Friday, June 29, 2007

"Let's pretend to get together soon"

I'm a nice person. I am. But ...

I love the demotivators by Despair, Inc. as much as I hate the treacly posters they're spoofing. And I laughed inappropriately when someone told me about this baby t-shirt from T-Shirt Hell:

So I was delighted to discover the someecards site via the Globe and Mail. The sentiments range from hilariously odd to blackly humourous to downright mean.

There's a category for the "Courtesy Hello," including sentiments such as "Let's catch up by asking mutual friends about each other" and "I considered calling you recently."

"Encouragement" (and those quotation marks are definitely scare quotes) includes "Someday I may add you as a Facebook friend" and "There's no shame in unemployment if you stay indoors."

"Flirting" includes one many women can relate to: "One of my fantasies is that you stop staring at my tits," and this one that many men I know wish they'd received early on in a relationship:

There's head-scratchers like "My plan is to travel the world in a panda suit." And the one I know people would have been tempted to send me at times: "Get well soon because your cough is fucking disgusting."

Now to figure out who I can send these ones to: "It's time to stop dressing yourself" and "Congratulations on your new job that you probably won't like any better."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

BWTVF 2007: Interactive TV

I'm working on a meatier article about the Banff session with Ben Silverman, the new chairman at NBC, but in the meantime I tossed up this fluffier fare. It's about a theme that came up in both Silverman's session and Chuck Lorre's Master Class - he's the creator of Two and a Half Men and the upcoming Big Bang Theory.
For all my articles from the Festival, check out the feature section at Blogcritics.

Monday, June 25, 2007

BWTVF 2007: The role of the TV critic

The latest from my time at the Banff World Television Festival:
This is a collection of thoughts on television criticism, from the panel members of the session "The Power of the TV Critic" as well as Rob Thomas, Chuck Lorre, and my very own little brain.

For all my articles from the Festival, check out the feature section at Blogcritics.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

BWTVF 2007: What JibJab could teach TV

I got to talk to Gregg Spiridellis, co-founder of JibJab, at the Banff World Television Festival. That's the company behind some of the best political and social satires on the web - I've even posted a few here. We talked about JibJab's vision, the future of television in the Internet age, and he gave me a peek into a business that doesn't just pay lip service to building a relationship with its audience:
For all my articles from the Festival, check out the feature section at Blogcritics.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

"Heart Made of Sound" makes my heart happy

This video for "Heart Made of Sound" by SoftLightes is guaranteed to make you smile. From Very Short List:

The video, directed by Kris Moye (who knows a little something about rockers; his brother is in the popular Sydney band the Presets), is reminiscent of work by artists who make words out of things, most recently that of designer Stefan Sagmeister, and uses stop-motion photography and takes a clever and literal twist on the poppy song. The words appear as they are sung and are formed with materials that match their meaning: cloud from fluffy flour, been out of green beans, spring with Slinkys.

Friday, June 22, 2007

But lastborn are cutest

My big brother sent me a link with the comment "I always knew it, and now there's scientific proof." The link went to this article:
When I saw that headline, I literally laughed out loud. As I told him, though, it was a laugh of derision and disbelief.
[Study author Petter] Kristensen, who is the second-born child in his family, says his other three siblings have differing views about his new findings. "The person who is happiest about the results would be my older brother," he says. As for his younger siblings, "they just don't believe it."

Lose a link, add some links

So the worm post isn't at the top of the blog for long, here's a quick update on some changes to my sidebar links.

I've taken off Scott Feschuk's Weekday Update, the Macleans blog that made me laugh every morning until he cruelly took my happiness away by discontinuing it, at least in its current form:

Truth is: after almost a year of waking up early to make fun of people, I’ve decided to, you know, stop doing that.

Fine. Whatever. Happiness killer.

I've added a couple of links, too:

Running With My Eyes Closed

One is the blog Running With My Eyes Closed by Jill Golick, a TV writer who's obsessed with pilots (the TV kind, not the plane kind). She delves into the kind of minutia that makes me giddy while wondering why the hell I care how long the teasers are in this coming fall's crop of new shows, for example. But I do care. I'm still fascinated at these glimpses into how my toys are put together.

