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Friday, May 30, 2008

Lost Horizon: Can't Get Back

Posted By on Fri, May 30, 2008 at 11:33 AM

The two-hour season finale of Lost was an entertaining ride, with lots of answers and questions, and an astonishing selection of characters who died, almost died or were resurrected (or, in the case of Clare, who knows?).

Quite a few things were wrapped up or clarified, snatching up threads laid all season:

Why Ben turned up in the desert in a parka; why only the six returned; how Penny was involved; and, in an extension of last season's stunner final scene: we see who is in the coffin. (They kinda tricked me there with the "Jeremy Bentham" thing: there's been so many new people introduced this season that I just assumed "Jeremey" was one of them ... duh, I missed the philosopher angle ... and was glad the producers hadn't cheated by putting secondary character in there)

I'm also glad the writers left some intriguing questions unresolved:

What happened to Sawyer, Juliet and whoever else is left still on the relocated island? And of course, where are they? Did the zodiac people get moved too? What is Sun Yi's agenda? (The last scene hints that she may be exacting revenge on Jack and the others ... blaming them for losing her husband.) Is Hurley mentally ill, or just better tuned in to the island's weirdness? (Notice how his offhanded guess are nearly always right.) How -- and why -- does Locke get off the island? If they all have to go back, does that include Aaron, who is sort of a half-survivor, half-islander?

But all this talk of having to go back, of the island being a special, magical protected place, of time/space shifts, and how the Oceanic Six seem to be faring poorly off the island, put me in mind of Lost Horizon.

In that James Hilton novel (later, a fine 1937 Frank Capra film, and a truly alarming 1973 musical), a group of plane-crash survivors (again!) stumble into an off-the-map paradise, a lush valley high in the Himalayas called Shangri-la. There, they find peaceful, wise monks, a renewed sense of purpose and seriously improved health and longevity. Yet, some itch to leave, to return home, and effect an exit. But once outside the hidden pass that marks the boundary between Shangri-la and the world, reality kicks back in, and they accumulate years of suffering and aging instantly. And the story's protagonist, who has left, realizes his folly, and sets off again, at any cost, to rediscover Shangri-la and regain what he's lost.

It's clear that next season will be the near-impossible trip back to the island, just like the Lost Horizon dude, though whether it will be motivated out of a personal desire (as it appears with Jack), or a larger, team-saving move, remains to be seen.

My final thought on this season: You can move an island by turning a big crank in the basement?

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Recount: Add It Up Again

Posted By on Tue, May 27, 2008 at 1:44 PM

For those who sat through Election Day 2000 returns which spilled over into the wee hours, and just finally went to bed confused; for those who breathlessly checked updates in the rollercoaster month that followed the contested Florida election; for those who were left feeling duped, disappointed, outraged, convinced that democracy had ground to halt or whatever -- for all of those bruised spectators, sitting through a two-hour re-cap of those events seems to be asking a lot.

But Recount, the HBO move that premiered over the weekend, is pretty entertaining despite its roots in electoral horror. (Subscribers can catch endless repeats or grab it off OnDemand; others can wait for the inevitable DVD.)

The film is that odd bird -- a talking-head, policy-wonk-friendly, real-life comedy-slash-docudrama-slash-post-mortem. And yeah, it'll still cause Democrats some pain by pulling the Band-Aid off a presumed-healed wound or two, and will have armchair pundits blithering about what the Bush victory (see also: "victory") has meant for the last eight years.

But Recount is also amiably paced, and funny. There's the odd wry comment for chuckles, but taken as a whole, what can you do now but laugh? Florida 2000 was insane: Condensed down to a two-hour précis, you'll marvel that this actually happened, that it's not a made-up piece of poli-sci-fi.

This episode of political reality is directed by Jay Roach, who has such serious features as the Austin Powers series and Meet the Parents under his hipster belt. It boasts a big ensemble cast, from respectable thespians such as Kevin Spacey and Laura Dern, to comic actors including Denis Leary, Ed Begley Jr. and Bob Balaban. (I laugh just seeing Balaban; it's Pavlovian).

Amusingly -- for the members of the Legion of Lou Dobbs -- Recount outsources the role of each side's top lawyers to foreigners: Tom Wilkinson plays Republican James Baker, and John Hurt is Dem heavyweight Warren Christopher.

