New year, old cliché

Wow, this place is dusty.  Here’s hoping 2009 brings 2009 blog posts (or at least more than the handful 2008 brought).

But, with new beginnings brings a look back at what has passed.  Without my usual preamble, and just cuz I feel like it, the top 10 new scripted pieces I saw in 2008 (will feature mostly hour-long and half-hour TV, with a sprinkling of movies, since I didn’t see many, and possibly a video game, since they totally count).

10: House – 4×16 – “Wilson’s Heart”

HOUSE
Because it doesn’t hurt here.

Normally House is great because Beth and I can shout derisively at the screen – “House is always right!” – whenever a character decides to second-guess the amazing Hugh Laurie’s ascerbic diagnostitian, as they try to ratchet out conflict by having others doubt his crazy theories could be right.  They always are, and the mystery is always solved with nearly universally positive results. Last season’s finale got solved relatively quickly and easily, but it was the aftermath (the death of Wilson’s girlfriend due to House’s needing a lift from the bar) that revealed some of the most genuine and touching moments yet for the good doctor.

9. Mad Men – 2×11 – “The Jet Set”

KURT
I make love with the men, not the women.

An out there moment, to be sure, but one that kind of sums up perfectly what this show does best: take the morays of the 60s and throw them into question, oftentimes leaving its characters behind in what is going to be a huge social and cultural upheaval. And that doesn’t even touch on the fact that this was the episode where Don just took off from his conference in LA to join the crazy beach house and ended the week by calling someone as Dick Whitman, his long-buried secret identity. I almost lost these moments between the Decemberists intro and the Marti Noxon mandated rape plotline, but this show is still amazing.

8. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles – 1×09 – “What He Beheld”

CAMERON
He said very little, and then he was quiet.

This show snuck up on me. I’m not big on the Terminator movies, but it is a damn fine hour of weekly sci-fi. It even made Brian Austen Green compelling! I know! And the image in the first season finale of bodies of armored FBI agents raining into an apartment complex pool to the tune of Johnny Cash made for a long summer of waiting.

7. 30 Rock – 2×12 – “Subway Hero”

BUCKY BRIGHT
I wandered around the building all night. I didn’t run into another living soul… except one gigantic lesbian. Who is Conan O’Brien, and why is she so sad?

This could just as easily have gone to “The One With The Cast of Night Court” for including, well, the cast of Night Court, or “Cooter” for the line “No it’s not. We’ve looked into it, and it’s not.”, but Tim Conway and the triumphant return of Liz Lemon’s delightfully sleazy ex-boyfriend Dennis (Dean Winters, also great as a polar opposite character on Terminator) took it.

6. Wall-E

WALL·E
Eeeee … vah?.

Amazing that they can do so much with so little.  A touching, whimsical, hopeful story.

5. Bioshock

ANDREW RYAN
A man chooses, a slave obeys.

Yes, it first came out in 2007, but I didn’t have my 360 until 2008.  Plus, the PS3 version was new in 2008, so I still technically didn’t break my rules. A gripping piece of work, I dare anyone playing through this not to be completely compelled and not just a little horrified. It’s very few movies even nowadays that can do such interesting work with ideas of free will, destiny and power, let alone go for 40 hours and let you shoot stuff the whole time.

4. Supernatural (Tie) – 4×01/4×08 – “Lazarus Rising”/”Wishful Thinking” (Honourable Mention to 3×13, “Ghostfacers”)

SAM
I’m really sorry to have to break this to you, but your bear is sick…

I knew there had to be a Supernatural on this list, I just didn’t realize how high it would be, or how many I had to weed through to pick just one. And even then I chickened out and took three. Could have been its own category. I like this show too much for my own good. But when it can wage an all-out war between heaven and hell one week, then have the boys hunt down a wishing-well animated, man-sized, stuffed (and clinically depressed) teddy bear the next, I simply must watch.

3. Pushing Daisies – 2×06 – “Oh Oh Oh, It’s Magic”

NED
It’s a magic show.

Not quite yet gone but already greatly missed. Ned finally started to get some movement on tracking down and coming to terms with his father, and Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles’ murder/undeadening kerfuffle started to really complicate. Plus Fred Willard showed up. Possibly the best Daisies of all.

