Thursday, November 30, 2006

Guest blogger brother on "Finding Judas"

Because Will doubted me, yes, these are excerpts of actual e-mail exchanges. Some day researchers will isolate the nerd gene.

Brother: Just finished watching "Judas". The one thing about the show is that it goes into unsafe territory enough that I actually wasn't sure whether or not they were going to hack that little girl's limbs off. Any other show I would have known there would be a last minute reprieve, but this show has killed babies, so you never know. To me, this is a good thing. Not that I think killing babies is good, I just like to be kept in suspense.

I didn't dislike (or not love as much as other episodes) this one as much as you did. Yes, House is nasty and unlikeable. I agree with everything you said about him. I just find this turn of character interesting, and want to see how it turns out. I'm not saying I'd want to see him like this for the rest of the show's run, just that I like the new dynamic.

Of course, I say this after trashing the first few episodes of the season. Change is bad, unless I like it.

Me: Your opinion of "Judas" seems to be exactly my friend's, on the other side of the love-hate line. I agree with everything you said. I just didn't particularly like that episode. And yet it engaged me way more than say the first and third episodes of the season. It got me frustrated with the character more than the show (though I have my little annoyances about how they keep saying pretty much the same thing about his pain/addiction conundrum).

Brother: Two against one. We win. You have to like it now.

Me: You've convinced me. I like it now. I'm going to print a retraction.

Brother: And I finally get to see Chase punched, except that I'm on his side. Oh, well. I'll probably clip that bit out and loop it on my desktop anyway.

House wasn't nearly this nasty when he voluntarily went off the Vicodin when he had the bet with Cuddy. He wasn't exactly happy, but he sure didn't sink to this level. And he even has a supply now, just not as much as he'd like.

Me: Yeah and I'm comparing this episode unfavorably with "Detox," which I thought did a much better job of raising the same issues and being more entertaining and thoughtful and complex.

But I'll have to see where it goes to know how I feel about the storyline in general. I admire that they're willing to risk having him be that irredeemably nasty, but it didn't pay off for me in the short term, and if they don't go anywhere different with it than what we've seen before, it's probably not one that will pay off for me in the long term either. I'm waiting for them to get back to the usual pill-popping funny bastard House, and yet if that's all this is, it's like we keep going in circles just to add a little drama.

I initially worried about the Tritter storyline because I feel like they don't do ongoing stories very well, like the Vogler thing, or the Cameron crush thing, or the Stacy thing. Then I enjoyed it at first, but now ... I don't know, it's starting to feel pretty familiar and like it can only end with a whimper again.

How random can I get?

Don't look for the through-line in these links. Just think of it as interesting stuff I read today. Actually, if you can come up with a through-line, you should win a prize or something. Not that I'm going to give you one.

Why We Worry About the Wrong Things - I kept meaning to write something about our tendency to focus on the least likely risks, but couldn't find my way in without writing about stuff I didn't really want to talk about. But this is way more interesting and factual than I would have written it.

Blame it on Borat - I don't care that Pamela Anderson's marriage is ending. I don't care if Borat had anything to do with it. But this is a very strange article that quotes the chairperson of English and film studies at the University of Alberta - the department and university I graduated from, though too long ago for him to have been there at the time - who comments way too seriously on a topic I'd tried to say something about ... that some people seem to be laughing at the wrong parts of Borat:

Epp says it's a serious misinterpretation of Borat if anyone is assuming that it's now acceptable to hurl racial and sexist epithets as a form of humour.

"The people who use that kind of humour and make those kinds of comments are the butt of the jokes in the film, and it would be particularly sad, and actually truly pathetic, if anyone came out of that film not understanding that."

Humor returns to roost on Thursday. Yay, Scrubs and the Thursday comedy block are back. This is a hilarious interview with producers of all four shows.

Q: What's coming up on your shows?

Greg Garcia, My Name is Earl: We have my favorite episode of the season tonight. (Pause.) I don't even know which one is on.

Q: Scrubs isn't the only sitcom dealing with babies. Earl's Jaime Pressly recently announced her pregnancy. And 30 Rock was put off for a year when Fey had her daughter. Is there something in the bottled water?

Bill Lawrence, Scrubs: Very funny people are very fertile. It's a medical fact.

Tina Fey, 30 Rock: And everybody wants to get it on with them.

Garcia: You can't keep people away from us.

Fey: And we don't understand birth control.

Brain Drain: 3 lbs goes to early grave. I can't say I'm surprised this show didn't catch on, but it did worse than Smith did, even. Oh well, I still have my brain squeezy toy and they can't cancel that.

Cover Their Tracks: Don't ask why a lumber publication was on my reading list, but it's a funny take on business owners being tempted to keep track of their staff with new technology, described more seriously here: Nike+iPod could be used to track user: study.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ice, snow, and understanding

When I lived in Alberta, we used to make fun of those wimps on the West coast who couldn't handle a little snow. We'd see the images of slipping and crashing cars, the bewildered pedestrians, and mock them. The entire Vancouver area would shut down after an amount of snow that would make Edmontonians and Calgarians think spring had arrived.

Now that I live in the Vancouver area, I see the other side. Albertans have parkas and boots and toques. The non-skiers in Vancouver think an umbrella is snow gear. Albertans have had far more practice driving in the snow, and they have snow tires. Edmonton and Calgary also have adequate snow removal budgets and equipment. Vancouver's snow removal equipment is called the sun and the rain, and the district has to crack open the piggy bank to get gas for the grader.

I may be from Alberta, I may have earned my driving license in Alberta, but I didn't actually drive in Alberta. I'm not as unconfident about my driving as I sometimes sound, but I know my limitations. I also know the limitations of Vancouver drivers. So I made the decision to be a wimp and work from home Monday and Tuesday, and left the office at the first sign of flakes today. It helped give me uninterrupted time in order to put out a special edition of our newsletter with winter safety tips. Like, stay home if you can.

One of my coworkers said that in this weather, you can tell the drivers to avoid because they're the ones behind the wheel with white knuckles and wide eyes, like deer in the headlights. "That's me! I'm the white-knuckled deer in your headlights!" I said before I headed home for the scariest drive I've had since my crazy driving instructor took me on the Deerfoot Freeway in Calgary two minutes into my first lesson ever.

So before you mock me for not wanting to venture out in two inches of snow, remember that there's black ice under it and crazy drivers on top of it. I'd rather not be one of them.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

TV Review: House - "Finding Judas"

I was chatting with a friend after we'd watched this latest House episode, "Finding Judas" (which makes House Jesus? Talk about your ironic titles). She loved it, I hated it. (Well, "hate" here is defined as "loved slightly less than most other episodes of this show.") When we got further into the discussion, it was obvious that our overall impressions were virtually identical, until we got to those opposite conclusions. Sometimes there really is a fine line, not a Great Wall of China, between love and hate.

I love bastard House. I defend bastard House. I've never thought the bastardliness was hiding a man who really loves puppies and sunsets, and I think it's more interesting that he's not only a bastard on the outside. But this House, the House who is hitting rock bottom in "Finding Judas," was not fun, or funny, or sympathetic, and all that candy coating is what makes bastard House go down so smoothly.

I thought I'd really enjoy watching Chase getting punched, as he was at the end when he provided the medical epiphany moment after House botched the case. Foreman is right, Chase is hardwired to kiss ass, and that doesn't endear him to me. But it turned out I wanted Chase to get up and beat House senseless with his stethoscope so he'd quit his bloody whining. Your leg hurts? Do something about it. Try something else for pain management, like all those doctors around you are pleading, like the cop who is making your life and your colleagues lives miserable is demanding.

Yeah, I know that's not House's M.O. (And I know he's a fictional character and my hectoring will have no effect.) That's why I can appreciate what the episode is trying to do without necessarily enjoying it (remember the silent "as much as most other episodes" at the end of that sentence).

I can't believe I'm agreeing with scary Tritter, but we keep coming back to this: apparently everyone but House believes he is taking too much Vicodin, yet no one will actually do anything to stop him from practicing medicine in what they think is an impaired state. Maybe he's impaired when he's taking too much Vicodin, or maybe he's impaired when he's in too much pain to focus on the case. Either way, in "Finding Judas," little Alice, the six-year-old patient of the week, almost lost her limbs because he was too busy focusing on how mean Cuddy was for rationing his Vicodin. (He hides his secret stash in a lupus textbook, because "it's never lupus.")

Alice was brought to the hospital in excruciating abdominal pain, and her bickering parents can't agree on consent for surgery. Instead of threatening to cut the girl in half, House goes before the wisdom of a judge who rules in his favour - and, incidentally, the mother's. When mystery rashes start appearing and treatment doesn't work, it's the father who wants to refuse House's treatment, so back to the judge they go. In a surprise move - for those who hadn't read the episode description - she awards temporary guardianship to Cuddy in order to make medical decisions.

