Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Waiting on renewal news ...

Some random comments from the TV, Eh? site after the Intelligence finale aired:
  • Loved the show and the entire season. I hope it is brought back for another year or two. Finally a decent CBC show.
  • best show on TV. Congrats to CBC, but now they have to advertise it better. Maybe movie theaters? Newspapers? whatever it takes. This show has to go on!
  • excellent series!!! bravo cbc!!! this program and at the hotel is what this network needs and they do it well beats the crap outta the us counterparts. cant wait for the return of the next season. great acting not to over the top you get the feeling its natural. and the soundtrack is very fitting as well sean tozer i think?? good stuff!! i agree with reviewer above needs mucho marketing. people will be hooked by the pace the show sets not to jumpy yet. enough that your not bored. sorta like 24 in a good sense. keep it up to all involved in this production
  • My wife and I really enjoy the show (its the only one we make sure we watch each week). I was wondering if you had heard anything about next year?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

TV Review: House - "One Day, One Room"

If I were to win some fabulous contest and were allowed to request a made-to-order House episode, it might look something like this: Lots of snide, sarcastic House with a glimpse deep into one of those truck-sized holes in his armour. Philosophical questions raised but never answered. A reveal about House that answers some questions and raises more. Echoes of previous themes. Bending but not breaking the medical mystery formula. Cuddy flirtation. Compassionate yet spineful Cameron. Not too much Chase. Written by creator David Shore.

A lot like "One Day, One Room."

Which doesn't mean this is my favourite episode ever. I don't expect "Three Stories" to ever get knocked off that perch. Plus, between "Autopsy," "No Reason," "Son of Coma Guy," "Skin Deep," "Detox," "Lines in the Sand," etc. ... good lord, I need some complex algorithms to figure out my top 10. But "One Day, One Room" has all the elements that make me geek out on House. So caution: geeking ahead.

Another Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award later, Hugh Laurie proves how astonishingly adept he is at embodying all the contradictions of this character. House is hilarious, heartbreaking, annoying, cruel, hurt, tender, a liar, painfully truthful. Pretty much all in the same moment.

In this post-Tritter era (or as I like to call it, the "Tritter who?" era), House is back to being House, popping Vicodin in front of the boss who thought she'd successfully rehabbed him. She's found him hiding from the hospital at the jogging park where he goes to sit, watch and imagine - and hide. She finds him sprawled in a very cruciform position. After "Finding Judas," it's hard not to see it as more of the House-as-Jesus theme, which I have to assume is referenced with tongues firmly lodged in cheeks.

Realizing the rehab was a fraud, Cuddy feels betrayed. While House balks at the "do my job or go to jail" card she's got over him now, her personal appeal -- "you owe me" -- does the trick. Because as bad as he is at the personal, as much as he avoids the personal, it's the personal that reaches him. Which is why he tries to avoid it.

The job Cuddy wants House to do is to continue treating a patient he met during STD day at the clinic. She'd turned forced clinic duty into a game to keep him interested, and, as he deduces, to try to force him to deal with humanity in order to find his own humanity. Cuddy agreed to pay House $10 for every patient he could diagnose without touching, as long as he paid her $10 for every patient he has to touch (when a gorgeous woman is behind door number four, we know he's going to end up owing Cuddy for that one).

Eve (a terrific Katheryn Winnick) is the only one who does in fact have an STD. When he realizes she's been raped, House shows compassion in his own peculiar way -- he asks to be taken off the case. "Think I"m the right doctor for her?" he asks Cuddy. And there's his humanity ... and insecurity. He won't inflict himself on her.

Much to Cuddy's surprise - much to House's surprise - Eve insists on talking to House and only House. She even swallows a bottle of pills to make her point. So despite the fact that her case has no intriguing medical mystery, House is at first forced to take it on, then is compelled to talk to her when he gets drawn into the philosophical and the personal.

She wants to talk, but not about what happened to her. First she wants small talk. Just talk. As Foreman points out, she wants normalcy and to focus on the positive. As Cameron points out, she needs help to process what's happened to her. As Chase points out, the fact that Cameron romantically wants to believe House is good at helping facilitate that doesn't make it true.

Eve has her own ideas. Protesting that she doesn't have to have a reason for wanting House to talk to her, she claims she wants time, because time changes things. "No, doing things changes things. Not doing things leaves things exactly as they were," counters the master of not doing anything about his own personal issues.

The central mystery of her case is why she's latched on to House. He berates her for being irrational in trusting him.

Eve: Nothing's rational.

House: Everything's rational.

Eve: I was raped. Tell me how that makes sense to you.

Then she makes it personal. She asks him if anything terrible has ever happened to him. He likely ponders his long list of terrible things before asking, "what do you want me to say?"

"You wanted to talk about something that matters," she points out. "Talk."

Cuddy has ordered him to stay with the patient, but I've got to think that around this time, he's hooked of his own accord. Because if I'm a geek for the philosophical bent of House, House himself is the ubergeek.

But with the personal stuff, he needs help, so he goes to his entourage for guidance. First up is Wilson, who tells him to give the truth. But in this case, House isn't sure the truth matters. "There is no truth," he says to a confused Wilson, who asks "Are we role playing? Am I you? I don't want to be you."

House believes she's not looking for the truth from him, she's looking to extrapolate something from his experience in order to make some meaning out of the world as a whole, which is not the way to get to a greater truth.

Cameron tells him to tell her his life was great ("but it wasn't"), to give her hope for the world. Foreman tells him to tell her his life sucked ("but it didn't") and to pretend to be healed, to let her know that healing is possible.

Chase goes for the easy route, of course -- keep her sedated. He claims there's no wrong answer because there's no right answer. That sets House up with the opportunity to throw out one of his recurring philosophies, with shades of "Three Stories": "Wrong. We just don't know what the right answer is."

In the end, House tells Eve a story about being abused by his grandmother. He's told it with such ease, it seems obvious it's a lie. She attacks him for it on the grounds that he continued to call his grandmother "Oma." "Something would have to change," she wants to believe, still looking for meaning.

When he tells her she's irrational, she replies angrily: "What the hell can I do that you're not going to dismiss as being just because I was raped?"

For me, that's the most profound point of the episode: Our terrible events don't make us who we are, yet they tend to be what people judge us on. Maybe we need meaning to turn them into something more than terrible events, but we are more than the sum of our tragedies. House lost much of the use of his leg, House is in pain, House pushed away the love of his life, House was shot, House was abused. None and all of that makes him who he is. As he says, some people go through terrible things and do just fine, some go through terrible things and their lives suck.

I've cursed other House writers before, and I'll curse David Shore now, for making me write nearly a whole damn transcript while being completely absorbed in the show, in an attempt to catch the precision and beauty of the exact words:

House: You gonna base your whole life on who you got stuck in a room with?

Eve: I'm gonna base this moment on who I'm stuck in a room with. That's what life is. It's a series of rooms. And who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our lives are.

Cuddy delivers the news that will provide next obstacle to Eve's recovery, and the next philosophical meat for Eve and House's discussion: she's pregnant.

House counsels her on abortion, but she's determined to keep the baby conceived in rape. I love that the show tackles two of the topics you're not supposed to discuss in polite society - abortion and religion - and has the main character take a firm, not-particularly-safe position on both. Eve views abortion as murder, but House sees birth as the nice, hard line between acceptable and unacceptable murder, and launches into debate club mode to expose flaws in her position.

She suddenly realizes he's enjoying the conversation. "This is the type of conversation I do well," he half smiles. He doesn't do well with the personal type, since there are no answers. "If there are no answers, why talk about it?"

