Density’s Team

Just gotta post this for the record and posterity, but last night’s Monday Night Football game between the Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals was one of the oddest most phenomenal I’ve ever seen. Traveling to the southwest with a dominating 5-0 record (and already being compared to the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Bears) to play the lowly 1-4 Cardinals, the game looked to be about as lopsided a contest as it could, even with USC’s golden boy Matt Leinart at Arizona’s helm — especially with Leinart.

See the Cardinals are generally regarded as a team that has a proven ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Whether that’s true or not, statistically and long term they suck. I’m not totally square on my facts, but I think they’ve had one winning season in the past 20 years (and that was a 9-7 record). And their previous two seasons have gotten off to identically pathetic won/loss starts as this one. So even with Heisman/National Championship/Rose Bowl-winning Leinart taking the snaps for them with his 37-2 record as a starter for USC, the sense was that past achievements not withstanding he’s still a rookie QB stepping with the big men for only his second NFL start and Da Bears with their “Monsters of the Midway” defense were just a-gonna eat him up yum.

So how does the game begin? Well dropjaw dang if on the Cards very first position Leinart doesn’t march his team down the field through the vaunted Chicago defense and across the goal line like he’s a fifth-year veteran. This is significant not only from a storybook standpoint, but also because until then the stingy Chicago defense had not allowed any points — not even a field goal — in the first quarters of their previous eight games. So for that to happen and by the craptastic Cardinals no less… whoa!

See, I’d been hoping that it would play out as had been predicted. I was hoping Arizona would fold early and Chicago would score so that all would be right in the football world and I’d have time to pedal up to the Griffith Park ranger station auditorium for a meeting on the Griffith Park master plan. But see this is why they play the games. So instead somehow the poles got reversed and I was glued to the set watching the unthinkable. Chicago who could do nothing but look silly turning over the ball on offense against a suddenly tough and swarming Arizona defense. And by the time the first half mercifully ended the Arizona offense racked up a 20-0 lead.


And it didn’t get better in the third quarter. Sure, on their first possession of the second half the Bears finally put a drive together that didn’t result in a fumble or an interception or a punt, but in the end it petered out and only resulted in a field goal, which the Cardinals later matched putting the score at 23-3 and the Bears right back in a 20-point hole.

Continue reading Density’s Team

Stu- Stu- Studio!

From what I’ve been reading I am apparently one of the few who enjoyed the premiere of Adam Sorkin’s “Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip” — and I didn’t even get to watch it on television. See, I thought I’d set up the TiVo to catch it Monday night, but for whatever reason when I pushed play, although the info showed that it had recorded that very exact program, what was being delivered to me was not that very exact program. What I was being fed was Monday night’s ESPN broadcast.

Granted, I’m no TiVo master, but I’ve been around the record-a-program block enough to know what the hell I’m doing. But I won’t even begin to attempt to comprehend the malfunction that left me gape-mouthed watching the ESPN anchors recap the Monday Night Football beatdown of Pittsburgh by Carolina that I’d already seen.

But was I ass out of luck? Hell no, thanks to NBC which is exploring entirely new ways of delivering its content to me. Some of them are how’d-they-do-that fascinating, but go a little bit too far I think. Like when I turned on the hot water faucet this morning and instead of water “Studio 60” flowed out all over the counter and floor. Or the telemarketing call after that wanting to ship me out free screener copies of the first three seasons.

“But isn’t this just the first season?” I asked.

“Yes sir” came the chipper voice on the other end. “You’d be amazed what the capabilities are. If you want, I can even send you screeners of the first two seasons of all of next seasons new shows. Unfortunately they’re all still just working titles so I can’t tell you what they’re called, but one centers around a freelance writer in Silver Lake who used to work at the L.A. Zoo.”

“Uh, no thanks.”

Then there was the “Tonight Show” usher in throwback pageboy uniform out on the corner of my block who accosted me and the dogs during their walk. She wouldn’t take my no to her hardsell offer. First she said she could have me digitally added in a walk-on part in the recently completed first-season finale and then she promised a private ice cream social with Matthew Perry. For what? All I had to do is consent to having a transmitter surgically implanted into my head so that episodes could be beamed directly to me.

“Uh, no thanks.”

“Well then howsabout the dogs?” I looked at Shadow who seemed game (she’s got a thing for Timothy Busfield) but I dragged them away with me and ran. Straight to the internest, where on the NBC website I found the pilot episode waiting to be downloaded free in several compartmentalized installments. No scalpels, no phone calls, no messy clean up. Just the first episode unfolding in mock DVD-quality fullscreen on my Mac.

