Monday, September 24, 2007

NBC Mondays

So, I watched all three of NBC's big shows this evening. That would be Chuck, Heroes, and Journeyman. Personally, I had very low expectations for Chuck, fairly high expectations for Heroes, and somewhere in between for Journeyman. So, my thoughts:

Chuck was at least a bit better than I expected. This might be because I am totally biased by the fact that the main character went to Stanford and actually manages to talk about his experience for a good three seconds or so, believably. I did not know this was actually possible. I'm going to assume that there is someone involved with the show who actually went to Stanford, and so made it possible. That is the only explanation I can come up with. So, I have to give the show extra points for employing someone from Stanford.

Oh, it also gets lots of extra points for employing a former member of the cast of Firefly (that would be Adam Baldwin, playing a slightly more evil, and possibly less stupid, version of Jayne).

Hmm, otherwise, there's not too much going for it. The girl is decently hot, I guess. She looks a lot like Christine Taylor (Ben Stiller's wife, who can be seen in Zoolander and Dodgeball).

I guess my main problem with the show is that I think it's better when there isn't violence. Chuck helping people while working at this take-off of Best Buy could probably be pretty funny all on its own, without pointless action with a hot babe (but, some could argue, what's the point if there isn't a hot babe?).

I can imagine some alternate version of Chuck, that's more like House, only for the geek audience. With people coming in with stupid problems while him and the rest of the Nerd Herd solve bigger problems, typically involving video games. Okay, fine that probably wouldn't be any better. But, hey, it probably wouldn't be worse either. Besides, poor customer service is totally funnier when it isn't coming from someone who's supposed to be saving your life.

In conclusion, yeah, I might watch it again next week. We'll see. It depends how much time they spend being stupid at work versus how much time they spend being stupid with violence. Also, completely unrelated, why is the current explanation for the story that the people from the NSA and the people from the CIA are on such poor terms that they're okay with killing and fighting each other? Couldn't they come up with a situation that doesn't just hurt my brain with the stupidity of it all?

I'm praying that there's going to be a twist mid-season where we find out that somebody' boss (either Jayne's or Christine Taylor look-alike's, or even both!) has actually gone rogue and so the former roommate that got Chuck into this mess was actually not turning against his country, but instead was thwarting said evil boss. On the other hand, if that doesn't happen, I probably won't mind because I'll have given up on the show by then.

Moving on to Heroes...

So, facing the classic problem of not really knowing what to do or where to go, the writers apparently have decided to use the classic "add more characters to an already bloated show" strategy to continue the story. Luckily, they backed this up with the equally classic strategy of "kill off popular, cameo type side-characters to reduce clutter". Admittedly, this combination doesn't work as well when you add like six characters and only kill one off, but, whatever. They've still got time to kill off the others.

I do have to admit, I'm glad to see everyone again. Mohinder is still mixing it up with the wrong people. Hiro is still a ridiculously awesome control freak. I think I'm going to enjoy watching him try to write (or would it be rewrite?) history so that things happen the way he was told they did, hundreds of years later. I'm sorry for Matt, that his marriage was unable to work out (it sucks that it didn't work out in either the bad timeline or the current timeline). And Peter... Oh, how I heart him. It's good to see him alive and kicking (well, telekinetically kicking, at least). Also, why is Nathan still alive? I was totally counting on him to die. But, whatever.

And, of course, we can't forget about Claire, can we? I swear she's cuter. Although, I liked last season's boy a lot more. Admittedly, at least this one's a special person (is it frustrating that they are basically doing X-Men, but refuse to call themselves Mutants, or use any other simple noun to define themselves?). On the other hand, this guy has the same power as Claire's father. Somehow, if they were to get together, that would seem really incestuous to me. But, whatever. Also, her new high school looks just like the high school in that movie Orange County (which also talked about Stanford, but not nearly as well as Chuck did).

