Wednesday, November 30, 2005

TV Review: House, M.D. - “The Mistake”

(Warning: spoilers for the episode that aired Nov. 29)

This week's House opens with a feisty mom soothing her daughters' nerves before their big talent show number, when they are upset at rich Sally Ayersman's snooty remarks about their costumes. “If Sally's mean to you again, I'm just going to have to key her daddy's new convertible,” mom Kayla says with hilarious near-foreshadowing.

When we see her popping painkillers in the audience as her precious kids take the stage and massacre “Itty Bitty Pretty One,” it's almost a funny moment – except that the CGI shots of her oozing gut tell us it's really not very funny at all.

This set up provides the introduction to a very non-formulaic episode structure, as “The Mistake” unfolds with hospital lawyer Stacy (Sela Ward) preparing mistake-maker Chase (Jesse Spencer) and his boss House (Hugh Laurie) for a peer review following the patient's death, and we see their alternate and sometimes opposing versions of past events.

Despite that definite article "the", there are a few mistakes referenced in “The Mistake.” The most obvious is Chase's that led to Kayla's misdiagnosis and eventual death, and this is the mistake that Stacy is determined to find a mitigating reason for, but Chase and House are determined to leave unexplained.

Instead of a bleeding ulcer, Chase diagnoses Kayla with Behcet's disease, leading to a cascading chain of medical woes when the undetected ulcer perforates. His “little” mistake is in not asking her any questions when she comes to the clinic for her test results, despite her mentioning continuing pain – but as House says, paraphrasing himself in other episodes, “Mistakes are as serious as the results they cause.”

She eventually needs a liver transplant, which she gets thanks to her brother and a blackmailed lab tech who hides the fact that little brother Sam has Hepatitis C, and thanks to House and a blackmailed transplant surgeon, a Dr. Ayersman, whose new convertible does wind up getting keyed (though not by Kayla). Prize for best line reading of the week goes, of course, to Hugh Laurie, for the priceless “Are you free?” after he lays out his plan to ruin the doctor's marriage – and halve his income – if he doesn't perform the risky surgery. Though the surgery goes well, unfortunately, the Hep C had also caused liver cancer, which was treatable in Sam but led to immunocompromised Kayla's death.

We get pieces of the puzzle doled out slowly in flashbacks, then retracted and replayed differently as Stacy realizes her narrators are unreliable. She starts the episode trying to avoid House, whom she hasn't forgiven for stealing her therapy files and manipulating her into nearly revealing her desire to be with him instead of her husband.

“40% of our lawsuits last year were about House. If you can't work with him, you can't work here,” Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein) admonishes the reluctant Stacy. (Later, in another case of a small detail being picked up for humour, House says: “I'm not the one being sued. I feel funny.”)

House's past manipulation is another mistake. Sort of. “You're mad at me for letting you know what I did, because you liked where things were going,” says House, in a sincere apology with the Housian twist of not quite being sorry for the right thing. “And for that I actually am sorry. It was stupid.”

The structure isn't just clever, it's fun, too, with House occasionally stepping out of a flashback scene to interact with Stacy in the present. We get the pleasure of being able to piece together the mystery of the episode without needing to follow the medical twists and turns - though they're not as baffling as some, they're also not really the point. The cancer diagnosis is the “aha” medical moment, and it's another flash of brilliant House deduction that even Stacy seems to admire. But the real “aha” moment is the revelation of why Chase made the mistake.

When they learn that in addition to the peer review, Chase and the hospital are being slapped with a huge lawsuit from Kayla's brother, Chase finally reveals that recently, when he found out the family couldn't afford to keep Kayla's house after her death, he goaded the brother into suing by saying he had been hungover when Kayla came to the clinic for her test results. Just when we think the mystery might be solved (though a little unsatisfyingly), House takes Chase privately to the new Balcony of the Second Season Budget Increase to prod him to tell the truth: Kayla's clinic visit had interrupted a phone call that informed Chase of his dad's death – a mitigating factor for his distraction.

When Chase asks how House knew, he starts off with the smart alecky response: “There's this interconnected network of computers, or Interweb, where you can ...” before admitting that when dad visited, he told House he only had two months to live, and “when you screwed up, I did the math.”

Finally, and just a week after I expressed my bloodthirsty desire for the writers to kill off Chase's dad, they did, and in a way that says he's been appropriately dead all this time and we just didn't know it. Sly writers. Since the episode would have been filmed long before that review, I can't claim any credit for the plot turn. Oh, plus the fact that I have absolutely no clout. (I do have a slight grudge against them for messing with my detail-oriented [see also: obsessive; picky] mind by changing Dad's three months to live in last season's “Cursed” with two months to live here.)

It was a beautifully played scene, with Chase's pain and indignation that House had kept his dad's illness from him, and House's compassion hidden in brutality and frustration that Chase would throw his career away rather than tell the committee. Throughout the episode, we had seen House fighting to save Kayla through unethical, desperate means, and suddenly there's another possible motive, other than his usual ends-justify-the-means tactics on behalf of his patients – he's fighting for Chase's job, too, and continuing to respect the uncharacteristically noble choice he made months ago to stay out of Chase's relationship with his dad.

Chase's trials also reflect something about House, when he admits to Stacy at the end that he is the one who can't figure out how to work with her when he still has feelings for her. “I don't want to end up like Chase. I don't want to get emotionally caught up and kill ... you,” he finishes semi-lightheartedly. They're left realizing the difficulty of working together, admitting their not-completely-negative feelings, but no closer to a resolution.

Chase does decide to reveal the cause of his distraction to the committee and gets off with minor punishment, but House is held accountable for his reluctance to see patients. In a final scene that makes up for in humour and a promising set up what it lacks in plausibility, Cuddy is ordered to have another doctor supervise House for at least a month. She assigns the employee who has been his most frequent challenger, Foreman (Omar Epps), to the role. While Foreman and House exchange evil glances, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) nods at Foreman and closes with the best last word of any episode so far: “Guess I'm his best friend now.”

(House is pre-empted next week on Fox, but should return Dec. 13 with a new episode.)

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)


Tuesday, November 29, 2005

This isn't a House review

If you were looking for my usual House episode review ... I have been posting them within a couple of hours of the show's Pacific time zone airing, but an early morning meeting tomorrow, and a differential diagnosis of Canadian sleeping sickness, means this week I'll be doing it tomorrow night instead.

In the meantime ...

My one-sentence review - It was a cool experiment in really putting the mystery in the medical mystery, plus it gave us some nice, subtle character revelations, and finally wrapped up the loose end of Chase's dying dad. But I'm feeling a new need for some charts and graphs on the show's timeline, though maybe that's a symptom of the sleepiness. (OK, that's a second sentence, but it's really just a sidenote. And TM amysusanne from TWoP on the charts and graphs thing. I'm done now.)

