nuts. Then there's a local priest who seems to have been around back in Revolutionary days, who knows what's going on but is beheaded as well.  Then there's another officer, played by John Cho, who turns out to be aware of what's going on--even in league, perhaps, with the bad guys. He's captured by the cops at the end of the show and before he can be interrogated he is--you guessed it--killed.

As to the main bad guy, we've got, for all you Irving fans, the headless horseman.  But, unlike WI's original, in this case he's one of the four horseman of the apocalypse--Death, the be exact. His blood has mingled with Crane's and so they both awoke.  As Death tries to get his head back, and bring together the other horseman, on the side of good we have Katrina Crane, Ichabod's girl in the 1700s who was actually a witch (a good one) who put the spell on Ichabod so he's still around.  So is she, though only in some dream world until he can get her out.

In fact, there's been a long battle going on between the forces of good and evil, and now Ichabod and Abbie (who sticks around--no FBI for her) are caught in the middle of it.  In fact, the show promises to be about how they and their side try to prevent the Apocalypse.

This seems pretty dopey, and, as a main plot, oppressive.  I suppose it would be silly to raise Ichabod Crane from the dead just so he could help the local cops solve crimes--I mean this isn't a Saturday morning cartoon from the 70s.  But a huge fantasy where the writers can make up any rules they want doesn't thrill me, even if the fate of the world is at stake.

I thought Tom Mison as Crane was good and Nicole Beharie as Abbie passable, but even if this shows looks like a hit, I'm not sure I want to take this trip.

Sweet Rocker

There are two famous singers named Jimmie Rodgers.  One was born September 8, 1897 and died in 1933, so he's not the guy.  But Jimmie Rodgers, born September 18th, 1933, happy 80th.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Hank's Hits

Ninety years ago today Hank Williams was born. He drank himself to death before he was 30, but I don't know if any country artist ever did better work.

George Takes On Shat

I saw George Takei's autobiography To The Stars in the library so I checked it out. I've read a lot about the making of Star Trek, including books by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, but I thought it would be fun to see the view from a lower-ranked actor.  It came out in the mid-90s, so Takei has plenty of perspective on the show, but the memory of the movies were still fresh.

Of course, it's not all Star Trek.  There's a lot about growing up Japanese in America--including life in an internment camp--and plenty about Takei's political activities, but that's not why I read the book, and that's not why anyone published it.  The subtitle gives it away: The Autobiography Of George Takei, Star Trek's Mr. Sulu.  And Takei spends more time on the ST than any other subject.

He was an actor doing parts here and there, so getting a series was a big deal.  Getting what he saw as a quality show was even better (though he predicted to James Doohan that it would be gone soon because TV doesn't go for quality). Then, after it was canceled, seeing it rise again and become one of the most popular and successful franchises of all time was amazing.  But it was more than just about an acting job.  Takei saw himself as an actor, certainly, but also a representive of Asians, who were usually shown as devious figures, menials, or buffoons.  Sulu was a noble, intelligent crew member and Takei was proud of the part.

He kept pushing, hoping Sulu would be given more to do, but it wasn't easy since he wasn't one of the leads.  Still, he occasionally had good moments and even big scenes.  Gene Roddenberry and some of the writers tried to help him out, but when shooting on John Wayne's The Green Berets went long, Takei missed the first few weeks of Star Trek's season two and saw some great Sulu stuff go to the new character Pavel Chekov.

When the movie series started almost a decade after the show was canceled, Takei once again fought for his character--and his salary when he thought they were taking him for granted.  Unfortunately, one of his big scenes in Star Trek IV, where he meets a six-year-old on the street of San Francisco who turns out to be his great-great-grandfather, was cut when the child actor got too pouty and didn't want to perform.  Takei's main concern during the movie years seems to have been getting Sulu promoted so he could command his own ship.  After all, if he was so good at what he did, he wouldn't stay at the same job for years and years.  The idea was considered for several movies, and finally on Star Trek VI his wish was granted. It may have shown him advancing, and made him and those he represented proud, but others have wondered why he'd ever want to leave the bridge of the Enterprise where all the action is.

The most enjoyable part of the book--and what has made it somewhat notorious--is his hatred of William Shatner. Takei admired him as an actor but there was nothing else about him he seems to have approved of.  Takei has kind words and plenty of stories to tell about the rest of the cast, whom he clearly loved, but every fifteen pages or so he goes off on another tirade about Captain Kirk.

