Saturday, March 31, 2007

What if heaven were like The Office?

"What if all the problems on earth were not caused by a spiteful deity, or karma, or fate, but just office politics and the Peter Principle?" FIlmmaker Francis Stokes asks and answers that question in his Internet comedy. From the Chicago Sun-Times, God, Inc. puts Office humour in heaven:
A few years back, the singer Joan Osbourne wondered aloud, "What if God was one of us?"

Now independent filmmaker Francis Stokes, in his wildly popular Web series "God, Inc.," is asking a similar kind of existential question: What if God's office was like one of ours?

Or, more specifically, what if heaven was like "The Office," with wan worker bees alternately uninspired, bullied or desperately trying to claw their way up (Jacob's) corporate ladder.

You might want to start with episode one, "In the beginning, there was paperwork," but my favourite is episode five, "Beating the Muslims (Not Literally)."
Some of the funniest moments in "God, Inc." are produced by the "Publicity" department, a k a world religions.

For three years running, the Muslim publicist has had the best numbers (because, he says, "My marketing strategy is the one, true marketing strategy"), winning converts hand over fist, and annoying the pious (and obnoxious) Esther, who's in charge of "Really Christians." (Not to be confused with Andy, a slackery dude who does P.R. for the "Sort-of Christians," who, he explains to Sarah, are the ones who go to church on Christmas and Easter and kind of believe. Sort of.

To try to shake up the populations of the world's religions, the office manager, fearsome Piper, starts a contest to see, in a week, which publicist can come up with the most new converts. The winner gets a box of steaks, which doesn't make the Hindu publicist very happy.

What does it mean for the price of maple syrup?

Friday, March 30, 2007

TV Review: House – "Top Secret"

“Top Secret” answered the question House fans have been dying to know since the series premiere over 2 ½ years ago: Just how much urine can one episode contain? The answer: A lot.

In this episode, we – and he – are seeing that the negative consequences of House's Vicodin dependence are not just social and psychological, but physical too. In a series of lovely bathroom scenes and shots of Hugh Laurie's grimace when confronted by sloshing liquids, we see House's torture resulting from the fact that he hasn't been able to urinate for three days, likely a side effect of his pain medication. Yet he holds onto the Vicodin like a baby with its blankie – no other will do.

Cameron asks about his pain, Wilson futilely tries to convince him to stop taking fistfuls of Vicodin in order to relieve the pain that the Vicodin is causing, but House appears to have burned up a lot of the energy anyone's willing to devote to sympathizing much. Faking rehab and brain cancer does that, I guess.

But back to the beginning. The teaser shows a Hummer full of soldiers singing and joking before an ambush we get in full shaky cam glory. Because of my general cluelessness about anything to do with the visuals of a show, I’ve gotten pretty proud of my ability to spot the work of frequent House director Deran Serafian before the credits roll.

The usual pre-credits bait and switch applies. Not only are we not seeing the injury of this week’s patient of the week, not only are we not being set up for a Housian take on the war in Iraq, but we’re not even in the show’s reality. Throughout, the camera has been following the point of view of one of the soldiers, one who was being treated by his Hummer-mate, when it pans away to reveal the injured soldier is a fatigues-clad House, gun in hand and leg blown off. Yes, that leg. That's gotta hurt.

He wakes up to Cuddy tossing him a file of his new patient, and he’s stunned to see that the picture in the file matches the face of the soldier who saved his life in the dream. Spooky.

The rest of the episode serves as both a medical mystery, as House tries to prove that his Gulf War Syndrome is actually nothingswrongitosis and then to discover what the somethingswrongitosis actually is, and a mystery about the patient’s identity.

House can never do something the easy way if that would involve human interaction, so he doesn't actually asks the guy. Instead he gets his team to investigate whether he's been on TV, among other leads. "His problem could be neurological. Everyone knows TV rots your brain." In desperation, while the patient is deteriorating on the operating table, House asks the crucial question: "Have you ever appeared in any pornos?"

With all the toilet humour and the opening blow-em-up war scene, this House tilted toward the 12-year-old-boy demographic that consists not just of 12-year-old boys, but most men as well. In doing so, it found new and interesting ways to disgust squeamish me. Did I really need to see House catheterize himself? Just to be clear: I really, really didn’t.

The epiphany to both mysteries comes to House in yet another dream, and the episode has cleverly prepped us for surreality by playing with what's real and point of view, including in an effective scene where we cut from John's deaf perspective to the minions arguing loudly over his bedside. However, I have to admit I didn't follow the medical epiphany in the dream at all, so House’s instadiagnosis of the patient didn't hold together for me. Maybe I was just distracted by the Cuddy-related epiphany. Or by all the urine.

When House's nose begins to bleed, and the TV screen starts to resemble a funhouse mirror, and Cuddy seductively says "I'm always here," it's not much of a surprise when House wakes up in bed. Covered in urine, naturally, but with a satisfied smile on his face. Well sure. It's all crystal clear now.

After going through diagnoses including sleep apnea, an STD, several kinds of cancer, and uranium toxicity, and symptoms including loss of hearing and paralysis, the patient's pallor and blood loss – did he have blood loss? - and the news of his grandfather's nosebleeds and father's shin splints bring sleeping House to the conclusion of a disease I've never heard of and am not even going to begin to try to spell. (Though the FOX website kindly posts information like that, all that cutting and pasting would wear me out.) Somewhere in there was the dream image of House's self-catheterization being exposed by a leak in the collection bag, and inordinate amounts of urine spilling from his pant leg. Have I mentioned all the pee?

House has also clued in to who his patient is. Turns out, he accompanied Cuddy for all of 10 minutes to a hospital function. Those who can’t swallow the idea that House dreamed about someone he saw two years ago minutes before being forced to take him on as a patient (my hand is raised here) are given the more rational solution by Wilson: he inserted the face into the dream in retrospect. The combination of Cuddy throwing him the file and the picture of the patient in that file triggered the niggling mystery in House’s subconscious. Wilson also reveals his disturbingly in-depth knowledge of the Village People as he pop psychologizes that House's dream was inspired by a desire to mend his relationship with his father, an ex-Marine.

When House indignantly confronts Cuddy over her secret connection to the patient, a sly smile creeps onto her face. "Get over me," she taunts. Besides answering the pressing question of pee, “Top Secret” also gave one of the most satisfyingly juicy revelations yet. It seems there is not, in fact, a great wall of China between love and hate; there was a night of passion in House and Cuddy’s past. This piece of information makes me want to think back and re-evaluate previous interactions to see what the new perspective adds. I see a DVD marathon in my summer.

House: Give me a break. You hired me ...
Cuddy: ... because you're a good doctor who couldn't get himself hired at a blood bank, so I got you cheap.
House: You gave me everything I asked for because one night I gave you everything ...

She finishes it off by pointing out "that ship sailed long ago." And though she appears to have bested him in this exchange, he smiles ruefully, obviously enjoying the tease. As do I.

In "Top Secret," yet another secret is exposed. Cameron has been enjoying her little arrangement with Chase perhaps a little too much, ignoring the patient in the process. Or, as Chase suspects, is she trying to get caught? “I’m over House,” she protests a couple of times. Yeah, right, and clingy and jealous Chase is successfully keeping his emotions out of the uncomplicated sex agreement.

Foreman catches them playing hooky when they're supposed to be monitoring the patient's sleep patterns, though Cameron craftily uses the truth to distract him – that they were having sex in one of the sleep rooms.

Foreman: House'd do Wilson before you'd do Chase.
Cameron: No, you'll do House and Wilson before I'd do Chase. Now can we get back to work?
Chase: She did me once.
Foreman: She was stoned!

Poor Chase. To make things worse for him, House, who's guessed their secret, "accidentally" catches them in a supply closet, saying he was looking for a larger garbage can. "Since when does he clean anything up?" Chase moans. In an episode full of expressive smiles, the one on House's face as he walked back to his office was the evil smile of future tormenting possibilities. If she was hoping to get caught to make House jealous, Cameron's hopes might have been dashed to see it.

So House ends by saving his patient, fixing his pee problem, blissfully ignoring the possibility that the Vicodin is harming his health, and gathering ammunition against Cuddy, Chase, and Cameron. All in all a good day's work for him, if you ignore the fact that the Vicodin is harming his health and he continues to have social skills a 12-year-old boy might be appalled at.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What we call the news

It's not looking good for tonight either, House fans. I'm about half done but on my way out the door (and no, I wouldn't have had time to finish if I hadn't stopped to write this). I usually, pathetically, try to keep my Tuesdays clear, but I do prioritize friends over TV (well, most friends) and a couple I rarely see, who have never before been to visit me here, were in town. Tomorrow, for sure.

