Wolverines you can believe in

November 16, 2010

I’ve been largely indifferent to Wolverine, the character, though I’m learning to actively hate him as he’s portrayed in Avengers: The Children’s Crusade. I like the sight of Hugh Jackman in a sleeveless undershirt as much as the next person who is so inclined, so I suppose I can appreciate the existence of Wolverine, the character, in that it made such visuals possible. But I honestly hadn’t given much thought to wolverines, the species, until I saw this episode of Nature on PBS.

And yes, they are brutal, and I certainly wouldn’t want to inadvertently cross the path of one in the wild, but they are also some of the most adorable vicious predators I have ever, ever seen. Seriously, watch this episode if you get a chance.


Bullies for you

November 10, 2010

Last night saw the broadcast of Glee’s much-anticipated episode about bullying, “Never Been Kissed.” I could go on at length about it, but I think I’ll confine my remarks to about a paragraph. I didn’t find it dramatically or musically successful or useful in a sociological sense. In fact, at a time when a show of Glee’s profile and audience demographic could really have modeled some behaviors that would be useful to kids who are at risk and the classmates who might be persuaded to stand up for them (Glee’s precise demographic, for all intents and purposes), it seemed to choose instead to write for the nostalgia of people who’ve come through those kinds of bullying crises, which is not useful at all to kids who are actually being bullied. Now, you may argue that Glee is under no obligation to model positive behaviors, but I would counter that the show’s creators are more than willing to accept praise for the show’s inclusive, empowering message, so, yes, there’s a certain onus in place for them to actually craft those messages with care. Also, Mr. Schue is an idiot.

I agree with this spoiler-filled review by Monkey See’s Linda Holmes in most particulars, if you want to see a more detailed examination of the episode.


I can sing any note higher than you

October 13, 2010

I put this theory out on Twitter this morning, and I’ll mention it again here, because I enjoy writing about Glee for some reason. Anyway, it struck me as I was watching last night’s episode, “Duets,” that continuity on Glee is kind of like the DC universe just after “Crisis on Infinite Earths.” By that, I mean that it’s intermittent, sometimes functional, and dependent on who’s writing at any given moment.

“Duets” is one of the good-continuity Glee episodes, in that characters remember things that have happened and behave in ways that indicate they learned something from those experiences. That’s a good thing, because Glee is rarely more frustrating than when it ignores character continuity for a passing joke or punchy scene. But, as I’ve mentioned before, Ryan Murphy’s attention span is a fleeting thing. (The celebrity-centric episodes like “Britney/Brittany” are sort of like line-wide crossovers where every character [or comic] gets wedged into a storyline or tone that doesn’t necessarily make sense for them.) So we really should just enjoy the good bits of episodes like “Duets” and tolerate the rest.

Some more specific thoughts after the jump:

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Hate on them

October 6, 2010

We’ll get to our regularly scheduled installment of the Seinen Alphabet tomorrow, interrupted by me ranting about all of the things I didn’t like about last night’s episode of Glee, “Grilled Cheesus,” which you can watch on Hulu for the next month or so. In it, young, gay, atheist Kurt is faced with a major life crisis, and his Glee Club comrades try and help him through it, but many of them do more harm than good, or at least show creator Ryan Murphy did. Episode spoilers after the jump.

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Finale thoughts

June 14, 2010

Even if the rest of Glee‘s final episode of the season had been entirely intolerable, and one should never rule that out as a possibility when Ryan Murphy is involved, I loved the Journey medley so much that it’s almost indecent. I’m sure Hulu is wondering who in West Virginia keeps watching that clip over and over again. I had never fully realized how much I love Journey in spite of the fact that they were basically the soundtrack to my high school years. Seriously, there weren’t many traumatic experiences that weren’t scored by “Open Arms.” If that hasn’t demolished my musical credibility completely, I would like to admit that I would totally pay to see a musical constructed on the song catalog of Air Supply.