Recount flips back and forth between the opposing camps' strategy sessions and hastily filed lawsuits, with plenty of actual filler provided by archival TV clips. (Here I marveled at how much CNN has changed from hard news to today's personality-driven fluff: Where are the Bernie Shaws of yesteryear?)

Thus, the story aims to be non-partisan, but because the Dems were the aggrieved party, the default narrative structure tends to make their struggles read more heroic. And whether the Reps play offense or defense, their moves are cast as obstacles for the plucky Dems to overcome.

That said, any seasoned political observer will note that shrinking the whole month-long psychodrama to two hours helps illuminate the strategic miscalculations and outright mistakes that may have cost the Democrats the fight. (As well as ceasing to instruct: Not hitting back hard out of some misplaced sense of gentleman's politics later left Kerry floundering against Bush in 2004.)

Among the fun of Recount is its unearthing of nuggets of head-scratching news you've long forgot about: Al Gore taking back his concession phone call to Bush ("there's no need to get snippy") SoreLoserman (see also, dumb-ass Lieberman); the frat-boy "protest" (when the right co-opts the political theater of the left, it's all over); the crazy media circus that stranded all the networks' top political experts in Tallahassee, with sides trips to bizarrely named Florida counties; and of course, the lowly nobody forced into the white-hot heat of the media glare: the chad and his ne'er-do-well siblings, hanging and dimpled.

And you know what they say about history: It just repeats itself. Today, the Democratic primary is contested, mucked up by more disputed votes in Florida, and pending a resolution by a bunch of wonks that will likely please no one. Except maybe a screenwriter.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

American Idol: My Record Sucks

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2008 at 1:51 PM

I've pretty much guessed everything wrong this season. Big David won, and if I do say so myself, Little David looked relieved.

Though "winning" seems an almost superfluous designation. Virtually everybody gets a recording contract, and some may become bona fide stars. Others may simply join the Soul Patrol -- I hear there are openings.

I did know that the two-hour finale would be a hot tranny mess, and that was before I saw Noted Pervy Pothead George Michael was on board. Frankly, Michael alarmed me: He looked like the half-starved love-child of Bono and some Vegas lounge lizard. Did you dig how he was holding his fingers in the cheesy nightclub-crooner pose?

The other guests were another boomer dream-lineup: Bryan Adams, ZZ Top, Donna Summer, Graham Nash (Holy Woodtock, Batman!). The teen band I had to look up; so, that's a Jonas brother.

Oh, and "Midnight Train to Georgia" doesn't serve that smirking send-up, and especially by -- oh, the coincidence -- the three stars of an upcoming summer film. I guess it gets point for subtler movie promotion than the deeply unfunny stuff around The Love Guru. I am now officially dreading that film.

The show's highlight -- I fast-forwarded through all the dancing and Up-With-People numbers, so who knows what I missed? -- was Simon apologizing to simply "David," though, of course, he meant David Cook. Had it been a Clinton-New Hampshire-style bit of blowback? After Simon's Tuesday night smackdown of Cook, especially his "crime" of not reprising a tune," the blogosphere was hoppin' with folks energized to vote for Cook out of (mild) outrage.

The final voting results were "certified" by some foreign dude, but I guess we can trust them. Hail David Cook: Go forth, and while you're out there, get a new 'do.

 

Note: Due to finale week being more interesting than I thought, I'll post the clip-show round-up and mini-rant tomorrow. All other shows are backing up on the DVR, but the leaner summer days are on us soon.

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American Idol: The final post-mortem

Posted By on Thu, May 22, 2008 at 11:26 AM

The buzz is long off American Idol, but allow me to gripe about a few things I wish the producers would note:

* Kill the mosh pit. If the tweeners there can't coordinate their hand-waving and clapping to the beat, then it's just a big visual distraction -- and another embarrassing reminder of how nobody involved in this show seems to know a thing about music.