Though he insists she's physically health enough to leave, he promises not to discharge her. Instead, he takes her to the park where "I sit, I watch, I imagine."

And, he could add, "I debate." This time, they get into religion as they hash out the irrationality of her trying to find God's purpose in her rape and pregnancy. "Either God doesn't exist or he's unimaginably cruel," says House. His explanation is that humans are base creatures who apply their intelligence to occasionally not being evil.

"What you believe doesn't make sense," House exclaims. "If you believe in eternity, then life is irrelevant, the same way a bug is irrelevant in comparison to the universe."

It's a nice touch in this episode, that from the cockroach in a patient's ear to House sitting in the park with a bug on his hand, the imagery actually ties in to the dialogue of the show.

"Then nothing matters if there's no ultimate consequences. I can't live like that," Eve says. "I need to know that it all means something. I need that comfort."

He points out that she doesn't seem particularly comfortable even with those beliefs. "I was raped. What's your excuse?" she zings back.

When Eve expresses annoyance at his tendency to answer her questions with a question, he replies, "I'm interested in what you're feeling."

"You are?" she asks. He is? Of course he is, but to express that seems a huge leap for the man who won't admit to personal connections.

"I'm trapped in the room with you, right?" he replies. "Why did you choose me?"

She explains vaguely that she feels that connection to him. And when he reveals that his story, his lie, was not exactly a lie -- it was his father who abused him, not his grandmother -- first his face, then hers, back and forth, alternately fades into focus, making the impact of his confession on both of them more pronounced. I rarely notice direction unless it's either really bad or really well done, but director Juan J. Campanello did well here.

And suddenly, everything House has said to Eve, everything Eve has said to House, takes on the burden of applying to his situation as well as hers. Does what he believes make sense? How does a man who believes in absolute rationality process abuse from a parent, other than to believe in our evil instincts? When he told Eve, "It doesn't mean anything about you, it's not your fault," has he really learned to believe that himself? When he explained to her that she had control taken away from her and is now trying to get control again, was he talking about himself?

He tells her he wants to hear her story, and she begins to recount it as the scene fades into a song. Because the rape story isn't important, though the connection is. Maybe he's proven that he won't dismiss her. Maybe they've each had a profound impact on each other in their one day together. Maybe they've both taken a step towards each other's position. He's certainly not as sure of himself as we're used to seeing.

There's another patient story interspersed with Eve's that touches on some of the same themes. Cameron's post-Tritter symptom is that she's not covering for House anymore. When he'd tried to hide from clinic duty by performing a slew of unnecessary tests on an already diagnosed patient, she volunteers at the clinic where she is noticeably not hiding from Cuddy, as instructed.

Her punishment for disloyalty, as Cuddy points out, is to be saddled with another dying patient. She encounters a homeless man with inoperable lung cancer (played by ubiquitous character actor Geoffrey Lewis, also known as father of Juliette), with whom she gets to practice her relatively new off-hand dismissive attitude with patients, which is not nearly at House levels but is probably a sign she's been infected with a low-grade Housian infection.

The patient is determined to not only punish himself for a wasted life, but to create meaning for his life by refusing treatment and dying in pain. "I need you to remember me. I need someone to remember me."

Boy did he pick the right doctor. Cameron, who married a dying man so he wouldn't be alone, who befriended a dying patient so she wouldn't be alone, expressed a similar philosophy in season two's "Acceptance": “When a good person dies, there should be an impact on the world. Somebody should notice. Somebody should be upset.” Though this patient may not have been a good man, and though she claims she will not watch him suffer, Cameron respects his wishes and lets herself be there in his one day, one room, that she will presumably carry with her much further.

Before the day is done, Cuddy lets House know that Eve has had the abortion and been discharged. "She's going to be OK."

House: "Yeah, it's that simple."

Cuddy: "She's talking about what happened. That's huge."

House isn't convinced. After all, if there are no answers, why talk about it? He is convinced that in their futile desire to help, they lean on the only thing they can do to tell themselves they've helped: drag her story out of her. As she did with him. "All we've done is make a girl cry."

Wilson asks the obvious question: then why? Why did House persist? And words I never would have imagined we'd hear from House's mouth come out: "Because I don't know."

As House leaves, Wilson asks if he's going to follow up with Eve. "One day, one room," he replies. I guess that's a no.

The next episode of House airs Tuesday, Feb. 6 at 9 p.m. on FOX.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Hmm, I vaguely remember there's something I want to watch tomorrow

  • Actors are wonderful, brilliant people. Apropos of nothing, Hugh Laurie won a Screen Actors Guild award yesterday from his peers and gave a sweet and, of course, amusing speech talking about how much it meant to him to be given the opportunity to excel in the role (though he said it more modestly). He's so dreamy.
  • Media in Canada's TV stories lead with a laughable headline for the Jan. 15-21 ratings article: House tumbles, but American Idol couldn't steal #1. The article goes on to mention that House fell from #1 to #30 in one week, without ever mentioning that it was a rerun on Global up against American Idol on CTV and FOX. Numbers are hard.
  • The New York Times, on the other hand, has a meatier explanation of something I heard for the first time at the Banff World Television Festival (see Inside House) - that when ratings were low at the beginning, David Shore had felt pressured to create the character of Vogler as House's nemesis. The article writer - Bill Carter, author of Desperate Networks - was at Banff too, though I have no idea if that's where he first heard about it. He's got a few more sources than I do. The article, House, Already Strong, Gets a Boost, talks about American Idol as House's savior and the casting that gave us the then-unlikely Hugh Laurie's indelible performance as the title character.
  • The episode synopsis for tomorrow's House looks really good. Which means nothing, but I've already blocked out the memory of my disappointment with the last episode and am psyched. And a little scared. I guess it's not fully blocked.
  • Canadians, the season finale of Intelligence is tomorrow too. You can watch both shows, even if they're on at the same time. I have my revered Eastern time zone feed, but Intelligence also airs Tuesdays at midnight and Fridays at 11. Or, you know, you could record one.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

TV Review: Intelligence - "Dante's Inferno"

Prior to this week's season finale of Intelligence on CBC, I half expect to hear: "Previously on Intelligence ... everything goes to hell."

The last episode, "Dante's Inferno," takes the threads of the previous 11 episodes, wraps them around the necks of Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) and Mary Spalding (Klea Scott), and leaves us with a divine drama that somehow must be at least somewhat wrapped up this week, or leave us with a hell of a cliffhanger before we've heard about a second season.

Jimmy and Ronnie are too late to save Johnny, the Vietnamese tortured by Dante's men to reveal Reardon's connection to his nephew's death. Did he talk? What does Dante know? Hard to say. It's always hard to say with this show - who knows what.

Jimmy's furious with Mary for not instantly answering her phone while they were pursuing Dante's car, but she was busy shredding files rather than let them fall into the hands of her CSIS overlords, who are infiltrated by moles. Besides, Jimmy needs to save some rage for later, given how the episode ends. For now, he insists she preserve his anonymity in the murder investigation, which she does reluctantly.

Dick Royden, who Mary suspects is an American double agent, meets with Ted to coax from him his files and a statement on Mary's culpability in the death of their wireroom mole, Lee. Royden dangles Mary's old job as the carrot in front of Ted, and the threat of being the scapegoat himself as the stick.

Ted's DEA pal is still working with Reardon's American distributor to lure Reardon down to their jurisdiction. And the convergence of events in this episode make the option of fleeing to another country appealing to Reardon. So things are looking good for Ted so far.