Favourite Housism from tonight's episode - "Livers are important, Cuddy. Can't live without them. Hence the name."

Eurythmics - Ultimate Collection

Amid some laments in the 1980s that the soul was being sucked out of pop music, Eurythmics infused synthesized hooks with a passionate intensity, thanks to Dave Stewart’s inventive productions and Annie Lennox’s rich vocals.

“Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” was their first breakout success in 1983, and brought Lennox’s sexy-androgynous style and Dave Stewart's more enigmatic charms to the pop music landscape. Their sound evolved over several albums, with the synth pop sound they helped pioneer married to rock- and soul-tinged tunes - including the memorably empowering "Sisters are Doin' It for Themselves," with the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin.

Not just a nostalgic treat, Ultimate Collection packages digitally remastered versions of 17 of Eurythmics’ previous hits with two new songs, recorded when Lennox visited Stewart’s Los Angeles home in the summer of 2005. The older tunes have lost none of their power to age, and of the previously unreleased material, the new single “I’ve Got a Life” in particular doesn’t sound out of place with the best of Eurythmics.

It wouldn’t be a proper collection if fans couldn’t lament the omission of at least one obvious track – here, it’s “Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)”, which wasn’t included on their Greatest Hits release, either.

However, the casual fan will be well-served by the Ultimate Collection's near-complete representation of Eurythmics’ highlights. Even those who already have that 15-year-old Greatest Hits will want to pick up the Ultimate Collection, not just for the two new songs — which are well worth it — but for the broader sampling of hits, including two from 1999's reunion album Peace.

Ultimate Collection - track listing
  1. I’ve Got a Life [new]
  2. Love is a Stranger [from album Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)]
  3. Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) [from album of the same name]
  4. Who’s That Girl [from Touch]
  5. Right by your Side [from Touch]
  6. Here Comes the Rain Again [from Touch]
  7. Would I Lie to You? [from Be Yourself Tonight]
  8. There Must be an Angel (Playing with my Heart) [from Be Yourself Tonight]
  9. Sisters are Doin’ It for Themselves (with Aretha Franklin) [from Be Yourself Tonight]
  10. It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back) [from Be Yourself Tonight]
  11. When Tomorrow Comes [from Revenge]
  12. Thorn in my Side [from Revenge]
  13. The Miracle of Love [from Revenge]
  14. Missionary Man [from Revenge]
  15. You Have Placed a Chill in my Heart [from Savage]
  16. I Need a Man [from Savage]
  17. I Saved the World Today [from Peace]
  18. 17 Again [from Peace]
  19. Was it Just Another Love Affair [new]
(Cross posted to Blogcritics)

Friday, November 25, 2005

I'm outraged at my lack of outrage

Those wacky reality show writers. First, they try to convince us that someone actually writes reality shows. Then, when they finally accomplish that, they try to convince us to muster some outrage about product placement in their shows.

Remember the Subservient Chicken, who would do your bidding with a simple command, that made the rounds a while ago? Now we have Subservient Donald – as in, Donald Trump. As in, The Apprentice, whose use of product placement has been a target of television writers' protests against the pervasive and growing practise of inserting brand names into shows, especially reality shows. The site is brought to us by an even more entertaining site called Product Invasion, itself the product of a group of “very sleep-deprived writers and Writers Guild of America, west staff."

Subservient Donald is their masterpiece, but we're also treated to tragic behind-the-scenes tales about producers having to pretend that participants in The Swan were eating sponsor Jenny Craig's food, even though the trainers didn't want them to. The stylish, funny site invites readers to submit pre-written e-mails to advertisers telling them how boring reality shows are now that they're more like infomercials.

So, um, if they're so dull, why are you watching?

The website is effective in helping me see the reality writers' point of view. They make me want to care about their cause. But looking at the issue from my point of view – and I'm trying to convince the world to revolve around me – I just don't. I don't care. I'm sorry.

I have great respect for television writers. Well, maybe the adjective is overkill if we're talking about reality show writers. It's possible the noun is, too. But even though I find it hard to take seriously the creative integrity of reality shows, product placement is rampant in scripted shows, some of which I do care about.

The always witty Lisa de Moraes, television columnist for the Washington Post, objected in a recent column to Medium's use of product placement, when the main characters discussed the upcoming film Memoirs of a Geisha in exchange for Geisha's producer Sony buying ads promoting the television in various high-profile publications. Show creator Glenn Gordon Caron was enthusiastic about the deal – no word on what the episode writer thought.

It must be annoying as a creative person to be forced to incorporate a specific product into your script. But unless they're really bad at it, even if I notice, I'm still not going to care that much. It's fine with me if a show has characters discussing an actual movie, unless the dialogue comes across as more copywriting, less creative writing. Because that means it's bad writing, not that it's necessarily a bad idea.

In any case, television revolves neither around the viewer nor the creator. It revolves, of course, around money. And where does the money come from? Unless we're talking HBO (and we're not, because I don't get HBO, and the world revolves around me), it's the advertisers. As long as companies are willing to pay, and people are willing to watch (because that's the only reason the companies are willing to pay), there's no incentive for networks to turn away product placement.

If we can stomach watching Tyra Banks somberly pass out head shots, while intoning “Congratulations, you're still in the running to become America's Next Top Model" time after bloody time to women who are never going to be America's next top model, there's no way we are going to tune out because the girls are strutting their stuff at K-Mart (seriously – they had a catwalk competition in K-Mart). There's an element of the ridiculous to most reality shows, so what's a bit of ridiculous product placement on top of that?

I have only so much outrage to go around, and at the moment it's all taken up with the fact that my hair salon won't tell me where my beloved hairdresser defected to. Though come to think of it, the replacement I went to was pretty great. Maybe I just don't have outrage in me. I'll make Donald Trump do the chicken dance, and laugh at the clever gimmicks on the writers' site. But even if I cared enough to say I care, unless I care enough to turn off the TV, my words mean nothing. And if everyone cares enough to tune out, these shows will fail, and the writers will be out of a job. Am I expected to believe that's what they want?

Maybe the writers will instill some outrage in the kind of people who are horrified at the content their kids are exposed to, but who can't be bothered to monitor their viewing habits or take the TVs out of their bedrooms. But unless they can get them to care enough to turn the TV off, the writers' only hope may be the FCC – who presumably don't care about advertising or ratings, but who might care about actionless outrage and standards. That is, if they can get them to care.

So sorry for not caring, writers, but thanks anyway ... you sure can write a good website.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)


Tuesday, November 22, 2005

TV Review: House, M.D. - “Hunting”

(Warning: spoilers for the episode that aired Nov. 22)

Instead of the usual pre-credits focus on getting to know the patient of the week – or the fake-out non-patient of the week - “Hunting” jumps right in with a shot of House (Hugh Laurie) and Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) discussing the question that really needed asking last week. To paraphrase Wilson wildly: what the hell did House think he was accomplishing by stealing Stacy's therapy notes and attempting to manipulate her into acknowledging that she'd rather be with House than her husband?

