Wednesday, November 30, 2005

You're Too Kind

I have to write a final paper for a class. The assignment sheet ends with "Have fun!"

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Don't Drag Them Into This

This feature purports to be about the worst American car ever, and sure enough, people have plenty of horror stories about clumsy, out-of-touch, disastrously engineered American cars from the 1970s on.

So why does the accompanying slide show include not only foreign lemons like the Yugo and the Chinese JiangLing Landwind, but also the Citroen 2CV, the Honda Element, and the Scion xB, which, while strange-looking, are neither commercial failures nor unreliable cars? They don't belong in this slideshow alongside legendary disasters like the Ford Pinto. They don't deserve the harsh "Un-Great Cars" label. Are they just there to reassure us Americans that we're not the only ones building poorly designed cars that no one wants (even though we mostly are)?

Incidentally, that Chinese car is hilarious because it hits the trifecta of Chinese manufacturing. It has a laughable name (LandWind), it's shoddily manufactured and horribly unsafe, and finally, it's plagiarized from another company. Of course, if you're going to steal designs from GM, it's no wonder you end up with a piece of junk.

Are They Amphibious? Only One Way To Find Out

Not that you would ever use a boat-car, but it would be nice to know that you could.

Also, excellent company name: Cool Amphibious Manufacturers International.

And That's Why You Don't Buy Consoles At Launch

Aren't we used to this yet? Does it ever not happen? Why are people surprised?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Trapped In The Well

Yes, Ryan, Clerks 2 is sad.

I used to like and respect Kevin Smith. I lamented the quick death of the Clerks cartoon. When I brought up the Clerks short "The Flying Car" that Smith made for the Tonight Show, and someone said, "He went back to that well again, huh?" I felt a little hurt on Smith's behalf. I even thought I enjoyed Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, although further viewing cured me of that fantasy.

Kevin Smith has bought into the overzealous fanboy worship that enshrines every word he writes, every gag he conceives, whether it's worthy or not. The merchandise and self-love, the cameos from Joey to Veronica Mars to Degrassi, the speaking tours and DVD anniversary edition re-release expanded editions of DVDs that were overstuffed with redundant material to begin with, they are all out of control. Fanboys, please. Don't be enablers. Just because he likes comics does not make him your god. Smith at this point has spent more hours talking about his work than he did creating it.

Hindsight has not been kind to Smith's work. At the time, it all seemed so clever, because Smith was smarter than his material. He may have been writing about blow jobs and stink palms, but we sensed an intelligence behind it with fresh perspectives and funny ideas. But it was all shallower than it appeared. As time passed, Smith indulged more and more in his trademarks, without the cleverness that had initially supported them. So we have lame cheap-shock single-entendres like Rug Munchers or Movie Poop Shoot, and drawn-out speeches that were wordy without actually articulating anything. Add to this uncomfortable, tone-deaf gags, like Will Ferrell killing an actor in a Mooby costume, or lazy, witless idiocy like a close-up of Jay's bare ass farting. Yes, it was a toss-off dick and fart joke movie, but it wouldn't have happened if Smith weren't so eager to pander to his rabid fan base.

The saddest part, though, was that Smith meant for J&SBSB to be a kiss-off to his earlier work, ushering in a new age of mature filmmaking. He took one bold leap into the abyss, Jersey Girl tanked, and he went racing back to his comfort zone. Dude, movies fail. It happens all the time. Try another one. This doesn't mean you have to run home crying to Mommy. It's not even your fault, really, except that your not-secret man-crush on Affleck blinds you to the fact that he's not much of an actor and people don't like him anymore.

So my biggest beef with Smith is that he's afraid to grow. He takes failures personally. He took Mallrats personally too, until the fans salvaged it, and now he lords it over critics as a masterpiece. It's not awful, but it's not brilliant, either, except for the casting of Jason Lee. Now he's allowed the failure of Jersey Girl to derail his intended, and long-overdue growth as an artist. It's one thing to try a serious movie and then do a funny movie. It's another to make a movie that explicitly (and pretentiously) closes the book on the precious "Askewniverse," only to open it up again one failure later.

Granted, people make mistakes. Maybe Smith has decided the Askewniverse is what his fans love and want, and it's what he's good at, so who is he to deny them that? Well, okay, fine. But it makes him a stagnant artist who prefers to revel in self-love rather than take chances, and I don't have to respect that.

So, Clerks 2. Let's break it down.

The Title: The Passion of the Clerks. Is that supposed to be shocking? Does that make it controversial and relevant? Is it supposed to raise Catholic ire, like Dogma? Because, well, it doesn't. It's kind of passe and unfunny, a joke that's dead on arrival. And it will only feel more stale by the time it's released. What's more, what does it have to do with the movie? We're not dealing with a Passion parody here, so why bother with a parodic title? That said, it's no worse than the previous title, Clerks 2: Hardly Clerkin'.

The Tired Self-Deprecation: The Clerks 2 website announces "TRAIN WRECK! ...a disaster in the making." Here is Smith falling back on insincere self-deprecation to deflect criticism that he is going back to the well and making a huge mistake. Okay, but just because you put yourself down jokingly doesn't mean the put-downs aren't true. Besides, one of the most aggravating things about Smith is the fact that for all his self-deprecation, he can't stand actual criticism. See the storyline, and especially the ending, of J&SBSB. He takes Internet bashing seriously and personally--as seriously as he takes all the fans who fall over themselves to jerk him off.

The Story: One reason I never wanted a Clerks sequel even when I was a Smith fan was that to see those guys working in a convenience store ten years later would be incredibly depressing and an invalidation of the growth Dante had supposedly experienced by the end of the first film. I felt a bit of this when they were still there in J&SBSB. Based on the photos from the Clerks 2 site, the sequel finds them working at a Mooby's. I give Smith credit for not staging another entire movie in a convenience store--that was a good choice--but it's still sad.

In order for the sequel to be any good at all, it will have to be about something. Given the fact that the characters are still stuck in dead-end jobs, and given the fact that we can expect the themes to resonate with Smith himself, my guess is that it will be about failing to move on because one is afraid to move out of one's comfort zone and risk failure. Great, except the first Clerks was already about that. Smith hasn't even learned the lesson of his first movie. And so he's repeating it.