Things aren't looking quite so good for Mary. At the not-particularly-polite request of her senator friend's flunky, Mary is attempting to gather hard evidence to prove Royden is a double agent, with the help of Katarina's patriotic prostitution allowing her access to his incriminating cell phone activity (and allowing him access to her wallet - so now how much does he know?).

Mary's also protesting the directive to let Royden make his move up the CSIS chain while trying to turn him back from the dark side again. When flunky threatens Mary's job if she doesn't cooperate, Mary threatens to go to the media about Canada's infiltrated intelligence agency.

Jimmy's got more personal issues on his mind. His first thought, in case Dante knows the truth, is to protect his daughter Stella. He asks ex-wife Francine to take her away, but she convinces him to let her move into his house (and his bed) instead. It's understandable that Jimmy is drawn to Francine, who's been through this with him before - she's the comfortable old shoe who looks like the sexy stiletto. And like a stiletto, Jimmy would be wise to keep her away from any sensitive parts.

Later, Ronnie makes an even more strained analogy about beautiful water being full of poison, then throws the glass in his friend's face. "You do not want to get involved with Francine again. Wake the fuck up." Yeah, that's what I was going for, too, only using nicer words.

Jimmy's got bigger issues than his messy relationship, though he doesn't yet know that. When Ted stalls Royden on the statement about Lee and lets him know that Mary's taken the informant files, Royden is less than pleased. He stalks into Mary's office to make an astonishing threat that leaves her looking as shaken as we've seen her: Give me the files, or I go to the media with Jimmy Reardon's name as your star informant.

When Phan learns of his cousin's death, his first thought is getting retribution for the bikers' act of retribution, and he looks to Jimmy's henchman, Silent Bob. In order to stall him, Bob convinces Phan to think big. "You want to kill a snake, cut off its head, not its tail." Bob, who has spiritual and humorous depths until now unseen, counsels Jimmy to give Phan time to allow his grief to work itself out, though Ronnie's tempted to simply get out of the way so Phan can take care of their Dante problem.

Jimmy, ever the pacifist first, vigilante second, pays a visit to Dante to see what he knows, in the guise of making peace. And while you really do need a scorecard on this show to figure out who's screwing whom, Dante's done the math and added up the death of Jimmy's man Colin being tied to the bikers, the fact that Jimmy's been working with the Vietnamese, and the Vietnamese's involvement in his nephew's death, and come up with 2+2=4. Jimmy tries to convince him it's 3, or 5, but the sums are stalled when a cop arrives to chat with Dante about the shooting.

Mary's day isn't going any better than Jimmy's. Katarina overhears Royden's phone call where he rather indiscreetly - or setting her up? - says "Don't worry about Mary. I'm taking care of her. She won't survive the week." Literally, or figuratively? I wouldn't bet my life on him meaning job survival, and Katarina warns Mary to watch her back.

Mike Reardon is facing a tussle over bank machines in his club, which may pay off later but seemed an annoying distraction from the increasing stakes of the rest of the episode.

In a move that may end up getting her more involved in the increased stakes than she might want, Ronnie gets Sweet to convince Dante's sister - who I have to say is considerably hotter than her brother - that Reardon had nothing to do with his nephew's death. Even though he kind of did. Shhh.

The tense final scene unites Mary and Jimmy in her car as she lets him know about his possible pending exposure as an informant, and advises him to disappear. He angrily hammers home the point that his family, friends, and associates are doomed right along with him, whether he disappears or not. He demands Royden's name, but Mary, looking sick, steadfastly refuses. "I can't. I won't."

The season finale of Intelligence airs Tuesday, Jan. 30 at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Book Review: Arthur & George by Julian Barnes

It's impossible to write a review of Julian Barnes' intriguing novel Arthur & George without giving away just who Arthur and George are, and yet the slow, sly revelation is part of the book's considerable merits. I was lucky enough to have approached it completely oblivious to the plot, marketing, or reviews. You seem to be not so fortunate.

I could say: Stop here and go read the book. I'll wait. Come back when you're done.

But I know you won't listen to me on that, so I'll just get on with it, and console myself with the fact that you've been warned.

Actually, die-hard fans of Sherlock Holmes may already have identified Arthur and George. Because the boy Arthur we meet at the beginning, the curious boy who "wants to see," the boy who became a doctor and then a novelist, is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Still, even most fans of Doyle may not be familiar with the real-life story of George Edalji, accused of mutilating livestock. Though Doyle was constantly approached to apply the mind that created Sherlock Holmes to actual cases, Edalji's was the only one he agreed to investigate.

So George is the boy we meet in the initial chapters, short chapters that alternate between "Arthur" and "George" without revealing how these two very different Victorian childhoods could possibly intersect. In contrast to young Arthur the storyteller, George is a boy who literally can't see well, and who figuratively sees only bare facts, devoid of imagination.

The novel builds slowly to the inevitable collision of the two title characters, much later in their lives. And it is a novel, for while Barnes did considerable research, the book delves into the largely forgotten history of Edalji, and imbues both George and Arthur with fully formed personalities and motivations Barnes could not possibly find in the historic record - unless he, like Doyle, communed with spirits.

Arthur & George has the trappings of a mystery novel. We have a crime. We have a seemingly innocent accused. We have a famous novelist, creator of a famous detective character, investigating. Barnes himself, though known primarily for more stately literary fare, has written potboiler mysteries under name of Dan Kavanagh.

Yet the book is so much more than a mystery novel. The whodunnit is central to Arthur, and George, and perhaps even the reader, but the author has a larger plan in mind. The essential question at the heart of the story is the gap between what we believe and what we can prove, and the sometimes-distant relationship either of those things has with the truth.

Barnes adds questions of faith, prejudice, and social structure to the gripping tale of two men fighting for the same goal, but who see the world very differently. It's a book both entertaining and wise, one that helps the reader see that essential question a little differently, too.

Arthur & George is available from Random House Canada.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

My week so far

Things I've been doing instead of catching up on the backlog of two - now only two! - book reviews and last week's Intelligence review:

  • Working. True but uninteresting.
  • Rationalizing. This is one of my most highly developed talents. The theory behind the timing of my Intelligence reviews has always been that since I can't do them same day, posting them the day before the next one airs gives me breathing room and lets me think of them as sort of "Last week, on Intelligence..." reminders. So if I look at it that way, my review of last week's episode is not late, because the next episode airs next week. The fact that I just rewatched it with my reviewing eye - and pencil - puts me ahead of the game.
  • Skimming. The reason I've been whining about the backlogged book reviews has nothing to do with the quality of the books. I loved them, back when I read all three them before Christmas without writing a word, in a very bad tactical move. Now I find myself needing to skim them to refresh the details and help myself find my way in to the review. Good thing I liked them.
  • Avoiding. Specifically, news coverage of the Pickton trial. This will dominate the news here for months, and I will avoid the gory details for months. There are some things I just don't need imprinted on my brain.
  • Soaking. I love the rain. Mostly. It's the Vancouver area's snow removal program. It's also a good excuse to treat my cold, drenched self to a long, hot bath after a lovely, wet walk.
  • Procrastinating. What's the purpose of this post, exactly? Hmm.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Book Review: Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam

Despite portioning most of my reading into bite-sized chunks of a book before bed (with bigger bites the more appetizing the book), I have never been drawn to short story collections, preferring to sink my teeth into plots of novel-sized proportions.