Because House is House, his answer is more of a non-answer. Because House is House, we also meet the patient of the week pre-credits – an HIV+ man, Kalvin, who is stalking House to try to persuade him to take the case. Hmm, doing something creepy and illegal in order to get someone to look favourably on you? Can't imagine why Kalvin thinks House would understand that method.

When House's not-quite-a-hit sends Kalvin backwards into Wilson's car, causing him to collapse, House finally has a reason to be interested in the case. Not only does the anaphylactic shock introduce a symptom he can't easily explain away, House is reminded that treating the patient might stave off the lawsuit.

That reminder comes from ex-love Stacy (Sela Ward), during a cozy domestic scene courtesy the Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital of Inappropriateness, where lawyers take meetings in their kitchens while waiting for the exterminator. Of course the scene is a wonderful excuse to introduce us to the House and Stacy of infarctions past, interacting with a casual familiar humour and warmth. It's one of many pseudodomestic moments in the episode as House finds excuses to return to her home and Stacy finds excuses to let him. In absurdly comic and sweetly affecting scenes, House traps the rat in her attic, then becomes obsessed with the sickly creature as a patient instead of a pest, returning to treat it, trap it, and continue with his devious plan to force Stacy's hand.

When House and Stacy go on a stakeout for the rat, which he's oddly and adorably named Steve McQueen, they have a conversation with a couple of layers and more than a little romantic tension. “Admit it. You like him,” House cajoles, lying shoulder to shoulder with the woman he obviously loves. “He's alright,” she responds coyly. “For a rat.”

Call me easy, but after an episode that tested my faith last week, all I needed to be back on House's side was the obvious disconnect between his admitted motivations and his actual motivations, which were full of nuances of pain and the desire to inflict pain, conveyed beautifully by Hugh Laurie's expressive face. (Well, I needed that and the impish humour that brought the funny back to the bastardly.)

House tells Wilson he doesn't want Stacy back, he just wants her to admit her feelings for him so he can tell Cuddy and have her fired or reassigned. Problem is, we've already seen her admit her feelings for him. Twice. Try again, House. A horrified but also apparently fascinated Wilson tries in vain to get House to be ashamed of his methods and drop the game of cat and mouse: “If you want her back, either tell her, or better yet, shut up and cry yourself to sleep like everybody else.”

House's game nearly works, except that Stacy isn't the only one whose emotions are being manipulated. Never very self-aware, or at least never very willing to acknowledge his awareness, House finds his plan backfiring when his file-stealing and manipulation are revealed and repel Stacy, just when his own feelings were rising to the surface.

Speaking of the time immediately after the surgery she authorized that crippled him, their lines are simpler and more straightforward than any of their previous interactions, and the emotion behind them belies his stated intention to simply manipulate her.
Stacy: “You could have asked me how I was.”
House: “I already knew. I'm sorry you were miserable.”
Stacy: “I'm sorry I caused you so much pain.”
It's a huge breakthrough for him, except it's not, really, because even though I believe he means it on one level, he's also acting out his plan on another. House fittingly, sadly, ends up home alone, with a drink ... and the rat.

Overlooking the fact that House seems to have moved again, the episode is full of lovely continuity nods to past details and character revelations. Wilson's marital troubles don't get a lot of play in “Hunting,” but his “cry yourself to sleep” line is one of a couple that's shaded with his own woes. Chase's father issues get a minor airing - but when is dad going to die, already? (I mean, not that I want him to die. Not exactly.)

And occasional references to Chase's attraction to Cameron get a major workout here. The medical storyline has Cameron exposed to HIV+ blood and taking lessons from Kalvin in seizing the day and eliminating regrets. Cameron's gravity and distraction when faced with the regime of medication and HIV tests, and the abandon and regret of her meltdown, which has her taking drugs and seducing an all-too-willing Chase, are handled well by Jennifer Morrison, who sheds the beatific demeanour that sometimes plagues the character.

One of the funniest lines in the episode had to be purposely self-referential. House explains to Wilson that he can't hit another patient to create an excuse to see Stacy again, saying: “I hate to repeat myself. People will say I'm formulaic” - mocking an often repeated criticism of this show that broke free of its original formula long ago.

In another bit of repetition, House gets punched by Kalvin's father. While my first thought was: again? (He was also punched in last season's “Detox”.) My second thought was: it really should happen every episode. The man does ask for it. And this time, he was literally asking for it so he could retaliate. It was pure House: punch as diagnostic tool, to confirm the final diagnosis – father and son hunting trips led to a shared parasite.

The patient story suffers a bit from the show's insistence on tossing out the obligatory ethical discussion that doesn't really discuss or provide any ethical meat. In a very short scene, a throwaway line by Foreman blames Kalvin for not using condoms, while Cameron defends him as getting caught doing something others do all the time with no consequences.

The medical mystery this week was buried under the far more interesting focus on character, and Kalvin either seemed irrelevant or was channelling House. For example, the patient gives Cameron, who stoically refuses to blame him for coughing blood on her and stoically takes House's little cruelties about her distress, this Housism: “Stop being nice. It's useless. And worse, it's boring.”

Kalvin also espouses the big lesson that's turned on its ear. He advocates living life without regret, while we are treated to House and Stacy's relationship being all about their past regrets, and Cameron's misguided attempts to plan regretless fun backfiring almost as surely as House's misguided plan to pursue Stacy.

I love these writers for having the courage to make their main character unlikeable. They're not just flirting with unlikeability, they're making passionate love to unlikeability. House is not bitter with a heart of gold. He's bitter with a heart of nastiness – and, yes, some gold mixed up in there, just enough that even when I'm horrified at his methods to manipulate Stacy, I sympathize with his turmoil of emotions. And even when I'm appalled at his callousness to Cameron, I almost admire him for not bothering with niceties that don't change anything substantive and that might make him the focus of her carpe dieming.

House isn't nice, but he definitely is interesting.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)


Raincoast Books introduces literary podcast series

Raincoast Books – best known as the Canadian publishers of the Harry Potter series – have taken a page from electronic media to promote their literary offerings.

The less exciting finding is that they have a blog ... sort of. It looks like a blog. It acts like a blog. But it definitely does not quack like a blog. In tone and content, it's a mechanism to distribute press releases and other announcements. You can make comments, but why would you after these dry posts that do little to encourage interactivity? Still, their latest blog post introduces another development that they do get right.

Planned as the first in their literary podcast series, Raincoast is promoting The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch in the inaugural release. The professionally produced 13-minute podcast maintains a casual, friendly tone with a brief introduction by a narrator, followed by short readings by the author which are interspersed with his comments on the concept, themes, and process of writing.

