Friday, September 26, 2008

TV Season 2008-2009: The Choking Stench of Entertainment

Yes, a year has indeed passed already, and it's that time again! Ramblings about things to view on your moving picture box for the next eight months to properly numb your brain! Clearly, this is just what you come to this blog for - am I right, or am I right? (I'm never wrong.)

Let's get right to it, shall we?

Heroes - Mondays @ 9 PM - The big Heroes season 3 premiere was earlier this week, and the overall theme of the first two episodes? "Fuck you, season 2!" Series creator Tim Kring's already admitted that season 2 was lackluster at best, and terrible in its worst moments. The season opened with lots of major twists and turns and plenty of action and mystery, starting up a new series of story arcs with powerless characters starting to gain powers, some seriously convoluted screwing with the timeline, and an assortment of villains escaping while a previous villain returns to prominence in Sylar's regaining his powers and picking up some even deadlier new ones. (Not to mention the abrupt death of an antagonist from last season as well.) The season's full of promise so far, and considering how good season 1 was, hopefully Kring and company are up to the task of delivering, after how hackneyed season 2'd been.

Chuck - Mondays @ 8 PM starting September 29th - This one turned out to be a real surprise favorite from last season. (It was hard to know what to make of it from the commercials, and I missed the pilot episode (Still haven't caught it yet.), but I watched all of season 1 from episode 2 onwards, and got hooked quickly.) The show's goofy and fun, sort of like a comical postmodern play on old spy serials. The writing's consistently fairly light - though it delves into melodrama here and there, it never gets too heavy-handed - and the strong cast plays their roles well. Not deep television by any stretch, but it's a hell of a lot of fun, and I'm really looking forward to season 2. (The couple of new episodes they aired after the writer's strike that'd been written beforehand were a nice little appetizer half a year ago.)

The Office - Thursdays @ 9 PM - The 5th season premiered in these past 24 hours, and it's off to a strong start as well. Amy Ryan's been a strong addition to the cast in her first two episodes so far. She's got definite chemistry with the rest of the cast. The premiere brought an interesting return for Ryan after his rather quick release from prison, the usual Jim/Pam relationship storyline got some strong advancement in the premiere, and the Dwight/Angela/Andy love triangle only got more amusingly complicated. Even poor Toby got a brief appearance. More of the usual strong writing, acting, and great dry, deadpan humor. I'm optimistic about this season, as usual.

Pushing Daisies - Wednesdays @ 8 PM starting October 1st - Season 2 of Bryan Fuller's (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls) current series kicks off in less than a week now, following the first season having been pared down to 9 episodes from the planned 20 as a result of the WGA strike. Given that the show established itself a one of the freshest, best television programs on the air in its relatively short run last year, I'm naturally really looking forward to the premiere. Sharp writing, great cast, interesting plotlines and mysteries with lots of humor and interesting visuals from week to week - something to look forward to the return of. With any luck, the series will continue its popularity and last far longer than any other Fuller series to date.

Family Guy - Sundays @ 9 PM starting September 28th - Seth MacFarlane's hit animated series'll be going into its 8th season, I believe, this coming Sunday. More of the usual inane cutaways, more of the general absurdity you either love or hate. I've been enjoying the show since it first premiered when I was back in high school and it still aired back-to-back with That '70s Show in the early days. With all sorts of ridiculous plotlines and a planned season ending Empire Strikes Back episode, I'm looking forward to Family Guy's return. It'll be interesting to see what happens with the Cleveland spinoff, though, seeing as Cleveland's leaving the regular cast as of this coming season.

American Dad - Sundays @ 9 PM, not sure when the premiere is - If you like Family Guy, you probably like American Dad too. They're basically two shows in the same vein, with American Dad being more politically oriented. They're different enough overall to both be worth watching if you're one who enjoys animated comedy.

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - Thursdays @ 10 PM - Sunny started its 4th season just over a week ago now, with four episodes having aired so far. Between cannibalism, waterboarding, the gas crisis, Youtube viral videos, reality TV, Green Man, and even more attempts to fuck the Waitress, the season's off to a strong start, still being one of the darkest, funniest shows on television. And it's only poised to get stronger, with plans for another Night Man/Day Man episode, amongst others, ahead.

Comedy Central
Chocolate News - Wednesdays @ 10:30 starting October 15th - Following Dave Chappelle (The loss of who is one of the biggest Comedy Central's suffered in recent yeras.) and Carlos Mencia, David Alan Grier's got his own new variety sketch comedy show premiering in less than a month now. Grier can certainly be funny, so it'll be interesting to see how it turns out.