But now for something completely different, another JibJab video (I'd posted their year in review a couple of months ago). What we call the news - sing along kids: "Now only 3% can point to Kabul on a map, but 96% can claim they've seen Brit's putty-tat."

Monday, March 26, 2007


House is back tomorrow night, but I'm not. I won't even promise I'll have the review for Wednesday because I think we all know how those promises tend to go. I will promise: as soon as possible.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

eMusic goes Barenaked to promote 100 millionth download

The Barenaked Ladies have a new song that's not available on any of their albums, a peppy song called "Michael Brennan." Who is this mysterious Michael Brennan they call "really, really, really cool," who "invented chips and dip,"and is "smarter than Jimmy Carter," you might ask? He's a 48-year-old visual artist from New Jersey who completed eMusic's 100,000,000th download.

And what is eMusic, you might ask? It's the second largest seller of digital music after the iTunes goliath. The website arranged this novel promotion with the Canadian band, who have been vocal opponents of the recording industry's penchant for suing its consumers and proponents of selling music without digital rights management (DRM). The tune is available for free right now to eMusic subscribers, before being bundled with the band's current album Barenaked Ladies are Men.

The song is insanely catchy and, par for the Barenaked Ladies course, silly fun. It also calls attention to a service that isn't attempting to be a replacement for iTunes, but is an even better complementary service. The artists one lacks are likely to be found on the other, and the business model of eMusic is less likely to inspire the kind of Apple arrogance rage that iTunes does.

Part of the reason I prefer eMusic is the pricing structure, which both annoys me because I'm not crazy about the idea of a monthly subscription fee, and makes me smack myself for being annoyed because it is a great way to collect music I love without having to weigh whether each song is really worth 99 cents, or each album 10 bucks. The packages get more cost effective as you go up the ladder, but even the smallest, at 30 songs for $9.99, works out to around 33 cents a song.

Where eMusic stomps all over iTunes is the format of the music files. As they put it, you're buying the music, not renting it, via 193k MP3s unencumbered by DRM. You can play the songs on your computer and your iPod and your Zune and burn them to CD and create an MP3 disc, making as many copies on as many computers and devices as you like.

You won't find albums by Avril Levigne or Beyonce, but you will find a wide variety of popular artists on indie labels, like Arcade Fire, Snow Patrol, Metric, Stars, Sufjan Stevens, Badly Drawn Boy, and even Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. They boast "2 million tracks from more than 13,000 independent labels spanning every genre of music" and rather than count them myself, I'll take their word for it.

The site makes it easy to explore new-to-you music, with editor's picks clearly marked, top selling and top rated charts, user reviews, and ways to see what else others who share your tastes are fans of. There's also daily free downloads to whet your appetite for a variety of artists you may not have heard of. And yes, it's OK to end sentences with prepositions.

eMusic might not be quite as cool as Michael Brennan, but it's a refreshing way to buy music online after living with the limitations of iTunes proprietary format for so long. You're also likely to find some really, really, really cool artists you love and more you didn't know you loved that are unavailable on iTunes.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Diane's obsession with music on YouTube presents: Dar Williams

Dar Williams is a folky pop singer songwriter from New York whose early career was boosted by Joan Baez recording some of her material. I first encountered her at Lilith Fair, the estrogen fest led by Sarah McLachlan in the late 90s. She's got an endearing voice and pretty melodies, but it's the lyrics I love, odd and funny with a social consicious. A lot of them take an unexpectedly humourous, sweet, or insightful turn at the end, and all are infused with wit and wisdom. 


"Cool as I Am"

I've never dated This Guy, but I've seen the damage he leaves behind. The song's narrator is dating someone who comments on every woman he sees, and as cool as she is, she's fine with that ... until she realizes he wants her to feel jealous and threatened.

You turn to me, you say you hope I'm not threatened.
Oh, I'm not that petty,
As cool as I am I thought you'd know this already.
I will not be afraid of women, I will not be afraid of women.



"What Do You Hear in These Sounds"

This one is a lighthearted skewering of therapy that just makes me laugh:

And when I talk about therapy, I know what people think
That it only makes you selfish and in love with your shrink
But oh how I loved everybody else
When I finally got to talk so much about myself



"The Christians and The Pagans"

This isn't actually a video, just the song with that one image throughout. But what the hell, it's a good song, about a family gathering at Christmas/solstice with a religious family, their Wiccan niece, and her female companion.

So the Christians and the Pagans sat together at the table
Finding faith and common ground the best that they were able
And where does magic come from?
I think magic's in the learning
Because now when Christians sit with Pagans only pumpkin pies are burning.


"When I Was a Boy"

This is my favourite Dar Williams song, though I couldn't find a complete version by Williams herself online. This is performed by Jeffrey Lorien and Umeko Motoyoshi.

The lyrics are bittersweet, of a woman remembering a fearless, pressure-less childhood and lamenting what she's lost now that she has to conform to the female gender role.The twist at the end is that the boyfriend listening to her laments what he's lost by growing away from it.

And I tell the man I'm with about the other life I lived
And I say now you're top gun, I have lost and you have won.
And he says, Oh no, oh, no, can't you see?
When I was a girl, my mom and I, we always talked
And I picked flowers everywhere that I walked
And I could always cry, now even when I'm alone I seldom do
And I have lost some kindness,
But I was a girl too.
And you were just like me, and I was just like you.


Fido: Fun with zombies

Friday, March 23, 2007

Yes I'm cat blogging. Deal.

Animal abuse stories are disturbing on many levels, including the fact that there’s a correlation between violence towards animals and violence towards people. But in addition, there’s a sick purposefulness to it. You’re not forced to own a pet. You make a choice, and with that choice comes responsibility — a voluntary responsibility.

But now many responsible pet owners in Canada have been blindsided by the realization that the food they’re feeding the furry members of their family contains poison, and the unregulated market in Canada means there are no assurances that alternatives are nutritious or safe. For example, Royal Canin, my cat’s regular dry brand, the brand recommended by my vet, is being sued for having dangerous amounts of Vitamin D in some of their products (though not the kind I buy).

Menu Foods are at the centre of this week’s massive recall. They produce many different types of pet food brands, and it’s the cuts and gravy type that were recalled after causing the death of 15 and counting animals in North America. When the FDA tested the food, 1 in 6 animals died. (They had to test on animals? Sigh.)

Then came word that rat poison is the culprit. No one seems to know yet what this finding means – was it contaminated accidentally, or is this a pet version of the Tylenol tampering of 1982?

From CBC:
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration is investigating the recall and monitoring consumer complaints. Agricultural Minister Chuck Strahl, who oversees the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, says pet food does not fall under the federal agency's domain.

"The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's job is to look after human food safety and production and that's what we focus on," Strahl said Wednesday.

Strahl said the Canadian Veterinary Medicine Association monitors and regulates pet food. But the association says it only provides nutritional guidelines and has no regulatory powers.
None of the recalled brands were my regular choice, though I have over the past few months bought several pouches of one — something hammered home when shopping at Superstore yesterday and seeing the conspicuously empty shelf where they used to be. My cat is old, he’s got health problems already, and the vet is concerned with keeping his weight up, so I’ve been trying to tempt his palate with various meat and gravy kind of foods. Being a cat, he’s mostly settled on the insanely expensive but unpoisoned Fancy Feast and whatever dust bunnies he licks up off the floor. Maybe he’s not so dumb after all. So he has eaten one of the recalled brands, but his health has been no worse and possibly better lately.

I had no idea pet food wasn’t regulated in Canada. Now that I know, I’m pissed. The government will legislate how animals are to be treated, but not regulate the industry supplying the supposedly edible products we feed them? According to Statistics Canada, about half of all Canadian households have pets, a total of 8 million cats and dogs. These are 8 million lives we’re talking about, lives that enrich our own.

I think it’s silly when people talk about their pets as if they’re children, and offensive to equate the death of a pet with the death of a child. My cat is not my child. He’s my pet, and that’s meaningful enough. I don’t need to justify my attachment to him — yes, dammit, my love for him — by making a parallel that diminishes the untimely, unfathomable grief a parent experiences after the loss of a child. But he’s a life, and a distinct personality, and he’s been part of my daily life for 14 years, dependent on me for food, shelter, care, while I depend on him for unconditional love.

He was a six-toed tabby stray who wandered into my apartment when I lived in a small town in New Brunswick, and he just stayed. My roommate and I named the orphan boy Oliver Twist, instantly and forever shortened to Oliver. I meant to give him away when I left several months later, but there were no takers – the town was overrun with six-toed tabby strays.