* Force the judges to come up with new things to say. Even Simon's comments don't feel constructive anymore. If the judges are that bored, then get a new batch. Or, at least bring back the guest judges. Not the hacks, but a slate of interesting, funny and ideally, unpredictable, people. Shake it up: Adam Curry for '80s night, Trace Adkins for country night (that dude is funny as shit) -- or vice versa! What about non-musical people with too many opinions: Chris Matthews, Bill Maher, Rosie O'Donnell. Hell, troll the blogs and bring in a few of the funniest writers. Make it a contest for fans and fly in One Lucky Winner.

* If there must be theme nights, make them interesting. The combo pack of Dolly Parton, Mariah Carey, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Neil Diamond was like an AARP cruise ship from hell. The best theme nights offer both a wide range of song options and lots of opportunity for disaster and sublime transcendence.

* In the spirit of lame clip-shows, below are some of the highlights and lowlights of this season. But let's face it: Those of us over 14 watch this show as much for the horrible bits as the genuinely entertaining bits, so best vs. worst is a pretty fluid criterion.

 

BEST:

 

* Chiksesie going crazy mental on "She's a Woman" on Lennon/McCartney night.

* The world's scariest, angriest version of Lionel Richie's "Hello" from David Cook.

* Paula bleating to David Archuelta after he sang "Imagine": "You are ridiculous, I want to just squish you, squeeze your head off and dangle you from my rearview mirror."

* Learning in one of those idiotic about-the-contestants tapes that biker-nurse Amanda managed to burn down a backyard pool.

* Marveling that AI won't cop to David Hernandez being outed as a male stripper at -- ahem -- Dick's Lounge, even when it's "My Most Embarrassing Moment" week. But as David belts through "It's All Coming Back to Me," a live mike catches Simon snarking: "I'd like to see him strip to that."

* In a relatively tame season of Paula-isms, we got this baffling keeper following Michael Johns' performance of "Dream On" -- "I thought my Chihuahuas were going to join you to stage."

* Paula finally going off the rails big time on Neil Diamond night, hearing songs only in the empty spaces of her own head.

* Andrew Lloyd Webber telling David Cook: "Pretend I'm a 17-year-old girl from the chorus line." Um, no thanks.

 

WORST:

 

* Ryan and Simon, still homo-bashing: Can't these guys get a room?

* Simon telling Carly she horribly dressed. OK, it's true, but ouch. The look on her face -- every woman's been there. And this on Dolly Parton night that celebrated one of the most successful worst dressers of all time. And nobody carps that the guys come out every week looking like they're waiting for the bus ...

* Son of Idol Gives Back. Didn't even tune in.

* Luke doing "Killer Queen" on '70s night. Luke doing "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" on '80s night. Later, missing Luke when it got so dull.

* Kristy Lee Cook's C&W version of "Eight Days a Week" on Lennon/McCartney night. Bonus points for her confusion at judge's unanimous dislike of her rendition: "You told me to go country."

* Brooke trading on that starting-over stuff, her other signature move besides pouting and over-thanking the judges. Does this technique wok if you're not a winsome blonde?

* The Double-Bob Night with Jason Castro. Would have been bad during auditions but was jaw-dropping in the Final Four.

* The new star-spangled Coke cups the judges drink from. USA! USA!

* And finally, the other 55 minutes of the hour-long results show. I don't watch 'em, but even in fast-forward, it all looks dreadful.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

American Idol: Mis-Match

Posted By on Wed, May 21, 2008 at 9:30 AM

Live TV means you can never truly anticipate how the experience will go.

I was 110 percent sure that the David vs. David finale would engender unremitting boredom; instead, my primary emotion throughout was pity.

It started when the two Davids had to pretend they cared about the show's idiotic (and time-wasting) boxing gimmick. Could Little David look anymore awkward than he did coming out "fighting" in an oversized satin robe? (Answer: yes. But more on that shortly.)

Once again, the producers disinter the mummified Clive James to cast his pearls before his new hit-making slaves. And they bring back Andrew Lloyd Weber, but with no explanation: Was he just in town? In fairness, he was the only mentor this season that actually gave practical advice. Still, it's the biggest night of the year for teens, and we get two of the oldest dudes in show biz to lend a hand ...

Cook's performances were fine but overall he got out-sung and out-earnested by young David. He failed, as Randy suggested, "to leave it on the floor," or to, per Paula, "soak it up." Up, down: What's a poor kid to do?