And I mostly ate that sucker up. Here’s why: because I rarely watched “The West Wing.” Why not? Two reasons. One, because of the few episodes I did watch the plot never failed to take a back seat to the intriguing issue of why everyone whispered so incessantly monotonally to each other and why the White House was always so freaking dark when they did so. Did the first lady forget to pay the light bill? Again? And two, because in all that dimly lighted and incessant monotonous monotonality the characters often got stuck spewing forth these righteous diatribal historical idealistic monologues that just never ever happen in the real world.

It never failed that in the middle of whatever crisis was being managed that week, one person would start a conversation to another with “Let me tell you about the Monroe Doctrine, whch was President James Monroe’s address to Congress in 1823…”” or “You know, in 1898 when Teddy Roosevelt led his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill in Cuba during the Spanish-American War…”

The point I’m trying to make is that a fat bunch of the show’s mono/dialogue was so transparently written. Preachy. Filled with factoids and minutae that were unnecessary and unrealistic. People don’t talk like that. Instead it was all about Commander In Chief Sorkin taking his audience by the hand and educating us obvious morons. Not so much because he thinks we’re stupid but that he’s just so freakin’ smart.

Needless to say it turned me off “West Wing,” which may be to “Studio 60’s” benefit… though the show and I got off to an immediatley rocky start.

See, I cringed at its opening round when Judd Hirsch delivered his character’s on-air meltdown. To be so textbook “West Wing” so quick outta the gate almost had me diving across my keyboard for the escape key. But I let that go easy enough.

Not so the next time around. The hackles really rose in the wake of Hirsch’s tirade when, despite my own ability to say “Dang that’s a blatant and relatively lame ripoff of Peter Finch’s Howard “I’m mad as hell!” Beal in “Network,” Sorkin felt the imperative to cram in plenty of references to Paddy Chayefsky and that film, which is kind of like a bad comedian telling a stupid joke that falls flat and then explaining the punchline in case we didn’t get it.

We get it, Adam.

Bottom line, right off the starting blocks, “Studio 60” was shaping up to be a “West Wing West,” which is a lose/lose in my book: Either Sorkin thinks his audience is a collective idiot or he’s just a massively lame tool.

Either way I watched the next segment with my middle finger poised over the escape key when something marvelous happened. Sorkin brought me Matthew Perry and Bradley Whitford. I can’t really explain it, but they just totally rocked. I was immediately intrigued by them. I totally bought into their characters’ relationship and I just flat out savored their performances whenever they were onscreen. I didn’t care that Bradley and Matthew’s characters were not-so-fictional representations of Sorkin and his longtime production partner (and the show’s exec producer) Tommy Schlammme. All I knew was that Perry and Whitford are perfectly cast and are compelling enough to bring me back next week and another TiVo attempt.

Where we’ll then see if they can keep me hanging on or if Sorkin will send me packing.

There’s A Write Way And A Wrong Way

Right out of the gate let me just say that you can put Robert Duvall in a cowboy hat and situate him anywhere on a wide open plain under a big sky and I’ll watch him do just about the most mundane of anythings. Lonesome Dove is just about some of the most awesomest television ever made and I’m terribly ashamed to admit I’ve never seen his Oscar-winning turn in Tender Mercies (I know, I know… I’ll remedy that soon).

duvall.jpgSo when I read last weekend all these glowing reviews that he was starring as an ornery old cowpoke in the two-part Broken Trail on AMC beginning Sunday I skedaddled over to the TiVo and programmed her on in there youbethca — hell I would’ve done so even if the reviews had been bad. Duvall in a western illicits something of a Pavlovian response. I even allowed it precedence over Deadwood, which I have most definitely become enamored with this season.

Well, I watched the first 105 minutes with limited commercial interruption and I have to amend my above statement about my willingness to watch Duvall watch paint dry as long as he’s sitting in a saddle somewhere in the latter half of the 19th century. I’ll sit in love with Duvall in a cowboy hat doing just about anything other than starring in a crap western where whoever wrote and produced the thing obviously missed the crucial ass/elbow life lesson because they clearly cannot differentiate betwixt the two and certainly demonstrate a failure a tell a tale that isn’t as by-the-numbers remedial as it gets.

Cases in point:

In the opening after the rather graphic exhibition of how bulls are turned into steers and then burned with brands — not a bad start — we have Duvall (Print) riding up out of nowhere to confront his nephew played by Thomas Haden-Church (Tom) to tell him he’s sorry but his momma died and he’s even sorrier to report that she done deeded him everything but this letter that essentially tells her only boy he can go fuck himself. Again, all’s good so far.

But Print’s got a plan, see. He tells Tom that he’s gonna put the momma’s property up as collateral for a loan so he can buy a heckload of horseflesh to drive on up to Wyoming to sell to some representative of her majesty the queen of England who’s advertising for them, and he urges the boy to come with him for a 25-percent cut.