Vincent Lam's short story collection Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures is the exception that makes me want to reconsider the rule. His interconnected stories following a group of medical students as they become doctors are both finely realized, self-contained morsels and part of a larger, satisfying whole.

It's not hard to see why this 2006 Giller Prize winner was recently snapped up for development into a TV series, a medium that thrives on distinctive characters, settings containing a bottomless well of dramatic moments, and the potential for individual stories to coalesce into a bigger picture.

Lam demonstrates a polished, profound touch unexpected in a first book (though he's previously written articles about real-life medical issues such as SARS and ER overcrowding for national newspapers, and subsequently co-wrote the non-fiction book The Flu Pandemic and You). He also demonstrates an insight and precision not unexpected in someone intimately familiar with the science and art of medicine. If his writing career fades after its spectacular debut, he still has his not-too-shabby job as an emergency room physician to fall back on.

The stories revolve around the personalities of Ming, Fitzgerald, Sri, and Chen, their careers, passions, and obsessions - which are not necessarily three distinct things. Their romantic entanglements and professional dilemmas are presented with an almost clinical detachment that paradoxically doesn't take away from the emotions brewing under the surface. If there's such a thing as scientifically poetic, Lam's style fits that description.

These are characters struggling with the dispassion expected, even necessary, in the medical profession and the messiness of human emotion. We can chart their progress from the driving passion to get into medical school, seen in "How to Get Into Medical School, Parts I and II," a passion that either mutates into a passion for medicine itself, or mutates into something a little less noble, as in "Night Flight." In the earlier stories, we can see the traces of the doctors these medical students are to become in later ones.

The book delves into questions of medical ethics and human ethics, and gives an accessible insider's view into the strained Canadian medical system, touching on the Toronto SARS crisis in "Contact Tracing," a crisis Lam saw first-hand in the emergency room. But primarily, it is a highly entertaining tale - or rather, they are highly entertaining tales - of life and death and the meaningfully mundane moments in between.

The story behind the stories is nearly as compelling as the collection itself. The tale is that he met Margaret Atwood on a cruise ship where he was working, and convinced her to read his manuscript. She admired it enough to act as a mentor to the younger writer and introduce him to his publisher.

Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam is available from Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House Canada.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Guest blogger brother's shoebox reviews

I may never have to write another post again. I'll just continue to exploit my brother for material. Some day he'll stop sending me e-mails for fear they'll all end up on my blog. (Actually I ask him before posting. Honest.)

When I saw him at Christmas I gave him a shoebox of some of the review materials I didn't know what to do with. I made it very clear these cast-offs weren't his real present. His real present was a half bottle of rum. I got thirsty.

He rarely watches TV (well, he watches a few TV shows, just not on TV. Shhh.) so I passed on some of the CBS screeners I'd gotten in the fall, and he reads voraciously, so I passed on some books I didn't necessarily want to keep for myself. Here's his shoebox reviews, with links to my reviews, where available (CBS sent me a swack of "premiere week" screeners for returning shows, which I received after premiere week became old news week, so I never did end up writing about them):

The Class
I didn't come to "The Class" with any expectations, and hated it in the first three minutes. It looked like another terrible sitcom with a laughtrack. But after watching it for a bit there were actually some clever bits in it, and some interesting characters. It never really did it for me entirely, but it looked like there was some promise there.
I felt kind of the same way. I've watched it a couple of times since seeing that batch of the first three episodes, but it hasn't really improved. It's still pretty hit and miss.

The New Adventures of Old Christine
My god, this was unwatchable. Seriously, I couldn't make it through the entire episode. Specifically, it was bad. I've said enough.
I didn't review it, but I saw it a couple of times last year and thought it was OK. Definitely not that bad.

I've already mentioned "Jericho" tells us the apocalypse will be really boring.
I called it the tale of the feel-good apocalypse. I didn't mean it as much of a compliment. I think I liked it a bit more than Steve did, though.

"Shark" was really good. I could watch more of it.
I liked it too. And then never saw it again after the pilot. I guess I didn't like it that much.

3 lbs
"3 lbs." was actually better than I expected. Ya, comparisons to "House" are inevitable, but it would have been interesting to see a show that concentrated on broken brains. Broken brains are cool. 3 episodes? How can they decide a show is worth keeping or not after 3 episodes?
The perennial question. Which I can't answer. I didn't not like 3 lbs, but it didn't live up to the premise. I was really looking forward to more exploration of the Oliver Sacks type broken brains too, but all that mediocre writing got in the way.

The Unit
"The Unit" looked like it might have been okay, but obviously I was coming in the middle of the story and didn't really connect with the characters. Little less talking, little more shooting. And robots, too. It needed robots.
I didn't see the episode I passed on to him - it would have been the second season premiere - but I did see the series premiere and was underwhelmed. Little more talking, little less shooting. That's what it needed. And more robots.

"Smith" was really good, even if they copied the "Reservoir Dogs" plot thing. Umm, was this also canceled after 3 episodes? Too bad, it looks like it would have been interesting.
I didn't like Smith much. I heard it was really expensive to produce, and the network didn't like what they saw in unaired episodes. But that's hearsay and would not stand up in court.

How I Met Your Mother
"How I Met Your Mother." Umm, frankly I don't remember much about it. I know I watched it, I don't think I hated it. Just didn't make much of an impact, I guess.
That's kind of how I feel about the show overall. It's likeable, but it just doesn't grab me enough to watch all the time. Except the Robin Sparkles thing.

Fry and Laurie
Very funny, even if sometimes I didn't get the references. Stephen Fry is really good, and his sidekick didn't annoy me too much.
This wasn't review material, and I haven't written about it. And I didn't give him my copy of it. It's mine. All mine.

The Big Happy
"The Big Happy". Well, I read the entire book. At first it seemed the author was trying too hard with his wacky humour, especially when he's doing things like making fun of Alanis Morisette's idea of ironic. Wasn't that funny last century? but then either he relaxed or I just accepted it. Not the kind of book I normally read, and I didn't hate it, but didn't think there was a lot of point to it in the end. I mean, I got a point (perhaps not THE point), but it seemed a little mundane. Needed robots.
I didn't really review it, just mentioned it here. I didn't love it in the end, despite the promising start.

I really really liked this. It's almost a fantasy that could actually happen. If things like that actually happened. You could just read it to see what other bizarre thing was going to happen and forget the plot. I'll find myself rereading this.

The typographical tricks reminded me of Alfred Bester's stuff from the 50's (I didn't read it in the 50's, that's just when it was written). It annoyed me when he did it too.
He liked it more than I did, but I liked it against my will.

In summary
So, not so much reviews as "Oh, I liked that" and "Oh, that sucked". But isn't that what a review really is? Anything else is just the reviewer trying to impress you. And trying to give you specific details about why it sucked and why it was good, and why it should be so in order to help you make a decision. But I won't fall into that trap.
Yeah. That kind of review is lame. Ahem.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Holy shit

Since I won't do anything crazy like change my Intelligence review-writing schedule just because there's no House review to write (after all, there's still that backlog of three book reviews I keep whining about, and I'm still working - like actual work - at 10 p.m., so those aren't getting done any time soon either). But was that ever a great episode. Since "holy shit" is all I can come up with right now, I'll quote a commenter, just in from Blogcritics:
Wow. I just saw tonight's episode. Haddock is a genius. All season long he's been introducing these little plot threads, dozens of them, leaving them dangling, unresolved until you wonder whether they meant anything at all. Then suddenly, subtly, there's one little twist of the writer's fingers, one flash, and you realize all those threads have been tightly woven into a short little fuse, and you're about to witness one hell of a big explosion.