Just Finished/In Reruns
Weeds - Showtime - Season 4 of Weeds just finished on Showtime recently, I believe. So for those with the channel, they'll no doubt be reairing it frequently for a while yet. As for myself, I'm stuck waiting until it hits DVD next year. (I really wish they'd get the sets out sooner after the seasons finish airing.)

Code Monkeys - G4 - The second season finished a few weeks ago, and overall, felt like it went by far more quickly than the first season. (Though it started earlier in the summer as well.) As usual, it was absolutely base and crass, as humor goes, but full of amusing classic video game references and parodies, with a bit of modern stuff thrown in, so if you're a gamer geek, it's worth watching.

No Reservations - Travel Channel - The latest season (I have no idea how many they're up to now) of chef Tony Bourdain's exploits concluded on Labor Day earlier this month, and he traveled all over the globe as usual, providing some interesting looks at different cultures and peoples - along with their food, naturally. The Saudi Arabia episode was especially interesting. Well worth catching in the Travel Channel's reairs.

Midseason Returns/Replacements
Battlestar Galactica - The Sci-Fi Channel - At some point in early 2009, BSG is slated to return to the airwaves for its final half-season, resolving everything the fans've been waiting for and answering our questions following their dramatic arrival at Earth months ago. We haven't seen the last of those frackin' toasters yet. In the meantime, it looks like we may be seeing a second TV movie later this year. (Though looking at the IMDB, The Plan may not actually be airing until 2009. And there may possibly be two more TV movies following the series' conclusion.)

Reaper - CW - CW surprisingly ended up picking up Reaper for a second season as a mid-season replacement. Odds are, it probably won't last beyond that, and if they keep that in mind, hopefully the creators will write the season in such a way that it'd wrap up to give the show a good ending. Season 1 was a mixed bag, starting out as a fun weekly horror comedy romp with a bit of a Ghostbusters feel to it, then gradually turned into a semi-tedious monster of the week show with a likable cast. The second half of the season that aired in earlier 2008, however, took the show in much better directions as the characters started getting developed more and a lot more interesting subplots arose around Sam's identity as a reaper and confidant to the Devil, along with a demon uprising in an effort to seal up the Devil. If they continue with that kind of stronger writing momentum that carried them through the end of the season, season 2 could be very good, as nerdy comedy series with a supernatural current go. Otherwise, as far as I'm concerned, CW has no other worthwhile original programming. (At least, none that interests me.)

Scrubs - ABC - Yes, Scrubs is returning for an 8th season after jumping networks to ABC now. Many of season 7's episodes that were planned never ended up being finished or airing, and the season even ended out of order, with the Princess Bride style fantasy episode originally taking place prior to Dr. Kelso's departure, while the later episodes in the season focused on Kelso's retirement and Dr. Cox's becoming the Chief of Medicine. There's some definite unpleasant twists, though. Season 8 won't be the end of the show as it should be - though fans should probably consider it the final canon season. Series creator Bill Lawrence is cursed. He and Michael J. Fox leave Spin City and ABC decides to keep it going for another couple of seasons with some recasting including Charlie Sheen as the lead. The ratings plummet and the show stops being worth watching. Now? Just when you'd think he'd have escaped that in Scrubs having been an NBC series for most of its run, ABC has announced intentions to capitalize on their investment and keep the show going beyond season 8. So it's going to get a planned essential series ending with JD leaving the hospital - Zach Braff is leaving the cast - but then Bill Lawrence is leaving as well, so we'll likely see a season or two of what they did to Spin City. Judy Reyes has confirmed that she won't be sticking around either, and without JD or Carla around, Donald Faison's character, Turk, will lose rather critical pillars in the writing. Sure, they'll still have him, Elliot (Sarah Chalke), and Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) along with assorted supporting characters. But without the lead, another of the main cast, and the creator? I'm getting nothing but bad vibes as to where Scrubs is going after this next season.

Dollhouse - Years after Fox treated Firefly rather poorly and it still managed to garner a devoted - and much deserved - fanbase, and following the release of Serenity, Joss Whedon returns with a new science fiction series starring Eliza Dushku (Tru Calling), with Tahmoh Penikett (Helo on BSG) in the supporting cast. And where's it airing? You guessed it - Fox. Somehow, I have a bad feeling that they're going to slap it into a terrible time slot - like they did Wonderfalls and Firefly - and barely advertise it, then cancel it as soon as they come up with a good excuse. A shame, too, considering that the premise - centered around frequently mind-wiped humans with altered DNA dealing with false memories in an unusual society - is really interesting. It premieres in January, anyway, so I plan on watching it then, as a fairly new Whedon fan, having only seen Firefly on DVD, and never having really gotten into Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel.