2. Lost – 4×05 – “The Constant”

DESMOND
I love you Penny. I’ve always loved you.

It seems trite and simple, but seeing what is easily the most affecting personal story on Lost actually reach (at least at this point) a satisfying conclusion, one that is earned and rooted for, in what was also one of the most satisfying myth episodes of the series so far, with enough time bending and island-hopping to get any purist riled up, was nothing short of magnificent.  I tried to find another, less obvious Lost for the list, but “The Constant” was just too good.

1. Battlestar Galactica – 4×07 – “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner”

HERA
Bye bye.

I’m not even really sure this is fully number one, as a whole, but for the biggest sheer oh-my-God moment I can remember from the last 12 months, it deserves pause. That little girl at the edge of her mom’s bed, saying goodbye, ready to go to Rebel Six (for reasons we’ve yet to really find out) before Athena goes ahead and kills said Six, not to mention the basestar jumping away and Gaeta’s creepy-ass singing before getting his leg amputated … man, that was a great hour.

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It’s that time of year again

It’s crazy time. Fall premiere time. The time when my PVR gets way too much of a workout, trying out new shows, catching up on old ones, and maybe discarding a few that are past their prime.

Let’s do this in a simple +/- (with maybe a neutral thrown in) to see what I’m looking forward to, or what may have disappeared.

(+) House — Hugh Laurie drew us in over the summer, and we spent evenings catching up with his previously-ignored-by-us medical procedural. The show is a bit of a formula (bit?), but Mr. Laurie is one of the most compelling personalities on the tube.
(o) Heroes — the ads for the once-promising comic-booky skein (yay Variety-speak!) are overwhelmingly meh, as was the entirety of the second season. I’ll probably give it a shot, but if things start to look like they’re getting more stupider, it’s gone.
(+) Gossip Girl — I was not a big fan early last year, but I think it largely found the tone it needed to take (sufficiently ridiculous), plus, Chuck Bass is one of my favourite TV creations in a long time. That dude can pull off colours no other exceedingly heterosexual man can even dream of. I now covet a pistachio-green suit with pink shirt and pocket square.
(o) Bones — this one has been up and down for years now. Since Fox had them “retool” after the first season, the mysteries had gotten stupider and the characters less compelling. The first couple back have felt more apropos, character-wise, so there is some hope.
(-) Eli Stone — the strike made us watch some things we weren’t proud of. This preachy, saccharine, overly melodramatic hour had two words going for it: Victor Garber. And with our actual shows back, not just strike filler, so long Mr. Brain Tumour Thingy.
(+)(for now) Fringe — J.J. Abrams does X Files. Hopefully there’s more to it than that, but the first two hours don’t necessarily seem to indicate that will be the case. Characters are moderately appealing, but whether or not there will be a story to care about is yet to be seen.
(+) Supernatural — Dean went to Hell. But of course the show won’t keep him there.
(+) Pushing Daisies — Yay! The Pie Maker is bank! Look for my Ain’t It Cool reviews again this year, all two of my readers.
(-) My Name is Earl — I stopped caring about a third of the way through the jail arc. The initially cute premise has become very tired, though interestingly not in the usual way. Ironically, getting away from Earl’s ‘list’ was the least interesting part of the show.

There are more. Maybe later. I wanted to get to this…

(+++) 30 Rock — I forgot how hard this show made me laugh, until this morning. I can’t believe something this smart and funny has actually succeeded, and not been shuffled off for another laugh-tracky rom com years ago. Enjoy one of the finest segments of comedy I’ve seen in years, courtesy of the probably-more-than-slightly-crazy Alec Baldwin (you may have to sit through an ad first).

There is just so much going on over the course of 90 seconds, you hardly get a chance to breathe. If the man doesn’t win an Emmy for this, I don’t even know what cliche of disbelief I’ll resort to.

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On two advertisements

Two pieces of advertising have struck me in the last 24 hours:

1. That Stephen Harper TV spot that has him sitting in front of a fire, extolling the virtues of his very cordial (thank you very much) working relationship he has with the two young fellows who happen to be his and his wife’s children.