The Askewniverse Continuity: I never liked Mooby's. It was funny in Dogma when it was a parody of Disney, but Disney doesn't have a chain of fast-food restaurants, so the joke no longer makes any sense to me. There is no reason for Mooby's to be a burger franchise except for Smith to convince himself that creating Mooby was so funny that he should use it over and over again. This dick joke is stupid.

The Cast: Look at this picture. Jason Mewes looks like he should be in prison. If it weren't for Smith, he probably would be. This is downright scary. He is too old for this. At least don't have him make the hardass convict face because he sells it too well. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson should be playing young dads by now. There's nothing wrong with seeing them in another movie together. But imagine a Clerks sequel in which they really had moved on in life, and didn't look ridiculously out of place. Now that would be something.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

On A More Positive Note

The Office is still awesome. This season is so good. Not to jinx it, but I believe it's nearly the equal of its UK edition, and practically everything we could hope for from a remake. Plus it stands alone as an excellent show in its own right.

With Arrested Development off the air for the month, The Office is the comedy I most eagerly anticipate each week. It really captures the awkward hilarity and pathos that made the original so great, but with an original and distinctively American voice. Steve Carell does amazing work bringing delicate shadings to the character. For all his success playing clueless blowhards, it's his moments as a pathetic loser that really shine.

I did not buy the DVD of the first season. It was enjoyable and showed strong potential, but fell just short of being worth rewatching. The second season, however, I would snap up in a heartbeat. Despite the relentless plugs for Chili's.

Unfortunately, the ratings are unspectacular, despite the enviable My Name is Earl lead-in, so a third season seems doubtful. Why must I always fall in love with struggling shows? Veronica Mars also gets weak ratings, but they're on UPN, and their numbers are up from last season, so that is good. Chris and Earl are both successful and quality shows, but they don't win the love that the stragglers do. Maybe knowing that a show is doing fine allows me to take it for granted more, whereas the low-rated darlings bring out my protectiveness.

UPDATE 11/25: Touched up some embarrassingly sloppy writing.

Guys I Hate

Last season Two and a Half Men was a solid, reliable show. A funny, if unambitious, middlebrow four-camera traditional sitcom.

This season, something's wrong. It's sleazy. Granted, Charlie Sheen's character was always a sleazebag womanizer, but he was supposed to be a lovable sleazebag womanizer. Maybe it's the increasingly raunchy sexual references that pervade the show, even in regard to Jon Cryer's sex life. Maybe it's the constant ante-upping of Charlie's skeeziness. He's not just a serial womanizer, but also into orgies and porn stars and prostitute masseuses and any sexual extreme you care to mention. It's no longer a lovable quirk, but a disturbing pathology. Well, okay, it was always a disturbing pathology, but we used to be able to overlook it.

It's gotten to the point that when Charlie hits on a woman, I want her to shoot him down. A week ago, when Charlie met a ballet teacher who wanted nothing to do with him and he made it his mission to conquer her, I became emotionally invested in her honor. Don't weaken, I willed her through the TV screen. He just wants to use you and discard you. Don't be fooled! He's slime!

By episode's end, when her heart has been melted by Charlie's persistence in bringing the kid to her ballet class and she's ready to sleep with him, I was disgusted. I felt ashamed for her. What happened to all the dignity she'd had when she turned him down in early scenes? I did not want to see Charlie succeed. I hated him too much.

I think this is the same thing that made me hate Joey even when he was on Friends. Sleazy sitcom guys who effortlessly sleep with tons of women are loathsome. Who can sympathize with that? Charlie at this point is basically a sexual predator. When women turn him down, he just comes on stronger until he breaks their will. To be funny, sleazy guys need to be pathetic and unsuccessful, like Bud Bundy. Then they're at least redeemed by being the underdog.

Joey: Still Bad

I haven't seen Joey in weeks, since I'm in class Thursday night and I've instructed TiVo to grab the solidly enjoyable Everybody Hates Chris instead. Since I was at home tonight, I thought I'd check back in with everyone's now-least-favorite Friend.

I don't know whose bright idea it was to move Joey to a big house, or, more specifically, a bland, flimsy set that we're meant to believe is a big house. The apartment from Three's Company was more convincingly luxurious than this place.

Who really thought this would fix the show? "I know why people aren't watching. The apartment set is too tacky! Joey needs a house!" Too bad the set design is rushed and half-assed and feels simultaneously empty and claustrophobic. This is a big Hollywood mansion? An oddly-placed, too-prominent "grand stairway" sits awkwardly in the middle of the set, and it's a mark of the designer's laziness that it doesn't even have handrails. It's enough to make you pine for that tacky apartment set, which seemed to have the same amount of square footage anyway (which makes sense--the sound stage is only so big, after all). You can either have your traditional sitcom apartment that's unrealistically big, or you can have a mansion that's obviously too small.

Sorry, Joey set designers. I call this a Downgrade.

Plus, now side characters like the weird stalker/neighbor who always reminds me a little of Sean Keane (or at least, Sean Keane when he's doing an impression of a desperate loser) have no reason to be there, since they're no longer neighbors. If there's one thing this show didn't need, it was to be even more labored and unrealistic.

The episode's plot was also grating, with Drea De Matteo's character made to be an obnoxious shrew forcing everyone else to be miserable in order to follow her elaborately dull Thanksgiving plans.

Watching Joey is like reading Highlights and doing the "What's Wrong With This Picture?". They should have an answer key in the credits. Did I get everything?

Hats Off

Hey, here is a pet peeve. (That's what Thanksgiving is for, right? Complaining about things that don't matter?)

"Funny" humiliating fast food hats. When was the last time anyone went to a fast food restaurant where employees actually had to wear these? Did they ever exist? Why do embarrassing hats show up for cheap laughs in every movie or TV show that ever featured a scene in a fast food restaurant?

In addition to Clerks 2, there's Better Off Dead, Fast Times at Ridgemont High... I know there are more. The Patrick Dempsey sex comedy Loverboy? I think, maybe?

Help me out here.

UPDATE 11/25: I've complained about this before (see "West Bank Story" review).

