Apr 2, 2008

Self-Deprecating TV Cameos

What's more fun than celebrities playing themselves on TV? Celebrities playing unflattering versions of themselves on TV! And it's one thing to make fun of yourself via voice acting, but it's another to appear as yourself in person, so no Simpsons guest stars or Futurama heads in jars. And since a few shows specialized in unflattering cameos, I only allowed for one per show.

#4. Carl Weathers, Arrested Development: Apollo Creed, Action Jackson, the muscular guy from Predator who didn't go into politics. In the 80s, Carl Weathers was everywhere. In the 2000s, he was making fun of himself on Arrested Development:

#3. Christopher Hewett, Ned & Stacey: Largely remembered as the show that stole the mechanic from Wings, or as that show Debra Messing was on before Will & Grace, Ned & Stacey was actually a pretty decent show. Ned is an advertising exec who finds out he's going to be denied a promotion because he's not a family man. Stacy is looking for a cool apartment. The obvious solution, of course, is a fake marriage. If this sounds like cliched sitcommery (or worse, a little like 1987's I Married Dora), you're probably right. But the show was occasionally very clever, and even featured the talents of future oscar winner Charlie Kaufman in its writing staff.

And for those of you wondering who Christopher Hewett is, the title of the episode in question, "Saved by the Belvedere," should be a giveaway. Ned's putting together a commercial for a product called "Cappuccino in a Can," and decides that he needs TV's Mr. Belvedere to pitch it. Ned tracks him down, and finds that he's poor, living in a ratty apartment, and possibly in possession of massive amounts of stolen property. And when they begin filming the commercial, it becomes apparent that Hewitt has lost his mind. He refuses to read his lines for the commercial because the set doesn't exactly match his TV kitchen. Strangely, though everyone (except for possibly Hewitt himself) seems to be aware that he's an actor who played Mr. Belvedere on TV, no one ever uses his real name. They all address him as "Mr. Belvedere."

Ned & Stacey is long gone, cancelled after two seasons, so it's been forever since I've seen the actual episode, but I think in the end they fire Mr. Belvedere and replace him in the commercial with Tony Danza.

#2. Clive Owen, Extras: From the series finale of Extras, I'll let the clip speak for itself (warning: strong language):

It was tough choosing between this and Patrick Stewart's appearance, which was also very, very funny.

#1. David Duchovny, The Larry Sanders Show: David Duchovny actually appeared on three episodes of this, the greatest TV series ever to have a complete DVD release. Over the course of his appearances, he and talk show host Larry Sanders
(Garry Shandling) become friends, and Duchovny develops what can only be described as an uncomfortably deep affection for Larry.

Skip ahead to about 1:20 in the middle clip, the other two are all Duchovny.

I'm also fond of: Geoffrey Owens (Elvin from The Cosby Show) on It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Keith Hernandez on Seinfeld.


Jan 16, 2008

New-ish Comics to check out

I've been lazy about posting, mostly due to my natural laziness. But also because I've been on a comics binge. Some old, some new, and a lot of them good.

#4 The Circle by Brian Reed (Ms. Marvel, New Avengers: Illuminati) and Ian Hosfeld, Image: Lots of action, lots of gunplay, solid art, and a nice little plot twist here and there. I don't have a ton to say about this book, because it's only just barely started, and like most spy stories there are more questions than answers at this point. But it's been a fun read so far, and hopefully enough people are buying it to keep it going.

#3 Northlanders by Brian Wood (DMZ) and Davide Gianfelice, Vertigo: I completely love DMZ, so as soon as I saw a new book by Brian Wood (and one from Vertigo, who always seems to pick interesting projects) I was in. The fact that it was about vikings was just icing on the cake. Cause vikings are cool, right? This isn't exactly what I was expecting, though. No horned helmets, no groups of big blonde dudes and their shieldmaidens pillaging and plundering. So far, it's a pretty standard story about a young man returning home after travels abroad, and not liking what he finds. But the characters are interesting, even if they're not exactly likable, Gianfelice's art is really quite something, and we're barely past the introductory part before things start really happening, so I think this is going to be a winner.