And I was with Cook when he opted to sing a new song for the third round. Simon squawks every week about being fresh, innovative, not playing it safe and surprising the audience, and then he beats on Cook for not reprising an earlier performance?

I didn't feel so bad for Cook for losing the first two rounds. David A. beat him fair and square, but this really felt like a cheap shot.

Little David was on -- or "molten" according to Randy, who hasn't said one fresh thing all season. "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" was a great choice by Davis for David A.'s first song -- full of melodic melodrama, and loaded with the cheesy, over-emoting lyrics that you could just imagine coming from the mouth of a broken-hearted, overly dramatic teen-ager. And Archueleta gave the tune a little blue-eyed soul flavor that I dug.

But -- and this is a huge but ... when he stopped singing, this and his other two songs, his time before the judges was almost unbearable.

I thought he was going have a nervous breakdown right then and there. He looked so pained, so strained, so uncomfortable. While lavishly praised, he never smiled, but just blinked and gasped like a dying fish. Seventeen is young, and throw in the alleged controlling stage-dad, and I wished David was still back in Utah, happy just to wow his schoolmates with his pretty singing.

His complete lack of joy was alarming. Little David's second number was clearly picked for its lame-ass, situation-ready upbeat chorus -- "I wanna stay in this moment, no one can take it away from me" -- should have had the one-to-beat finalist beaming, exhilarated, showing us this is his moment. Instead it was like watching a budding Judy Garland, or some other micro-managed wreck of a "pro," dutifully but joylessly hitting all the marks.

David A. is going to be the next American Idol, and sad part is -- I don't think he wants to be.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: Cylons-R-Us ... or Not

Posted By on Tue, May 20, 2008 at 11:46 AM

OK, so Battlestar Galactica seems to have kicked into narrative hyper-drive lately and that's among my lame excuses for not getting more posts out. So, I'll just take the lazy way out with some assorted thoughts and queries:

* I'm glad that short reign of Hysterical Women is past us. One episode in particular seemed to have every female character, human and Cylon, in meltdown. Callie, of course, ended up topping even Starbuck's "wronnnnnnnnngggggg wayyyyyy" brooding -- but I have never cared for Callie and was glad to see her airlocked.

* This, though, led to a brief Hysterical Male subplot, where Tyrol has got at least one wheel off the tracks. Points scored for his bar rant where he described Callie as smelling of cabbage; not sure about the new shaved head. That's kind of an easy cheat for losing-my-shit, especially when the actor is good enough to do this without props.

* The Cylon civil war should come with an org-chart. Seriously. That lengthy gap between the big Cylon split-up episode and the two-parter where the rebel Cylons join forces with Galactica didn't help. I'm not ashamed to admit it's confusing to keep all these various duplicates and their shifting allegiances (and double-crosses) straight.

* Going aboard the rebel basestar has been my favorite scene this season. Creepy, fraught, visually awesome, loaded with answers and questions, and even a little amusing: Who didn't love the look on Anders face when he took in his "homebase" and was tempted to stick his hand in the hybrid pool?

* Also great in the last two episodes -- watching Anders, Tori and Sol quietly freak out when it's learned that the unboxed Deanna is gonna call them out. And they have to help!

* I also dug the three-way, inter-cut hybrid chase from last week's episode that had Roslin and Baltar racing to the basestar hybrid; Sharon chasing Hera through Galactica; and Sharon, Caprica Six and Roslin chasing dream-Hera in the opera house.

* Plus, two great jaw-droppers at that episode's conclusion: Sharon shooting the basestar Six and the re-plugged-in hybrid essentially taking half the major players to who-knows-where. (For some reason I thought when they'd unplugged the hybrid earlier that that was that: She powered down for good. Guess not.)

* There's so much to speculate about: Earth? Opera house? One god or many? Resurrection or mortality? (Six got that character-building gift almost immediately after pining for it.) Will the Cylons take out each other? When do the humans turn on each other? Is Baltar headed for redemption? Roslin for megalomaniacal mysticism? I've been laying back on hard speculation during the last couple of episodes since I've just been enjoying the rocky ride without straining my brain too hard. Except for ...

* The last Cylon. This is the easiest game to play, since there are loads of good clues. Cylon X is on Galactica -- or in the fleet, though that distinction doesn't much matter, because it's clearly going to be a major character we're already familiar with. And given the show's history, the reveal will more likely be shocking than not.

