Thursday, April 28, 2011

Possibly Contentious Buffy/Angel Question of the Day

Would Spike have been a better character if they'd moved him to "Angel" right away with Season One, rather than waiting for Season Five?

My logic for asking is this: Spike's character began as a foil for Angel, an unrepentant (and in fact, downright gleeful) vampire who contrasts with Angel's "I am so tormented over my former evil and I has a soul now and it hurts hurts hurts!" demeanor. The twist at the end of Season Two works because Spike is so unrepentantly sadistic and evil--once Angel loses his soul, he becomes so utterly mad and destructive that even Spike has to change sides. If Spike thinks you've gone too far, you've gone too far.

But instead of making him a recurring foil and comic-relief figure in "Angel", they kept him in "Buffy" for the next four seasons, where he slowly transformed from a contrast to Angel into an Angel wannabe. He stopped being threatening to the Scoobies, then he became their ally, then he fell in love with Buffy, then he got back his soul. By the end of Season Seven, he was basically a blond version of Angel in Season Three.

Then he went over to "Angel", where they quickly realized that having a blond Angel and a dark and spiky-haired Angel was one Angel too many, so they had to go to great lengths to suddenly and wrenchingly turn Spike back into Spike. Which seems like a lot of work to go through, hence the question: Would they have been better off putting him in "Angel" right from the get-go, thus keeping the character more consistent and avoiding the pitfalls of giving him a soul, a chip, et cetera?

I'm leaning vaguely towards yes-ish, but I'm mostly interested in what others have to say.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Amazing Race Round-Up, 18-9

Last time, we had six teams left on the Amazing Race. This time, we have...still six, because of a timely non-elimination leg that saved Gary and Mallory. Everyone seems pretty aware that they're not going to get that lucky again--I (and presumably all the Racers at this point) expect that it's going to be the last NEL of this Race, which is good because we've had three episodes where nobody got eliminated and I want blood. Blood! BLOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Metaphorically speaking, of course.

With that in mind, the six remaining teams left Austria and headed to Lichtenstein, home of the undead, wait. There are no actual liches in Lichtenstein, are there? Dang. Just when you think they've found the coolest location for the Race...oh well. They head to the tiny little postage-stamp country of Lichtenstein for the next leg. How small? Well, let's find out! All six teams must measure the western border of Lichtenstein as their Road Block, riding motorized bicycles and measuring the distance on their odometers. Correctly navigate the 22 km course, you get the next clue. Screw up, and you go 22 km back to start and then 22 km back to the end and guess again.

As you can imagine, getting this one wrong is Very Bad. And it's around here where we say to ourselves, "What's the one problem that otherwise super-competent team Jet and Cord have had this season? Oh, right. Navigation." Sure enough, as we watch everyone navigate the course, we see Jet getting lost somewhere in the tiny country of Lichtenstein. And although he can't get too lost in a country that's actually smaller than some Oklahoma ranches, this is one case where precision pays.

"Ah," you say, "but what about the other teams? Surely someone is going to help him out by screwing up just as bad?" This is where the bit that left a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth comes in...Zev and Justin, who get it right, pass on the information to the Globetrotters (specifically Flight Time, if I recall correctly) who then lets Gary know. So of the six teams, only three got it right the first time (Vyxsin and Kisha both did it without help, although Kisha had her guess confirmed before submitting it), but only one had to do the course over. This seems a trifle unfair to me. There's no rule against it, there's nothing that says that other teams can't do a little kingmaking by getting rid of a team that's been almost supernaturally good at breezing through Detours and Road Blocks, but it still leaves me with some uncomfortable "what ifs" in a show that doesn't normally have them.

But the Cowboys made a good effort at catching up. They might have hit the Detour well after everybody else (probably an hour or so behind, given that it was a roughly 10-mile course and the Velosolex they used, while capable of high speeds, was probably being ridden at about 20 mph for safety's sake)...but man, did they catch up fast. The Detour was a choice between delivering luggage and eating an entire pot of cheese fondue, and they knuckled down and ran luggage around town like nobody's business.

Unfortunately, everyone had an hour's head start. Zev and Justin took the cheese (they were the only one, hence the old saying, "the cheese stands alone") and muscled through it in about an hour, with only one bout of vomiting. (Also legal, also leaving a bad taste in one's mouth, but for entirely different reasons.) Kent and Vyxsin did luggage and we saw again that Vyxsin is way more determined, way better suited to the physical challenges, and way less patient with her partner than her last time on the Race. At one point, she tells Kent to get on the empty luggage cart and literally drags him back to the checkpoint. That's right, after years of jokes about one partner carrying another, it's finally happened for real.