Bundle Of Joy

Apple's Quicktime trailer website doesn't work anymore unless you have Quicktime 7, and it appears that Quicktime 7 comes with iTunes, or it doesn't come at all.

I haven't bothered to download iTunes up until now. I've been vaguely considering doing so. I haven't downloaded music since the scare-tactic lawsuits started, which is to say I've never bought music online. (I went back to infrequent CD purchases.)

Even though I probably would never get around to downloading iTunes otherwise, I'm a bit resentful that I'm being forced to now, under penalty of not being able to watch movie trailers anymore. The thing is, it will probably work. Once I have iTunes on my computer, I may even buy some songs. Not that this is new to Apple--it makes sense for a company that is trying to stake out a monopoly on every step of music distribution and listening.

To be fair, Apple's strategy makes sense since the domination of music is the foundation for the resurgence of the company. And despite their restrictions on its use, they are the only ones who seem to realize that consumers have a strong psychological preference for owning music rather than paying month to month for "access" to music.

What the heck was I talking about again? Oh, so I guess I'm going to have iTunes soon.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Short Attention Span Theater

Ebert's review of Just Friends is pretty funny. He starts out by talking about how hard it will be not to lose interest in writing about the movie, and proceeds to actually lose interest in it repeatedly. He rambles on about self-help tapes, Paris Hilton, cell phones, and the Rob Schneider vehicle The Hot Chick as if he has to meet a word count and doesn't care how he gets there. You read his contempt between the lines, loud and clear.

The review seriously ends with, "Ding! Ding! Awopbopaloobop, alopbamboom!"

Little Bastard

Here's a switch.

Cruise & Holmes Wait for Baby Before Making Wedding Plans

Hollywood supercouple Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are planning to wait until their baby is born before they wed in 2006. War of the Worlds star Cruise tells broadcaster Barbara Walters in an upcoming TV special that the engaged couple are planning a wedding ceremony for next summer or early autumn, but they're yet to set a date. Cruise has also revealed that he has bought his own sonogram machine so he can follow the baby's progress. He plans to donate the high-tech hospital equipment to an undisclosed maternity ward.


Aren't you normally supposed to hurry up the marriage so your kid doesn't get born out of wedlock? "Let's see...either I have an illegitimate child, or my bride is fat in all the wedding pictures I want published in the tabloids. Illegitimate it is!"

Here is some more fun. I love that the following two stories are in a row:

Klein: "I Hate Fat Girlfriends"

American Pie star Chris Klein has hinted at why Katie Holmes ended their engagement at the beginning of the year and found love with Tom Cruise - he has a mean streak. The unforgiving actor tells women's style magazine Elle that he hates placating women and refuses to accept his partner gaining weight because it leads to insecurity issues. He says, "When a woman isn't feeling good about herself and you combine that with her period, eventually she'll ask you if you like her body. You have to say no... I don't placate." He also admits he fell in love with the majority of his female co-stars and counts them all as ones that got away. Klein adds, "I've got this policy that you don't sleep with them (co-stars); it complicates stuff. So it's the Heather Grahams, the Rebecca Romijns, the Mena Suvaris, and the Leelee Sobieskis of the world. They all got away." Meanwhile, the actor admits he plans to stay friends with his ex, even though they no longer speak to one another. He states, "Are we friends? Absolutely. Do we talk? No."

Huffman Reveals Eating Disorder Hell

Desperate Housewives star Felicity Huffman has revealed she suffered from eating disorders throughout her late teens in a desperate bid to look perfect. The actress admits she eventually called on the help of a family therapist when her weight plunged to just 98 pounds in her early 20s, and she never imagined she'd become one of the sexiest women on TV. She says, "I was bulimic and anorexic for a while, just hating my body. As an actress, I was never thin enough, never pretty enough. My boobs weren't big enough." Huffman credits having two kids and turning 40 for helping her to come to terms with her body at last. She adds, "I think I've always had a 40-year-old body, and now that I'm actually there I'm like, 'Hey, pretty good.'" But the actress insists her past eating disorders and dissatisfactions have had their use - in helping her prepare for acting roles, like in sex-change movie Transamerica. She explains, "The self-loathing that goes along with bulimia or anorexia helped me understand (character) Bree's internal journey."


One of the sexiest women on TV? Yeah, okay, whatever. I guess that's why in her new movie she's a man-to-woman transsexual. She's got to ugly that shit up, like Charlize Theron or something. She's so gorgeous we'll miss her acting, right? Look, America, just because a celebrity is successful and not hideous does not automatically make them sexy and beautiful.

Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that Chris Klein and Felicity Huffman are perfect for each other.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Brett Ratner Film

Looks like Chris Tucker can stop collecting unemployment.

'Rush Hour' Returns

Chris Tucker, Jackie Chan and director Brett Ratner have signed up to make a third Rush Hour movie. After years of negotiations and speculation the trio will team up again for Rush Hour 3, with a fourth film still to be determined. As part of the deal, funnyman Tucker will earn $20 million for signing up and a further 20 per cent of the gross. Chan will pick up $15 million and 15 percent of the gross. Rush Hour 2 was a global smash hit, raking in over $320 million. Shooting on the third film will begin next summer. It's expected to hit cinemas in the summer of 2007.


Apparently they hit sticking points because they had to work out Chan's schedule and Tucker's pay deal. Because, you know, Chan is so busy and Tucker needs money to tide him over between working exclusively on the Rush Hour franchise.

On the other hand, maybe Chris Tucker is onto something. Jackie Chan got $20 million for the last Rush Hour movie, too. But since then, he's been busy proving that Americans aren't interested in seeing him in anything else that doesn't costar Owen Wilson.

Chris Tucker, on the other hand, has made it clear that if they don't meet his price, he's perfectly willing to never work again. No one will ever know if audiences are eager to see him in a movie on his own.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Psst

If you want to see the talk show I'm working on, I put it online here. It turns out Adelphia owns the show, which I didn't realize, so I may have to take it down soon. If you're curious, hurry up and watch it.

UPDATE: Thanks to those who have watched it and offered your candid comments (Zack and Ryan). I'm saving your comments and criticisms for myself and I will pass them along but I'm removing them from the blog because I'm uncomfortable with keeping the discussion displayed publicly.