House's position is that Cuddy's middle-of-the-road approach, in Alice's treatment and in his own pain management, is cowardly, and that her medical decisions are only resulting in her getting sicker. He thinks his team is cowardly for not ratting him out, and barely listens to their medical opinions because they interfere with his complaining about his Vicodin being rationed. But he's the biggest coward here, taking the head-in-sand approach to his legal problems and the impact those problems are having on the people closest to him. Even I want to smack House, and my bank accounts haven't been frozen. Last I checked.

He's always been an advocate for people doing what they think is right, even if it means standing up to him, and he's no different here. But even though he's goading them to do the right thing here, they believe that loyalty supersedes the law, medical ethics, and, if they do believe he's out of control, House's own well-being. He's goading them to take action because he won't, or can't, or wants to make a game out of it, or isn't thinking of the consequences because all he can think about are drugs. None of those options are admirable in a guy who does the right thing - in his own wrongheaded way - in professional circumstances, but rarely does the right thing in personal ones.

The gang refuses to talk to Tritter, but the way he puts pressure on each of them, and the reasons why they don't talk, are revealing.

Tritter offers Foreman a deal - the truth about how many pills House takes each day in exchange for parole for his previously unheard-of brother, who's locked up on drugs violations. Foreman refuses, even after Tritter points out that juvenile car thief Foreman has had two chances, House has had a thousand, and his brother is stuck at one. Foreman has written off his addict brother, and suddenly his pragmatism about House being an addict, and his hardness about people who can't overcome their weaknesses or upbringing, has a context.

The cop presses the love angle with Cameron, pointing out that she's changed under House's tutelage: "You used to be someone who did the right thing." She denies she's in love with House, though she's fooling no one.

Chase, the one who ratted on House during the Vogler era, is set up by Tritter to look like a rat this time, even though he refuses to divulge any information. He's the only one whose accounts aren't frozen - though he lies about it - and Tritter arranges a friendly, public meeting so they look cozy. Damned if you do, damned if you don't, right, Chase?

Their blind loyalty is not appreciated by House, and he gets meaner and meaner to prove it. He saves his most unforgivable viciousness for Cuddy, confronting her after she carries the sick girl into a shower in desperation to cool her fever.

I like mean House, when he's funny, or making a point - even if that point is that someone is stupid. But his attack on Cuddy was deeply personal: "It's a good thing you failed to become a mom, because you suck at it." If he weren't a fictional character, I'd gouge his eyes out for her. When Wilson tries to comfort her, especially after she admits to a miscarriage, she points out that House knows how to poke where it hurts, and expresses her own doubts over her maternal fitness.

Wilson is the designated shoulder this episode. He also encounters an upset Chase after he's been punched for trying to stop House from maiming Alice for no reason. House doesn't want to hear that his own medical decisions have led to the wrong conclusion, that she has flesh eating disease and needs her arm and leg amputated. As Chase pieces together, Alice is actually allergic to light, a condition that will limit but not end her life, and definitely not end her full-limbedness. After the punch, House finally seems appalled by himself, though not enough to do anything drastic like apologize.

Wilson tells Chase: "Beckett was going to call him play Waiting for House's Approval, but decided it was too grim." But Chase declares he's not waiting for approval, and Wilson translates that correctly. Before Chase can potentially ruin his career by becoming a rat for a second time, Wilson goes to Tritter to ask for his "30 pieces of silver." And we've found our Judas. Except Judas might not have been acting in everyone's best interests.

It seems House needs to hit bottom before he can be redeemed, or at least scraped off the floor. I like that we're seeing more of the dynamics between all the characters, and how they demonstrate their loyalty, and where their cracks are. But I didn't find it fun to watch a bastard House with no redeeming flashes of humour or decency. And without the House I love at its centre, the show is as interesting and complex as ever without being nearly as compelling.

I know he'll be back soon, but I don't want my funny, sympathetic bastard House to ever go away. Next episode better be "Finding House."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Book Review: V0N 1B0: General Delivery, Whistler, B.C. by Ian Verchère

Ian Verchère is a former Whistler resident and ski pro, and a current video game producer and friend of Douglas Coupland, who writes the introduction. All of those elements are evident in VON 1B0, an insider's perspective on the Whistler of yesterday and today (the title is the postal code of the town). The book is being promoted as the Whistler version of Coupland's City of Glass, which I haven't read, but V0N 1B0 is definitely Couplandesque.

The North Vancouver native compiles humorous vignettes and a ton of photos on subjects like his first experiences at nearby Whistler, descriptions of perfect - and not-so-perfect - types of snow, the life of locals who work at the ski hill, the weather, the future, the gear.

One short but memorable chapter is on the abundance of Microsoft code names lifted from the area, like "Whistler" for Windows XP, and "Longhorn," a local bar, for the new Vista operating system. ("It requires some restraint not to come up with a list of reciprocal code Whistler-Blackcomb code names. You know, for chairlifts that regularly freeze. Or condominiums that require frequent updates and patches.")

Verchère evokes the town before it became BC's only resort municipality, from the perspective of a local who's bitter, but not so bitter that he hasn't decided to support the upcoming 2010 Olympic Games that will further change the town of his memories - if only because there's not much point in not supporting them now that they're a done deal.

The birth of Whistler is a far more recent event than I would have guessed - Verchère pegs it at 1965 - and yet the changes since then are astronomical. The book is a subtle elegy for the lost Whistler, with no small amount of scorn for the new Whistler, the Disney-fied Whistler full of Alpine McMansions, the municipality that would rather turn its back on prosaic parts of the town that demonstration the need for locals to eat, or get their cars fixed, or have affordable housing.
"It was deemed that future sales of lots 'were to remain affordable by being tied to Vancouver housing price indices.' In retrospect, that's like tying the cost of ski equipment to the cost of space shuttles."
The author points out that Whistler's attempt to hide any signs of normal life is foiled by the fact that the face of normal is visible along the Sea to Sky highway from Vancouver. Yet the Alpine McMansion Whistler is all I ever knew of the place, and all I imagine many readers have known.

V0N 1B0 is not is a cohesive history of the town. It is an unexpected and vivid portrayal of a place many of think we know, written with a strong, entertaining voice that gets us uninitiated folks into the locals-only places. Or as Verchère puts it:
"Think of it this way: if I'm at Disneyland, the picture of Mickey I'm after is one of the actor who inhabits the costume, the guy making nine bucks an hour, with his mouse head off to relive heat prostration, sneaking a cigarette. Now that may not be the picture that Disneyland wants you to see, but it is authentic."
V0N 1B0: General Delivery, Whistler, B.C. by Ian Verchère is published by Douglas & McIntyre.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

TV Review: Intelligence - "Love and War"

A lot of pieces to the detailed puzzle come together in the "Love and War" episode of CBC's Intelligence.

Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) gets some answers about who might have been responsible for the death of Lee the mole, whose turning she celebrated for about two minutes before he was shot for being a rat. From mole to rat to a body shoved in a washing machine carton - poor guy. But as Martin the polite pig comforts Mary, "it's the cost of playing, isn't it?"

Spalding learns that someone in the Hong Kong police called the guy who killed Lee shortly before the shooting, and by the end of the episode, she discovers that CSIS slimeball Roger Deakins was the one who placed that call. Or at least the call was placed from Deakins' phone, but my suspicions about Mary's deputy slimeball Ted are somewhat allayed by the fact that I'd hope it would be very difficult for a CSIS office to be broken into, or cell phone stolen.

In any case, Christmas comes early for Ted, who thinks Mary's chances of the CSIS promotion are kaput, and who has been hoping - and likely plotting - Deakins' downfall, too.

The penny also dropped when it comes to something Ian Tracey said during our interview several weeks ago, something that didn't make it into the final article. I had asked what Reardon's biggest vulnerability is, and hesitating a bit because he didn't want to reveal details that would spoil episodes that hadn't yet aired, he said: "He's not walking the fence, but reaching a crossroads - are you in or are you out. It's a hard thing to get out of. You can't just walk away. His vulnerability is probably his uncertainty for the future." At the time, the reason for that answer wasn't apparent onscreen, but suddenly it's crystal clear.

Jimmy has already told Mary that he plans to go legit in five years, but we've seen no evidence that he's winding down, and much evidence that he's widening his business on more and more fronts. Yet as Ronnie points out, Jimmy needs to decide if he's going to retire so his successors can carry on with a parceled-off business, or decide "what we're willing to fight for."

"I feel an anthem coming on," says Mike, who besides a hideous cut hidden under his bandages, seems none the worse for the throat slashing of last episode - except for concocting the most disgusting meal out of blended fried eggs and tomato juice, which turned my stomach far more than the blood from that slashing and from Lee's shooting combined.

In fact, the attack seems to have increased his brain power a little. Jimmy refuses to enter into a war with the bikers without proof that they were behind Mike's attack. He's apparently an advocate for empirical gangsterism. Mike agrees with Ronnie that they need to fight for their empires, but backs his brother up: "I want to bury the right guy."

Before I get too full of praise for screw up Mike, Jimmy'd better hope he's just inept and not a traitor. It seems Mike helped set up the meeting between his brother and a drug distributor who is actually the DEA operator we've heard so much about. Jimmy's suspicions seem to have been raised, however, since he instructs his man Bob to get the guy's car followed.

