Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I asked Anne last week why she thought I wasn't getting any action, and, wonderful friend that she is, she pointed me to this book, Love Tactics by Thomas W. McKnight and Robert H. Phillips. I know, I know: skeeziest title ever. In fact, its full title is Love Tactics: How to Win the One You Want, which is, amazingly, even worse.

"Written in a warm, easy-going style, this book offers a wealth of practical advice on how to get the one you love to love you back. So don't just stand there — get out and stir some hearts!
And, oh yeah, that McKnight author: he's a Mormon.

Nope, wait... Amazon has those "you might also like..." books and lists something called How to Make Anyone Fall in Love With You, which is definitely a worse title.

But Love Tactics is Anne-certified, and Anne said that she knows a lot of people who've also certified it, so I went to Borders today and picked up a copy. Dear God, I was embarrassed — and I'm someone who sat in Borders for two hours one afternoon reading Dating for Dummies cover to cover, in freaking public! There's something about walking up to a cashier, another human being, with a copy of Lurrrve Tactics in your hands that makes you feel greasy and sweaty on the inside. Maybe it's that lewd rose on the cover or the fact that McKnight has few qualms about selling the secrets to breaking up other people's marriages, but I would've rather been standing in line holding a stack of fetish porn and guides to hypnosis than Lurrrve Tactics.

Guess who I saw while I was waiting in line to pay? The girl I had an unrequited crush on back in tenth grade. The high school rumor mill said she told a bunch of, well, let's just leave it at "our mutual friends" how she'd never date me, even though I was miles from even getting up the courage to ask her to date me. She was like two people ahead of me in line. And I'm there. Holding Lurrrve Tactics. An instruction manual. For manipulating people into having sex with you. Awkward.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

I took some time out of my not-so-busy yesterday to check out NBC's struggling Friday Night Lights, and holy shit, how was I missing out on this!? Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I don't care at all about Texas, high school, football or Texas high school football, but Friday Night Lights manages to be about so much more — these not-quite-kids but not-quite-adults with the burden of leading their sleepy community bound by this eternal morality play, us versus them, exhibited in the football stadium every Friday night. I guess that's not as marketable an idea as "cute football jocks and cheerleaders," although it's not like NBC is having a ton of success marketing their high-concept shows where one genre becomes a microcosm of larger, universal themes, like Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip or Battlestar Galactica, which I'm not watching because I thought it was for sci-fi geeks. I wish NBC would hire the advertisers that got me to watch Sports Night during its initial run — not that they had a ton of long-term success either.

Not that I'm going to be able to generate buzz or anything, but here's my list of the new fall programming that you should be (or you should've been) watching:

