21 October 2009: TV sleuths

Disclaimer:
I grew up on the sleuthing shows of the 1970s and 1980s. From Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew and Rumpole to Magnum P.I., Remington Steele, and Moonlighting, I grew fond of private detectives, romantic comedy,
and their long-suffering friends. Thus, I'm pleased that the subgenre has
bounced back after the wave of grim-faced police procedurals — and related forensics,
legal, and medical dramas — of the past two decades.

At
the moment, Castle is the best
example, with an eccentric but brilliant amateur detective, hard-working
police, and bizarre crimes following the template established at least since
the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. I'm also a big fan of Psych, which adds pop culture silliness
to the mix and just ended for the season.

I
already miss the caper series Leverage,
which is in a related subgenre and on hiatus, but spy spoof Chuck will soon be returning. I do enjoy
serious detective dramas, such as Inspector
Lewis
(a spin-off of Inspector Morse)
on BBC/PBS's Masterpiece Mystery. Of
course, many of the paranormal conspiracy and horror programs I mentioned in my
previous blog post overlap with murder mysteries. What are your favorites?

Coming
soon
:
Space opera and superheroes!

15 October 2009: Thanks for all the wishes

 Birthday cake

Thanks
to all who sent birthday wishes. While its not as big a deal as last year's
40th birthday bash in New York, I appreciate being remembered. On Wednesday, 14
October 2009, my superiors Lauren H. and Margie S. surprised me and co-workers
Pat O. and Steve C. with pastries from Keltic Krust bakery in Newton, Massachusetts.
Today, I had lunch with Pat at our cafeteria, and fellow CW alumnus Craig S.
started working at TT.

In
addition to e-cards and Facebook posts, I've received a few books, DVDs, and other
gifts. Tonight, Janice and I plan to go to Fuji, a Japanese steakhouse here in
Needham, Mass., and she baked a chocolate cake. This coming weekend, we'll meet Thomas K.Y. and Beruk A. for Where the Wild Things Are
.

Coming soon: Second
takes on the new TV season

6 October 2009: Weekend update Part 2: Documentaries and SF

Brutal Legend

Among
other things, I caught up on recorded and broadcast television this past
weekend. It's easy for critics of any art or media to become jaded, but I try
to watch for things I'll enjoy, including the occasional documentary.

Ken
Burns' The National Parks: America's Best
Idea
on PBS provided insight into the evolution of U.S. policy setting aside land
for tourism, ecological protection, and historical preservation. I wasn't fully
aware of the controversies among environmentalists, those who used the land for
things such as lumber or ranching, and people who explored natural and
historical sites. I'm not the outdoorsman that friends such as Steve M. are,
but I still appreciate the challenges facing our country.

I'm
glad that naturalists, government officials (including both Presidents
Roosevelt), and ordinary citizens came together to set aside territory for the
benefit of future generations, despite the ever-increasing degradation of our
biosphere by human activity. Burns' documentary could have been paced better
and rhapsodized natural vistas without giving enough representation to both
sides of various debates, but I'd still recommend this miniseries.

On
VH1 Classic, I watched the long-awaited Anvil!
the Story of Anvi
l
, which chronicled the 30-year struggle of a heavy metal
band to attain commercial success after initial popularity and artistic
acclaim. There were uncomfortable moments that reminded me of the parody This Is Spinal Tap or the psychodrama of
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, but
this documentary showed that bad agents, personality quirks, and the fact that
only a small percentage of performers (artistic, athletic, or otherwise) are
able to achieve their goals.

The Anvil
profile was followed by the season premiere of That Metal Show, and I caught Tenacious
D and the Pick of Destiny
on Sunday. I only mention the Jack Black mash note
to the musical subgenre because I've used a wallpaper for his upcoming game, Brutal Legend, for this blog post.

As
previously noted, Thomas K.Y., Beruk A., and I didn't screen the new Bruce
Willis action flick
Surrogates
because of numerous mixed reviews. The previews for the science fiction film
reminded me of the bastardization of Isaac Asimov's I, Robot starring Will Smith from a few years ago.