Everyone's suspicions are confirmed when Jimmy meets Mary, who wants him to help newly turned rat Randy Bingham to set up another gun shipment. In exchange, she tells him that the bikers were behind the attack on Mike. Assuming Reardon trusts Spalding - and while we know it's true, her tip that the Vietnamese were behind the attempted hit on Jimmy and Ronnie didn't pan out - he now has his proof that the bikers have declared war behind Jimmy's back, despite scary biker boss Dante having agreed to Jimmy's Christmas-sounding plea for peace and prosperity.

With war declared, whether Jimmy likes it or not, the threat of violence hangs over the Reardon empire more than ever. Vic, the vending machine entrepreneur who's been fronting Jimmy's ATMs, begs to be let off the hook after the bikers come after him, and he fears for his family. Before that, Jimmy's unstable ex-wife Francine had come to him asking him to consider sending their daughter Stella away to school. He objects, causing her to demand whether he can guarantee Stella's safety. The woman has a good point. Which must mean she's got some other agenda.

The episode ends with Jimmy and Mary proving what a bad day it'd been for them. Jimmy finally plans his attack, a retaliation on the bikers with the help of his new Vietnamese connections. How bad has Mary's day been? She flashes her badge in order to get into a closed liquor store. Funny, but probably not smart.

The next episode of Intelligence airs Tuesday, Nov. 28 at 9 p.m. on CBC.

I like to watch. Sometimes.

I'm watching Action on DVD, the short-lived 1999 series from FOX starring Jay Mohr as a slimeball film producer named Peter Dragon who has no redeeming qualities except his affection for Illeana Douglas's hooker. The first episode starts with a reference that's not as dated as it would have been a month ago.

An agent tries to sell Dragon on a mystery client, a big star who had some legal problems. Like being accused of a double murder.

Dragon: You're pitching me OJ Simpson.

Agent. Yes I am. Pete, little children in Calcutta know his face.

Dragon: Yes, they know to run away from it.

Agent: The name is more recognizable than Tom Hanks.

Dragon: OK, you know what, but to be fair, Tom Hanks refuses to go that extra mile and hack his wife to death.

One of the show's running jokes is how unappreciated is the beleaguered writer of Dragon's next film ("a cross between Dr. Doolittle and Apocalypse Now").

"If writing's hard, how come Matt Damon and Ben Affleck have Oscars?"

"Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill him." "I think you get fined by the Writers Guild. [Pause] But it's only $2,500."

There are some recognizable writers in the credits, like Jim Vallely of Arrested Development and Will Forte of SNL. I think we might have a clue why they chose TV over film.

I've had better luck with TV over film myself lately. I saw a preview screening of Bobby last week, and I'm not sure I got the point. I mean, I get that it was a microcosm of what was going on at the time, but I'm not sure why I was supposed to care about most of those characters, and little held them together except they were in the hotel the day Robert Kennedy was shot. One review I read yesterday said it was like The Love Boat done by Robert Altman, which seems pretty apt to me. It wasn't terrible, but a disappointment anyway. It also forced me to confront the fact that I really like the unskanky Lindsay Lohan who shows up onscreen.

Yesterday I saw Borat, because it's what all the cool kids are doing, but I pretty much hated it. There were times when I was laughing so hard that you might swear I couldn't possibly have hated it, but most of the time I wanted to hide under my seat. Except for that part where he tries to say hello to the weatherman on air. And when he tries to unpack in the elevator. And when he incites the rodeo people to disturbing levels of bloodthirstiness and racism. And ...

It reminded me of Letterman sending Rupert Gee out with his camera glasses to ridicule himself and others, except cruder and ruder. Funny in small doses, but mostly just uncomfortable and I wanted him to get to the stupid pet tricks.

It also reminded me - though not in subject matter - of this little short I saw on DotComedy recently. That's NBC Universal's attempt to launch their own YouTube, with clips of their own shows, things made specifically for the site, and viewer-created videos. It's kind of lame so far, but there are clips of stand-ups, like Paula Poundstone doing a routine after she was busted for drunk driving with her foster kids in the car, and I'm waiting for the vintage Letterman they've promised.

Anyway, there's one short, called Equal Opportunity, that basically repeats one joke over and over until it becomes funnier (for me, at least) through repetition, and it has an odd payoff at the end, too. It's people in an office break room talking to each other strictly through hugely offensive gender, racial, or gay stereotypes. DotComedy doesn't have the ability to embed yet, but the short is here. If you're going to watch - and remember I warned you it's purposely offensive - watch the credits, too.

My point is, like Borat, it does make me slightly uneasy that some people don't seem to get the satire. There's one comment on that short: "This is the best, I wished we would all be honest like that the world would be so much happier!" Maybe that person is joking. But I bet there's people walking out of Borat thinking their racist and xenophobic views have just been validated. That's their stupidity more than Sacha Baron Cohen's responsibility, but it still made me uncomfortable to hear some of the "yeah!"s in the theatre coming at what seemed like the wrong time to me.

Of course, that's not really why I mostly hated the movie. It just wasn't my taste, and I kind of figured that going in, but I thought I might be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes I don't like being right.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Next it's locusts

Rain and wind storms, OK, but it's not supposed to snow in Vancouver. I want my money back. And when can I start drinking my damn water?

It'll probably melt tomorrow, but I'm grumpy tonight. It's cold out there.

More Adventures in Canadian TV

With the CRTC hearings next week, there are several articles out there about the state of Canadian television, most of which I haven't posted to the TV, Eh? site because they're too industry focused rather than program focused. One, an interview in the Toronto Star with Richard Stursberg, CBC's executive vice-president of English TV, didn't make my eyes glaze over as much as the others. I don't have the stomach or the brain to take on the entirety of what he says, but there were a couple of things amid the noise that resonated with me.

"I don’t know how else to measure [quality], other than ‘Are they watching? Do they like it?’"

I'm grateful to FOX for having kept Arrested Development around for longer than the ratings might have warranted. But they had American Idol. I'm grateful to NBC for hanging on to Studio 60 for a full season despite a lack of viewership. But they have Deal or No Deal.

When all your network has are low-rated prestige programs and low-rated imitations of popular shows - and hockey, which you're poised to lose - you're in trouble. Either CBC is the network where worthy shows draped in Canadiana go to die, in which case the ratings have to be largely irrelevant, or it's competing for viewers against private broadcasters and American programming, in which case at least most of the shows, whether high-brow or low-brow, need to earn enough eyeballs to justify turning a blind eye to the occasional critically acclaimed commercial failure.

"[W]e had a lot of stuff that was, how can I put it? It was news and documentary dressed up as drama. I think that’s worthy, but it’s not clear to me that’s actually what English Canadians are crying out for when they watch television."

That was exactly my perception of CBC programming, and a huge reason why I didn't watch a lot of CBC programming. It's the eat your vegetables, do your homework theory of broadcasting. CBC and many others who talk about Canadian culture have defined quality this way for far too long - it's educational and it's good for you. The corollary of that is therefore it's good and you're bad for not watching.

On Thursday I was interviewed by a pilot CBC radio program to answer the question of why I didn't watch Canadian television. (I still don't watch much more than I ever did, but at least I know about the shows now - this interview was a little complicated by being post-TV, Eh?). They were going to get a TV producer who would be attending the CRTC hearings to respond to my points, so I'm hoping I don't get called an idiot on the air. I like that to be confined to the written word.

Actually, because it's a pilot, I don't know if or when it will air, but it will be played to CBC execs to decide if and when it will air. I never thought I'd say that doing a live interview is easier than doing a taped one, but this was a wacky experience because it wasn't live. A freelancer came and stuck a microphone in my face while I talked on the phone with the host in Ottawa, and she recorded background noise from my apartment so they could have the same sound quality and background when they blended us together. Freaky.

Plus, they wanted to recreate my blog entry on the Invisible Networks, so it was less a conversation at times and more "how about you say something about this now." There's a reason I'm not an actor. Well, a million reasons. But one is that I freeze when given something specific to say. I told the host it was like recording my voice mail greeting at work - I stumble and giggle my way through it unless I write it down. How pathetic is it that I can't say my name, job title, and "please leave a message" without writing it down? Don't answer that. Fortunately, freelance sound person, host and producer were all a lot of fun, which made the interview a lot of fun despite its surrealness for me.

But then the recording at my apartment had technical difficulties, so I ended up having to basically recreate over the phone the blurb they'd chosen to air, completely ruining the technical wizardry they were going to perform. I'd almost suspect "technical difficulties" was really code for "wow, you sucked - we need to do that over" except they played the clip for me, and there really was a horrible crackle and hiss on the recording.

Unfortunately, that meant more voice mail greeting-type torture for me. Fortunately, they picked the one minute out of the half-hour babblefest that nicely summarized my opinion - it's a stigma about poor quality Canadian shows, continued poor quality Canadian shows, and a lack of promotion that would allow me to find the good ones that caused me to not watch a lot of Canadian TV. Plus they left in the bit where I specifically mentioned Intelligence as an example of a show that's won me over.