#2 Scalped by Jason Aaron and R. M. Guéra, Vertigo: This one's not exactly new. I think it started in 2006, and I've only recently gotten into it, thanks to the folks at Comics Should Be Good. But ignoring it is totally not my fault. Vertigo ran a preview of Scalped in the back of some issue of DMZ a while back, and... really, it was boring. And the whole first arc is not great. But be patient, because it gets very good in a hurry after that. The basic gist of Scalped is a noir-ish tale of corruption and murder and all that good stuff, but on an Indian reservation where a casino is about to open, and with a whole lot of violence. It's got a little bit of an early Quentin Tarantino flavor to it, with the fun with time, lots of obscenity, and brutal violence, but it's not derivative or anything, it's just good.

#1 Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman: Johnathan Hickman wrote and drew The Nightly News, which is a comic that looks nothing like any other comic. It's also a completely entertaining, media hating, corporate conspiracy theory rant along the lines of Network. It wasn't perfect, but it was exciting and different, and exciting and different is hard to find. I heard about Pax Romana, also by Hickman, and that was enough for me. Only one issue in and I'm hooked. It seems like a lot more of a story than The Nightly News, but it retains the weird comic/infographic hybrid thing. I thought it was tons of fun going in with no idea what it was about, but if you're interested, there's plenty of info at Jonathan Hickman's website.


Nov 10, 2007

Top 4: Batman Villains

Batman is my favorite superhero, and has my favorite collection of enemies, so how about a list of them?

#4 Ra's al Ghul: A 500 year old criminal mastermind with limitless resources for his mostly evil plans, Ra's is a complicated character. Like a lot of bad guys, he sees a flawed world and is willing to go to crazy lengths to change it. In Ra's case, he thinks humanity is so flawed that the world would be better off with most of us dead. At times, he can be allied with the Dark Knight, and has offered Batman a place at his side, and his daughter Talia's hand in marriage. But most of the time, he and "the Detective" are most certainly at odds.

Ra's was created in the 70's by Denny O'Neil and Neil Adams as part of their effort to ditch the campy Adam West image of Batman, and the character hasn't changed all that much since. Ra's al Ghul also made an appearance in Batman Begins, though the immortality aspect of his character was dropped.

#3 Catwoman: Like Ra's al Ghul, Catwoman has a complex relationship with Batman. Often, they're hot for each other. Often, her alter ego, Selina Kyle, and Bruce Wayne are hot for each other. But mostly, Catwoman's been out breaking the law and Batman's wanted to throw her in jail. Unlike Ra's al Ghul, Catwoman has changed a lot over the years. She's been a cat-themed thief with a thing for whips, a man-hating prostitute with a thing for whips, and eventually a sort of superhero (but still with the whips) defending her own little section of Gotham City.

The latter was a great reimagining (and redesign, above) of the character by Ed Brubaker and Darwyn Cooke in 2001 which really made me a fan of Miss Kyle. She has, of course, been a staple in big and small screen adaptations of Batman, with mixed results. And there was that whole Halle Berry thing, but it looked so awful I never bothered with it. Maybe it was secretly really good. But probably not.

#2 Two-Face: Harvey Dent, district attorney, ally of Batman in the war against crime in Gotham, has his life ruined when a mobster throws acid in his face. In some versions, Batman rushes to save Dent, but is only successful in keeping half Dent's face from the acid. Regardless, not only is his face horribly scarred, the emotional trauma leaves him with a sort of multiple personality disorder, reflected by the two sides of his face, man and monster, and completely obsessed with duality. He flips a two-headed coin, with one side scarred, to decide almost everything. Smooth side up, and he'll aid earthquake victims, or give a speech honoring Commissioner Gordon. Scarred side up, and he does something horrible.

Many people's opinions of Two-Face are influenced by the horrible Tommy Lee Jones character from Batman Forever, but that version has almost nothing to do with the real Two-face. The real Two-Face has a twisted view of the world (Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum book summed it up best with this line: "The moon is so beautiful. It's a big silver dollar, flipped by God. And it landed scarred side up, see? So He made the world."), an obsession with duality and fate, and a history with Batman. Hopefully, the Batman Begins sequel will do him justice.

#1 The Joker: The best Batman villain, and probably the best in all of comics. That giant smile, the green hair, the pale face, and his nonstop cackling make him truly creepy. His sense of humor make him, at times, lovable, or at least darkly hilarious. The Joker doesn't have much of a backstory (in The Killing Joke, the Joker tells his life story, but admits that it comes out different every time he tries to remember it), nobody seems to know his real name, and all he really wants to do is laugh, torment Batman, and kill some people.