Oh, and at the end of the Detour right before the Pit Stop, there's a Double U-Turn. This is a brutal place to put a U-Turn; since it's right before the Pit Stop (not that the Racers knew, but...) anyone who gets U-Turned is pretty much left in the dust. There's nowhere left on the leg to make up the time. That's why they made it a Double-U-Turn; a single one would be like a sign saying, "Who do you want eliminated?"

Unfortunately for the Cowboys, the first four teams didn't use that U-Turn. Vyxsin and Kent couldn't, because you can only U-Turn once per race and they'd already used theirs to FUBAR the Cheerleaders, and the other three teams who got there early (Gary/Mallory, Jen/Kisha, Zev/Justin) decided that as long as they were doing okay, they weren't going to piss anyone else off by U-Turning them. Which meant that when the Globetrotters got to the checkpoint, mere minutes ahead of the Cowboys (well, at least that's how it was edited to look--they might have been further behind, but the Globetrotters did screw up the luggage task and had to deliver an extra two bags...) they knew exactly what to do. Put the game out of reach by slapping the Cowboys' picture up there.

So sure enough, the Cowboys arrived to see that they were DOA. They went back, had a nice, leisurely meal of cheese fondue, and checked in for their inevitable Philimination. Which is tough for them, since they mainly got eliminated because nobody wanted to help them the one time they needed it, but then again, maybe those people just had gay friends. (Yes, I went there.) And honestly, at this stage of the Race there are no "good" eliminations. Everyone goes out hurting.

Five teams left, next week is Switzerland, and apparently Kent gets into an argument with a guy big enough to use him as a toothpick. Good luck, Kent!

Monday, April 25, 2011

A Brief Clarification

When River says, "I've never seen you looking so young," (in Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead), she's not referring to the physical age of his current incarnation. She's referring to the youthful, carefree demeanor he has about him--a demeanor she'll never see in him again, because this is the only time he ever meets her that he doesn't know, to the exact second, when she's going to die.

Please stop pointing out that Matt Smith is younger than David Tennant, because that is missing the point.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Staking Out a Bold Position

It's Star Wars. It's just Star Wars, people. Yes, it was re-released as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but 28 Days Later was re-released as 29 Days Later when they put it back in theaters with the alternate endings and nobody calls it that. The standard naming convention for motion pictures is to call them by the title they were originally released under, then mention any alternate titles below that for means of convenience (such as Braindead, also released under the title Dead Alive.) Obsessively correcting everyone with, "Actually, it's A New Hope" isn't just pedantic and obnoxious, it's incorrect.

Star Wars. Ask for it by name.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Amazing Race Round-Up, 18-8

We're down to...six teams, now? Wow. It's starting to get pretty easy to keep track of people, now that we've winnowed away almost half the field. In any event, those six teams started off in India, but now need to go to Vienna, Austria, where a Ford Focus commercial is waiting for them. Jet and Cord once again decide to spot all the other teams a head-start, this time by a half-hour, as they pick a different flight in the hopes that one or more people will miss a connection and give them an advantage. Instead, they hit Austria a half-hour behind everyone. Guys? Not that I actually want you to win, given your attitude towards gay people, but you are reaching that point in the Race where those are elimination mistakes instead of charmingly doofy mistakes.

The teams all get to Vienna, where they each get a brand new Ford Focus to drive, and are instructed to use its easy touch-screen system to get the next clue. This backfires slightly on Ford, as we then get a scene of Gary mildly swearing as he tries to figure out how to make the easy touch-screen system work. But eventually he figures it out, and all the teams head to an Austrian castle!

...where they get a book, which they're instructed to deliver to a library via Ford Focus. Is it just me, or is the product placement a little bit more intrusive this season? Other than the "lifetime supply of 7-Up" from Season 16, I can't think of another time they've been this much in your face with the sponsor's stuff. (Oh, and the prize for this week is a Ford Focus for each Racer...which isn't a lifetime supply, unless the Ford Focus is an amazingly reliable car. Or an unbelievable deathtrap.)

In any event, at the library, we finally ditch the Ford Focus to do the Detour. One option is to deliver a couch from the Freud Museum to the University of Vienna (presumably without a single Freudian slip.) The other option is to eat a lot of schnitzel and baked potatoes and chocolate cake. Not one, not two, but three teams forget the cardinal rule of the Amazing Race: The better the food in the eating challenge, the nastier the catch in the challenge has to be. In this case, it's a timed eating challenge. All three teams fail, giving everyone else (in specific, the Cowboys) a chance to catch up.

Everyone delivers their couches--and surprisingly, the Goths do so amidst much bitching at each other. Their relationship this time out is very different, and a lot less supportive. (Rumor has it that they aren't actually dating anymore, just pretending to for purposes of the show. I obviously don't know, but they're not acting very much like a couple. Except in the sense that Nick and Vicki acted like a couple.) Then it's back to the Ford Focus, to go to the Road Block! (I was half-expecting the couches to be delivered via the spacious cargo room of the Ford Focus!)