I was happy they didn't just go with the soundbite "Canadian TV is crap." Because yes, I uttered those words, but in the context of that being a perception of many people. We've still got a long way to go from crap to quality.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Brother and I babble about House

Brother: I think fiction uses the device of physical pain as an expression of conflict way too often, and I find it irritating. It's also weird that everyone has diagnosed House's shoulder pain as psychosomatic. Why can't a shoulder pain be just a shoulder pain? I understand the writers are going for something here, it's just my little pet peeve.

Me: Never mind fiction in general, I think the House writers have done it a little too often lately, too. His leg pain gets worse when Stacy leaves, his leg pain comes back when he can't handle doubting his medical prowess, his shoulder hurts when he betrays Wilson.

Brother: Maybe I missed something, but I'm not sure how Cuddy giving a prescription to House indicates his pain is all in his head. I'm not saying his pain can't be purely psychological, I just don't see how that scene shows it.

Me: Well, what I said is the whole season is showing it. But I said it in that section because I found it annoying that Cuddy told House her reason for giving him a prescription is that Tritter would find it suspicious if they all cut him off, proving that he doesn't need the Vicodin. Why couldn't the reason be ... oh yeah, you DO need it, and it would be unethical of me to withhold it completely even though you're a bastard.

Brother: And (a little late), I thought it was hilarious that we didn't see Chase at all after House told him to sit on his ass in the last episode. I'm a little afraid that we're going to find out that Chase was a fat kid with split ends, and I'm not going to care.

Me: Early in season one they gave him this backstory of having studied to be a priest and having daddy issues, but now he's just spoiled ex-rich kid with good hair. I think he must have disappeared in that episode because the actor had something better to do than hang around and be token good-hair guy.

Brother: And did you notice that House seems to be where old stars get a last chance? Howard Hesseman, John Larroquette, David Morse, Hugh Laurie...

Me: HEY! Take that last one back. And the second-last one. And the third-last one. You can have Howard Hesseman.

Brother: Actually, they all did really good work. Even Hugh. I was impressed with John Larroquette, because all I've seen him do are comedies, good (Night Court) and bad (almost all his movies).

Me: EVEN Hugh?! If I didn't know you were just baiting me, I'd ... I'd ... do nothing.

Playback goes Across the River

DMc over at Dead Things on Sticks had the nerve to reduce his blogging over the summer to write a TV show, which will air next year on CHUM. I guess I'll forgive him then. There's an interview with his co-creator and showrunner, Bob Wertheimer, on Playback:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

TV Review: House - "Whac-A-Mole"

Every time this "Whac-A-Mole" episode of House started to annoy me with little character moments that didn't make sense to me, up popped scenes with big character moments that made me happy.

Patrick Fugit of Almost Famous is great as pragmatic, dryly humorous 18-year-old Jack, surrogate parent two his two younger siblings since their parents were killed in a car accident. Jack gave some kid a birthday to remember when he threw up on the presents during a shift at a kiddie-themed restaurant, then had a heart attack and the slightly lesser symptom of itchy feet.

Always game to make his own fun and to show off his unusual teaching methods, House seals his own answer in an envelope and challenges his team to come up with the diagnosis on their own. After all, as he points out, how will they learn if he doesn't let them swim on their own? But of course he doesn't, really, because that would mean shutting up. And where's the fun in that?

About 15 minutes in, Foreman, Cameron and Chase are miraculously provided with the results of a Hepatitis A test they didn't order, and the Hep A explains the puking, which caused the heart attack. Which seems a little prosaic for the lofty department of diagnostics, but since it comes only 15 minutes in, it's safe to say that's not the end of the game.

When Cameron opens the envelope, she finds it contains not the diagnosis of Hepatitis A, but the diagnosis of how Foreman, Cameron, and Chase would react, proving House's diagnostic skills work on personalities and not just diseases.

Fortunately, Jack's Hep A is curable. Unfortunately, his sudden propensity to bleed out of every orifice, and some non-orifices, is unrelated to the original diagnosis.

Though David Morse doesn't appear in this episode, Tritter's shadow does. Wilson, apparently a fan of LA Law, Chicago Hope, and maybe even The Guardian, picked Alan Rosenberg to be his lawyer, who grills him about the forged prescriptions.

Wilson: What, are we, like, role playing?

Lawyer: Yeah, and you suck at it. Which is really unfortunate, because you're pretending to be you.

Long-lost Marco the put-upon pharmacist has to break the news to Wilson that he can no longer prescribe, which puts a hamper on the cancer doctor business. Tritter has taken a page from the Evil Board Chair Vogler playbook, getting at House through destroying Wilson's career, though my feelings of deja vu were counteracted by later revelations that this time it's playing out differently.

Chase stands up to House, refusing to write him a Vicodin prescription ("I'd rather lose my job than lose my license") and Cameron stands up to Wilson, refusing to simply write his prescriptions without meeting his patients. She's a little more clever than Chase, who doesn't point out, as Cuddy does later, that one of House's employees writing the script would simply prove Tritter's point that House exerted his influence, making it worse for House. Cameron reasons with Wilson that while she trusts him, Tritter is going to make it hard on both of them if they don't do this Cameron-as-Wilson's-prescription-proxy thing by the book.

We get a scene of a patient protesting Cameron's presence in the exam room, and I felt like there was a missing piece there, either in the episode or in my brain. Sure, we get the message that it's awkward for Wilson to have Cameron shadowing him, but of course it is. Plus I got that from the scene prior, where she demands to examine his patients against his protests. Even Wilson the bad liar should have been able to come up with a better cover story. Isn't she still supposed to be a fellow? Couldn't she be learning about his specialty? And up popped up the reason to let it go - that's the point, I suppose, that Wilson is really that bad of a liar.

Foreman tends to the patient with the assistance of little sister. He assures her Jack's not dying when she explains her parents died suddenly and implores "I would just like some warning this time." I'd think even House would melt at the sign of that wobbly lip and welling eyes. But maybe not this episode.

Foreman humours her by getting her to hold Jack's knees while he injects the drugs into his spine. "Is this all nurses do?" she asks, leading Foreman to explain, "Dr. House doesn't trust them to do anything else." Ooh, I smell more protests against this show's no-nurse zone.

House's aching shoulder gives us the priceless scene of Hugh Laurie finally delivering the line onscreen that, yes, the show realizes House uses his cane on the wrong side. He's House. Of course he does it his own way.

Physical therapist: Ever thought about using your cane on the proper side?

House: Yeah, that's the issue. Friday night, my cane finally noticed it was on the wrong side.

This episode felt like it contained one too many winks at the audience, but then I likely only have that perception because I've been saturated with the nitpicks and assume the writers are winking at them. Maybe they just have something in their eye.

It seems the team knocked out Hep A, but then osteomyelitis, botulism, syphilis, and whatever Cameron was testing for popped up. "I think this game is rigged," says House.

House decides the shot immune system must be drug-related, and gets the team to sweat the toxins out of Jack so they can test him again. That leads to an odd but visually funny scene with all three lackeys getting into the sauna with Patrick in full scrubs, where they talk about Patrick's disbelief in god.

House seems to have lost some of his manipulative magic, since it doesn't work on Cameron either. "Tritter wants to win by giving pain. You really want to be a part of that?" She tosses him some ibuprofen (or something): "It takes the edge off my PMS. Should do wonders for you." Girl, there's no case of PMS in the world as big as that.

Drugs aren't the answer, and Patrick's brain tumours - or fungus, as it turns out - means Foreman is getting closer and closer to lying to little sister about Jack being far from death. He also gets closer to calling House a hypocrite - about the case, but there's shades of the legal mess too.

Foreman: House, you're pathetic. You'll analyze anyone's faults, hypocrisies, weaknesses, but this kid's got some strength and all of a sudden, there's no time to talk about anything but the medicine.

House: He's teaching prepubescent kids that truth matters, god doesn't, and life sucks. I like him.

Foreman: I know the notion of self-sacrifice is foreign to you ...

House: You want to think that he's sacrificing himself because if one person can do it, then maybe the world isn't the cold, selfish place you know that it is.

Cuddy writes House the prescription, finally, since she needs to prove that Tritter's wrong, and House does need the drugs. This was another moment of annoyance for me, since this season seems to be proving that House's pain is completely in his head, and if so, everyone else is even more guilty of enabling than when we thought the leg actually caused the pain. I feel a little let down that the concept of his pain isn't as complex a mixture of physical and psychological as we were led to believe in the first couple of seasons.

Cuddy also notices his bum shoulder, and speculates that that's in his head, too. What's changed, she asks? "Fight with the wife, maybe?" Bingo - it's the conflict with Wilson causing it. "It's good, it means your shoulder is a human being, anyway. It's a start." His shoulder might realize that Wilson is actually doing a pretty good job of that self-sacrifice he doesn't want to believe exists, and he's not doing such a good job of sacrificing himself, despite the fact that Wilson's efforts are a result of House's blatant crime. House is good at diagnosing people other than himself.