Recorded on Granville Island while he was in town as part of the Vancouver International Writers Festival, Lynch comes across as conversational and articulate, and the reading is enhanced with maritime sound effects to complement the maritime theme of the book.

From the publisher is this description of The Highest Tide:
Thirteen-year-old Miles O’Malley lives on Puget Sound and knows everything there is to know about the sea and its creatures. When he becomes the first person to sight a live giant squid he is hailed as some sort of prophet. The media descend and everyone wants to hear what Miles has to say. But Miles is just a self-described “increasingly horny, speed-reading thirteen-year-old insomniac” who’s in love with the girl next door and obsessed with the writings of Rachel Carson.

While the sea continues to offer up surprises from its mysterious depths, Miles navigates the equally mysterious world of adults. Strange events continue over the summer, culminating in the highest tide in 100 years.
The podcast, available through iTunes or by following the links on the Raincoast blog, is a great way to taste the novel to see whether you want to swallow it whole. But what they really get right is in packaging it as self-contained entertainment, too, for those who want a bit of insight into a writer's mind and an enjoyable, bite-sized tale from the novel.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Who's the boss?

One of my favourite Cary Grant movies, His Girl Friday, uses the ludicrous philosophy “production for use only” as the defense of a murder suspect. Have gun, must shoot. It's a screwball comedy, and it's supposed to be ludicrous.

But maybe it's not. Maybe it's a philosophy that is truly ingrained in our brains.

I've had a shaky relationship with cars. I got my license at 27 after starting to feel ridiculous at my state of licenselessness. After getting behind the wheel only a scary handful of times since then, I finally bought a car last year, at the shamefully late age of 34, and not because I really wanted one, but because I really wanted the job in the suburbs that required occasional travel to distant facilities. Despite all those years of happily walking, taking public transportation, or bumming rides, suddenly I'm one of those people who doesn't even think of alternate forms of transportation even when it makes more sense. Though I've never driven to the corner store, I have struggled for an hour through commuter traffic and fought for downtown parking when it would have been a relaxing 20 minute ride on the skytrain. Have car, must drive is not a philosophy I ever thought I'd follow, but I succumbed quickly. (Last night, a few months after moving to a suburb, I had a breakthrough and took the train to an event downtown ... and had a drunk kid throw up next to me on the way home. But my point is still valid. I think. Let me get back to you after I've done laundry.)

We all notice it with cell phones – some people can't bring themselves to shut them off, and if it rings, they must answer. A teacher friend of mine answered her phone in the middle of a tutoring session to tell me she'd call me back. A coworker recently answered her phone in the middle of a training session she was conducting, and continued the non-urgent conversation until her trainees wandered off to do some work. For some reason, the same production for use philosophy doesn't seem to apply to voice mail.

Our communications department just got a laminated, wallet-sized phone list of our coworkers so we can reach each other even when we're out of reach of the phone directory. I'm the only one of the 19 who has a blank space in the table under “cell phone,” which led to my boss wondering if I should get one. But I'm also one of the few whose job requires being in front of my computer most of the time. If I'm not beside my desk phone, I'm in a meeting, or driving to a meeting, or trying to catch a moment of respite from work. But if I end up filling in that gap in the table, I doubt I'll be able to preserve those moments. Have cell phone, must have better excuse not to answer than: “I went for a tea. Can't you wait ten *%$# minutes for a return phone call?”

Worse, the coworker who is preparing our emergency preparedness plan thinks we should all have BlackBerries. But my colleagues who have them now ruefully call them CrackBerries and end up answering non-urgent e-mails late at night, early in the morning, on weekends. Because they have the technology to do so, they feel an obligation to respond immediately. Again, production for use doesn't seem to apply to the off button. And while lives don't depend on us, people on the other end of those phone calls and e-mails equate the ability to respond instantly with the need to respond instantly.

I'm a low-level technophile, but not to the point where I need something just to have it. I'd love to play with a BlackBerry. A work cell phone would let me finally retire my poor old underused pay-as-you-go personal cell phone. But if I have a cell number, or access to work e-mail wherever I go, I know I'll get sucked into that world of synthetic urgency.

I can use this metaphor now that I'm (pretty much) over my car phobia: it should be me in the driver's seat, not the technology.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Podcast marketing: Show me the results

For a project at work, I checked into existing research on how podcast creators are succeeding - or failing - to reach their intended audience.

Turns out, there’s not much. Beyond slapping a podcast on a website and listing it with iTunes and other directories, or creating a podcast for a captive employee audience, what innovative things are people doing to reach a specific group of listeners? Anyone having success partnering with schools, media outlets - particularly radio, but also other media websites - or others?

I’m looking for hard facts on who’s listening and how they’re being reached, so I thought I’d slap my preliminary research up on Blogcritics - and here, why not? - and invite readers to point out other resources on targeted podcast marketing. And if I get nothing … well, maybe this will be a useful starting point for others. Or at least shame some corporation with big bucks into doing some analysis.


Because of its recent popularization, research into podcasting beyond trends and predictions is limited. There are a lot of projections on podcasting’s potential because of the exponential growth of the number of podcasts and people using the technology.

The Diffusion Group, a digital media research firm, predicts the US podcast audience will grow to 60 million listeners by 2010.

Bridge Ratings, a radio research firm, says 4.8 million people downloaded podcasts in 2005, up from 820,000 last year, with iTunes the most popular way to access them. (See Bridge Ratings’ press release Podcasting to hit critical mass in 2010.) They predict a more conservative 45 million listeners in 2010.


Much of the demographic information on podcast listenership is sketchy, conflicting, and based on small samples.

A June survey of 4,000 Internet users by Jupiter Research showed that 7 percent of those surveyed downloaded or listened to a Podcast in the last year (the survey predates the launch of iTunes with podcast capability). Those who regularly use RSS/XML feeds, podcasts and blogs are most likely to be users with more than 5 years of online experience, male, between the ages of 18 and 34, with annual incomes of $75,000 or more. (See article.)

An August survey of over 8,000 American consumers by CLX showed that podcasting is most popular with those over 45, with 21 per cent of those questioned listening to podcasts. This compares to 13 per cent of 15 to 24 year olds. (See article.)

The demographics of those using MP3 players (such as iPods) have been used to demonstrate the untapped potential for podcasting. In Canada, sales of MP3 players more than tripled between June 2004 and June 2005. 40% of Canadian households have an MP3 player. Males between 18-34 make up the majority (60%) of the MP3 player market. (See NPD Group press release.)

However, Bridge Ratings found that only about 20% of podcast listeners download podcasts to their MP3 player, meaning the potential pool of podcast listeners goes well beyond those who have the portable devices.


Podcast marketing tends to rely on directory listings, viral marketing (online word-of-mouth), and integration with existing online marketing tools (websites and e-mail campaigns). Since corporations are just stepping into the podcasting arena, there’s not much research into the effectiveness of podcast marketing campaigns.