So he was treated to the first of several travels as I brought him back to Edmonton with me. He completed university with me (well, figuratively speaking – he is an enormously dumb but sweet animal), he moved to Calgary with me for my first professional job, he went back to Edmonton to stay with friends while I jaunted off to Mexico. Then, when I didn’t return when I said I would, he accompanied me to that country. When we’d had enough of that adventure, we flew back to Edmonton to get our bearings before landing finally in Vancouver, where he’s made me promise no more plane rides.

My cat has been with me through the ups and downs of nearly my entire adult life, which I can’t say about any single person. Knowing I possibly fed him rat poison I bought in Superstore’s pet food aisle? Knowing the alternatives might be canned sawdust, for all I know? Even if there were no apparent health effects, that seems wrong. It seems like an industry the government should be regulating.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Patient of the week

This is kind of sick and educational: A surgery simulation on a stuffed bunny. (Thanks to my sick and educational brother for the link.)

Somehow it reminds me that there's a new House on Tuesday, which starts and ends 7 minutes late ... just because American Idol can. So set the recorders appropriately. But I can't be bitter towards American Idol, which rescued House from obscurity. It doesn't matter to me anyway - my recording's set and friends in from out of town means no same-day House for me next week.

And that reminds me that my first thought on hearing that NBC and News Corp. (parent company of FOX) were teaming together to create a YouTube rival was: "Sweet, that could mean House episodes online" (because NBC is the studio and FOX is the network behind House). My second thought was: "They better not geoblock people from Canada." And my third thought: "They'd better not just put promotional clips up." Fourth: "Wait, I record the show anyway."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

To make a short story long

In what seems like a case of getting an engineer to build a card house, Steven Bochco, he of NYPD Blue and LA Law and Hill Street Blues, is producing a series of web videos called Café Confidential for Metacafe. I'm sure there's a more universal parallel I could make if only I liked this kind of thing, but Canadians who get Citytv, think Speakers Corner, only with a high-profile Hollywood writer's name attached to it. The high-profile talent behind the name isn't quite as evident.

Launched a couple of days ago, the section has a handful of talking head videos of young adults talking about their first time, worst date, craziest day on the job, weird family, etc. As the site puts it:
Pour yourself a hot latte and listen in as the girl next door and the guy across the hall reveal their most personal stories. No scripts, no sets, no special effects - here at Café Confidential, you get real stories from real people, handpicked by Hollywood producer Steven Bochco.
The multiple-Emmy-award winning writer/producer explains his reasons for getting into Internet video to the LA Times. Sort of. He explains why Hollywood is starting to embrace sites like YouTube and the far less popular and less democratic Metacafe, taking lessons from the recording industry's failure:
"If you spend your life chasing your consumers and filing lawsuits, that's a fool's errand," Bochco said. "At the end of the day, the consumer always wins. So, do you want to be right and spend five years and millions of dollars in legal fees to prove it? Or do you want to be successful?"
He explains why he choose the confessional clip format:
"The Internet is at its best when it distracts its users," Bochco said. "You're waiting at the bus stop, you're in between classes, you have 20 minutes — so you go online and you have some fun."
As for why he's delving into web-based content, Bochco is even more vague than the industry types I heard at the Banff World Television Festival who talked about the need to create online content before quite knowing where it was leading or how to make money from it.
[He] saw the project as a way to create entertainment outside the confines of traditional Hollywood. ... Bochco isn't sure how people will respond to his videos. But he believes he has to try to cross the bridge between old media and new. "Maybe as this evolves, it will take us to places we hadn't anticipated," he said.
So far I find Café Confidential far more interesting in concept than execution. The confessions range from bland to banal. It's kind of like listening to that annoying guy at work's endless anecdotes that end with "maybe you had to be there." The only thing interesting about the concept is that someone like Bochco is teaming with a site like Metacafe with, apparently, the hope of generating revenue from a web-only offering.

I'm skeptical, but for this - whatever "this" is - to evolve and take us to those unanticipated places, there has to be something to evolve from, right?

Craziest Day at Work

Monday, March 19, 2007

Musica en espanol

Why yes, I am putting out a lot of these music video posts suddenly. I had a few in waiting so it's an easy blog fill while my brain is elsewhere. I'm sure it will be back soon.

Juanes with Nelly Furtado, "Fotografia"

I first heard of Juanes while living in Mexico City and working as the Living section editor of an English language newspaper. He won best new artist in the second annual Latin Grammys - a ceremony that was to be broadcast on September 11, 2001, and instead made the front page of my section as part of a montage on entertainment and cultural events affected by 9/11.

For his next album, he recorded this duet with Nelly Furtado, who I saw at the Canadian Embassy in Mexico during a celebration for her ... I don't know, let's say platinum ... selling CD. She's not fluent in Spanish - there's a cute section in the middle of the song where he's teaching her her lines. Listen for her laugh. It's probably my favourite part of the song.

The lyrics and video are about long-distance lovers (crappy translation alert): "Every time I look for you you're gone/Every time I call you you're not there/That's why I have to say that only in my photos you're around."

Juanes, "Fijate Bien"

This is his breakout song, the first I'd heard. Juanes is Colombian, and this is the peppiest song about civil war and landmines you'll probably ever hear: "Pay attention where you step/Pay attention when you walk/Don't go near the mines/That will blow up your feet/ ... They're not going to look for you/They're not going to save you." Cheery, no?

Marco Antonio Solis, "Si No Te Hubieras Ido"

I wholeheartedly like Juanes, but this next one is a definite guilty pleasure. This is a live version but it still retains all of the overproduced cheese of the recorded version. The lyrics are the usual "oh baby I can't live without you" tripe and yet ... they get to me. Maybe because everything sounds better in Spanish.

("There's nothing more difficult than living without you/Suffering in the hope of seeing you return/The coldness of my body asks for you/And I don't know where you are/If you hadn't gone, I'd be so happy.")

Still, the song has some cool cred because it was on the soundtrack of Y Tu Mama Tambien. It also marked the pinnacle of my Spanish language abilities when I figured out the verb tenses in the title. Never mind the tense, to know what the verb being conjugated even was was huge for me. I went to Mexico knowing how to say "where are the bathrooms" and "how much does this cost." Learning the past tense was a major milestone - you can imagine how limited conversations have to be when you only know the present tense. But to recognize the past perfect simple? Sweet.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

CBC wants to make it easier to ignore their programming on new platforms

I've moved on from stealing my brother's e-mails as blog post fodder to stealthily enticing him to write something on a subject he's more knowledgeable about, so I don't have to do one of my half-assed rants. His post is called Stupid CBC, which I know makes it difficult to tell what he thinks of their new DRM initiative.

But first, the backstory ...

A few days ago, I wanted to post this one segment from the Rick Mercer Report about the problems with the tax e-filing system, and the "new" mail file system: "Simply take the lead wand and touch it to the boxes ..." I don't know, it just made me laugh, and I wanted to share. But while it is available through the official site (see "Canada Revenue Agency: Taking Your Money Old School" under March 13), it isn't embeddable - as I've just proven, it's not even easily linkable - and I figured it was too much bother. It wasn't a House video, so I wasn't quite that motivated.

Yes, that is how lazy I am, thank you very much. But it's also the nature of the web. It's a proven fact: adding a layer of click-throughs cuts your audience drastically. You know why I started adding lengthy quotes from the articles I link to on the TV, Eh site? I knew that fact, and had always meant to write my own little blurbs about the articles a la TV Tattle except that takes more time than I wanted to spend. But Wordpress made it hard to ignore that fact by adding a stats feature that lets you see what links people are clicking on from your site. It became screamingly obvious that the number of people searching for a particular topic and the number of people landing on a particular page dwarfed the number of people who would click one more time to read the original article.

The web is made for skimming, and readers' boots are made for walking. Make it difficult for them, and most'll just ignore your content.

So after my experience with the Mercer video, and after my rant about video incompatibilities on Canadian TV sites, reading this post on the Inside the CBC blog made my Canadian TV promoting soul weep. Apparently CBC is moving towards protecting their online content with DRM (digital rights management - you know, that thing everybody hates about music downloads).

I sent that post to my brother pointing out that Tod Maffin, the blog writer, is asking if that's what people want. My response: Duh. And that would be duh, no, for those of you not keeping score at home. My brother's response is more articulate:
First off, why are they worried about people pirating their little video snippets? Some would consider it promotion. I think before they start worrying about piracy they have to get people who want to watch their stuff first. ... The problem CBC is having isn't with piracy, it's with getting people to watch their damn shows. Why are they spending our tax money on a solution that will make it more difficult for people to see their shows, and will do nothing to stop piracy?
Good question. The only answer I can come up with is that it's another example of the stealth theory of marketing Canadian TV combined with the kind of fear mongering about this scary new Internet thing the recording industry has been promoting for years.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I don't like country music. Except ...

