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Friday, April 02, 2004
Confessions of an addict

While it may seem hard to believe, between about 1988 and 1993, I didn't watch TV except for Saturday Night Live, the movie channels, and select programming on MTV. I honestly couldn't be bothered with spending the time actually watching TV when I could read the TV Guide through from cover to cover in the span of one trip to the john. Oh sure, there were occasions on Friday or Saturday nights when Brandon, Little Jeff and I would do our best unintentional Beavis and Butthead impression by flipping through every channel and commenting on everything that looked interesting or funny, but only SNL and late night Showtime were "destination" TV for me.

In 1993, a friend of a friend introduced me to the X-Files with the second episode and I was hooked. I still managed to stay away from other weekly shows, and justified watching the X-Files because I had stopped watching SNL. X-Files was my Friday night (and later Sunday night) reward to myself for studying hard all week. If I didn't feel like I studied to my satisfaction, I wouldn't watch it until after I had finished the studying.

During my senior year of college, a friend of mine who had been out in the working world for a while moved into the townhouse I was living in, and brought with him his satellite dish. It didn't take me long to notice that he seemed to plan his life around TV shows, mostly sitcoms. With no small amount of superiority, I mocked him to my friends for being a slave to the tube, and managed never to get sucked into any series television that he watched (not to be confused with movies, as everyone in my house watched Braveheart, Three Amigos, Blazing Saddles and Raising Arizona any time they came on).

That all changed when I moved to DC. I had moved halfway across the country with only what would fit in my car and very little money, so I moved in with two gals whom I knew from college and who had been out in the real world for a year longer than I. They had furniture, dishes, silverware and a TV/VCR; I had a futon and a bookshelf that I bought once I got there. One of my new roommates warned us that she "watched a few TV shows" regularly, and that she taped them for posterity and in case she wasn't home. Since the TV/VCR in the living room belonged to her, my other roommate and I couldn't really complain, we just asked that she put a schedule up of what she taped and when, so we would know that we couldn't watch TV during those times. When the list got posted, we saw to our horror that there was at least one show being taped every night between 8 and 10 pm. After initially resisting and making fun of most of what she watched, for lack of anything else to do in the evenings, I started watching TV with her.

And I got hooked: Buffy, Dawson's Creek, Friends, Frasier, Seinfeld, Early Edition, I got into pretty much everything she watched, except Star Trek, which I just couldn't stomach. And after I moved out to LA, I found myself craving those shows like an addiction. If I didn't have a TV, I'd ask a friend to tape things for me. It's a sickness, I know; I had become what I hated. The worst part is, if I am "into" a show, I tend to stick with it even when it''s bad because of some misplaced sense of loyalty. I kept watching ER after Clooney left (for what it's worth, it's pretty good again this year), X-Files after the movie, and I stayed with Dawson's until . . . well, I don't think I stayed with that one very long, but I would still ask people what was going on, just to keep up.

All of that was just a preamble to what may or may not be a semi-regular feature hereabouts: mini-reviews of TV shows that I watch. Don't worry, I've become a little more discriminating about what I watch (with one exception); I've even been known to give up on a series once in a while if it gets boring. I tend to gravitate towards character-based shows which alternate between single episode shows, and shows which are a part of what I call the meta-story. A show without an over-arching story has an uphill battle for me, and very few ever become destination TV. For instance, I like to watch Law & Order: SVU if I'm home and I remember it, but I don't tape it. It's also the rare comedy that becomes destination TV for me.

That said, here are the shows I watch from week to week, or tape if I can't watch them:

The Sopranos
Alias
24
Angel
ER

In addition to those shows, I've watched the first two episodes of HBO's new Deadwood, and it is certainly keeping my attention. I also will watch L&O, SVU, and occasionally CSI if I'm home. Like I said, comedies are rarely appointment television, but I do like to watch Scrubs, Chappelle's Show, South Park and Curb Your Enthusiasm if I remember to, and I feel a bizarre loyalty to Friends, even though I haven't laughed during an episode for over two years. There's one other show that I watch, and it's the only show other than The Sopranos that I'm excited for from week to week. It deserves it's own post, however, so I'll make you wait for it.