So, yeah, they were quick to keep pushing this scary dude that young Molly's afraid of. I'm not sure how many lone wolf, evil guys with crazy powers the show really needs, but it looks like they're shooting for at least one more. Otherwise, it's hard to really tell where they're planning on going with this. I'm surprised that we don't see anything about people reacting to the fact that a nuclear bomb went off in the sky above the New York City. I was kind of expecting that to be a source of tension in this new timeline. But, whatever.

Also, I'm not passing judgement on the people traveling to find Mohinder just yet. Although, I can't help but be curious about what foreign language we'll have regular characters speaking in next.

Lastly, Journeyman.

Personally, I thought this could be good. I actually read that book, The Time Traveler's Wife, which is a semi-obvious inspiration for the show. Admittedly, I kind of regretted reading the book, but that's not the point. I didn't like it because it paid too much attention to the wife, instead of the time traveler (which it had given me fair warning about, considering the title). This show looked like it was going to be paying more attention to the time traveler, himself, so that should be a non-issue.

Anyways, it was kind of a letdown. I want to give it another chance. I really do. But, well, ouch. I'm not sure I really appreciate this whole idea that over the course of the episode, he figures out what he has to do when he goes back in time. It's just very contrived. I mean, I knew it was going to be contrived, but it was still very contrived. I think I like that word (contrived, I mean).

It is funny to see him interact with his former fiancee when he goes back in time. Although, it is REALLY weird to see him interact with a time traveling version of her to explain what the heck is going on. This just feels like really lazy writing. It's like the writers were like, "We need someone to tell him what's going on, because he's never going to figure out why we're doing this to him on his own. So, let's get his dead fiancee to do it, since he'll listen to her."

I mean, wow. It just feels lame. I think I'm going to try to force myself to give it another chance, because I was really hoping for the best for this thing. I mean, NBC put it after Heroes, so they must have high hopes, right?

So, yeah, that's the review. Too bad these are pretty much all the shows I wanted to check out. At least it was convenient.

That is all.


Nickelodeon's Current Crop of Tween Shows

So, recently, I've been watching Nickelodeon. To my surprise, and general amazement, they actually have some pretty awesomely hilarious live action TV shows right now. This is surprising to me, because I haven't really liked much of what they put on with living people in at least 8 years, and probably more. What was even more surprising to me, however, was that all these awesome shows are created by this random dude named Dan Schneider. When I realized this, I thought to myself, "Wow, this random dude must be some kind of genius. I need to learn more about him."

It turns out that this guy pretty much is the creative force behind all of Nickelodeon's good live action stuff, even from when I was watching Nick regularly, like 8 years ago (okay, not all of them, because he wasn't involved in Pete & Pete, but otherwise, everything). Suddenly, the reason why I liked these new TV shows made sense: They have the same humor I thought was funny 8 years ago.

My personal favorite show of his creation is called Drake and Josh. It's about a pair of step brothers who are in the same grade. One is the cool, heart-throb who I assume is popular with the 12-year-old girls this show probably targets. The other is the intelligent, but totally spastic, source of physical comedy (because every good kids show needs a large dose of physical comedy). The other main character is their little sister (who also played the evil, bitch girl in "School of Rock"). She's pretty much an awesome villainess who mercilessly tortures them (by being significantly smarter than either of them and taking advantage of it to play tricks on them and otherwise abuse them).

And, well, that pretty much sums up the show. The brothers screw around while Drake randomly hooks up with chicks and Josh waves his arms wildly and screams. What can I say, the show is brilliant.

His other current show that I appreciate actually stars the little sister from the previous show, and it's called iCarly. This isn't surprising since she was very nearly the best part of that show (just a hair behind Josh and his random screaming). I'm not actually sure that this show has a story (I don't think any of them do, really, since they're all basically sitcoms). It just has her, her best female friend, and some boy who's shorter than either of them and is supposed to have a crush on her (which she abuses by making him do tons of favors for her, which is pretty true to life, I think). Oh, and her older brother, who supplies the physical comedy that was reserved for Josh in the previous show.