For those of you yet to comment, feel free to say whatever you like, although I will probably eventually archive and remove future comments on this topic as well. Alternatively, you can just email me your thoughts.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Reynolds Wrap

Ryan Reynolds in a fat suit! Get this! He's handsome and fit, but what if he were fat and repulsive? That would be hilarious!

Is this worse than Shallow Hal? I think that it is. I'm sympathetic to arguments to the contrary, given that Gwyneth's character is fat for the whole movie and not just in the past, and given that standards of thinness are more cruelly strict for girls.

But for Ryan Reynolds to be the guy in the fat suit, the poor high school loser, is unconscionable. This smug bastard playing a fat underdog? It is a disgrace and an affront to underdogs everywhere. Ryan Reynolds, the hunky, braying, ever-superior party animal jackass bursting with frat-boy swagger, is exactly the kind of bullying prick who makes fat losers feel terrible about themselves. Just seeing him parade around in a fat suit is a slap in the face, a twisting of the knife, a roughening of the noogie.

Maybe this movie and Monica from Friends are supposed to provide encouragement to the overweight, like, "Look fatties--Monica lost the weight. Now you can see her rib cage! So what's wrong with you?" Or maybe we just enjoy cruel, hurtful laughter.

Are we too PC and guilty now to laugh at actual fat people, or are we just too grossed out by the real thing? Is it supposed to make us feel better that we only laugh at fat people when they're played by skinny people? Are fat suits the new blackface? What hath The Nutty Professor wrought?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Austen Powers

Looks like some people aren't as relieved as Lydia is by the new P&P movie.

Austen Society Outraged by "Sexy" New 'Pride & Prejudice'

Jane Austen academics have slammed a sexed-up Hollywood adaptation of classic novel Pride & Prejudice - insisting the movie is "totally inappropriate." The Jane Austen Society in North America, which also berates Keira Knightley's posture and Matthew MacFadyen's looks, have even threatened to cancel a special screening of the film at their annual convention. President Joan Klingel Ray says, "The film is full of sexual imagery which is totally inappropriate to Austen's novel. In one scene, a wild boar, which I assume is supposed to represent Darcy, wobbles through the farm with its sexual equipment on show." However, director Joe Wright is unperturbed by the criticisms: "They can go jump in a lake."


I know that when I see a boar's junk, I think "Darcy!" every time.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Problem Child

Malcolm in the Middle continues to stubbornly resist my attempts to write about it. Last spring, in the middle of Malcolm's sixth season, the show was going strong, evolving in satisfying ways while still taking risks. I was so impressed with it that I started entertaining the notion of writing about how good it was. Then the show hit a streak of episodes which were bad in a way I will elaborate on momentarily. Eventually, I wrote the piece anyway, but my heart wasn't in it, and it shows.

So now I was all set to write about what I see going wrong with the show, and the past two weeks have brought episodes which seem to indicate that the show is back on track. It is trying to thwart me again. But despite these happy exceptions, I'm not convinced it's over yet. While Malcolm has always been a show with dark and subversive undertones, which I've always liked, there have been several episodes in the second half of last season, and early this season, which feel like they cross the line from funny into sadistic, gruesome, uncomfortably violent, and mean-spirited.

The best episodes of Malcolm is are the ones that mange to be mean and subversive while somehow feeling innocent and heartwarming. We see this in episodes like “Halloween Approximately” in which the boys attack unsuspecting people with pranks on the week after Halloween, or “Mini-Bike,” in which the boys try to hide the fact that Reese has broken his leg. These episodes are mean and gruesome, respectively, but they are also funny--the real subversion is that you enjoy it anyway. But that balance doesn’t work in recent episodes, which often just feel ugly.

"Ugly" and "mean-spirited" are words I'm about to overuse. Here we go.

The evidence:

Season Six

Ida Loses a Leg



At the time I liked this episode, but in retrospect it feels like a tipping point. It came on the heels of an episode of Arrested Development in which a character loses a limb to surprisingly hilarious effect, and I was impressed by the fact that Malcolm, not to be outdone, had an equally edgy episode in its arsenal. In this episode, the cruel Grandma Ida (Cloris Leachman) saves Dewey from a truck but her own leg gets run over and has to be amputated. While Lois and Francis help Ida adjust to her new prosthetic leg, Dewey feels guilty and wants to give the leg a decent burial. To get the leg, he impersonates a doctor on the phone and has all of the hospital's recently amputated legs sent to the house. He identifies the leg by trying on shoes, Cinderella-style.



Unfortunately, before Dewey can bury the leg, Hal arrives home with a new dog to cheer Dewey up, and the dog takes the leg under the house and eats it. Pretty gross, but ballsy and still pretty funny.

No Motorcycles
Hal must make good on a long-ago promise to take Francis on a motorcycle trip for his 21st birthday, against Lois’ wishes. Meanwhile, Malcolm, Reese, and Dewey are trapped in the house by a bully waiting outside to get payback. This episode didn’t have a particularly morbid premise, but there was an accumulation of distressing elements that bothered me:

- In a flashback, Hal not only promises young Francis that he will take him on a motorcycle trip, he slashes his hand with a dagger to seal his promise in blood.

- Dewey is the first of the brothers to go out and accept his fate and take a beating so he won’t have to worry about it any more. The bully, who is eventually revealed to be taller than their bedroom doorway, beats Dewey as savagely as he will later beat Reese, even though Dewey is a tiny little kid. Dewey returns with a fistful of teeth and optimistically proclaims that he’s got a lot of tooth fairy money coming, yet Dewey, despite being small, is way too old for the tooth fairy and the joke is out of character.



- Hal sees that Dewey’s been beaten but shrugs it off because he’s preoccupied with sneaking off on the motorcycle trip.

- When it’s Malcolm’s turn to be beaten, the bully realizes he had the wrong house entirely. Malcolm thinks he’s escaped a beating, but Reese and Dewey beat him up instead.



- While Hal and Francis are away on their forbidden motorcycle trip, their wives comfort themselves by smashing expensive gifts. This isn’t violent, but it’s mean without being funny.

