Short Television Review: The Inauguration of Barack Obama

As far as political drama goes, it was no *West Wing*, but the casting was good, the writing accurately captured the soaring rhetoric of hope and change, and a musical score by John Williams and Aretha Franklin never hurt anybody. But while I kept waiting for *something* to happen, to break up the interminable speechifying, the expected terrorist attack/assassination attempt/asteroid collision just never materialized. Also I hope the writers can lighten up the tone a little bit in future episodes. In sum: while it wasn’t the most *gripping* hour of television I’ve watched, it certainly has promise. I hope it gets renewed for another season—I’ll be watching.

The best new shows of the fall

I’ve been putting off writing this list for some time, for a couple of reasons, but as we’ve reached the midseason point, I think it’s about time to run down my list of the top new TV shows for the fall.

Unlike last year, the pickings this year are pretty slim, due in large part to the [writers’ strike]( that hit the industry at last year’s midseason. That meant fewer television pilots got developed, and since only a few pilots make it to series to begin with, fewer shows. By midseason, we’ve also already begun to thin the field—two of my [favorite shows from last year](, *Pushing Daisies* and *Dirty Sexy Money*, have already been, er, “not picked up for a full season” (diplomatic talk for “cancelled”). And we’re only a short while away from the launch of the new mid-season shows, the most hotly anticipated of which is probably Joss Whedon’s *Dollhouse*. But that’s a matter for a different post.

I’m not going to bother ranking these shows, because that’s a sucker’s game. Besides, the difficulty with reviewing a television show versus, say, a movie or a book, is that you can’t take a single episode as an indication of quality. Most shows (and especially the kind that I like, that really use the serial medium to its fullest) take a few episodes to develop (of course, sometimes they just get worse; right, *Sarah Connor Chronicles*?). But at the end of the day, my only metric for a show is: is this worth your time? And, by virtue of being on this list, my answer for all these shows is obviously “yes.”
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Short Television Review: Life on Mars (US)

America’s got a mixed track at remaking British television shows. *The Office* is popular now, but most fans agree it was at its best after it stopped aping the UK version. On the other hand, the less said about the American version of *Coupling*, the better.

So, which one is *Life on Mars*?

As a big fan of the original show (which ran for a total of 16 episodes on the BBC), I decided to give the US adaptation a shot, fearing the worst. Turns out, it’s not so bad; it’s actually pretty good.

The premise, of course, is the same: Detective Sam Tyler (the Irish Jason O’Mara, with an able American accent, takes over from John Simm) gets in an accident and ends up mysteriously transported from 2008 to 1973, where he’s still a cop in same precinct. He butts heads with his new boss, Gene Hunt (movie legend Harvey Keitel, who’s certainly a bigger star than role originator Philip Glenister, but lacks a bit of the charisma) who has a typically ’70s way of policing: beat the bastards up first, then ask questions later. Maybe.

New York replaces Manchester, and the production values are much higher, and while the first episode is at times a shot-by-shot remake, the American tweaks are effective (the twin towers, for example, make a great entrance). By the second episode, the show has begun to diverge a little (a hippy neighbor with pot-infused lasagna, and a space probe that shows Sam glimpses of his real life), but they manage to hold onto the elements that made the original so fun. It’ll be interesting to see how much they continue to follow the trail blazed by the original, especially since one American season has more episodes than the entire British series.

Not-So-Short Television Review: The Third Presidential Debate, 2008

I watched the debate at a bar with some friends, projected on a giant screen, sharing the room with a guy in a superheroic Obama shirt and a few other tables of locals. We laughed a lot when Joe the Plumber came up. Dan occasionally turned his iPhone to the table to show us the results of his quick fact checking. We had fried pickles and beer. By the end of the night, none of our opinions about the candidates had changed, but I think I learned a little bit about what this debate meant for audiences.

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Generation Kill: Jargon

HBO’s new mini-series from the creators of the Wire lays on even more jargon without explanation. I was unable to find a comprehensive guide, so I made my own. Here is a list of jargon from the recently aired episode 3 with my definitions.
In order of appearance:

Sit-Rep: Situation report, basically the status.

Hitman Victor: radio code for a Humvee in Bravo company. (Hitman is the radio call sign for the company with a number designating platoon ie. Hitman 2 is the second platoon, Hitman Victor 2 is the second humvee.)

Helo-hot: Missile fired from a combat helicopter such as an apache.

Interrogative: Radio code prefacing a question

BDA: Battle Damage Assessment

MSR: Main Supply Route

Klicks: Kilometers

Oscar Mike: On the move

SOP: Standard Operating Procedure

Danger close: friendly units are within 600 meters of a proposed artillery target

Fire mission: artillery mission

NJP: Nonjudicial punishment ie discipline

Chaos: radio call sign for General Mattis

Mikes: minutes

T72s: an Iraqi tank

ROE: Rules of Engagement, rules for engaging civilian targets

RTD: Return to Base

RCT1: Regimental Combat Team 1

Cas Evac: Casualty Evacuation

Short Television Review: Generation Kill

Generation Kill is the new HBO mini-series brought to you by David Simon and Ed Burns, creator of The Wire. Based on a book by Evan Right, this series follows a company of reconnaissance marines taking part in the invasion of Iraq.