The Tyee

That fascination, of course, is why I went to the Banff World Television Festival, to get more of those behind-the-scenes glimpses. As did Mark Leiren-Young of The Tyee, a website that is coincidentally another new-ish entry on my blogroll. The sidebar link came before the article, but he's written about sessions I wasn't able to attend (translation: I either wanted to sleep in or there was something else I wanted to see more at the same time). Leiren-Young writes for TV too, but here he's writing on the future of TV, which sounds a lot like last year's future of TV:

Nobody knows how the hell they're supposed to get rich off their shows being PVR'd, TIVO'd and downloaded legally, never mind illegally. And DVD sales may be great revenue streams for producers, but they don't help advertisers sell cars and condoms.


The other big Banff buzzword was "UGC" (user-generated content) which is very "Web 2.0" -- which means it's a bitch to monetize. When she heard the term "content provider" back in the late '90s, performance artist Laurie Anderson sniped that: "It sounds like a term from the Chinese cultural revolution." Broadcasters are hoping this revolution isn't quite as bloody -- but when even the hottest shows on TV can't stop hemorrhaging viewers, clearly traditional TV's prospects are less than McDreamy.

The Tyee is a great antidote to the sameness and shallowness of what they call corporate media and what I wanted to call "mainstream media," but that makes The Tyee sound like a collection of bloggers. And no offense to bloggers -- hello, I am one -- but The Tyee is a professional but independent British Columbian news source, doing investigative reporting in this province that puts the big boys to shame, and entertainment articles that have some substance and don't sound like regurgitated media releases. Here's what they say about themselves:

We’re independent and not owned by any big corporation. We’re dedicated to publishing lively, informative news and views, not dumbed down fluff. We, like the tyee salmon for which we are named, roam free and go where we wish.

Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières

This one isn't so new, but one of the only sidebar links I haven't mentioned yet is to Doctors Without Borders. I don't know what I can say about them that the Nobel committee hasn't, when awarding them the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize:

Since its foundation in the early 1970s, Médecins Sans Frontières has adhered to the fundamental principle that all disaster victims, whether the disaster is natural or human in origin, have a right to professional assistance, given as quickly and efficiently as possible. National boundaries and political circumstances or sympathies must have no influence on who is to receive humanitarian help. By maintaining a high degree of independence, the organization has succeeded in living up to these ideals.

By intervening so rapidly, Médecins Sans Frontières calls public attention to humanitarian catastrophes, and by pointing to the causes of such catastrophes, the organization helps to form bodies of public opinion opposed to violations and abuses of power.

In critical situations, marked by violence and brutality, the humanitarian work of Médecins Sans Frontières enables the organization to create openings for contacts between the opposed parties. At the same time, each fearless and self-sacrificing helper shows each victim a human face, stands for respect for that person's dignity, and is a source of hope for peace and reconciliation.

My sidebar link is to the Canadian section, but the US site is here.

The pet sitter got more pets than she bargained for

With the dead silence and filler posts lately, you might not believe that I have lots of meaty-ish things in the pipeline, but I do. They're just waiting for me to be talked down from the ... no, not the ceiling. That's a bad place to be in my apartment.

(Warning: vermiform grossness ahead.)

I came home from holidays to find out a new bag of flour had apparently come with a bonus of mealworm eggs, which had hatched and were crawling on my kitchen ceiling in the form of mealworms. Lots of mealworms. Some of them turned into meal moths. It's been a week since they hatched, the worms and moths have been evicted, the cupboards stripped bare, the kitchen scrubbed and disinfected, and I still won't enter the room. And I still sit in front of the laptop and scratch at phantom creepy crawlies I imagine have nested in my hair. In short: it's been hard to concentrate here lately.

Sorry, I feel the need to share the horror in order to spread it thin and have less of it for myself. I have a bad feeling I've just made it more vivid in my mind by putting it down in writing. But at least I can feel I'm not alone in my creeped-out-ness.

Monday, June 18, 2007

All power to Cat Power

I'm catching up on my reading after being away for a week, and was happy to discover that Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) got some nice recognition by becoming the first woman to win the Shortlist Music Prize for The Greatest. I was confused when some reports called it an award for "emerging artists" while mentioning that one of the other contenders was Tom Waits, who's been around for about a hundred and fifty years. The more precise explanation is that it's for albums that have not attained gold status, but that doesn't fit in a headline very well.