- Hal and Francis purposely injure each other, hoping to mitigate their wives’ wrath when they return. Hal punches Francis in the face, breaking his nose, then instructs Francis on breaking his finger between the second and third knuckle. Even though Francis is grown, I felt uncomfortable with Hal punching his son in the face.



- The episode culminates in Francis’ birthday dinner, at which every male in the family is badly injured. It’s all just too much for one episode, and it’s mean-spirited and ugly.

Ida’s Dance
Possibly the worst Malcolm episode, by any standard. Huge portions of the episode are taken up with the incredibly dull story of Lois attempting to bake a complicated tart for a made-up eastern European holiday while Ida tediously berates her.

But the worst part is back at home:

- Hal wants to watch scary movies with Reese, but discovers that Reese prefers extremely gory movies bordering on snuff films. Commenting on one movie, Reese says, “I’m glad they stuffed that guy’s skin down his throat. I thought he’d never stop screaming.” For another, Reese excitedly explains that the director was arrested for using real corpses.

- Malcolm, jealous of Dewey’s ability to appreciate music, turns up Dewey’s headphones and accidentally deafens him. Dewey pulls the headphones off and we see his ears are bleeding and he can’t hear anything. This story was incredibly disturbing and bordering on tragic, since season six saw Dewey turning out to be a music prodigy. Granted, it’s unlikely they would make Dewey’s deafness a permanent development, but when Ida lost her leg just a few episodes ago, who knows? They just might go there.

- Dewey retaliates by tricking Malcolm into sitting in front of loudspeakers rigged up to an air horn. To their credit, the writers realized that for Dewey to intentionally deafen Malcolm is irredeemably cruel. So Dewey changes his mind at the last second, but the baby Jamie presses the air horn anyway and Malcolm goes deaf too. The trouble with this story is that the hearing damage can’t be permanent—that’s too sad. But for it to be as temporary as it is here (their hearing comes back in a couple of days with no lasting harm) trivializes the issue—the fact is that either of them could have been permanently deaf from what happened here, and if their hearing did come back, it would take longer and probably still sustain some damage.



- Hal is on edge from watching Reese’s gory movies, but doesn’t want to hurt Reese’s feelings. He tries to hide the TV, but ends up breaking it and falling on his back holding the broken screen right over his face. Broken glass dangles inches from his eyes and his wobbly arm can barely hold the TV up. He calls for help but Malcolm and Dewey are deaf so they don’t notice him. He yells “Save your father’s eyes!” and then we cut to commercial just as the TV seems to lower just far enough to stab him and he screams horribly. When we come back, it turns out he’s fine. But it looked like he might have been stabbed. And who knows, with the leg losing and the bloody eardrums and the episodes ending with everybody injured, you start to think, maybe this episode will end with everybody being either blind or deaf. Maybe that is the joke that they think is funny but is actually just creepy. The visual of Hal trapped under the broken glass of the TV was not funny at all—it was genuinely scary and haunted me for days afterward.



This was the most disturbing episode yet. Granted, a lot of it was that I was reading into it, fearing that the writers were willing to cross lines that they didn’t ultimately cross. But they’d pushed the boundaries so far in the recent past that I didn’t trust them anymore. Compare this to Arrested Development, where Lucille blew Tobias’ eardrum with an airhorn sometime in season two. This was part of a running gag where Tobias ended up in the hospital in every episode, which I didn’t particularly like, but it played funny and didn’t bother me the way the same subject did here.

There’s more, but this post is getting long. I’ll be brief.

Motivational Speaker
Hal, power-tripping as a motivational speaker, forces a man to be part of a human pyramid despite the man’s protests that he has a back problem. Later we hear some uncomfortable back-cracking noises. A crazed Hal also forbids his class from going to the bathroom.

Stilts
In a battle on stilts (don’t ask), Malcolm attempts to use shopping carts as skates, but the carts roll apart and Malcolm is trapped in a painful splits position.



Malcolm’s adversary is about to finish the job and stomp on him (presumably intending to break his legs by bending them even further) but Reese luckily interrupts the fight before this can happen. This violence actually does befit the sillier, cartoonish tone of the show, but it bothered me in the context of the episodes above: Does every episode now have to involve serious injury?

[Unknown episode]
In a cold open, the brothers are fighting over something trivial like the color of an animal’s tongue. Malcolm reveals they’re fighting because they have nothing better to do. But their fight consists of Malcolm sitting on Reese, repeatedly slamming a kitchen cabinet on Reese’s head as hard as he can. It’s like that scene from Kill Bill; it’s just too brutal to be funny. When kids this old are this savage, it’s dangerous.

Season Seven

Health Insurance
Hal realizes he’s let the family’s health insurance lapse, and immediately we realize someone is going to get seriously injured in this episode. Sure enough, the patio cover collapses on Hal, and Reese tells Hal that his foot is facing the wrong way.



Of course, it’s not enough for Hal to get hurt, we’ve got to watch him suffer through the pain and stand on his injured leg to hide the accident from Lois.



Hal’s leg is repaired by a teenage friend of the boys, who they testify has set Dewey’s broken nose and given Reese a tracheoctomy.

Reese Vs. Stevie
Reese secretly challenges the wheelchair-bound Stevie to a fight.

- Stevie’s dread increases when Malcolm tells him about one of Reese’s recent victims, who spurted blood like a sprinkler. “And when he went down, then Reese really went to work. Did you know he had dental tools?” Dental tools? It’s a throwaway joke, but torturing someone with dental tools is seriously creepy. It goes too far.

- To make it a fair fight, Reese handicaps himself by numbing his legs in ice water. To prove to Malcolm that it’s worked, he stabs his own leg with an ice pick. “The first three times I did that, it hurt like hell.”



Oh, and Stevie eventually shows up in an experimental robo-suit to kick Reese's ass.



Halloween
The boys learn that their house was actually the site of a grisly multiple-murder/suicide twenty years ago. Of course, it’s not just a murder, but the most gruesome murder you can imagine. Malcolm looks up the facts: “He kept the tongues in a pile over there… that must have been ‘skin wall’… and over here were… ‘finger puppets’? Ohhh…finger puppets. …[and] that’s where they begged for mercy.” Seriously, at least one of the writers for this show has a very sick sense of humor.