I’ve seen the first three episodes and it is interesting so far but it is hard not to compare it to the Wire. The construction of the show has a lot of similarities to the Wire; you are presented with a large cast of characters that can be tricky to distinguish at first, the dialogue is laden heavy with jargon and slang and devoid of any exposition, and scenes are scattered with dark humor and critical perspectives on large institutions (such as the Army, Marine Corp, US. Government.) Later season of the Wire went all out with having ensemble casts, and though Generation Kill has pulled back on that a bit to a set of core characters, it still seems to want cover a lot of people in only a few hours which so far looks like we won’t get to go much in depth with any of the characters. I’m still hungry for a replacement to Wire and though this won’t fill that need completely it is definitely worth checking out. Generation Kill also happens to be one of the few shows I’m following this summer, the others being The Middleman and AMC’s Mad Men which just started this week.

Short Television Review: The Middleman

I started watching *The Middleman* when it began airing for two major reasons: 1) it’s based on a comic book and 2) said comic book is written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, who was also a writer on a little show called *Lost*. *The Middleman* bears a superficial resemblance to *Men in Black* (and—*gasp*!—a novel I was working on last year): young aspiring artist Wendy Watson is recruited by a mysterious guy known only as—you guessed it—the Middleman to help fight off aliens, zombies, and evil masterminds bent on taking over the earth. Possibly using gun-toting gorillas. While it might seem like strange fare for a “family” channel, what with references to sex and frequent bleeped-out swears for comic effect, the show maintains a wacky fun vibe chiefly because of its enthusiastic leads: Matt Keeslar as the all-American Navy SEAL turned planetary hero and the charming Natalie Morales (whom I failed to resist as my new TV crush) as the sarcastic and plucky Wendy. The plots are often silly (the last episode featured aliens masquerading as a boy band), but enjoyable, and the writing is at times sharp enough that it might slide right past you without your noticing. Having read that the show’s ratings are [not performing as well as they *should* be]( gives me even more reason to mention it to anyone looking for a fun summertime TV show.

*Bonus: [two]( of my [favorite]( PSA promos for the show.*

People who will enjoy Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog: A List

  • People who are fans of Joss Whedon.
  • People who are fans of Nathan Fillion.
  • People who are fans of Neil Patrick Harris.
  • People who are fans of Neil Patrick Harris playing a doctor.
  • Guys who got beat up a lot in high school. And middle school. And elementary school.
  • Guys who are too shy to talk to that cute girl at the laundromat.
  • People who are fans of superheroes super*villains*.
  • People who are fans of musicals.
  • People who are fans of musicals about supervillains.
  • People with a pulse.
  • People who are fans of witty dialog.
  • People who do not have an attention span longer than about 13 minutes.

    Acts I and II of [*Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog*]( are up now and streamable for free; you can also [grab them on iTunes]( for $2 an episode. The third and final episode airs on Saturday, and the whole shebang is free to watch until Sunday.

  • Spaced: Above and Beyond

    Bilbo: “I let my principles get in the way. I punched a bloke in the face once for saying Hawk the Slayer was rubbish.”
    Tim: “Good for you.”
    Bilbo: “Yeah, thanks. But that’s not the point, Tim. The point is, I was defending the fantasy genre with terminal intensity, when what I
    should have said is ‘Dad, you’re right. But let’s give Krull a try and we’ll discuss it later.'”

    Spaced remains my favorite sitcom of all time—heck, quite possibly my favorite television show of all time. I’d hung onto hope that a third series might air at some point, bringing closure to the characters. But with the release of a region 1 set of the DVDs coming this summer, and the likely crappy Americanized remake looming on the horizon, that seems less and less likely.

    While I do own region 2 DVDs of both series, I don’t have the super special collectors edition, which includes a “making of” featurette with Simon, Jess, and Edgar. I’d heard that there was a little extra for fans at the end of that piece, so in search of closure, I went to find it online—which, thanks to the godlike nature of YouTube, wasn’t very difficult at all. So, if you’re curious about what the future holds in store for Daisy and Tim, there you go.

    Which came first: the chicken or Iron Man?

    Joshua Glenn, writing at the Boston Globe, tries to solve the age-old dilemma: was Black Sabbath’s classic heavy metal song “Iron Man” inspired by the Marvel superhero of the same name? The conclusion is a qualified “yes,” though it suggests that Ted Hughes’s book The Iron Man, upon which the 1999 animated film, The Iron Giant was based. Glenn’s piece is worth a read, however, if for no other reason than to watch the opening theme song to the 1960s Iron Man cartoon. I’ll be walking around the rest of the day, humming “Tony Stark makes you feel/he’s a cool exec with a heart of steel.”