  • 1. Friday Night Lights. I haven't seen anything this year that comes anywhere near the artistry of Friday Night Lights. Thief, from way back in January, comes close, but it's a bit more parochial in scope. Fifty years from now, the Friday Night Lights pilot will be, if anyone's around to remember it, the cornerstone of the Western television canon. So naturally the dippy Hollywood Foreign Press Association snubbed it with the Golden Globes nominations. There are (very few) better things on television, but none that represent the medium quite as well.
  • 2. Dexter. Michael C. Hall does an amazing job of balancing the dichotomy of Dexter and its title character. Scenes play out like a CSI with humans instead of zombie actors in the main roles, with an analytical mind that's funny and charming, almost lulling you into complacency... then Dexter has his monotone voice-over and all of a sudden, you're reminded that the show's about an emotionally vacant psychopath. Maybe Dexter's serial killer code — he only kills criminals beyond the reach of the law, which, between this show and Nip/Tuck, Miami is apparently teeming with — is a bit of a cop-out with the character's development, but his murders are only a conceit. Dexter is perfect as a tragic hero when it's the mundane, obvious stuff that hits a chord for him, and his futile struggle to at least appear normal when he's too emotionally stunted to realize there is no such thing is heartbreaking.
  • 3. 30 Rock. It won't substitute for Arrested Development, but 30 Rock is the season's only funny new comedy, thanks not only to Tracy Morgan's total commitment to his outlandish character, but the entire cast's total commitment to their less outlandish characters. A lesser series would've focused the humor on Tina Fey's straight woman... and probably included a laugh track, too.
  • 4. Kidnapped. A little too self-righteous, a little too over-the-top, and a little too scrubbed and polished, Kidnapped was like reading The Corrections on a long plane trip while the fat slob sitting next to you was engrossed in whatever Dean Koontz novel he picked up at the airport bookstore, i.e. FOX's totally unnecessary Vanished. What could've been pablum rose above its irritating characters and unfortunately baroque dialogue through absolutely perfect plotting and pacing. Someone in serialized television actually remembered that it helps to pay attention to your characters (Are you listening, producers of Heroes?) and to move them towards an end (Are you listening, producers of Lost?).
  • 5. Nothing. Sorry, but there weren't a whole lot of good ideas that blossomed into well-made new shows this year.
  • Farther down the list, maybe 8 or 9. Ugly Betty is amusing and cute and totally not ugly. Which is a bit of a problem since she's supposed to be, well, ugly. I'm looking forward to the future spin-off Not Gay Nephew Justin.
  • 10. Heroes. The most bipolar show on television, Heroes would strive for mediocrity if not for two things. First, it has the most gripping plot of any of the new series, even if its unfolding is lumbering, meandering, and framed by the most pretentious voice over ever. And second, the rest of the cast is pedestrian at best, but Masi Oka rules! I thought he was a grating dork during his early scenes in Tokyo, but his ingenuous demeanor really shines when he's out of his element in America.
  • 11. The Nine and Daybreak. Two more useless shows formed in the mold of Lost, predicated on holding back information from the audience. The Nine looked promising at first, but the characters failed to develop and I couldn't care what happened to them after the bank robbery until I found out what happened to them during the bank robbery.
  • Even farther down the list, like 20. Men in Trees, What About Brian, Six Degrees, and Studio 60. Shows for people who watch Grey's Anatomy now and watched Dawson's Creek ten years ago. I guess advertisers like them.
  • Huge gap of nothing.
  • 2000. Jericho. This is the show that makes me sad Mystery Science Theater 3000 is dead. You've got a nuclear holocaust and a town full of the dumbest people God ever created, who go around asking each other, "Did you notice anything strange happen lately?" Dude, the world freaking ended! That doesn't strike you as a little strange??? I don't like to think too much about Jericho because it just makes my head hurt.
Throwing in the returning series, The Wire is, without question, the best show on television. The HFPA seems to be unaware of its existence, which I guess is only fitting for a show about how society marginalizes good people and their struggle to find dignity within their larger institutions' indifference. The Wire is too convoluted and sprawling to grab a new audience in the middle of the five-season arc, and I applaud HBO for keeping it on the air nevertheless. Also strong was the first nine-episode arc of Veronica Mars, which I'd rank up on the list right below Dexter. The beginning episodes of the season worried me a little, as they seemed like the kind of scatterbrained pacing that characterized the second season's overly-ambitious mystery, but it turned out that the story had the economy I came to love in the first season and some nice, subtle misdirection, too. Well done, writers.

NBC's new Thursday night "Must See TV" lineup is funnier than the original, even though I'm not a fan of Scrubs and I don't lose any sleep over missing My Name is Earl. I still prefer the British version of The Office and its tragic anti-hero to the American counterpart, but Steve Carell and company are still damn hilarious, plus Ed Helms as Michael Scott's new sycophantic best friend always gets laughs. The comedy pickings on TV are slim — I like Weeds, for example, but it's about as funny as Desperate Housewives — but The Office and 30 Rock make a nice Thursday night combination.

I didn't get to watch CBS's Smith, but it got extremely mixed reviews. And the CW's Runaway was off to a promising start until some producer decided the family's three kids should have the collective IQ of a brick.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas Windows (for the last time): Lord & Taylor and Macy's

I'm glad I saved the best Christmas windows for last. Lord & Taylor has an antique postcard theme, and while I'm not big on Victorian Christmases, I feel like they did a very nice job, nostalgic without being sappy and full of little details that made each scene really worth examining. They put up blown-up duplicates of real postcards from the late 1800's and early 1900's, and they reproduced other postcards in full three-dimensional diorama mode. The puppetry wasn't quite as technologically advanced as in the Saks windows, but they enhanced the vignettes, giving them a focal point that you'd drift away from but always return to. Saks felt like a pop-up book in comparison.

Macy's also did a really impressive job with their Christmas windows. I mean, really impressive — there was some story about Christmas trees or something, but who cares? They had a fire-breathing dragon with video-camera eyes! And a polar bear! And the whole thing's interactive!

You touch a little star on the window and the lion in the display, for instance, comes to life and roars, or the snowmen start playing the drums, or the mermaid (!?) comes out of her, uh, clam. I guess they ran out of Christmas-themed ideas, so the Macy's "Tree of Joy" window is an underwater fantasy scene. Kind of takes you out of the moment. But the whole interactive thing is a bit of a problem, since the windows are crowded with little kids trying to touch them, and I'm standing there, all patient, but I WANT TO TOUCH THE WINDOWS!!! Too bad it's Christmas and you can't just pick the kids up and drop them in front of the window with a bottle of perfume (Estee Lauder on 1). If I lived in the city, I'd stop by at two in the morning and spend the whole night playing with the Christmas windows.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas Windows: ABC Home & Carpet and the Winter Garden

The one annual must-see Christmas display among the high-end stores here in the city is at the exotic junk bazaar ABC Home & Carpet. Outside of the holidays, they're basically your crazy neighbor who covers his front lawn with every conceivable piece of kitschy crap they sell at the home and garden store; and during the holidays, they take just about everything out of the Christmas closet — even stuff that has nothing to do with the holidays — and put it on display one way or another. They're basically this guy — impressive to look at, but you wouldn't want to live next door to it.