In case you're curious, Dan's previous show catalog includes: All That, Kenan & Kel, and The Amanda Show. Oh, he's also got some show starring Britney Spears' little sister, which is not as awesome as the other two shows (Zoey 101).

Anyways, obviously all these shows are very similar. Firstly, it's a very small group of main characters. Drake and Josh officially have two, but the little sister adds a third, although she is seen far less than them. Zoey 101 actually has a much more diverse cast, with at least 4 main characters and a significant number of less relevant characters (I'm not as sure on this one, since I don't really watch it). iCarly also has four main characters, but it's really three with the older brother thrown in as a source of physical comedy.

Next, adults are not relevant in the lives of any of the main characters. It's quite impressive really, but his characters live in a fantasy world where adults don't really rule. Drake and Josh have parents, but they're basically only around to side with the little sister characters. The only adult we see regularly is Josh's boss (and she basically delegates everything onto Josh anyway). In Zoey 101, I think they're at some boarding high school or something, because they live in dorms. And, um, that's all I know (I haven't seen any adults there either). In iCarly, she shares a very nice loft, apartment with her older brother. The parents are nowhere to be found. And, considering that her brother is the source of physical comedy, it's safe to say he doesn't act very much like an adult.

To me, this is an interesting trend for kid's TV shows. There literally aren't adults in the world that these kids inhabit. All of the shows are very simple formulas, really just a set up for the kids to have snappy dialogue (and for cute boys and girls to try to impress each other, but that's just to satisfy the 12-year-old girl demographic). Obviously, it's not hard to imagine why kids enjoy this fantasy, and it allows for relatively simple plot allowances, since there's basically no one watching over the kids, so they can get into all sorts of hilarious, but perfectly safe, trouble.

The one disappointment to me, however, is that the shows don't even attempt to address any real issues. I think it could potentially be really interesting to push the boundaries of this fantasy world and call on the kids to help each other deal with problems that normally would be responded to by going to an adult. Without risking doing anything un-PC, I can imagine the shows still tackling things like managing time between friends and school and sports, or the loss of a pet or anything like that. These are simple topics that real kids face in the real world, and it would be interesting to tease the comedy and the solutions to those types of issues into this fantasy world as well.

I bring this up because I think many of Nickelodeon's animated TV shows do a great job of bringing in those kinds of episodes. "Hey Arnold" dealt with the struggles of the main characters in a variety of situations and often excelled when it was trying to address semi-serious issues. Same with "Doug". Even my current favorite Nickelodeon animated show, "Avatar" manages to bring in commentary about war and the effects it has on the innocent. So, in all honesty, the bar has been set quite high, and well, I'd like to see them try to rise to meet it.

In any situation, Dan Schneider is still doing some great work for Nickelodeon and I am most certainly a fan.

That is all.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Top 5 Albums Post

Well, here's the top five list of my top ten albums of all time, with commentary. Lots of commentary. And so, let us begin...

1. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Yes, I know, this is pretty much everyone's greatest album of all time, but that's totally not the point. The point is that it deserves it and anyone who doesn't give it to them is a dirty liar. They're pretty much the greatest band of all time and this is they're best work. And it is the best thing ever. There really is nothing else that can seriously be considered.

I think it's also important to point out that there is a significant number of people who haven't listened to this CD and have no idea what they've missed out on. I mean, hardly any radio stations actually play music off this CD, since it really doesn't have any of their famous songs on it (their greatest hits collection, "1" doesn't have a single track off this CD). The result is that unless someone forces other people to listen to the album, it's easy to completely pass it by. And, well, that's kind of depressing, really.

This album captures so much of what is right about music. Many of the songs are about such simple topics as growing old or leaving home and other aspects of life, but it really captures the core of those experiences. It's really not about drugs, even though it has Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds on it. This is a beautiful, touching CD. And it really is the best CD of all time, and I sincerely doubt anything will ever dethrone it. I'm not even sure how something would go about doing so...

2. Wilco - Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
Did I mention I'm a huge Wilco fan? Oh, I did. Good, that makes this choice a lot more obvious. I was actually tempted to make the top slot a tie between The Beatles and Wilco, but then I would be a dirty liar, and I decided I didn't really want that. Anyways, YHF.