I might have loved “To Sir, with Love” more if Quinn had been given a few solo lines. I’m always delighted to see Kurt and Santana get some of the vocal spotlight, but this song seems very much the right style for Dianna Agron’s sweet but not especially powerful singing voice, and the sentiment tracks with Quinn’s character arc. I love Santana, don’t get me wrong, but she didn’t learn anything this year, much less right from wrong.

The show can make that minor failing up to me next year by giving Quinn and the Cheerios a crack at Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” which would also give Heather (Brittany) Morris some awesome solo dance opportunities. I always smile when she’s on screen, particularly when she’s dancing.


Gleekery

April 14, 2010

So Glee is back, and I’m glad. It wasn’t a great episode (too little Quinn and Kurt), but it was nice to see everyone in fresh material. The problem, as I see it, resulted from achieving too much in the previous portion of the season. Remember that Dynasty cliffhanger when they were all at the wedding in Eurotrashia, or wherever, and gunmen mowed down all of the guests, and then when the new season started, everyone got up and brushed themselves off except for the other gay guy?

Basically, the makers of Glee had to push things back to a certain point, leading couples to estrangement so the audience could resume rooting for them to get together and undoing various other plot developments to fuel future events. I remember this sort of thing happening with the season finales on Ryan Murphy’s earlier teen dramedy, Popular. I’m not going to complain too much, because even really good shows have so-so episodes, and it wasn’t like it was “Acafellas” or anything that dire.

I would like to provide nerdish speculation on one plot development, which I will do after noting that I’d never actually watched an episode of American Idol before, and I am unlikely ever to do so again, because that hurt.

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Gleeful

April 4, 2010

As there won’t be a new One Piece omnibus for a while, I’ll have to obsessively geek out over something else. Fortunately, I have the Glee DVD set in my possession. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a comedy-drama-musical about a high-school show choir that airs on Fox, and it was created by Ryan Murphy, who has experience with surreal high-school comedy-drama from his work on Popular. (He also created Nip/Tuck, but I’ve never watched it, because plastic surgery grosses me out and some of my worst nightmares have featured scalpels.)

I loved about half of Popular (the surreal, bitchy parts) and couldn’t have cared less about the rest (angst-y teen drama). My enjoyment ratio is better with Glee, and I tend to enjoy the grounded drama as much as the heightened, bizarre material. As with Popular, I strongly suspect that Murphy can’t bring himself to really dislike bitchy, status-conscious blondes, though he pays lip service to the notion that perhaps we all should hold them in contempt.

The blonds on Popular got all of the good lines and funny scenes and, as a result, they were more effective when they were thrust into mope-y drama sequences. The brunettes fare better on Glee than their Popular sisters did, since they’re also quirky and funny, particularly stardom-obsessed Rachel Berry, played by Lea Michele of Spring Awakening fame. In addition to having a perfect Broadway belt, Michele is endearingly shameless. Rachel is narcissistic and bossy, but she’s also a self-defeating goof, and she’s got a good heart somewhere under all that ambition.

I was talking about my fondness for Rachel’s foil, pretty cheerleader Quinn Fabray, on Twitter yesterday, and puritybrown summed up Quinn’s vibe nicely as “tell me to hate her and I won’t.” Quinn, played by Dianna Agron, joins the glee club at the behest of psychotic cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester (played perfectly by Jane Lynch). As you might suspect, Quinn grows to like being in glee club more than her high-maintenance cheerleading career and presidency of the Celibacy Club. Participating in show choir also allows her to keep an eye on her dim, quarterback boyfriend Finn Hudson, played by Cory Monteith. Quinn knows that Rachel has a thing for Finn, and she suspects that Finn may return the feelings. Finn’s a nice moron, and he wants to do what’s right to both girls, especially after Quinn discovers that she’s pregnant.