Malcolm's dark humor works best when we don’t realize how sick it is. The upfront ickiness of these jokes is wrong. It might work in small doses but after a while it starts to feel like it’s taking over the show. Consider: the nine episodes I’m discussing all fell within a span of just thirteen episodes.

However, the last two episodes have been good and free of the unsettling elements I’m complaining about here. I’ve been putting off writing this post for a while because I knew I had a lot to say. Now that I’ve done it, I realize I was right to put it off. To anyone who made it this far, sorry for the egregious length.

Screenshots from Malcolm in the Middle Voting Community

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Further Analysis

Actually, one part of that Variety piece makes no god damn sense.

As for "Arrested," skein returned from a month's hiatus this week, while "Kitchen" was slated to return Monday. Despite tough competition from a high-rated "Monday Night Football" matchup, "Arrested" performed about as well as it had been in the timeslot before baseball. Ratings for "Prison Break," however, took a notable dip, which is what likely prompted worried Fox execs to reverse their previous plan to keep "Arrested" on the air through year's end.


Wait, so Arrested comes back after a month, does the same numbers it always did, and then the show after it, the show that normally outperforms it anyway, drops in viewership and you blame the lead-in? Since when did they ever count on Arrested as a lead-in? Prison Break did fine even when Kitchen Confidential was sitting there losing Arrested's viewers!

If the same number of people watch the lead-in and fewer people watch the later show, maybe the problem is not the lead-in, but that people either got tired of Prison Break or fell out of the habit when that show had to take time out for baseball. There is no way that a weak lead-in could hurt a strong follow-up if the weak lead-in hasn't even lost viewers. I can understand them pulling Arrested for its own low ratings, but for Arrested to shoulder the blame for Prison Break's low ratings is pushing it. Those are some itchy fucking trigger fingers, and that better not be the reason a great show is getting cancelled.

Because if it is, I'm gonna have to go down there and, you know, challenge some people to, um, fistfights or something.

Arrested...

Word is that Arrested Development is on its way out. Here's the Variety article.

"Arrested Development" may have finally played its last get out of jail free card.

Fox has cut back its episode order on one of TV's most critically praised shows to just 13 segs, down from 22. Skein, from 20th Century Fox TV and creator Mitch Hurwitz, has also been pulled from the schedule for the rest of the month, another sign that the network may have finally given up on trying to bring an audience to the show.

News was nearly as grim for "Arrested's" Monday night companion, the Darren Star-produced "Kitchen Confidential." It's also been pulled for sweeps, and producers have been told the show won't be getting a full-season pickup.

As for "Arrested," skein returned from a month's hiatus this week, while "Kitchen" was slated to return Monday. Despite tough competition from a high-rated "Monday Night Football" matchup, "Arrested" performed about as well as it had been in the timeslot before baseball. Ratings for "Prison Break," however, took a notable dip, which is what likely prompted worried Fox execs to reverse their previous plan to keep "Arrested" on the air through year's end.

Instead of the two laffers, Fox will air repeats of drama "Prison Break" in the 8-9 p.m. Monday slot for the rest of the sweep.

"Arrested" and "Kitchen" will return to the sked Dec. 5. Come January, net is expected to stick with its original plan of moving "House" into the Monday-at-8 slot.

Fox wasn't commenting Thursday, and for now, nobody's using the word "cancellation." But in the case of "Arrested," the handwriting appears to be on the wall.

"Arrested" is in the middle of its third season. Skein has never produced a full season of 22 episodes, with Fox cutting the order for the show every season it's aired.


Basically, Fox isn't picking up the back nine episodes. Technically not cancelled, technically it could still get a fourth season, but cutting the order this early in the season is a de facto statement that they won't be making any more. We knew it was coming but this is still very sad. it wasn't unexpected, but the DVD sales were strong and I was hoping that would make a difference. The frustrating part is that it looks like we'll have to wait a while to see the remaining episodes. Then again, this isn't the first time Fox pulled the show from a sweeps month. In fact, that's pretty much the routine.

In Fox's defense:

- Arrested's numbers were not likely to go up, since in creating one of the funniest, most rewarding comedies on television, Mitchell Hurwitz also managed to create one of the least-accessible-to-new-viewers shows of all time.

- Fox stuck with Arrested a relatively long time. We'll have roughly two and a half season's worth to enjoy over and over again, which is more than you can say for other prematurely cancelled shows like Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, or Andy Richter Controls the Universe. (However, it's less than Futurama, and probably about equal with pre-resuscitation Family Guy.)

Strikes against Fox:

- No, they didn't promote the show well, but even when they tried, the promotion was poor. No commercial for the show ever communicated how funny it is. But it could have. Just watch the menu screen of any of the DVDs and you'll see a succession of ten-second clips, each of which is hilarious all by itself. Why couldn't the editors in charge of that menu screen be put in charge of promoting the show? Those clips capture the show's unique cleverness in a way that the zany, slapstick-heavy Fox promos never did. It might not have saved the show, but I'm sure better ads would have strengthened the ratings at least a little.

Do Not Open Until 1985

What is it about writing a letter to your future self that makes it so creepy?

It seems like a cool idea, but I'm afraid to do it. It's a little awkward. What do you say? Probably it will be all about your hopes and dreams, and wondering if you've achieved them. But receiving your letter will only remind you what you haven't achieved and how fast your life has slipped by. It's a setup for a moment in your future that will be heartbreaking at worst and bittersweet at best.

Even if you have succeeded beyond your wildest dreams, you will still be sad to be reminded how old you are.

And that's if you're lucky. What if you die? It would be that much more tragically ironic if there were some email out there in the ether, waiting to be delivered in twenty years.

This is all assuming you even still have the same email address. I guess that is a pretty safe bet, because I have Hotmail and Gmail, and either Microsoft or Google will control the entire Internet by then.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

This Is All My Fault

Sumana has written a column about the car accident she had, several months back, on her way to see me in Pleasanton. I am the carless friend referred to in the fourth paragraph. That's me!

Read the column for a detailed account of the lasting trauma caused by my inability to pick someone up at the BART station. She may never drive again.

Sumana, I'm sorry.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Smurfy Comparisons


Before: An old but perfectly decent looking building with sensible California colors.