ABC Home & Carpet has a pretty subdued Christmas display this year, all things considered.

Although I can't help but wonder whether this is a little sacrilegious.

I'm also annually impressed by the Christmas lights set up downtown at the World Financial Center, even though the palm trees don't really get me in the holiday mood. The lights are hanging like rain down from the ceiling. During the day, the Christmas lights don't exactly complement the whole Crystal Palace design of the Winter Garden, but it's beautiful at night without being tacky or obnoxious or rubbing Christmas in your face.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas Windows: Bloomingdale's

The holiday theme at Bloomingdale's this year is "The World Celebrates," about different Christmas traditions around the world. Except it's a little, well, Eurocentric. Each window is a papier-mâché display of Christmas legends in Ireland, Greece, Sweden, Italy with a two-sentence blurb about what you're looking at. In Italy, your presents come courtesy of La Befana: The Magi invited her to come on their journey to receive the Christ child, but she was too busy cleaning her house and declined. Now, racked with guilt, she delivers gifts to all good boys and girls throughout Italy, apparently relieving some of the burden from Santa. In Russia, they tell children the story of Grandfather Frost, who made a girl out of snow for a childless couple.

It's too bad the Bloomingdale's people used up all these stories in a single year, because they could've milked them for a couple of Christmases. The La Befana story and Grandfather Frost could both merit a whole series of windows, instead of the diffuse two-sentence treatment they got, pandering to the parochial, attention span-deprived demographic. They had some windows explaining the holiday traditions here in America, in case you're not familiar with Santa Claus. And did you know that there's this holiday called Chanukah? I didn't. Thank you, Bloomingdale's, for educating me!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Update: Miss USA Survives Coup Attempt! Runner-Up Miss USA Plots Assassination!

Thank God! His Magnificence, Donald Trump, has bestowed His mercy upon Tara Conner, embattled Miss USA and dumb blonde country girl lost in the Big City. We barely avoided a military takeover of the national beauty pageant scene, pageant curfews, puppet judges controlled by a shadow Trump government, censoring what inane songs the contestants can sing. I guess that last one wouldn't really affect the Miss USA pageant because, as I just learned, unlike the almost-as-superfluous Miss America pageant, Miss USA doesn't even have a talent portion. So if you're a chick with bright skin, shining teeth, strong hair, an abnormally fast metabolism, dreams of teaching every child in the world the magic of reading, and no discernible talent whatsoever, you too can be Miss USA!

On the other hand, if you cured Alzheimer's, sang Rossini so beautifully that the Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims stopped their suicide bombing for an hour to be entranced by your mellifluous voice, and actually taught a thousand kids to read, but you're bigger than a size two or you've got braces or saggy tits or some other physical imperfection, then fuck off, Ugly!

Still, Trump, in His infinite wisdom and compassion, said he "believes in second chances" — and he goddamn should, since he's been given plenty — and Tara will be keeping her title and fairy princess tiara. Justice and the rule of law has prevailed. Naturally, there is going to be fallout: Tara will be doing hard time in rehab, following in the footsteps of other luminaries like Lohan and Olsen. Trump still believes that Tara can be a role model for young people, teaching them important life lessons like, "Don't get caught," and, "Turns out people can use these camera doohickeys to record images of you."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Scandal in America! Miss USA Forced to Abdicate in Bloodless Coup! Chaos in the Streets!

In case you haven't been religiously checking out — where celebrities, random dipweed B-list celebrities, and the random dipweeds who hang out with celebrities go to show the world what huge asses they really are — then you might not have heard that Tara Conner is about to be stripped (not literally, sadly) of her Miss USA title by none other than Donald Trump. I bet he told her, "You're fired!" Ha ha ha! I'm hilarious! Cause that's what he says on that show!

According to the always reliable New York Post, Conner was growing up a little too quickly amidst the New York City nightlife, drinking even though she's underage, failing a drug test for cocaine, and making out with Miss Teen USA Katie Blair not to mention a bunch of other scuzzy, useless NYC trust-fund club dudes. Aren't we facing a troop shortage in Iraq? I see a solution somewhere in here....

First of all, no beauty queen should be punished for making out with Miss Teen USA, unless there's a webcam in the room during the punishment. God, that sounds hot. Maybe Trump can land his obnoxious, gaudy braggadocio in the lucrative online pornography industry. And second, how is it that we can have an alcoholic, cocaine snorter as our freaking president, but somehow this behavior crosses the line for Miss USA?