Much like the comic stuff, and the reminiscences which may or may not happen, your mileage may vary, so skip them if you don't want to read them.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004
The Persistence of Memory

I've been thinking a lot lately about memory: what creates memories and why I can't remember some things while others stick with me forever. I actually studied memory in junior high for a month or so in the "gifted" class, but as my gifted class was really just an hour a day when a bunch of socially inept misfits could get together and feel marginally less outcast, it became more of a social hour where I didn't really learn much. What boggles my mind is that I know every word to every song on the first Violent Femmes record and They Might Be Giants - Flood, CDs which I maybe listen to twice a year these days, but I can't remember many details about the book I finished last week, or some of my friends' birthdays.

I also don't trust my "memories" from much further back in time than yesterday. Memories are colored by the stories we've heard from our parents and friends, the stories we've told to others and ourselves, and perhaps most importantly by time and subsequent experiences. Sometimes I wonder if I haven't made up my memories, or if I've absconded the memories of others, and those things which I "remember" never happened to me at all. Sometimes the memories I have are as vague as Will Eisner's comics - less actual "things" or events than merely an impression of a thing or event.

So I've been thinking about stories I tell about my past, and stories I've never told, and wondering if I should write them down somewhere, either as blog posts or in some sort of physical "journal," or even as a roman a clef, before I forget them or they become too indistinct to record as more than just an impression. I don't know that anyone other than me is particularly interested in most of my stories, so if you start to see me rambling on about the past here and you aren't interested in reading it, just skip that entry and move on to another, more entertaining entry and don't tell me. Or maybe I won't post them at all.

I don't think I can even really remember my earliest memory, can you?

Tuesday, March 30, 2004
The continuing crisis

One of the benefits of working from home is that you can sometimes turn the TV on in the middle of the day (if you're my boss, though, I only do this at lunch time, I promise). It should be noted that the reason most people work during the day is because there is nothing of any significant interest on during working hours, save reruns and talk shows. On rare occasions, however, you'll find something so tremendously bad that you just can't turn it off.

Today, as I flipped through the channels, I somehow landed on MTV's "I want a Famous Face." Today's show, assuming this is some kind of series, featured a woman named Mia who is a professional marketing manager by day, and a Brittney Spears impersonator by night. In order to complete her Brittney look, she decides to get her breasts lifted, as Brittney's boobs are "obviously a little perkier than [Mia's]." Her hope is that once she gets the boob job, she'll be able to make $2500 per show, which is what the "really good" celebrity impersonators make. Excuse me, but people who go around pretending to be celebrities make $2500 "per show?" What does that mean? Who hires celebrity impersonators, anyway? Do people hire them to visit sick kids? Do guys hire them to have sex with? Where does one look to hire a celebrity impersonator?

I was so captivated by this train wreck that I found out that both Mia and Brittney:

*like Starbucks
*share a favorite kind of ice cream (cookie dough)
*look up to Madonna

Can you believe these coincidences? They really must be flip sides of the same coin, only one has saggier breasts.

Monday, March 29, 2004
Best messageboard post . . . ever!

I have an admitted predilection for superhero comics, but my love for the genre in no way supplants my other interests. That said, I think Dirk Deppey, Fantagraphics' webmaster and incoming Managing Editor for The Comics Journal, pretty much sums it up in this post (no specific link available, so scroll about halfway down the page) as to why he doesn't want people taking up tcj.com messageboard space talking about who should play in whom in not-even-upcoming superhero movies:

". . . pornography is inherently cooler than superheroes to just about everyone who isn't a sexphobic puritan or a hopeless nerd. This is why the porn industry rakes in billions of dollars worldwide, and Marvel Comics doesn't. Porn rules. Sorry to burst your bubble, there."