Still,
the concepts brought up by the cyberpunk movie (and its graphic novel source)
intrigued me enough that I may eventually try to catch it on video or cable. As
with the Terminator franchise, fears
of technology
embodied by killer robots remain as timely as ever. Of course,
speculative fiction has had as many bad assumptions and adaptations as good
ones.

Coming soon: Cartoons!

23 September 2009: Genre TV — summer of ’09


Looking
back for a moment, the counterprogramming by for-pay channels (in contrast to
the formerly broadcast but now also cable-transmitted networks) led to another
productive summer of television.

Psych's slacker sleuths on USA and
Leverage
's do-gooder capers on TNT
continued to entertain, despite occasional story-pacing problems. Perhaps
that's the result of trying too hard to vary the mystery formula. Speaking of
mysteries, PBS's Masterpiece has
continued to bring the best of British TV to the U.S.

The Torchwood: Children of Earth miniseries
and Doctor Who: Planet of the Dead telemovie
couldn't be more different in tone, but it was fun to return to that fictional
universe. Other promising newcomers included BBC America's supernatural
ensemble drama Being Human and the
bumbling artifact collectors of SyFy's Warehouse
13
.

The
pilot of Virtuality emphasized soap
opera character dynamics over a decent science fiction premise, so I wasn't
surprised when that and the similar Defying
Gravity
were canceled. The Old Testament-inspired Kings had an intriguing premise, but a Sunday night time slot
ironically didn't help it get ratings. I don't subscribe to HBO, but what little I saw of
vampire potboiler True Blood looked
good.

The
two recent genre programs that I'll miss the most are the whimsical Pushing Daisies and The Middleman. It was nice to see Kristin Chenoweth acknowledged at
the Emmys this past weekend, but the surreal detectives on Pushing Daisies may have been too quirky for mainstream viewers. The Middleman alluded to obscure corners
of the science fiction fanboy community, which The Big Bang Theory has been more successful in mining for ratings.

As a
foodie
, I enjoyed the Travel Channel's gourmand Adam Richman on Man vs. Food and erudite Anthony
Bourdain: No Reservations
, as well as the Food Network's Chopped, even if it's part of a
regrettable trend toward competition over cuisine on that channel. As a music
fan, I'd recommend Live From Abbey Road, Spectacle
With Elvis Costello
, Iconoclasts
, and VH1 Classic's That Metal Show.

Coming
soon
: New and returning favorites!

21 September 2009: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

Friends,
I hope you had a good weekend. On Saturday, 19 September 2009, Janice and I
drove out to Framingham, Massachusetts, for some shopping and to meet Thomas K.Y. We screened Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, which we enjoyed more than we expected. Of course, since
spaghetti and meatballs is one of my favorite meals, I'm biased.

The
computer-animated movie (we didn't see the 3-D version) is a loose adaptation
of a children's book in which an inventor inadvertently overwhelms a town with
rain converted into common foods. The film adds and develops characters,
features numerous sight gags, and even sneaks in some social commentary about
consumerism and gluttony.

While
not necessarily at the level of Pixar's Up,
the animation was solid, and the writing quality was comparable to that of Monsters vs. Aliens. The celebrity voice cast, led by Bill Hader, Anna Faris, and James Caan, was also good without drawing
undue attention to itself. I'd give Cloudy
With a Chance of Meatballs
, which was rated PG for cartoon violence, a 7 or
8 out of 10, or a B+.

Some
people have recently asked me why I'm so generous with movie ratings. Part of
the answer is that I try to avoid spending money on theatrical releases of
movies I don't think I'd like, including summer blockbusters such as Transformers 2, Wolverine Origins, and G.I. Joe. Some of my friends enjoyed
these flicks, but my time and funds are limited. None of the previews we saw this
weekend were particularly exciting, but I am curious about The Fantastic Mr. Fox.

After
the movie, we went to Red Pepper, a Chinese restaurant that Thomas had heard of
out on Route 9. The food was decent, and we're glad to have yet one more dining
option in that area. On Sunday, Janice and I drove down to the Walpole Mall but
found that the Five Guys' Burgers and Fries there wasn't open yet. We ate at
Chipotle and the cheap but reliable Papa Gino's.

Although
work, gaming, and travel have occupied much of my time lately, I am looking
forward to the new genre television season and several comic book titles, which
I'll try to review in the next week or so.