Saturday, December 31, 2005

Eight things I loved in 2005

8 Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson Craig Kilborn left late night at the top of his game and with a killer arsenal of bits like Asexual Icon and To Blank with Love. I was cool on Ferguson at first, but his single-topic, stream-of-consciousness monologue is now the best in late night, and it kills me every time during the e-mail segment when he says, "Remember, if you want to e-mail me, it's Craig at the Internet slash Google dot Earthlink slash com."

7 Invasion ABC scored the only new show out of the glut of creepy-drama upstarts that kept me coming back this season (goodbye, Threshold and Surface – nice try, though). That scene in which Muriel peers into the water and comes face to face with her dead body was the scariest thing on TV all year.

6 iTunes Me in front of my iMac with 1,641 of my songs (and counting) playing through a great pair of headphones on shuffle. Thank you, Apple.

5 Confessions on a Dance Floor • Madonna Easily her best since Ray of Light, this seamless electronica platter is a welcome return to form.

4 Jeopardy! Like Law & Order, Jeopardy! is one of those shows I always respected but rarely watched. Then I tuned in for the Ken Jennings run (the return-until-you-get-beat rule was a brilliant move) and became permanently hooked on this unabashed celebration of knowledge.

3 Blogging It really is a whole new world, and I had largely ignored it until jumping on the bandwagon about six months ago. Now it's my hobby and a whole new realm of websites that entertain me.

2 TV on DVD I'm currently watching Battlestar Galactica Season 1, The Twilight Zone Season 1 ('80s version), The X-Files Season 4, NewsRadio Season 2, Seinfeld Season 3, Reno 911 Season 2, V: The Complete Series, and Once and Again Season 2. 'Nuff said. Which brings us to …

1 Battlestar Galactica Season 1 DVD Maybe it’s the cylons, not just sleek machines now but human in form, as well, and especially devious. Maybe it's the silent drama of an incoming missile. Maybe it's the steely resolve of Commander Adama (brilliantly pegged by Edward James Olmos). These things and so much more make this the best show on television and, perhaps, the best television sci-fi drama ever.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

TV: Deal or No Deal

Genre: Game show
Logistics: NBC, due to return
Verdict: &&&

"No trivia questions, no crazy stunts," Howie Mandel says during the opening of Deal or No Deal, the latest network stab at a big-money primetime game show and, like Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a show that is already a foreign success. While half of that statement sounds like a potshot at Fear Factor, one of the most heinous crimes ever foisted on the American viewing public, the other half , "no trivia questions," only calls attention to how thin a concept Deal or No Deal really is: A contestant chooses one of 26 suitcases containing dollar amounts ranging from 1 cent to $1 million. Suitcases are opened in chunks of six, then five, etcetera, with the bank making an offer to buy back the contestant's suitcase after each round of selections. If the revealed suitcases contain a lot of low values, the bank's offer goes up. It's all a matter of chance and determining when is the right moment to stop – and that's just about it, with big money and glitzy production to prop it up. The stage full of suitcases is a nice touch, reminiscent of the '70s and '80s Treasure Hunt (a Chuck Barris production, no less), with its stage full of prize packages, one of which contained a check for a large sum. I like that there's a model on Deal to hold each and every suitcase and a constant barrage of statistics thrown up onscreen, such as, "Marla has a 60 percent chance of having $100,000 or more in her suitcase." The show's weakness is its one-dimensionality – introducing some family members on the sidelines does not qualify as mixing things up. Even Press Your Luck, the king of luck-based games, varied the pace with two question rounds. Nevertheless, Deal can be entertaining, especially when only a few cases remain and big money is still on the board. Its Dec. 19-23 run performed well enough that NBC has reportedly green-lighted further production. Since most of the few new game shows we get these days are formats that have proved to be international successes, here's hoping some American producer takes note of Australia's long-running success with $ale of the Century (it's the kind of juggernaut there that Wheel of Fortune is here), a game that's nonstop fun and, unlike Deal, weaves together a number of compelling elements.

// Fun fact // NBC's last game show attempt was the unspectacular revival of Let's Make a Deal.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

DVD: Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Genre: Sci-fi
Director: George Lucas
Released: Nov. 1, 2005
Verdict: &&&1/2

It's supposed to be about Anakin Skywalker succumbing to the dark side of the Force, but Ian McDiarmid's scene-stealing makes Revenge of the Sith more about Chancellor Palpatine as evil seducer. McDiarmid owns this movie: His delivery of lines like "Not … from a Jedi" and "Master Jedi, are you threatening me?" is simply chilling. His grand presence underscores the thinness of other performances – Hayden Christensen gets the youthful petulance of his role right, but he is hopelessly out of his league when bouncing lines off McDiarmid. And, if Samuel L. Jackson and Natalie Portman have ever come across more wooden than they do here, someone tell me where (Phantom Menace doesn't count). I think some critics gave George Lucas a bit of a free ride on Sith because it's the last movie and we all really wanted to love it. I do like it, but I prefer Attack of the Clones, with its thrilling assassination attempt/chase opening and water planet scenes. One of the best things about Sith is its visual bridging to Star Wars in the final scenes, creating a sense that the story truly has come full circle. Sith's second half succeeds in creating a sustained tension as Anakin moves further down the path to transformation and the Jedi come under attack, but this is also where the movie makes its biggest plot fumble – the failure to provide a single, believable event that pushes him over the edge. That event came in the wrong movie – Attack of the Clones – when Anakin finds what the sand people have done to his mother and gets in touch with his inner dark side. // DVD notes // For a six-channel soundtrack to a Star Wars movie, there's very little happening in the surrounds. The deleted scenes, including an action sequence chopped from the opening and some political maneuvering, are worth watching but not revealing.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Music: Last five iTunes downloads

A quick stroll through the latest additions to my playlist …

5 Black Mercedes • One Block Radius One Block Radius unabashedly taps the Outkast "Hey Ya" vibe, but it's too catchy to call it a rip-off. We'll call it an homage instead.

4 Cool • Gwen Stefani Had this come on the radio in 1986, no one would have batted an eye, so well does the new queen of pop channel that perfect '80s pop sound. Play it between "Voices Carry" and "Always Something There to Remind Me" and tell me it isn't true. A brilliant single in the spirit of No Doubt's wonderful cover of Talk Talk's "It's My Life."

3 Crazy (James Michael Mix) • Alanis Morissette A natural choice for Alanis, given its wordiness. The electronic mix is nice, if perhaps a little too faithful to the original. This single, an offering from her new hits disc, might have benefited from a little more space between it and Seal's 1991 original. It's mildly interesting and not surprising that radio has completely ignored it thus far.

2 King of Pain • Alanis Morissette From her MTV Unplugged album, this Police cover is again a natural, wordy choice for the Queen of Pain. Her delicate delivery of that deeply hooky line, "I have stood here before inside the pouring rain …" is so good it hurts.

1 Keeping the Faith (Dance Remix) • Billy Joel In this age of remixes that bear little if any resemblance to the original song, it's easy to forget how much fun they used to be. From his new "My Lives" collection, this treatment of one of the many singles from his 1983 "An Innocent Man" album is a pleasant reminder. This twist on a great pop song makes you a believer by goosing the groove just a bit and adding some new percussive flourishes and choir-like background vocals.