Additional links:

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Audiobook review: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey is the author's vivid story of his fight against drug and alcohol addiction.

It begins with him waking up on a plane, disoriented, beat up, broke, unsure of where he's been or where he's going. His parents collect him and take him to a treatment facility, where he veers between wanting to turn his life around and wanting to surrender to his self-destructive habits – habits that, at the age of 23, led him to the verge of death from 10 years of severe alcoholism and 3 years of a crack addiction, among other drugs. When asked how much of each he consumes each day, he responds flatly: “As much as I can."

Frey doesn't try to represent the voice of all those who battle their addictions. In fact, he is clear to voice his individuality. His stint in rehab is at a facility that boasts the highest success rate of any in the world – a staggeringly low 17%. Unimpressed, he resists the disease model of addiction and the prescribed 12-step formula (“it's the only way" they tell him over and over again). He gains insight into himself and what he calls "the fury" through the support of some of his fellow patients and a few rules-bending staff, but he is determined to accept complete responsibility for his actions rather than admitting his powerlessness over addiction.

While it runs counter to accepted wisdom on addiction and recovery, Frey's philosophy is a truth that resonates for him, and he makes it resonate for his audience, belying the cookie cutter approach to treatment the staff try to force on him.

Our brief but vivid glimpses of his fellow patients include Lily, the fragile former prostitute he falls in love with, breaking a cardinal rule in a facility that doesn't allow conversation between patients of opposite sexes. Other friends are Leonard the sympathetic mobster, who ends up being his most loyal protector, Miles the clarinet playing judge, and staff members Hank and Joanne, who manage to keep Frey from being kicked out.

Frey's visceral narrative describes events in minute detail, from undergoing dental surgery without anaesthetic, to therapy sessions, to small kindnesses and pettinesses directed at him. He excels in beautiful descriptions of ugly pain, physical and psychological.

As read by Oliver Wyman, the audiobook of A Million Little Pieces is a gripping, emotionally raw rendition of Frey's experiences and thoughts. Using subtle but definite differentiation between voices, Wyman transforms Frey's distinctively repetitive, staccato but lyrical style into a rhythmic and hypnotic reading.

A Million Little Pieces was the first selection of the newly relaunched Oprah's Book Club. The audio edition won the AudioFile Earphones Award and Publishers Weekly Listen Up Award. The audiobook by HighBridge Audio is (sadly) abridged on eight compact discs, or six cassettes, for a total of 10 hours.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)


Tuesday, November 15, 2005

TV Review: House, M.D. - “Spin”

The patient of the week in “Spin” is a cyclist, Jeff, who disproves House's pet theory that everybody lies by readily admitting to a variety of bizarre performance enhancing techniques. This unexpected development leads House and his team to ponder multiple possible causes for one symptom – respiratory distress – rather than the usual multiple symptoms with an unknown cause. And, as the episode title suggests, “Spin” offers viewers various takes on the issue of athletes who cheat.

Unfortunately, it did little but make my head spin. House is normally brilliant at combining self-contained episodes with a steady, slow building of character, until a quick, devastating moment reveals something unexpected about these people we've come to know. This week's “Spin,” however, was not part of that smooth ride. Instead of the usual crackling dialogue, most of the lines were of the not-particularly-funny, tell-don't-show variety, offering us large chunks of backstory on the characters with little context or subtlety.

We do learn significantly more about Wilson and Cameron, but the attempt to equate cheating on a spouse with cheating in a race isn't as compelling as most of the thematic tie ins on this show. And the attempt to link House's drug use and handicap with Jeff's doping and performance enhancement is an awkward fit, too.

Cameron, Chase, and Foreman offer us the Cliffs Notes version of the ethical debate – bike racing is just a game, anyone who idolizes athletes deserves to be duped, we all try to enhance our performance (caffeine, anyone?), athletes enter into an arbitrary, accepted set of rules and should abide by them, doping is dangerous, blah blah blah. Cameron drew the short straw and got to be the voice of judgement, seeing the black in an issue that had far fewer shades of grey than we're used to seeing on House. It's preachy, from a show that rarely preaches unless it's going to turn that sermon around on us.

The character's ethical outlook here makes my head hurt. So determined is she that Jeff is ethically wrong, she is ready to violate patient confidentiality to reveal him. The woman who is in love with her ethically questionable boss, and who last season thought it was completely appropriate to blackmail a date out of him, is suddenly deciding that we can't control our emotions, but we can control our actions (a cliche I agree with, along with "practice what you preach"), and is presented as the paragon of self control. I know we women are supposed to be enigmas, but that doesn't justify creating a character who makes no sense.

Though pretty-boy Chase is the butt of many of House's barbs in this episode, he finally gets more than a couple of lines and scenes after a few episodes with little to do. And while Foreman is comparatively invisible, he does seem to have finally learned not to bet against House.

House himself doesn't fare well in “Spin”. It's too easy to gloss over Hugh Laurie's acting now that it's pretty much a universally accepted truth that words can't describe how amazing he is in the role. I really need a macro that will insert some superlative praise in every review. He usually makes even flawed scenes work. But in “Spin,” there's little for him to salvage when House's actions and words don't offer much reason to be on his side, rationally or emotionally.

Since last year's season ender, we have seen that the presence of Stacy, House's ex-love, is throwing him off. Wilson is making more sarcastic remarks about his drug use, misery, and destructive tendencies. It's partly the poignancy of these truths, and his acerbic humour, that makes House so appealing. Take that away, and you're left with the determined House of “Spin,” manipulating Stacy and her husband, Mark, in order to advance his cause of ... what? Thinking that he can win her back by being even more of an ass than usual? There is little evidence in this episode that he still loves her and is tormented by that fact – evidence we've seen before, and probably will again, but not here. There is evidence that she still loves him and is being tormented by him. But the storyline only works if I'm at least partly on House's side.

One of House's defining characteristics is his brilliance, in his profession, in the art of manipulating people, and in his humour. But his manipulation of Stacy's husband Mark is completely transparent, should be counterproductive - are his actions really designed to make Stacy pick him over Mark? - and apart from a few choice lines, isn't even funny as a payoff. (Though the setup to that manipulation, when House barges into Mark's group therapy session, is hilarious. “I've come for the healing. ... If it's a problem, I'll go deal with my rage privately.”) In the season finale last year, House couldn't figure out if he wanted to punish Stacy or win her back. It's still not clear, but whatever his goal is, his actions seem either stupid or cruel.

There's an almost-touching scene where House comes into Stacy's office to apologize and to ask if she loves him or hates him. She replies “I hate you. And I love you. And I love Mark.” He says, resigned: “And you don't hate him.” It's almost the glimpse of the tormented House I needed to buy into his actions ... until he smirks on his way out.

