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Archive for October, 2006

Middlebrow Trainwreck on the Sunset Strip?

[ 0 ] October 24, 2006 |

As the ratings for Studio 60 get steadily worse, I’ll be interested whether the reaction from critics is that this show is too smart for the public, or whether we’ll get the Phantom Menace effect, where once a few critics start noticing that an manifestation of critical overpraise is mediocre or sucks ass there’s sort of a tipping point where more people start saying it. There seem to be some signs of the latter. Heather Havrilesky is pretty much off the reservation, and Slate is surprisingly hard-hitting:

It’s not just that the sketches aren’t funny, although they’re not. Take the third episode’s centerpiece: a game-show parody called “Science Schmience,” in which fundamentalists of all stripes—an Orthodox Jew, a Taliban member, an evangelical Christian, Tom Cruise, and a witch—attempt to refute science with faith. In premise, it’s promising, if cluttered (that’s a lot of yahoos on one stage). In practice, though, it’s painful. To the evangelical, who’s just claimed that life began 6,000 years ago, the game show’s host pronounces: “You understand that archaeologists are in possession of a 3 million-year-old skull found by Johannesburg, which would put your answer off by 2,994,000 years.” Yeah, it sounds about as funny as it reads.

[...]

So, what does Aaron Sorkin think is the sketch comedy of your dreams? What’s his idea of “cutting-edge political and social satire” that challenges the audience? “Pimp My Trike,” starring a blinged-out D.L. Hughley, and sketches poking fun at such timely and relevant superstars as Nicolas Cage and Juliette Lewis.

And Sorkin makes it even harder for himself when he forces his wan sketches to provide the dramatic payoff to episodes of Studio 60. The second episode, “The Cold Open,” follows Matthew Perry’s character, Matt Albie, as he struggles to come up with a dynamite opening for his first show back on Studio 60. His solution? A light-orchestra version of “The Major-General’s Song.” Leave aside the absurd notion that Sorkin thinks Gilbert and Sullivan are hip. Leave aside, as well, the fact (pointed out by Entertainment Weekly’s Scott Brown, among others) that Saturday Night Live featured a parody of “The Major-General’s Song” in 1995. Just imagine you tune in to Studio 60 the week after Wes Mendell’s now-legendary on-air tirade, eager to see how the show deals with this momentous event. And you get … a Gilbert and Sullivan song? With no mention of Wes Mendell’s freakout? Filled with glib lines like, “To bite the hand that feeds you is a scary way of doing lunch,” sung too quickly to be understood? To close the Studio 60 episode “The Cold Open” with this fussy and unfunny song—a close meant to be uplifting, climactic, ennobling even—hamstrings the episode and Sorkin’s entire series.

Hmm. Actually, the thing seems to have such a high pretension-to-achievement ratio that I might have to watch next week…

…thanks to eRobin in comments, I see that NBC.com is fairly generous with the clips, although they don’t seem to have Martin Prince Sting playing the lute. They do have the Gilbert & Sullivan parody up, and nothing I read prepared me for its almost painful lameness. (They’ve also generously included the lyrics. Heh, they said “reacharound.” Edgy!)

Presidents Say the Darnedest Things

[ 0 ] October 24, 2006 |

While researching something else entirely, I came across this, which must surely rank as one of the strangest statements ever to flow from the mouth of an American president. Speaking fifty-two years ago today — in an otherwise unrelated statement on the 75th anniversary of the invention of the incandescent light bulb — Dwight Eisenhower offered the following quilt of non sequiturs:

Soon we will be celebrating one of our holidays, one that typifies for me much of what we mean by the American freedom. That will be Halloween. On that evening I would particularly like to be, of course, with my grandchildren, for Halloween is one of those times when we Americans actually encourage the little individuals to be free to do things rather as they please. I hope you and your children have a gay evening and let’s all give a little prayer that their childish pranks will be the only kind of mischief with which we Americans must cope. But it can be a confident kind of a prayer too, for God has made us strong and faith has made and kept us free.