From the moment Shatner walked on the set when they were shooting the pilot, he was the center of attention, joking around, talking loudly, giggling, making it clear he was the star.  This might have been okay if it weren't for what Takei claims was his insecurity, and lack of feelings.  Everything had to be about Shatner. (Takei claims he's not alone in this feeling, and recounts rants against Shatner from actors like James Doohan.) Often an early draft of a script would give a good moment or line to one of the supporting characters.  Then through some process, initiated by Shatner according to Takei, the line would either disappear or become Captain Kirk's.  When they were making the movies, and there was plenty of time to compose each shot, there would be hushed conferences with Shatner and the director and suddenly new angles were chosen that favored the Captain.  In Star Trek II, there was a scene where Kirk was to tell Sulu he'd been promoted to captain, but Shatner played it so indifferently, as if it were a minor annoyance that Kirk could hardly be bothered with, that the scene was cut and Sulu's promotion had to wait for another day.

Takei's displeasure goes further. He claims Shatner would miss big events that the rest of the cast would attend if it weren't about him.  And he wouldn't contribute money for gifts and such that the rest of the cast paid for.  He was unpleasant on the set to guests.  Takei even has a story about a fire burning down the New York backlot set while they were shooting at Paramount, and publicists rushing Shatner to the scene with a hose so they could pretend he took charge of putting out the fire.  Really, if there's any reason to read this book, it's for the poetic passages of ire that attack the Shat.

I can understand why Takei takes it that way, though Shatner is only acting like a lot of other stars, going back to well before TV or even movies. (And make no mistake, Shatner was a star with a future in the mid-60s, while the rest of the cast had far lesser places in show biz--that's not an excuse for being shallow or petty, but it is a reason that these actors should understand how lucky they are.) Stars tend to be quite jealous of their fame.  It can go so far as to be self-defeating--making the show smaller to make themselves seem bigger--but as far as they're concerned, everyone else wants to steal the show from them, so it's their job to protect themselves.  In a way the joke was on Shatner, since he may have been the protagonist of Star Trek, but Leonard Nimoy stole the show.

Shatner, made aware of the impression others had, has since written about this divide, and even tried to address it.  But what's most fascinating is, as far as I can tell from Takei, he probably wasn't even aware of what he was doing.  And it worked, in its own way.  Takei wrote an autobiography and what I remember best about it is the image of the man who played Captain Kirk.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Not The Urchin

Happy birthday, David Copperfield.  Growing up in New Jersey as David Seth Kotkin, he somehow managed to transform himself into perhaps the world's most successful illusionist.  A pretty good trick. He also managed to be with Claudia Schiffer through much of the 90s.  Even better.

(fake hands, fake feet, fake constraints, he's off the raft before they pick him up)



(self-explanatory, I hope)

Who Knows?

Quite an episode. It's hard to believe the last two hours of Breaking Bad could be as intense as last week's and now this week's episode, "Ozymandias."

The teaser takes us back to the good old days of Walt's first cook.  Jesse is still joking around, Walt is still the high school teacher. (Jesse will soon give him some respect when he sees Walt's amazing crystals.). Walt calls his wife with the first of many lies.  This is the Skyler we barely knew--still in love with her husband and looking forward to her new baby, before she learns Walt is very ill and later even worse.

And then we come back to the same spot in the desert (and the scene is so intense they hold back the credits till later), but this time a gunfight is taking place. Gomie is dead, as I predicted would happen a few episodes back.  Too bad.  He was probably the nicest guy in the entire show, and he certainly didn't deserve this. It all comes from following Hank as Ahab.  (Sure, you can blame Walt, or the Aryan brotherhood, but if Hank had just kept his mouth shut after he left the crapper everything would be fine.)

Hank is still alive, but bleeding. He crawls for his shotgun but Uncle Jack gets there first.  Walt begs for Hank's life, but Hank just tells the guy off.  As he should, since Hank is correct that a DEA agent is simply not going to get out of this alive.  Walt, not thinking straight, admits this is where he buried his money.  Great, now Hank will die--and he sure does (a big moment--and we've still got about three hours left of this show)--and the neo-Nazis will take all his money.

They dig up the eight barrels.  Todd, who admires Mr. White, convinces his uncle--who's in a pretty good mood anyway--to let Walt keep a barrel. Hey, they may be neo-Nazis, but they're not all bad.  Meanwhile, Pinkman is missing.  But Walt knows where he is--hiding under Walt's car.  They drag him out.  Walt wanted to save his brother-in-law, but after Jesse cooperated with the DEA, the biggeset no-no of all, Heisenberg is still happy enough to see him die. Todd, of all people, speaks up for him.  Jesse talked, so let's "talk" to him to see what he gave up to Hank.  They drag him away, screaming.  But not before Walt tells Jesse about Jane!  Woah, did not see that coming.  But this show isn't Lost.  They close all the loops.