I've never been very good at describing my musical taste. "Eclectic" makes it sound more interesting than it is. The fact that I very rarely listen to the radio or read music magazines or websites means I'm not exactly on the cutting edge of what's happening. So let's call it "varied" instead.

In my iTunes, I have music ranging from what my mother used to listen to, like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Roger Whitaker, to slightly hipper music I've picked up recently from friends and, I almost hate to admit, movies and TV shows. 

I always used to say the only music I don't like is country and opera. And then songs by people like Ben Heppner and Inva Mula-Tchako found their way into my musical mix, as did a whole slew of what I must insist on calling alt-country, because admitting I like country is a step beyond my comfort level.

Here's two, from my continuing adventures with YouTube:


Iris Dement, "Our Town"

This song was on the last episode of Northern Exposure, though I didn't take much notice at the time. Dement was a favourite on CKUA, the rare radio station I did listen to, and she became a favourite of mine through repetition - that voice eventually overcame my prejudice against the twang of the music.



Gillian Welch, "Revelator"

Gillian Welch was another singer I encountered thanks to CKUA. Thee sparse video and sparse musical arrangement showcases another haunting voice.



With songs like these, it seems ridiculous to distance myself from country music. Except it's alt-country. Really.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Five things you might not know about me, unless I'm forgetful or you know me well in real life

Caroline over at A Place Called Say It, Say It, Say It tagged me with a “Five things you don’t know about me” meme (yes, I know, it’s not truly a meme, but … shut up, language evolves).

This was tough. I mean, in two years or so of blog writing I’ve long since exhausted the small store of even moderately interesting things about me that I’m willing to reveal publicly (and even the things I'm not aren't that interesting). I know, I know, there’s probably no one out there who’s read every single post, and if they have, they’re lying comatose under a desk right now, but it’s not that fun for me if my five things are things you could already know. So here’s five things that you might not know unless I’m forgetting that I’ve already mentioned them:
  1. When I was 30, I found out I had a long-lost brother. Just like in a soap opera, only not, because I hadn’t started to date him and he wasn’t my evil twin. (And no, not the brother I keep mentioning, though as a kid I wished he would get long lost. Kidding - love ya, bro!).
  2. I co-owned a $500 car years before I got my drivers license or even ever got behind a steering wheel. As part of a government program for university students, I lived in a tiny town in the French part - the isolated, in the middle of the lonely forest part - of New Brunswick for a year helping teach English. My roommate and I were going stircrazy, and there was only one bus a day to the outside world, so we bought the cheapest car we could find that was still legal (I think). We frequently took our poor little duct-taped Pontiac Phoenix across the border to Caribou, Maine to see English movies, and travelled around the province a bit, and to PEI, and the roommate/chauffeur used it to commute to work. It lasted for the half year or so we needed it and died a dignified death. I learned to drive about five years later.
  3. When I lived in Mexico City, I dated the nephew of the governor of Chiapas. OK, that in itself isn’t all that interesting, but the fact that I lived in Mexico City for two years is probably one of my more interesting claims, but because I’ve mentioned it several times here, I needed a fresh angle. I had no solid reason for taking off and living there, but I'd always wanted to live in a foreign country, my time in New Brunswick felt like a taste of it but not quite foreign enough, and it seemed like a good time in my life to do something daring. I pretty much spun a globe and picked Mexico (at least, that's how they'd film it in the movie of my life). Oh, the guy? He was sweet, and it ended amicably - no state police involved.
  4. Until I was in high school, my only trip outside of Alberta and BC was to Newton, Kansas. I was about seven, and it was a family reunion of my paternal grandmother’s family. I remember my brother found the shed exoskeleton of some gross bug and wore it around, my second cousins five times removed or whatever tried to scare me with stories of tornadoes (because Kansas meant the Wizard of Oz to me), and not much else. And still, a love of travel was born.
  5. I was best man at a friend's wedding. I got to wear a snazzy three-piece suit and everything, and it was sooo much more comfortable than the maid of honour dress I wore at another friend's wedding. The other groomsmen were a male friend of the groom and one of the happy couple's dogs (another was a bridesmaid). The poor guy got ribbed that he wasn't man enough to beat out a woman, but at least he was a notch above a dog.

Bravo, TWoP founders

Holy cow. I would never have expected this:
I can't imagine it as a corporate entity, especially one owned by a network. And yet, I don't know them, but I can't help but be happy for Television Without Pity founders Glark and Sars and Wing Chun. It's hard not to think of this as a coup for them.

I'm essentially a TWoP refugee. I fled for time management reasons - I started to do my House episode reviews, and that takes up about as much time as I want to allot to dissecting television - but also partly because I started to feel like my involvement in the discussions was affecting my enjoyment of the show.

I'd never even heard of the site before I started looking for intelligent online discussion about House in those days when no one else seemed to be watching. I'd never heard of slash, or shipping, or fanfic. I'd always said I couldn't see the appeal of chat rooms, and by that I meant things that looked like TWoP.

And when I turned to the Internet to talk about this great new show no one I knew was watching that I just had to talk about, places like the official FOX boards proved me right. I was ready to give up on finding intelligent life out there when I stumbled across this strange new world of TWoP, and it filled that gap nicely. People write in complete sentences and everything. They have fun, smart discussions. I credit TWoP with helping me hone my writing voice, or at least have more confidence in it. I've met some wonderful and crazy people who have become real-life friends because of my time there.

Then instead of one single discussion thread, House became one of the shows TWoP officially covered, with recaps and multi-thread forums. We'd been begging for it all along, and I was giddy at the wish fulfilled, until I realized it was just too much for me. Too many threads to keep track of, too many people with less sense of community, too many discussions that went sideways and backwards and upside down. I lurked in a couple of threads for a while longer, now barely do that. I still can't see the appeal of slash, or shipping, or fanfic.

This is sounding like an elegy for TWoP, which isn't what I mean. I actually have faith it will preserve the snark, and maybe grow into something even bigger and better despite its connection to one network. But it's definitely a changing of a guard, so I wanted to acknowledge what it's meant to me, even if that meaning has changed to mostly a memory.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Diane's sudden discovery of music on YouTube presents: Manu Chao

Manu Chao is one of the most popular musicans in the world, but you wouldn't know it living in the United States or Canada. I first heard of him during a vacation to Peru and Bolivia many years ago, and he's hugely popular in Mexico, too, where I lived for a couple of years after that. 

His Basque and Galician parents fled Spain under Franco's regime, and Chao was born and grew up in France. He travelled extensively in Central and South America, incorporating sounds and politics from those places in his music and being embraced as something of a musical Che Guevara in the process, delving into political themes in his songs. Some sample clips of Subcomandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatistas, the Chiapas rebels in Mexico.

He sings in English, Spanish, French, among others, often all in the same song, possibly explaining why he's never broken into the US/Canada market in any significant way - we didn't embrace Shakira until she released an all-English album, either.

Here's a few of his songs culled from YouTube:



As you can tell from the video, this one's written from the perspective of an illegal immigrant. ("To a city of the north / I went to work / I left my life / Between Ceuta and Gibraltar / I’m a line in the sea / A ghost in the city / My life is forbidden / So says the authority.")



Enjoy the hilariously cheesy animation. The title means "disappeared." ("I carry in my body a motor / that's always running and alive / I carry in my soul a destination / but I never will arrive.")


 Me Gustas Tu

The lyrics are silly and sweet, and as a special treat for you guys, the video has a pretty woman dancing around in her bra. ("I like airplanes, I like you / I like to travel, I like you / I like the morning, I like you / I like the wind, I like you / I like to dream, I like you / I like the sea, I like you.")


Bongo Bong/Je ne t'aime plus

"Bongo Bong" is a mellower version of a song he'd done with his former band Mano Negra, here melded with "Je ne t'aime plus" (on his album Clandestino, all the songs blend together). Even if you don't know French, you probably don't need me to translate this, but "Je ne t'aime plus mon amour" means "I don't love you anymore, my love." And they say women give mixed messages.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A sliver of a brain

I just saw a bus wrapped in ads for the rebranded Slice Network, formerly Life ("My vice is Slice"). One read something like: "If I wanted to be smarter, I'd watch a book."

So ... TV for stupid women. This is the direction the marketers want to go? Interesting.

The website has an ad that leads to the advice section saying "Don't break into his e-mail. Stalk him the old fashioned way." It seems to have nothing to do with the actual advice on that page, but hey, it's kind of offensive and creepy to women AND men. Bonus!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Back to Banff

I was feeling a little bad for any non-House fans who might read this blog, given the amount of verbiage in the past few days related only to that show, but then I realized that I probably scared off any non-House fans long ago. Anyway, this post is not about House. Though it gets a tiny mention, because I just can't help myself.