Each of those words makes sense independently; put together, I haven’t the faintest idea what Eisenhower was trying to say.

The Politics of Puerility

[ 0 ] October 24, 2006 |

Heh-indeedy:

Meanwhile, administration figures have correctly discerned that it would be easy to manage the situation in Iraq — to at least keep some kind of lid on the bloodshed — if Syria and Iran were cooperating with us. Unlike weak-kneed appeasers who want to try and achieve this through talks including the governments of the United States, Iraq, and Iraq’s various neighbors, the administration has hit upon the awesome “new” “policy” of talking shit about Syria and Iran in hopes that empty rhetoric and a hostile attitude will lead to the rise of a new spirit of benevolence in Damascus and Teheran. The president is like a five year-old sitting in the sandbox hoping that if he cries and screams long enough his mom will drop by and sort out his disagreements with the other kids in the park.

And in January 2009, some poor bastard is going to have a lot of pee to clean up.

Horse Race

[ 0 ] October 24, 2006 |

A summary of recent Senate polls:

* Two Republican incumbents in very serious trouble, Santorum and DeWine.
* One Republican incumbent trailing his challenger, Chafee.
* Three Republican incumbents virtually tied with their challengers, Allen, Burns and Talent.
* One Democratic incumbent tied with his challenger, Menendez.
* One Democratic incumbent with a real lead, Cantwell.
* One Republican open seat with a tie, Tennessee.

Fairly promising. PA, WA, and OH are over, and I also think we’ll hold Joisey and take RI and MT. But of the three conservative states that are up for grabs, my gut says we’ll only get one of the three–I think McCaskill will win, but I also see Allen holding on and Corker winning. (At a weekend meeting of political junkies, a lot of people thought I was underrating Ford’s chances, but I’d still put a sawbuck or two on Corker.) So I think we’ll get close but not quite over the top–51-49 GOP [actually, 50-49-1, assuming Lieberman wins, as noted in comments.]

…and what Taylor and Ezra said. It’s not like Meehan is running for president, or Kerry should be running for president. And as for CD’s friend…this is ridiculous. To be clear, a liberal Democratic Senator is not an option in Tennessee. It’s Ford, or it’s a wingnut Republican. To not want money to be given to a close campaign because a Democrat is more conservative than you’d like a Democrat in Illinois to be…I’m sure her friend is smart, but he or she ain’t smart about politics.

Book Review: The Road

[ 0 ] October 24, 2006 |

To give you a sense of where I’m coming from, here is my Cormac McCarthy preference list:

1. Blood Meridian
2. The Crossing
3. Sutree
4. The Road
5. All the Pretty Horses
6. Cities of the Plains
7. The Orchard Keeper
8. Child of God
9. Outer Dark
10. No Country for Old Men

And of those I would really only consider the last a failure. Sutree is the odd duck; I kind of like Sutree more than the Road, and I know I like The Road better than the first and third border novels, but I kind of like the border novels better than Sutree. That doesn’t make any sense, but nevertheless. I’m curious about other McCarthy preference orderings, so leave them in comments.

There’s no question that The Road is an exceptional work. The story is a relatively simple post-apocalyptic tale, centering on a father and son in search of an area with food and warmth. McCarthy doesn’t specify the cause of the apocalypse, but the result has been enormous fires and a haze that hangs between the sun and the surface of the earth. All plant life has died, which means that all animal life (with the exception of human beings) has also died. This leaves the survivors in rather a quandry, since the food supply is only declining, and the only fresh food available is… well, Spike the vampire once referred to human beings as “walking happy meals”. The problems, then, are to find food and avoid being eaten by cannibals or captured by slavers. The mother in this happy tale sensibly committed suicide some years before the action described in the novel. Although considerably more spare, the book is closest in tone to Blood Meridian.