'Nuff said, eh?

Caution: Matt Frewer Sighting Ahead

Saw the remake of Dawn of the Dead this weekend and, before I say anything else about it, let me tell you that it was most definitely not filmed in Milwaukee County as purported in the film, nor indeed was it filmed anywhere in Wisconsin. The most glaring reason I could tell that it wasn't is that no one in the film speaks with any sort of northern-US accent. I've been in Wisconsin for about 9 months now, and, while not everyone here has the accent, I have yet to go anywhere that three or more people were gathered in which at least one of them didn't have it. Also, Milwaukee is hunting country, so no self-respecting sporting goods store would be without a decent supply of guns and a lot of ammo.

I should also explain that the original is a favorite of mine, and was one of the first video tapes that I ever bought for myself (right after the superior Night of the Living Dead, Trainspotting, the original Star Wars trilogy, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert). The new one takes little from the original, save the title, the premise (survivors of a zombie infestation band together in a mall), and a line where Ving Rhames' character suggests that the zombies may be coming to the mall because of some sort of residual memories of their life (I'm not quoting it because I don't remember it exactly).

Thus, excepting the two problems I mentioned above, I actually liked the movie. It's not great cinema, but it entertains at least as much as last year's 28 Days Later did, and on a rainy Sunday afternoon, what more can you ask for? I've seen it written that the remake lacks the "subtlety" of Romero's flick, but I'm of the opinion that the original Dawn of the Dead was far from subtle, except to those who didn't get the joke. Night of the Living Dead was much more subtle with it's subtext about racism, and it's gentle subversion of certain societal stereotypes. That said, the new version does lack Romero's humor, but it makes up for it by making the survivors act pretty close to the way that people might actually act in that kind of situation. I'm not sure that real people would ever try to make a escape the zombie clutches by going through the sewer, especially not to get some chick who places a higher value on a dog's life than her own, but if I were in a mall with plenty of food, and there were hundreds of zombies outside, you couldn't pay me enough to try to make a break for it.

Sarah Polley, an actress for whom I have a particular fondness because she was in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and despite her unfortunate resemblance to Tori Spelling, does a particularly excellent job of acting, no small feat in a horror film. She goes from scared, to stunned, to becoming the emotional heart of the movie without ever giving a typical horror movie "we all have to get along" rallying speech. Ms. Polley brings her indie movie experience playing sexually-molested paraplegics and cancer-stricken young mothers to this splatterfest without the typical wink and a nod that we usually see.

In fact, it was the cast that actually convinced me to go see the movie (okay, I also have an admitted fondness for zombie flicks): the sorely underrated Ving Rhames gives a typically great performance; Mekhi Phifer, whose Dr. Pratt has been the best thing about the last few seasons of ER, really shines as an expectant father who can't accept that what's happening out there might also be happening in here; and Jake Webber, perennially doomed to be a "that guy" who looks like a cross between Tim Roth and Tim Blake Nelson, is a better actor than his character was written for, but he makes it work anyway.

If/when you see the flick, make sure to stay through the credits. As Maddox mentions in the best review I've read yet, it's only after the end credits begin that you finally see naked breasts, a horror-movie staple. I'll add that the brief scenes interspersed with the credits allude to a slightly different ending to the story than you would see otherwise, one which seems more congruent with the way I like my horror movies to end.

I liked the movie, and several other recent "horror" entries, because they finally stopped with that nineties trend of horror movies winking at viewers who know all the cliches. I'll take earnest supernatural horror flicks like Dawn of the Dead, 28 Days Later or The Ring over a million Screams, Jasons (after the first two), Freddies (after the first one), or late period Wes Craven or John Carpenter. In looking at the few horror movies that I've felt were genuinely creepy (including NOtLD, Freaks, The Wicker Man, The Exorcist, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Burial Ground), the creep factor comes less from the film's adherence to or subversion of horror movie cliches, including "scary" music building up to something jumping out, than from a certain atmosphere permeating the entire film. Maybe it's a degree of verisimilitude within which there should be only one fantastic/supernatural element, maybe a somewhat incongruous soundtrack, maybe simply a relatively low budget. Whatever it is, DotD has it (and Cabin Fever comes close), while most recent entries in the genre leave me feeling like I wasted my money.