Though it seems a little too far away to feel real, I learned a couple of weeks ago that I'll be covering the Banff World Television Festival this year again for Blogcritics. This is like TV geek heaven for me, if heaven were a place where you feel like you don't belong because you're not an insider. Which, come to think of it, is probably not an entirely inaccurate view of what heaven might be like. But this year I'll have my alternate identity as the TV, Eh? site person, which might add a new twist to the experience, a little more reason for my existence, a little more insight into this weird world of Canadian television. Though as you might have guessed from the title, the festival isn't all about Canadian television.

For me, the attraction is the writers and producers behind the shows who present Master Classes and In Conversation Withs, and speak in other sessions. It doesn't even matter if they work on shows I watch - I'm just fascinated by the process and the trends in the industry.

Last year had a Master Class by David Shore of House, which means even though there are likely more names yet to be announced, there is no hope of topping last year's lineup for me. (Though if they got Chris Haddock of Intelligence, I wouldn't complain too much. Or Aaron Sorkin, even if I think he's kind of an ass.)

Of shows I watch, the festival is going to include writer/producers Greg Daniels of The Office (also King of the Hill and The Simpsons) and Jenji Kohan of Weeds (though I'm still catching up on season two DVDs). There's also Ben Silverman, whose credits in all the Banff media are listed as The Office and Ugly Betty, which I do watch, but who also has on his resume reality series like Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, The Biggest Loser, Identity, and The Restaurant, which I don't. One of the speakers I'm most excited to hear is Rob Thomas, currently of Veronica Mars, despite the fact that I don't particularly enjoy his show (and therefore don't particularly watch it). He just seems to have a lot of interesting things to say. For a different kind of interesting and insightful, TV columnists Bill Carter and John Doyle will be participating.

There's a lot more names on the website and I'll be writing something more "official" soon. I just had to spill now, because I am a geek.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

TV Review: House - "Half-Wit"

Well, that wasn't what I was expecting.

House the show, like House the character, is a master of misdirection, and this episode was full of many tantalizing examples. Even knowing all was not what it appeared, the episode left me admiring the show's ability to piece together this heartbreaking, infuriating character I'd like to kiss and then stab. Kind of like Cameron.

A media release ruined the first bit of misdirection by revealing that House wasn't talking to another hospital as a job candidate, but as a patient for a brain cancer clinical trial.

Because it seemed an unlikely direction for the show to take, and because I'm a big baby who can only handle one life-threatening event against House each year, I basically took advantage of our interview to get Katie Jacobs, executive producer and first-time director of this episode, to reassure me that it couldn't possibly be cancer without exactly telling me that it couldn't possibly be cancer, because I don't like spoilers.

So watching Cameron, Chase, Foreman and Cuddy unravel the mystery behind House's flight to Boston, I figured something else was going on. I just didn't expect the ultimate answer to reveal such a brazenly unsympathetic side of House while still managing to managing to elicit my sympathy for the miserable, messed-up bastard that he is.

In stark contrast to the complex title hero, the simple patient of the week in "Half-Wit" is musical savant Patrick Obyedkov, played with a profound sweetness by musician Dave Matthews. Patrick is brought to the hospital after his hand freezes up during a concert, and the diagnostic team is brought in largely because House is curious about how Patrick's brain works rather than about the cause of his hand dystonia.

"Half-Wit" was full of delicious witticisms, but as someone who loves making up my own words, I was particularly fond of the line: "Just because it's inexplicted doesn't mean it's inexplicable."

Kurtwood Smith of That 70s Show is very un-Red-like as Patrick's father, a somewhat stern but always loving presence who surprisingly doesn't harbour an alternate identity as the stage father from hell who is somehow at the root of his son's medical issues.

He does act as interpreter, informing an auditorium full of people (and therefore, no coincidence, us) about his son's accident 25 years earlier that left him brain damaged but a sudden musical prodigy, and informing House and Foreman (and therefore, no coincidence, us) about Patrick's coping mechanism of mimicry, because he knows he's expected to respond to people, but can't always grasp how.

House has found a fun, new toy in the person of Patrick, getting him to mimic the opening bars of "I Don't Like Mondays" (subtitle in House's mind: "Or Anything or Anyone Else"), then to continue a song House had begun composing in junior high school but had never been able to complete.

"He's fine. Can he go?" Foreman asks. "He's great. He's staying." responds House.

The camera panning from Hugh Laurie's hands to his face - look, it's really him! - reminded me of the fun clip on the FOX website where modest Laurie praises Matthews' musicianship, but Matthews the guitarist and vocalist gets the definitive word on who's the better pianist: "I had a hand double, whereas Hugh did not."

Watching doctor and savant play piano together, with House's grizzled features next to Patrick's child-like openness, makes them seem like polar opposites, but the episode uses that connection between them to further explore a couple of favourite themes of the show.

House is almost jealous of his patient. Patrick has something House would dearly love to have, something you couldn't say about most people. If you discount the fact that most people have two pain-free, fully functional legs, that is.

The one thing Patrick can do in life is play the piano, but he has nothing else, not even the ability to button his own shirt. Unlike House, he has no other choice, nothing he's deliberately sacrificing in order to maintain that one thing.

The one thing House has is his medical brilliance, and he has no qualms about pushing people away, or abusing drugs, or forgetting to button his shirt, as long as he can focus on a case and do his job.

But House's one thing is dangerously close to becoming drug seeking rather than solving medical puzzles. And his drive to treat his patients at any cost is close to morphing into treating himself at any cost, after his temptation in "Insensitive" to harvest his CIPA patient's spinal nerve, and his actions here to take a spot in a clinical trial away from a terminal cancer patient so he can get the good drugs.

In an attempt to see the music, House puts Patrick in an MRI machine. House tells his patient to pretend his leg's a piano, and has to insist when Patrick objects that his leg is not, in fact, a piano.

"Kid's a moron," House says to Foreman, and I'm clinging to the fact that Laurie's purposely over-the-top delivery is why I am not a horrible person for laughing so hard.

The MRI shows us that, as House says later, music is a global phenomenon when it comes to the brain's hemispheres, and Patrick's racing heart tells the doctors that his hand issues might be tied to a heart problem.

House has a heart problem of his own - it's in hiding. When his team snoops and deduces their way into the conclusion that he's chasing another job, Cuddy goes for the confirmation and instead discovers that he's a brain cancer patient. Lisa Edelstein beautifully conveys her anguish at finding out House's apparent medical condition.

She also gets a later scene beautifully mixing a little poignancy with a lot of snap, when she lets him grab some ass while enjoying a hug. But "call the Make a Wish Foundation" she says when he starts following her into the bedroom.

That's the start of the parade of proof that the people House annoys every day care about him. Wilson confronts House and is rebuffed, Foreman tries to express his grudging affection for his boss and is rebuffed, and Cameron ... well, Cameron isn't rebuffed.

She demonstrates just how much she's learned from working with House. She takes his "I love you, thanks for the HIV test swab" trick from "Need to Know" and makes it so much more. She starts off with a "newfound nonchalance in the face of cancer," getting House to sign a reference letter she's kindly written for herself, then getting all big eyed and moist-eyed before stepping in for a kiss - a kiss he doesn't step away from, then returns with some gusto - before pulling out a syringe so she can get a little blood as part of the team's campaign to find an answer besides one year to live.

I don't want to see House hook up with any main cast members, and if I had to pick one relationship to back, my vote would go to the snarky sparks with Cuddy. But that kiss? Was hot. As was the devious motivation behind it. Another century or so under his tutelage and Cameron just might start popping Vicodin like candy.

And House liked it, too, however much he wants to brush it off with: "I didn't want you to die without knowing the feeling. No woman should die without knowing the feeling." And: "You need a sperm sample, come back without the syringe."

Though he won't give her the blood sample, he does tell her how to access his medical records: in a nod to General Hospital, soap-loving House has used the name Luke N. Laura for his medical files.

The team, shocked to find that the clinical trial is to treat depression in terminally ill cancer patients, drive themselves haggard pouring over the records, searching for hope, for alternate treatments.

They also continue to try to express their affection for their affection-allergic boss. Foreman ineptly tells him he likes him, which House doesn't buy for a second. He seems to forget that it's not impossible to be both annoyed by someone and like them at the same time - though you'd think Wilson would be ample proof of that.

Chase is more effective, in a scene both hilarious and touching.

Chase: Do you have to do that?

House: You mean cheapen everyone’s attempt at a human moment by identifying the real calculations that go into it?

Chase: Yeah.

Chase presses on, though: "I'm sorry you're dying. I'm going to hug you, OK?" It's sincere, and simple, and he doesn't even take any blood samples. House doesn't know what to make of it.

After his colleagues decided he was dying, House finds himself in the position of being able to see how much they care, and to abuse them for caring. Win-win for House. It's almost a game to him, to see how they attack his medical files, and see the parade of concerned faces knocking at his office door.

