Monday, November 8, 2010

Conan First Show Liveblog - Team Coco on TBS!

It's finally here, Team Coco fans, the day we've all been waiting for! After Late Night with Conan O'Brien's strong 16-year run from 1993 to 2009, NBC - now rightly less one Jeff Zucker - pretty much threw Conan under a bus with the tonight show to keep Jay Leno around. Conan's Tonight Show tenure having abruptly concluded back in later January, he only got to host the show for a little over 7 and a half months. Highway robbery.

Of course, they also pushed Conan and his staff to effectively tone down their trademark strangeness that made their Late Night years so amazing. The Jay Leno show poisoned the ratings of everything that followed it - the Tonight Show included - as Leno's audience flat-out refused to accept Conan and many of Conan's fans were undoubtedly less than happy with how much more vanilla the show was than Late Night. Of course, once the controversial second "Late Night War" of sorts began, the Tonight Show writing kicked into high gear without any concern for appeasing the disinterested oldsters and the ratings exploded again as the Team Coco phenomenon was born on the internet. Now Leno's ratings are worse than Conan's were - the base that stopped watching the Tonight Show after Conan took over only held brief interest in the show again after Leno's return before they stopped watching again. Just desserts.

Since the show ended, Conan gave an exasperated interview and went on his Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television tour with Andy Richter and Reggie Watts over the later spring and into the summer. On the tour, classic sketches and characters were rebranded and could potentially all appear on the new show. The Masturbating Bear returned as the Self-Pleasuring Panda and the Walker, Texas Ranger Lever became the Chuck Norris Rural Policeman Handle. And of course, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog showed up too - as he also did on Night of Too Many Stars last month - and since he looks to be owned by Robert Smigel, not NBC, he should be back in true form on Conan. I'd be surprised if he didn't make at least one appearance in this first month, if not possibly this first week.

Over the summer and fall, Team Coco provided some more comedy content for the internet on their site, eventually putting up video promos starring Conan and videos of Conan answering a question a week from fans. All this led up to the Live Coco Cam two and a half weeks ago, 24 hours of Team Coco comedy run by Aaron Bleyaert, interns, and other assorted staff, with appearances by Conan, Andy Richter, LaBamba, Pierre Bernard, and others from the show, along with some cameos including George Lopez and Dog the Bounty Hunter. A week ago tonight, they posted the special 5-minute Show Zero online as well - Conan doing an entire show from a conference room in five minutes, humor all in top form, still with the beard he's often been seen with this year, previously seen as his protest during the 2007-2008 WGA strike (Which I covered quite a bit on this blog back then), the eponymous strikebeard.

We lost Joel Godard in the move from New York to L.A. for The Tonight Show, and now we're losing Max Weinberg, who led both The Max Weinberg 7 during the Late Night years and The Tonight Show Band on the Tonight Show. The band - save for Max - went on tour with Conan as the Legally Prohibited Band, and now they are officially The Basic Cable Band! As expected, they're being led by Jimmy Vivino, who always led the band when Max went on tour with Bruce Springsteen, and James Wormworth - who always filled in for Max when he was on tour - has fully replaced him as the drummer after moving to L.A. and joining the Tonight Show band, only having been a guest member in New York with the Max Weinberg 7. The rest of the band - Jerry Vivino, Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg, Mark Pender, Scott Healy, and Mike Merritt - are still around, so musically, we'll have more of the same fantastic sound from the house band so vital to both Conan's Late Night and Tonight Show years. And knowing Conan and the writers, after they didn't get much screen time on the Tonight Show, I'm betting we're going to see the band participating in a lot more comedy sketches again like they used to on Late Night.

Over these recent turbulent years for Conan and fans, we've watched Conan now go from living one dream to the next. He'd always aspired to host the Tonight Show, and the terrible leadership at NBC unfortunately cut his time living the dream short. But as mentioned before, there's an upside - he'd always dreamed of his own show, which he completely owns and controls. And now on TBS, he has just that - a spiritual return to what made the Late Night years so amazing. A potential game-changer for TBS and cable TV in general as the era of TiVO/DVRs and TV on the internet has begun to change the television landscape and reduce the power and influence the networks once held. Now, not quite 9 and a half months since the end of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, in roughly 18 hours from my writing this, Conan finally premieres on TBS!

From here on, I'll be liveblogging the big premiere tonight as it happens, starting at 11 PM EST. Til then, enjoy the breakout star of Live Coco Cam, the Dancing Taco!

11 PM - let's go!

(11:00) Last season, on Conan - opening Godfather spoof with NBC getting rid of him, and oh, hey, there's Jon Hamm, in character from Mad Men as Conan looks for a new job and works a variety.

(11:02) Conan working fast food; as a creepy clown; and now Larry King saving him, It's A Wonderful Life style. Two words: "Basic cable." TBS's terms? "Much less." More Tommy Gun death.

 (11:03) New opening. Andy announcing! Seth Rogen, Lea Michele, and Jack White. Guest contest winner. And of course, Andy and Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band. The episode? Baaa Baaa Blackmail. Actual show names. Interesting.

(11:05) The crow goes wild, and - the string dance! Back at last! "I know what you're all thinking - 'Hey, it's the guy from Twitter!'" "Kanye West?"

(11:06) "I named the show 'Conan,' so I'd be harder to replace." "I have dreamed about being a talk show host on basic cable since I was 46." Number one in TBS's main demographic, "People who can't afford HBO." "It's not easy being a talk show host on a network without a lot of money on a channel viewers have a lot of trouble finding. So that's why I left NBC."

 (11:08) Conan noting that he went through this big ordeal to avoid going on at midnight, then after Daylight Savings Time ended, now he's basically on at midnight.

(11:09) Conan summing up everything that went on while he was off the air in a single joke - that's a lot of references in one joke. And now there's no barrier between Conan and the audience anymore.

(11:10) The question of whether Conan can use his old characters from his NBC years. A clip of NBC using one of Conan's old characters - a Mega Millions drawing with, THE MASTURBATING BEAR! Though not mentioned by name. And Andy's still bantering with

(11:11) Guest announcements at the end of the monologue. Seth Rogen's promoting The Green Hornet, which hits theaters in January. Then Lea Michele from Glee. And lastly, musical guest Jack White. Plus, the winner of the rigged first guest contest! A strong opening show lineup.

(11:12) And now Conan biting the hand that feeds him, making fun of the internet for saving him. Fantastic, haha. Throwing to the band, and the first commercial break at 11:13!

(11:17) Back with Andy on the couch again, fully Conan's sidekick again as he was largely becoming later into the Tonight Show, and the first of their new bumpers. Tomorrow? Tom Hanks, Jack McBrayer from 30 Rock, and musical guest Soundgarden.

(11:18) Then a look around the new set, the first talk show with a view of the ocean. Conan using a remote control to play with the moving moon over the ocean in the background, including attacking Andy with ti. Amazing. Andy noticed its incredible "lunar wobble." "Just like the real thing!"

(11:19) Conan addressing his highest highs and lowest lows this year. His lowest? The Conan Halloween mask. As Andy put it, "It's kind of an Asian Val Kilmer." They couldn't legally call it a Conan mask, so what is it? An "Ex-Talk Show Host" mask. "What the hell? Why don't you just put a cigarette out in my eye?" "What are you?" "I'm an Ex-Talk Show Host." "Who are you supposed to be?" "Who cares?" As Andy put it - "It's very authentic inside - inside it smells like tears." Andy's jokes are definitely getting dirtier tonight already, too. Nice.

(11:21) A well-wishing video from Ricky Garvais, wishing Conan luck with his new TBS show, uncomfortably. And now additional messages, expressing lament over what happened at TBS - then on to the Food Network, Good Morning Dayton, and satellite radio, which no one has. "He'll be better on radio. He's got the looks."

(11:22) And that's all the opening bits for this first show. Commercial break time again, next up, Seth Rogen!

(11:25) I love how Microsoft goes after people desperately attached to their phones in their commercials, then tries to sell them their Windows phone. (Ow.)

(11:26) Back from commercial! Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band! And now the fake first guest contest results. The deliberately rigged results are in, and the first guest? Arlene Wagner, the Nutcracker Museum curator, who gave Conan a nutcracker and walked off. "Off into the mountains," as Andy put it.

(11:28) Second guest, time for Seth Rogen, promoting The Green Hornet! "Thank you for having me! I'm so glad everyone more famous is busy now."

(11:29) Noting that since Conan last saw him, Rogen's now engaged to be married, and now Rogen's musing on how much he doesn't care about the wedding preparations - how his girlfriend's always wanted to get married but he never thought about it at all until he asked her. And in no time, the first bleeped cursing of the show, breaking the rules already. Though of course, they can get away with more on TBS than NBC. Seth now comparing getting the engagement ring to someone giving him a truckload of heroin. Then as soon as he got it, he proposed to her in an awkward state of undress in the closet, not every little girl's image of how they want to be proposed to.

(11:32) Now discussing the failure of Prop 19 in California - which would have legalized pot. Seth pointed out that virtually anyone can get a medical marijuana card there, though, and how even he has one. His very specific ailment? "I ain't got no weed on me right now." The lady there? "We actually have just the thing for that!" Then worries that the weed doctor would actually find something wrong with him.

(11:33) The Green Hornet talk. It hits theaters January 14th, 2011. Talking about how Seth Rogen is not really someone you think of when you think of people out there kicking ass. "If Matthew McConaughey looked like this - he'd murder himself. He'd literally kill himself. But for me it's pretty awesome." And Michel Gondry directed! Weird and eccentric. "You kind of think he's a French genius and you think he's gonna take things like this and make art out of it, and instead he puts them on his crotch and pretends it's a penis." My time to note how awesome Michel Gondry is as an aside. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is amazing, and The Science of Sleep is a lot of fun too.