What does Miss USA even do? Besides representing an implausible, misogynistic image of an idealized, subservient female role in our paternalistic society, I mean. That's a big, important job. And Maxim magazine, Victoria's Secret, beer commercials, our nation's copious collection of starlets and celebutards, Anna Wintour, and Mattel are only reinforcing ridiculous body image standards. Who's making sure impressionable young girls are personality-free, talentless, and utterly incapable and worthless without a man — preferably one who's plastered his name all over New York City but still can't get a decent damn haircut — by their side. That's too much responsibility for Miss America alone!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Christmas Windows: Saks Fifth Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue traditionally puts on the most jejune Christmas windows of all the New York City department stores — always some bland kiddy holiday story full of aspartame and pixie dust. Little Billy and Susie, the whitest of white animorphic dolls — our protagonists are always white, unless this year is a diversity themed Christmas — sneak up to their attic on Christmas Eve and find a magical telescope that lets them watch Santa bring toys to good, presumably Christian, children all over the world. Even Dr. Seuss, if he were alive, would be like, "Whoa, that's a little too saccharine for me."

Oh, I almost forgot, the narrative is etched on the windows with those rub-on letters, but they have a tape loop reading it aloud, too. So you know who their audience is: four-year-olds. Because toddlers have a ton of disposable income. I think Barney's Christmas display gets offended that you have the nerve to look it right in the eye, but at least they know who they're marketing to.

This year's story was, uh... a weird cross between Leonid the Magnificent and a kinky icicle fetish. It's like the window designers were on angel dust this year. Okay, our herione, no pun intended, is "an ice crystal who was known as Allie." That thing on the right is Allie The Passive Voice Ice Crystal; I guess she's in a pairs figure skating competition or something, and I'd make more fun of her outfit, except it's really not that bad once you see the other anthropomorphized ice crystals in the story and what they're wearing. Allie is looking around for a snowflake of other blue-haired albino dolls to join. I'm sure we can all relate.

Next window: Allie floats by a snowflake of scantily-clad anorexic ice crystal ballerinas. Look at these role models for young girls. The fabric goes over your body, not around it. There's also this fat nerd snowflake, and he's got no chance with these vapid bitches. God, I hate them. They won't let him in their snowflake, lunch table, or nightclub. But Allie, bless her heart, takes pity on Nearsighted Dork Ice Crystal, and they become bestest buddies.

I'm calling bullshit right now. First, there's no way in hell Allie's not joining that ballerina snowflake. We all know they thought her fugly, slutty dress was totally cute and they invited her into their stupid clique. And second, never in the history of man nor trillions and trillions of snowflakes has a hot babe ice crystal passed up the opportunity to join the popular snowflake to hang out with the buck-toothed, pencil-necked, beanie-wearing melvin.

Third window: Allie and her new dweeb-alicious friend run into this ice crystal dude, named Chip. Really. No offense to everybody named Chip out there, but I don't even know how people wind up with that name, let alone ice crystals. What does that list of baby names look like, that Chip is the best option? Scratch, Dent, Blemish — no, I guess we'll go with Chip. And for a snowflake? It's worse than naming your sussex spaniel Kevin... but not quite as bad as naming your child Kal-el because you suck as a parent. Okay, I'm done.

And I forgot to mention that the nerdy ice crystal is named Tay-Tay. Yeah, he looks like a Tay-Tay.

Here's Chip. He's floating alone because he's just too wacky and free-spirited and — let's be honest — gay for all those bourgeios snowflakes. But Chip looks like he's cool with it. He's smiling and waving, so I don't know if it's such a huge personal growth moment for him when Allie and Tay-Tay invite him into their circle of merry ice crystals.

By now I've written at least twenty times more words than this story actually consists of, so I'll speed it up. Alice, Tay-Tay, and Chip meet Winnie, who — surprise, surprise — can't find a snowflake to join.Winnie is, uh... "special." I mean, I'd like to give a lot of credit to the artists who built this whole display, and I know their work probably started even before Christmas of last year, but couldn't they put his/her pupils in the center of his/her eyes? He/she looks like he/she just had a stroke. Try explaining that one to the kids.

And while you're at it: try explaining where this baby ice crystal's arms and legs went. And how two ice crystals make a baby ice crystal in the first place. Or maybe they reproduce asexually. Maybe explain to the kids how ice crystals masturbate, especially since hands don't seem to come standard.