2. On the back of a black Volkswagen Jetta on the DVP this morning: “Septicdesign.ca — Where all your fecal dreams come true”

One of these ads is an effective, catchy, memorable piece of marketing, and the other is full of … well, y’know.

Zing!

Stephen Harper is a Family Man™, and wants everyone to know it. Evidently, the fact that he enjoys playing cards with his kids means he is more than capable of running a government. And because they’ve shot him in some vaguely soft focus and put him in a sweater vest with that creepy, vacant, farthest-from-warm-you’ve-ever-seen smile, the Canadian people can Trust™ him. Honest and for serious.

I’d embed it, or link to it on Youtube or something, but a) I don’t care to see it again and/or have it posted on my site, and b) I’m sure you’ll come across it sooner or later, or can hunt it down yourselves if you’re really desperate.

The most disheartening thing about it is that people do fall for it. It’s one thing if you genuinely believe in conservative principles, and use them to guide yourself into a life of good, in some way, which many people I know have. I don’t happen to share these principles, but I can respect those who believe in something and put it to good use in their life.

What scares the absolute living hell out of me is the swaths of people who believe in nothing in particular, have no pressing thoughts on a direction or path for their country, and who make their voting decisions based on which candidate makes them ‘feel better’. I’m sick of hearing the polling question: “Which candidate would you want to have at a barbeque?”, and I’m terrified that people make their vote based on it. I want a Prime Minister who is too busy RUNNING THE COUNTRY to come to my damn barbeque.

Essentially, I’m astonished that the Conservatives are trying to run this campaign on Stephen Harper’s personality. Yeah, people don’t think a hell of a lot of Stephane Dion, but come on. This is either brilliant or the second-most firetruckin’ crazy piece of personality-based campaigning I’ve seen in the past two weeks.

Posted in brain, madvertising | 1 Comment

Cyclicism vs. cynicism — the battle of the soft c’s

I think I know why I’ve felt kind of on edge lately.

I’ve been obsessing (to put it mildly) with politics and such accompanying folderol. And not even politics that concerns me – the American kind. Well, ok, American politics affects everybody whose legs touch the ground when they walk, but still, it’s been a tad all-consuming.

Not that I don’t have valid and passionate points of view on all of these things, even to the point that I’m wondering if there isn’t a little Sam Seaborn in me somewhere, just waiting to bust out and put words in somebody’s mouth who is trying to do a little bit of a greater good. There’s a whole hell of a lot of greater good out there to be done, and these (soon to be anyway) duelling election cycles on both sides of the border are definitely whipping up some long-dormant activist/progressivist (to invent a word) part of me, combined with relapsing into our West Wing phase from last summer.

I’ve really had a thing for soaring oratory lately, to say the least.

But I don’t think the intensity of my concern has stemmed from anything Stephen Harper, or Stephane Dion, or Barack Obama, or Sarah Palin, has been doing or saying.

It has to do with about seven pounds of fuzz buried in a backyard in Richmond Hill one year ago today.

We put Kaylee down almost one year to the minute as of right now, and it was essentially my first real, adult encounter with a decision of that much pain and weight.

And my brain tends to work in cycles.

In about grade 8, say second week of May, I had a really, really bad day. I got pissed off, for possibly the first time as an individual of any kind of real self-awareness, at 13, and to that 13-year-old, it felt pretty epic. Dudn’t matter what it was about, but it was something that mattered to me, and it felt terrible. Things worked out alright in the end, but for about a day and a half, it was markedly unpleasant. For a kid whose primary creative outlet and inspiration since about the fourth grade was Star Trek/Spockian/Data-ian stoicism, that much emotion was tough to process. Then, about a year later, second week of May, grade 9, I start getting really edgy, this time for no real good reason, until I remember what went down the last year. Same thing happened, each May, for about 3 or 4 years, in diminishing amounts.

Seems I’m doing it again, but without a dying cat to obsess and agonize over, I’ve surrogated my weird annualized anxiety onto something, anything, else. I imagine I will still care about both countries’ elections in a couple days’ time, but probably not as obsessively as I do now. No matter who wins either election, I will still be able to go to work every day, come home and hug my lady and my cats, and listen to the music and enjoy the stories that make my life what it is.