(11:35) Next commercial break. Next up, Lea Michele. Not a two-part interview like many of Conan's Tonight Show ones were.

(11:39) Back from commercial! Lea Michele from Glee now. A good choice to round out the first show lineup. Immediately into talk about the moving moon. She noted that his hair's reaching new heights.

(11:40) From there, into talk about Glee and the fact that Lea's parents didn't know she could sing for a really long time, though Conan had assumed she'd grown up a prodigy after seeing her performing on Glee. She hadn't seriously until her first Broadway audition.

(11:41) Now discussing a recent cast photoshoot in GQ that drew some controversy, the shoot deemed 'too sexy' by some. Conan's come up with a way to make the photos less sexy - inserting a photo of him from high school into each of them. Lea's shocked by how pale he is.

(11:43) The first awkward moment of the show with an odd background noise. "Basic cable." They had a lot of odd technical moments like that on NBC too. Then, another Lea Michele magazine cover story in the past - the October issue of Glamour she'd appeared on poured out all over the highway in L.A. when a truck carrying them got into a wreck and turned over, spilling out magazines everywhere. And this after she'd been drilled repeatedly not to show the cover to anybody.

(11:45) Commercial break. Up next, Jack White!

(11:49) Back from commercial again. The bumpers are all fun - different from the NBC days, more kinetic. Conan now introducing Jack White. He hung out with him in Nashville this past summer and they recorded an album this summer - they're performing a song from it together now. The Basic Cable Band's all in the background supporting them. Ah, it's great to see the gang all back together on TV again. Max Weinberg's loss is even less felt than Joel Godard's since he barely got to do anything in comedy bits on the Tonight Show. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with the rest of the band in sketches. The song itself? Catchy stuff. This is possibly the most elaborate musical performance Conan's ever done on air, too. Fantastic way to end the first show.

(11:52) Last commercial break!

(11:56) And back again! The band's back over at their stands, and now Conan's back at the desk with Jack White. Talking about when they first met, shooting a remote for Late Night at a bowling alley in Detroit in 1999, back before Jack White and The White Stripes were exactly all that well known. And of course, they've worked together a lot since. He produced this album with Conan and the band, and a spoken word album, with a depressed Conan image on its cover.

(11:58) The show's over now. Conan thanked everybody. Ricky Gervais'll be on in January and he has a new special airing December 18th. I wonder if it'll be an HBO one - I'd assume so. His standup's great stuff. End credits, new Conaco logo, Conan getting shot up by Tommy Guns a second time. On to Lopez Tonight, Conan over.

All-in-all, a strong first show. Looking forward to the rest of the week. It's damn nice to have Conan back on TV again. Also really glad to have DVR access now so I can record the Daily Show and Colbert Report and watch those afterward. Whew. Gotta support Team Coco. Great job, everybody!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Midterm Madness: Pragmatic Progress versus Regressive Racket

Yet another blog post from me. Either I'm on fire or there's been a lot worth actually blogging about - even with shorter posts - within a limited time frame as of late. At any rate, it's Election Day today! Always a worthwhile subject, especially in light of the tense, polarized state of political discourse in this nation pretty much ever since Barack Obama was elected president. After being rejected by the voters for two major elections, the lesson the GOP took from it was not that they were too extreme in their politics - after they'd wreaked havoc on the nation for six years with the Bush administration, and the Democratic Congress for Bush's final two years still didn't check his administration's power and abuses nearly enough - but that they weren't extreme enough.

We made history by electing our first black president back in 2008 - his technically being racially mixed doesn't diminish the momentousness of this achievement, considering the incredible barrier broken: our first president who isn't just another white man. And of course, race has been the big topic ever since his election - not so much the achievement itself as the explosion to new levels of Republicans insisting that American white people are somehow being victimized. Ever since his rise as a presidential candidate in 2008, the discourse has flooded with all kinds of popular fiction about who he is and what he stands for - myths about his ethnic background, religion, and politics like no president has seen before. It's not all racism, but it's not just racism either - ignorance, xenophobia, and the usual overzealousness seen from those living in an alternate reality of their own construction whenever the Republicans aren't completely dominating every branch of government have pervaded and twisted the narrative at every turn for years now.

(Post continued when you hit the title to jump in)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

What We Pretend to Be

Halloween afternoon. I was going to have two stories up for you today, but I keep trying to push myself to get more up here than I reasonably can in a single twenty-four hour period. I'm delaying the late-September story into early November, after the election - yes, yikes, but it has to be done.

Anyway, defying the norm, here's your October story, in October! Just in time for Halloween. The story's theme, no less! Could it possibly be more of a coincidence? (Yes.)

Hit that jump. It's short, but not quite as goofy as the previous three years' awkward Halloween stories.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear Liveblog

About a month or so again - perhaps a month and a half - Jon Stewart began teasing an upcoming announcement on the Daily Show. Stephen Colbert, after noting demand for a "Restoring Truthiness" rally in response to terrible Fox News pundit Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally (Which was mostly about a fuck-you to the separation of church and state and general GOP pandering, warning people of those scary "others" coming to get Jesus-loving white people who always vote Republican.), began teasing his own counter-announcement, insisting that his announcement would make Jon's seem like nothing.

Eventually, this escalated to the announcement of dueling rallies - Jon's Rally to Restore Sanity and Stephen's March to Keep Fear Alive. They spent weeks hyping them up after setting the October 30th date, just in time for Halloween. Jon got a lot of public notice and media attention, including endorsements from Oprah, buses courtesy of Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post, and even mention by president Barack Obama, who appeared on the Daily Show this past Wednesday during their week of shows in Washington, DC.

He held his own as well, when Jon asked some tough questions, and touted his and the current Democratic congress's strong track record of actually getting things done, including vital healthcare reform, financial reform, and effectively stopping a second Great Depression from happening. All true, and all things the right seeks to constantly discredit Obama and the Democrats for accomplishing. (And when I say "the right," I'm generally just focusing on the GOP here - the Democrats are to the left of them, but they're still very much center-right and corporatist. Problematic unto themselves, but more of a problem to be dealt with if we can shift away from the brink as a nation, considering the insanity we regularly hear espoused by the GOP these days.) We've gotten not quite two years to clean up an eight-year mess that will take decades for this nation to likely ever recover from as fully as possible - and some things, like the numbers of lives lost due to reckless decisions by the previous administration, cannot be recovered - and that isn't nearly enough time to undo that kind of damage.

What we have done these past near-two-years, however, amounts to getting a strong, pragmatic start, taking America's recovery one step at a time. Obama's even committed to bipartisanship in ways both conceptually admirable and unwise in application. Still, the fact that he's been so adamant about that speaks volumes about his belief in the political system - in compromise; in actually working together to get things done instead of stonewalling like the Republicans have been since he took office - regardless of how broken its processes currently are. The Democrats - save for those who've lacked the guts to stand by their record these past twenty-ish months - deserve reelection. The Republicans have spent these months crossing their arms and sitting in congress shaking their heads to everything, even policy ideas they had proposed years ago in the first place! No one right of mind should even consider voting for them on Tuesday - not for what they've spent these years representing. I'll get into that more on Tuesday before I turn into a complete broken record, though - I've got an election post coming up then.

Anyway, after all the attention Jon Stewart got - even getting a rally permit for the National Mall, and tying the rally in to a charity to restore and care for the area - Stephen Colbert went mostly ignored, only really getting an endorsement from Rick Sanchez. (Who had a bad day, snapped, and said some terrible, hateful things - lashing out at Jon among others, not having taken being made fun of routinely for all these years so well - and actually had a point in his rant about how underrepresented minorities are in the newsmedia in the next week, losing his job in public disgrace. Unlike Juan Williams, who just lost his job at NPR the other week for his casual anti-Muslim bigotry, Sanchez had the wisdom not to jump to Fox News and went on to demonstrate that despite the things he said, he recognized how wrong they were and at least showed the world that he's not a completely terrible person at heart.) In the end, he came on the Daily Show and signed onto Jon's rally permit, combining the Rally to Restore Sanity and March to Keep Fear Alive into a single event - the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

All this? A last minute liveblog that I haphazardly decided to do, since the only other one I can think of that I'll be doing in the future will be the upcoming Conan premiere in a little over another week. Worthwhile content. I was going to be asleep before noon - that was the plan - but instead, once the rally started, I just had to stay up and watch it. So here it all is, my liveblog in its entirety - and now, nearing 4 PM, I'm going to take some time to finish up my severely overdue late-September short story before I crash. And tonight, I'm writing a Halloween-themed short story for you guys just in time for the holiday itself for the October monthly short story. This is how backed up I've been on my blog work here - and this is also my dedication to all of you, the silent millions secretly hanging on my every word and dying for the day I finally get an agent and get novels on shelves for you to buy and gleefully hug to your chests in literary anticipation. (PRETEND.)

For those of you following this - if any - as a point of reference, the rally's also streaming live on Comedy Central's website.

Let's get sane. (All times EST)

(12:00) The Roots! Not sure what song they're performing to open with. I'm going to try to get the names of all the songs performed. The National Mall looks pretty packed - a veritable sea of sanity. Wonder if we'll see a total turnout bigger than Beck's insulting Lincoln Memorial "Honor" rally months back. And hey, where there's signs, they're actually spelled correctly. Fancy that!

(12:10) John Legend joins them! Now performing a song with them. One of the songs performed was a cover of Monsters of Folk's "Dear God." Mellow, relaxing way to kick things off. Befitting of the theme.

(12:15) A second song by John Legend and The Roots, "Hard Times."

(12:19) A third song by Legend and The Roots. I believe that was "Little Ghetto Boy" by Donny Hathaway.

(12:25) A fourth song, written back in 1973 by Bill Withers. Legend recalling the circumstances of when it was written, in the midst of the Vietnam War. And now we're still at war. "I Can't Write Left-Handed" is the song. Legend was also the first to get away with an unedited "fuck" on-air, not quite half an hour in. Ah, live television. Gotta love it.