But House's bingo moment has nothing to do with himself and everything to do with Jack. The epiphany seems pretty forced, but House decides the emotional pressure of life without the parents has forced Jack's illness to come out of hiding, so the sudden onset of a genetic illness is no longer unlikely. While they brainstorm, House refuses to let one of his minions off to help Wilson with his prescriptions. Wilson forgot to frame it in a way that would make it all about House and the benefit to him.

The solution is to expose Jack with four different infections to monitor which one he picks up first, and therefore identify the disease that's most susceptible to that infection. Shockingly, that diagnostic method is not FDA approved, but this isn't an episode where Cuddy or one of the minions decide to care.

Once they have their final diagnosis, it's up to Jack to accept the treatment - a bone marrow transplant from 8-year-old brother Will. Jack refuses on the grounds that it's too dangerous for Will and does a drive-by mention of the issue of consent, which wasn't provided for the blood test in the first place.

House decides Jack's copping out, choosing to remain sick so he doesn't have to deal with his crappy life. Foreman refuses to believe Jack believes his life is crappy.

Foreman: Noble.

House: Moronic. [Pause.] It's a synonym.

Foreman: Why can't you accept he wants to protect his brother?

House: He has to protect his brother, he doesn't want to. He want to run screaming from protecting his brother.

Foreman: You're a hypocrite. Evidence is everything. Truth is all that matters. Except when it comes to people. Everything we've learned about this kid says you're wrong. But you can't accept that. It's easy to reject the diagnosis, not so easy to reject your misanthropy. Because then you'd have to give people a fighting chance. And that scares the crap out of you.

The end result is that Foreman goads House into goading Jack, who snaps and admits in actions and words that the pressure of being a surrogate dad is influencing his decision to refuse the treatment. ("Don't pretend you're surprised," House says to Foreman.)

As Foreman implies, we have a choice to be misanthropic or not. A choice to do the right thing or not. A choice to take responsibility or not. Guess which way House chooses? He visits Wilson's office, where his friend is packing his things and packing in his oncology practice because of Tritter's actions.

House: What, do you want me to turn myself in?

Wilson: Yes! Yes! Do something. Go in, show some remorse, tell Tritter you'll get some help.

House: I don't need help.

Wilson: House, get out of here. Get out of here.

House: You're not going to make me feel guilty for what Tritter has done to us.

Wilson: You already feel guilty. Your mysterious shoulder pain isn't coming from your cane, it's coming from your conscience. That used to be enough. Despite all your smart-ass remarks, I knew you gave a damn. This time, you were either going to help me through this or you weren't. And I got my answer.

After that emotionally charged scene which pretty much absolves this episode from my occasional annoyances with it, Jack tries to put a positive spin on foster care for his younger siblings while Foreman looks on. When they leave, he predicts Jack will take them back in a few months and be proud of himself, and his parents will be proud of him. "It's what I want to believe," Foreman says. It seems House is right. Foreman doesn't quite think the world is a better place than House does, but he wants to.

The episode ends with House driving past Wilson, whose car was impounded by Tritter, at the bus stop. He pauses, makes eye contact, then drives away without a word. Whose life is crappy again, House?

Banging my head against a wall is FUN

Definition of irony: using a first amendment freedom of speech argument to call people's right to voice an opinion indefensible:
New year's resolution: must learn to stop arguing with the crazy. Especially when they're the co-editor of the Blogcritics section I most often write for.

In my last House review, I almost said that squeamish as I am, no amount of blood and guts in a medical show could make me as sick to my stomach as the commercials for the OJ special. But I didn't want to give it added attention. Nice to know that in 2 minutes I'll be watching House without those commercials.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

TV Review: Intelligence - "Pressure Drop"

(Spoilers for the episode that aired Nov. 14)

The latest episode of CBC's Intelligence leaves maimed and dead bodies in its wake and proves that intelligence is a cold, cold game.

Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) continues to be fearless in taking risks, but cautious about counting on what the payoff will do for her. Good thing, too.

She gets warm fuzzies from CSIS over her success in turning Lee, the mole in her wireroom, much to the consternation of her deputy Ted and the man whose job she's poised to take and who hired Lee in the first place, Roger Deakins.

"She's gonna have your job in about five minutes if we don't do something to rip the rug out from under her," Ted subtly taunts Deakins.

Those fuzzies are bound to turn frosty when word gets out that Lee is killed on her watch - literally, as he's shot in cold blood before her eyes. Hmm, just how much of a nasty bastard, is Ted, anyway?

Nasty enough that he's sold his soul to the Americans, who have agreed to snare Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) and help install Ted as the head of CSIS's western and Asian region instead of Mary or Roger. "Anything I can do for you?" Ted asks his DEA contact. "Not yet. The time will come," is the reply.

Mary's relationship with informant Jimmy is threatened through her own actions - or, more accurately, inactions. She wants him to not only help stock broker Randy Bingham free his arms shipment that's stuck in Panama, she wants him to agree to get involved in the next arms deal.

He'd like to see some useful information from her for a change, and she's stonewalling him on information about Colin's death and its connection to the bikers. "Nice knowin' ya," he calls to her before driving away from their meeting, causing her to go to Ted for information on that case. Their man on the Island has a suspect, though not much hope of a conviction. Also, as Ted says, "he thinks Reardon is losing control of his organization, and it's a matter of time before someone offs him."

Things do seem to be spiraling out of control in Jimmy's army. The Vietnamese deny any connection to the shooting in his nightclub. The bikers are muscling in on his drug trade, but are also laying claim to the illicit bank machine business in Vancouver. This show is really making me look askance at the ATM when I draw cash.

In a nice little domestic scene that mirrors Reardon's professional woes, we see Jimmy in dad mode. In what he fears is the calm before the storm, Francine has let Stella stay with him for the week, and she needs help with her homework.

"Should we go to war?" is her social studies question.

"What, the country?" her dad asks. Focus here, Jimmy. You thought your 13-year-old daughter who doesn't know what you do for a living was talking about the bikers?

Her assignment is to find good reasons to go to war, and the only one she can think of is for protection against an attacker. Jimmy only offers reasons not to go to war, touting negotiation as the first line of defense.

Meanwhile, in Jimmy's own battlefield, Ronnie is the more cynical and pragmatic of the two, insisting that Reardon needs to respond to the opening salvo of Colin's assassination with a shot of his own. Instead, Jimmy insists on negotiation over the bank machine territory. So they meet with scary biker leader, who went to the my way or the highway school of negotiation.

Neither Jimmy nor Mary seem to be winning the battle on the personal front either. Mary's husband Adam accosts her on the street, hoping to work things out without resorting to lawyers. "You sacrificed me. What did you expect?" he asks about his affair. "I expected faithfulness. I expected to raise a family," she replies. She also expects to get a restraining order to prevent him from contacting her again, though I wonder if she's genuinely afraid of the man or if she's exerting her power over him.

Jimmy's own personal wild card, ex-wife Francine, shows up at his lumber yard to reminisce about old times, when he proposed, when he left her alone with baby Stella, when they had adulterous affairs. Gee, no wonder she thinks it was a match made in heaven. He apologizes for his part in their rocky relationship.

"I feel like the devil took my soul and now I want it back," she says, and before I can wonder if she's calling him the devil, she kisses him and says, "You're a good man. I miss you." To add to the mixed messages, she flashes a devious smile as she walks away. Definitely the calm before the storm.

Another storm is brewing, though. Mike Reardon, Jimmy's over-eager puppy dog of a brother, has gotten deeper into the business, making a connection with some growers and running the money for the bank machines. And while Ted's surveillance team looks on, he gets his throat slashed. They go after the slashers and leave Mike to crawl to the Chickadee for help. Cold.

The next episode airs Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 9 p.m. on CBC, replaying Friday at 11 p.m. Check out the Intelligence website for a video mashup contest, with a grand prize of an Apple MacBook Pro and a copy of Final Cut Studio.

All or nothing

I'm the fire department's worst nightmare. Well, maybe after arsonists. And careless smokers. And absent-minded cooks. And 600 pound guys with medical emergencies. And old ladies who think their cats can't get down from trees by themselves. But other than that, it's me.

I woke earlier than I wanted to this morning by the renewed howling winds and rain that are not as bad as Wednesday's howling winds and rain but made sleeping hard anyway. And probably made life hard for BC Hydro, still trying to get some areas of the region's power back up. And probably aren't helping the water treatment plant situation any, either. And are tempting me to abandon my volleyball team tonight to avoid driving. [Edit: Now, an hour after posting this, the sun's out and the wind's calmed. Make up your mind, mother nature.]

Anyway, there I was early-ish this morning, watching Weeds on DVD (Nancy branches out into edible pot products), baking banana bread (only secret ingredient in my baked goods: chocolate chips), when the fire alarm went off. My first thought was, oh no, the banana bread's burning. But the building fire alarm is much, much louder and more annoying than the suite smoke detector. And while I make fun of my cooking and ability to set fire to oven mitts, I can bake.

I was still in my pjs, hair wet from a recent shower, and, did I mention the howling wind and rain outside? And there's 14 flights of stairs to get to the howling wind and rain outside. I've lived in enough apartments to know chances were very high it was a false alarm, so I just stayed where I was. Daring the fire department to rescue me if it was a real fire, which should make me feel guilty, except that I was vindicated in retrospect. It was a false alarm.