Monday, January 15, 2007

TV flotsam

  • I have nothing but amused scorn for the Golden Globes, until they give Hugh Laurie an award. Two consecutive awards, in fact. They're geniuses.
  • David Shore and Bill Lawrence duke it out over the Scrubs "homage" to House. No, not exactly, but that would make for a better story.
  • CBC's Little Mosque on the Prairie just played a rerun of the pilot. Again. In the timeslot that is supposed to be a new episode, according to CBC's site, and my site, which got its information from their site. I'm confused. They change the timeslot after its spectacular debut and then either mix up the publicity for the second, or air the wrong episode? Based on the official show site, it looks like maybe the Wednesday timeslot might be the new episode, and the Monday one the repeat. That's not what previous press releases have said, though. Interesting strategy for CBC to try to hold on to the viewers who tuned in en masse for the pilot last week. Twice.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

TV Review: Intelligence - "Not a Nice Boy!"

With two episodes remaining in season one of CBC's Intelligence, Mary Spalding and Jimmy Reardon seem no closer to unraveling their respective messes. In fact, they seem far more raveled.

Mary's not riding as high as last episode, after her senator ally first orders the investigation on CSIS director Dick Royden to go "black" and then cuts off direct ties with her. Through her proxy, the senator orders Mary to simply watch and wait as Royden moves in on the Asia/Pacific region directorship she'd been promised, until she can turn the suspected double agent. Did I mention, while watching Royden take over the job Mary desperately wants? Nice.

Despite his American distributor getting caught in the DEA plot to catch Reardon, Jimmy seems to be riding higher this episode. His plan to set up an offshore bank to take care of his money laundering woes is working out, though he's put his shipping business up as collateral. Ronnie nags him about ensuring Francine the loose canon won't rat on them, but Jimmy is strangely unconcerned, and his confidence is surprisingly not misplaced.

He stages a drug bust that catches an unsuspecting Francine, but she refuses to inform on her ex-husband in exchange for dropped charges. It's hard to imagine the price Jimmy has paid for that loyalty, but he was definitely confident of it before the test. Still, she did change her mind about her drug purchase when reminded of her family, so there might be a loyal heart in there somewhere.

Loyalty is bought in many ways on this show. Mary has bought Katarina's by reuniting her with her family, so she can now ask her to prostitute herself to Dick Royden in order to position herself as a long-term informant. Stripper Tina's loyalty is harder to discern, but she's another example of swapping sex for intelligence. And coke. The world of intelligence is definitely not a nice one.

Neither, of course, is the criminal world. Michael Reardon really is like a big kid. A big, dumb kid. A big, dumb kid with criminal tendencies. He discovers that his nightclub deal is not exactly legit, and the previous owner has disappeared with Mike's cash payment. He and his associate hunt the guy down at his shrieking mother's apartment.

Mother: Please don't hurt him He's a good boy.

Mike: No, he's not a good boy. He's a very bad boy.

He evades them during their fairly pathetic search, but they ambush him later as he tries to escape with the money. Score one for Mike, whose loyalty to Jimmy is one of his only good boy traits.

Jimmy and Mary exchange favours in one of their patented car meetings. Mary assures Jimmy that his cooperation in an arms deal with stock broker Randy Bingham is protected. What she offers him in return for that cooperation is assistance getting away from tricky questions about his bank machine deals, as well as hooking him up with someone who can help with a currency exchange. That favour seems superfluous now that he's set up an offshore bank. She apparently doesn't know about that yet - despite her supposed informant Tina's knowledge. He apparently either wants another money laundering option or he's happy enough with the clue that she doesn't know about that yet.

In a rare glimpse of Ted's personal side, he has a strange exchange with a man in a bar, first exchanging stares, then confronting him in the bathroom to ask what the guy's looking at. Is Ted homophobic? Gay? Both? Paranoid, but not enough to not talk about CSIS's political machinations in a bar?

He earlier discovered from Roger Deakins that Mary was moving to oust Royden, which would leave her position at the Organized Crime Unit open - possibly for Ted, if he plays his cards right. Now he learns that Royden is moving to oust Royden and step in as director of the Asia Pacific region, which also puts Ted on track to taking over Mary's current job. Both sides see Ted as the devil they know, which is not particularly flattering, but puts Ted in a win-win situation. Unless he rocks the boat. Like, say, getting caught at his little plan to trap Reardon in the DEA's snare. Seems a little late to put those worms back in the can, but I won't count crafty Ted out yet.

Phan, Jimmy's Vietnamese connection, doesn't want to lie low after his part in the botched currency exchange raid that led to biker leader Dante's nephew getting killed. His partner Johnny pays the price.

Dante pulls his car up outside the Chickadee to talk to Jimmy and Ronnie about any news on his nephew's murder. After their "gosh, we don't know"s, he opens the back window to reveal a beaten and bound Johnny, with a not-so-veiled threat to torture him further and do some serious damage to Jimmy's empire if he finds out they were involved.

Uh oh.

The next episode of Intelligence airs Tuesday, Jan. 16 at 9 p.m. on CBC.

DVD Review: St. Elsewhere Season One

In those cold, dark days before House, even before Grey's Anatomy and ER and Scrubs and Chicago Hope, there was St. Elsewhere. M*A*S*H might have come first, but St. Elsewhere made it a pattern - despite my squeamishness, I was hooked on medical shows, with their black humour pervading the life-or-death patient stories and frenetic personal lives of sleep-deprived, adrenaline-high doctors and nurses.

The first season of St. Elsewhere is now available on DVD and available to those of us with fond memories of the show that ran from 1982-88, and to a new audience who can discover this much-acclaimed but never highly rated show.

Producer and director Mark Tinker (NYPD Blue, Deadwood) remarks in an episode commentary that ER is like St. Elsewhere on speed. Watching this 25-year-old show now makes the reverse seem more accurate: St. Elsewhere is like ER on valium.

It's easy to see how much modern medical shows owe to this series, with its stylish and thoughtful exploration of multiple storylines, self-contained episode stories combined with ongoing serial arcs, social commentary, and the slice of life realism with an absurd twist.

Inner-city Boston is the setting for St. Eligius, the run-down teaching hospital known derisively as St. Elsewhere, the perfect dumping ground for those who can't afford treatment at the often-referenced rival Boston General.

Times have changed since the show broke new ground, and not just in the size of '80s hair, shoulder pads, eyeglasses, and syringes. The show spells things out more than today's audiences are generally used to, from spot-on dialogue that cements each character's position on any given issue down to explaining the medical jargon that these days usually flies by unremarked. However, adjusting to the slower pace of the show brings the huge rewards of a show that does show its age, but also its ample heart and brain.

Most of the series' pet issues could easily fit on today's schedule, including commentary on health care costs, hospital politics, medical ethics, racism, and inner city problems of homelessness, poverty, and violence. Some of its pet topics have changed enough in the past 25 years to make the show's take seem dated, including a female doctor's regret at pursuing a career at the expense of a more traditional role, for example. Which isn't to say the issue of women finding the balance between career and marriage/motherhood doesn't exist anymore, but the dialogue around the issue has moved on.

The series follows a core group of residents under the direction of Dr. Donald Westphall (Ed Flanders), cancer-stricken Dr. Daniel Auschlander (Norman Lloyd), arrogant heart surgeon Dr. Mark Craig (William Daniels), and womanizing surgeon Dr. Ben Samuels (David Birney, who left the series after the first season). The distinctive characters are not all easy - or even possible - to like, but they're all complex and compelling and impossible not to care about.