As such an attractive character, he has a tenancy to be overused in the comics, and sometimes poorly written. But when he's on, he's on. My favorite moment is from The Last Laugh, when, while in prison for killing Commissioner Gordon's wife Sarah, he learns that he's terminally ill. He writes a list of things to do before he dies, which includes "Ring Gordon. Ask for Sarah... hang up. Repeat."

Honorable mention: The Riddler, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze.


Nov 6, 2007

Top 4: Writers' Strike Silver Linings

It didn't take long for the Writers Guild of America strike to impact the television landscape. With no one to write original material, most every talk show went to reruns. Saturday Night Live will probably have to as well. It sounds like most scripted network series have 5 scripts ready to go, so they should be ok for a while, but if this keeps up, there won't be much to watch beginning in December. So with that in mind, let's look at a few positives of the strike:

#4. Brian K. Vaughan has more time to write comics: Brian K. Vaughan was hired last year as a writer on Lost, and co-wrote the episode "Catch-22." But he made his name writing comics, as evidenced by the argument over whether Superman was faster than the Flash in that episode. Vaughan is the creator of Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways, and (perhaps most important to television fans) is scripting the current arc of the Buffy Season Eight comics. BKV recently blogged that he will "take however long the strike lasts (which could be anywhere between a day and forever) to concentrate on making Ex Machina kick as much ass as possible as we start to head into that series' final year, and to continue to develop my next big creator-owned projects," which is nice for a fan to hear.

#3. Comic Books: Speaking of comic books, I've got a pile of them to read. And now with an extra hour a day (which I would have spent watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report), I can start tackling them. Among the titles to catch up on: Criminal, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips' noir-ish crime book, Invincible, quite possibly the greatest superhero comic in the universe, and Dynamo 5, which I haven't actually read any of yet, but it sounds pretty cool.

#2. Netflix Queue: Should the strike keep up for long, I'll have more than an extra hour on my hands, and I can start going through those Netflix DVDs faster. I usually watch 2 a week, but I might go as far as upping my plan to the 3-at-a-time if we're stuck with only reality and game shows at some point. My queue is almost 300 movies long, and I seem to add things faster than I watch them.

#1. Writers Getting What They Deserve: Apparently, the last time the WGA contract was up, the union was told that the home video market for television would never amount to much, so the writers didn't push the issue. Now, TV on DVD is huge business. According to a recent televisionary post, TV series writers are currently getting four cents per episode for TV on DVD sales. So when you're dropping $40 on a season set, about 90 cents is going to the writers. That hardly seems fair. On top of that, I don't think the writers are seeing a penny for itunes, those amazon unbox things, or ad supported streaming video on network websites.

I love television as much as the next guy, and I have no life, so production shutting down on my favorite tv shows sucks for me. But the writers create the characters we love, dream up the worlds they inhabit, put them in the situations that drive the action, and don't seem to be getting their fair share. Hopefully this can all be resolved quickly, writers will get their due, and maybe the studio suits can handle life with only one butler.


Top 4: Adult Swim Originals

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim features a mix of syndicated network shows (Futurama, Family Guy), Anime (Inuyasha, Cowboy Bebop), and offbeat, sometimes incredibly bizarre, original shows. Personally, the especially weird ones lose me. Aqua Teen Hunger Force, for example, has some truly great voice actors, but it makes too little sense for me to really follow.

#4. Frisky Dingo: Frisky Dingo, like a lot of Adult Swim originals, is very, very, very strange. It's a classic superhero/supervillain story, but the superhero is a self-centered idiot, and the supervillian (Killface, above), aside from his occasional homicidal outbursts and plans to destroy the world, is pretty likable. Unlike many Adult Swim shows, Frisky Dingo does a good job of maintaining continuity. The only times they cheat a little are in the "Previously on Frisky Dingo..." sections, where they will sometimes insert new plot points, or change scenes from previous episodes.

Created by the same folks who did Sealab 2021, a show I never really watched, Frisky Dingo is currently 8 episodes into it's second season, and in some kind of giant mid-season break, with no new episodes scheduled anytime soon, but season 2 not complete. It's currently airing late Sunday night on the Cartoon Network, and some episodes can be found on the adult swim site

#3. Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law: One of the older Adult Swim shows, it somehow took six and a half years to air 37 fifteen minute episodes. But it was worth the wait, since they were packed full of laughs. The concept: a former superhero trades in his cape for a suit, and becomes a lawyer, defending classic (and not-so-classic) cartoon characters.