This isn't the character I love or the show I love at its best. But I can't bet against House either - I'm betting it will be back on its game next week.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)


A taste of my own medicine

I'll be the victim of my professional association's Spotlight on Volunteers column this month (I edit their website. Because I don't get enough of that at my day job. What was I thinking?!). I was interviewed for it last night, and one of the questions was “What's your claim to fame?”

Other people have answered “I make a mean martini,” or “I have the ability to sing the lyrics to every U2 song ever recorded.” I tried to get away with a silly non-answer about not wanting fame, just money, and the interviewer wouldn't let me. I realize I'm not exactly hilarious – my mom calls my sense of humour “subtle,” which is her way of saying “I don't get it” – but this wasn't for The Onion, either. And the woman pressed me for a serious answer about my distinguishing mark in the workplace.

But how pompous would I look, given that past interviewees have talked about their talent for making cheesecake? That's even assuming I could come up with something to set me apart. Unless my latest employee newsletter cured cancer, I don't think I have bragging rights over anyone else doing this kind of job.

I hate interviews. I've been interviewed as an organizational spokesperson, and, in one terrifying ordeal, was an undercaffeinated guest on a maniacally perky breakfast television show. But other than job interviews, I think this was the first time I've been interviewed as me, not as mouthpiece for an organization.

My high school English teacher wondered if he could pay someone to take my oral exams for me. He'd be astonished to learn that I eventually chose a career where I (very occasionally, but still ...) had to be interviewed on live TV or radio. I'm not an extrovert. Myers-Briggs would point and laugh and tell you that's an understatement. So until I regained my sanity and started specializing, media relations was the part of my job I hated, but had to struggle through to get to do the fun stuff.

And what's the fun stuff? For me, it's producing publications. Which means I end up subjecting other people to interviews. I don't love being on the questioning end, either – it still means I have to talk and use my brain at the same time – but it sure beats being on the answering end.

It's no 60 Minutes, either. Working in corporate communications means I'm looking for the positive in stories. Sometimes (scandalous PR trick alert), we make up quotes for senior administrators and run it by them to make sure it's something they're OK with “saying.” Other times, I chat with an expert for background and quotes. Some are used to the media/PR dance. Others treat me like I'm Diane Sawyer coming in for the kill, or think I'm dense because I'm asking them questions I should already know the answer to (but I want to quote them saying), or give me unusable expert-babble until I plead with them to treat me like an idiot (which only confirms to them that I am one).

But I always let people blow off the fluff questions if they want to. Maybe that's my claim to fame.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Oh Mr. Darcy!

Reviews of the new Pride & Prejudice movie, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen, have been overwhelmingly positive, though the question has been raised – did we need another version, when some people still regularly break out the DVD of the 1995 Colin Firth-Jennifer Ehle BBC miniseries? My answer is hell yeah. Let's have a new version every year, if they are equally well done.

Mr. Darcy was my first love, and it's been an enduring love, lasting through other, more fickle, romances. Some of those were even real. I read Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights – featuring my lesser loves, Mr. Rochester and Heathcliff – at an impressionable young age. More years have apparently not made me less impressionable to the charms of the Byronic hero, the flawed, brooding antihero. More recently, in more modern form, I passed through a mild flirtation with Toby Zeigler, and now Dr. Gregory House is Darcy's fiercest rival.

Do these kinds of men exist in reality? Eh, if I wanted reality, I wouldn't have plunked down $7.50 to see the Pride & Prejudice matinee, or told my friends that Tuesday evening – House evening – is out for volleyball league because I'm ... busy. Very busy. Work is often crazy that day, you know.

House, M.D. creator David Shore told Mary McNamara of the Los Angeles Times: “I didn't set out to make him sexy. I just wanted him to be interesting."

She responds: “But interesting in a way guaranteed to drive a certain type of pain-tolerant, female literary geek – 'oh Mr. Rochester' – absolutely wild. It is the women who have read and re-read Jane Eyre with its gruff and broken hero, who have sat patiently through countless remakes of Pride and Prejudice in fluttering anticipation of that one teeny tiny moment when granite-faced Mr. Darcy at last gives way who are signing up for their own personal House fantasy camp.”

I feel as though I should object to that characterization. “Pain-tolerant, female literary geek”?! Sigh. I guess the truth hurts. McNamara isn't far off the mark, though I don't think she completely describes the appeal of these characters for all of us geeks. As she says: “The eccentric, emotionally detached genius is a staple of female fantasy – a thinking woman's substitute for the bad boy in leathers.”

But I've never been one for the bad boys in real life. Astonishing as it might sound, I like a guy to be nice to me, nice to my friends, nice to my cat, nice to the waiter. (On the other hand, I've known many a guy who complains that he's too nice for women to be interested in him, and I gotta say, if “too nice” is the only flaw you can see in yourself, you're deeply in denial, and if “niceness” is your biggest attraction, you're not that interesting.)

I'm not a fixer, either. My closet door has been broken for months and I haven't gotten around to fixing it yet. Where would I get the energy to fix a human being? And that's ignoring the point I can't get around – why would I want to be with someone unless I like them the way they are?

No, it's not just about flirting with darkness, or converting the bad boy, though that is definitely far more appealing in fiction than in reality. It's also about getting past the brooding, possibly broken exterior to discover the fine soul underneath.

It's about being able to see the nobility and compassion inside the prickly doctor, and adoring the caustic wit that tempers it.

It's about a man of discriminating taste who sees the true worth of the incredible Lizzie, despite the voice of his upbringing and society telling him she is not his equal, and fantasizing ourselves in her place. Pride and Prejudice doesn't expect us to believe that Darcy becomes a better person through Lizzie's love. He was always a better person, and she was the one person who could finally see it.

That's the fantasy – discovering the diamond in the rough. Who happens to be gorgeous and rich (or at least a doctor). Yeah, who needs reality?

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)


Friday, November 11, 2005

On books

I'll be doing occasional book reviews for Blogcritics, so giddy with the success of my one-stop-shopping House, M.D. links page, I thought I'd compile my book-related posts here so I can link previous and future posts together for those who want more.

Book reviews:
Book-related posts:
  • Raincoast Books introduced literary podcast series. The title sort of sums it up. A publisher does an author reading and commentary (on The Highest Tide by Jim Lynch) as the first of a planned series of podcasts.
  • Vikram Seth talks about Two Lives. The author of A Suitable Boy was in Vancouver for a reading of his new memoir.
  • An Evening with Salman Rushdie. The writer of the recently released Shalimar the Clown and Booker-winner Midnight's Children came to Vancouver for a reading.
  • I don't watch Oprah, but ... is about the newly relaunched Oprah Book Club, mentioning her first pick, A Million Little Pieces by James Frey (the audiobook version of which I review above).
  • Amazon Short, sweet and cheap is about Amazon's offerings of short-form literature for 99 cents.
  • When fans react. My explanation of why I'm curious about the behind-the-scenes world of TV writers, which is responding to a TV writers' post on why he doesn't think writers should indulge that curiosity. It also briefly mentions a talk I attended by Margaret Atwood, and her thoughts on the writing process.
  • A gift of Fry & Laurie mentions books written by actors Stephen Fry (The Stars Tennis Balls, or Revenge in the U.S.) and Hugh Laurie (The Gun Seller).