I remember the first time I heard a track off this CD. I was driving home and the radio played "Heavy Metal Drummer". I swear I almost died, I was so in love with the song. Somehow, I found out the name of the band, went to Tower Records and bought the CD (it was even on sale as a recommended album). At that time, I listened to it, thought it was brilliant and moved on (I was in high school and there was lots of great music to be discovering). A couple years later I bought more Wilco CDs and fell in love with those too. They inspired me to listen to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot again, but this time I had been prepared for it.

It totally blew me away. It captured everything, ever. I love melancholic music and YHF literally is melancholy. Every track contains beautiful explorations of hopelessness and powerlessness and longing, but also love and faith and hope. Once again, there can be no standout track on this album, simply because this album stands out. That's all there is to it, but it won't stop me from trying.

The opening track, "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" tells a story of the end of a relationship and captures the feelings involved, all through the drunken voice of the protagonist after spending one last evening with her. I'll skip to track three, "Radio Cure" which is should basically be the anthem for all long distance relationships for all time. The take home line is, "Distance has no way of making love understandable". Jeff Tweedy's delivery is perfect, as he is just barely even capable of completing the line, collapsing from the sadness of the song on the word making.

"Jesus, etc." presents an uncertain future and it's only answer is love. It's memorable melancholic line is, "You were right about the stars, every one is a setting sun". The last song I'll bring up is "Ashes of American Flags". This song captures the hopelessness and uncertainty of the artist in full form. It is easily the most beautiful song on the CD. It is also one entire melancholic line, which can be read here.

3. Nirvana - Nevermind
This CD defined the expectations for angry, grungy, punk music forever. Unlike the above CDs, you can actually still hear tracks from this CD on the radio. In fact, you can hear nearly every song on this CD on the radio (although you'll certainly hear some songs more than others). This CD and their Unplugged in New York CD are the only releases that are still heard regularly on the radio, and it's almost entirely because they're the most approachable (okay, you can hear a couple In Utero songs too, and the occasional song from Bleach). This does not make them bad. Of the two, though, only Nevermind is great (and not a live performance).

It's hard to talk about Nirvana without talking about Kurt's suicide, but there's another theme that gets regularly commented on about Nirvana: the fact that young people don't know anything about Nirvana anymore. Somehow Nirvana has become irrelevant to teenagers today, which simply boggles my mind. I can't even imagine my high school years without Nirvana.

All I can really say about this astounding CD is that my favorite track off it, for a long time, has actually been Lounge Act. Even though it's not really a radio track, it's just such a fun song through the voice of a controlling, paranoid freak, that I can't help but love it.

4. Neil Young - Harvest
Whoo! Hopefully this counts as the first thing even remotely like a surprising pick. Or maybe it's not, since the last pick was Nirvana and Neil Young is like the uncle of grunge or maybe the godfather or, well, something like that. You know what I mean, hopefully.

Anyways, this CD is amazing. I don't actually know all the much about Neil Young, but I know this CD has some sort of crazy story behind it. Interestingly, that's actually completely irrelevant to what makes this one of my top five greatest albums of all time. This choice is entirely about the music. And, wow, the music on this CD...

At this point, I would like to state that, in no way, shape or form, am I a fan of country music. But, I am a fan of amazingly great music, and that's what this album is. The fact that it pulled a lot of country artists in is irrelevant. Obviously, "Old Man" is a stunning song. So is "Alabama". And "A Man Needs a Maid".

But, the song that will remain stuck in my mind for all time is "The Needle and the Damage Done". I think that will remain as one of the most powerful songs ever written about any topic. I can barely even imagine what it would be like to write a song like that. If you want to hear the story behind the song, you can find it on wikipedia.

5. Radiohead - Kid A
This one was hard. I mean, how do you pick between OK Computer and Kid A? Seriously, it's like impossible. They're both amazing CDs, and in all honesty, OK Computer was probably more influential. But, there's just something about Kid A. Something intangible. Maybe it's the fact the it's more than a little scary to just listen to it.