That in itself puzzled me. Hasn't Grey's Anatomy discovered her yet and caused her career to skyrocket? I guess she'll have to wait her turn. Anyway, here's a few songs while we wait.

Lived in Bars

Where is my love?

Love and Communication

Thursday, June 14, 2007

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times

The Banff World Television Festival is over, though I'll have more articles over the next couple of weeks. Some of the thoughts milling around in my brain are on the role of the Internet, the role of the critic, and hey, while we're at it, why not throw in the role of television?

I've got an interview to write up with one of the JibJab brothers. I want to write feature-y articles that touch on topics brought up in the Master Classes of Greg Daniels (The Office), Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars), and Chuck Lorre (Two and a Half Men).

There's lots to mull over in the session with the charming, witty, driven, idealistic yet practical Ben Silverman, who appeared via satellite because since he agreed to be at the festival, the former producer was named co-chairman of NBC and is a little busy, or some such excuse. I know it's naive, but I suddenly think if anyone can turn around that network's fortunes, he can. And after an hour of hearing him speak via satellite, my trust is obviously well-founded.

I feel another rant coming out of the Town Hall meeting on the future of television in Canada.

All that's similar to what came out of last year's Festival. But this year was a very different experience for me.

Last year's Town Hall session partly inspired me to create the TV, Eh? site, and because of that site, I "knew" people who also "knew" me. I got to meet some lovely people in person I'd only met virtually before, and talk to network people about getting information, and chat with my TV critic hero. I had the surreal and cool experience of having people do a double take at my nametag and say "hey, I read your blog."

The downside to all this upside is that this brand new Festival experience involved not just brain-filling information, but a lot -- for me -- of sustained mingling and networking and being "on" all the time. That's rough on an introvert. If you won't take my word for it, I've got the Myers-Briggs scores to prove I'm almost as far along the introversion scale as you can get without imploding, so I find that kind of thing very draining. Draining and interesting and fun.

I'm hoping after about 12 hours of sleep in the luxury of the Sicamous Best Western, the memories will all be of the interesting and fun.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

BWTVF 2007: Interview with Rob Thomas of Veronica Mars

I've posted the transcript of my interview with Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas now (the earlier article was taken from this, but there's a lot more, too):
For all my posts from the Banff World Television Festival, see the Blogcritics feature column.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

BWTVF 2007: Not all about me

Phew, I just submitted the transcript of the Rob Thomas interview to Blogcritics, so I hope it'll be posted by tomorrow morning. I'm saving the more feature-y articles for post-festival, when I have time to let the ideas coalesce and stuff. It's exhausting, all this sitting and listening and mingling. Doesn't leave much brain power for other things.

Anyway, if you're interested in other people's takes on some of the speakers, like Greg Daniels of The Office and Ben Silverman, the new NBC co-chairperson, or what it's like to network and pitch a series in front of a crowd of people, check out these fellow bloggers who are also at the festival:
And there's a ton of other interesting coverage out there. Let's see if this link works: Google News.

You can see all my coverage from this year and last here: Blogcritics' Banff World Television Festival feature. Except last year's David Shore Master Class writeup got put in the House feature section instead.

BWTVF 2007: Interview with Greg Daniels of The Office

Uncharacteristically for me, this is a straight Q&A transcript. I'll do more with him and the other Master Class teachers soon:

BWTVF 2007: Award winners announced

The Rockies were announced last night:

Monday, June 11, 2007

BWTVF 2007: Veronica Mars is dead

Today's been a busy day for me at the Banff World Television Festival, with a few one-on-one interviews and some interesting sessions, which I'll write about later. First up is a short piece from my interview with Rob Thomas, creator of Veronica Mars -- I'll have more with him later:
The Mars fans keep sending me e-mails asking me to mention their Mars Bar campaign to save the show, à la the successful Jericho nut campaign. I'm not sure this is what they were hoping for.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Highway 1 ate my brain

It was a surprise for me to find a few years ago, after overcoming drivaphobia, that I enjoy long distance solo drives. I knew I liked being a passenger, but there's something about being trapped in a car with the music cranked up and only my horrible singing voice and random thoughts that appeals to me. The enforced stillness and distraction-light existence often helps foster more creative musings, and I find myself energized with ideas I want to get on paper or computer screen, and plans for life or at least for Saturday night.