Final window: Alice, Tay-Tay, Chip, Winnie, and Baby Ice Crystal decide they can all join hands and become their own misfit snowflake! Yay! Except they don't so much join hands as they all sort of meld into this creepy Siamese quintuplet thing that spins around, and it's all totally messed up. Also, Tay-Tay lost his glasses in the final window. I guess he had LASIK surgery. But as someone who wears glasses, I find this offensive! It's like they're saying everyone who wears thick, horn-rimmed glasses is a friendless louse who'll never have a snowflake to call his own. I'm sick and tired of all these mostly accurate stereotypes about people with glasses! God, it almost makes me want to learn how to poke contacts into my eyes.

I guess here's the Christmas lesson. Everyone is their own unique, special ice crystal, although not necessarily special in the way that Winnie is special. Be yourself. Then, find the one single sympathetic snowflake girl out of the trillions of snowflakes and fuse together with her and three of her weirdo friends in a totally non-sexual way. Gee, they never covered that in The Christmas Shoes.

Friday, December 15, 2006

I was in Macy's Herald Square last week because it's a great place to go when your feet hurt. The express elevators are hidden behind the Broadway & 35th Street entrance — take them all the way to the ninth floor and turn right when the doors open, by the post office and watch repair. That's where the furniture department is: huge, comfy chairs and tables and empty cardboard boxes painted to look like television sets. The whole department is kind of set up like those living room sets from The Price is Right, and it's not explicit, but there's plenty of cues inviting you to make yourself at home.

My first time up in the furniture department, I felt like I was sampling all the different flavors in the ice cream store and then walking out without buying anything. I sort of hid, curled up in a little shy ball, doodling on my Palm Pilot hoping that no one would kick me out. And none of the salespeople batted an eyelash, so I've been back several times. After the Palm Pilot, I thought everyone might be cool with me resting, eyes closed, in a big old armchair... and then the next time, I took my shoes off. Last week, I got out my laptop and spread some work out on the coffee table there and all I got from the salespeople was one guy asking me how I liked the new MacBook.

So now I'm curious, just how much can I make myself at home in the Macy's furniture department? Like, can I sleep on the couch? Change my shirt? Invite friends and throw a party?

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Windows: Barney's and FAO Schwarz

One of my favorite things about Christmas in the city are the department store windows, where once a year, the standard homage to overpriced crap gets replaced with a creative holiday-themed homage to overpriced crap. They're baroque and fabulously gay, but in an innocuous way that's cool with the tourists from the flyover states, who are already getting into the Christmas spirit by complaining that Jesus is missing from the decorations. I'm always hoping for some sort of abstract, minimalist Christmas style — which I usually find inside the stores — or failing that, something that isn't ridiculous and puerile. I'm usually disappointed.

Okay, the Barney's windows are never puerile; they're designed for New York's old money, literati elite who are photographed in the Sunday Styles section of the Times and get invited to opening night for new exhibits at the MoMA. You know, people who keep up with the Joneses by shopping at Barney's. This year Barney's asks you to spend heartily and wishes you Happy Andy Warhol-idays, which doesn't even make any sense, except that Barney's is doing this commemorative soup can cross-promotion thing with Campbells.There's over a hundred dollars worth of soup in that picture — twelve bucks a can, and they're crazy popular. I'm guessing that Barney's salespeople work on commission, because it brought tears of holiday joy to my eyes to watch them snatch the last cans in the store out of each others' hands for whoever's phone customer could place the bigger order. Santa would be so proud of us.

I haven't been to F.A.O. Schwarz since they re-opened two years ago, and I'm not a fan of the changes, starting with the candy-colored kiddie-Starbucks ice cream parlor in the back, serving seven-dollar milkshakes. Please, F.A.O. Schwarz, we can't afford that! We just spent $12,000 on a life-sized stuffed woolly mammoth doll, trying to purchase our child's love! We're broke!The worst part is the woolly mammoth — none of the life-sized animals really — isn't huggable. It's felt sewn over a hard shell. I'd rather have one of the cuddly animals they sell for $29.95.

What's really going to take some getting used to with F.A.O. Schwarz is that the new store is just too neat and organized.F.A.O. Schwarz used to be the world's greatest toy box, with playthings spilling out of every conceivable corner, and now it's like Mommy made you clean your room. I'm sure she's happy that she can walk around without stepping on shit like random Legos and Chronicles of Narnia action figures and other people's kids, but this fantasy playworld resents grown-up rules. It feels like an Apple Store or something. Maybe they'll someday throw in a ballpit and even things out.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Message to the Writers of House

I can't stay quiet about this any longer: Will someone please, please, please make my Christmas merry by killing off the asinine Tritter story arc that's been dragging House down for the past two months or so? I know I'm not alone here and everyone wants to see Tritter get run over by a bus two or three times or eaten by a mountain lion or whatever. I don't care. I've gotten to the point where I can imagine a satisfying story in which Tritter comes down with a mysterious disease that only House can diagnose, which is a good win for the forces of triteness.