Of course Tom does, but this is where the first red flag comes up, albeit a minor one. It would’ve been nice if the nephew had done a liiiiittle bit more than just basically thought about his uncle’s proposition for 1.9 seconds before saying m’kay and upending his life. Would it have killed the storytellers to stretch out the nephew’s disgruntlement and doubt so that maybe a scene could’ve been worked in where he has to come to his stubborn old uncle’s aid — maybe a fight or something — and thereafter decides he can’t live with himself if he let’s this old dude just go off and get himself killed?

Guess so, because next thing we see is they’ve got the bazillion horses and just the two of themselves are gonna transport them all the hell up to Wyoming. Just the two of them. With a bazillion horses. Riiiiiggggght.

Next we’re shown the bad guy played by James Russo somewhere buying five Chinese slave girls that he’s gonna sell to a madam somewhere. So there’s your set up. You got Duvall and Haden-Church moving horses across the prairie and Russo doing the same with some future whores. Think they’ll meet? Of course they will, but not before Tom has to tangent into a town for supplies, which is just a weak-ass excuse for the writers to put Tom in a bar where he kicks the ass of a bartender who — shock! — objects to some guy playing a fiddle and panhandling in his establishment.

Let me get this straight. The best the writers could give me is a bartender who has the audacity to not want a freeloader bothering his customers? And wait… you want me to like Tom for opening a can of whoop-ass on this poor sap?


To make it even more implausible, Tom shows up back at camp with the supplies and the fiddle player with some lame excuse about how they need the help, which Print readily says m’kay to. Well hell, why didn’t they get a hand before setting out? And why hire a guy whose shown he knows his way around a violin and panhandling but not herding horses? Can’t you at least give me a scene where fiddler shows he knows his way around a lasso?
Nah, because it’s crap writing people — and there’s pa-lenty more.

Despite it being the wild wide open West, it isn’t long before Russo’s evil captain and his fivesome of winsome Chinese lasses end up on the same very trail going in the same very direction as Print,Tom and Itzhak Perlman. Coincidence? Lemme guess the guys who wrote Crash wrote this, didn’t they?

What follows is some serious grade school-level scribing. At the releuctant invite of Print the captain is invited to join them for dinner. In response he brings a bottle of whiskey — that he’s drugged, of course… but why we don’t know specifically. Then over the meal by the campfire and while Print and Tom and Fiddleboy drink up and the five young ladies cower in the background, the captain explains where the girls are headed what they’re to become and offers them pokes at a buck a piece. All decline. Next morning? Oh yeah, our trio wakes up groggy and way late from the drugging to find four of the five ladies still there and still terrified, but the captain and the bazillion horses and all their money are long gone. Poof!

What the hell?

So of course Tom has to set out solo for the pimpthief and when he finds the bastard pronto with the one girl and all the horses — this is my favorite part — does he shoot the bastard? Nah, he sneaks up on him with a rifle while he’s sleeping, wakes him up so that he can hang him. Hang him? One moment the captain’s waking up with he biz end of a Winchester repeater pressed against his cheek and the next Tom’s riding off with the gal and the horses while the captain swings from a tree.

So pop quiz hotshot: Assuming you’re writing a scene about basically a descent nonsadistic cowboy who’s got a schedule to keep and a cantankerous uncle back wherever waiting with the fiddler and the four other whining hookers-to-be, would you…

A) Have him just blow the thieving bastard’s head off and get on ’bout his business?
B) Have him take all that extra time to tie the captain up and then make a hangman’s noose and then find a tree strong enough to support the baddie’s weight and then struggle to get that guy who I think would be rather unwilling to get up onto his horse and be hung and finally enjoy watching the guy slowly choke to death if his neck didn’t break right off. But then don’t show any of that stuff.

And pardon me, but how exactly does one guy get a bazillion horses and a scared girl back to Uncle Print? Oh well, if the captain could get ’em away, it shouldn’t be too hard, right?


Back to the quiz. The answer’s C, which is better yet howsabout you rewind and give up that whole drug-the-booze bullshit and create a more plausible conflict in the first place and one that isn’t resolved right away. Maybe the captain kills the fiddler and has to bail on the gals and then later on takes Tom hostage to get the girls back and then Print kills him. Something. Anything!

But by then, hope is gone and I’m at the point where I’m talking to the TV as the plot continues downhill from there and all the iconic images of Duvall in his hat don’t mean shit. One of the horses breaks its leg and Tom’s gotta put it down much to the shock of the girls. Print takes a liking to all the five gals, teaching them to ride and such. One dies from tick fever. We’re introduced to the madam whose bordello is in a lawless town and who’s upset that the captain hasn’t arrived with her new merchandise. Greta Scacchi shows up in a supporting role somewhere. Then back on the plain there’s a flat-out odd confrontation where Print up and shoots two travelers dead in the belief that one is a fellow named Smallpox Bob who tours around purposely infecting the natives. Then they burn the bodies and the horses.