Through it all, there is no hidden angst behind Hugh Laurie's performance, no sign of actual depression from a man who's shown signs of it frequently enough before. So the spectre of him having a year to live, or needing the clinical trial for depression, seemed puzzlingly unlikely. But then how would House react to his impending death? It's quite possible with just that much sang-froid. There were enough hints throughout the episode that there was something wrong with the scenario deduced by the team to keep up the tension, and enough doubt to make me wonder what exactly I was being directed away from.

House has better social skills when dealing with Patrick, sort of. He manages to engage him and make a connection that involves something more than parroting, which gives their exchange of "Do you like your life?" "What life?" a shadow that might otherwise be dismissed as Patrick simply not understanding the question.

There's a cute scene where House teaches Patrick some bad words - I almost wish the show were on cable, so they could have really had fun with it - and teases him about girls. Patrick says he doesn't like girls. Or boys. "I like piano."

Though House is annoyed at people making deductions about him, he's still in Sherlock Holmes mode about his team's private life himself. He seems to have already picked up on the Cameron-Chase fling, accusing them of showering together, and it doesn't take much for him to trace the gossip line from Wilson to Cameron to Chase.

The friends with benefits arrangement seems to be working well so far and adds some fun tension to the proceedings, like when they use their newfound teamwork to break in to House's apartment - Chase the ever-stylish wearing a wearing fluorescent orange trucker hat as camouflage - and Cameron dodging the question of whether she's been there before.

This episode seems particularly jam-packed with detail. I believe it's the first time we haven't had the full credits sequence, though it was a nice touch to end on a jarring piano note before heading into the post-teaser commercials. The line abused by the promotions people - Wilson imploring Cameron "You can't tell ANYONE" - was cut. Still, I'm glad they found time for a shot of House's high school yearbook with a familiar-to-Hugh-Laurie-fans shot of his young unsmiling face. (The nice detail is that he still has his yearbook around - wow, is it possible that I'm less sentimental than House?)

The volume of quips, character moments, fun and angst did mean that I felt the full weight of the decision House presented to Dr. Obyedkov wasn't given quite as much time to breathe as I would have liked. Though Patrick ends up having two treatable conditions, House is convinced that removing the right hemisphere of his brain would not only eliminate the need for anti-seizure medication, it would allow the left half of his brain to function at a higher level.

In advocating for the procedure to Patrick's dad, House dismisses his musical gift: "He's the monkey grinder at the circus." Which is both harsh and not entirely untrue, like a lot of the horrible things that come out of House's mouth. He also forces Dr. Obyedkov (I wish they'd given him a first name so I didn't have to keep checking the spelling of that) to examine whether he's thinking of Patrick's happiness or his own gratification.

"I'm offering him a life," House says, ironically something House doesn't really have himself.

Dr. Obyedkov tries to discern from his son what the best decision might be.

Dad: Are you happy?

Patrick: Are you happy?

The scene is wonderfully ambiguous. Is the father's decision to proceed with the hemispherectomy because of his son's limitations, limitations that mean he can't grasp the meaning of what it means to be happy, so simply mimics his father? Or is he answering the son's question? As in, no, I'm not really happy to button your shirt every day of your life so you can do the one thing you're capable of. Either way, it's not a selfish act - he's attempting to give his son a life, and maybe in the process, give himself one, too.

It was a rare House where I could eat dinner while watching ... until we got to the place where they took chunks of brain out of Patrick's skull. Afterwards, House and Patrick's father wonder how much he'll recover, then watch as he buttons his shirt by himself, something we saw him fail to do in the teaser.

"He looks happy," House remarks.

Though I didn't think Patrick looked miserable before, it's impossible to think Patrick's father made the wrong decision, since the other option was just as much of a compromise - to preserve his musical abilities at the expense of his ability to live a more normal life.

Would House take that trade? His one thing for a shot of normalcy? We have our answer from "No Reason." He has taken it. It failed. And there's the root of my sympathy, even when my face was just as horrified as his minions to realize the medical records they'd been pouring over, the medical records House used to get into the clinical trial, belong to a patient at the hospital.

One bit of irony in the episode is that House's team solved a medical mystery that House didn't even realize was a mystery. The patient does not have cancer and is going to be fine. House is less than thrilled to discover he's been "cured," leading him to admit that it wasn't his file, and he wanted in on the trial because they'd inject a drug directly into the pleasure centre of his brain.

"You faked cancer to get high?" Cameron asks, aghast, as we see the shocked and disappointed faces of the three of them. Chase has to be looking like quite a catch to her now.

House had to know there would have to be an end game strategy. At some point, he'd have to explain why he wasn't dead yet. But that could wait until he got that great new drug. However, the team had sent the happy results to the Boston hospital, so House wasn't getting on that plane in the morning.

Later, Wilson confronts him to clarify the inner workings of House's brain, as is his lot in life.

Wilson: How depressed are you?

House: I'm not depressed.

Wilson: You faked cancer!

House: It was an outpatient procedure. I was curious.

Wilson claims depression in terminal cancer patients isn't that common, not in people with friend and family, anyway. It's not the dying that gets to people, it's the dying alone that does. So he points out the irony: "You don't have cancer. You do have people who give a crap. You fake cancer, then push the people who care away."

"Because they're boring," is House's reply.

"Half-Wit" was written by Lawrence Kaplow, who seems to think he's moving on at the end of this season. Hmm, and I seem to think I have anything to say about that. It echoes some of the themes of season two's "Distractions," which Kaplow also wrote, and which showed us the lengths House would go to in order to avoid dealing with unpleasant emotions - now, even boredom falls under that - and how his drug use is tied to that. And again in "Half-Wit," Wilson pleads with House to take up a non-self-destructive pastime, like going for pizza with a friend.

The episode ends on the kind of shocking scene the promotions people wouldn't think was nearly dramatic enough to deserve that word. "Next, on the most shocking House yet: he thinks about joining people for dinner!" Passing by a restaurant, House sees his minions gathered together, pauses, and reaches for the door handle. While more cynical viewers could imagine him changing his mind, just the impulse to reach for the handle is a buttoning-his-own-shirt step for House. I imagine him joining them, insulting them all, ruining their friendly dinner, but also, secretly thrilling them all with the knowledge that he's willingly there.

OK, maybe I am sentimental. So I'll refrain from calling FOX any names related to the episode title for forcing us to wait until March 27 for another new episode.


It was just going to be a short nap. I loved "Half-Wit" and didn't want to write the review with half a brain.

Later today.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Q&A with House Executive Producer Katie Jacobs

I interviewed Katie Jacobs last week for the Blogcritics article Behind "Half-Wit" and Beyond. For more her and less me, here's a lightly edited transcript:

What are you normal duties on House as executive producer?

I cast every episode, I do all the editing and music, post-production on every episode, I oversee production and choosing of the directors, and then I collaborate on the scripts.

You choose a lot of the music that's on the show then?

Yeah, in post while we're cutting an episode, we spot and we put in put in some temp score. So I figure out what's the best spot, and then the composer goes over it and revises it and gives me his suggestions. And songs have become an important signature to every show, ours included. I get a lot of great suggestions from people around me and I sit on it, stew, worry and obsess, as I am right now - I have a mix later today - and then I decide at the last minute which song I'm going to use.

[Laughs] Really?

Sometimes. Sometimes it's clear right away. But other times, well, you know.

You do seem to do a good job of matching the mood to the song in the end.

Oh, well thanks, I think we have a lot of opportunity on this show. I'm excited because we're actually doing a CD. I'm really looking forward to it. It's a compilation of a lot of the songs we've used throughout the three seasons, but it's also got two tracks that are covered by Hugh (Laurie) and his band.

Is the Elvis Costello song going to be on there, "Beautiful"?

You know, that's a good question. We would like it to be. I don't know if we've worked the terms out yet, but that's the intention.

What's your favourite part of executive producing? It seems like a broad role.

It is a broad role. I am blessed with having great partners. On one hour TV, the enemy, so to speak, is the amount of work and the amount of time. I mean, to do 24 hours of TV every year is a phenomenally large task. Audiences, and rightly so, have come to expect the kind of quality on TV that they have in film. So every eight days we're shooting another episode and no matter what, you're really up against it. But we have a great workplace in terms of the synergy between David Shore, Hugh, the actors, the other writers, the producers and myself. We're all on the same team, we're all trying to climb this mountain together and make it better and better and better. So I think my favourite part of this experience is just how much I enjoy my partners.

How did you get into producing in the first place?