To me, that rules out the more obvious choices such as Roslin, Baltar or Starbuck as red herrings. But then we're not left with many others: As of this week, I'm leaning toward Lee, since wouldn't that be a kick in the head, plus maybe that's why he dropped vipering for law and the quorum. The other maybe is Helo, the twist being, if he was a Cylon, then Hera is not a hybrid baby, but a Cylon-Cylon creation which could be significant.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

TV Kitchens: One Down, Two to Go

Posted By on Fri, May 16, 2008 at 2:13 PM

Catching up with this week's food wars:

BBC's Last Restaurant Standing finally came to end, and with few surprises. I was rooting for the twins, mostly because they seemed the easiest to work with. But it makes sense that Mr. Michelin Star and head judge Raymond Blanc would chose the Eight in the Country pair. Of course the Frenchman is gonna love the idea of eight petit courses over the goofy organic café fare of the twins.

And even the Big Showdown couldn't pull any drama from this low-intensity show. The finale included a pointless one-night-only opening in Blanc's hometown in France. Anybody hoping for added international crises would be disappointed to find the contestants muddling through fairly well on their high school French. Certainly better than moi could have done.

I swear Blanc took 10 full minutes to shake his big head and ponder who should win. But even though I've joked about the slug-like pace of this show, I've enjoyed it and hope they bring it, or some similar version, back. On Top Chef they only do one episode of running-a-restaurant, and there's certainly plenty of material to be mined from this set-up, a well-known business nightmare.

The knives are out on Top Chef as the contestants continue hatin' on each other, but this week's challenge was a bit of a dud. It doesn't take mad skills to remake a box lunch and the cooks seem uninspired by the task. I was surprised that not more soups and chilis were made – easy to make, easy to re-heat, easy to pack with healthy goodness.

But then I don't have two years' experience in nutrition.

Sorry to see Crazy Andy leave -- and take his two years worth of nutrition experience with him. He was the funniest contestant.

I'd have sent Spike home, not only for being a tool with his unimaginative lockdown of the basic lunch ingredients, but also for cruising on a thoroughly dull looking chicken-salad sandwich. Add to this, I'm sick of looking at his stupid hats.

Over at Hell's Kitchen it was another lazy one for the producers with the Matt/Ben drama continuing. Could we please get one more shot of Matt sneering at Ben? Or Matt saying how stupid Ben is? Or Matt saying how great he is?

I always love the taste-test challenges (would love to do this, I bet it's harder than you think), but how is getting your nails done at home such a great prize for the winning team?

During service, I felt sorry for Jen who rightly melted down when she couldn't figure out if Raging Ramsay wanted her to speak or shut up. Who hasn't had that boss?

Ben left -- no big surprise. Ben frequently complained that Ramsay had it out for him; I bet he did, but then again, why wouldn't he?

The elimination round was a little weird. Not sure if Petrozza picked himself because that was the blue team's original pan to deflect internecine criticism -- or whether he truly meant to fall on his sword. Either way, it made Ramsay call him a man, and it made that newly minted man cry.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

American Idol

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2008 at 2:45 PM

And then there were three ... and not much left to care about.

Last night each contestant did three songs -- one from the judges, one of their choice and one picked by the producers. Predictably, there were poor choices and OK-but-not-great reviews across the board. Alas, nothing either fantastic or disastrous that stood out. (We miss you Jordan, write when you get work.)

This dull season is headed for an even duller showdown. If, as most suspect, it's Little David vs. Big David, then that final interminable night will be like toggling between two boring radio stations -- one that plays goony lite-rock ballads for the secretaries at work, and the other, the mook-rock power ballads their vaguely disaffected teen-age sons listen to.

The fact that I was unfamiliar with a couple of last night's songs didn't help. I'm afraid to find out that Switchfoot is not only a real band, but a huge one.

First bit of dead television was having the contestants get "surprise" messages from the judges about what song to sing Little David got his bad news -- a Billy Joel song, how relevant -- from the mayor of Silly Moustache Town.

Ever since I read about David's control-freak stage-dad, now I just see love-me-daddy fear where the kid used to look winsomely puppyish. Maybe David is better off not winning (see also: the sad train wrecks that are other parent-pushed teen stars).