Unfortunately for Gary and Mallory, who got passed by the Cowboys, the Road Block turns out to be one of those simple, mechanistic, takes-everybody-about-the-same-amount-of-time tasks. Fortunately, this turns out to be the season's first official non-elimination leg. (At least, fortunately as far as I'm concerned. I know there are people who can't stand Mallory's squealing excitement, but I think she's sweet.) And next week, we're off to Switzerland to see if they can catch up!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

We Need a New Word

The other day, I got to thinking about South Africa. I don't even remember what prompted it, but it popped into mind (oh, wait! I do know what prompted it! The radio was playing Lionel Ritchie's song "All Night Long", and thanks to a childhood thoroughly corrupted by MAD Magazine, their South Africa-themed parody "All-White Song" popped into mind. Never let it be said that I am too deep and somber a thinker for a casual pop-culture blog.)

In any event, I thought about Apartheid, and was reminded of Reagan's stance against the boycott of South Africa. And it occurred to me that it was, in its own perverse way, a very courageous stance to take. I mean, by the 1980s, pretty much everybody had come around to the idea that state-supported racism was a Bad Thing...some more reluctantly than others, of course...but the idea to publicly stand up and say, "I support a governmental policy of institutional bigotry against all comers!" was one that took a lot of guts.

And Paul Ryan, the representative from Wisconsin, is showing a similar degree of courage. It takes real guts to stand up and say, "I don't care who's against it--I'm going to loot the public treasury and leave America's elderly to die like dogs, and I'm funneling the proceeds to my millionaire cronies!" Most people would balk at that kind of stance, hedge on it to some degree at least, but not Ryan. He's boldly going forward with a plan despite the vast, principled opposition of over 80% of the voting public.

I propose that we coin the phrase "immoral courage" for this sort of behavior, a counterpart to the more commonly recognized "moral courage". It is rare, in this day and age, to find someone who is willing to be unabashedly, unrepentantly evil despite the very real risk of political and personal consequences for their actions, and such courage needs to be recognized.

Not applauded, of course. Just recognized.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Amazing Race Round-Up, 18-7

And after a two-week delay, we get going again! (I mean "we" as in the viewers, natch. I don't think they actually made the Racers sit down and wait for the Country Music Awards to finish. Actually, this episode was live-tweeted by Phil himself, as @PhilKeoghan, and he said it takes about 23 days for the Racers to go around the world. Um, suck it, Jules Verne?)

This time, we started with a little airport drama--Jet and Cord didn't ask the right questions at the ticket counter, and wound up on a flight an hour later than all the other teams. Ordinarily, this would be a cause for concern, except that a) I'm not really rooting for the Cowboys, because they were apparently the recipient of favorable editing their first time around that covered for their homophobic tendencies, and b) even if I were, I wouldn't be that concerned because they do have a tendency to make up whatever time they lose in navigational ineptitude by being that much better at the tasks than everyone else.

And sure enough, they made up their mistake in the Road Block (a fairly standard needle-in-a-haystack challenge where the teams had to find specific people in a crowd.) Ron, meanwhile, tanked it very seriously, coming out of the Road Block in dead last. But surely nobody else could make that many screw-ups, right?

Well, it was actually kind of close. Because while Kent and Vyxsin are by no means inept, they are not communicating and co-operating nearly as well as they did on their first run. Vyxsin has less patience with Kent (it does seem to be common knowledge that they're not dating anymore, despite what the show says) and Kent seems to have less enthusiasm for the Race. The two of them are making more mistakes, and handling their mistakes less well--that said, Vyxsin's decision to jump into the Ganges rather than continue going down the river the wrong direction was pretty gutsy.

(Oh, and there was a Detour involving buffalo manure. This was about the only interesting thing about it.)

In the end, though, Ron and Christina couldn't psychically convince the other teams to make enough mistakes to catch up after the disastrous Road Block, and they were duly eliminated. This does not break my heart. While Ron wasn't as bad as I heard he was the first time he was on the Race, he certainly wasn't that good. Unfortunately, the only thing we'll continue to see of them is their faces on the credits, which is my least favorite thing about them--Christina's smile is so fixed and wide, it looks like she's been replaced by an Auton duplicate of herself or something.

Next week, Kent and Vyxsin yell at each other some more, and Gary and Mallory eat a lot. Oh, and they're in Austria. I've always liked the European legs of the Race, so this should be fun.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hipster Zombie Only Listens To Singers That Are Dead

Leaping onto the "Hipster Ariel" trend (I'm no expert at image modifying, but you get the idea):

And for those who want to do it themselves:

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Half-Hearted Song Parodies Still Count, Right?

I'll probably come back to this at some point to do the other verses, but I'm concerned that if I don't post the beginning now while I can still remember it, I'll forget that part too. So...