There are a slew of familiar faces in the regular cast who weren't familiar at the time. Season one is, sadly, pre-Mark Harmon, but Denzel Washington appears in his breakout role as Dr. Philip Chandler, though one smaller than his placement on the DVD box would suggest. David Morse, most recently seen in a recurring guest role on that other medical drama, House, is Dr. Jack Morrison, the soul of this season one. Howie Mandel, with abundant hair and a meatier role than that of game show host, is the hyperactive Dr. Wayne Fiscus; Terence Knox is the troubled and troubling Dr. Peter White; and Ed Begley, Jr. is perfectly cast as the flaky but competent Dr. Victor Ehrlich. Nurse Helen Rosenthal is played by Christina Pickles, with a warmth that might surprise those of us who know her as Ross and Monica's brittle mother on Friends.

The names behind the cameras are impressive, too. St. Elsewhere was created by Joshua Brand and John Falsey, who went on to create Northern Exposure. The late Bruce Paltrow, father of Gwyneth but, more to the point, respected producer and director, and Tom Fontana, a writer and producer on shows such as Oz and Homicide: Life on the Street, also contributed to the show.

It's fun to play spot the famous guest star, with glimpses of before-they-were-famous names in often tiny roles, like Ray Liotta, Michael Madsen, Ally Sheedy, Christopher Guest, Judith Light, Jane Kaczmarek, a very young Candace Cameron, and, in a three-episode arc, Tim Robbins as a "terrorist" who set off a bomb in bank (the word is more jarring today than it would have been then).

Fortunately no one watched this show for the music, because even the cover songs they used - because they couldn't afford the originals they wanted - are replaced with different versions for the DVD release. The incidental music is little better; when things get intense, the elevator music gets a little louder.

The 22-episode set comes on four double-sided discs, and don't expect anything impressive on the technical side of things. The audio is stereo, and the non-anamorphic video is in the original full screen. No apparent restoration has been done, so the picture is as washed out and grainy as would be expected for video from that era.

The extras aren't abundant, but what's there is great. Producer/director Mark Tinker keeps a running commentary and tries his hardest to draw a few words from guest star Doris Roberts on the episode Cora and Arnie, which won Roberts her first of five Emmys.

A few featurettes splice together interviews with Tinker and some of the actors, including David Morse and Christina Pickles, to focus on that particular episode, Morse's character Jack Morrison, and the show and its setting. The most fun is to be had in the featurette that centres around someone who had his first big break on the show - Tim Robbins, talking about his bad attitude as the terrorist character and as a young actor.

The extras are appropriately appreciative of St. Elsewhere's place in TV history, if the technical aspects of this DVD release aren't. Though obviously a product of its time in many ways, St. Elsewhere was groundbreaking and timeless enough to be thoughtful entertainment for today, and deserving of a place in any DVD collection.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

TV Review: House - "Words and Deeds"

I think I may be suffering from broken heart syndrome. My symptoms? A pain in my chest every time I think about the latest episode of House, a reluctance to write about the show I normally can't wait to dissect, and a sore throat. Though that last one might be more related to the cold I'm fighting off, come to think of it.

It breaks my heart to say this, but "Words and Deeds" takes away my ability to say that even a bad episode of House is better than most of the good stuff on television. To look on the bright side, the three weeks until another new episode should allow my heart to heal, since in an extremely unsatisfying plot twist, the reset button was hit on the series as much as on the patient of the week's brain.

Derek, a young and hot firefighter who is very much not an older woman, is disoriented and experiencing extreme body temperatures. Cameron, who's had enough of House's self-created problems, forces him to focus on the case, eventually leading to a diagnosis of menopause. When she tries to administer the hormone treatment, Cameron finds herself throttled by a man who's arm is about as big as her entire body. Last episode I kind of wanted to strangle the sanctimonious woman myself, but it definitely wasn't pretty to watch it literally happen.

When Derek starts having heart attacks, the team discovers his beautiful partner Amy is the trigger, and broken heart syndrome is the new diagnosis. And damn, Scrubs beat them to the punch with that one in last week's tribute episode, "My House," making that particular disease appearing in the very next episode of House more comical than dramatic.

Through all this, the team has to get House's input on location in rehab, where he's checked himself in after an apology to Vogler Jr. - I mean, Detective Tritter - didn't get him to drop the charges of stealing a dead patient's Oxycodone.

Cuddy and Wilson try to suss out if House's rehab decision is real or just a show, so he points out that it wouldn't be much of a show if it wasn't real. Everybody lies.

He even apologizes to Wilson for blaming him for his problems, a fact that makes Cameron thaw her newly icy attitude towards House and give him the most awkward hug in the history of hugs. I wonder if she apologized to Wilson for blaming him for House's problems before getting all sappy over House's apology.

Tritter doesn't buy the rehab move, because nothing House can say or do would ever be good enough. Because Tritter is just another cartoonish big bad wolf with a sketchy motivation that goes no further than having been burned by an addict. His role ended up being solely to further a plot that no one but the most gullible viewer thought would end up with House in jail or losing his medical license.

But instead of the process of getting House off the hook being clever or believable or interesting, we get Cuddy suddenly pulling a rabbit out of her butt and perjuring herself to save House's butt.

The show resets itself with the revelation that House has been taking Vicodin throughout, thanks to a bribable rehab worker. We're promised the same old House, which I hope also means the same old House that doesn't rely on cheap tricks.

I found it hard to care about the ludicrous rehab and trial plot, but the patient case was no better. Derek can't confess his love for Amy because she's engaged to his brother, so he agrees to a radical treatment to give him electroshock treatment to wipe out all his memories. No one objected to frying the patient's brain and eliminating who he is as the first line of treatment, no one on this ethically flexible medical staff thought to talk to Amy, in one of the most ludicrous leaps the episode expects us to take.

Another is that after the brain frying works, when it turns out Derek's memories had been false - Amy is not, in fact, engaged to his brother - the team calls House while he's on trial to let him know they were wrong. He can't trust his highly qualified hand-picked doctors to perform a test by themselves, so he walks out of his trial to swoop in and discover a spinal meningioma that's causing all his problems. They can now cure him, except for that whole erased brain thing. Oops.

"What do I do when I get out?" the memoryless Derek asks Cameron. "Sue the crap out of this hospital" is what she should have answered.

I'd write more about Lisa Edelstein and Hugh Laurie making this episode even remotely watchable; and how his speech about pain affecting his actions rang true despite the fact that he was trying to bullshit Tritter; and how ironic it was to see House rebel against someone applying his own "everybody lies," in words and deeds, philosophy to him; and how amusing it was that when House's biggest supporter, Cameron, has had enough of the man, Foreman and Chase decide to be supportive. But I just can't write anymore about this episode. My heart hurts too much.

In three weeks, I look forward to the same old House, even if I'm heartbroken at how the show went about getting to that point.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I lied

Due to technical difficulties, no House review tonight either. But hey, we have three weeks until the next new one. It will come way before then. Tomorrow?

Things I'm behind on:
  • 1 House review
  • 3 book reviews
  • 1 DVD review
  • work
  • life
Not necessarily in order of importance.

Well, of course

My brother finally admits I'm always right. I've been telling him this since I was old enough to talk.