It's not like I did nothing. I got ready to flee, if I had to. I got dressed. I kept an eye outside and discovered none of my neighbours were fleeing either. I watched for the fire department ... who pulled up half a block away from our un-MapQuestable dead end street and leisurely walked from there. So, wait, the fire department doesn't know how to drive up to my apartment's front door? That's troubling.

I put my laptop and purse and cat carrier by the door. I put on my mom's wedding band and grandmother's grandmother's ring. And thought ... that's it? That's all I'd take if all my possessions were in danger of burning up?

Even now that the horribly insistent alarm isn't scrambling my thoughts, I think the answer is still yes. I like my stuff. I have some sentimental stuff, irreplaceable stuff. But it's just stuff. And if I can't save it all, there seems no way to pick one or two things I could carry. The cat's getting skinnier in his old age but he's big enough to be quite the dead weight. And living beings trump photo albums and nostalgic knick-knacks.

I moved a lot as a kid, and I've continued the trend as an adult. When I went to New Brunswick for a year, and to Mexico for two, I left most of my possessions behind and barely missed them. I know I can live without stuff. I'd rather not have it all burned up, but I'd rather not play Sophie's Choice with it in the spur of the moment, either. It's a little sad that the tangible evidence of what's really important to me can be carried in two hands, but on the other hand, nice to know the tangible things aren't the most important in my life.

In retrospect, maybe I'd have grabbed at least a change of clothes. And climbed down the 17 flights to the shelter of the car. I guess that's a plan for next time.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Online fun with Intelligence

This is a cool idea that incorporates what some online fans do anyway and tries to harness that energy for promotional purposes: the Intelligence people have started a video mashup contest. People can take provided video and audio from the show, mix it up with their own materials if they want, and create a 30 to 60 second promo.

This isn't a new concept. If I could remember the details, this would be a better story, but about a year ago, a car company - I think - did something similar, and ended up with some audience-created commercials that talked about how crappy the product was. To their credit, they only deleted ones that had non-PG rated content. Anyway, other products have done the same to capitalize on the video mashup craze. Is it a craze? It's a thing, anyway.

The contest has just launched and so far there are only a few Intelligence videos up on Eyespot, the online video editing service they've partnered with (though you can use any video editing software and then just upload there). So far they're ... not spectacular. The grand prize is an Apple MacBook Pro and a copy of Apple's Final Cut Studio, so I'm guessing some people who are actually good at this will be entering.

From my earlier chats with the Intelligence people, I knew this contest was coming, but had no idea how it would work. Now that I've browsed Eyespot, it seems pretty simple. I'm even tempted to try, though I've never touched video editing before, would bet my House-watching privileges that I'm not destined to be very good at it, and have no real need to do it. It just seems like a fun and potentially useful thing for a pseudo-web geek to learn how to do.

I'd been thinking of playing with Audacity, the open source (aka free) audio editing software just for the hell of it, and adding video editing to my repertoire of things I'm terrible at but can say I've tried appeals to me. I'd never heard of Eyespot before, but not having to install software seems like a plus, though there are also open source (aka free) video editing suites available.

If I do try playing with it, I'll link to my efforts. Unless they really, really suck. Well, even then, they might be good for a laugh.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Doris Egan talks "Son of Coma Guy"

She wrote "Son of Coma Guy", "House vs. God", and "Failure to Communicate", but don't listen to me, listen to her:
We even get outtakes, without waiting for the DVD.

Does this make me the shoemaker's kid?

Here's a fact few people know: it rains a lot in Vancouver. Usually, that means it rains many days of the year. In the last couple of days, it's meant freakish amounts of water have been pouring over the region, blown in on the freakishly strong wind.

I work in one of the areas that was fairly hard hit. Wednesday, our office was on the only block around that still had power. How unfair is that? I was really hoping for the power to go out there too so I could go home, curl up under my duvet, and fret about how much work I have to catch up on in the office. Traffic lights and street lights were out, many streets were flooded, trees had blown down on roads and crushed cars, so it took forever to get to my less-affected home neighbourhood by the time I did leave. Radio stations were reminding people to use four way stop procedures and to make sure their headlights are on. Since the sun had long gone down by the time I left the office, I had to wonder who needs reminding to put on their lights when driving in the pitch dark? And I make fun of my driving.

Yesterday, the Greater Vancouver Regional District issued a boil water advisory, which meant chaos at work and then a trip to the drug store on the way home to pick up some bottled water, along with every other citizen in the GVRD. Now many stores have run out of bottled water and people are angry, because the storms are the stores' fault and boiling water is too difficult. Quote of the day, from my friend and former coworker: "I think people were really edgy since they didn't get their caffeine fix for the day. Did you ever think you would see the day when Starbucks stopped serving coffee on the west coast? I don't think our emergency plans have considered this."

Part of my job has involved publishing information about how to prepare for possible disasters, usually tied to the flu epidemic we all expect any minute now and are cheerily warning people about, but also in preparation for earthquakes, tsunamis, and any other horrible thing that can happen to you when you live in a city on the coast in an earthquake zone. Or, really, just live anywhere. A tornado struck nothing-ever-happens-here Edmonton when I was in high school, though I happened to be on an exchange trip to France at the time. Ask people in Ontario and Quebec about ice storms and blackouts.

Me, I'm not even prepared for a bad cold. I have no stockpiles. I'm still sniffling from the remnants of that horrible flu I whined about over a month ago, that caused me to drag my plague-infected self to the grocery story because I didn't feel I could subsist on canned olives and hamburger patties. I usually wait to do a big grocery shop until I run out of cat food.

Yes, I realize how pathetic that makes me sound. But if I get desperate, there's always something unappealing in the cupboard or freezer for me to gnaw on. If the cat gets desperate, I'm the only unappealing thing around for him to gnaw on. If you've read Bridget Jones's Diary, or seen an old episode of Six Feet Under or a recent one of 30 Rock, you know that every woman who lives alone's fear is being eaten by her pet before anyone realizes she's missing. That and not being able to open that stupid jar of pesto.

The message I've helped get out is to always be prepared to be on your own for 72 hours to a week. This storm doesn't qualify as a major disaster, but if I were smart, I'd take it as a warning shot. Today I printed out the BC government's 26 weeks to emergency preparedness and will look at it soon. Maybe when this little mess is over. Or after Christmas. Or after the next disaster.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

TV Review: House - "Son of Coma Guy"

False advertising. I see a title like "Son of Coma Guy," I see John Larroquette is guest starring, naturally I think the always-entertaining Night Court alumnus is going to be the son of House's recurring Coma Guy. Instead, the title is blatant false advertising. This episode, as House would be the first (and probably only) person to point out, is really "Son of Vegetative State Guy." (Did you know there was a difference between a coma and a vegetative state? All these years of watching medical shows and no one told me.)

"Son of Coma Guy" does open with a special treat for fans of Coma Guy, though - a whole roomful of coma guys and coma girls. Sorry, vegetative state guys and vegetative state girls. Is it sick and wrong to think a roomful of coma patients is funny? And is it bad to be sick and wrong?

In any case, Larroquette is one of the roomful, and House is multitasking by not only enjoying a Reuben in his vegetative company, but enjoying a lecture from Wilson on the importance of not forging a narcotic script on your only friend's prescription pad, and sitting in wait for Vegetative State Guy's son Kyle, who had exhibited suspicious symptoms last time he visited.

House performs a cool trick of turning the lights on and off and - because, no, that wasn't the cool part - seeming to disappear, since we momentarily get Kyle's addled point of view from frequent House director Dan Attias. The doctor's mission is accomplished when Kyle has a seizure and falls into a coma. Like father, like son. "God I love this family!" House exclaims.

Except Gabe's coma was a result of him racing into their burning house in a failed attempt to save his wife after first saving his son, and except for the not-waking-up thing, he's pretty healthy. Kyle's pre-existing symptoms, followed by the House-induced coma, is followed by liver and kidney and heart failure.

While Kyle is the patient of the week, it's his dad who steals the show, and this John Larroquette-Hugh Laurie show is worth more than the price of admission. In a plot borrowed - with credit - from Awakenings, House gives Gabe L-Dopa to revive him from his 10-year slumber in order to quiz the man, since he suspects a genetic link in his alone-in-the-world son's condition. With this amount of fun involved, he doesn't even send Cameron in to get the family history. Before Cuddy can stop him, he miraculously awakens Gabe, who at first makes House seem sentimental by asking for a steak before asking after his son.

Wilson: "Rumour in the cafeteria said caustic guy was waking up coma guy."

House: "Technically vegetative state guy was woken by ... yeah, caustic guy."

I'm a little annoyed with episode writer Doris Egan, who wrote the fantastic "Failure to Communicate" and "House vs. God" as well. I wasn't going to take notes while watching "Son of Coma Guy," since I prefer watching like a normal person, plus writing a review based on notes always makes it longer and harder to write, and I wanted to take the lazy route tonight. But this is one of those episodes where paragraphs of character revelation come at us in beautifully expressed - and, of course, delivered - dialogue. So I was forced to grab a pen and forgo some extra sleep again.