So I arrived at the Best Western in Revelstoke, half way through my trip to Calgary to visit friends before heading over to Banff for the TV festival, with many different possibilities for stories and blog postings. And then I bumped into that other known fact about long distance solo drives: they wipe me out. All thoughts fled from my brain as I faced the sanitized comfort of my hotel room. Thank god for notebooks to capture those probably-not-as-brilliant-as-they-seemed-at-the-time ideas along the way.

All this to say: I've got nothing. And probably won't until I start in on my Banff TV festival articles. Like last year, I'm accredited for Blogcritics, not this here blog, so I'll link to my articles there from here.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Intelligence season two official, finally

TV Review: House - "Human Error"

The third season finale of House falls somewhere between the brilliant re-examination of its main character in season two's "No Reason" and the anticlimax of "Honeymoon" as a finale after the spectacular "Three Stories" in season one. But I loved the confirmation of and justification for House's bastardliness, elevating this episode above most others of the season for me.

"Human Error" is part cliffhanger, part character study, answering the question: is House hiding a heart of gold? The answer, of course, is no. No, he's really, really not, and he's had enough of the people around him thinking he is.

Written by Thomas L. Moran and Lawrence Kaplow -- in his final script for the show he's been with since the beginning -- this episode is almost an answer to "No Reason," where House realized that his reliance on rationality over empathy has negative consequences. Yet his actions throughout this season would indicate that he hasn't changed his behaviour after that epiphany. Why? Because he is not empathetic, not caring, not interested in seeing his patients' life stories as anything other than case histories, and not prepared to change his personality while he changes guitars and employees.

"Human Error" is a rematch of sorts in another sense. It's "House vs. God" take two, as the "atheist"-who's-mad-at-God House does battle with the deity over credit as the saviour of the well-named Marina, plucked from the ocean. It's an amusing spin on the God complex that doctors -- especially fictional ones -- display.

We meet Marina shivering in a rescue helicopter as her husband Esteban is making rescue attempts difficult by grasping a large suitcase. The Coast Guard seems to read from the same playbook as House, doing what he must to save the dying -- he dunks Esteban into the ocean until he loses consciousness and his grip on the suitcase, which contained Marina's medical records.

Esteban is a mechanic, the guy who can fix anything, except his wife. For that, he turned to House, his love for her not letting a pesky thing like geography get in his way.

It's a story that would melt even the coldest heart, right? Have you met Dr. House?

House is still struggling with Foreman's decision to quit, alternately stalking him at his going away party (wearing his trucker hat disguise, declaring himself "Best in Show") and verbally patting him on the head at every turn.

Wilson: He thinks you're a cold-hearted bastard with no regard for anyone else. You have to show him you care. You are not good with change.

House: I didn't used to be, but I changed.

Wilson: He's not afraid to be you; he's afraid to be who he thinks you are.

House seems to perversely take that as a dare from one of the few people he does seem to have genuine regard for (very occasionally), perhaps to prove that it is Wilson, Chase, and Cuddy who have the mistaken impression of the real House, not Foreman. House is flummoxed by the Foreman issue because Foreman wants the one thing House cannot give him -- an apology for or denial of who he really is.

Chase lectures House on the same topic, and even yells at his boss, but House is at a loss how to keep Foreman around. "Foreman's not as easy as Cameron. But then, who is?" Director (and executive producer) Katie Jacobs does a hilarious quick pan to a previously unseen Cameron sitting at the conference table. "I'm in the room," glowers the woman whose departure was remedied with a date from House.

Esteban is frustrated that House himself has not seen Marina. "I came 1,000 miles to see him," he complains to Chase.

"He doesn't care. I'm sorry, but that's who he is. That's who you risked your life to see," Chase says, adding: "And you made the right choice."

That bit of insight might have helped cushion the blow when House abruptly fires Chase when he approaches him to explain more calmly his frustration over House's dealings with Foreman.

"Because you've been here the longest, learned all you can," House explains. "Or you haven't learned anything at all. Either way, it's time for a change." It's safe to say House doesn't care whether it's time for a change for Chase, but rather that he's the one who wants the change. Take that, Wilson.