If it's any consolation, I'll be your rare detractor who appreciates that you've written yourselves into what's becoming an annual tradition of corners full of slippery plot contrivances, but yesterday's episode was a perfect escape route, and the charms of Hugh Laurie sniping with an irascible little person — one of the show's funniest scenes since the first season — barely, barely earns you my forgiveness for not taking it.

Tread lightly, show, because I'm not seeing a way out of this conflict that won't turn House into Law and Order: Prescription Enforcement. Maybe they'll do a show where Tritter harasses some poor guy with a cold and too many boxes of pseudoephedrine. I feel like whoever's coming up with these stories, the ones where it's House versus some omnipotent antagonist, has meandered off from the show's conceit and left the characters we know and love in a lobotomized, impotent haze, with the audience's nitpickery leading them to clarity. Whatever happened to the fifty-thousand dollar a year House-is-insane legal fund that Cuddy set up? And what's House's current lawyer, at $450 an hour, been up to lately? There's no way House or his minions would put up with Tritter's vindictive crap, and it's frustrating watching them take it like bitches (except for Chase, cause he's a pushover anyway). It's infuriating watching them fall out of character just to make a halfway formidable showdown with this asshole who does little to nothing to illuminate House anyway. This is a guy who cheats at poker, steals organs, and not infrequently deliberately kills his patients, but he wouldn't fuck the police? If I wanted to watch a show about passive, whiny doctors, I'd tune into Grey's Anatomy. Then I'd kill myself.

At least Vogler fleshed out House's ethics, not to mention the lack of integrity shared by the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital Board of Directors and the health-care industry in general (totally surprised by the latter there). But even then, I felt cheated; we'd already gotten a sense of his utilitarianism in "Maternity" and how he applies his standards to himself in "Control." Tritter, on the other hand, is a foil for House's... what, exactly? It's like the writers' room meeting went, "We've already got Cuddy reflecting the arbitrary constraints of the real world that House rebels against, and there's Wilson standing in for House's elusive emotional groundedness. What else is there?... I know, let's create a character who's as obsessive and single-minded as House, forget all about why House is obsessive and single-minded, and irritate every last one of our viewers! Great idea!"

Friday, December 8, 2006

I'm ninety to ninety-five percent sure this isn't a motorcycle.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

I'm going to spread some holiday cheer this year by telling kids everywhere that their parents lied to them about Santa Claus. Don't worry… I'm not a grinch. But I am sitting in the furniture section at Macy's listening to Kenny G's other Christmas album, so maybe it's not the greatest time to be try being merry. Anyway: The truth about Christmas is that there are really two jolly old men who fly around delivering presents to boys and girls on Christmas Eve. There's Santa Claus and Santa's bizarro evil twin brother, Rolf Claus, who lives on the South Pole and brings gifts to misbehaving heathen children throughout the world. Rolf brings the cool toys that your parents don't want you to have. Because you're adopted and they don't love you!

Rolf flies through the Yuletide night on, let's say, a magical yacht with his mistress, her hot but totally naïve sister, and their nymphomaniac best friend. Thirty thousand trained weasels pull the yacht around the world one night a year, and spend the rest of their time living with Rolf on the South Pole in his mansion made of gingerbread and tacky diamond-studded bling P. Diddy gave him for his twenty-eighth birthday. I mean, the weasels don't live in the mansion, of course; they're caged in an unheated facility two miles away from Rolf's mansion and fed a rabid, emaciated puppy once every two or three weeks. Rolf pays an Indonesian kid to clean up after the weasels, but it's okay because Ardhi is getting a TMX Elmo for Christmas this year. He plans to sell it on eBay to some snotty American with fat, overstimulated, snotty American kids to get rice and clean water for his village.

What? Don't give me that look. Rolf Claus isn't real or anything! So sensitive…

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

I want to follow up on my little Daily Show: Live! posting back there. Getting to the show was tedious – they make a huge-ass deal about having you arrive no later than 4:30, even though taping doesn't start till well after six, and there's a whole lot of standing around, waiting, and hoping the audience manager doesn't confiscate your cell phone. I don't know if they were afraid someone would start chatting with their Faves in the middle of the taping (it seems unlikely) or if they were afraid a phone would ring in the middle of the taping (which, I don't see how confiscating them helps with that, cause it's not like the phones know that they're away from their owners). I was just glad they did, because the jackass standing near me in the audience pen was calling all of his friends just to brag about being at The Daily Show. Not even subtle or anything: "Hey, man, sorry I totally forgot we were supposed to hang out tonight, but I'M AT THE DAILY SHOW so maybe can reschedule to a day when I'm not AT THE DAILY SHOW." Shut up, jerkface. You give cell phone users a bad name. You and people with Bluetooth headsets.