Hard to Say
Virtuality - Ronald D. Moore, one of the guys behind the Battlestar Galactica revival, has a new virtual reality-based science fiction series in the works now, with a pilot produced at this point, I believe. No idea if it'll have a shot at being picked up, but it'll be interesting to see if it does, and if it'll fare any better than last fall's Bionic Woman, which failed on numerous levels, reportedly because NBC execs kept messing with it and didn't let the show find an audience or voice of its own. You never really got to know or care about anybody in the cast or get a feel for what was going on from week to week - Katee Sackhoff was the best thing about that revival.

Caprica - Still also only in its pilot phase, as far as I know, and also produced by Moore, this planned Battlestar Galactica revival spinoff set 50 years prior to the Cylons' genocide upon the colonies could potentially be worth watching if made into a full series.

And if you're not much of a TV watcher? Hey, at least the autumnal equinox has come and gone, so the days will only get shorter, the air cooler and crisper, and the leaves are soon to turn. (Unless you're in the southern hemisphere, anyway.) The change of seasons is certainly a good thing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Let's Reading!

Yeah, so I said I intended to write another entry or two earlier this month prior to the Raleigh Quarterly's next issue went up with my short story. Technically, their fall issue isn't up yet, anyway, but I was focused on other things as usual. (Project 27 Days has 20 of its 28 chapters complete now, and these last 8 are already mostly complete, so I'm still on schedule to hopefully finish by the end of this month, in time to shift focus to grad school applications and an agent hunt in October.)

I'm here now, anyway, for whatever it counts. In focusing on my literary work, I've been running low on good blogging ideas as usual for a while - not having been intending to swamp you with political or even more video gaming entries. (Though more of both are certainly coming later this year.) It'd be nice to appeal to those who've come for some of the other categories I haven't blogged about in ages, but I'm still blanking great odd comedy ideas for many of these things at this point. Hopefully I'll get to some more later this fall as I shift back to focusing on blogging more once the novel's finished.

For now?

As a soon-to-be-published new author and aspiring novelist about to finish his first novel, I haven't done any "what I've read lately" sorts of posts. So I figure it's about time I did so.

This time?

The books I've read this year at a glance, with some general thoughts and commentary. Exciting, no? Of course it is.

Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore. This was Christopher Moore's debut novel, first published back in 1992. Practical Demonkeeping tells the story of a young man named Travis who stopped aging back in the earlier 1900s after accidentally summoning a giant lizard demon from hell named Catch to be his servant, gaining effective immortality in the process. The story follows Travis and Catch's arrival in the fictitious Californian town of Pine Cove - along with the lives of numerous characters there - as Catch begins wreaking havoc while Travis continues for his search for a means to get rid of the demon. As a result, of course, the residents of Pine Cove's lives are turned upside down. It's a very funny, light read, and a solid introduction to Moore's writing. It might be a little over the top ridiculous for some, but it's well worth reading, and certainly great in how it pokes fun at supernatural thrillers that take themselves far too seriously - as Moore's works often do. He's certainly a highly enjoyable author worth keeping an eye on, someone to read if you're looking to laugh.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami. After Dark focuses on the unusual events that unfold over a single Tokyo night between two sisters. The elder, Eri, sleeps through the night while being drawn into menacing and surreal circumstances, leaving the reader as a sort of unusual second person unidentified disembodied figure simply observing the ordeal she undergoes. (It's hard to describe it beyond that without dropping any spoilers. Given that this is Murakami we're talking about here, if you're familiar with him, you can imagine how strange it is.) The younger, Mari, spends the night reading in a Denny's and finds herself interrupted repeatedly by an old acquaintance, a battered Chinese prostitute, and a tough woman who ran an area love hotel. While she interacts with these characters, something sinister quietly unfolds in the background. Frankly, this one isn't one of Murakami's stronger works for many reasons. His usual recurring themes of alienation and loneliness are present, but in many ways, it's a lighter story than he usually tells - despite the darker undercurrents. A great deal of the background events are never explained and many things don't completely add up. You're left with far more questions than answers, and the story does feel somewhat incomplete as a result. The ending is effective, however, and the night is full of wonderment and incredible atmosphere. The interactions between Mari and the other characters carry the book, with all the brilliant, enjoyable conversation you'd expect from Murakami. Overall, while it won't knock your socks off like you'd expect from one of his novels, it'll keep you thinking, and leave you with a lot of pleasant feelings. It's well worth reading, as you'll greatly enjoy the time you spend with these characters, as short as the novel itself is. Quality magic realism, as Murakami has produced much of. Murakami's still easily one of my favorite authors.