Walt drives his car with his barrel for a few miles but it breaks down due to damage from a stray bullet.  He takes his barrel through the desert--at least he's learned since his days of stealing methylamine that you can roll barrels--to a home in the middle of nowhere.  With a wad of hundreds he buys the truck of the guy who lives there.

Part of the final season of this show is everyone finding out everything, but there's still a lot of people who don't know things, or know the wrong things.  Marie, feeling reasonably good, even cocky, after Hank's call, goes to the carwash and finds Skyler and Flynn.  She pulls big sis aside and has a nice long talk about how Walt is caught. Skyler can't say "shut up! shut up! shut up!" any more.  Marie wants her sister back, but she insists Skyler's got to tell Flynn everything right now.  Poor Junior, the only one completely in the dark.  So we feel for Skyler who's seen everything just crumble, wonder how Flynn will deal with it all, and maybe feel worst for Marie knowing what's in store.

Meanwhile, Jesse's been worked over and given up what he knows--about his confession tape at Hank's place, for instance.  But Todd wants more.  No more torture, he just wants Jesse to cook.  Seems to be the Nazis have enough money now, but I'm guessing Todd wants to learn how to cook better to please Lydia.  Lydia oh Lydia, we haven't met Lydia in a while.  Will she be returning?  For good measure, there's a photo of Andrea and Brock on the wall to help the chained Jesse get motivated to turn out the blue stuff.

Back at the carwash, Junior is not taking the news well.  He thinks mom and auntie are full of shit.  So were you lying then or lying now?  He has the making of a good lawyer.  Maybe he should talk to Saul.

Skyler, Flynn and Holly drive home.  Walt is already there, packing his bags.  His plan is for he and his family to get out of Dodge.  With ten million of so they can start a new life.  (I guess they have to leave, with all the loose ends, though the evidence he was a drug dealer died with Hank and Gomie.)

The family gets home and see the frantic Walt demanding they do what he says.  Soon, Skyler realizes Hank must be gone.  Flynn wants to know about the drug dealing and Skyler refuses to leave.  She pulls a knife and she and Walt scuffle (Walt's fought with just about every character on this show).  Flynn breaks them up and Walt can't understand why he can't keep his family together. Junior calls the cops.  See, this is why you don't tell him.  Just when you thought you couldn't be shocked, Walt grabs Holly, gets in the truck and drives away.

At a restroom on the road Walt changes Holly.  She's about 18 months old, and wants to know where mommy is.  This is almost too much to take (and any writer has to ask am I going too far in exploiting the misery of a child?). Walt seems affected--will this melt even his cold, cold heart.

Back at the White residence the cops are there to investigate the kidnaping. Marie's there too and she can't be happy at the turn of events. Walt calls. Skyler says there are no police, but Walt's gotta know that's not true.  He starts talking tough and saying she should have listened and she's a horrible bitch. Maybe he's getting some stuff off his chest, but he's also convincing the cops that he's the bad guy, not her.  Skyler seems to understand (?).  (Though does he have to bring up drugs? Isn't kidnaping enough.  Guess he figures he's a dead man anyway.) Walt also makes it clear no one will ever see Hank again. Sorry, Marie.

Walt, near tears, says he has things left to do and hangs up. Apparently one of those things is to drop Holly off at a nearby fire station. I guess even Walt (or Vince Gilligan) has his limits.  The other thing he has to do, as we might have guessed, is call Saul's guy who disappears people. And at the end of the show we see Walt and his sacks of money driving off.

Two hours left to go.  What do we know will happen?  We know the White residence will be wrecked for one reason or another.  For a while we it looked like it might be Marie, but now the best bet would be Uncle Jack's crew, but who knows?  A few weeks ago it looked like Jesse.  We also know Walt will return--presumably from New Hampshire--purchase some firepower and retrieve his ricin.  He'll be fighting someone (the Nazis?) to help someone else (his family?).

But one thing we know for sure.  In "Ozymandias" we saw the end of his empire. It was once mighty, but now Walt is in despair. And in the ground where he hid his money, nothing, save a couple of corpses.  The land is now bare, the long and level sands stretch far away.

PS  What's happened to Huell? With Hank gone, there's no one to tell him to leave the safe house.  Let's hope he's in next week's episode, squaring things with Saul.

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