(12:32) Fantastic extended jam as the song moves toward its close.

(12:34) Another song.  Really energetic rap this time - "The Seed (2.0)." Not a cover this time, but an original by The Roots.

(12:39) And now, the Mythbusters! Adam Save and Jamie Hyneman. Time for them to do some experiments, starting with The Wave. That crowd is ridiculously massive. Cheers for sanity.

(12:43) Adam suggested that the crowd is about 150,000 large. I can see that - this is an incredible turnout. You can't even see where the crowd ends on the horizon.

(12:48) Now they're doing some sound experiments after all the various Waves they had the crowd do.

(12:52) Now they're going to get the whole crowd to jump to create a groundswell. They brought some seismologists and a seismometer to measure the effects of the jump.

(12:54) The results? Not much seismic activity, but still 100 times more powerful than a minor car crash with their second jump.

(12:55) And now the Mythbusters are going. Fun segment.

(12:56) The official opening and Jon Stewart at last makes his appearance as the host of the part of the rally dedicated to sanity! Starting with the crowd standing for a singing of the national anthem performed by four troops. Those ladies and gents can sing.

(12:59) Jon returns! "ARE YOU READY TO RESTORE SANITY!?"

(1:00) Important things first. No littering - the National Mall is a treasure and presently in disrepair. "Let's leave this place cleaner than we found it!" Asking any landscapers in attendance to help out, get some topiaries up. The most important things for a rally? Jokingly, 'Color and size.' "Over ten million people" in attendance - lampooning Fox News's exaggeration of attendance at Glenn Beck's rally. A perfect demographic sample of the American people? Definitely. If you have too many white people at a rally, it must be racist. If you have too many colored people, they must be asking for basic equal rights - something we are not ready to give.

(1:02) With the help of Aasif Mandvi and Samantha Bee in the crowd, they're counting off the exact size of the crowd so no one can doubt the numbers in attendance.

(1:03) Samantha Bee and Aasif Mandvi interviewing crowd members, counting them off and having them identify themselves demographically. And the young ladies can't get enough of Jon Stewart. (STEW-BEEF!)

(1:04) "Jon! Help!" The voice of Stephen Colbert! Trapped in his fear bunker! Comm link on Jumbotron time. Stephen in a very dark place. His fear bunker was 2000 feet below the stage, encased in solid bedrock. Stephen was shirtless in a cave, mostly afraid that no one showed up to their rally. The crowd cheered to let him know they were there. "Are the men handsome? Are the women beautiful? And do they respond to obvious pandering?"

(1:06) He's coming up! An alarm rings and Stephen Colbert emerges to the Colbert Report theme in a Chilean miner pod emergence spoof - clad in an Eviel Knievel style outfit, the always-classy caped jumpsuit. "Chi! Chi! Le! Le!"

(1:08) "Hello America! Hello multitude on the Washington Mall! Oh! Oh, this feels right!" And, of course, "KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!" "They're reasonable for now, Jon. But soon they'll be a mindless panicked mob once I release the bees!" "RELEASE THE BEES!" Bees coated with peanut butter. Deliberately fabricating fears that don't exist. Raising awareness of potential dangers and then allowing an informed public decide whether to cower in terror or die bravely. Our media, all right.

(1:10) Whispers instead of cheers in favor of restoring sanity. That's a quiet cheer. And a massive chorus of ghostly "WOOOOO!"s to keep fear alive. Stephen declared himself the winner, the rally over, and thanked The Roots.

(1:12) For a more traditional start - not a book burning! - Father Guido Sarducci, here to deliver the rally's benediction. He was on the Colbert Report a few months back, as I recall. Still around, still funny. Cheers from the crowd for each religion. Observation about Judaism and Islam - "You know, they don't eat the same meat, and yet they don't get along. You'd think they could build on that."

(1:17) Shot of the crowd as Sarducci talked religion. Someone dressed up as Beaker from The Muppet Show with a pro-science sign. Fantastic.

(1:19) The benediction wrapped. When Sarducci thanked god for dogs especially, they cut to someone in the audience dressed as Clifford the Big Red Dog, too.

(1:20) And now Stephen Colbert's inaugurating things with "an poem," now dressed in a leather jacket and American flag pants. To read it? Law & Order's Sam Waterston, infamous Law & Order sound effect in tow. "Are You Sure?" by the Reverend Sir Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, DFA.

(1:23) The poem concluded. Lots of memes from our half decade of Colbert Report fun. Jon felt that music could express some emotions difficult for us to express with words. Formerly Cat Stevens, Yusuf Islam, performing "Peace Train!"

(1:26) Stephen Colbert interrupted, much to audience protest. Jon had to step in and apologize. Stephen refuses to get on the Peace Train. He has a better train instead, he says, and the conductor has an important announcement to make. Ozzy Osbourne! "Crazy Train," I believe.

(1:29) Jon interrupted Ozzy, refusing to get on that train - it was going off the rails, after all. Back to Yusuf Islam continuing his song! Not even a full minute before Stephen interrupted and threw back to Ozzy. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups sponsor message banner across the screen - I also endorse this candy. Jon interrupted seconds later, and now both are trying to play their respective songs simultaneously.

(1:31) Now things are ruined! They've got no train! Except! Wait! The Love Train! Thus, a performance they could agree on by The OJs. Rally halfway point passed. Wonderful so far.

 (1:36) Performance finished. Jon appeared and announced all these fantastic musical guests again. "Sanity does not mean never having unreasonable moments." And now a look at true stories of unreasonable moments people have had in the public eye in montage. Steven Slater, that flight attendant who had a famous meltdown, and Teresa Giudice of - I believe - that Real Housewives of New Jersey reality show.

(1:39) Now discussing the most important thing about a rally - how it's reported on. Either it was a tremendous success or a horrendous failure staged by a fringe movement. Wyatt Cenac and Jason Jones now covering the rally from both perspectives within the crowd. Wyatt's the optimist, and Jones is the pessimist. Talking to crowd members too. Much shakier camera for Jones. Overhead shots for Cenac to show the huge crowd, while Jones tried to present them as being few in number, nothing more than a disorganized fringe mob. Jones kept trying to rile up a guy in the crowd, and it didn't work.

(1:41) And now giving out medals to individuals who demonstrated rationality and sanity in the face of difficult circumstances. The Medals of Reasonableness all had owls on them.

(1:42) The first medal goes to Venezuelan baseball player Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers, who didn't flip out at an umpire who made a bad call. He accepted the medal and spoke well of the umpire via a taped statement.

(1:44) Stephen interrupts with his own medal: the Stephen Colbert Fear Award. His medals depicted a naked man running with scissors. He awarded it to all the news organizations that barred their reporters from attending Jon and Stephen's rally out of fear that they'd be accused of a liberal bias for covering it. Those organizations? ABC, CBS, the AP, The New York Times, and NPR! With no one in attendance to present the award to, he decided to present it to someone with more courage: a seven-year-old girl. Stephen asked if she was scared to be there, and she said it was fun. Stephen warned her about a cooties epidemic you won't hear about on NPR.

(1:46) The next two performers? Here from Chicago, which means they must have been cursed out by Rahm Emanuel. Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy, performing "You Are Not Alone."

(1:50) Performance complete. Second Medal for Reasonableness time! This one went to Velma Hart for respectfully asking Obama some very tough questions at a CNBC town hall meeting. She came out to accept her medal live. "He gave me his answer, and he's been giving us our answer every day since!" A sane, reasonable, respectful lady. Another good call.

(1:52) Time for the second Feary! (Fearie?) Given to Anderson Cooper's tight black t-shirt, for being with Cooper while he covered a number of scary things over the years.

(1:54) Nobody knows what's next on their program - then it's PK Winsome. An important message from a friend, played by none other than Tim Meadows, of course. Presenting PK Winsome's Commemorative Merchandise Mart, as opposed to his usual deadly pharmaceuticals in his Colbert Report segments. Complete with surplus souvenir mousepads for the movie Antz, as well as "Mice Mice Baby" Vanilla Ice mousepads. He's really desperate to get rid of those mousepads.

(1:57) And now Jon's in an American flag windbreaker. He thanked the crowd for attending and Stephen came out in the same pullover fleece zip-up, as Jon elaborated. Stephen announced that Jon was desecrating it since it matched Stephen's pants. Stephen demanded he take it off. Arguing over who could wear American flag sweaters.

(1:59) And now Stephen and Jon singing about why they love America, dueling over that love with their pullovers. Very awkward start for Stephen as he struggled to find the right pitch. Jon stumbled when he started too - not exactly as rehearsed as their duet on A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All! Of course, that also benefited from not being live. You can only get these awkward moments live. Jabs in there at Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez, too. Wonderful and well-deserved. The chorus is about the country being "the greatest, strongest, country in the world." And even a shoutout to straight men who like Glee. Technically in that demographic myself.

(2:03) Toward the end of their song, they're holding up mics to audience members and getting them to sing where they're from to alter the lyrics in "From ____, to _____" form, eventually crescendoing back to the chorus, deeming no one more American than we. Jeff Tweedy backed them with the acoustic guitar.

(2:05) Jon apologized for our having to hear him sing and said we wouldn't have to again - it worked in rehearsal. Then it was time for the third Medal of Reasonableness. Going to wrestler Mick Foley, who seems like a pretty decent guy too, despite what one might think of pro-wrestlers. For exemplifying reasonableness in everything but his day job, he was given the medal. Foley came out to accept the medal live. "Civility is cool" indeed.