Chase has grown considerably in the last half of this season. He's gone from barely existing in much of the first half of season -- down to the character's remarked-on but never explained disappearance midway through "Que Sera Sera" -- to asserting himself as the persistent but not stalkery wooer of Cameron and conscience of House.

Without that growth, it would be inconceivable to imagine the Chase who betrayed House in order to keep his job, who was double dipping shifts to earn extra money, could possibly be the same Chase who's so accepting of House's snap decision to fire him because "change is good." It's still easy to think he's in shock and hasn't fully processed the change yet.

Foreman wonders if House is lashing out at Chase in lieu of himself, and Cameron puzzles over how to make sense out of this seemingly senseless act. "He always makes sense," she asserts.

Instead of giving him the results of Marina's PET scan, they confront a cane-guitar playing House over his actions before Wilson and Cuddy storm in for the same reason. "I told you to show Foreman you had a heart," Wilson protests. "How does that translate into 'fire Chase'?"

House is unmoved, even cruelly toying with Chase to get the results of the PET scan out of the one obedient -- if no longer employed -- employee.

Foreman retaliates by giving the still-House-seeking Esteban House's home number. Which is something, as Cameron points out, makes Foreman not so unlike House despite his protests. And yet, when Marina's heart stops during an angiogram, House refuses to consider the only likely option: human error, Foreman's error. However, it's not another example of deference to his exiting employee, but his refusal to pick the most likely but least satisfying explanation.

Marina's heart stops but her mouth doesn't, and House is more intrigued by the fact that she continued to speak while having no pulse than the dire fact that she continues to have no pulse. Rather than put her on bypass until he can figure out this new mystery, fearing a potentially deadly blood clot, he gets his remaining team to perform CPR. This is not House's most stellar moment in labour relations. If he's not treating his team as disposable, he's treating them as machines. Very high tech machines.

In an amusing scene reminiscent of his interesting teaching methods in "Three Stories," House quizzes Cuddy's medical students for possibilities other than human error. One, very Cameron-like -- smart, quick to regroup, and a pretty, long-haired brunette -- suggests a tainted Botox injection, which he rejects for obvious reasons. But then he calls "send me a resume" even before knowing he might need a Cameron replacement after all.

And he's still avoided talking to Esteban about what's going on with his wife, not out of early-Cameron-like hesitance to share bad news, but perpetual-House-like indifference to the emotional impact on the patient and family. He has no facts, therefore he has nothing to tell the husband.

Esteban came 1,000 miles to see House, though, so the few extra feet to his office aren't an obstacle. "How do you fix something if you don't look at it?" he demands of the doctor who still hasn't examined his wife. Good question, and I like the metaphoric possibilities as well. Though it's hard to say if House is fixing his life by examining it.

Even examining her heart during the bypass surgery doesn't yield any clues, though, and House discovers that her heart can't be restarted. She is, in effect, dead, kept on the machine only so the husband can say goodbye.

Still, House stalls, wanting to solve the case even if it's too late to save the patient.

"How can we tell him there's no hope when we don't know why there's no hope?" he asks a doubting Foreman. "If he pulls the plug it means he's failed."

"If he pulls the plug, it means you've failed," Foreman counters.

"And you're OK with that?"

In other words, the differing perspectives are meaningless. Whether the motivation to solve the mystery, even if it's too late, is to give the husband some certainty before pulling the plug, or to give House some certainty before giving up, the outcome is the same.

"I don't care. I really don't care. My motives are pure," House explains to Cuddy after she attempts to get him to admit that he wants a storybook ending for his ocean-crossed lovers. He isn't ready to let go of the mystery because, unlike the patient they lost in "Family," thanks to the bypass machine there is a chance he doesn't have to conduct an autopsy to make the diagnosis.

His patient isn't the only one with the cold, dead heart. House really is that heartless, that the story of a young couple risking their lives to see him doesn't move him. They're just another day on the job, just another case to be solved, and, to hear him tell it, that's a good thing, letting his determination be based on rationality rather than emotion.

In some ways, the series has proven to us again and again that House possesses the perfect confluence of traits to allow him to do his specialized job so well. His lack of caring means he's not distracted by pesky emotions. His addictive personality makes him "jones" for a medical mystery, as Foreman puts it, gives him the insatiable desire to solve the case.