Only Simon got into the spirit of the challenge, giving David Cook a seemingly unlikely song -- Roberta Flacks' "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" -- to make over. I thought Cook did pretty well, and showed restraint not blowing it out into a power ballad. But speaking of makeovers, won't somebody step in and help this poor child! That mop, that weird not-quite-a-beard, the I'm-a-rocker clothes ...

At least Syesha looked good, and I guess she's a testament to never say die. For weeks I thought she had no chance, and she made the final three. Still, this was her last night, and I hated hated hated that high-school-musical mess around "Fever." Even Paula didn't like it though she used Paula-speak: "I'm not sure it shows me who Syesha is as an artist."

Little David's other two songs were sub-par for him. That teen-pop number just looked awkward, and the prodcuers proved definitively that their heads are waaaaay up their asses when they picked Dan Folgelberg's "Longer." How long is long anyhow when you're 17, and presumably, a pretty sheltered naïve 17 to boot?! Well, however long it is, that's how long David's been in love with you.

Big David churned us out with Aerosmith's power ballad "Don't Want to Miss a Thing," in my opinion, a cheesy song from a cheesy movie from a cheesy band. Oh, is Miz Warren in the house? OK, add cheesy songwriter.

The arrangement made it still cheesier, and what was up with placing Cook in a circle of seated violinists?

I strongly suspect I'll be fast-forwarding through next week's final shows -- the finale battle (I'm going out a limb and saying: David vs. David) and the 10-hour-long winner show. But just like TV does, I've been saving some hopefully more entertaining AI clip-reel filler for next week.

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Surviving a Hart Attack

Posted By on Wed, May 14, 2008 at 7:48 AM

The big election news today, I guess, is the fact that our cousins in West Virginia gave Hillary Clinton the huge victory she expected in that state's primary. But beneath the headlines -- or, more specifically, on page A-6 of my morning paper -- was a story that bodes well for Barack Obama. And for a politician closer to home: US Congressman Jason Altmire.

Yesterday, it happens, was also the date for a special election in a a Mississippi Congressional seat. In a startling upset, Democrat Travis Childers managed to beat Republican Greg Davis in a district that, as recently as 2004, voted for President Bush by margins of nearly two-to-one. This despite (or perhaps because of) Davis' very public support by VP Dick Cheney and other prominent Republicans.

What makes this significant for Obama -- and for Altmire -- is the fact that in the latter days of the race, the GOP tried to link Childers and Obama in a series of negative ads. It's the second time the GOP has tried the tactic in as many months: They made a similar effort in Louisiana back in April, and lost there as well. 

And they've been trying to do the same thing in Pennsylvania's 4th district.

Altmire, a socially conservative Democrat in the mode of Senator Bob Casey, is facing a re-election challenge this year from Melissa Hart, the Republican he beat in 2006. And Hart, like Davis, has tried to damage Altmire by linking him to Obama. 

So far, the effort has been strained, at best. Hart has tried to publicize the fact that Altmire did not publicly denounce Obama for saying that some blue-collar voters "cling" to religion and gun rights because they are "bitter" about economic prospects. It's a weak argument at best -- I note that Hart hasn't denounced officials in Burma, which by her logic means she favors leaving thousands of cyclone victims to starve. But her campaign keeps trying. Her campaign site gleefully quotes a GOP factotum asserting that "Altmire refused to condemn Barack Obama's elitist remarks after he insulted Pennsylvania voters."

Is this guilt-by-association tactic a bit of race-baiting, in a district in which post-industrial, Reagan Democrat (at best) towns dot an otherwise rural and conservative landscape? Perhaps. For Hart, though, the problem with the approach may not be that it's racist, but that it's ineffective -- which to the GOP is a far bigger sin. I mean, it's hard to imagine a racial appeal failing in Mississippi, but succeeding here.

Or at least you'd like to think so. Childers does have one advantage Altmire doesn't: In the Mississippi race, he was able to draw support from a sizable black community. By contrast, Altmire's district has a negligible number of African-American voters; it's roughly 3 percent African-American. In Mississippi, race-baiting has a consequence: It can help rally the blacks you are trying to demonize. That may not be the case here. 