Wednesday night, if the weather gods allow

I guess obviously by now, no same-day House review. Pick your excuse - they're all true:

a) The freakish Vancouver weather continues to play havoc with our utilities, meaning my cable - including Internet - cut out half an hour after I saw the show. I again make grateful sacrificial offerings to the eastern time zone FOX feed, without which I wouldn't have seen the episode at all.

b) I'm not feeling well and used the lack of Internet as an excuse not to do the review and to go to bed at 8. Which is why I'm up now at 1.

c) I thought the episode was lame in ways the show has never been lame before, and wanted time to ponder so my review was more considered than "Wow, that was lame." Oh well, I guess I can take consolation in the fact that it hit the reset button on the series as well as the patient's brain, so we should be back to same old House, the House the show excels at, soon.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Little interest in Little Mosque

A side effect I hadn’t anticipated when launching the TV, Eh site is that, since I've injected myself into this Canadian TV world, I feel somewhat obligated to check out shows I might not otherwise have tuned in to. Little Mosque on the Prairie debuts tonight, after a ton of media attention that gives me a warm fuzzy feeling about CBC doing something right to cut through the clutter and get one of their shows noticed.

But that doesn’t mean it sounds like a show I’d watch. I’m a hard sell on sitcoms anyway, and the quirky small town setting, especially combined with the fish out of water premise, has been done to death. Not with the “Muslim twist,” but it’s trite but true: one of my best friends is Muslim, so the fact that it’s being sold as a step towards tolerance — gosh, they’re not so different from us — doesn’t resonate with me as a viewer, though as a human being I’d love for it to achieve that goal.

I will watch the pilot, out of equal parts curiosity and obligation, but I won’t be watching tonight. Tuesdays are already a little crowded; there's House and all that entails, and then there’s Rick Mercer and Intelligence to watch or record. What is it with networks jamming my Tuesdays with too many options? The Little Mosque pilot will rerun tomorrow in its regular timeslot, Wednesdays at 8, so I’ll either watch it then or record it.

I think it works in the show’s favour that despite the international hype it’s received, I have low expectations. But whether I enjoy it or not, I hope it’s a huge hit. CBC could use one soon, and as I've said, sometimes, very occasionally, it’s not all about me.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Now that's a techie

After months and months of me nagging him, my brother finally took the plunge and signed up with Blogcritics, who've been eager for more science and technology posts. He actually made his move just before I got dugg, but that gave me another opportunity to point out that if my pathetic little post could make it on that site, there's obviously a market for that kind of thing - just imagine stuff written by someone who knows what they're talking about.

His first article? Made the front page of Digg, with the resulting huge spike in readers and comments. I'm so proud, you'd think we were related. Warning: if you're going to click on those links, it's an instructional post on how to author DVDs in Linux. Um, not that there's anything wrong with that. (He also goes with the real name. Quite a while ago I told him that if I'd known what I'd be writing about when I started the blog, I might have used my full name. His response: "What did you think you were going to write? Porn?")

I asked him if this instant Digg success meant it was a good time to say "I told you so." Silly me. It's always a good time to tell my big brother "I told you so." This could be the start of a little sibling rivalry, except ... no. I expect he'll be on Digg a lot, and he can have it.

The reason I kept encouraging him to join Blogcritics is that he's exceptionally good at explaining this techie stuff to the non-techie, in person and in writing. I can do fairly complicated things like setting up the Beyond TV PVR because I can follow instructions, even if I don't know what I'm doing. But that's also why I couldn't go with an open source version of a PVR - because the documentation was not written for the average joe or jane. There's a shortage of clear instructions out there for those of us who don't really get or care about the technical stuff, and my ever-patient, ever-geeky brother is just the one to help fill that gap.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Internet Archive

In lieu of a post that requires actual thought ... for Blogcritics, I reworked the post about finding the Billy Bragg song to be a bit of a review for the website I found the song on - the Internet Archive, which has been in my sidebar for a long time. The whole post is here, but it's basically that previous post with this tacked on at the end:

I'm surprised I hadn't thought to check the Internet Archive for it earlier. They have over 35,000 live music concerts available – including a huge repository of Grateful Dead concerts - as well as audiobooks, radio programs, texts, movies, and videos, all free and legal for download.

It also preserves web pages and materials from the dark ages of the Internet – you know, from a few years ago. Actually, they use Alexa Internet's Wayback Machine, which has been crawling the web since 1996, to offer access to pages that are no longer live.

The philosophy behind the Internet Archive is stated on their website:

The Internet Archive is working to prevent the Internet - a new medium with major historical significance - and other "born-digital" materials from disappearing into the past. Collaborating with institutions including the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian, we are working to preserve a record for generations to come. Open and free access to literature and other writings has long been considered essential to education and to the maintenance of an open society.

They don't mention the value of giving me access to Billy Bragg's version of "California Stars," but I'm sure that's just an oversight.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Still waiting for the locusts

I can't believe this. It's not possible for a highrise to blow over, is it? I swear I can feel my building move. I think we have angered the weather gods here in Vancouver.

I've been called worse

The Blogcritics version of my post on a non-techie discovering open source software got Dugg a few days ago, which was a bit surreal. I realized something was going on when my hits here quintupled just from people clicking through to my blog from that post. I've had spikes when posts on this blog were Whedonesqued or Wikipediaed or descended on by House fans, but that amount of spillover from Blogcritics has never happened before.

There’s nothing earth shattering or controversial (or, you might say, interesting) in that post. So I'm completely floored that the kind of people who gravitate towards Digg - people who are more on the techie end of the spectrum - would care.

I got flooded with e-mails and Blogcritics comments from insightful, helpful people, most encouraging me to try Linux, some offering to help me set it up, and a couple complimenting the post for being refreshing in aiming for non-geeks and not getting into the politics of the open source movement. This is why I use the word geek with affection.

Then, it turns out, despite the number of users voting for my article, in the Digg comments I was called out as a techie in hiding. A fraud.

Instead of being outraged or annoyed, I was amused. My brother is the one who once had to suppress his snickers when I answered a question about how much memory my computer had with a GHz number. By phone, he led me through the process of changing the battery on my old decrepit computer a few years ago (me: "computers have batteries?!"), which ended up being like one of those scenes in a movie where the hero is trying to diffuse a bomb oh so carefully ... because Steve first helpfully told me stories of people getting fried and being found weeks later when not grounding themselves properly before starting. Thanks, big brother. I guess it's a more interesting way to go than slipping in the shower and being eaten by the cat.

While I tease him about being a geek, he's actually not much of one. I mean, he's freakishly smart about computers and other stuff, and got a Spudtrooper for Christmas, and he watches Battlestar Galactica and Dr. Who, but he's not a computer tech as a day job, and he has other non-geek interests. I just can't think of any at the moment. Oh, he posts cat pictures. (That's his, in the box from one of the Christmas presents he gave me.)

He explains my Digg controversy succinctly in his post Forum Wars, where he later comes to my defense by calling me a clueless non-techie (though he puts it much nicer than that):

A lot of the comments on digg concentrated on whether or not she was a techie, with some stating they were burying the story as inaccurate. They seemed to feel she was trying to put something over on them, and missed the point of the article entirely. It seems they were confused by the thought that a person could be intelligent and not a techie at the same time. Some seemed to feel that the ability to maintain a website made a person a techie. And some didn't quite know what to make of the word "communications."

The Blogcritics commenters on the other hand were, as Diane put it, "Really supportive, helpful people with common sense." A lot of them were Linux zealots (sometimes we can be almost as bad as Mac zealots), but they seemed to genuinely want to help, or at least add intelligently to the discussion.

After my dabbling in online discussions with House, I definitely think different forums have different personalities. But some of the difference between Digg and Blogcritics is also that one is commenting about me, one is commenting to me.