But his night at the office yields no further clues, and he finally approaches the husband to advise turning off the bypass machine. He finds the purported atheist in the chapel. "I promised my wife I'd do everything I can," Esteban explains. "If I don't pray, then I don't do everything." Seems rational enough.

What doesn't is the fact that Marina's heart continues to beat after the machine is turned off. "Holy crap," House says when she wakes up, giving a plaintive shrug up to the heavens. The God he doesn't believe in is making House look bad. Esteban has apparently converted from House worship to another kind of belief: "God sent her back to me. It's a miracle."

"How come God gets credit whenever something good happens?" House grumbles to the remnants of his team. "What if it wasn't human error? Maybe it was God's error -- a congenital defect."

He needs his powers of persuasion and manipulation to convince the happy and highly photogenic couple that Marina's apparent good health is a temporary state, and they should submit to the same test that stopped her heart in the first place. Esteban points out that House was wrong about there being no hope for his wife when they pulled the plug.

"My mistakes don't prove there's a God. You came a long way to see me. Are you going to put her life in God's hands or mine?" It's a similar argument to the season one "Damned if you Do," which was the first episode to suggest that House is not quite a devout atheist himself.

Well, sure, since they came all that way, why not trust the man who's admitted he's wrong a lot? But they do, because doctors trump miracles for nuns and recent converts alike.

"I better not see you praying," House jokes to Esteban during the procedure. "I don't want to have to fight for credit on this."

House's prediction turns out to be accurate, and his acute powers of deduction solved the case again. One more operation, and Marina will be fine.

"Thank God," she says.

"Don't make me slap you," he retorts, and suddenly I can see a little Jackie Gleason in the very un-Jackie-Gleason-ish Hugh Laurie.

So House fixes what God breaks. That's pretty heady stuff. No wonder everyone -- including House himself -- is so enamoured with the dark-humoured doctor. Everyone except Foreman.

At the last possible moment, House finally admits he wants Foreman to stay, that he needs him. But he fails at showing he cares for either Foreman or his patients, and because of that, experiences a rare failure in his attempts to persuade or manipulate.

"I don't want to solve cases, I want to save lives," declares the unmoved Foreman.

"Do you think she cares? Do you think the husband cares? Do you think the children she can now have because of me are going to care why I saved her? You're the selfish bastard, not me," oh-so-tactful but not irrational House counters.

"Nice try," Wilson the observer says after Foreman exits, supposedly never to return.

"Nice tries are worthless," is House's disgusted reply.

The scene reminded me of the first season speech he gave at Vogler's insistence. House cannot be who he is not, and there's something noble in the fact that he won't try to be, either. That's why it's been such a brick wall for him to manipulate Foreman into staying -- he hit on the one thing House can't and won't change: who he is. And who he is is someone who doesn't generally give a damn and doesn't want to pretend he does.

House doesn't seem to care that Cameron went to commiserate with the fired Chase, either. "Say hi to Chase for me. You're wearing lipstick," he adds, presumably in explanation for how he knows who she'll be seeing. Sure enough, Cameron tries to cheer the ex-duckling up, but flees after he tells her he's OK with the firing (in a not-quite-OK kind of way) and apologizes for his "silly" plan to ask her out every Tuesday. She put lipstick on for that?

No, that's just the prelude. Later, she confronts him on his doorstep to remind him it's Tuesday. When he points out it's actually Monday -- but with a tiny smile that indicates he knows, or hopes he knows, where this is going -- she says she couldn't wait, and the former friends with benefits convert into actual coupledom, with a long, sweet kiss.

Cameron's change goes beyond just choosing Chase, but also choosing, like Foreman, to distance herself from House. Though nothing in the episode suggests she made the decision for purely professional reasons, she offers House her letter of resignation, saying smugly: "I've gotten all I can from this job."

He wonders what she expects him to do about it . If she wanted a date last time, I wonder what he thinks the higher stakes might be this time. But no, she and Chase both seem to have learned to accept House's flaws in a way Foreman can't. "I expect you to do what you always do," she says. "I expect you to make a joke, go on. I expect you to be just fine."