After: I can't find the words. Suffice to say that no matter how blue it looks here, rest assured it's even bluer in person. Also note that the dark trim used on the fence was originally the middling blue used on the building before someone realized that was really going too far. As Stephanie says, this is the color of a Smurf. As a neighbor suggested, we should paint fish on it. Our building belongs in the neighborhood from Edward Scissorhands.


The entryway, before. Ignore my futile attempt to pry loose a doormat glued to the ground by the Will of God. That's another story.


The entryway, now. It may not be clear from this photo, but the blue is so overpowering, it's like leaving an airlock to go underwater. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Y'all Ready Yet?

For those of you who were intrigued by the prospect of music so bad that Britney Spears herself laughs at it, I went ahead and found a link to the song. The site is pretty annoying, with random pop-ups and junk, but you will be able to procure the bad music.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

I Am Reading The News

This guy kills a deer with his bare hands. I love it. When a deer busts into the house, how much of a man's man do you have to be to react by rolling up your sleeves and announcing, "Stand back, everybody, I'll take care of this fucking deer."

How much of a man do you have to be to not give up after ten minutes, not twenty, not thirty, but to go ahead and take a full forty minutes to destroy that deer? As it this point, is it even about protecting anyone anymore? Is it about preventing damage to your daughter's room? Or, after about five minutes, was there a moment where he got kicked in the leg and decided, Okay, deer--this just got personal.

"Honey, call the police. I'm going to go back and keep fighting the deer. ...Why? Because he's a little bitch, that's why."

I also like that the police gave him time to kill the deer before they got there, and that the family apparently just waited out in the house while he fought in the bedrooom.

"You need any help in there, Wayne?"

"No, I've [CRASH] almost got him. He's [SLAM] getting tired. [RUMBLE THUMP CRUNCH] Y'all just sit tight, I'm fine. Venison for dinner tonight."

If this was how people hunted deer, deer hunting would be about a million times awesomer.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Toeful

Enough with the TV ads and web banners featuring close-ups of disgusting infected toenails, and worse yet, mean little creatures prying them up like the hood of a car. Ugh. I mean, come on. How am I supposed to read my Hotmail when animated toenails are being pried open within my field of vision? Can't we handle the topic of toenail fungus a little more euphemistically, the way tampon ads use blue liquid?

I'm not trying to say I'm too good for toenail fungus cures, but no one needs to see this. Bad enough that men think wearing sandals in public is okay--we see enough disgusting toes on a daily basis nowadays.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I Hope Someone Noticed This


...because otherwise this is going to bug me. Posted by Picasa

Chaotic, Indeed

Clearly the Britney Spears / Kevin Whatshisfuck marriage was the most genuine, heartfelt career move that the Kevin half of the couple ever made. As for Britney, not so much. But with chops like these, you know stinky Kevin will pick up her slack.

Federline's Hip-Hop Revealed

Kevin Federline boasts about his life with wife Britney Spears and demands to be called "Daddy" in a track from his forthcoming hip-hop debut. The 27-year-old's LP has yet to be released, but a track called "Y'All Ain't Ready" has appeared on the internet. Federline celebrates the lifestyle he shares with Spears and their baby son Sean Preston, but makes an embarrassing slip - confusing the word paparazzi with the surname of opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.

He raps, "Back then they called me K-Fed/But you can call me Daddy instead/Go ahead and say whatcha wanna/I'm gonna sell about 2 mil, oh, then I'm a goner/I know you all wish you was in my position/Cause I keep getting' in situations that you wish you was in, cousin/Steppin' in this game and y'all ain't got a clue/Getting anxious? Go take a peep/I'm starrin' in your magazines now every day and week/But maybe baby you can wait and see/Until then all these Pavarottis followin' me."


Don't worry, Kevin. We all be ready. Y'all just keep on keepin' it real, dawg. Let it flow. We be wit'choo.

Oh, and Brit: You sure did hitch the right wagon to your star. Great catch, girlfriend.

Not Monsters, Merely Sad

A cute Scary-Go-Round Guide to Monsters. Actually, it's the design for a limited edition tea towel. I don't really understand how such a detailed design goes on a tea towel, but maybe I don't understand what a tea towel is.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I Just Blue Myself

They are painting our building.

They came without warning. There was no notice, no announcement. One day there was a truck and buckets, and paper taped to our windows.

Soon the building was turning blue. It started at the rear and crept toward the front, swallowing everything up.

This has happened before, but not to us. The building across the street, it has the same landlord. It turned blue about a year ago. Now it's as though it always was.

Think hard, what color was it before? Was it like ours, a sort of pinky-peach color? Was it beige, or yellow? Impossible to say.

We do remember this: When it turned blue, it seemed not to be an improvement. To be sure, that building needed a coat of paint, as did our own. But the way it turned, out, with alternating panels in light and dark shades of blue, gave us pause.

We looked at the chipped pink paint on our own building and wondered, would we be next? But the painters never came. We considered ourselves blessed.

But now the blue has returned with a vengeance, and it has infected our own. It appears even brighter than the blue across the street. It is the bold blue of a crisp sky on a cloudless day. It seems to invite birds to fly straight into it, except that the building is not tall enough. It is candy-colored.

The fences are turning blue, also. They are a darker yet bolder shade that is even more ridiculous.

The blue is tacky. It is cheap. Who paints buildings blue anymore, anyway? What is this, 1950? And furthermore, why this gaudy shade?

We shall have to accustom ourselves to telling people "the blue building" rather than "the pink building" when giving directions.

The pink was a bit kitschy too, but it worked, and it had the dignity of age. Alas, it is all but obliterated. In a few days, if not already, it will be gone. And soon enough it will be as though it never was.

Fare thee well, pink building. You shall live on in our hearts.

Premature Judgment

Could it be that Hotmail is not, in fact, down like a motherfucker? Stephanie reports that it works fine from her office, and I now submit to you that it works fine from USC. While most websites work for us here at home, Hotmail is not one of them. Nor, at the moment, is Google Video or my precious American Shopper page therein.

Why is our network so retarded?