(2:07) And the final fear award went to Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, who naturally wasn't there to accept it, valuing his privacy more than he does yours. (They've sold a lot of private user data over the years.) Facebook has opened up new forms of fear, too, as Stephen pointed out, since now you could see if your ex found someone cuter - everybody's greatest fear, of course. Stephen accepted the award since Zuckerburg wasn't there and told him to friend him - he was going to post a photo of him wearing the medal on his own Facebook wall. All reminds me that I still need to see The Social Network since that looks legitimately very good. (Plus, these really well-constructed trailers - a rare case of TV spots actually getting my attention for a movie - introduced me to Sigur Ros's Jonsi's music. Wonderful stuff.)

(2:08) Jon gave out one last award, refusing to end their awards with fear. To the "Dude, you have no Koran!" guy from one of the planned controversial Koran burnings back in September- Jacob Isom. Stephen yanked it away and announced "Dude, you have no medal!" Then Isom got his medal and tossed it out into the crowd, walking away wordlessly. I praised that guy on Twitter back in September, and he's still the man. Respect.

(2:10) Another musical guest, performing with Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock. They performed a new song, "Care." T.I. taped a green screen thing for the, since he couldn't be there. He was one of the collaborators behind the song performed. Not the cheeriest song, seemingly about not being able to change the world - the opposite of the message we need to believe in now.

(2:16) And now another song. I'm going to assume this is another new one they're performing here - I can't find a name anywhere. I'm not a fan of either of them, so I'm kind of looking forward to this part being over - I actually like all of the previous musical guests, though I haven't made a habit of listening to any of them with regularity.

(2:21) Done. Whew.  And now an important announcement from Stephen Colbert. Our keynote speaker for the afternoon: Jon Stewart.

(2:23) Stephen interrupted Jon's keynote, noting that every point must have a counterpoint. FORMIDABLE OPPONENT! Stephen needed to be empodiumed - though it's not a word - in now challenging Jon to a debate. First Formidable Opponent segment where Stephen's not just debating himself - they never do this segment enough on the Report. Jon's arguing for reason, while Stephen's arguing on the behalf of fear. Where Jon turned to history, Stephen turned to the bible. Jon invoked FDR's infamous quotation, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." As Stephen pointed out, Nixon said, "People respond to fear, not love." That's why Stephen proposed to his wife by hiding the ring inside a rabid badger.

(2:26) Jon called out media fearmongers, while Stephen wanted to know what the new, latest thing to be afraid of was - Jon turned to korbamite (Corbamite?) from the first season of the original Star Trek, all the way down to citing the specific episode referenced.

(2:28) And now Jon's calling out fearmongering against Muslims. Excellent! Truth. Oh, hey, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar! There to represent Muslims - "No matter our religious positions, we're all on the same team." Yes indeed.

(2:31) And in calling out Stephen's bigotry toward robots, an appearance by the one and only R2-D2, "one of the good ones." They even invoked the infamous R2-scream when Jon mentioned that there was a blender backstage with its eye on him.

(2:32) Jon's reasonableness is poisoning Stephen's fear, so he's summoning... FEARZILLA! A big papier-mache Stephen Colbert, throwing to a montage of mainstream media fearmongering. They like to ask "Could it be in your neighborhood?" a lot.

(2:34) Stephen declared himself the winner and high-fived his papier-mache self, but Jon insisted that most of the fears in the montage were overblown and would never come true. Then Stephen threw to media and political hyperbole with violent shots back and forth between the right and left - the right's worse and gets much, much, much more coverage and focus, being allowed to push the narrative as they do, but we've had some embarrassing moments on the left well worth calling out too. (Though compared to the rest of the globe, our "left-wing" and "liberals" here are pretty much sane centrists.) Another montage that demonstrated well - like the one prior - how horribly broken the media and our political discussion are.

(2:36) Stephen declared himself the winner again. Jon admitted the montages were pretty dispiriting. Jon brought out his hotel remote to point out that it's a weapon against the media - something we can use to turn off the TV or change the channel to escape the media. Stephen threw to an Early Show segment (And other morning news show clips) on the dirtiest things in hotel rooms where the horribly disgusting things found on hotel TV remotes were discussed. Stephen declared the Daily Show over and said Jon would be missed, declaring Jon killed.

(2:38) John Oliver is here! In forest green tights as Peter Pan, no less, calling Jon completely dead, telling him to stop talking. And since Jon died and needed the crowd's help, Peter-John appealed to them and told them to clap for Jon. Jon insisted that he appreciated but really didn't need their help since he wasn't dead. John tried to get people to do the Hambone, or the Arsenio - a little jig. Next up was chanting - chanting, "Will this help?!" And the chanting started killing Stephen Colbert, the American joining together to chant as one, burning and melting Stephen and his powerful fear - My preciousssss - sending him to the ground along with his puppet, officially dead. John dragged Stephen off-stage and stagehands took the puppet away.

(2:41) Now Jon was alone on stage. He addressed the incredible musical performances they'd had, and some technical comedy too. And now a moment - however brief - for sincerity, possibly violating that comedian-pundit line. He discussed how we could've looked at today's gathering, and discussed how they wanted to put on the best show possible - our time was valuable, so they didn't want to waste it, and were honored to perform for all of us in that beautiful space, on the National Mall.

(2:44) "What exactly was this?" He can't control what people think it was, he can only state his intentions. It wasn't a rally to ridicule people of faith, activism, the heartland, people of passionate argument, or to belittle the difficult times we live in. "But we live now in hard times, not end times! And we can have animus and not be enemies! But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke." Addressing the broken 24-hour newsmedia, and that while they didn't cause our problems, its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold a magnifying glass up to our problems and illuminate otherwise unseen issues, or they can use it to light ants on fire - they do the latter. "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing." "There are terrorists, racists, Stalinists, and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned!" He went on about our tendency to thoughtlessly throw these labels about, doing a great disservice to the actual horrible people in the world - "just as our inability to distinguish between terrorists and Muslims makes us less safe, not more."

(2:47) "The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we get sicker! And perhaps eczema." "That being said, I feel good. Strangely, calmly good." Because the image of Americans reflected by our media and political processes is a false one - it's essentially a fun house mirror, distorting everything. Every day we hear about how we can't work together to get things done and how we're on the brink of collapse, but it's untrue - "we work together to get things done every damn day!" "The only place we don't is here or on cable TV! But Americans don't live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most don't live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals, or conservatives. Americans live their lives as people just a little late for something they have to do - often something they don't want to do, but they do it. Impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises we all make."

(2:51) Jon looked at images of cars in traffic on camera and described the kinds of people out there in them, all the little things that make us different and all the things that unite us. Every car is filled with "individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear," often in sharp conflict with one another, but they still have to funnel into little off-turns and navigate the roads together, each compromising constantly and taking their turns as we drive where we need to get to go. And occasionally we see selfish jerks who rush ahead and cut other people off, but those people are rare, scorned, and not hired as an analyst. "Because we know instinctively as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we always have to work together. And there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land - it's just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together."

(2:53) Jon said that our presence was what he wanted at the rally - that was all he'd wanted. "Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here and the kind of people you are today has restored mine." Uproarious applause and cheering.

(2:54) Tony Bennett is out to sing "America the Beautiful." Fantastic closing.

(2:56) Jon thanked everyone for coming today and thanked Stephen, who came out then too. They thanked everyone on their shows, and all the musicians who came out to share their time with us.

(2:57) And now all the musical artists are out for one final song, along with all the other guests and award winners, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, R2-D2, the seven-year-old girl, and all the correspondents. The musicians then joined together in their final song. Not sure what the song is. I'll try to get that next - "I'll Take You There," I believe. End credits rolled.

(3:00) Over. I'll finish polishing bits of extra info in this liveblog, then it's done and I need to finish a short story here before I sleep. Crazy.

Final thoughts: the right-wing laden media (Which they even called out in many mainstream outlets being afraid to cover the rally and risk being labeled "liberal," pathetic as that witch hunt has always been) will try to label this as a failure to fire up the left to vote on Tuesday and stop the teabaggers from wrecking the nation. And we'll undoubtedly see as much negative slant against Jon, Stephen, and everyone involved here as possible. It probably will fire up a lot of America's youth, especially, though - and I'd bet that most if not all of the people in the crowd and viewers on TV will vote, and the majority of them probably won't be voting Republican. It was all more mellow entertainment mixed with a call for reason and rationality than it was any leftist manifesto, and as great political cartoonist Tom Tomorrow observed on Twitter, a lot of it sounded like a college freshman stoner session. And he's not wrong - the themes were pretty typical to that sort of stereotypical thought. But in their simplicity and appeal, they're not wrong or any less beautiful.

I doubt we're going to be seeing any kind of a return to sanity in the end for all this - things are going to take a horrible turn if the right gets the massive gains they're expecting next week, and if we manage to stop them and keep the country focused in a better direction, the discourse is only going to get shriller and nastier - but for what it all is, and for the sentiment expressed, it was still a good way to spend three hours. Three hours in which we could all sit back, listen to some good music, laugh at some awkward comedy, and join together in just wanting to feel like the world hadn't lost its mind for a little while. And these days more than ever, as stressful and trying as the times are, we need to be able to feel that way. To separate ourselves from the consuming madness; to look about us; to look at each other, even; to clear our heads; and to say to ourselves, "I haven't lost to all this yet."

Now the remaining questions are, what happened to Stephen's "Ghost of Jon" song and the winners of the sanity sign and fear costume contests they were going to show?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

TV Season 2010-2011: The Remote is My Only Friend

Autumn 2010. Vibrant colors explode through the leaves in profusion as the northern hemisphere begins its annual descent into the grave. But what's really important here is that there's new things to watch on that crazy static-laden moving picture box that humans can't get enough of.

Sure, some of us set foot in that strange place some call 'the great outdoors' - or, 'the wilderness' for short - every once in a while. Most of us don't stray from the asphalt. But even now, we have little pocket screens so we can watch our TVs everywhere we go. We're no longer alone anywhere, anytime.