One of Radiohead's big themes has always been about conforming and much of their most interesting music is a response to society's pressure on people to conform. My favorite song of theirs is actually from the album, "The Bends" and it's called "Fake Plastic Trees", and it really hits the ball out of the park in describing the frustrations of the pressure to conform. OK Computer explores those themes throughout the CD, especially in "Fitter, Happier", "No Surprises", and, well, much of the rest of the CD.

But, to be honest, the simple presentation of the songs on Kid A manage to capture that same feeling, just better, really. The title track makes "Fitter, Happier" sound silly and overbearing, while the entire CD is simply haunting. This CD doesn't question the idea of trying to conform, it simply ignores anything that might be like conforming and builds an entirely unique and incredible experience out of it.

While listening to this CD, you really can't help but question the world around you, because this album presents a completely different world. There is nothing like listening to this CD.

Alright, I'll try to get the bottom five up soon. This takes awhile since I'm listening to the music while typing this stuff, so give me a break.

That is all.


Monday, September 10, 2007

Top Ten Albums List Pre-post

I'm really bad at making lists. All sorts of lists, really. When asked to name my favorite albums, I tend to list about a dozen and say they're all in my top five. Typically, people are nice enough not to point out that twelve doesn't fit into five very well. Other times, I can only come up with two-ish and can only say they're in the top ten (and that I'm sure there's some other really good stuff in that list as well).

But, randomly, I decided that it's time to really flesh out my list of the best albums of all time. You know, decide what really is the best and work from there. But, before I do that, I decided to talk a little about what it means to be one of the best albums of all time and apologize to a couple artists that obviously should be on the list but aren't, largely because I'm lame.

So, my first rule was that no group gets to have more than one album in my greatest albums of all time list. It's just not fair to everyone else when you give The Beatles four of the top ten slots, it just takes away all the fun. I mean, yes, I know it's The Beatles, but still. Seriously, this is for fun, and who wants to just talk about The Beatles (don't answer that)?

Second, I'm nixing live albums and greatest hits collections as well. I'm kind of a purist and really believe in the idea of a cohesive, unified experience of an album. This makes me distrustful of greatest hits because there is no such unity. I also believe that albums should be carefully engineered and so I prefer the studio. I know, it's not fair to all the great live albums out there. Trust me, it hurts me just as much as it hurts you (except I can break my rules and bring up some great live albums if I so desire).

Third, anything that was so indie that the general public never really learned of its existence, is automatically disqualified. Sorry, but being one of the greatest albums of all time requires a fairly significant amount of success and/or recognition. That's just the way it goes. Also, obviously, I get to decide whether stuff qualifies. So, if you've never heard of the artist or CD, well, then it's probably your own fault, because plenty of other people certainly did (by my definition of plenty, of course).

Now, a couple apologies. Bob, I'm sorry. I know you're pretty much the greatest song writer of popular music history. I can't deny Blond on Blond and I know it deserves to be on the list. The problem is, well, it's not. I like you man, but I don't, you That's just the way it is. You're a hero and all, but, in the end, you're also Bob Dylan. And, well, that kind of works against you. No hard feelings, alright?

Same to you, Bruce. I know you just wanted to be like Bobby over there, and well, this is the result. It probably doesn't help that I'm too young to totally get your music from the eighties. It probably also doesn't help that your 9/11 CD was freaking boring and the best thing you did prior to singing bunches of 200 year old songs was 41 Shots (yeah, I know you call it American Skin, but whatever) but I'll go on record as saying that's definitely one of the most powerful songs I've heard to this day (but, darn, it's on a live album, and still definitely not enough to earn you a slot). Anyways, moving on...

To Led Zeppelin: Look, I know you guys are, like, up there with The Beatles in terms of relevance to today's music. I get that. And I admit that you're a lot better than a lot of the stuff you inspired, and your super bluesy rock is still something special and distinctive. But, you know what, I really just don't like your music. I mean, I can't even get behind Stairway for goodness sake. And I've tried, seriously, I've tried.