The pregnancy plot should dump Quinn firmly in the villainess category, and she’s undeniably manipulative and deceitful, but at least her feelings for Finn seems genuine. This puts her miles ahead of Terri Schuester, played by Jessalyn Gilsig, who fakes a pregnancy to hold onto her husband, Will, the advisor of the glee club, played by Matthew Morrison. Unlike Quinn, Terri’s manipulations seem based entirely on a desire to possess something she doesn’t even particularly like. Terri is like a real estate speculator who bought a parcel of land under the impression that it would increase in value. It didn’t, and she’s too stubborn and lazy to sell it at a loss and reinvest in something more promising. Gilsig seems like she could be funny, but she’s not menacing enough for this role, or she’s insufficiently shameless to really let the audience gape in horror at her character. (She should watch more of Michele’s and Lynch’s scenes.)

Another part of the problem is Will and Morrison’s portrayal of him. He’s supposed to be an inspiring teacher, but he’s too prone to letting his ambitions get in the way of the best interests of the club. There’s also something irritating about Morrison’s mannerisms; his grins, both elfin and sheepish, make me curl my hands into fists, and his attempts at boyish sincerity are similarly grating. It’s always irritating to see women fighting over a loser, a la Betty and Veronica, and it’s particularly irksome when one of those women is Emma Pillsbury, the decent, obsessive-compulsive guidance counselor winningly played by Jayma Mays. (At one point, she tells Terri that Will deserves better than Terri, ignoring the fact that Emma deserves better than Will.)

It’s not surprising to me that the adults gradually receded as the season progressed. After “Acafellas,” an episode where Will forms a middle-aged boy band, I couldn’t imagine them ever giving him the full weight of an episode again. The kids are just funnier and more interesting, and when they make stupid mistakes, it’s easier to sympathize with them because… well… they’re kids. Quinn can seem kind of heartbreaking in the midst of her schemes, but Terri just seems pathetic. (I’d love to see a scene where Quinn realizes that she could turn into Terri if she’s not careful.)

And the music is great. Sometimes the mere fact that the club is singing a particular song can make me grin like an idiot, and that’s before I get the chance to fully appreciate how well they’re performing it. (It’s not a criticism to note that a rival school’s performance of “Rehab” in the first episode sets the bar; the club is supposed to be leagues above our stars, and just about every big number is terrific.)


Finally

February 18, 2010

I’m ridiculously excited by the news that MTV will release a DVD collection of Daria: The Complete Animated Series in May 2010. It’s the best thing MTV ever did. It’s also quite possibly my favorite animated series of all time.

That’s not because it had terrific production values. It was a spin-off of Beavis and Butt-head, for pity’s sake, so what could you expect? But maybe it was less of a spin-off than a refugee, with its titular heroine escaping the moronic orbit of her former hosts to find new morons to observe.

I was going to write a long appreciation of the series in anticipation of the DVD’s glorious arrival until I remembered that I’d already written one a couple of years ago for Martin Kretschmer’s blog. I don’t have a whole lot to add to what I wrote then, to be honest.

The only addition I might make is that the thing I most admire about the character is her sincere indifference to the shifting sands of adolescent popularity. She’s not blind to the benefits of being sociable or outgoing, and there’s always the sense that she could work within that system if she wanted to do so. She’s certainly smart enough, but her principles and dignity keep her from it. She’s a conscientious objector, and an uncommonly funny and intelligent one at that. She’s the kind of teen-ager I wish I’d had the resources to be when I was that age, which is probably a little sad to admit, but it’s true.

Okay, one other addition would be that Daria also contains one of my very favorite constructs in fiction: when two women who are very temperamentally different manage to form a meaningful friendship from an adversarial starting point. In the case of Daria and her popularity-obsessed sister Quinn (vice-president of the Fashion Club), it’s a series-long evolution, and it doesn’t really pick up momentum until the last few seasons, but it provided some of my most lasting fond memories of the show.