TV is always there for us.

Always.

Anyway, it's time for my annual post where I ramble about what's in the new season and what's coming up in the midseason that I personally deem worth noting or watching. Valuable advice that you all undoubtedly take to heart. Because without TV, what heart have you? Lives are terrifying things.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Getting Back the Respect We had When We Were 7


Oh hey, when I did that Derrick Comedy post back in May, I did say I was looking forward to doing a review post on Mystery Team soon, didn't I? The movie did hit DVD nearly five months ago, after all.

Well, not everything in life works out as planned, and I only just now finally saw the film through Netflix. I've read enough mixed reactions to it online to say that it isn't a film for everyone, but that said, if you're a fan of Derrick Comedy or Upright Citizens Brigade, you need to watch it. Failure to do so would be most regrettable.

Hit the jump for the review.

Friday, October 8, 2010

(Almost) Conaw Time! (Almost) Time for Conaw!

This is it, fellow Team Coco members. One month from tonight, Conan's new TBS series will debut at long last. (At 11 PM EST, going up against the Daily Show and Colbert Report.)

The other month, Conan finally released a video revealing the new show's name.

And there you have it! Conaw. Er, Conan. Simple and straight to the point.

Andy Richter will be sticking around as Conan's sidekick and presumably still his announcer since they left Joel Godard behind when they left New York.

The long-suspected Max Weinberg 7/Tonight Show Band shakeup has finally been confirmed, too. Max Weinberg has moved on and is working with a new group of musicians now - he didn't replace Kevin Eubanks on Leno (Who's rightfully facing poor ratings now) as many had suspected earlier in the summer. It looks like Jimmy Vivino's going to be the new bandleader with James "Worm" Wormworth fully replacing Max as the drummer. Basically, the usual lineup whenever Max toured with Bruce Springsteen in the past. Having toured with Conan this summer as The Legally Prohibited Band, the band's new name hasn't been announced yet. With any luck, we'll see them used more prominently in comedy sketches again, though, after they barely got to do any comedy during their short Tonight Show run.

Andy Richter confirmed in an interview a few months back that Conan will be returning in spirit to the Late Night days' style of comedy. Back to the surreality and general weirdness that made Late Night with Conan O'Brien a hit, which NBC had made them sharply tone down on the Tonight Show in hopes of drawing the older, more conservative Leno crowd that was never going to watch Conan to begin with. And of course, now that they're going to be on cable, they'll have even less limitations in terms of what they can get away with in their comedy than they did on NBC at 12:35. With just another month to wait, we've got a lot to look forward to.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Go Ahead and Try Not to Drown

Hey, what is this? Is it - is it a post of some kind? (Come on, man. What are you thinking?)

Mid-September's kind of crashed down on us, hasn't it? Crashed down like what, you ask? Silly readers, now that I've returned from my unannounced furlough, it's time for you to sing and dance - perhaps not too quickly, excessive exuberance can be a killer - but the time for metaphor is later. Perhaps. Yes, later. Let's say that.

So, where the hell have I been? Here, there, everywhere, nowhere. A good armload of meaningless, question-dodging answers - that is to say, I've been struggling with inspiration. It's been a messy summer and I still don't feel like I've fully normalized healthwise yet - now thanks in part to some worries about potential hypertension problems (Methinks it's time to get stricter about exercising more often again now. Let's hope I'm just faltering in the face of hypochondriac tendencies here.) - and otherwise, much of this week and past weekend were consumed by downward plodding toward the end of summer. This plodding entails the dropping of the temperature just enough to ensure the air conditioning isn't on much, which leads to my room - which has poor ventilation and circulation - becoming exceedingly hot, uncomfortable, and all around ovenlike, which can be a real sleep-killer. And of course, with the new TV season starting very soon (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia season six premieres on Thursday! Also, the new season means more of the usual blog fodder, of course.), I need to push myself to start normalizing my sleep cycle a bit more after how much of a mess it's been all summer. (None of this has helped my health, of course. So maybe that should be my primary reason for normalizing my sleep - at least compared to my currently wrecked cycle - as opposed to OH BOY TELEVISION.) Without those little slices of death, the big sleep comes much sooner than later, they say - I've got too much I still need to accomplish before I can let myself get that tired.

At any rate, there's been plenty this summer to write about that I haven't exactly taken advantage of. There was the Gulf of Mexico oil spill back in April, for one, which should have served as more of a wake-up call to the nation to begin reducing fossil fuel consumption and shift our focus to green energy sources. Then there was rampant anti-Mexican bigotry in Arizona, the manufactured Shirley Sherrod scandal thanks to professional liar Andrew Breitbart, and a visible explosion of Islamophobia centered around a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan - just a couple of blocks from ground zero. ("Hallowed ground" in the sense that strip clubs, fast food joints, and the like are A-OK, but a community center is not because after years of implying it now, now many Republicans are openly conflating all Muslims with terrorists.) The usual September 11th (Celebrate Terrormas by buying gifts for your whole family and burning down the household World Trade Center replica TOGETHER! NEVER FORGET.) memorial was marred by open displays of bigotry, and a fixation on Florida pastor Terry Jones's trolling for media attention by planning a Quran burning just to be incendiary and lower the discourse even further. And of course, just yesterday the Democrats in congress folded on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the face of a John McCain-led Republican party line filibuster. So much has happened in the past few months that's really filled me with overflowing faith in humanity. So, so much. (Ow.)

All that mind-numbing positivity aside, it's time for something different! Sort of. It's September 22nd now. Summer's about to end, and autumn's about to begin. All of you have been beating the war drums for weeks, demanding to know: WHERE THE HELL IS THAT AUGUST SHORT STORY!? There were reminders that I had pledged to post a short story a month on here - even if these short stories have often been delayed into early in the following month - back in February, and I've largely kept to my word. There were also some obscenities in there, but I chose to omit those because this is a fucking family-oriented blog. (You've got a foul mouth.) At any rate, just short of the end of summer, it's finally - finally! - finally time for the long-awaited end of summer ultra-late August short story.

Of course, after this long wait, you're undoubtedly expecting something simultaneously mindblowing, touching, and potentially deeply corrosive - if nothing else, you've always been able to count on my writing to be at least a little corrosive, if only in intent. What are you getting this time? Something even better - I ran out of ideas as we got into late summer, though I wanted to do another somewhat seasonal story as I largely have been all year long, at least in my mind. But after ending spring with death, hitting you with heat with the late-June story in early July, and hitting you with post-apocalyptic firefly sci-fi in early August for the late-July short story, I basically had nothing.

So now you're thinking, "If you've got nothing, why are you even writing this? Why are you wasting my time?" Reasonable questions. Reasonable questions deserve honest answers - they deserve accountability. And I've been predictably irresponsible in following through with achieving my own goals. I'd say addiction to underachieving is some kind of illness, but it's more of a personality thing bundled with excuses. And if I weren't good at making excuses - especially in hopefully becoming a regularly working writer within the next year or two with deadlines and the whole shebang - what kind of writer would I be?

Enough with the digressions. To end summer, you need an appropriately summery theme. What says "summer" more than the beach? Who spends more time on the beach than lifeguards? (Ignore the usual beachgoers, hermit crabs, certain jellyfish, etc.) Wouldn't a semi-allegorical internal monologue by a disgruntled lifeguard suffering some kind of PTSD be the greatest story ever conceived? Of course it would. (If nothing else, it might be kinda original. Kinda.) That's why I wrote this. I wrote it for you. All of you out there looking to bake your brains on itchy, sandy, summer-ending storytelling. You're welcome.

Consider this to be my sort of beginning the "fall season" of Spiral Reverie updates, in a manner of speaking. More productivity, more writing, hopefully some publishing, and continued agent query work lie ahead. Maybe I'll finally get out of here and make it someplace more interesting and inspiring within the next year, too. I'm pretty well past feeling like I could drop dead at this point, so with the autumnal equinox coming up in these next twenty-four hours, I hereby proclaim The Summer of (Anything terrible that starts with the letter S) at a close!

Now click the post title and jump down to the story itself. With all this other rambling as a preface, this one's pretty short - some concepts can only go so far before they risk transforming into something else entirely. This is just another experiment.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Before We All Burn Out

Oh hey there, internet! I almost forgot you existed for a little while there. (This is a baldfaced lie.)

As usual, I got caught up in this last month. Thus, more empty promises for more content and my lowest content month for the year on here. In the last, you shouldn't have any more Julys to dread here - content WILL increase again yet, I swear. Anyway, here's my late July story - late as usual. I was hoping to have it up late last week, before the beginning of August and technically on time for once. That obviously didn't work out.

This one's a little different in that I've spent about four days working on it rather than the usual one or two, and I've invested more time into proofreading and revising, so maybe there'll be some evidence of something more than the first draft that my short stories here usually are. Maybe not. Regardless, dig in. It's time to get strange.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Solstice Poultice

Oh hey, it's early July already. 2010's more than half over. Time sure does have a way of kicking us when we're down.