The Cartoon Network (or it's parent company or something) has the rights to all those old Hanna-Barbera cartoons, so Harvey was able to defend characters from Scooby-Doo (Shaggy is busted for pot), the Flintstones (Fred is a Sopranos-style mobster), the Jetsons (they come back from the "distant future" of 2002 to sue the present for wrecking the environment), and plenty of characters from cartoons we barely remember (or have forgotten entirely, or we never knew in the first place). Featuring the vocal talents of Gary Cole (Lumberg from Office Space), Stephen Colbert, Peter MacNicol (Ally McBeal, Numb3rs), and John Michael Higgins (that guy from all those Christopher Guest movies), Harvey Birdman's jokes were packed together so tightly, you could watch an episode several times and still be finding things you missed.

Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law is no more, but can be found on DVD

#2. Robot Chicken: At least in my geeky circles, this is the most talked about Adult Swim show, so I'm guessing anyone that's stumbled onto this site has already heard of it, but if not: stop motion animation, lots of references to 80s toys/cartoons, some pretty sick humor, random celebrity voices. It's like Family Guy if they stopped trying to come up with a plot (and if it was still funny).

Robot Chicken is airing new episodes Sunday nights on the Cartoon Network, and past seasons can be found on DVD

#1. The Venture Bros.: If you grew up in the 80s, if you love Star Wars, if you love David Bowie, if you love comic books, if you could in any way be considered geeky, The Venture Bros. is right up your alley. But even if none of those describe you, you might like it anyway. Because I'm pretty sure it's the greatest cartoon not named The Simpsons ever made. I can't really offer any description that will do it justice, so hunt down the reruns on Adult Swim, or check out the DVDs, because it's just that good.

The Venture Bros. has completed two seasons, and two more have been ordered. Season 3 is expected in the Spring of 2008.

Honorable Mention:: The Boondocks (which just barely missed the cut), Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.


Sep 26, 2007

Top 4: Foods that could be confused with some kind of artificial packing material

Yeah that's a long title, but so what? 150 years ago or so, every bit of food that the average American ate was probably easily identifiable as meat, grain, fruit, or vegetable (except for that pesky tomato that can't decide which of the latter two it wants to be). But these days, sometimes looking at the food we eat, it's easy to think you might be eating some sort of styrofoam product. In most cases, I gather that it's just heavily processed corn.

#4. Circus Peanuts: I don't think I've ever eaten a circus peanut. They're too creepy looking. What are they, anyway? I guess marshmallow, which could probably make this list on its own. But what kind of crazy person takes one food and make it in the shape of another food?

#3. Funyuns: Vaguely onion-flavored rings of a mysterious yellow-brown foam, I fully understand the onion half of the clever portmanteau, but I still don't see what's so fun about them.

#2. Froot Loops: I assume Froot Loops are made from heavily refined flour, lots of sugar, and all sorts of chemical flavors, colors, and preservatives... maybe with some real fruit extract thrown in so that it almost seems healthy. One real positive about Froot Loops is that it was one of the products (along with Pennzoil and Butterfinger) endorsed by Maya Angelou in a Saturday Night Live sketch that the audience didn't really seem to enjoy, but that remains one of my all-time favorites:

#1. Cheetos: Technically any cheese puff type product would do, but cheetos are especially weird in the packing material-ness of it all. Apparently the crunchy puffy thing is corn, but how you get corn to turn into that, I have no idea. I'm also creeped out by the salty orange dust that is supposedly some kind of cheese flavoring, but that's for another list.

Full disclosure: other than the circus peanuts, I do occasionally eat these sometimes frightening foods, which will probably lead to my early death.


Aug 11, 2007

Top 4: New Fall TV Series

One of the first lists I did was the Summer Series I was excited about, and that really shouldn't fill you with confidence, since one (Hidden Palms) stunk outright, and the #1 show (John from Cincinnati) would tease you with flashes of brilliance in a sea of nonsense. But unlike the summer shows, I've been able to catch a few of the fall pilots, so I can endorse shows with a little more certainty.

#4. Bionic Woman: When news began trickling in about pilots that had been picked up in April and May, this sounded like the one to watch. Battlestar Galactica's David Eick behind the scenes, reworking a known TV brand into a dark sci-fi action/drama, Katee Sackhoff as some kind of badass evil cyborg chick, and the few stills that had been released looked really nice.