Cameron has made her choice -- for now -- and Chase is the lucky recipient of her affections. The "I'll miss you" and the arm touch suggest her feelings for House have been deliberately submerged rather than eliminated. But she's learned from House over the years. She's harder and less gullible, as Wilson pointed out recently. She's also learned about House, and puts her newfound non-gullibility to work. Whatever her feelings for him, House and his twisted heart will be just fine without her.

What follows is a weirdly companionable scene between House and Esteban, sharing House's "genuine American cigars."Esteban is at least a step up from original recipe coma guy -- he can talk back and partake in the smoking/drinking male bonding ritual. He also has the benefit of not being judgmental Wilson, and doesn't have any reason to care that House doesn't care.

Esteban: You must be very upset.

House: Yeah, I must be.

Esteban: But you're not.

House: I don't think I am. I think I'm OK.

Esteban: What are you going to do?

House: God only knows.

He comes home to the new guitar he apparently ordered to replace the one he's had since grade nine. Change is addictive, it seems, and the cane-guitar playing must have given him a taste of something snappier, too. As Josh Ritter's "I'm a Good Man" plays ironically, I have to consider that he is a good man, as long as he's judged on a Housian curve and not by the standards of St. Wilson, for example, who doesn't have a problem with faking caring. House looks just fine playing that new guitar, when he would seem to have just made a complete mess of his professional and possibly personal life.

Now that's the kind of cliffhanger I like. I have no predictions for how this is all going to play out next season, except that I'm highly skeptical Omar Epps, Jennifer Morrison, and Jesse Spencer are off the show. Is the mass exodus another engineered lesson for House courtesy of Wilson and Cuddy? Is it a ploy by the team, or at least Cameron, to win Chase his job back? Or is all as it appears, and the ducklings have decided they're ready to swim on their own and House has decided that he's ready for change?

OK, I have one prediction, but I'm not making any bets on this one: I think they'll all be back, but in different capacities. At the very least, this regrouping could put to rest the never-ending fellowships without getting into tedious administrative detail. By the end of the episode, all three have decided they're ready to move on from House's tutelage, but I'm skeptical that means we've seen the last of them.

Whatever the answer, I'm ready for some change, and am hopeful we're in for a readjustment of a show that's hit the reset button a few times too many. But I'd hate to see an overhaul of the undeniably successful dynamics between the characters, so I'm hoping for a tweaking that will prevent the show from growing stale without tampering too much with its winning formula.

FOX bumped the finale by a week, putting it in the path of my holiday but also, perhaps more importantly to anyone but me, out of the May sweeps and into the doldrums of summer reruns. I take some spiteful comfort in the fact that On the Lot, the show FOX wanted to launch with an American Idol-fueled boost, is tanking already. Take that, scheduling gods who dare to mess with House. He wins again.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Video killed the radio star

About a week ago, I read an article whose truth still rankles: If you're a female singer, you'd better be sexy.

She was an "amazing talent," a young singer with a wonderful voice who wrote beautiful songs. But she was no beauty, plus flat-chested and overweight to boot.

Remembering the aspiring star, music executive Jody Gerson still feels terrible about thinking: "She's never going to get signed, even though she's fabulous."

The article ends with the caveat that talented but less attractive women can find success on smaller labels, but this "hopeful" remark is tempered by that music exec's final pointed question:

Where are the Patsy Clines of today? More often than not on smaller, underground labels, which put more of a premium on talent. And with the devolution of today's music industry, Gerson says, small labels may be the best path to success for a woman who doesn't look like a mold of a Barbie doll.

So how would Gerson advise the flat-chested, overweight, amazingly talented singer to chase her dream? Put out her own music and promote herself on the Web.

"As far as we've come as women," Gerson asked, "where are we really?"

The double standard goes far beyond music marketers, of course. Ruben Studdard wins American Idol and he's the "Velvet Teddy Bear." Jordin Sparks wins American Idol and the National Action Against Obesity calls her fat on television.

But male or female, musicians are often judged on looks and style as much as talent, and have been since before The Buggles launched MTV. Seeing the vamps on parade any time you flip past a video channel, it's easy to think that's all there is.