I am not superstitious – knock on wood

In general, I'm a rational, evidence-based kind of woman. Logic is my friend. I mean, I'm no Spock – I act on emotion, too, and various other motivations I can't even begin to understand. I sobbed at the movie Beaches, for god's sake. But I don't believe the gods will strike me down if I cross them. In fact, I don't believe in the gods. Not rational or evidence-based enough for me.

And yet.

I am not superstitious, but I refuse to count on the future for fear that by doing so, I will influence it negatively. It's kind of like my bizarro version of quantum physics – just the act of scrutinizing the subject will affect its behaviour. As in, if I really, really want that great apartment I applied for, I must firmly believe I won't get it, or the act of hoping for it will cause me not to get it. And then when I do (and did), I am both jinx-free and insanely happy. If I'm granted an interview with a writer from a show I admire, I can't tell anyone or truly believe it will happen until the interview actually occurs, for fear that anticipating it will cause it to be a cruel hoax, or the writer will change his mind or get abducted by aliens. (It wasn't, and he didn't.)

How do I rationalize my proclaimed lack of superstition with this some-might-call-it superstition? The obvious answer: a lot of denial. But I don't think that's completely it. Or it's "it" in a more interesting way than just my irrationality about being rational.

Years ago, I saw a story on Dateline NBC by reporter John Hockenberry (who completely incidentally wrote a great book about his life, including his earlier years as a journalist, called Moving Violations: War Zones, Wheelchairs, and Declarations of Independence). The segment was about how our brains are hardwired to deceive ourselves. Years later, I still think of this as one of those obvious truths I hadn't really thought of before seeing that report. The point was, if we saw things the way they really are, severe depression would probably be the only sane reaction, not a reason to inquire about Prozac. Instead, our brains paint a sunnier picture for us than reality would suggest.

You might think that believing I will be rejected by the apartment I long for, or that the writer I want to interview will be kidnapped by aliens, is perhaps my brain painting a darker (some might say crazier) picture than reality. But it's forced, preventive pessimism to manipulate myself into seeing a sunnier outcome, a way of believing things will be worse than they should actually be, so that what actually does happen must be better than I was anticipating. Enough crushing disappointments happen unexpectedly in life. My superstition ... I mean, philosophy ... is a safeguard to ensure some pleasant surprises.

Hmm, maybe I could interview someone about this theory that denial is a survival mechanism. But don't tell anyone – you might jinx it.


Thursday, November 10, 2005

Vikram Seth talks about Two Lives

“I find it difficult to talk about the book. I don't think writers should be expected to be as articulate at speech as they are at writing,” said the charmingly unpolished Vikram Seth at a recent reading for the Vancouver International Writers Festival.

The book he was there to talk about was Two Lives, part memoir, part biography of his great-uncle Shanti and wife Henny.

After the success of his mammoth novel A Suitable Boy (a 1500-page tome affectionately known in his family, he said, as “the fat boy”), Seth found himself unsure what his next project should be. His mother suggested he interview 86-year-old Shanti, whose beloved wife Henny had died a few years previously. “He lacks purpose. And clearly you lack purpose as well,” Seth quoted his mother with a chuckle.

He began to interview his great uncle, who was sent from India to pre-war Germany to train as a dentist. There, he fell in love with his landlord's daughter, who was engaged to someone else at the time, and who was initially disdainful of the “black man” to whom her family was renting a room. Before they were to marry years later, personal and global tragedies intervened. Jewish Henny fled her homeland for England weeks before war was declared, leaving behind a sister and mother she would never see again, victims of Nazi concentration camps. Shanti, who had also emigrated to England, lost his arm while serving in the war – a devastating injury that ended his career temporarily, until a friend encouraged him to practise one-handed dentistry, which he mastered.

Seth relied on his great-uncle's account of his life to provide much of the material for Two Lives, but ran into difficulties when trying to flesh out the other life. Shanti and Henny had not spoken of the loss of her family, or her thoughts on the war – their relationship was not built on confidences, Seth said, but on confidence. His father's discovery of letters in an attic trunk ended up providing the fortuitous second core of the book. Henny had communicated her thoughts and feelings on the war at length with friends back in Germany, and, Seth laughed, was “Germanic enough” to have kept carbon copies of her own half of the correspondences. With Shanti's blessing, he used portions of those poignant letters in Two Lives.

“This was no longer a family chore that had been foisted on me,” Seth said about the discovery of the letters and what they revealed about Henny's life. “It became the book I couldn't not write.”

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Movie Review: Water

Canadian-based writer and director Deepa Mehta had a turbulent ride trying to get this last of her Elements trilogy filmed. Water, along with its predecessors Fire and Earth, is a self-contained story about a slice of Indian society, and as in some of her previous films, it's a slice some would rather not have on display.

Protesters, upset with Mehta's focus on issues that plague her homeland - particularly aspects of the Hindu religion, past and present - destroyed sets, issued death threats against her, and caused production to be shut down on the first day of shooting. After returning to Canada to film Bollywood/Hollywood and The Republic of Love, Mehta persisted with Water and shot secretly in Sri Lanka.

Water is set in 1930s India, during Gandhi's rise in prominence and before the country's independence. In the lushly shot film, eight-year-old Chuyia (an astonishingly mature Sarala) is woken by her father's words: “Do you remember getting married?”

“No,” she sleepily replies.

“Your husband died. You're a widow now.”

“For how long?” she asks, as we see her father's stricken face.

In that time and place, Hindu widows were either burned with their deceased husbands' remains, married to his younger brother, or, as in Chuyia's case, sent to an ashram for life, where her misfortune cannot contaminate others. Her head is shorn, she must wear the distinctive white sari, and live a cloistered life of deprivation and penitence.

Chuyia meets old women who don't remember a life before widowhood, women who were once little girls like her who had never met the husband whose death consigned them to a life deemed worthless by those around them. She also meets a beautiful young woman, Kalyani (Lisa Ray, Bollywood/Hollywood), allowed to wear her hair long and luxurious, who is segregated even within the segregated widows, living and eating above the main living quarters. The reason becomes clear to the audience, though not to Chuyia, through whose eyes we see most of the action – Kalyani is the ashram's most reliable source of income, sent across the holy river Ganges to prostitute herself while the others beg for change in the streets.