Way out in outer space, so far away from here,
On a far-off distant planet past the Sense-O-Sphere,
In a tiny little igloo made of ice and wood,
There lived an alien name of Johnny B Ood,
And he never ever learned to read and write so well,
But his telepathy song was just as clear as a bell.

Go go! Go, Johnny go! Go! Go...Johnny B Ood!

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Things I Miss: UHF

Not the movie. I own that. No, I miss UHF TV stations. They're still around, of course, but they're not the same as they were when I was a kid. Back before UPN and the WB and the CW (which is, like, the WB and UPN combined like Voltron, right?) there were only three networks (four, counting PBS)...but something like nine channels in any given area as you flipped through the VHF and UHF dials. Which meant that you had, at any given time, four or five channels that weren't network affiliates to anyone.

Pretty much all those networks showed the same thing: Re-runs of old television shows and cheap movies well past their theatrical prime. This was back before first-run syndicated shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation", when the shows you were more likely to see on a UHF station were things like "Perry Mason", "F Troop", and...well, okay, "Voltron". Because old Japanese cartoons were cheap, too. The days were filled with a surprisingly random selection of TV shows, the evenings were reserved for movies that, in a pre-video era, you probably hadn't seen and wouldn't mind watching. It was sort of like being in a room with someone else's streaming Netflix subscription.

Which was fun in and of itself (in a way that has obviously been far surpassed by today's five hundred channels of cable, DVDs of virtually every single TV series and most movies, and streaming online videos)...but the best part was the way that these old UHF stations distinguished themselves from their competitors. They didn't have original programming, they didn't have original movies, all they had was a library of old stuff that was virtually indistinguishable from everyone else's...and a group of underpaid, bored people with video cameras.

This was a recipe for awesome.

The advertisements were usually great; one of our local stations, Channel 41 (which only came in grainy, staticky, and vertical-hold challenged) called themselves "TV Heaven" and suggested that they were where good television shows went when they died. Another had ads for "Star Trek" re-runs where they advertised the Amazing "Bones" McCoy! "He's an escalator!" "I'm a doctor, not an escalator!" "He's a diplomat!" "I'm a doctor, not a diplomat!" "And he can even shuttle traffic to the moon!" "What am I, a doctor or a moon shuttle conductor!" What they lacked in steak, they made up in sizzle. And it was fun.

And when it came to movies...some people claim that comics are the truly American art form, but I think that horror hosts are almost more American than comic books. Whether Vampira, Svengoolie, Ghoulardi or Elvira, they treated classic horror movies with the mix of love and amusement they deserved. And I, of course, feel privileged as hell to have been a viewer of the ultimate evolution of the horror host phenomenon, the one-season wonder that made it good on a national scale, "Mystery Science Theater 3000". (Lucky me, right?)

It's cheesy, it's silly, and arguably everything about these networks is better now...but part of me feels like TV stations used to have more personality when that's all they had to work with. I liked these old UHF stations that ran things on the cheap, and part of me still misses them.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Rural Kentucky Begins "That Boy Ain't Right" Awareness Month

Disassociated Press, KY

Once again, rural Kentucky has announced that April is "That Boy Ain't Right" Awareness Month. "Although the number of incidences of 'That Boy Ain't Right' Syndrome have once again decreased, we still have a number of children in rural Kentucky that, for whatever reason, ain't right in the head," said Big Jim Crenshaw, chief of the Not Right In the Head Research Institute. "We hope to raise awareness of this serious condition, and explain the treatment options to parents of boys that aren't right in the head."

While it was once common nationwide to see boys and girls who simply weren't right in the head, the number of cases has gone down at approximately the same rate as the rise in cases of autism, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, Asperger's syndrome, separation anxiety disorder, Tourette Syndrome, and similar other behavioral disorders. Only a few pockets of "That Boy Ain't Right" Syndrome remain in the United States; tragically, most of these areas suffer from a lack of qualified mental health professionals, making it even harder to diagnose and treat children who aren't right in the head.

Symptoms of "That Boy Ain't Right" Syndrome vary widely, but can include screaming fits, dull stupors, biting, never having been that bright, exposing themselves in public, or simply daydreaming about a life outside of the misery and deprivation of rural Kentucky, one where all the houses have electricity and running water and nobody beats them up at school for liking poetry.

Says Big Jim, "We try to remind parents that contrary to established medical consensus, recent findings have shown that most cases of 'That Boy Ain't Right' Syndrome can't be cured by whupping the crazy out of 'em. We've been studying the effectiveness of exorcism, but in the meanwhile, we recommend that you just try to be patient and don't get too close to Billy Wilkins, 'cause he's a biter. Oh, and don't give sugar to little Susie. Not unless you want to stay up until 4 AM with her."