To The Rolling Stones: I'm not even sorry for this one. You guys are totally over-rated. I remember the first time I heard Exile on Main Street and I was like: "Dude, this music sucks." Yeah, that's pretty much how it goes. I will admit that your satisfaction song is pretty neat and I do like that children's choir version of You Can't Always Get What You Want that they play on House (and on the eighties TV show Moonlighting, as I recently discovered).

To Elton John: I'm sorry, but apparently, I'm homophobic or something. Obviously, there's at least, like, three of your CDs that deserve consideration for one of my top ten albums of all time, but instead I threw you into the apology section. I mean, seriously, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road is awesome, and I'd totally respect Don't Shoot Me, I'm Just the Piano Player even if it didn't have Daniel on it. But, I think my personal favorite is Madman Across the Water. So, yeah, I'm sorry, because it should be up there. You seriously deserve the recognition, I'm just a terrible, terrible person.

To all female artists: I know I acted like I was joking about this in those other posts, but, apparently, I was only half joking when I said that I'm sexist. Yep, that's right. None of you were even considered. Honestly. I think the closest you get to even feeling like you're represented on the list is through Meg White of The White Stripes (and well, I think they're ending up in the honorable mentions section, although I'd like to think they would still end up there even if the group was all male, but we know that's not true, don't we?). What can I say, beyond pointing out that I've already made it clear that I'm sexist (and homophobic as well, now, I'm on a roll aren't I)?

To basically all non-white artists: Yeah, I'm sorry... but I swear I'm not racist. Unlike female artists and Elton John, I'm throwing you guys out just because I don't like your music. It has nothing to do with the color of your skin or your ethnicity or whatever. I mean, I like Bob Marley's music, and he made it in (but I like Elton John's music and he didn't make it in, so, don't complain about being persecuted or anything, alright?). I'm glad we could reach an understanding.

Oh, I feel just like a founding father...

Hmm, those are the people who get singled out. Obviously, I can't help but admit that there's many other (Caucasian male) artists from long before I was born that made very good music that I will never really listen to simply because I'm a terrible person. It's not easy getting onto a top ten list when the author has only really paid attention to the last 10-15 years of music and is a fan of alternative rock.

Well, that's that. I've made my apologies. I'll actually get to the top ten list up tomorrow.

That is all.


Apology Post

So, I haven't posted in a really long time. There is actually a really good explanation for that (read as: I think it's a good explanation). You see, I bought this little game called Persona 3.

And, yeah, there went my life. Literally. I swear, I've started, like 3 different posts on Persona 3, and each one ends the same way: I get distracted and start playing Persona 3, instead. It's pretty much hopeless.

Let me use this pointless and convoluted example to explain just how far gone I am. Imagine if my attention were a solution. Like any solution, we could measure the concentration of the various things that I'm typically thinking about, particularly during my free time. Each of these items would be at some very small value, probably in parts per million or billion. Some examples would include the blog, movies, books, work, anime, music, girls, you know, whatever. However, at this time, we could not accurately measure the concentration of thoughts involving Persona 3, because, in this analogy, Persona 3 would be the goddamn water that everything else is dissolved in (and it would be very pure, most certainly potable water at that).

So, yeah, hopefully, that puts everything in perspective. Or it makes me sound weird. Or, more likely, both.

As a warning, this little problem could continue for awhile. I've put about 45 hours into the game so far, and I think I'm about 2/3 of the way through my first play through. Yes, that's right, as soon as I beat the game I intend to immediately start back from the beginning all over again. Yes, I'm stupid.

But, despite setbacks such as these, I will persevere. Although the blog crashed and burned in a fiery death full of flaming fire (whoo, fire!), it will rise from its ashes and ascend back to the glorious heights of just a few weeks prior. And all will be well (I can't guarantee that last part, more likely something else will distract me and we'll get to do this all over again, whoo!).

Well, that is all.