This is the second in an infinite series of posts on the arbitrary and unpredictable ways in which our Internet access is frustrating.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Middle Kingdom

Note: Here is a piece about Malcolm in the Middle that I wrote a couple of months ago to submit to Salon (UPDATE: Now minus the first two boring paragraphs telling you what the show is about). They didn't use it, which is fine, since I'm not terribly happy with it myself. Trying to be unequivocally supportive, not to mention concise, forced me to gloss over some of the problems I've been having with the show lately, which I'll explore in another post soon. But what I wrote here still stands, although it's more applicable to the series as a whole than this season's episodes (with the exception of "Burning Man").

It’s easy to dismiss Malcolm in the Middle as a tame family show, just because it spawned the star of Agent Cody Banks. Yet beneath its cartoonishness, Malcolm is surprisingly bold and edgy. Even its tender moments are goosed with subversive twists, creating genuine emotional payoffs without setting foot near Full House territory. Its consistently ambitious and inventive set pieces and sight gags are second to none, not even single-camera descendants Scrubs and Arrested Development. Over the show’s six seasons, the characters have not only aged but grown. Malcolm, Reese, Dewey and Francis are all different people than they were six years ago, and their changes feel organic and totally believable. Malcolm is also daring enough to break out of its insular sitcom reality. Last year’s season-ending cliffhanger found Hal framed for embezzling from his Enron-like employer as Reese joined the army and shipped out to Afghanistan. As if that weren’t enough, the show has even added a baby to the family without aging it five years between seasons (see Growing Pains) or completely forgetting it exists (see Friends).

But even if you put all that aside, Malcolm in the Middle is a great show, and here’s why: No other show has the balls to purposely and unapologetically turn its lead character into such a complete jerk (at least, no show not created by Larry David)*. For all its broad laughs, Malcolm in the Middle is, at heart, about a bleak, tortured adolescence.

That’s right: The show is brilliant because Malcolm is unpleasant and miserable.

Even in its first season, Malcolm in the Middle was never really about a boy genius. It was about a very insecure boy who was horrified to learn that he was a genius. It branded him as freakish and nerdy, part of the class of gifted pariahs called “Krelboynes,” when all he wanted was to fit in. Meanwhile, Malcolm's awareness of his intelligence only heightened his neurotic self-consciousness, turning him into a bitter, defensive know-it-all.

By the fourth season, Frankie Muniz had transformed from a cute, likable kid into an awkward, gangly teen. The complaints and wisecracks that seemed so cute and funny coming from the pre-pubescent Muniz were now delivered in an oddly deep voice that made Malcolm sound as whiny and obnoxious as an actual teenager.

The show had by this time evolved into an ensemble piece, spreading its stories equally among the cast, which helped to offset the problem of Malcolm’s waning appeal. But downplaying Malcolm had another benefit: it left the writers free to honestly explore the worst impulses of the character. And it works because they don’t ask us to like him.

As Malcolm entered high school, darker undercurrents emerged. Malcolm’s complaining turned out to be a major character flaw. In the episode “Malcolm Holds His Tongue,” Malcolm suppresses his urge to nitpick, correct, complain and crack wise—but it only bottles up his hostility and gives him an ulcer. Malcolm may be a genius, but he’s his own worst enemy. Admittedly, if Malcolm had continued to anchor every episode, this approach could have been disastrous. But as one member of an ensemble, Malcolm is not only tolerable but also funny.

One painfully direct moment comes in last season’s episode, “Chad’s Sleepover,” in which Malcolm and Reese learn they are so unpopular that no one told them about the school’s unofficial Ditch Day. Despondent and contemplative, Malcolm and Reese manage to pinpoint their problems perfectly: Malcolm bullies people intellectually and Reese bullies them physically, because both are afraid of not being liked. But the moment of clarity is exactly that—a moment. The brothers quickly retreat into comfortable, counterproductive denial, devising a childish and inappropriate prank on their schoolmates that only cements their unpopularity.

One of the show’s greatest pleasures has been watching Dewey evolve. Even as he’s gotten older and his lines have increased, Dewey still operates according to his own unpredictable system of logic. In the fifth season, Malcolm attempts to save Dewey from the fate that ruined his own life—the Krelboyne class—but ends up getting Dewey put in a special needs class instead. Surrounded by emotionally disturbed children, Dewey uses his leadership and guidance to inspire the misfits around him. Thus Dewey serves as a perfect counterpoint to Malcolm—Whereas Malcolm took an opportunity and made the worst of it, Dewey has taken a setback and made the best of it.

The new season will take us all the way to Malcolm’s high school graduation. Time will tell whether Malcolm will turn his life around or whether he will continue to be a model of how not to live. Now it’s up to the writers to craft a satisfying finale that doesn’t cheapen the show’s hard-edged worldview.

*Now that I think about it, The Office does, too. I'm really starting to like these footnotes.

For The Record

I hate the spelling "Hallowe'en" for Halloween. That's why I've been using it. Because I hate it so much.

Call It A Costume

Here's my take. Yesterday's Hallowe'en post was not necessarily un-Kenny-like because it wrung postmodern humor from form rather than content (while such humor has admittedly been absent in this forum, I did do some Squelch work back in the day that played off the form--hence Mr. Savage's glowing quote to your right). However, the post was out of character for this blog because it broke many of my personal unwritten rules for good blogging. In other words:

1) It is unfocused and meandering
2) It is (partially) about my life
3) It is tinged with unseemly self-pity masquerading as self-deprecating "humor"
4) It attempts comedy through nonsensical stream-of-consciousness digressions
5) The prostitute/popsicle gags are needlessly vulgar

Also, the treatment of the potential post topics is dismissive and betrays a certain apathy that carries over to the reader. In retrospect, the postmodern footnote gag is the only part I think is kind of a little bit funny, though still out of character.

This post, the one I'm writing now, is also wrong for this blog, since, like the offending Hallowe'en post

6) It is about the blog itself

I have no real defense for letting something of such substandard quality appear here. It was something of an attempt to experiment with the format of my posts, but really it just turned into everything I hate about blogging. So, sure, let's just say that was my Hallowe'en costume. I dressed up as a bad blogger, and indulged my baser instincts the way girls indulge in low-cut tops and fishnet stockings*.

*And having sex for money.