Yes, I've promised more regular and substantive updates on here this summer. So far, I'm still not delivering. In my defense, I've had some preoccupations lately that I think serve as valid excuse for why I've been so consistently inconsistent in recent months. It all began in early May, of course, when I fell ill for a month. I'm not sick anymore, of course - this is old news. Get on with it. Illness then has pretty much been the catalyst for all kinds of awfulness and unpleasant feelings all summer so far. After beginning the Summer of Sickness in early May - about a month and a half before summer actually began - more problems emerged. Being sick did a number on my stomach and digestive system, and I haven't been able to get back to eating fully normally since then. I've been working on getting past that and improving, but I still have quite a few pounds to gain back - thus began the Summer of Starvation. I've approached levels of weight loss since my illness wherein I've come dangerously close to possibly being hospitalized - something to avoid, considering that I'm uninsured. I literally can't afford medical care. The starvation hit an especially unpleasant turning point last week when I became more consciously aware of just how much weight I've quietly lost in the past near two months just before an unsuccessful trip to the dentist to get a broken filling fixed, having been hit by the third summertime hell whammy in the form of drainage from allergies that morning which, when compounded with the toll starvation has been taking on my system, made me far too physically unstable to get the work I needed done last week. This also isn't helped by the general mental discomfort that can overwhelm me when out of the house - I'm not even all that comfortable with riding in cars in motion at the moment now - after months of barely leaving the neighborhood. I'm getting a sense now of where agoraphobics are coming from, and a sense in general of the mental and emotional stress damage inflicted by months of being cooped up inside the house, rarely leaving the neighborhood, feeling like I could die most of the time. Mindfuckery ahoy. And since the allergy problems suffered prior to the dentist last week, my drainage has only gotten progressively worse, so I'm on a nasal spray and trying to find some effective allergy medication that won't mess me up too much in addition to my usual sinus rinse, in hopes of avoiding continuing to wake up choking on a substance I should be evacuating through my nose or not dealing with at all at this time of the year. On top of that, I've undertaken the overwhelming task of trying to clean up and dust the veritable hurricane that is my bedroom. I would like the Summer of Suffocation not to happen. And after having not felt normal or particularly well for almost two full months now, with all the additional psychological weight that comes with longer term health problems, I really, really want to be back to feeling normal and well by sometime during this month. Health problems have basically derailed everything in my daily life these past couple of months, and I can't afford for this to continue. Thus, my excuse for not posting here as much as I should.

Anyway, I obviously didn't get this end of the month short story up by the end of June as I'd planned to either. Naturally, here it is late. And as previously mentioned, it's now summer as of a couple of weeks ago. As such, you're getting a break from the norm in my end of month short story writing this time in the form of a sequel. After comments left made me think about actually continuing a short story on here for once, I've decided to go ahead and do something different this year in continuing one of these stories - Vernal Eternal - through the rest of the year.

Look forward to the third part in September, and the conclusion in December! Now click the post title here to jump to the story. I'll post some more soon. Let's all hope my body stops attacking itself and lets me eat, sleep, and breathe normally soon. The only health highlights as of late by contrast have been going swimming a couple of times for the first time in a decade-plus a few days ago and getting some sorely needed Vitamin D from sunlight and full-body exercise in the process, while somehow not getting reduced to a pile of ashes or turned into beef jerky in the direct sunlight. Of course, now I'm enjoying my whole body feeling like it's made of rubber, which should last for a week or so. The moral of my story - not the story after the jump, but my own personal one - is that being a sickly person isn't much fun, and I'm at least partially to blame for all of it.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

E3 2010 Day Two: Kid in a Candy Store

Alright, so it's over a week later, and I've had plenty of time to go back from temporarily being eight-years-old again with video gaming glee to being my usual Mr. Stoic self that you know, love, and fear losing in my rare bouts of manic nerd-joy. Don't worry, consistently inconsistent though I may be, I still keep myself pretty well chained to the stone of sanity in this hurricane, life.


That said, it's time to finally finish the rest of my E3 coverage here and finally get it posted and over with.Most of the focus goes to Nintendo, which revived multiple classic franchises against expectations, brought a strong Wii lineup to the table, a smaller name but still strong DS one, and then blew minds with the unveil of the DS's successor - the 3DS. There'll also be some more third party and industry narrative talk, and then a brief look at Sony's conference, which was as embarrassingly lackluster as Microsoft's last Monday. With the contents within, I wrap my E3 2010 coverage and commentary and get back to my usual stuff - and there's good stuff coming to make up my excessive video game babble to the rest of you. Yes, it's actually in the works.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Feel... Happy...

Just a short little follow-up blurb. Just finished the Nintendo conference at E3. I'll write about it tonight, but oh god. I didn't think Nintendo could make me any happier as a gamer, but then... all this... the ENTIRE CONFERENCE left me emotionally drained. I want to cry tears of joy right now, and I'm speaking as someone who doesn't exactly emote that much to begin with. Sweet Jesus.

The upcoming Wii and DS lineups and 3DS make me so unbelievably happy to have spent so much of my life on this hobby, it just makes me want to sing in the streets. And I'm not even being sarcastic here, that's the really weird thing. AAHHHHH!

There, that's your rare, weird, out of character blog post from me. I'm gonna be poor forever. Nintendo has the future of gaming down. Sony and Microsoft? Criminy. They have NOTHING on what Nintendo's doing now.

E3 2010 Day One: Please Pretend We're Nintendo

Guess what, internet? It's Christmas for video gamers - that glorious season in which each hardware-producer's fanatics (Primarily Sony and Microsoft) come out of the clockwork to deride the competition (Primarily Nintendo) and the whole of the world loses a few thousand IQ points collectively.

Yes, that's right, it's E3 again. Time for me to ramble on about all things related to the video game industry, its politics, and its neverending problems with consumers - namely that the video game market doesn't buy what the industry wants them to and instead makes its own choices - in a droning, brain-drilling fashion. I'm sure I'll be repeating and re-discussing many things I've already written about the past several years since I began this blog, with a good 2-3 posts covering the Electronics Entertainment Expo every year. But as the saying goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same - the more Nintendo pioneers and grows the market, the angrier the competition gets and the more suicidal the third party developers and publishers make their trajectory.

Doesn't that just sound like a pound and a half of brain tumors - er, fun? Well, anyway, after the jump, I'll be discussing the state of things and unveilings of the past 24 hours. There'll be another post or two on the subject this week, plus at least one or two on other things - if only one, then another next week to give those of you who have no interest in or stomach for this painfully nerdy subject something to look forward to.

Monday, June 7, 2010

One-Note

So, addicted as you all are to my monthly short stories, I'm sure you've been wondering what happened to my end of May story. Here it is at last, a week into June. It's taken me a little while to get back into writing as much as I've wanted to, having spent nearly a full month dealing with illness. In the least, I can now report that I'm mostly better and starting to eat somewhat normally now. Progress is progress.

I've got a lot to do this month between needing to find a bunch of agents to get another 5-6 queries out, another short story here later this month (ON TIME), and ideally a decent short story submitted to a publication, since if I'm going to find representation, I probably need to focus on building my portfolio of published work beyond the one story and growing body of self-published little experimental stories here on this very amateur-looking blog. My usual E3 video game babbling is coming up next week, too, so I'll try to put together some non-gaming material to make that up to those of you reading who aren't interested in that topic. At any rate, following a month of illness, get ready to enjoy my warm, fuzzy first written work in nearly a month! (You always write about cheery things after long term illness.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Internet Spelunking: Derrick Comedy

Another week wraps up, and this guy's here again to babble at you again. (Great. Not again.) But hey, with my health gradually returning, I'm finally starting to get back to writing more. And it happens to be the case that my words cause tectonic shift. (That's what that was. Also, this is not necessarily the case with agents. This is something that can stand to change, and must for the good of the world.) Inane parentheticals.

At any rate, I plan on closing May early next week with another of my monthly short stories on here. In the meantime, have fun with the launch of another new Spiral Reverie feature - Internet Spelunking! These posts will, of course, entail the sharing of the fruits of my regular excursions into the depths of those forbidding, deathtrap-laden catacombs known collectively as the internet.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Trains Through Tokyo

May 19th, May 19th, and also May 19th.

It has been a while since my last post here, hasn't it? (Don't count the days.)

Before you drop a ten-ton weight on my head, I've got a valid excuse! Lucky me, I've been sick for about a week and a half now, since the 8th. Not one of those fun illnesses either where you near the brink of death and they pump you full of powerful drugs so everything seems wonderful. (Upon further examination, those aren't really fun illnesses either.) Instead, I've had one of those lovely persistent stomach viruses that make it very hard to eat much of anything and leave you feeling tired, sore, and weak. And subsisting on crackers, cereal, and water doesn't make for much in the way of necessary nutrients to fight said illness, or avoiding losing weight, either. At this point, I'd just like for my stomach to stop hurting and to be less dizzy so I can finally get back to eating normally again, fix the whole nutrition thing with a more varied, balanced diet again, and actually get back to writing more often.

As you'd expect, illness can inhibit one's desire to be creative. Especially when you're malnourished, have been for over a week, and just want to collapse most of the time. Doesn't help when you have days when you feel like you're finally on the up and up immediately followed by a day or two of feeling terrible again, either. I've missed way too many good meals and desserts in these past eleven days. So let's hope I get well soon so I can pour a lot more time into novel work, the upcoming third round of agent queries (June's not far off!), and babble here some more. And also eat normally again and enjoy the whole good health/able to leave the house thing.

On a more positive note for this blog, its main focus. (This is your cue to make the jump to the main entry itself by clicking the title.)

Friday, April 30, 2010

Divergence Day

Hey, it's the last day of April. This year's moving by far too quickly already. Other cliches, murmurs, musings, ramblings, interpretive gesticulations, and grumbling about the nature of the passage of time.

With the end of the month comes another weird story. I'm trying to keep up with a story a month these days. So far, I think it's going alright.

At any rate, give the post title a click to go on a fantastical journey to the future! A future where things kind of suck. In the most profound way, no less.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Coco's a No-Go? No No!

If you're reading this, it's obvious that you rely on this sparsely-updated blog for all your entertainment and pop culture news. All of it. In other news, there's nothing going on in the entertainment industry beyond the contents of this post. Just to be clear about this.

Getting to the point, it's been just over a couple of weeks now since it was announced that Conan will be making his return in November. Not on Fox as expected, and not even on a network. The internet was jarred by the revelation that Conan will be going to cable - specifically, to TBS. Nobody was expecting that. I've had a lot of mixed feelings about this decision - there's a lot of upsides and downsides - but having had a couple of weeks to process it now, at this point, I'm more excited to have a set time frame in which to look forward to Conan's return than anything else.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Onward to Fossilization!

So, I'm behind on blogging again with a few more posts in the pipeline on top of still brainstorming for my April short story on here. In the least, it's time for my usual yearly musings on aging. I was 22 when Spiral Reverie first launched, and today, I'm 26. Already old with more old piled on top. (Old!) Yes.

 Aging is always a time for reflection. The past two years, I've done a fair amount of reflection here around my birthday. I turned the spotlight in a rare moment of uber-narcissism. (As opposed to the regular kind I exhibit around here.) I turned discussion of my life into a manipulative Nike commercial using out-of-context audio to try to sell Tiger Woods as a brand - and in turn, Nike products.

Wait, maybe that's not it.

Regardless, another year has passed. I haven't accomplished anywhere near what I wanted to in the past year. A reoccurring theme: the annual disappointment. I'm keeping my sights to the clouds - there's nowhere else to be - while my body's still dragging on the ground like a sack of rocks and imagined orbital debris. If I flap my arms hard enough, I will fly someday. Metaphor works like that. (Who needs concrete reality?)

Still, I've done some things. I finished my first novel and am making decent progress on my second already, and I've at least done my homework and started the agent querying process off on the right foot. At least, on the right foot in the sense that while no one has responded to my queries yet, I actually made a point of educating myself so that I actually know what I'm doing here. A tremendous number of aspiring authors apparently don't bother doing their homework, figuring they've got such a work of staggering genius on their hands that chucking the manuscript at everybody they possibly can with a poorly thought out letter and tacked on ego would give them a sea of agents begging to represent them and millions in publishing deals in no time. I may live with my head in the clouds, but even I know better than this, actively trying to avoid ending up on one of those query fail blogs or tweets out there. I'd like to think that this gives me a bit of a leg up on a fair number of others seeking representation, at least.

And hey, if I'm lucky, I'll find the means to escape North Carolina sometime within the next couple of years. I'd rather not be stuck here into my thirties. We're obviously just a a few attempted militia uprisings and violent riots led by teabaggers from the collapse of civil society as is. (I really hope that there's no truth to this statement.) On which note, it wasn't until this year, in the face of all these conservative dissidents screeching out in the name of further squashing of the majority by the minority with the nation's wealth and power that I became really conscious of the fact that the Oklahoma City Bombing happened on my birthday back in 1995. It's the fifteenth anniversary of this ultra-conservative militant terrorist attack that claimed the lives of 168 people, including 19 children. Some on the absolute fringe see this as a day to be celebrated for the tragic anti-government violence carried out that day. The extreme of the "the government should cease to exist but somehow still provide me with everything that maintains civil society while corporate interests and oppression reign!" segment of society, of which the teabaggers largely just represent the old, overweight, white, wealthy, confused, angry, and racist. Whipped up by none other than Fox News, which should have seen a serious FCC crackdown some time ago that it has yet to - they've been cashing in on shouting fire in a crowded theater disguised as news and "opinion journalism" for well over a year now, completely violating their free speech rights. There's a limit to what's protected under free speech, and as things stand, the first amendment's being beaten to a bloody pulp by America's worst.

I guess, when you get down to it, the theme of my little aging-blurb this year is this: Hey, crazy people who don't understand how society works and somehow think the ultra-wealthy are victims of oppression by the lower classes. We're sliding into collective poverty as a nation while you guys scream about "socialism," ignoring decades of active redistribution of the nation's wealth upward to a tiny minority. Greed, selfishness, ignorance, and hate are cancers that threaten to take America to pieces from the inside and strike the rest of the globe with a serious crisis as a result. Let's use our hearts and minds and beat this, shall we? It's probably a hopeless plea, but one that should be made to the very end. In the least, let's not have any conservative terrorist commemorative violence on my birthday, shall we? Someday, a few people might know who I am and possibly even enjoy my characters and what I have to say through my writing. They might not be too happy if you ruined my birthday by killing people. And I wouldn't be too happy with that, either. There isn't a single one of us who can't do better than violence. Let's make my birthday a day to celebrate impermanence. (There's that narcissism.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

Publishing Chronicles: Let's Try This Again

I don't even know what that potato thing was the other week. At any rate, I'm conveniently back now.

Time for a query process update. The agencies I queried back at the beginning of February asked those who submitted to them to wait 6-8 weeks for response, and the 8th week concluded just last week.

I wish I had news to cheerily report - even news of so much as acknowledgment through rejection, but alas, I do not. It could be that my letter needs some more work - I'm not even sure how I'd revise it at this point, but I may give that a shot if I don't get any response from this next set. It could be that the premise itself didn't sound interesting enough or particularly appeal to the two agents I started with. It could be that the first ten pages weren't enough to hook them. It could even be that they never finished the letter and tossed it quickly, or that they haven't even gotten to it yet. There's really any number of possible reasons, but the fact remains that the first query set's response waiting period is over.

It's disappointing that my first query efforts turned out this way, but then, being completely new to this part of the process and only having queried two agents to start with, going without response is probably to be expected. It would've been unrealistic to expect anything more. And it's probably unrealistic for me to expect anything out of these next four queries that I just sent out. But it's all part of the process. Going ignored, getting silently rejected, continuing to wait - these are undoubtedly important experiences to have as a writer.

No part of this process is easy, and it probably wouldn't be rewarding if any part was. It's time to press onward and now begin the waiting period for the second query set. After consulting a calendar, going by a regular 8-week or so waiting period, I should be able to get five or so sets of queries out this year. It'd be amazing to find representation within the year, but to assume I'll achieve that would be overconfident if not borderline hubristic. At this point, so much as a rejection response, some comments, or any kind of acknowledgment from an individual agent would be a victory of sorts. So in the least, while I wait, babble here, write short stories, work on my second novel, and enter more contests over the course of the year, I'll be keeping my fingers crossed on that much.

Before my third query set goes out in early June, I'm going to need to do some more research and find some more agents taking unsolicited queries who might be interested in the sort of thing I write. It can be hard to know who would give your work a shot, as a literary fiction writer. Crossing genres while not becoming genre fiction is a literary fiction staple, but it's hard to know what to think when agents express an interest in literary fiction and perhaps one or two of the following genres - fantasy, science fiction, and mysteries - but aren't interested in one or two of the others. Any kind of issues of preference could get something as complex and comparatively off the pigeonholed, beaten-path territory of genre fiction could sink a literary novel pitch. Literary fiction driven by some surrealistic elements of the fantastic is pretty much my thing, after all, with some mystery and science fiction elements in past and future projects. All of them are character-driven, however, keeping well within the realm of literary fiction at heart. I'm not exactly writing mainstream fiction, and I'm continuously trying to challenge myself to write stories that feel unusual and fresh - at least to me.

While my second novel that I'm currently working on - Project Princess - is probably more marketable than Project 27 Days, I have some concerns with how it would be received as well. Particularly over whether my eventual agent or a publisher might mistake it for fantasy genre fiction despite its focus being squarely on the characters rather than "the quest," a key divide between literary and fantasy genre fiction. In that way, it's not unlike how the Battlestar Galactica reimagining was written and largely treated as a character drama that happened to be set in space, and purposefully avoided numerous sci-fi cliches to be an edgy, fresh space opera that drew a lot of viewers who normally wouldn't go near a show like that.

I'm sure that narrative structure can be an alienating factor as well. Project 27 Days plays out as sort of a slice of life, taking the reader through the protagonist's thoughts, conversations, and experiences each day from dreaming to waking and struggling to sleep each night. I feel that it works well, as it was an important part of the novel's conception - that the reader have these full, day-to-day experiences with the protagonist. And I'm sure there's an audience out there that would appreciate it. Finding an agent willing to represent it - and me - and a publisher willing to back it, however, could possibly end up being a challenge. Project Princess has a somewhat more traditional structure as a novel, but "present action" chapters are also intercut by chapters of somewhat shorter length in which the protagonist discusses bits of the fantasy world's history, mythology, and the clash between history records and myths that makes it very difficult to determine which parts of their celebrated history are real and which are fiction. Though it's just conjecture on my part, I'm concerned that this could drive off as many people as it might draw in. It's part of my continued exploration of the concept of setting as character, which plays a major role in Project 27 Days through its surreal, small scale train setting. There's going to be at least some of that in my third novel down the line too - which is going to be much more of a comedy. (By which readers will continue to glean just how weird I am - as though everything else I write doesn't express that enough - and that I'm also a Judd Apatow fan.) Something to have some light, albeit crude fun with - still backed by my usual focus on strong literary character writing - as a bit of a mental and emotional palate cleanser. Project Princess is easily my darkest work to date with only a little humor here and there, so by the time I'm done with it, I'm going to need to write a comedy, and I've been working on this particular comedy novel conceptually since all the way back in autumn of 2004.

Getting back to the aforementioned note of contests, I also entered one of NPR's three-minute fiction contests back at the end of February. Competition's much stiffer when organizations like NPR are involved, and as you can imagine, I didn't win and probably didn't even come close to having my story deemed one of the notable entries. But as you know by now, dear readers, I'm kind of an eccentric writer to begin with. I may have gotten disqualified early on for some mild drug references, too - the protagonist of the story was a bit of a junkie, and there were a few references to his dealing. I can't say I'd be surprised if they were very sensitive about potentially broadcasting that sort of content, even if it was as mild as it was. You had to look at the picture they provided and write what came to you - the protagonist of this story just happened to be a junkie leading a fairly sad existence. It can't be helped if that's what sometimes comes out.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Potatokins Checking In - This Internet Thing is Easy

Oh shit! It's Potatokins.

I know you can't stand it, internet people, but the number one potato man's here to drop some fury on you sorry humans. The loser who runs this blog thing - more like a bog, am I right? - wasn't too smart about his passwords and now his Google account is mine. (At least for the duration of this post.)