The show was hilarious and Jon Stewart was really, typically funny… plus he took more audience questions than he did the first time I saw a taping. Stewart also introduced Louis Black – his stand-up show at Columbia was probably the second-funniest moment of my college career – and did a longer, ad lib satellite bit with Colbert that won't be in the broadcast show. Anyway, if you're in the city, and you feel like standing on a long line with little hope of making it to the front, I recommend trying to get tickets to The Daily Show. Much better than Letterman.

Oh yeah, my seats sucked again. Better than last time, though: front row. Just that I spent most of the taping looking at either the back of Stewart's head, or the back of the cameraman's head.

Also, I found the warm-up guy – they bring a loudmouth comedian out right before taping to get the audience all ready to laugh – I found him painfully irritating. Like, we clap for him and he's gotta be one of those "I can't heeeear you…" types of people. There's two-hundred fifty of us clapping; I'm pretty sure you can hear us. It could've been merely disappointing: The warm-up was this guy Paul Mercurio; I've seen him do stand-up and he's pretty funny. But I can't freaking stand when the comic has to make an unwitting, unwilling audience member part of his routine. Especially when I'm that unwitting, unwilling audience member. It's like being in class and having to spend the whole two hours with a mantra, mentally discouraging the professor from calling on you.

After five minutes of seeing how loud we can clap and scream (answer: loud), we've got to practice telegenic laughter, which is deep and guttural. We do it as a group a few times, then Paul Mercurio points to some older British guy who won't laugh for shit, then he points to me and has me telegenically (and spontaneously) laugh. For comparison, I guess. What can you do? He'll make fun of you if you don't laugh, and he'll probably make fun of you if you do… but I really wanted to just be honest with him: Do or say something funny, and I'll laugh. That's how it's supposed to work, dude. I can see him in front of that Gotham brick wall: "Hey folks, how're you all doing tonight? Laugh. Laugh, dammit! I COMMAND YOU!"

Unlucky Audience Member

I'm getting to see a taping of The Daily Show as part of my fake news class, and I couldn't be (too much) more excited. I saw The Daily Show live once before, in my sophomore year of college, and it was probably the funniest half hour of my higher education… unlike the Letterman show: painfully, but not unexpectedly, lame. The only thing is that I seem to have the absolute worst luck as a studio audience member, like I always get the seat way, way, in the back corner, overlooking the sound booth. They've got some intern or something usher you into the studio – it's a very slaughterhouse type of experience – and it just never pays to be first in that line. You might know, for example, that Letterman comes out before the show and talks with his audience, but I bet you didn't know he completely snubs the entire damn balcony.

And I always get the most pathetic guests. The first time I saw The Daily Show, the guest was Rob Morrow. Who? Exactly. On Letterman, I got to squint at Kristen Davis – post-Sex and the City shark-jumping – and some nine year old who knew a lot about baseball. I guess Regis Philbin and Al Franken were busy that night. And tonight's guest is the author of Stem Cell Wars, some book I've never heard of. If I were home, I'd be checking out what's on Futurama during this segment of the comedy.

What really irritates me is that you can only get ten group tickets at a time, so our class had to split up and go to two different tapings. Guess who the special guest was for the other taping... George fucking Clooney. I don't even like George Clooney or care about what he has to say (really, I don't, shut up George), but at least I recognize him. When I pass him on the street, I text a message to the Gawker Stalker page. Rob Morrow – so what, he was in Northern Exposure? That was like fifteen years ago. I wouldn't even give up my seat on the subway for him.

Monday, December 4, 2006

You Report. We Decide.

Following CNN's I-Report, an experiment in journalism democracy where any jackass with a computer, internet connection, and hands can submit a history-alerting report on "What does your workspace say about you?" or "Is severe weather happening near you," Reuters posted an entry in their editors' blog inviting amateur photographers to send them digital photos of news as it's breaking. They have a "strategic alliance" with Yahoo called You Witness — which annoys me, because if they had the strategic alliance with CNN, they could call it I-Witness, and that's a pun that actually makes some sense. So let's say you're in the middle of a South Asian typhoon, but you're a little too comfortable huddling in the corner of your straw hut, hoping the seawater doesn't flood in and drown you. You could grab your cameraphone, take some pictures of giant waves crashing down on the boats and palm trees, and e-mail those pics to Reuters, where they'll put them on their website and not pay you. Good deal.

I'm not saying that any old person can't be in the right place and the right time and get a newsworthy snapshot, but Reuters casting a super-wide net hunting for photos isn't so much about good journalism as it is about pandering to our sense of post-modern egalitarianism, where anybody can do anything and distinctions in quality are irrelevant, like YouTube or the People's Choice Awards. I can see what's next: All of America votes on our favorite inane news photo — Will it be "Skateboarding Dog?" Or how about maybe "Highway Accident Kills Five?" — and Reuters can award them the meaningless distinction of Stringer Idol, where they'll be fawned over for a week before being forced to take pictures for Ford Motor's advertising department.