Then the original pilot was leaked, and I was underwhelmed. Mae Whitman (Arrested Development's Ann "Egg" Veal) played Jamie Sommers' deaf sister, and that whole plot line was a total dud. The whole feel of the pilot was ruined by it, and I was suddenly not very interested in it at all. However, word has since spread that the sister was rewritten and recast (Lucy Hale takes over). When the one part you hated is the first thing they fix, that's a good sign.

The action sequences were well done, Michelle Ryan handles the lead well, and I really liked the general look of the show. The only complaint I have, which I hope has been addressed in the reworking of the pilot, is that the special effects when Jamie is running fast look goofy. Otherwise, the good parts of the pilot plus my confidence in Eick has me excited for this one. Bionic Woman premieres September 26th on NBC

#3. Dirty Sexy Money: This is one I haven't seen. However, crazy rich people, some great actors, a top notch writer (Craig Wright, of Lost, Brothers and Sisters, and Six Feet Under), and some positive buzz combine to have me pretty excited about it. Mostly the cast, though.

Peter Krause (Sports Night, Six Feet Under, and the underrated The Lost Room) has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Donald Sutherland is obviously a legend in film, and took a pretty good stab at television last year with Commander-in-Chief. Samaire Armstrong (Entourage, The OC) and Natalie Zea (Eyes) provide some eye candy, and William Baldwin provides the, uh, Baldwin-ness. But it's Krause and Sutherland that'll have me tuning in. Dirty Sexy Money premieres September 26th on ABC.

#2. Chuck: I'll be honest with you here, Chuck sounds stupid. All the CIA and NSA's secrets are destroyed, but one unassuming nerd has them magically implanted in his brain, so he becomes some kind of spy or something. Really awful sounding, I know. But you know what? It's good. Very good.

Zachary Levi (who I don't remember in anything, but I guess he was a Less Than Perfect regular) stars as the titular Chuck, and he reminds me of Jimmy Fallon, only he doesn't have that desperate to be liked quality that makes you don't want to punch him in the face (yes, if I were a violent man I would totally slug Jimmy Fallon). Yvonne Strzechowski's name is as hard to spell as she is gorgeous, and Sarah Lancaster (What About Brian, Saved by the Bell: The New Class) is easy on the eyes as well. Adam Baldwin (Firefly) is great, as usual.

As great as the cast is, I think it's the writing that carries Chuck. The OC's Josh Schwartz wrote the pilot, which is funny, sexy, smart, silly, and action packed. If the series retains the quality of the pilot, it should be one of the most fun shows to come along in a while. Chuck premieres September 24th on NBC.

#1. Pushing Daisies: Ned makes pies for a living. Ned can touch dead things and bring them back to life. There's a catch, though. Quite a few, actually. And that's the best way I can think to describe Pushing Daisies.

Writer Brian Fuller has previously given us the quirky/funny/brilliant Dead Like Me, the quirky/funny/brilliant/quickly cancelled Wonderfalls, and the quirky/funny/brilliant/not even picked up to series The Amazing Screw-on Head. He also wrote for the first season of Heroes, providing, as I understand it, most of Claire's story. In any case, he has a track record for creating shows that are fantastical, odd, and wonderful. He's also had a tough time attracting viewers, which is my real fear for Pushing Daisies.

But like Wonderfalls, I intend to enjoy what I can get. Pushing Daisies is somehow morbid and heartwarming, romantic and sweet without being sappy, oddly disturbing but familiar. It's a slightly twisted romantic comedy fairy tale, and everyone should give it a chance. Please. I want to see 3+ seasons of Brian Fuller for once. Thanks. Pushing Daisies premieres October 3rd on ABC... set your Tivos ASAP.

Honorable mention:

  • Gossip Girl - like Chuck, written by Josh Schwartz, narrated by Kristen Bell, schoolgirl uniforms... this makes it at least worth a shot. 9/19 on the CW.
  • Reaper - The Loop's Bret Harrison is pretty funny, Heroes' Missy Peregrym is insanely hot, and the pilot is enjoyable. It's kind of Brimstone but a wacky comedy. 9/24 on the CW.
  • Back to You - Kelsey Grammer, Patricia Heaton, writers from Frasier. It can't be bad, really, which is impressive for a multi camera sitcom these days. 9/19 on Fox.
  • Journeyman - I know almost nothing about it, except some people whose opinions I trust seem to think it's pretty good. 9/24 on NBC