Salon's Audiofile recently launched a new feature that hopes to celebrate musical talent using a different yard stick. Alongside their free song download of the day, they're now profiling music videos, and they make the same point that music exec Gerson does, that the pure talent is often in the crannies of the industry:

But because so many of the best videos are being made outside the margins of the mainstream -- and certainly aren't getting shown on MTV -- it can be a little difficult to track down the good stuff.

Their first choice was "Ankle Injuries" from Fujiya & Miyagi. Animated using dice by director Wade Shotter, the video "features band members, gymnastics and exploding fireworks, trippily rendered in squares and dots," as Salon says.

How can I watch that without a smile on my face? So even though that article is festering, and music videos tend to be proof of its message, there's actually optimism here if you choose to look at it that way. And since I'm in a good mood today, I do. We might have to dig a little deeper, but there is room for talent to be celebrated over sex appeal, with indie musicians carving out their own niches and video directors who reach for interesting instead of titillating.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Romantic comedy isn't a dirty word. It's two.

I'm watching The American President for about the billionth time, this time on The History Channel. I saw it in the theatre before developing my now-Studio 60-diminished talent crush on Aaron Sorkin -- in fact, before knowing who Aaron Sorkin was. I mean, I'd seen A Few Good Men and liked it fine, but he was only the writer, after all, so his name hadn't registered.

I would be puzzling right now about how this romantic comedy about a widowed president finding new love fits the mandate of the History Channel, but this is the station that justifies its airings of CSI: New York by explaining that it's set in a post-9/11 New York and is therefore historically important or some such crap, so I can find better uses of my brain cells. Like pondering why "romantic comedy" is synonymous with "chick flick" when guys like them too. (Oh, you do so, just not when they're called that.)

Romantic comedies are my comfort food, the perfect way to decompress after a busy week. The American President is letting me do that in my pyjamas, but earlier today, I saw another one fully clothed. Just don't tell the writer/director I called it a romantic comedy.

Knocked Up suffered slightly by my heightened expectations. Critics have salivated over it, and that writer/director Judd Apatow, who seems to be getting more press than the film's stars, Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl, is the beneficiary of a lot of that saliva.

The movie is, clearly, a romantic comedy. And yet, a Canadian Press article does the denial dance after introducing the concept.

At a recent Q&A following an advance screening of the riotous comedy "Superbad," a woman in the audience asked the film's producer Judd Apatow if he makes "romantic comedies for men."

"That sounds like product -- or a lube," replied the 39-year-old filmmaker.

A classification like "romantic comedies for men" also doesn't do justice to other staples of Apatow's work - namely, an endless barrage of filthy jokes, cleverly delivered. And yet Apatow's comedy always maintains - as Seth Rogen, the star of "Knocked Up" and a frequent collaborator of Apatow's, says - an "oddly sweet" quality.

"Do justice to"? Let me get this straight. The fact that Apatow uses jokes -- the kind of jokes that appeal to men -- in a sweet guy-meets-girl story deserves more than the term "romantic comedy"? That kind of thinking is of the genre we call fantasy.

That's putting it kindly. I could pull out the sexist card. "Romantic comedy" is perfectly adequate to describe a movie like When Harry Met Sally, with an endless barrage of gentler jokes, cleverly delivered, but it's not enough to describe Knocked Up?

It's clear why movie marketers shy away from the term when selling a male-focused film -- guys might like romantic comedies geared to them, but they don't like the term romantic comedy applied to anything geared to them. It's not so clear why journalists go along with the genre avoidance, but whatever. The line between entertainment journalism and PR has always been blurry.

Like Nick Hornby books and the films based on them, or Edward Burns' movies, or Apatow's 40 Year Old Virgin, or any other romantic comedy for men, Knocked Up's biggest flaw was the flatness of the female protagonist. (To be fair, most romantic comedies for women suffer from the opposite flaw, with their shallow depictions of men.) Heigl was terrific, but her comparatively underwritten character remained something of a cipher throughout the film, while Rogen's was given far more nuances and growth.

Like 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up has a strong male sensibility, and it's a sensibility I like but don't love. There were a few too many undifferentiated secondary characters, too many of those filthy jokes, too many shots of childbirth as grossout comedy, for my taste.

But for all that, it was familiar comfort food of the best kind -- a romantic comedy with genuine emotional depth. And I mean that -- all of that -- as a compliment.