The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut. An author known for his dark, comical stories, Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan is no different, and certainly a very memorable work of literature, both as a work of science fiction and social commentary. The book tells the story of Malachi Constant, an extraordinarily lucky bastard living his life hedonistically, enjoying his riches and fame. After a meeting with the chronosynclastic infundibulated (A rather difficult to explain absurd phenomenon that keeps Rumfoord and his dog traveling back and forth across space.) Winston Niles Rumfoord, who forecasts a trip across the galaxy for Constant, ending with him married to Rumfoord's wife on Titan, Constant's life falls apart. Soon enough, he finds himself somewhere else, as someone else, and begins a journey to find himself again as he's trained to fight on the Martian side in an upcoming invasion of Earth. To say anymore beyond that would be to drop too many spoilers, of course, but the story only gets stranger and more enthralling from there. As usual in Vonnegut's work, Constant's tale is full of kindness towards and criticism of humanity. A sort of idealistic cynicism still appreciating the beauty of the world and people amidst their innumerable uglinesses, all handled with a sense of humor. Funny, heartfelt, and both warm and cold, The Sirens of Titan says a great deal about people, and about life's many ironies and largely accidental nature. There are good ideas about love within the plot as well, and the meaning of life itself. Vonnegut's one of the few authors who could tackle issues such as these and come away with something so powerful and affecting, all while wrapping these ideas and themes up in a relatively pulp sci-fi core plot outline. A highly recommended read.

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. When people think Douglas Adams, they usually tend to think of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Comparatively one of his lesser known series, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency is a strong start to Dirk Gently's comical adventures. Quite dark at times, amidst the absurdity, the story focuses on the abrupt murder of the president of an up and comic software company, Gordon Way, in the middle of the night. The earlier half of the book focuses largely on his demise, a mysterious time-traveler, and his employee Richard MacDuff's (The story's main protagonist) interactions with various people, including an old college professor and his girlfriend, Way's sister Susan. Seemingly unrelated events begin to connect as holistic detective Dirk Gently himself shows up halfway through the story and he and Richard embark on a wild journey to unravel the unlikely series of events behind the death of Gordon Way. And as you'd expect from Adams, it's a compelling, absurd, and highly enjoyable literary romp. I actually hadn't read any of Adams' works since I read the first Hitchhikers' Guide book when I was a kid (I hope to reread it eventually, along with the rest of the series, as I'd no doubt appreciate them even more now as an adult.), and at first, I was taken aback by the relatively slow pacing of the plot and the lack of clear interconnection between the events in the earlier half of the book, leaving me rather unsure of what to make of the story at that point. But once Gently showed up and things began to click together, the book became near-impossible to put down. If you're familiar with Adams' work - as all fans of science fiction and absurdist lit should be - you know this is one not to miss. I picked up the sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul recently as well, so I should be reading that soon enough.

The Elephant Vanishes by Haruki Murakami. I just finished this collection of 17 Murakami short stories the other day. They're all varied in length, some a good 30-40some pages, others only a handful or two. An eclectic mix overall, some more humorous, some more dramatic, and some just absurd, the collection's a good sampling of enjoyable Murakami stories that'd be a solid introduction for anyone new to his work, an excellent way to get a feel for the way he writes, his sorts of characters and stories. "Sleep" reminded me a bit of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper," which I read a couple of years ago in a Politics and Culture in Literature course I took in my last year of college. Both dealt with mental illness in focal female characters - in the case of Murakami's "Sleep," telling the story of a housewife who stops sleeping and begins to convince herself she no longer needs to sleep, as she spirals downwards. "The Dancing Dwarf" tells a surreal - and at times menacing - story of a dwarf that appears in an elephant factory worker's dreams that takes some horrifying turns by its conclusion. "A Slow Boat to China" tells several stories of a single character's cross-cultural experiences in interacting with Chinese people - an especially interesting read if you're aware of the history of Japan's interactions with the other cultures of Asia. And these are but a few of the odd tales that make up The Elephant Vanishes.

I'm not sure what I'm going to read next, but I'm thinking I'll probably sit down with Tom Robbins' Villa Incognito, the last remaining novel from those I got for Xmas last year. Of his works, I've only read his excellent Skinny Legs and All before. (Which was also part of the Politics and Culture in Literature course curriculum. It was a thoroughly enjoyable course, to say the least, full of good literature, movies, and discussion.)

At any rate, not a dud to be found in this batch of books. They're all well worth reading, and personally highly recommended it. I'll no doubt do more of these entries in the future discussing other books I've read and will have read by then as well. For those of you looking for good book recommendations, I hope this proved to be of some help to you, anyway. And here's to writing more entries of substance in here soon.