Anyway, that tangential whine was brought to you partly by this next exchange between Wilson and House. House explains that the "simple" explanation of Gabe's indifference is that the father doesn't love his son, while Wilson says that just because House's father's feelings were conditional doesn't mean that's the most likely answer.

Wilson: We have an evolutionary incentive to sacrifice for our offspring, our tribe, our friends - keep them safe.

House: Except for all the people who don't. ... Everything is conditional. We just can't always anticipate the conditions.

And there it is, the characteristically rich dialogue that has the doctors talking about the patients but also about themselves and each other. Wilson is no stranger to sacrifices keeping a friend safe. "Son of Coma Guy" picks up a thread we largely left in last season's "Daddy's Boy," when we discovered that House feels he's a disappointment to his father. And when I wrote short reviews and was careful not to spoil any plot points. I got sleep then. But I have more fun now. Anyway, the key quotes from that episode, which describe House's daddy issues as far as we know them, were:

House: My dad's just like you [Cameron]. Not the caring 'til your eyes pop out part, just the insane moral compass that won't let you lie to anybody about anything. It's a great quality for boy scouts and police witnesses. Crappy quality for a dad.

Later - Cameron to Wilson: So his dad tells the truth. He can't handle that?

Wilson: He hates being a disappointment.

Cameron: He's a doctor. World famous. How disappointed can they be?

Wilson: You know what I figure is worse than watching your son become crippled? Watching him be miserable.

What we don't know is the whys under all that explanation. House's issues obviously go deeper and earlier than his disability. And there's that puzzling reference to a lie, which could be explained by anything or nothing we know so far. "Son of Coma Guy" takes our understanding a step further, and the mystery of House's twisted and poignant psychology a step further, too.

Gabe decides that with his one bonus day of life - just like in Awakenings, his newly uncomatose state is temporary - he wants to hang with House and Wilson in Atlantic City. Well, to be more accurate, he wants a particular sandwich from a particular place in Atlantic City. And since he has no money or car, House offers Wilson's in exchange for the opportunity to quiz him about his family's medical history. So just like in Egan's "Failure to Communicate," we get House on a road trip. We also get a blatant and funny Ip Od product placement.

Gabe, however, adds a game to this quid pro quo exchange - for every question of House's, House has to answer a question of Gabe's. Why? Because Gabe is a power-hungry control freak, and "the only power I have left is the power to annoy you." Hey, that's House's power!

Gabe knows how to go for the jugular, asking only intrusive personal questions. And whatever ethical lapses House commits, he's oddly noble, so he holds up his end of the bargain. Yes, he loved someone. He met her when she shot him. At paintball. Lawyers versus doctors. Has he loved anyone else? Nope, won't go there.

Meanwhile, creepy cop Tritter (creepily effective guest star David Morse) quizzes House's team in brief scenes that offer some thematic similarities to the House discussions they transition from. Everything's conditional? Cut to Tritter asking Cameron how House has earned her loyalty. Gabe craves power? Tritter tells Chase "medicine attracts people who are attracted to power" and refuses to believe House asks for rather than demands Vicodin prescriptions from him. House is an ass? Foreman agrees House is an ass. OK, that scene could have been placed anywhere. Tritter also says "everybody lies" to explain his interest in the case. That sounds familiar. Maybe Tritter and House aren't so unalike?

The plot motivation for Gabe and House's fun and revealing Q&A is to diagnose the declining Kyle. House first thinks he has found the answer in mercury poisoning, then when that fails to hold up, goes back to a genetic link, finally landing on something called ragged-red fibre. The medical details felt largely irrelevant though, with the character motivation so much more interesting.

Wilson gets in on the House interrogation, then answers his own question - why his prescription pad for the forgery? Why not Cameron's, or Chase's, or Foreman's?

Wilson: I associate with you through choice, and any relationship that involves choice, you have to see how far you can push before it breaks. ... And one day our friendship will break, and that'll just prove your theory that relationships are conditional and you don't need human connection, or deserve it, or whatever goes on in that rat maze of your brain.

House (to Gabe): Sorry. If I'd known he was going to be this annoying, I would have stolen Dr. Cameron's pad and Dr. Foreman's car. At least she appreciates my brooding melancholy.

As Wilson fills the role of food wrangler, trying desperately to get Gabe his sandwich, House offers up his privacy and dignity to Gabe in order to get the final answers he needs. The question Gabe chooses to ask is why did House become a doctor? He refuses the smart-aleck response, and rephrases: "Why work with people when you obviously hate people?"

Oh, good question, says Wilson's face. Slowly, reluctantly, House relates this story about living in Japan with his military father, and taking his friend to the hospital after an accident:

"My friend came down with an infection and the doctors didn't know what to do, so they brought in the janitor. He was a doctor. And a burakumin - one of Japan's untouchables. His ancestors had been slaughterers, gravediggers, and this guy knew that he wasn't accepted by the staff. He didn't even try. He didn't dress well. He didn't pretend to be one of them. The people around that place didn't think that he had anything they wanted. Except when they needed him, because he was right, which meant that nothing else mattered. And they had to listen to him."

This is obviously the first time Wilson's heard this story. Maybe the first time House has told the story. To him, it seems, dignity means never admitting vulnerability, keeping his raw emotions in a vegetative state. Yet that story reveals a lot about his vulnerabilities and emotions while raising even more questions about this man's rat maze brain. He's brash, he's egotistical, he's misanthropic, and he desperately clings to his medical gift because it's his pass into a world where he doesn't fit, can't fit.

It's a trade of poignant story for poignant story. Hearing Gabe's story of the fire that killed his wife gives House the clue he needs. While he and Wilson have assumed that Gabe hates his son, or is ashamed of him, or now that they know the boy accidentally started the fire, blames him. But Gabe has a different reason for fleeing from his dying son. "I failed to keep my family safe. I couldn't save my wife. Now you want me to stick around and watch as I fail to save my son?"

Though the compiled clues of Kyle's genetic klutziness lead House to the final diagnosis, it's too late to save Kyle's heart. Since the young man is a serious alcoholic, a heart transplant is out of the question.

Gabe, whose reflexes have already started to decline, has an answer to that question too. He wants to donate his heart. The one that's still beating inside his not-dying but soon-to-be-comatose chest. After a brief and not very spirited attempt to talk him out of it - I know we only have an hour here, but geez, this is a pretty monumental decision - House orders Wilson out of the room: "Maybe I don't want to push this 'til it breaks." And then he advises Gabe on slow, painful suicide methods that are most likely to result in a viable heart as Wilson goes to the casino to establish an alibi for House.

It's heartbreaking - no pun intended - and House feels it. This isn't a case of House breaking all the rules to save a patient. It's about breaking all the rules to save a patient, fulfilling a man's desire to protect his son, and letting himself be part of an action that proves that sacrifice and love aren't always conditional. In one of his darkest, most ethically compromised moments, House is actually at his most optimistic.

Gabe struggles to come up with a final message for the son he hasn't seen in 10 years. "Tell him - I don't know what to tell him." Personally, I think the heart speaks volumes.

Gabe asks a final question of House - what would House want his father to say to him? After warning Gabe that his answer won't help, House says: "I'd want him to say 'You were right. You did the right thing.'" Another mystery. Right about what? What thing? It's been pretty much exactly a year since "Daddy's Boy," so I suspect even vague answers won't be coming any time soon. And how sad is it that House wants to be right more than he wants to be loved?

I don't think House will be out of legal trouble any time soon, either. House pays Wilson back with a little armchair psychology of his own, prodding the oncologist about why he helped Gabe get his Sandwich of Avoidance. "I don't think my enabling is anything you should be complaining about," Wilson admonishes, before discovering his enabling has caused his bank accounts to be frozen as part of a police investigation. House points out they can't keep his money forever.

"No, they can keep it until I agree to help send you to prison for 10 years." Pause. "You're getting dinner."

Monday, November 13, 2006

TV Review: Intelligence - "Where There's One There's Another"

(Spoilers for the episode that aired Nov. 7)

Everyone's got an angle to get ahead in CBC's Intelligence. A very different angle from anyone else, generally. In "Where There's One There's Another," Mary and Jimmy see varying levels of success in working those angles.

Mary Spalding (Klea Scott) finally succeeds in turning her wireroom mole, who offers her information on a plot to assassinate a Chinese dissident on Canadian soil in exchange for keeping his job, his wife, his pregnant girlfriend, and the spoils of being a mole.

She works on another victory by encouraging her prized informant, Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey), to accept stockbroker Randy Bingham's offer of stock options in exchange for freeing his arms shipment from where it's mired in Panama. Though Reardon wants cash from the guy who already owes him, Mary just wants the deal done so she can reap the intelligence rewards.

Putting a crimp on her plans to improve the fortunes of the Vancouver Organized Crime Unit and therefore her chances of moving up to CSIS is her deputy, Ted (Matt Frewer). Ted and his DEA contact have agreed on a sting operation to bust Reardon, a big fish for the Americans and Ted's ticket to job at CSIS for himself and the withdrawal of the job offer at CSIS for Mary. Ted's got another trick up his sleeve, since before Ted will hand over Jimmy's file to the DEA contact, he insists on meeting operator leading the sting.