I won’t tell you any more, because that’s really all you need. I have two questions, however. First, if the name on the cover wasn’t “Cormac McCarthy”, is there a chance in hell that The Road would have been given to mainstream reviewers? I know that it’s hard to an unknown to get reviewed, but that’s not what I’m talking about; the subject matter clearly seems to fall within the science fiction/horror genre, and I suspect that if Cormac hadn’t been the author, that’s where it would have stayed, never to have been noted by anyone with “serious” literary taste. An interesting parallel is Infinite Jest, which also used a science fiction setting but was understood to be a mainstream novel, although the structure of Infinite Jest is so complex and demanding that it might have attracted notice anyway. Nevertheless, somewhere Harlan Ellison is spinning in his grave (or at least he would be, if he weren’t still alive).

Second, why are we fascinated by post-apocalyptic stories? This isn’t a recent phenomenon; the post-apocalyptic novel/movie melds pretty seamlessly with the anti-utopia genre. The Cold War gave meat to some post-apocalyptic narratives, but the preceded and have survived it. I wonder if the basis for interest in the post-apocalyptic is a kind of almost subconcious realization that the world we live in today is dramatically at odds with the way that humanity has lived for most of its history and pre-history, and thus that there’s something fragile about the arrangements that we’ve made. It’s almost, but not quite, a kind of rump Burkeanism, a shout out against the complexity of the modern world without any confidence in the basic resilience of the social order. I imagine that John Derbyshire could write a great post-apocalyptic novel…

Wait–The Republican Party Has Anti-Gay Factions In It?

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Pat Robertson on Mark Foley: “Well, this man’s gay; he does what gay people do.” Sully:

I wonder if that would make Glenn Reynolds vote Democrat.

Heh. Indeed!

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the conservative blogosphere…Shorter Dan Riehl: “When I called John Cole a ‘cock Sucker’, and obsessed about Glenn Greenwald’s sexuality prior to going into hysterics over Democratic “outing” of Republicans, I meant it in the most anti-homophobic sense possible. Some of my best dead relatives are ‘Gay’.”

more from Riehl. In fairness, one of his former best friends died alone, maybe of Parkinson’s, in a Motel Six in Vallejo, so I’m not sure how anyone could find that offensive.

Thee, not Me

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Shorter Hitch: Tony Judt is, like, so obsessed with himself.

MNF

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Hey, when did the NFL game scheduled on Monday night become MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL!!!!!!? I know that it’s always been the biggest media game of the week, but ESPN is selling it as some kind of lifestyle choice.

Does the fact that I loathe Hank Williams Jr. (but not his daddy or his son), that I can’t stand the damn Cowboys, and that I’d rather watch a regular season baseball game than this pageant make me un-American?

Strange

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Over at CT, Kieran Healy discusses this site, which — in addition to letting us know that there are 35 people named “Scott Lemieux,” 709 named “Robert Farley,” 1,954 named “David Watkins” and 39 people unfortunate enough to go by “David Noon” — alsosuggests that the current Secretary of Defense does not in fact exist:

HowManyOfMe.com
Logo There are:
0
people named Donald Rumsfeld
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?

This may or may not be good news.

Les Schtroumpfs

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

The Smurfs turn 48 today. I always hated the little blue bastards. Nonetheless, I appreciate their tough stance on the costs and consequences of aerial warfare.

Their positions on Communism and Satanism are also, I think, fairly defensible.

Marty Peretz Weekly’s Loss…

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

…is TAP’s gain, as it seems that TAPPED–making up for some rather more dubious recent hiring decisions–has snapped up Spencer Ackerman. A superb choice.

What’s that funny smell coming out of the NSA?

[ 0 ] October 23, 2006 |

Don’t they know how many people watch ‘Lost’ while stoned?

The CIA aren’t the only spooks with wacky recruiting stunts. The signals intelligence snoops over at the National Security Agency are trying out tricks of their own, to reel in potential employees. The latest, according to Defense Tech pal Siobhan Gorman: a first-ever series of TV ads, airing on episodes of “Lost” and “CSI.”

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