Reuters's photo guidelines reflect the sad shift in the media from reporting what's newsworthy (i.e. ethnic slaughter in Sudan) to what's popular (i.e., Michael Richards unable to hold his racist tongue). Here's what they say makes a good picture:

Most importantly, it will be of interest to a wide audience. It may depict an event in the news: a train crash, a clash in the streets, deliriously happy fans the moment the big game is won.
No, no, and no, you facile nitwits! I think if you check out Reuters's Oddly Enough section, you can tell that the editors really understand that what makes something necessarily worth publishing isn't that superficial. Every time there's a major sporting event, one team wins and another loses, and the fans react; what makes for an interesting picture is a single image that captures and can stand in for the whole event and atmosphere.

Well, no longer. Thanks to the 24-hour news networks turning every single stupid event into news (I should say, every single stupid event, as long as it happens in America) and the Internet making every single stupid event available to the world, the distinction between real news that really affects people and random stuff that just happens is gone. Again, from our friends at Reuters:
Or it may not be of a strictly ‘news’ event. It could be an out-of-the-ordinary moment in time in an otherwise ordinary day. Something that has novelty and impact. For example, a model falling over her huge heels on the catwalk, or a fox running up Downing Street, or a fire station catching fire, or a mouse hitching a lift on the back of a toad during a flood.
I could make fun of how slow a news day it would have to be before Reuters reported on that mouse and toad story, but I won't. Some people will think it's cute, and that's all well and good for them. It's just not important. Like, I'm as big of a fan as anyone of vacuous models tripping over their ridiculous footwear, and I'd bookmark the damn clip on iFilm along with this and this. But I also realize that there's a larger world out there, and it's selfish and solipsistic to waste Reuters's resources on my own parochial preferences. This is what MySpace is for.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Prozac + Alcohol = Awkward

Time for another one of those New Jersey Young Professionals events, because no one's confirming my MySpace friend requests and apparently Facebook hurts my self-esteem. This week was something called speed friending, more or less inspired by the speed dating craze that cleaned up the word "loose" a little bit. The Young Professionals also do speed dating, but I felt like my fear of women probably made me a bad candidate for the latter.

I got there way, way, way too early and met up with Lisa in the parking lot, where we stood around for a real long time, mutually thrilled about the idea of making new friends. You get there before the whole speed friending starts and you've got to kill the time with some unstructured friending, and neither of us were going to have that. I guess we went in about ten minutes before the seating began because I just couldn't wait to start drinking. Cuba libre: sounds so much more cocktail-literate than "rum and coke." By the way, thank God I went with Lisa, because if she wasn't there, I'd still be sitting in that parking lot right now.

I had mixed results once the whole getting-to-know-you portion of the evening got underway. There were thirty or so people there and I guess that's a good size. Half of us were designated sitters; the rest were movers, rotating one seat clockwise every three minutes when Laura, Ubiquitous Mistress of Ceremonies who finally got my damn name right the first time, rang the Conversation Ending Bell.

So, three minutes, right? That's a hundred and eighty seconds, barely long enough to unfreeze a Stouffer's microwave dinner, but it's so freaking malleable at speed friending. My conversations are like the mayflies of social discourse — according to the Interwebs, mayflies have such a short lifespan that they don't even need to feed themselves — but it's frustrating when what could've been a five minute conversation about "This club is in such a weird location, sharing a mini-mall, next door to an A&P and a laundromat," gets knocked out in its prime by the Conversation Ending Bell. Then there's the other extreme, and all I can think of to talk about is, "What do you do," "Where are you from," and "Uh...," and suddenly galaxies are disintegrating in those three minutes. It is un-comftor-ble. I feel like the bartender cut my cuba libre on too much Diet Coke, and I should've gotten a drink that was all alcohol, like a NyQuil martini or something.

It gets repetitive:

Where are you from?

Fanwood... ... ... [Jay the Human Atlas explains where Fanwood is.]

What do you do?

I'm a web designer.

How's business?

[I prevaricate. And on and on. I work freelance. For small businesses. And individuals. Who want to have, uh, "a presence on the web." Artists, writers, local restaurants. I meet lots of interesting people.]

I was thinking about setting up a web site.

[Even though I know you totally aren't...] Here, take a business card.
I compulsively explain that it's not my real job, just in case I'm... fuck it, one of us is underestimating the other one of us.

I came away with fifteen new friends! I'll be so damn popular at the next NJYP event. Boy, I just wish I could remember their names. And what they do. And where they're from. And if I've already handed them my card.