Another possible danger to Mary is that Tina's infiltrating Reardon's club perhaps a little too much. She's started to avoid Spalding, who reminds her that the rewards of cooperation depend on actual cooperation. Tina is sincerely as busy as she tells Mary, mostly because of Jimmy's encouragement to string along his married, father-of-two banker, who wants to set her up in an apartment and get her to quit her job. This show is nothing if not romantic, which is demonstrated again when Mary lets detective Don Frazer know their affair is just a fling, and he shrugs and says he should spend time with his family anyway.

Mary's not the only one with trouble brewing behind the scenes. Jimmy's inept brother Michael wants to start his own club and his own operation, with Jimmy's blessing and out of Jimmy's shadow. The man who's running money for Jimmy's bank machine operation is coy about how he's going to fund this operation, but Jimmy better hope that he's right, and he can trust Mike with money because it's simply respect he's after. But what if Mike thinks respect can be bought?

Mike is still living off the respect he earned by foiling the shooting attempt against Jimmy and Ronnie, and now Jimmy discovers the shooter is not connected to the biker gangs as he thought, but apparently to a Vietnamese gang. It seems like it should be good news that it's not the bikers, but the bad news is that another front might be opening up in that war Jimmy doesn't want to fight.

Jimmy's lawyer brings Ronnie and Jimmy an offer of $10 million for The Chickadee, which Ronnie turns down for sentimental reasons. He can't abandon the legacy his father build from nothing, and wants to leave it as his legacy for his not-yet-conceived children. I hope he's smart enough not to be planning on them with the not-so-sweet Sweet. After Ronnie expresses interest in turning the club into a music venue, Mike presents Ronnie with that same idea, with the bonus of his own band that could fill that venue. Putting up with Mike's band is likely too high a price to pay, but Ronnie was already satisfied with the prospect of scouting out another club to expand his empire instead.

Jimmy's lawyer also brings yet another rejected strategy to win a custody battle against Francine, a mentally unfit defense. Barring that, and all his previous suggestions, the lawyer suggests Reardon make nice with Francine, and so does Jimmy's sister Maxine. So Jimmy and Francine try to work things out, though his intention is to see his daughter, and hers is to reunite with Jimmy. With their differing agendas, dinner doesn't go well. She doesn't want to talk about Stella, and insists she only wants respect - shades of Mike, and shades of the same doubt that either one of them is worthy of respect. Francine merely proves again that she's desperate to get Jimmy back, but completely incapable of acting in a way that would make that even remotely tempting for him.

In the most heartbreaking sign of Jimmy's troubles, lucky Stella runs away from her drunk mom's school night party to the sanctuary of the downtown club where daddy does drug deals in the office, strippers do blow in the dressing room, and the occasional shooting in the bar adds even more excitement. The good news is when she's 17, her dad plans to be completely legit. Oh, and Francine's therapist thinks she's not completely nuts. I see a therapist in Stella's future, too - let's just hope that one's competent.

Instead of dwelling on the darkness of her life, the episode ends with a sweet, fly-on-the-wall scene of Stella one-handedly playing the piano to Ronnie, ending with her closing credits voiceover saying "That's all I know."

The multiple characters and storylines continue to advance along their questionable paths with intensity and unexpected moments of humour. Their next chance to make an even bigger tangle of their lives will air on Tuesday, Nov. 14 on CBC.

Book Review: A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

As he demonstrated in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a canine murder mystery from the point of view of an autistic boy, former children's book author and illustrator Mark Haddon has a gift for reaching inside the inner world of characters whose minds should prove difficult to penetrate.

A Spot of Bother is Haddon's second novel aimed at adults, and again he writes his characters with great affection despite the fact that they're deeply flawed. Or, in the case of Bother's protagonist, George Hall, deeply insane.

The Halls are a family of people preoccupied with their own problems, largely centred around preparations for a backyard wedding. His daughter, Katie, is marrying a man no one, including Katie, thinks is good enough for her. Wife Jean is having an affair with one of George's former colleagues and struggling to plan the on again, off again wedding of her stubborn daughter. Son Jamie's reluctance to invite his boyfriend to Katie's wedding destroys that seemingly stable relationship.

Poor George finds his family falling apart and lacks the emotional tools to deal with the chaos head on. "Talking was, in George's opinion, overrated ... The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely."

Newly retired George's own issues are an extreme example of the fretting the rest of his family - in fact, the rest of the world - exhibits. When he discovers a lesion on his hip, he leaps to the conclusion of cancer, and contemplates suicide. He gets caught up in the details of the how, discarding each method, including getting blind drunk and crashing the car - because what if he encountered another car?

"What if he killed them, paralyzed himself, and died of cancer in a wheelchair in prison?" George wonders.

The whimsical humour of the escalating hyperbole reveals a man who ponders the worst case scenario to an amusingly absurd degree. As the novel progresses, however, it becomes clear that this is no momentary flight of imagination or coping mechanism. George's insanity often escalates his worries beyond the point of reason.

The novel follows George's almost-logical reasoning. The spot could be more than eczema. The doctor didn't express himself with perfect certainty. He'd misdiagnosed Katie once. But George takes it several steps beyond reason.

Haddon doesn't inflict George with the cute insanity some fiction falls into, but the true to life confusion of being and dealing with someone who can seem no more odd than the average person on occasion, then lapses into genuine, over-the-top insanity.

A Spot of Bother is an often sweet, often heartbreaking story of a family falling apart and coming together. It's a deceptively funny, easy read with genuine poignancy. These compelling characters fumble their way through mental illness in the family the same way they fumble through their romantic relationships - sincerely, humorously, and ineptly.

The novel is published by Doubleday Canada and is available in hard cover and unabridged or abridged audio CD or downloadable audiobook.

Friday, November 10, 2006

3 Lbs. Weighs the Wonders of the Human Brain

"My sincere belief is that one of the greatest mysteries left to discover is in our heads," said Peter Ocko, creator and executive producer of the upcoming CBS medical drama 3 Lbs., starring Stanley Tucci as Dr. Doug Hanson and Mark Feuerstein as Dr. Jonathan Seger. The title refers to the weight of the human brain.

A gregarious Ocko was promoting the show during a media conference call, which I wasn't able to attend. Because I wasn't invited. I was, however, invited to listen to the recording, where the creator explained his fascination with the human mind.

Ocko, who claims he was more inspired by the stories of Dr. Oliver Sacks than the similarly themed House, said he's less interested in the brain surgery itself as the "complexity and almost ridiculousness of how the brain works. ... When it starts to break, we get this window into this truly magical, strange place."

"We do spend a great deal of time getting into the heads of our patients," he explained.

The pilot, which will air Tuesday, Nov. 14 on CBS, backs up that assertion. One of the patients, a young musician with a brain tumour that affects her ability to speak, is seen in an imaginative sequence literally reaching for words as they drop from the ceiling of a concert hall. We learn nearly as much about her as we do about the doctors who form the regular cast.

The writer for shows such as Dead Like Me, Boston Legal, and Dinosaurs holed up in his garage during a period of unemployment to write the original pilot in 2004. After working in comedy for 10 years, Ocko was determined to write a drama about this subject that fascinated him.

Eventually, Barry Levinson and Tom Fontana were brought in to executive produce, the show was recast with Tucci in the lead, and Ocko's original script evolved from a darker, more character-driven show to the blend of procedural and character elements that will debut on Tuesday. "As we earn the right with the audience, 3 Lbs. will be as much about the mysteries of the patients coming through the door as the mysteries of these characters lives," Ocko added.

As for the similarities between Tucci's Dr. Hanson and Hugh Laurie's Dr. House, Ocko pointed out that "no one invented the grumpy doctor with a god complex."

He sees his central character as someone who sees the world in black and white, but who is starting to realize he might be wrong, and that he might have sacrificed too much to become the best in his field. "We explore this character, this guy who believes the brain is wires in a box, and then we haunt him." Literally. Hanson sees spooky images of a little girl, and thinks he might be in need of a brain surgeon himself.

Ocko is determined to bring to the screen dramatic stories that bring up interesting questions, and to ground them in reality. "One of the challenges of the show is to convince the audience that we're not making this up," he said, pointing to the full-time neurologist who works on set and a medical consultant who's involved in the writing process.

He seemed prepared for the inevitable comparisons to FOX's House, and expressed uncertainty about whether the post-House timeslot would help or hurt his show. "The bar is so high right now for medical dramas," he said before pointing out that audiences are so loyal to their favourites that it "might take time to realize we're a very different show."

Still, Ocko thinks the world of neurosurgery offers 3 Lbs. the opportunity to provide at least "two great box sets" worth of episodes, each exploring our internal uncharted territory.
"One of the most magical things we can experience is part of us, and that's our brain."

3 Lbs. premieres Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 10 p.m., and the pilot is available for viewing now on CBS's broadband channel Innertube.