Oh, and as alluded to in the title of this post, the award for the best cameo in the film goes to former Max Headroom, Matt Frewer. It's always a pleasure to see Mr. Frewer finding work these days; I suspect that his no-doubt hefty paycheck dissuades most filmmakers from hiring him. In his heyday, though, I thought he was as funny as the kiddies all thought Jim Carrey was in early nineties (I also thought that Misfits of Science and Cursor were quality TV). [Side question: was Frewer the originator of Max Headroom? I know that Max was big in Britain long before Coke bought, er, brought him over here, but it seems strange to me that gangly American Frewer pulled off a popular character in Americo-phobic Angleterre.] At any rate, his fewer than five minutes of screen time were riveting; here's hoping that his death scene gets him some notice come awards season. Here's to you, Trashcan Man. My life for you, indeed.

Linkblogging

I've never done this before, but for some reason I read more than a few things this morning which I just had to comment on. I doubt I'll be doing significant comics-related linkblogging, both because there are so many others who do it better than I and because at the moment I doubt that my "readership" (all four of you) is all that interested in comics-related sites. If you like it, though, let me know and I may do it again.

*This is what's wrong with American society today. Do I think the comic will be any good? Who knows, as Johnston is hit-or-miss with me, as are "reinterpretations" of Shakespeare (I liked "10 Things I Hate About You," but hated "William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet"). I'm more interested in the second sentence of the review, "I'm a big fan of blood-soaked crime epics, but not much of a fan of Shakespeare." This reminds me of several friends of mine who proudly proclaim, "I don't read," as if illiteracy is something to be worn like a badge of honor. Michael Moore would be proud, though.

*Kevin Melrose links to this review of DC Comics' recent Adam Strange Archives. My eyes started bleeding as I read the review, not because of the content, but because it's so poorly written, and it's not even a blog (where I tend to excuse certain grammatical oversights). I mean, seriously, one would think that a basic knowledge of English grammar would be a prerequisite for writing an article or review for a 'zine, even if it only appears online.

*Ah, geez. I can't be alone in thinking that Witchblade is the stupidest comic book ever, and while Wolverine certainly hasn't been an interesting character in years, even he doesn't deserve to marry into that concept. Aside: the last time Chris Claremont returned to Wolverine as a solo character, in Wolverine 125 for those keeping track, he had Wolvie marry long-time baddy the Viper ("I vant to vash and vipe your vindows"). What is it about the character that has Claremont wanting to domesticate him?

*There's been a lot of talk in comics blogs about "what's wrong with comics" and "how to get more people to read comics." To date, though, only Johnny Bacardi/David Allen Jones gets it right, as far as I'm concerned (neither the permalinks, nor the archives are working at the moment, so scroll down to the last/first entry for 3/26, or click on the archives for the week beginning 3/21 and scroll to the 3/26 entries). I think I have a longer rant in me on this subject, but I'll wait for another day to let it out.

*Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas reads comics?!? I don't know what's more shocking, that he reads them or that he makes his interns pull quotes from them to use in his speeches. [Insert obligatory pubic hair on comics joke here].

*What? Jim Davis doesn't actually draw Garfield anymore, and hasn't since 1983? Surely he's still the idea-man behind everyone's favorite surly feline, right? Next thing you know, I'll find out that they've been running the same five Family Circus cartoons for the last twenty years and no one noticed.

Okay, I think that about wraps up all of the links that I thought were interesting this morning. David, this saves you from getting email from me about any of these things. Thanks for reading.

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