Chuyia knows her as the serene but spirited owner of a covert puppy, and the closest she has to a friend among the much older widows. Mehta has assembled a perfect assortment of characters and personalities - these are faces gorgeous in their realism, weathered by age and experience. Most notable are powerful old Madhumati (Manorma), who is no mother figure – as the one who supplies Kalyani's clients, she's the madame figure. The nurturing, disciplinarian role falls to Shakuntula (Seema Biswas, Bandit Queen), whose self-control and faith hides her inner turmoil at her fate.

While chasing the runaway dog through the streets of Varanasi, the city where Water is set, Chuyia encounteres Narayan (John Abraham), a law student. When he leads the lost girl back to her companion, he falls instantly in love with the beautiful Kalyani.

This is Water's significant flaw, which surprisingly, fortunately, doesn't sink the film - the love story is shallower than the average romantic comedy. They're both inhumanly attractive people, their characters are likable and idealistic, and that's supposed to be enough, I suppose. Most aggravating is that she acts like a different person around him, meek and submissive, with none of the impish exuberance she displays with Chuyia.

Fortunately, the movie's other depths rescue it from triviality. It's finely drawn melodrama with enough humour to make the tragedies even more devastating. While Chuyia and Narayan – and his belief in Gandhi's ideals - represent change on the horizon, Water balances hope with despair.

Explaining the fate of widows, Narayan says: “One less mouth to feed, four less saris, and a free corner in the house. Disguised as religion, it’s just about money,” in the line that perfectly encapsulates the message of the film. Mehta is not attacking religion – she's critiquing an interpretation of religion that allows for the degradation of these women.

Though the film is set almost 70 years ago, it ends with the declaration that many widows in India still live in societal and economic repression. Mehta is, of course, scrutinizing part of her culture she feels needs scrutiny. But before Western audience make accusations of third-world barbarism, she urges us to consider the broader message from our own cultural perspective. She points to the practise in Canada of sending elderly relatives to live in institutions, for example, as something she finds shocking.

“We are very good, as different nations and different cultures, to have a collective amnesia about our own [problems],” Mehta told the CBC. “[Water] is about three women trying to break that cycle and trying to find dignity, and trying to get rid of the yoke of oppression, and if it inspires people to do something in their own culture, that’s what’s important.”

Water is now playing in Canadian theatres.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics.)


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

TV Review: House - “Daddy's Boy”

The latest episode of House, the first of the November sweeps period, introduces us to the couple who spawned Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) – nice, normal Mom (Diane Baker), and ex-marine Dad (R. Lee Ermey). As House desperately tries to avoid dinner with them while they're in town on a layover, Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard) and Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) try desperately to trick him into seeing them.

Though Foreman (Omar Epps) provides the opinion that “only a mother could do that much damage,” their appearance sheds little light on how their little Gregory grew into a bitter, sarcastic misanthrope. It does, however, offer another poignant layer to his current misery – though it's far less revealing than the episode-long setup led me to expect.

The medical mystery of the week, however, was one of the most shocking. No, not really – that was another bad pun, a leftover from my exposure to last week's “TB or not TB” episode – but it was one of the more interesting cases. Carnell Hall, a recent college graduate, is brought to the hospital suffering from unexplained electric shocks and various other bizarre symptoms. Always squeamish about visuals of surgery in progress and CGI innards, my stomach and I were slightly traumatized by this episode's normal delight in those, plus an unusual fixation on bodily fluids and solids. Note to self: forget the popcorn next Tuesday.

House's icy relationship with his parents is contrasted with the loving but deceitful relationship between the patient of the week and his father. Unravelling the lies is, as is often the case, the key to solving the mystery. Dad lied to son about how Mom died, son lied to Dad about his spring break activities, Dad lied to House about where he works ... and as the audience knows, patients and their families should never, ever lie to Dr. House, unless they want to be subjected to the three-misdiagnoses-before-actual-diagnosis treatment method.

House's motto “everyone lies” is used and abused in “Daddy's Boy,” as we get comment after comment on how and why (almost) everyone does. Besides the patient and his father, House himself is the biggest lier here. He lies to his parents to avoid dinner, and lies to Wilson, who is startled to learn that his friend is trying to objectively measure how much he values their friendship. House's unexpected truth to Cameron about his father – and, even more subtly, about his attitude toward her – is even more unexpected given the string of lies that came before ... though he was unusually chatty about his personal life in this episode.

His potential self-destruction is on display again, as he shows off his shiny new motorcycle. Wilson, who as usual plays the role of House interpreter in this episode, also plays the role of House protector by admonishing him that a motorcycle is perhaps not the best mode of transportation for a crippled drug addict. The friendship between House and Wilson is so beautifully done already that it's paradoxically frustrating to think of how much better it could be if Wilson were given more of a life beyond those roles.

Though this wasn't a “wow” episode, subtly is not a bad thing, nor is complexity. The character revelations of “Daddy's Boy” don't stand on their own as stunning insight, but they do add more pieces to the puzzle that is House, while raising additional questions for future weeks to answer.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics)


Friday, November 04, 2005

Threshold writers get blogging

I've been known to whine that television networks don't do a very good job of using the Internet to complement their programs (Brave new cyberworld and TV ventures into podcasting are a couple of examples). But things have really picked up this season, with entire episodes for selected shows available online, podcasts offering DVD-style content, and other online content.

CBS is creating blogs for its shows, including one supposedly written by a character - Barney's Blog for How I Met Your Mother. It's not a show I watch, and not a concept I'm very enthusiastic about. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them when watching television, but I'm not sure I care what fictional characters have to say beyond that box.

But now, a show I have watched and enjoyed, Threshold, has combined my craving for glimpses behind the scenes with my theory that more online content makes for more loyal fans. The Writers' Grotto is that show's recently launched blog. There are only a few posts, but I've already learned something new - the title "Story Editor," like most of the producer credits on TV, represents a staff writer. I feel so silly for thinking it meant someone who edited the stories.

So far the posters have been story editor Amy Berg, who wrote tonight's episode (which I have yet to see, but it's waiting for me) and who offers some interesting insight into the writing process; creator Bragi Schut, who talks about the genesis of the show; and producer (hey, look at me, I know that means writer, too) Andre Bormanis, who talks amusingly about the aliens on the show.

It's not hard hitting stuff, but for the casual fan, it's a great peek at the process behind the product. Oh, and CBS calls it a blog, but there's no ability to comment on the posts. Still, cool idea.

I'm not completely sold on Threshold, but watch it when I'm home and remember, largely because of the magnetic Carla Gugino and Peter Dinklage, as well as the vaguely X-Filesish nostalgia it inspires in me. I recorded it tonight for the first time after the blog both reminded and intrigued me. Marketing 101. Beautiful.

(Cross posted to Blogcritics.)

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

House, M.D. posts

See season two and three plus DVD reviews at the bottom of this post. Other House-related posts:

Season three episode reviews:

Season two episode reviews:

DVD review: