February 12, 2008
TV: Sarrah Connor Chronicles
Today isn't the best day to be recommending this, given a couple of minor things in last night's episode, but Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles I think is absolutely excellent, MUCH better than I expected, and I highly recommend it. I like it much better than BSG and think it is probably the best SF show in years. Summer Glau in particular is incredibly good (like her more here than in Firefly where she oddly played a similar character).
The problems in last night's episode were basically the standard problems when media uses chess for anything. The ridiculous, but movie cliche, 'surprise mate' in a game supposedly at Grandmaster+ level and the completely wrong use of the term 'zugzwang' were boneheaded errors but a minor thing overall.
September 08, 2007
Grand Slam! - Wow! (spoilers)
Wow, Ken Jennings is good! Just watched the final of Grand Slam which was phenomenal and Ken just absolutely unbelievable. Even with his amazing Jeopardy! performance, I was amazed at just how well he did. The first two rounds (which Ogi actually won by tiny margins) were just incredible on both of their parts. After Ogi's collapse in the new third round (which I have to say I think is a bad idea to do - have a round type that only occurs in the final), the game was pretty much over and both knew it but still Ken's concentration and speed were just WOW!!!!. Congratulations and of course couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
Ken's blog which I've been reading for a while is here and recommended.
July 13, 2007
World Series of Pop Culture
This show was great last year and this year is being even better, with the two episodes last night reaching new heights. The introduction of the category "Those Talented Baldwin Brothers" where "all the questions refer to the work of Alec Baldwin" was just absolutely hilarious. The whole ass category (particularly the shout out to the one player's butcher) was of course also supremely funny as was the young Indian-American woman having to say "sugar tits". The "please be more specific" response from Pat to the "balls" answer was also laughing out loud funny. Pat really is just amazingly good as the host of this show. Note also that none of this is done in an at all offensive way, at least IMHO. Really recommended, particularly if you like trivia, but probably fun even if you don't.
July 21, 2006
New TV Game Shows: Treasure Hunters and the World Series of Pop Culture
Watched the new Treasure Hunters reality show which is kind of supposed to be an Amazing Race with puzzles but I thought the first episode was just terrible. The host is absolutely awful, none of the teams were likable and some were ridiculously out of their league, the puzzles weren't interesting and the show was just plain bad.
On the other hand, The World Series of Pop Culture easily gets a Season Pass. The host is likable and funny, the questions are good and fair and it keeps up a good pace. No need to jump ahead at all during the regular show, whereas many trivia shows have tons of downtime. Highly recommended to any trivia buffs. I of course do pretty well on the Movies, ok on TV, and horribly on the Music questions. The format of 3 team members and at least at the start of the round being able to choose the right person for the category is a nice twist too. My only objection is that there seem to be times where one side wins more because of the rules than answering the questions better. For example, there are 6 questions per round and if there is one question that neither side can answer but the other 5 are answered correctly, the team with the person who had first shot at the hard question loses. Yes, the other person did get 3 right to 2 but this still seems a bit unfair to me. Not sure quite how I would change things, though.
May 23, 2006
The season finale for 24 was absolutely excellent, maintaining the very high standard this whole season has had - not a bad episode in the entire season I think. The scene with Bauer and Logan was particularly great.
May 11, 2006
NPR: West Wing interview
John Wells, executive producer on the West Wing, was interviewed on NPR today. The show is of course ending this Sunday but I was particularly interested in this interview as Wells talks about and pieces are broadcast from the episode "Two Cathedrals", which I think is one of the best hours of television of any show ever broadcast.
April 05, 2006
The Apprentice - bad call, Donald
I continue to watch and usually like "The Apprentice" despite it being a big ad every week and some other problems. This week's episode, though, Trump's decision seemed really horrible one to me. I think the #1 problem I have with Trump is that he every week makes it out like teams were badly beaten even when the result was outrageously close. Sometimes the difference has been like 1/10 of 1% which is just obviously massively within the margin of error introduced by straight out luck and yet he makes out like one team did a much better job than the other and the losing team has to massively apologize for tiny choices, which might or might not have been wrong and when the other team certainly made just as many questionable decisions. This week (Arby's jingle), the margin was bigger than that but both teams did reasonable jobs. The PM for the losing team chose, completely reasonably to me, to bring in the two people on the team who didn't contribute to the task (one cause of a Jewish holiday and one cause he was just useless, partially owing to his Russian cultural background [Russian was the one I would have fired]) and not the people who contributed a lot to a project that lost. Trump wanted to blame people for mistakes and obviously felt that doing absolutely nothing was better than stepping up and trying and doing a good, but not great job. This just seems a wrongheaded idea to me. Given this attitude, Trump was forced to fire Bryce as the only person of the three in the room who had done anything. To me, though, Bryce was definitely the highlight of his team (and possibly of the whole group this season) and really effectively got his group all working as a team, completely reversing their past disorganization and infighting.
February 02, 2006
Oh, just a note that I agree with every other post on this I've seen that 24 this season is even better so far than the high standard it has set in the past for an action show (assuming you can suspend disbelief enough). It is right at the moment my favorite show on TV.
November 22, 2005
Twenty-Five years of Nightline anchored by the great Ted Koppel ends tonight
I've been watching Ted Koppel and Nightline since the program began in 1980 as America Held Hostage covering the Iran hostage crisis and since almost the very beginning Ted has been my favorite journalist (from before my time Cronkite and Murrow are the other two great TV journalists). He is both an amazing interviewer and a very interesting thinker in his own right. I was probably one of the happiest people on campus when he was chosen as the commencement speaker for my graduation from Penn in 1991.
For years I was a regular watcher of Nightline but at this point I am actually glad Ted is leaving it. For a long time, he has had replacement anchors (who are not nearly as good or interesting IMHO) much of the time and now competes with Charlie Rose (whose long interview with Ted last night made me realize that tonight is Ted's last night as Nightline's anchor) who I don't think is as good as Ted but does a full hour program without commercials while Nightline is only like 20 minutes, only sometimes has Ted, and does a fair number of lesser stories. My guess is that Ted will leave to do irregular specials but these will allow his editorial comments through more (which I really like) and only be the interesting topics and not the grind of _having_ to put out a show every day.
Thanks for the 25 years of Nightline and I look forward to what is to come.
September 12, 2005
TV on DVD: The Wire
Have out now from Netflix the second disk of the first season of HBO's The Wire which I expected to be good but turns out to be great. Absolutely riveting and great writing and acting; probably even better than The Sopranos. ****1/2
March 29, 2005
TV on DVD: Freaks and Geeks Final Episode
I've been slowly going through this series on DVD from Netflix and finally got the last disc of the first (and only) season. I have only been moderately enjoying it so was slow to watch this disc but the final episode, "Discos and Dragons", was really amazingly good on many levels. The Disco segment didn't interest me that much but the AV/D&D/Daniel segment and the wonderful Lindsay/Grateful Dead segment were great. I actually got up to dance to "Box of Rain" with Lindsay and the "Ripple" ending was beautiful. For this episode: ***** and probably ***1/2 for the series as a whole.
December 20, 2004
Earthsea on SciFi channel - What a Travesty
I thought I wrote something about this at the end of last week but I guess I forgot to post it. Well, now I've watched the thing and it is horrendously bad. This is one of my favorite series of books ever and the one from which I take my standard nickname, NPL nom, LiveJournal logo, etc... and they absolutely destroyed it. Other than some character names (which even that amazingly they totally fucked up, reversing Ged's True name and use name causing me to wince in pain every time they say his true name [Ged that is] in open conversion) and events, there is almost nothing in common with the story or spirit of the books. I think only one scene in the entire movie rang true for me, when Ogion (now not called "the Silent" and talking up a storm) tells Ged to turn and become the Hunter. Harping on individual scenes would be pointless since it would include 95% of the scenes in the movie - I'll spare us both that.
No Lookfar, no scene of Ged battling the brood of the Dragon of Pendor (god what a ridiculous creature they make their dragon to be), no beauty of Roke including the Courtyard and Patterner's Grove, no Otak - why couldn't they at least, as LotR did, give me beautiful visuals for the incredibly beautiful story elements Le Guin wrote?
Le Guin has written a piece railing against this horror. The race issue didn't matter that much to me (perhaps, as she says, because I am white) but the plot, total change of character of Ged to a petulant kid, and total destruction of Le Guin's themes did. Probably my favorite character in all of literature is turned into someone who for 80% of the movie was actively dislikable.
SciFi did a great job with both Dune movies, particularly the first one, but this is a travesty and a nightmare. Oddly enough, this one actually bothered me a lot less than Lord of the Rings did because it is so far from the text that I could largely just laugh it off and not be pained by mourning for what could have been. I also think this one will have much less of a negative impact on another, good version being made at some point.
December 01, 2004
Last night, as expected (I knew at least a month ago via Kottke), Ken Jennings lost on Jeopardy! but what a run! I was rooting for Ken the entire time and entirely positive about his graciousness and composure always. I am sorry to see him go and only time will tell whether I keep watching now.
The rest of this is going to go into a bit of minutia on the betting of the final game and in general as I find it strategically interesting, probably much more so than most so be warned ;) .
I was also quite surprised at the way he lost honestly. I figured he would lose to someone hitting several daily doubles and betting it all (as Alex [accurately but I don't really think appropriately] was urging them to do against him) successfully. Instead, Ken found all three but missed the latter (and larger bets) two and of course Final Jeopardy. I believe he would have had a runaway if he had always bet zero on the DDs. So, unfortunately, Ken basically lost the final game more than his opponent beat him (and this would have been even more true if she had played the odds correctly in FJ (below)).
I also thought the winner made a huge betting error in Final Jeopardy. The third player was out of the game and she had more than 2/3 of the money Ken did. In a situation like this, Ken (to be assured of winning if he gets it right) must bet an amount greater than the difference between his and her scores and so if he does and gets it wrong she will be ahead, betting nothing. As such, if she thinks he will do this (and I thought it was a certainty that Ken would for a number of reasons), she massively increases her chances to win by betting $0. Doing this she just must hope Ken gets it wrong. By betting as she did, she can only win if both Ken gets it wrong and she gets it right. Hoping (as you must in either case) that a player of Ken's calibre gets it wrong is one thing (a 32% chance according to TV Game Shows .NET) but also needing to get right something he gets wrong makes the odds much worse (my estimate based on the above site's statistics suggest her chance to win goes from 32% to about 10% [a little hard to calculate as there are usually 2 opponents in FJ, not just one but usually at most one is in reach of Ken]). Of course, she got away with it but I think her bet was crazy unless she is an absolute expert at the category.
Ken was an amazing champion and player throughout, with an immense and immensely broad knowledge, great speed with the signalling button, great skill in knowing and always sticking to the category he was answering and incredible graciousness in winning and losing. My one and only criticism of his play was his DD and FJ betting strategy. He almost always bet an amount to put him at the next $5000 multiple if he needed to bet around $3000 (or something like this) or more to get there and an amount to put him at the next $5000 multiple beyond that if not (thus he almost always seemed to bet between $3K and $8K to put him at an even multiple of $5K). This seemed a fine (and fun in an idiosyncratic way) general rule but I felt he should have let the categories influence him more than he seemed to. Yes, his knowledge is amazingly broad, but still he is much stronger at some areas than others and only rarely would he let this influence his betting. Even in runaway situations where he had a broad option of betting, he seemed much too consistent (Example: in a game that ends DJ 42001-10000-3000, Ken could bet up to 22000 with no risk and how much he bets up to that should be massively influenced by how strong he thinks he is in the category but Ken seemed to always bet in the $8K or so region in situations like this). Once in a long while he made an exception to this but I didn't think it was nearly often enough. His broad strength (apparently he was only shut out in 3%!!! of all the categories during his entire run) makes his consistent betting strategy a vastly better move than it would be for me but still really isn't the most efficient betting.
November 17, 2004
The Apprentice prediction: Kelly
I have continued to watch The Apprentice this season even though I don't think the contestants are as good in general as last year or that Trump's decisions are as reasonable. However, I'll make the prediction now that Kelly will win as he seems head and shoulders above most of the others; I was particularly impressed with him in the fashion design episode, which seemed so outside the norm for this military guy. Wes is probably the second best.
September 23, 2004
TV: The Amazing Race finale
Well, the final two episodes were quite good. I was sorry Colin and Christie didn't win as they had dominated this race for a long time and I felt deserved to win. They also in the final episode basically did every task better than the other two teams, but checking luggage in this time of positive bag matching and not either reserving a backup flight or calling to check on their flight much earlier was a big mistake. Chip & Kim basically got lucky that they were the slowest team to get to the airport and so got the delayed flight news sooner but they also were obviously really working the airline phones on this while Colin & Christie were focusing on their (brilliant but not enough) plan of arranging a super-fast, knowledgable cab which in the end was the only thing that gave them any chance but it wasn't enough. Anyway, these were the two teams I had favored for a long time, C&C for their smarts and competitiveness (and despite Colin's meltdowns) and C&K for their obvious and real pleasure in the amazing around the world travel and adventures experience. I hated the Yield thing in the prior episode although it was obviously good strategy but I just can't stand the very idea of it and was really glad it turned out to be a non-elimination leg.
The one thing about this show that I really don't like is the flight/business operating times bottlenecks. Teams can work a ton to build up a sizable lead and then have it evaporate in a second at one of these many bottlenecks. It also seems to me that this is absolutely forced in by the show's producers. Let's say a team got a lucky break and got a 12+ hour lead (as I belive at one point C&C almost got). Would the producers let them keep it? I doubt it.
September 17, 2004
TV: The Apprentice
I was shocked by Trump's decision in last night's boardroom scene and really think it was a massive overreaction on his part. Last season, I was actually extremely impressed by him and thought every decision he made was justifiable and, in fact, thought that the whole season would make an interesting little business course.
Last night's decision, however, seemed absolutely insane. What Bradford was really saying (in his extroverted way) was "Look, I know I have immunity but I think my performance on this task was so good that it doesn't matter because, based on merit, there isn't a chance that I would be fired anyway." I think this statement was completely reasonable and correct except for capricious decisions like the one that ended up being made. The point about giving up immunity was mostly hyperbole and I don't think he expected it to be accepted. In addition, there were two people greatly deserving of firing in Ivana who did a horrible job leading and was never decisive, including in the boardroom, and the terrible Stacie J who is a loose cannon and not liked by any of her teammates. Bradford was the leader before (although not a great one in my opinion) and certainly by far the strongest one-on-one salesman in the group in this task. Trump went against every person on the team and his own advisors to punish him for a statement which I thought was completely correct. This just made no sense whatsoever to me. As a game rules thing, it is also I think a bit inappropriate to allow Bradford to give up his immunity or at least to do so based on one light comment without a "Do you really want to do this?". I would also note that Burnett's main other show, Survivor, also explicity allows for the ability to give up immunity (here in a transfer to someone else) and it has been done a couple of times and with good reason I think. Regarding it as so insane as to require firing despite all other evidence being against that decision makes zero sense to me.
Anyway, terrible decision and it makes me noticeably less interested in the show. If decisions are going to be made based on capricious personality quirks of Trump, the show isn't nearly as interesting to watch.
September 13, 2004
World Poker Tour - Bad Boys episode
I find myself continuing to be amazed at the play of Gus Hansen who here won his fourth WPT event. His call against Antonio's all-in (with 77) bet with 8-10s was absolutely incredible in that it turned out to be the right thing to do, but is still shocking as it is really only a reasonable call against a pair 7s or less. On this hand Antonio bet 29K and Gus raised to 100K and then Antonio went all-in for a raise of 334K. Although Antonio is slighlty favored (52% to 48%) in the hand, given the pot odds Gus is definitely right to call but, again, only against a tiny number of hands that Antonio could have. Was his read that good or was he just lucky? Antonio was utterly shocked at his call and acting like it was a crazy thing to do but against his actual hand it was correct.
August 30, 2004
The Olympics this year have been a totally different experience for me thanks to the combination of cable TV and especially TiVo. Before leaving for Oregon, I set up an Olympics Wishlist and my TiVo was recording some 12 hours a day of coverage throughout the Olympics. Due to prime-time conflicts with other stuff, this was mostly the more off-hours material broadcast on Bravo, MSNBC and late at night on NBC. At TiVo speed I was able to watch at least a bit of an incredible number of events and blast through all the stuff (like Wrestling and Boxing in particular) that I had no interest in. After this, it is just hard to imagine watching the Olympics any lesser way. OTOH, improvements in this scheme are obvious and definitely coming (the most obvious being multiple tuners to catch the prime-time stuff and when multiple channels are showing events simultaneously). I'll watch the Closing Ceremonies tonight but it has really been nice to see so much and yet not have to watch TV constantly to do it.
July 23, 2004
Congratulations to the amazing Ken Jennings on Jeopardy! Tonight was the final episode of the season and his 38th consecutive win and what a win it was! Between the two main rounds (that is Regular and Double Jeopardy ignoring the Daily Double effects), there is a possible $54000 available. Jennings (WITH help from the Daily Doubles of course including a $10K answer in an Oscars category) ended the Double Jeopardy round with $51400 and that only because he missed his last question dropping him from $53000. If he hadn't done this, he would have broken the all-time single game record of $52000 (which he has carefully tied 3 times in the past due to Final Jeopardy - a very nice homage to the past champions I thought) without even needing Final Jeopardy. Seeing a good category of Shakespeare, he bet $23600 and blew this record away with a final total of $75000. The question was to name 2 of the Shakespeare plays in which a Ghost appears onstage. All the players got Hamlet but only Jennings in addition named one of Richard III (his choice), Julius Caesar or Macbeth (which is the second one I thought of immediately). Wow!!!!
Surprisingly, despite every game having been a blowout, I have really been enjoying every episode as Jennings plays with great grace and aplomb in addition to his incredible skill and knowledge. Only once have I thought he made a regrettable comment at the expense of his opponents. At all other times, he has been a wonderful winner.
I'll be watching again when they're back on in 6 weeks and may even watch some repeats. Jennings has definitely been successful in bringing me back to Jeopardy which I haven't watched at all regularly since 18 years ago in high school.
July 13, 2004
I finally got around to watching Ken Jennings on Jeopardy last night, who is now on a 29-day winning streak and up to almost $1Million and WOW! is he good!!!. He came one question away from running the entire first half of the Jeopardy round. His buzzer timing is absolutely incredible and he knows so much that he can afford to buzz in on a ton of questions and figure he can pull out the answer by the time he has to give it. I have never seen anywhere close to such a dominating performance. At one point he was at like $25K and both his opponents were at negative scores. Without a fix in by the show's question writers, it will take an incredibly good opponent and incredibly lucky category selection for them to beat him. For now, I think his continuing to win remains really good for the show as it brings back people like me to watch but at some point it will of course get old but maybe not till 50 or so.
May 21, 2004
Gus wins again on the cruise episode! He really is a fun player to watch (although I'd be scared out of my mind playing against him). He had to get really lucky on the A9s vs T9s hand but having done so, he rode the luck (and the fact that Hoyt seemed to be affected by that loss and not able to get back to his game). I felt sorry for the poor online players who all made quite reasonable decisions but got blasted out one after another in short order.
May 13, 2004
WPT - Aruba
Wow, what a run of cards for Lindgren! Sure, they don't show all the hands but he had AA (a 1 in 221 chance) three times and AKo three more times. I think he was outplayed by both Anthony and Daniel but with cards and luck like he had (his major sets were never broken I believe while he wins the tournament breaking Daniels AKs with his Q2s!), he could barely lose the tournament if he tried. He is a good player but this was just incredible luck. If he hadn't let himself be bluffed out time and again in the early going when he also had the best cards, he would have won hours earlier. Daniel in particular played an incredible game, almost always making the right decision, which was absolutely amazing given his lack of experience playing live (not online) games.
May 10, 2004
Survivor: All-Stars Finale
Well, the Rob and Amber show is finally over. They played a strong game but most of these others don't come close to deserving the 'All-Stars' title as they made outrageously stupid moves one after another. I was glad for the 'Give Rupert a million dollars twist' and hope it succeeds. Perhaps I'll even go to the trouble to vote for him as I find him by far the most likeable, honest and loyal of the contestants. He was not a good player of course but he gave CBS a lot of really good TV, particularly in the Pearl Islands. The only other person I liked at all this season was the loner Richard Hatch, who knew he was screwed by the 'screw the winners' attitude but still played a strong game and managed to survive a while by leading his team to a good number of challenge victories.
April 02, 2004
TV: The Apprentice
This really is a good show, I think definitely the most interesting and relevant reality show I have seen. Unlike Survivor and all, this is not just a game but also reality - Trump looks to really be trying to find a good person to work for him. I think the final 5 really are a strong group (with Amy and Bill being the strongest and I think it exceedingly likely one of them will win). The final boardroom last night really did get to the point and I think Trump was right to choose boring over loose cannon as a possible President of one of his companies. However, I can't imagine Kwame winning in the end over the very strong and not wild Amy or Bill. Trump and his assistants insightful, blunt comments in private are particularly interesting and the tasks are fun and probably at least reasonably good approximations of some real business tasks.
March 29, 2004
Got Season 1 of the British comedy The Office from Netflix and watched it over the weekend. It really is quite funny although its hard to imagine how David manages to keep his job (and his superiors even want to promote him in one episdoe) given his direct lying to his superior and general incompetence. No big deal as its a comedy but a bit hard for me to get past. Too bad the season is so short. ****
March 01, 2004
Well, the most surprising thing this year was that there were no surprises. In every single category, the favorite one as far as I understood the odds with Return of the King having a clean sweep of 11 for 11. I was for the most part happy about this with the technical awards (particularly Alan Lee) and very unhappy about the others (I liked all the other Songs better although I did like the title "Into the West" and of course was disgusted it won for Best Adapted Screenplay and a little less disgusted about Director and Best Picture).
In other awards, I would have liked Bill Murray to win for Best Actor but that is partly sentimental and based on that this is probably his only chance for it while Sean Penn will likely be back many times. I was also very glad Sofia Coppola won for Best Original Screenplay. Again, though, no surprises. My favorite moment of the show was probaby the song performance by 'Mitch and Mickey' of A Mighty Wind which was also very well done.
February 23, 2004
TV: The West Wing and Angel
Both of these episodes were excellent which is kind of bittersweet in both cases.
The West Wing has definitely not been as good this season after the depature of Sorkin, with meanness and conflict for its own sake that the show didn't have before. This episode, however was back to the high standard of previous seasons, with smart, devoted people doing their best at a very hard job of great importance, in the most extreme spotlight. I hope this continues but don't think it likely.
The Angel puppet episode was hillarious again and again (hiding under the desk, attacking Spike, vamp transformation, attacked by werewolf, etc...) and reminds me why I watch this show which is often not that great but has some really fine moments. Too bad it is ending after this year for no more moments like these. This might have been my favorite episode of the entire series so far.
February 03, 2004
TV: Survivor All-Stars
I was quite impressed with the first episode and will definitely be watching this season. I hope all the previous winners aren't immediately blasted off but fear they may be. I think the producers did help them out by spreading them out 2-2-0 rather than 2-1-1 so at least each has one ally. I was diappointed in Rupert not going with Ethan's proposal but wonder what he is up to (if, that is, it wasn't simply a bad IMHO move). Perhaps he will change his mind next time and ally with Ethan but giving his stronger alliance with Rudy a 2-1 advantage. Alternatively, he may have wanted to go along but had Rudy refuse for some reason and feel bound to stick with Rudy and not create a 3-3 vote. What happens in the case of ties these days? Is there a scheme by CBS to force there not to be ties? This theory requires a major discussion to have happened off-camera but I don't see how that discussion didn't occur. It is definitely very annoying realizing they don't show us everything of importance.
December 15, 2003
Well, I was pretty happy that Sandra won as I have liked her since the first episode when she was bargaining like crazy (and in the native language) to buy her tribe supplies while the other tribe was totally blowing it. I think Lill made a mistake choosing her but it wasn't entirely clear. Lilll then Sandra then Jon was a pretty clear ordering of nicest to meanest but also from least skill in the game to most skill although the later is interesting. Sandra keeping in the background may actually be a greater skill than the direct and controlling manipulations of a character like Jon, even though it isn't nearly as difficult or as fun for the viewers. Lill could have lost to either of them but she probably should have made it a starker choice and hoped that enough people would hate Jon enough to NOT want him to have the money and so let her have it even though she didn't deserve it. As far as I was concerned, she let herself be an utter manipluated tool from the moment she returned until she betrayed Burton when the guys acted so stupidly that even she realized she had no chance at better than #3 with them. I've wanted both her and Jon gone for forever.
December 09, 2003
TV: Battlestar Galactica
I was surprised at how good part one of this was. Major remake but then it doesn't pretend to be faithful to the original series unlike the LotR movies. Edward James Olmos is unsurprisingly a highlight. I hope this does spawn a series.
October 30, 2003
24 Season Premiere
24's new season started Tuesday and was immediately back to its usual hyperfast and hypertense action. All the main characters are back and Kim (who I have never disliked nearly as much as most people seem to) is now working for CTU. Both Jack and Palmer are healthwise a mess even at the start of the show which isn't a good sign given what they are likely to be through in the next 23 hours. Most likely this will lead to even more implausible than usual superheroics but somehow with this show I never seem to mind that much.
West Wing last night
Well, I have only really like one episode yet this season and last night's was the worst yet. In Sorkin's The West Wing, although the main characters would disagree at times, they always did it with full respect for each other. In last night's episdode, their are a ton of arguments and in almost none of them is this mutual respect apparent. I think the show is trying to up the 'heat' level but although every show needs some level of action, this isn't what this show has been about (or why it has been so great).
October 10, 2003
New WPT Season - Bicycle
The World Poker Tour started last week but I missed it for some reason (maybe there was a time conflict on my TiVo) which is too bad as apparently Gus Hansen won and I find him to be the most interesting player to watch I have seen. The one this week was at the Bicycle in LA and had two players, including one who was probably the favorite, knocked out in the first few hands on close hands. Later, there were a bunch of major saves on the River for people including Mark Seif's Aces being broken at the River with the other player (Hon) all in. A brilliantly played hand by Mark where everything went just as he wanted until the river card and there were several of these situations. The winner, Chris, I didn't think really played particularly well - just surviving with his big stack till the end and then switching gears and playing aggressively but not really that well I thought. Nor could I see why Hon was just limping. Not the most interesting episdoe at all and what good play there was was often not rewarded by the cards.
October 09, 2003
TV: West Wing new season
Well, the episode last night (the third of the season) I thought was much better than the prior two with some excellent dialogue scenes and beautiful visuals at the end of the July 4 fireworks. I think the show is heading downhill but perhaps not completely off the tracks as I was worried.
August 25, 2003
Amazing Race Finishes
Well, it wasn't very exciting but The Amazing Race ended. David and Jeff made a massive early mistake and never came close to recovering. It was a sprint at the end between the other two teams and Jon and Kelly lost which was the most important thing after Jon and Al were out. Worth watching at least at TiVo speeds but certainly not close to being a great show.
August 15, 2003
Aaron Sorkin of The West Wing
On Wednesday evening, I watched Aaron Sorkin interviewed on Charlie Rose. It was a surprisinly combative interview with Sorkin being oversensitive and Charlie reacting poorly to that, but still quite interesting. It turns out that Sorkin is leaving The West Wing for purely greedy financial reasons of the studios behind the show, which is making money but they want it to make more, so are cutting its budget. Sorkin wasn't willing to put up with that and left and so we will likely lose (or at least greatly diminish) what is probably the best show on television. Apparenlty he is going to be working on a Sports Night like show, but based on a Saturday Night Live show rather than ESPN. I also hadn't realized that he wrote A Few Good Men, which I don't like and also The American President, which I do like and doesn't surprise me.
August 08, 2003
TV: The Amazing Race
Well, the episode of The Amazing Race last night sucked as the Clowns were eliminated. By far the most likable team in the race and they seemed to really work well together and be willing to do whatever was necessary and split up the hard tasks sensibly. I just started watching this show this season and have kept watching mainly for Jon and Al. Almost all the other pairs are extremely dislikable for one or many reasons. I can't stand Kelly or Jon so hope they lose but otherwise don't much care now.
Great job, guys! Very sorry you didn't win.
July 28, 2003
TV: Monster House
Had this recommended to me and TiVo'd an episode and now have added a season pass and recommend it. This is a Discovery Channel show where they take one week to turn a house into a theme house based on some theme which the house owners are really into (race cars was the theme of the one I saw). They don't totally remodel the house given the limited time but make a fair number of pretty major changes and very cool additions. The show doesn't show nearly all the work done and there was a ton done at the end which I had the feeling wasn't being counted into the week but it was pretty amazing and could lead to some cool ideas of things to do to a house to give it character.
June 13, 2003
Finished Cowboy Bebop
Forgot to mention that I finished Cowboy Bebop over the weekend. I continued to really enjoy it but the end didn't work that well for me. I really liked Edward and Ein and was unhappy when they left with little idea of how they would fare. I also expected more payoff from Ein, figuring there would be an episode focusing on his 'data dog' nature. There was the episode with the game where he was used but I expected something more. The ending also left me unsure that Spike was dead. I think we are supposed to think he is but after seeing other injuries he survived (like in the church battle), I wasn't sure.
May 21, 2003
Well, this episode really didn't work for me. Way too much happened way too fast. Mrs. Palmer switches to the good side even though she thinks it will get her killed. Kingsley and all his guys are pretty much single-handedly killed by Jack, despite him barely being able to move. Palmer is restored. And finally, an assassin gets to him with trivial ease, kind of a joke on the plot of the prior season, don't you think. It seems clear that next season will start immediately after this one (or perhaps a few days or weeks delayed to give people a chance to sleep is more likely) ended which doesn't seem a good choice but then, this show has made all sorts of bad choices IMHO and still kept working based on its amazing action/suspense.
TV: Buffy Finale
Well, quite an impressive episode although a bunch of things seemed to be kind of out of nowhere, particularly the slayer empowering. Still, a bunch of really nice individual moments (Willow + her squeeze, Buffy + Spike, D&D game with Giles, Faith + Wood) for all the main players to shine. I wonder how they are going to bring Spike back for Angel and what the effects on Angel and any future spinoffs will be of the empowerment thing? How many girls are now Slayers?
Congratulations to Joss Whedon and all the cast on a wonderful run. Both the writing and acting were consistently first-rate.
May 20, 2003
This is a really fun series! I am now halfway though after getting Disc 1 from Netflix and then, when I enjoyed it, borrowing the whole series form Bill. The characters are all interesting and likable and the world they inhabit even more so. I keep waiting for them to learn what is special about Ein, the 'data dog', set up from the beginning. My favorite little scene so far is the shot of VT the space trucker's cat in freefall.
May 15, 2003
TV: West Wing finale
Well, the finale makes me even more worried about this show. The last few episodes have definitely had that jumping the shark feeling. It is now clear that getting rid of Hoines so suddenly was just to set this episode up. None of this has been what this show has been about for me in the past or why I liked it so much. This show has not been about action or cliffhangers or major shake-ups. It has been about a group of intelligent, real people trying to do their best to run a country and be faithful to their ideals. The events they have had to deal with have been believable and often reflective of real events. None of the recent events (Hoines, kidnapping, 25th amendment) have met that standard and bunched together they are a major and almost certainly bad sign. I will keep watching at the start of next season but I have a really bad feeling that the best times for this show are over and won't return.
May 13, 2003
TV: Survivor Amazon Finale
Well, Jenna won and in an amazing 6-1 vote which I find incredible. Why did Kristy and Deena vote for her? She did almost no work around camp, relied almost entirely on her alliance with Heidi and Alex and whined all the time. Yes, she did win the 2nd to last immunity challenge where her head was on the block to survive, but is this enough? I don't count the last challenge as worth much given that Matthew threw it and Rob was something of a loser at all the physical challenges. I understand although don't agree with why Rob voted against Matthew as he never had any respect for him, treating him as his dupe the whole way, not realizing that Matthew had done a pretty amazing job of learning the game and was playing quite well at the end, such as his semi-alliance with Jenna to get her vote against Butch and realizing he had a better chance against her in the final two than against Rob. Going into the reading of the votes, I had expected Matthew to definitely have Butch, Kristy and Deena and Jenna to have Heidi and Alex (and Rob only because of what he said as he cast his vote) and I thought it would be 4-3 based on Dave's vote. Oh well, what a disappointing surprise. I think Matthew definitely deserved to win far more based on his survival skills, his contributions to the tribe and his amazing ability to learn the game on the fly from starting at nothing.
Obviously, though, the most interesting character this year was Rob. Immature and wimpy, he was the ultimate schemer and really did understand the game and the players better than anyone else. I think he did have one major weakness however: he schemed just too much, never able to leave things be when they were going well for him. He made two great moves in the game of getting rid of Dave who was probably the strongest of the players and who Rob was super-jealous of and of betraying the AHJ alliance at just the right moment. However, his move to get rid of Kristy was a bad one, even when it worked and could have backfired. Despite Kristy's stupid indecisiveness, he always had 3 of the 6 votes and probably 4 and was in a position to just coast to the final 4 so why fuck with that? I guess Rob in a way had the same problem as Kristy although for a very different reason; nobody was likely to want to take him into the final two and he wasn't likely to win the final challenge to take himself. Kristy nobody wanted because it seemed like she would get a sympathy vote as a very likable, deaf woman who played well. Rob wasn't wanted because everybody respected his ability at the Game and in the past that has been rewarded by juries (Richard and Brian to name two), even overlooking past betrayals. Anyway, quite a good season, particularly the second half with the tribes merged.
May 08, 2003
After one of the worst ever episodes of Buffy last week, this episode was absolutely excellent. I don't object to the group deposing Buffy as leader last week but Dawn throwing her out of the house just made no sense at all, 100% out of character. This week, all of the 'hook ups' were wonderfully handled and then Buffy using her brains and speed to get around Caleb's strength was an excellent scene. I have high hopes for the show's finale.
Oh, as I mentioned Two Cathedrals earlier, Buffy's Once More, With Feeling is another of my favorite hours of television ever, and particularly memorable as it was such a departure from the normal episodes. BTW, this is from someone who generally hates musicals but the writing and performances in this episode were unbelievably good.
Well, the Angel season finale was a major 'shake things up' episode and I'm glad. Lila was one of my favorite characters and I am very glad she is back and I have never been able to stand Connor so losing him is also all good. This show has been kind of coasting and needed some change to liven it up.
Not a great show, but better than Voyager at least. The episode last night, however, while in a way a good one, really pushed my anti-Trek buttons however. How are they meeting the Borg now and getting lots of data on them now and in the future the Next Generation crew will not know anything about them. This doesn't make any sense and they may do some time-travel shit to erase it but things like that are just incredibly annoying. One of the main points of science fiction is building on past discoveries and this show almost NEVER does this, making advances for a single show that are completely forgotten the next week. Compare this to Babylon 5 where everything they learn they build on, sometimes a season or more later.
The second button this episode pushed is my 'Transporter as Weapon' button. The Captain beams over (using a not completely safe transporter) to the Borg ship to walk around and then plant some explosive charges. This is just INSANE, dangerous and ineffective. Beam over a bomb and just blow them to hell: safe, fast and easy.
TV: The West Wing
This has probably been my favorite show for the past several years and is about the only one I reliably watch live. However, the last two episodes have not been great and I hear Aaron Sorkin is leaving the show after this season which may ruin it. I sincerely hope this doesn't happen. Thanks, Aaron, for a great show and a great run so far.
The 2nd season episode Two Cathedrals is IMHO one of the best things ever done on series television.
April 16, 2003
From the first 5 minutes of the premiere episode last year, I was hooked on 24. They have a talent for action scenes and suspense that is more immediately and powerfully gripping than any other show I have never seen, and despite all the plot holes, this talent has never been lost and as long as it isn't I will keep watching.
Last year, the plot really got kind of lost and unbelievable partway through the season but the acting (particularly Kiefer Sutherland of course) and action were still amazing. Still, the idea that the two people who Bauer most trusts in CTU at the start of the show BOTH turn out to be traitors is simply beyond all credulity.
This year, the plot has been more reliable and doesn't have the feeling of being rewritten partway through nearly as much. However, the unbelievable betrayals continue, although now they have switched to the President's staff. The first ones I could live with but the one last nigh of Mike, Palmer's Chief of Staff, doesn't make any sense. The idea that he thinks that the President wanting to be 100% certain that the US is attacking the right countries is crazy enough that he should be removed is a bizarre idea! Were the US to go ahead with this attack and then it to come out that they were led by the nose by planted and false information into making this attack, it would probably be the worst diplomatic fiasco in US history! In addition, Mike is currently probably the 2nd most powerful person in the US and there is no way that will hold if the VP takes over - who is going to want to keep around someone so willing to betray his friend and boss. In addition, Mike is engaging in blatantly illegal (and possibly treasonous) behavior in locking up Lynn. I just don't buy it.
Despite all this, the show remains incredibly exciting so 24 stays near the top of my TiVo Season Passes.