It's worth noting too, that Altmire has remained famously uncommitted in the presidential race, although there has been a bit of winking and nudging going on. When Obama came to Pittsburgh to receieve Casey's endorsement in late March, he made a point of noting Altmire's presence in the audience. Party insiders I spoke to suggest this is a means of telegraphing support that Altmire wasn't ready to broadcast openly. But that may change. The Presidential primary race is winding down, and it seems all but certain Obama will be the nominee. Casey's endorsement, coming as it does from a pro-life Democrat who is especially popular in rural areas, will also give Altmire some protection from attacks. 

And make no mistake: Alarm bells are going off throughout the GOP today. When you take its losses in Mississippi and Louisiana, and combine them with the collapse of yet another anti-gay marraiage amendment in Harrisburg ... well, you start to get the feeling that 2008 may not be a great year for wedge issues.

If so, that would be bad news for Melissa Hart. 

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The other trash TV

Posted By on Tue, May 13, 2008 at 2:42 PM

So coming soon to a cable line-up near you in June is Planet Green, the latest player in eco-entertainment (see also: special "green" issues of Vanity Fair; hand-wringing but feel-good docs about global warming; recent car and gasoline commercials (for real!); Al Gore anywhere; and so on). Planet Green is under the Discovery umbrella and is pitched to replace its Home Channel.

Part of me can't help but snark, though my better half knows that making worthy behavior or the acquisition of useful knowledge either entertaining or competitive appeals marvelously to your standard otherwise disengaged Westerner.

Following on the heels of BBC's recent Dumped that forced some First-World whiners to live at a landfill, TLC is previewing the Planet Green with frequent blasts of a show called Wasted.

I've caught three episodes and already I'm annoyed.

I sure wish that after a decade of reality and fix-up shows that producers would break out of the box, but Wasted uses every cheat: overly perky female host (Annabelle Gurwitch, from TBS' Dinner and a Movie) with hot male sidekick; repeating things over and over; wasting time on tired visual gimmicks; silly cash incentives; and unspooling each episode in the same rigid formula.

The joke is -- this is only a 30-minute show, so by the time all the repetitive filler and ads are stripped out, there's hardly a minute left to share any useful information or take-away tips.

The show's lazy tactic to hook viewers is to profile a variety of eco-offenders -- there's one for everybody. Harried new parents; boozy fraternity dudes; gay marrieds in Manhattan; the mega-mansion family.

The marginal amount of entertainment I eked out from Wasted was checking out what Grade-A idiots some of these eco-villains are.

In the suburban mansion episode, one of the crimes was that the family's grown son perpetually left the refrigerator door open while preparing snacks. It's inconceivable to me that anybody older than second grade would do such a thing. And how is this a high crime when four people are living in a 9,000-square-foot home?

Mom's shame was using $756 worth of paper towels a year. Breathtaking!

But the fact that the show had to rig an electronic alarm on the fridge to cure the young man of leaving it open shows that many of our fellow citizens may simply be beyond reach. (And let's be honest: Is this an eco-crime or just bad child-rearing?)

Over at the frat house, there was some success teaching the brothers to recycle their understandably prodigious accumulation of beer cans. They also agreed to fix a leaky faucet and promised only to turn the beer-sign lights on when there actually was a party happening. If only George W. Bush had gone to this frat …

The two gay men in New York City had a super neat and spare apartment, but were otherwise huge eco-messes. Busy urban living was rapidly inflating their naughty footprint. Too many cab rides, too much air conditioning, and -- I guess they missed that classic piece of gay cinema -- too many wire hangers! The annual byproduct of their dry cleaning was 200 wire hangers.

But it was their little dog Teddy that took the brunt. Seems his two dads feared so much for his sanity during the day, that while they're at work they leave the heat and flatscreen TV on for him. They got a strict taking to from Annabelle about actual doggie behavior, but they looked woefully unconvinced. I mean, really -- what do people think dogs did before there was Lifetime?

I'm not sure if I'm going Green when the network debuts next month -- my cable providers may just want to keep more popular energy-consuming channels like Speed or Home Shopping. One thing's clear: As a nation of lazy dumbasses, we've got a long way to go. We'll just start slow by just watching more TV.

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