I actually went to graduate school, film school, at NYU and I directed. I came out here and I signed at ICM as a director, and then I got horribly afraid. At the time, and I still think it is true today, as a new director, unless you've written a script and control your own material it's very hard for you to get a foothold or the opportunity to direct. I have always loved working with writers, so going from being too afraid to direct, I went into development, and working with writers and developing ideas for movies and for TV, and that's how I started.

I was going to ask what made you try your hand at directing, but I guess that was your first impulse.

It's not like it's been burning inside of me for years. I've enjoyed what I've been doing. The interesting thing about TV, just by the very nature of it, because every eight days you're shooting another episode, is that you have a new director every eight days. The hierarchy In features is everybody tries to serve the director's vision. While we try to have that same ethic in TV, the continuity between every episode for the actors and for everybody is the executive producers. So it seemed natural that I would sit in the first row of seats rather than the second row of seats, you know, behind the monitor. If not for any other reason than to have more authority to the incoming directors, but also I was really strongly encouraged by the actors in particular, because I've been with them since the beginning, I'm so close with them, I adore them. I always want to see them do their best work. So I finally said OK, I'll give this a try.

Did they behave better for the boss?

Yes, absolutely! They're always incredibly well behaved but I think there was a certain excitement. We have a core group that have been together since the beginning. They're always well behaved, but we were all kind of excited about my trying out this new role. So it was very cool. It was a lot of fun.

What made you pick this episode, or was it just the timing was right?

Initially I was supposed to do another one, and David Shore was going to direct this one, because it followed Christmas and he would have time with all his duties as an executive producer to prep over the Christmas break. Then he was too busy, so I stepped into this slot. You never know what story you're going to get. I wish we could say we're that far ahead, but we're not. I didn't pick the story, I just picked the slot.

Do you feel like you learned anything new about the characters or actors you hadn't realized before, seeing them from that different perspective?

I think it cemented everything I believed, which is that they really are available, they're there to work hard and to fight for that last one percent to make it everything it can be. We work really hard and we want to keep up the challenge of doing good work and always get better and improve. It was excellent to be right in there with them fighting for it to be the best it can be.

How did Dave Matthews get involved? If you're responsible for casting you must have had some say there.

I did do that. I think it was first season, or second, I was watching a sample for a little girl for a role in House, and the sample was from the movie Because of Winn Dixie. The funny thing is that I was so focused on just watching the sample and not who this person is and who that person is, and it was a scene with Dave. It didn't register, I didn't know that was Dave Matthews. I was just completely drawn in by his character and then it turned out to be Dave Matthews. When it came time to cast this episode, I thought, well, Dave is not a pianist, but he is a musician, and ... have you seen the episode?

No I haven't.

It's about a musical savant. When he was 10 years old he got into a bus accident and his brain was rewired so that he is a music specialist, he can play the piano like you've never seen before. I felt like somehow having a musician in the role would serve me well. He was my very first choice after seeing him in Winn Dixie.

I've read the description of the episode, and it apparently reveals something new about House. Without spoiling too much, can you say if that marks a turning point in the season?

Well, I think it's a turning point in the season but not in the way you'd expect it. There is something revealed about ... yeah, the ultimate reveal does change things slightly but we'll never change him too much. His evolution will be gradual.

It seems like he works really hard to keep from evolving, to keep people at a distance, stick with his Vicodin, and yet his status quo wouldn't seem worth preserving to some. Do you think Wilson's right, that he enjoys being miserable, or is there something else going on?

I think Wilson is right insofar as I think it's safer for House. It's what he knows, to keep people at arm's length. But I think that is one of the many things that Hugh Laurie brings to the character. If you didn't see behind his eyes and behind his rough exterior into the wounded quality, you'd never love him and root for him and wish for him to find something other than the miserable existence that he lives.

So no, I do think it's buried there somewhere, but being miserable is familiar and what he knows, so it's hard for him to get out of that hole and find his way out.

How do you balance showing him go through these challenges to his point of view, like exploring his drug use and getting shot, and Tritter and still keeping that core character you don't want to change too much?

This is a real tribute to David Shore, because he is such a complex character. He's funny, he's nasty, he is brilliant, he is relentless, he's heroic, he never gives up. So he's such a wonderful combination of qualities that so far we haven't run dry at all.

The great thing about TV is that audiences get to know these people almost like you would to know a family. By the very nature of TV, the fact that you get to tune in with them every week, you really get to explore character in much more depth than you do in movies. In movies, you get to tell one story. In TV, because you check in with them so often, you can slowly get to know them better and better.

Do you think House has learned anything from some of these challenges he's faced? Do you think he's learned anything about his relationship with drugs, for example?

I think he takes it all in. I do think he's smart and he has learned. Whether he is capable of having all of that experience change his actions is quite another thing. He is really deep in that hole and committed to that because it's the way that he survives. I think slowly but surely he takes it all in, but I don't know that it affects the way he lives his life quite yet.

In an upcoming episode he talks about going on vacation, and he's trying to find exactly the right vacation for him. I won't say whether he goes or where he goes, but the very notion that that's even a topic for him is huge for House. So we're having a lot of fun with how much he'll change and how fast he'll change and how well he'll change, all of those contradictions.

Do you always find yourself on House's side? He is that heroic character but sometimes ... not so much.

Yeah, he pushes pretty far in "Half Wit." He pushes those relationships that he does have pretty far.

The show continues to get even more popular. What do you think it is about House that people are responding to?

I think it's a combination of things. The irreverence. He says exactly what's on his mind with no censor. In some ways, it's a wish fulfillment thing. We all go around in our day facing our boss, facing our friends, and there are things we think but we censor. What fun is it to watch someone who just has no censor whatsoever. I think there's a vicarious thrill we all experience watching this uncensored. But I think we suffer him because he is smart, he is good at what he does, and because beneath it all you do get the sense that there is a heart there somewhere buried, this sort of wounded quality.

It is absolutely thrilling that here we are in our third season and we continue to grow and find a larger audience, and we take that as a huge responsibility. We're always trying to say, OK, now what can we do better.

So I don't know the answer, but I'm thrilled. I'm very happy about it.

Do you think we'll see House in a relationship? You keep teasing with the different flirtations, and he seems to have chemistry with pretty much every woman who comes on the set.

Yeah, they all love House. I think it would be hard not to, for sure. Whether or not these relationships will wind up being successful ones is in question. But absolutely, yeah.

With any of the regular cast members?

I don't know [cagey rather than uncertain].

[Laughs] You're not going to answer that.

I will say I love the amount of tension that's growing in the episodes you haven't seen yet between him and Cuddy. There's always been a tension there, and we have slightly more fun in dealing with that. How does House feel if Cuddy goes out on a date - though we've shown that one. Or Wilson is now three times divorced and alone and has plenty of time for House. What happens if he no longer has as much time because he's finding himself in a relationship? So we're thinking about all those possibilities.

That's a great friendship between Wilson and House, with Wilson acting as his conscience, but also he's pretty much the one person House can stand. What do you think is the core of that relationship?

It's developed the way that it has in part because of the brilliant chemistry between Robert Sean Leonard and Hugh Laurie. They are both so enormously talented and have such great chemistry together that we have really tried to mine everything that's there. I think Wilson's own persona is that he tends to try to fix people or nurture people. He's been married three times and he tends to gravitate towards slightly wounded people, thinking he can make them feel better. So House certainly fits into the same category. And in fact we're just casting an episode right now, we've just cast someone to play his second ex-wife.

So we're going to see one of the ex-wives.

You're going to see one of the ex-wives. I'm actually very excited about it so I will tell you, having told nobody, that we just cast Jane Adams in the role. It's always fun to do that because the more you show about the characters that relate to him the more you expand our world.

The show is so focused on House, are you looking for more opportunities to explore the secondary characters?

Absolutely, and I hope that we are. We did the same thing this season that we did last season, which is the first part of both seasons we had an arc, last year with Stacy, this year with Tritter, then in the second half of that season we did spend more time learning about our other characters. So we're doing the same thing this season.

Cameron has come up with this idea, this you've seen already too, where she feels like she works with Chase, she sees him all the time so there's this sort of friends with benefits idea.

Chase seemed pretty agreeable to that idea.

I think it seems very practical [laughs].

Well, sure, keep the emotions out of it ... I can't quite see that happening.

Well, she feels fairly convinced that she can. They slept together once last season and it didn't screw things up, so why not. So we're having a really good time playing with that. How long can that go on? Maybe it will be entirely successful, but somebody always starts to feel more of an attachment than the other person.

Apart from House do you have any other projects on the horizon?

I have to say it is so rare in this business that you get to work on something you can both be proud of and that is reaching so many people, and where you really enjoy your partners. I am trying very hard to be focused and be in the moment of this experience.