Thankfully, I’ve got a bit more (a bit) self awareness at this point, 15 years later, and a pretty stellar lady to go home and hizzang with. But who knows, maybe some of this awakened passion can lead to something constructive. At the very least, there will be a day to relax this weekend when we host folks to enjoy our garden’s harvest.

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Short is good (but we all knew that…)

Presto

Beth has already pimped Wall-E over on her cozy corner of internets, though as much as I loved it, I think I loved Presto more.

Everyone who has seen Pixar’s movies knows about their commitment to keeping the art of short films alive, prefacing each of their major releases with a whimsical short in the Merrie Melodies tradition. I grew up on a steady diet of Warner Bros. stuff, so I am more than thrilled that such a reputable and brilliant creative house is on my side.

A simple story (a bunny wants his carrot, and is miffed when his owner/magician starts the show without providing it, violence and hilarity ensues in his quest to obtain said carrot) done impeccably well. Just like the best of Bugs, Daffy, Foghorn Leghorn, the Goofy Gophers (indubitably!), and their kin.

I know I’m not linking the whole thing here, as that would be illegal and improper (though enterprising types may well be able to find it on the series of tubes…), you should all go and see Wall-E to experience Alec (the above-pictured bunny) for yourself, on the big screen. It doesn’t hurt that Wall-E is possibly Pixar’s best picture to date, but I would almost dare say that Presto outstrips it, if only out of pure joy.

I mean, just lookit his little face! He’s so happy!

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The best thing you’re probably not watching

I may be assuming too much here, but I don’t imagine a whole lot of you, my imaginary readers, are watching AMC’s amazing Mad Men.

You should be.

Set in the misogynist and booze-soaked world of advertising in New York, 1960, it started last summer and ran its first season, and came pretty much out of nowhere. It was one of those shows that you’re not even sure you want to watch in the five minutes before it starts, because you’re worried it might be a little heavy for summer viewing, but not more than 10 minutes in, you’re hooked all over again.

Created by one of the guys responsible for a decent chunk of the Sopranos, I have to say I much prefer this to the Jersey mobsters. Blasphemer, I know, but it’s the truth. Could be something to do with the fact that I work in advertising, and have picked up a love of the era of the show (late 50s-early 60s) by osmosis through Beth, but the show itself shares a great deal of the credit. It’s rich, textured, funny, powerful, and so, so smart. Hell, it opened the era for me to the point that How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying is now one of my favourite movies.

The first season built up so well, so gradually, that while the finale was playing, you finally realized how many balls were up in the air, and how masterfully they were being juggled. The clip below, I sent to my boss one time when I was arguing a point about how we needed to focus on a new viewpoint for one of our, shall we say more staid, clients. It may not make much sense to you out of context, except to know that Don, the dude making the speech, is in the midst of a family crisis (to put it mildly without spoiling), and that it is some of the finest writing you’ll see on TV in the past few years.

Season 2 starts at the end of the month, on AMC, while reruns have been on CTV for the past few weeks, and the CTV site has episodes streaming for everyone else to catch up. Or just go buy the DVD. It’s in a wicked cool Zippo case.

Either way, the only person I know besides us who is watching it is Dart, and everyone needs to be. So g’wan son, check it.

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As if I needed more proof…

I’ve written before about how I have been karmically deducing that the Old 97s are meant to be my favourite band. It’s out of my hands. I can no longer be held responsible for my actions where they are concerned.

Never, in a million years, would I presume to see my two favourite things combined in such a way.

Is it kind of a crappy music video? Yeah. Is my inner geek mentally correcting the rather egregious typo that is throughout? Let’s just say that the phrase “There’s no ‘C’!” is repeated in my head frequently.

I mean, there’s something to be said for a random video that doesn’t relate to the song, and then there’s this. There’s the band having a minimal role in a video, and then there’s the weird tangential pass-bys that go on here (the band appears, or is even suggested, for about 16 seconds).

Do I still LOVE IT? Of course. If only just for what it represents if not for its execution.

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