Sunday dinner: America’s Test Kitchen

January 31, 2010

I don’t think it’s any secret that I find almost all of the programming on the Food Network to be really, really terrible. Their new shows just get dumber and dumber and less and less useful. It feels like they’ve completely sacrificed culinary sensibility and education for personality, and whoever decides what kinds of personalities make the cut has tastes diametrically opposed to my own.

So I’m very glad that the local cable provider has picked up PBS’s Create network so I can watch interesting, talented people cook food and teach me about it along the way. Charisma levels may vary, and not every show is a gem, but I can usually find something smart and useful to watch. (Any network that gives Eric Ripert air time is aces in my book.)

My favorite program on Create’s admittedly irregular schedule is America’s Test Kitchen, which is an extension of the magazine, Cook’s Illustrated. (Gourmet is dead, but advertising-free Cook’s Illustrated is still going strong. I’m just saying.) The television version has all of strengths of the magazine – useful information developed with rigor and standards – with the added bonus of just enough personality. There’s none of the toothy mugging that makes Food Network programming largely unwatchable; there’s just smart, likable people who are sincerely enthusiastic about food.

The idea behind the magazine and the show is to develop the best possible versions of popular home recipes. And I have to say, their success rate is very, very high based on the recipes I’ve tried. (I grew up in Cincinnati and ate more chili than burgers, and their Cincinnati chili recipe is spot-on.) There are also segments comparing products like chocolate, cheeses, jarred sauces and the like, and equipment ratings where they test and compare the usefulness of various kitchen products like knives and ricers. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a show and not come away wanting to try one of the recipes or knowing more about kitchen tools and preparation techniques. There’s more good stuff in a half an hour than there is in an entire day of Food Network dribble.

The master of ceremonies is Christopher Kimball, founder of Cook’s Illustrated and the resident crank. He would never be hired by the current Food Network regime because he’s caustic, not particularly telegenic, and unapologetically smart. He’s a culinary curmudgeon, not in the self-congratulatory, bad-boy way of Anthony Bourdain, but in the sense of someone who doesn’t have any patience for bad food but has the determination and resources to try and make it better. His co-hosts are all appealing to varying degrees, and they treat Kimball with the kind of wistful indulgence you reserve for a grumpy, funny uncle, which is exactly what Kimball seems to be.


Friday nattering

April 17, 2009

At The Beat, Heidi MacDonald rounds up the discussion of the New York Times Graphic Books Bestsellers list. I have to admit that I don’t really see why these lists are any more problematic or opaque in their methodology than any of the other sales rankings. I always assumed that the odd or counter-intuitive products that sometimes show up on the lists were more a function of the fact that there are 30 slots posted weekly than of the way the entrails came out of the goat or how the 30-sided die landed on Friday morning.

I guess what I’m saying is that just about all of these bestseller lists seem at least partly suspect, random, or susceptible to manipulation. With its greater frequency and wider scope, I at least find the Times lists suspect, random, and susceptible to manipulation in ways that are a little more interesting than the monthly versions.

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Has Barnes & Noble hired a new graphic novel buyer? I stopped at the local store during lunch yesterday and was surprised at the number of unusual suspects present on the shelves. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Gantz in a chain bookstore before.

As a side note, have you ever been to a bookstore and seen a theoretically sealed-for-your-protection title that actually had its plastic wrap intact?

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This week’s episode of The Big Bang Theory was hilarious. Penny accompanied the geeks to a comic shop. I particularly loved the bit where she innocently tried to buy a Spider-Man comic for her nephew. I think they should do an episode where Sara Gilbert’s Leslie is revealed to be a hardcore fujoshi, adding another layer of conflict to her acrimonious relationship with Sheldon.

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I absolutely appreciate Bryan Fuller’s desire to finish the story he meant to tell in the wonderful Pushing Daisies. I don’t think many of the things that made the show so special will translate to a comics page, though. Comic timing and chemistry made up a huge chunk of the show’s appeal. I’d still buy them if they added those greeting-card chips that would allow me to hear Olive Snook bursting into song.

(There used to be online comics featuring the characters, but ABC seems to have removed them.)