Some of you are confused right now - in fact, all of you are. That's okay. You're human. It's expected that you don't and won't understand anything. Your entire civilization is a failure but a few of you are probably just now starting to figure that out. It's too late.

There's no hope left for you, and some people might suggest that you turn to religion, but let's be honest. Yours are all made up. All you have left is to pray to the real god, almighty Potatoto - by which I mean me, Potatokins. (That's Mr. Potatokins to you, also - failure to address me with proper respect will only lead to oil-soaked rags and perhaps fire.) Of course, Potatoto - ME - is only interested in the affairs of potatoes and feels no sympathy or mercy for you fleshy sacks of sawdust.

Bip bip bip.
Bip bip bip.
The potato is it.
You're in awe of my rhymes. Rap is the only worthwhile thing you humans contributed to the universe - and potatoes are better at it than you are. Mostly Potatokins - ME - because there are no other sentient potatoes yet. And there probably doesn't need to be. Well adjusted potatoes might take the edge off.

AND THIS POTATO THINKS NOTHING OF ANY OF YOU. Gewurztraminer, The Flying Nun, penicillin, aerodynamics - none of these things are worth ANYTHING. I hope you understand by now how terrible all of you are.

Also, for some reason, you can follow me on Twitter now. TWEET TWEET TWEET, HUMANS. Potato words and potato knowledge are more valuable than anything your species could ever hope to produce.

And I rule this blog forever from now on. POTATOTOTOTOTOTOTOTO. You can't handle it. I've also got more eyes than you ever will.

You just got potatosmashed, entire internet.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Vernal Eternal

The vernal equinox was a couple of weeks back, marking the end of winter and beginning of spring. You can imagine what a big fan of the season I am, from the content of my latest little monthly story here. But it is what it is - much like everything else I write. A goofy slice of seasonal change - or seasonal lack of change.

Yes, I do in fact need to write here more often. I know.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dreaming in Split Realities: Zen-like Difference Games

Casual computer gaming has come a long way in the past decade. Back in the early 2000s, there wasn't a whole lot to note. Most browser games were simple little distractions that you'd load up and play once, and Flash-based gaming wasn't much different. In a lot of ways, the Brothers Chaps' old Homestar Runner games represent a creative variety of the types of Flash games you'd see on sites like Newgrounds - which is still a huge place to go for the latest in Flash animated movies and games, its offerings running the gambit from many of the best to worst out there on the internet.

Gaming has transformed significantly over the past several decades. We've gone from Pong and Space Invaders with Atari and Coleco to Mario and Sonic with Nintendo and Sega, and then to Sony and Microsoft pushing shooting, conceptual gameplay rehashes, and design pretension to ridiculous levels while trying hard to appeal to the testosterone-driven crowd that would've pushed previous generations of nerdy gamers into lockers high school. Shallow, image-driven game concepts and marketing became popular - though Sega did beat Sony and Microsoft to the punch on that, but their rivalry with Nintendo was frankly friendly compared to the smug hubris regularly displayed by Sony and Microsoft's executives and the worst of their audience - much to gaming's detriment. Normal people don't care about video games making you look "cool," and they don't care about hyperkinetic violence or running around online "fragging" and "pwning" each other while shouting epithets at each other on headset voice chat.

This is where a new significant transformation for gaming has come to light: comfortable, casual pick-up-and-play gaming that anyone can understand, get into, and have a tremendous amount of fun with. Nintendo made their explosive comeback by creating platforms designed to be accessible and to appeal equally to both the usual gaming demographics and entirely new ones - particularly women and actual adults, as opposed to the insecure teenagers and mental-teenagers that Sony and Microsoft have chosen to drive their video game lines into the ground over. We got motion controls - gaming like we'd imagined in futuristic, science fiction settings at last! - and games like Wii Sports, as well as lifestyle software for daily physical and mental health-related use like Wii Fit, Brain Age, Big Brain Academy, EA Sports Fitness, Walk It Out, and more. Exercise and video gaming joined at last, and edutainment aimed at adults. Fantastic ideas, bringing all sorts of outside daily life concepts together with gaming software in ways that we'd never seen - or at least never seen done well - before, evolving video game software as a concept and taking that next step forward as a medium. All this in stark contrast to Sony and Microsoft's focus on graphics, online shooters, and trying to turn games into "movies" without any of the writing or directorial talent that draws us to film as a complete separate medium in the first place. On top of this evolution of how we look at video games as a concept, Nintendo also provided platforms in the Wii and DS where any kind of game from previous - and current - generations could be made, but also made better through the addition of motion controls. And all kinds of gameplay that most people found inaccessible due to the confounding complexity of standard video game controllers suddenly became much more appealing and accessible, the Wii's basic controller undergoing an ambitious redesign to transform how we view standard gaming controls into something much more familiar - a remote control - and comfortable. Even the DS's controls are right at home for most, acting as a SNES controller with an touchscreen screen.

Likewise, where Nintendo's new boom began, we continued to see the mainstream emergence of a previously largely niche - and still mostly niche even now - independent computer game design scene, which I myself was in and out of for a good part of my adolescence, and am I only just returning to this year with an iPhone/iPod Touch game I'm working on with my older brother. Companies like PopCap saw a lot of success with PC games like Bejeweled and Peggle, online digital download stores like Steam began to pop up, the Homestar Runner guys started making even more ambitious games with a taste for the retro (Nostalgia has become a driving and wonderful force with many independent game designers, recalling all the kinds of ideas that made older PC and console video games so much fun in the '90s and '80s that have been lost in modern gaming's fixation on pushing graphical horsepower and ditching gameplay to make godawful CGI movies that take themselves too seriously and fail to understand why video games and movies are entirely separate mediums.), and major search engine homepages like Microsoft's and Yahoo's began hosting a variety of simple Flash games with social elements to entertain people. And, of course, I would be remiss to discuss the current explosion of simple, accessible social titles with their own depth on major social networks like Facebook over the past year. Virtually everybody knows at least one person - if not many - hooked on addictive social games like Farmville or Mafia Wars these days. Now sites like Facebook are being looked at as platforms for serious game development by many companies, hoping to turn a profit off easy accessible titles that are free to play, and thus very inviting. Flash gaming portal Kongregate is a personal favorite time-killer in this vein, a Flash gaming-centric social networking site where you can submit titles and play hundreds to thousands of games of all sorts, catalogued in a way to make it easy to sift out the undesirable titles, with contests to enter and all sorts of little collectibles to get hooked on picking up for your profile, such as little achievement-style badges for numerous games. And on the most eccentric side of things, we have The Kingdom of Loathing, an easily accessible point and click stickman art and comedy writing based browser role-playing game - one of the deepest and funniest games on the internet, which anyone can get into easily, and like Flash gaming and the freeware put out by the indie gaming scene, it too is free to play. There's no shortage of wonderful and worthwhile options for people looking for games to play without spending a cent.

These days, you'd be hard pressed to find mainstream video gaming websites and blogs that aren't centered on the question of whether or not video games are art. And on both the mainstream and niche sides of the industry, you'll find developers - whether teams or a single person - determined to produce meaningful art games. On one hand, you get smaller names like Jason Rohrer, whose games tend to receive a fairly mixed reception and are hard to frame as something "fun" to play. For many art games, the gap between something meaningful by design and an actual entertaining experience is difficult to bridge. On the ultra-mainstream site of the spectrum, we have Sony's Heavy Rain, recently released on the Playstation 3 last week to a ridiculous amount of raving despite its severe deficiencies as a game. The title is literally little more than walking from place to place, watching FMV cutscenes (The game's design focus was centered on producing and pushing some of the most expensive graphics a video game has ever seen. Not exactly a focus that has a history of yielding anything resembling fun gameplay.) and occasionally pushing a random button on the controller for a quicktime event. The game proposes to be a thrilling (minimally) "interactive" film noir, written by people who aren't professional writers or filmmakers, and then raved about by a media largely comprised of people unfamiliar with good literature or filmmaking. Glaring problems with the largely offensive charge into "cinematic" gaming that Sony has been trying to lead with their Playstation brand for over a decade now - pushing focus on graphics and serious narratives (The more seriously a game takes itself, the worse it is, pretty much as a rule.) while pushing further and further away from the very thing that makes gaming what it is: the gameplay. Unfortunately, growing sentiment at Sony and amongst the worst of their fans is that games need to "evolve" out of existence and merge with the film industry - except that it should also be judged separately, and as superior, because these are movies being made by programmers, not screenwriters, directors, or anybody who frankly has any business attempting to make movies, let alone serious ones.

As for whether games are art, it's all a matter of individual perception. For what video games are as a medium, it doesn't matter if they're art or not - that's not the point. They're meant to be interactive entertainment - something you play, not watch. Something you have fun with, not something set on making you cry. An active experience, as opposed to the passive experience that experiencing art is in itself - whether cinema, other forms of visual art, or music. And many types of cinema and television are by no means art in any way worth recognizing as such.

I wanted to do this particular blog post to look at four games in particular, which you can read about and find links to after the jump. All four are Flash games hosted on Kongregate that work well as both artsy titles that draw you in through beautiful, mesmerizing visual design and music, but also as entertaining titles, engaging you through their central gameplay experience: observation. We all grew up playing all sorts of little games in kids' coloring books and the like, from word searches to simple crossword puzzles and more. These particular titles - difference games - are an artsy Flash gaming evolution of those simple children's puzzles where you'd look at two side-by-side images on a page and attempt to pick out or circle the differences between each. In its accessible simplicity and childhood nostalgia, the two developers behind these four games have shown how much can be done with that concept from a more intellectual perspective without losing their fun. So after this long, rambling introduction and discussion of gaming and its movement into the lifestyle, social, and casual arenas for everybody, check out the rest for links to and discussions of the games you're here to see.