In movies and TV, it's all a struggle to do the very best work you can do, and then whether an audience comes or not is really something nobody can predict. We have an enormous amount of creative freedom right now because audiences seem to be following the show, so we have a lot of latitude in terms of what the studio and network supports.

I'm trying not to be too greedy but enjoy this rare moment.

You've mentioned responsibility, and with the medical issues that come up, do you feel a responsibility in that area as well, that people are looking at it as some kind of comment on health care?

Absolutely, and a lot of it started there. I had done with my partner another medical show called Gideon's Crossing. When we came up with the idea for this show we wanted to explore many things but one of the things we talked about was what are doctors really saying when the patient leaves the room, and the whole notion of how does the doctor interpret all the information the patient gives them, the whole notion of everybody lies. If he asks you how many drinks do you have a week, they automatically double it. If anything, it encourages people to ask more questions of their doctors. We feel a huge responsibility in all of these different areas.

Monday, March 05, 2007

To state the obvious

That's the same article as on Blogcritics below, but I'll post the transcript here by tomorrow morning. Just need to polish up the rough edges (translation, take out most of my interjections).

Behind "Half-Wit" and Beyond: An Interview with House Executive Producer Katie Jacobs

The next episode of House has two familiar names taking on unfamiliar assignments.

"Half-Wit," airing Tuesday, March 6 on FOX, features musician Dave Matthews acting in his major first television role, as a man who suffered severe brain damage as a child that rewired his brain to make him a musical savant.

House executive producer Katie Jacobs, who oversees casting as well as music, editing, production, post-production, and collaborates on scripts, had seen a sample from the movie Because of Winn-Dixie in a previous season, when she was casting for the role of a little girl. She was amazed to realize that one of the actors in that sample scene was the singer.

When it came time to cast "Half-Wit," she remembered Matthews, who also contributed the song "Some Devil" to an episode in House's first season.

Despite the fact that Matthews is a guitarist and singer rather than a pianist like the character, "I felt like somehow having a musician in the role would serve me well," said Jacobs in a recent interview. "He was my very first choice after seeing him in Winn-Dixie."

Another of Jacobs' duties is to choose the directors for each episode's eight-day shoot. For "Half-Wit," she gave the opportunity to a directing newcomer: Katie Jacobs.

"It was excellent to be right in there with them fighting for it to be the best it can be."

Though it's her first professional directing credit, it turns out the NYU grad went to film school and signed to the powerful ICM agency as a director. She then became "horribly afraid" and decided to work with writers to develop ideas instead.

"It's not like it's been burning inside of me for years. I've enjoyed what I've been doing," Jacobs said before explaining why she chose to finally direct an episode on House. "I was really strongly encouraged by the actors in particular, because I've been with them since the beginning, I'm so close with them, I adore them. I always want to see them do their best work. So I finally said, OK, I'll give this a try."

Though she's already heavily involved in all aspects of the show, directing gave her a slightly different perspective on the action, bolstered by the fun of doing something different. "We were all kind of excited about my trying out this new role. So it was very cool."

Her enthusiasm about the atmosphere of the show isn't limited to the novelty of her first foray into directing, despite the challenges of churning out 24 hours of high-quality television each year.

"We have a great workplace in terms of the synergy between (creator and fellow executive producer) David Shore, Hugh (Laurie), the actors, the other writers, the producers and myself," she enthused. "We're all on the same team. We're all trying to climb this mountain together and make it better and better and better."

"Songs have become an important signature to every show, ours included."

Jacobs is also in control of the music for the show, both the score and song selection, and even that is a product of teamwork. "I get a lot of great suggestions from people around me and I sit on it, stew, worry and obsess, as I am right now -- I have a mix later today -- and then I decide at the last minute which song I'm going to use," she revealed.

She's particularly excited right now because they're preparing the first House soundtrack CD. It will contain songs from all three seasons, plus a couple of tracks covered by star Hugh Laurie's Band From TV, which also boasts Greg Grunberg of Heroes, James Denton of Desperate Housewives, Bonnie Somerville of Kitchen Confidential, and Bob Guiney of The Bachelor. When we talked, Jacobs wasn't sure if the rights had been secured yet for Elvis Costello's rendition of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful," which he recorded specifically for the show, but she is hopeful it will be included -- as will be fans who have hunted for the elusive track since "Autopsy" aired.

"The more you show about the characters that relate to him, the more you expand our world."

Her other bit of news was the just-finalized casting of Jane Adams as Wilson's second ex-wife in an upcoming episode. A Tony award winner, as is Robert Sean Leonard, Adams is probably best known as Niles' second ex-wife on Frasier. Chances are she's going to be playing a needy character, in keeping with Wilson's history.

"He's been married three times and he tends to gravitate towards slightly wounded people, thinking he can make them feel better. So House certainly fits into the same category."

Jacobs, who admires the "brilliant chemistry" between Leonard and Laurie, hinted that Wilson might find someone other than House to gravitate toward soon, though. "Wilson is now three times divorced and alone and has plenty of time for House. What happens if he no longer has as much time because he's finding himself in a relationship?"

Cameron, who's still obviously harbouring feelings for her boss, has for now turned to the "very practical" friends-with-benefits arrangement with coworker Chase. "They slept together once last season and it didn't screw things up, so why not," Jacobs laughed. "So we're having a really good time playing with that. How long can that go on? Maybe it will be entirely successful, but somebody always starts to feel more of an attachment than the other person."

Though Jacobs doesn't hold out much hope of romantic success for House himself, she said "it would be hard not to" show him in future relationships. While she's cagey about the possibility of one being with a regular cast member, she loves the escalating tension between Cuddy and House in the second part of season three. "There's always been a tension there, and we have slightly more fun in dealing with that. "

"It's what he knows, to keep people at arm's length."

A hallmark of the character is his incredible talent for keeping people at a distance, romantically and otherwise. "He pushes those relationships that he does have pretty far," Jacobs said about "Half-Wit," which the FOX promotions promise will reveal something shocking about House.

Though a network promo that didn't use the word "shocking" would be shocking, the news release with the episode description reveals more than I wanted to know, and does seem fairly, well, startling. I put Jacobs in the thankless position of clarifying without spoiling further. What she had to say is far from surprising, and far from un-vague. "I think it's a turning point in the season, but not in the way you'd expect it. ... The ultimate reveal does change things slightly, but we'll never change him too much. His evolution will be gradual."

There is already evidence of that evolution, from the often downright depressed character in early season one episodes who had to be enticed to take every case, to the gleefully bitter House who often seeks out patients now. A large part of the tension of the series is the battle between House struggling to maintain his seemingly miserable status quo and those around him trying to force the evolution.

So is Wilson right, that House enjoys being miserable? Jacobs doesn't think that's the whole answer. "Being miserable is familiar and what he knows, so it's hard for him to get out of that hole and find his way out."

"But I think that is one of the many things that Hugh Laurie brings to the character. If you didn't see behind his eyes and behind his rough exterior into the wounded quality, you'd never love him and root for him and wish for him to find something other than the miserable existence that he lives."

His world view has been shaken in episodes like the season two finale "No Reason," which had House questioning his devotion to rationality over humanity, and the Tritter storyline, which further explored his relationship with drugs.

"I do think he's smart and he has learned. Whether he is capable of having all of that experience change his actions is quite another thing," Jacobs pointed out. "He is so deep in that hole and committed to that because that's the way he survives. I think slowly but surely he takes it all in, but I don't know that it affects the way he lives his life quite yet."

She describes a moment in an upcoming episode where House tries to decide on a vacation destination. "The very notion that that's even a topic for him is huge for House. So we're having a lot of fun with how much he'll change and how fast he'll change and how well he'll change, all of those contradictions."

"It's a wish fulfillment thing."

Jacobs, who conveys a very un-House-like warmth, has some theories about what people are responding to in the character -- the irreverence, the vicarious thrill of watching someone with no censor, and of course the combination of brilliant mind and wounded heart -- but she still seems slightly astonished and hugely grateful that the show has struck such a chord in the audience.

In season three, the already tremendously popular show has hit series-high ratings following the return of American Idol. With success comes freedom, but also responsibility. "We have an enormous amount of creative freedom right now because audiences seem to be following the show, so we have a lot of latitude in terms of what the studio and network support," she commented.

"It is absolutely thrilling that here we are in our third season and we continue to grow and find a larger audience, and we take that as a huge responsibility. We're always trying to say, OK, now what can we do better."

Though Heel and Toe Films, the production company she heads with her husband, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and House executive producer Paul Attanasio, has signed a development deal with FOX, Jacobs insists she's "trying not to be too greedy but enjoy this rare moment."

"It is so rare in this business that you get to work on something that you can both be proud of and that is reaching so many people, and that you really enjoy working with your partners. I am trying very hard to be focused and be in the moment of this experience."