By far the most inane cheaply written twist comes at the end. All of sudden kind-hearted grandfatherly Print just doesn’t want to have a cotton-pickin’ thing to do with them orientals no more and basically ordains that Tom and the fiddler (who by the way has not once played the instrument since the bar scene way back) take them to town and it just so happens the very town they begrudingly go to just coincidentally happens to be where the perturbed madam is. Of course she finds out and the first part ends with Tom blowing the thumbs off a would-be rapist (guess there wasn’t time to hang the creep up by them) and they make their escape (with Greta for some unknown reason) past the cursing rock-throwing madam who vows vengeance as strongly as Tom and fiddleboy vow not to desert those girls.

Good grief. It’s enough to put me off my feed. And needless to say I will not be returning for the conclusion.

Animal Planet Broadcasts Subliminally To Cats

Behold! Pepper doesn’t do this when HGTV is on the tube. But a show on Animal Planet about badgers and he’s undeniably all over it, sitting intently and unwavering in his attention before the box for several minutes, as shown on the left. And then during the commercial break he had to get up close and find out (at right) more about Best Western hotels — and he’s totally a Holiday Inn kinda cat.

pep1.jpg pep2.jpg

I’m telling you, the folks at Animal Planet are sending out some sort of subliminal tractor channel beam — catnip scented maybe — that draws felines to it like nobody’s business! Brilliant!

Turkey Shoot

Just crossed my mind so I figured I’d chuck its triviality up here. I love the TV series 24, but I can only hope last night’s episode proves to be the weakest link and the series doesn’t stretch its ridiculousness any further than it already has.

That terrorists were granted access to the president of the United States and allowed to make demands directly of him was bad enough, but that the prez — however reluctantly — actually gave in to those demands and provided them with the motorcade route of the visiting Russian leader — with whom he’s just signed an historic peace agreement! — so that they can assassinate him isn’t just preposterous… after all the whole series is preposterous and I can live with that. Far worse: it’s just crap writing, which is something that will lose me as a viewer if they keep it up.

And speaking of losing me, I made the mistake of dropping the needle onto the disc of Wedding Crashers and subjecting Susan and I to its inanity over the weekend — which we disgustedly quit about an hour in.

Has there been a more successful retarded movie in motion picture history? The terrible thing’s grossed hundreds of millions of dollars, and why exactly? I suppose it could be for the alleged comic chemistry between Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson of which it becomes readily apparent way early on that there is none. It certainly wasn’t for the wicked awesome script or the ensemble of interesting characters, or the totally fucking implausible scenario of two flimsy sleaze-bozos hanging out at the ultra-dysfunctional home of the secretary of the U.S. fucking Treasury with Owen’s idiot falling so incongruously in love with one daughter and Vince’s jackass getting stuck in oh-so-hilarious situations such as being masturbated at the dinner table or accused of sleeping with a foul-mouthed octogenarian — or best yet having an awkward encounter with the xecretary’s angry and misunderstood homosexual son while helplessly tied to a bed.

We finally hit eject in the next scene when Vaughn’s character, who can’t leave fast enough is begged by Wilson’s to stay because if he doesn’t his attempts to woo his true love will go all to shit. Could someone explain to me exactly how Vaughn’s absence would send things into a tailspin? Oh wait, I got it: because whoever the team was that”wrote” and produced this worthless excuse of a sex farce has all the creativity and imagination of a pantry moth.

Forgive Them Father For They Know Not What They Do

On the way back from lunch yesterday I’m listening to a short report on NPR about several red-state NBC affiliates refusing to air a new midseason replacement show called “The Book of Daniel” (which I’m just now recalling aired last night and thus I missed it, dammit), primarily because of its irreverent depiction of Jesus and the fact that the show’s lead, an Episcopalian minister named Daniel (played by Aidan Quinn) has an alcoholic wife, a gay son and a drug-dealing daughter.

What, no sibling serial killer on death row?

As my first marriage was officiated by Father Tom Vaughn, a friend of the family who was not only an off-the-path Episcopalian priest but also an accomplished jazz pianist who I’m sure was decently soused during the ceremony, “Daniel” sounds like a show right up my alley. But when you factor in the intrigue that’s created by calls for banishment from riled up religious groups I’m even more bound to tune it in.

I just don’t get why these watchdogs of the lord who so arrogantly insist they know what’s fit for public consumption don’t recognize that while they may succeed in getting a few stations to take the show off the air, the overall publicity from such demands generates more interest than if they’d kept their collective mouth closed and just not watched.

Instead of putting up they should just shut up. As it stands now, I pray they replay episode one and you can damn well bet I’ll be Tivo’ing next Friday’s show.