I commented on Digg in my defense after another Blogcritic pointed out the raging debate over my non-techie credentials:

To be fair, I didn't say I have no knowledge of computers, I said I'm reasonably comfortable using them but can't talk about them intelligently. I don't know anything about their inner workings or how they're configured, hence the Linux reluctance. (I also didn't say I was an early adopter - I said I wasn't.) I work in web communications as in public relations. The techies at work laugh at the thought of me being a techie - I'm the content person. And yes, I can use a blog and content management system. So can Jessica Simpson. I'm fairly new to the idea of open source and thought other newbies might be interested in seeing what's out there for the basics most people need.

The debate is kind of hilarious timing, actually. Days before, I finally broke down and called The Geek Squad to come set up my wireless network at home. I’m ashamed to discover it’s been months since I bought the supplies and tried and failed to set it up myself. I kept meaning to try again, but the crushing sense of failure was so disheartening I couldn’t face it. I’m not used to not being able to figure something out with concerted effort, and my pride prevented me from taking up the offer of my friend’s husband to do it or making the Geek Squad call earlier. (If my brother or another techie friend lived closer, I would have had no qualms about taking advantage of them.)

Anyway, because of all the helpful people who e-mailed and commented with advice on using Linux, I think I’ll have to give it a shot sometime and write about my experiences, and incorporate some of what I’ve learned from them. I’m not ready to start the experiment yet, and might lose interest before I feel like tackling that project, so don’t hold me to that, though.

I already know a reason why I’d never be able to give up Windows completely: my brother couldn’t watch the House parody on the This Hour Has 22 Minutes website because of Linux compatibility issues. How could I possibly live in a world where I can’t access House parodies on demand?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

I'd like to thank my agent ...if I had one

I would be so much cooler if I wasn’t so hugely thrilled at this kind of thing, but John Doyle, TV critic for the Globe and Mail — premier TV critic in Canada, in my and many others' opinions — gave a wonderful shout-out to the TV, Eh site in his column today. Cool is overrated.

His point is that there is a shameful dearth of intelligent discussion about Canadian TV both in the mainstream media and online, and it’s hard to dispute that. Even those journalists who do publish the odd article featuring Canadian TV tend to ghettoize it. There’s TV, then there’s Canadian TV. In all the entertainment year-in-review articles written by Canadian journalists, there were very, very few that seemed to have even considered anything that happened within our borders, or if they did, it was separated out from the main story. Lee-Anne Goodman, the Canadian Press reporter Doyle refers to (and the one who's interviewed me) was a notable exception.

I have no illusions that even by making Canadian TV the star my site is redressing that imbalance in any significant way, but it’s a start, and maybe will help insert these shows into the discussion more by giving them a little more visibility.

I held off when Will made his nice post about the site, but I guess I’ll go into Oscar acceptance speech mode now. The site is actually not that difficult to maintain and I have fun with it. The thanks are really owed to the people who do the actual work, many of whom have expressed gratitude to me - but what I'm doing is really a small part of what the corporations who profit from their work should be doing far, far better themselves.

I’m sincerely touched at the support I’ve gotten. I have to say, though, almost none of that support – or information – comes directly from the networks. They’ve added me to their media release lists, but most don’t send me scheduling information and exactly none target what they send, so 99.9% doesn’t apply to the site (In my day job, I work in communications, aka The Profession Formerly Known As Public Relations, and sending untargeted communications to the media is a cardinal sin.) Global, for example, has sent me a media release trumpeting the fact that House squashed Intelligence in the ratings. I love House, but TV, Eh isn't quite the site for that kind of thing, don't you think, Global?

So most of the information I glean myself, plus some individual producers and show publicists have been valuable sources of information and occasionally screeners. But just the e-mailed and blogged encouragement from producers and writers and actors and others in the industry has honestly meant a lot to me, made me enjoy crashing their weird world of Canadian TV, and ensured I’m not going to back out any time soon … even if I do decide to start that site I’ve been contemplating to help promote Peruvian lawn bowling.

I keep musing over whether there’s a way I can help facilitate more bloggers to start reviewing and writing about Canadian shows, and while I think the answer is basically “no, I can’t, and don’t go there, girl,” Doyle’s article prompted me to do what I’ve been meaning to for a while – with the permission of the site owner, I sent an e-mail to the Blogcritics writers group to see if I can harness some of the Canadian ones who might be interested. I don’t expect much take up, but it’s a start, at least getting them thinking about the possibility.

I’ve said that a lot: it’s a start. It’d be nice to see the networks and production companies step up to make more of an effort to promote their own product. To further mangle the phrase I keep trying to use: a grassroots movement is hard to start when the grass doesn’t know about the roots. Or the roots don’t know about the grass. Whatever.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

So much more than a House post

Doris Egan, the writer/producer on House responsible for Failure to Communicate, House vs. God, and Son of Coma Guy, talks about one of my pet subjects, those ethical shades of grey. She uses examples from many different novels and shows, including House and Battlestar Galactica, to support the point that creating characters who embody these grey areas are the riskiest, but the most realistic and most satisfying.

Monday, January 01, 2007

A Non-Techie Discovers Free, Legal Software

Though I'm reasonably comfortable with computers – to use, not to sound intelligent about – and I like the opportunity for playtime they provide, I'm not what the techies would call an early adopter. It was probably a year after my brother encouraged me to get out of my Internet Explorer comfort zone and try Firefox before I took the plunge. Then I kicked myself for not doing it sooner.

I get that open source means the underlying code is made freely available so any old geek can work with it, leading to improvements and add ons, but it's not as though I'm ever going to do that. To me, open source means free software that can compete with the big boys - and often blow them out of the water.

Mozilla's Firefox had tabbed browsing and the built-in ability to subscribe to website feeds long before the recent launch of Internet Explorer 7, as well as a huge variety of extensions and add-ons to give you more functions than you could possibly dream of. Adblock by itself cements the developers' place in computer geek heaven, since you never have to see popups or some other webpage ads. I also love Foxmarks, which synchronize Internet bookmarks between desktop and laptop.

The e-mail companion to the Firefox browser is Thunderbird, which made me forget Outlook as quickly as I'd forgotten Internet Explorer. You can use it for multiple accounts and it works as a great news reader too. This is where I subscribe to RSS feeds of my favourite sites and get new posts as if they were e-mails.

One thing it doesn't have is a built-in calendar to keep track of appointments and tasks, but there's a newish add-on called Lightning that fills that gap. Before that integrated option came along, there was Sunbird, Mozilla's stand-alone calendar. I preferred the paper calendar and chalk board above my desk to that more cumbersome choice, which offered far more function than my simple needs warranted. Plus, I guess I'm an old fashioned kind of computer near-geek.

When I got a new computer a couple of years ago, I decided to forgo Microsoft Office completely and give OpenOffice a try. It's the equivalent of Word, PowerPoint, Access, Excel, and Paint, with all the features I ever use, many I never use, and some bonus features like a built-in PDF converter. You can even save files as their Word, etc. equivalents - I set that as my default so compatibility with my Microsoft-bound office network is never something I have to think about.

With all the sophisticated open source software out there, it's been easy to cut my ties to the world of paid software. I'm not quite a fully developed open source junkie though. It's been a few years since my brother encouraged me to try Linux, and I'm still mocking him for his devotion to the penguin-branded operating system, which leads to compatibility headaches I can live without.

The penguin definitely is cute, though. I just don't think that's quite enough to make me take the leap. Yet.