Category Archives: television

Dana White v. Tito Ortiz

What a rip off. I got suckered in to watching this mess after The Ultimate Fighter lat night. At first I assumed it would be a half-hour long affair that explored a little of the backstory on their feud and culminate with their boxing match. A half hour had passed and they hadn’t gotten anywhere. I figured it had to be an hour (I was too lazy to check the guide) but it was a full hour and a hlaf long. Most of the show revolved around UFC president Dana White training for a contractually obligated sparring match with Tito Ortiz. There was a rather uninspired telling of the disagreement between them which revolved mostly around contract disputes and ill will from White’s time as Ortiz’ manager. It was a little dull, but okay. Then at the end, Tito doesn’t show up for a weigh in and they never fight. It was ridiculously anticlimactic and I had to wonder why I had bothered staying awake.

The Problem with Dresden

Dresden Files

Harry Dresden has a problem. People keep turning up at his door and dying. Its good for us, the viewers, because we can watch him go and figure out why and how, but it must get really frustrating for him.

As the only wizard to advertise his services in the Chicago phone book, I guess it makes sense that people being threatened by supernatural menaces would seek him out for help, but as a plot device the many deaths get a little old. I guess that’s true of any detective show, and despite the mystical trappings, The Dresden Files is a detective show in the old-school mode of Simon & Simon or Magnum, P.I. Each episode stands alone, and except for a slowly developing back story of Harry and his murderous Uncle there is no narrative arc that defines the show. It’s less one-off than CSI: Des Moines, since we learn a little more about Harry every episode but it seldom has a bearing on the plot.

Harry Dresden

This became readily apparent when I sat down with some DVR’ed episodes and tried to watch them back-to-back. Since there is no slow burning reveal like Lost and no over-arching story like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the episodes can get redundant. That’s not to say it has House-like levels of repetition where every single act is structured the same way from show to show, but there is enough pattern and predictability to make watching a weekly affair at best. It’s okay to catch it when it airs and then forget about. I am a sucker for stories where magic and the supernatural happen in an otherwise realistic modern setting. Something about the way Harry uses his hockey stick for a magic wand entertains me for reasons I can’t fully articulate. I suppose it has something to do with the juxtaposition and the possibility that things like this might be happening in some dark alley I’ll never get to see. But its not for everybody. The Dresden Files plays it straight, and the ghosts, vampires, and werewolves that Harry contends with can become a little too outrageous, even for this sort of show.

Harry Dresden, Wizard

But if you can get past the strangeness and the repetition, and you miss Remington Steele but always wish he had solved murders involving Bird Demons, The Dresden Files might be for you. It airs on the SciFi Channel, on Sunday nights.

John Bolton on the Daily Show

Anybody else catch this last night? I really like it when conservatives go on the show. I think Jon Stewart does an admirable job of interviewing those with an opposing point of view without getting abrasive and staying (relatively) respectful. Bolton was our erstwhile ambassador to the UN, an organization that he had little respect for. During his time in the UN, he did some things right and some things wrong but I could never fully fathom the sheer gall required to make him our ambassador to the world in an organization which he famously said could lose its top ten stories without anyone noticing. While I agree that the United Nations is grossly inefficient and frequently accomplishes nothing, I am a strong believer in its potential for good and I don’t thing he had the right attitude to be our player there. He tended to personify the American arrogance that other countries perceive and get rubbed the wrong way by.

Last night he handled Stewart’s ribbing in fairly good humor, although he disagreed on just about every point. Stewart wanted to get into the Gonzalez kerflaffle, pointing out the parallels with Bolton’s ousting but fittingly for a diplomat, Bolton failed to engage. He stuck to his idea (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it is the duty of the President to fill as many positions as possible with like-minded people. Not because they are personal supporters, per se, but because they would naturally be ideological boosters and further the administration’s point of view. He further pointed out that transparency in government is only good up to a point, and that there has to be some freedom for the administration to discuss and decide policy without having to worry about public accountability.

I don’t hate Bolton, although I think he was the wrong man for the job, but I just can’t get behind any of the points he was making here. The whole point of democratic governance is to allow disagreement. Bolton seemed to be saying that the American people made their choice when they elected W. and nobody has any further say in his actions or the policies of his administration. He went on to defend this as the very model of democratic theory. To my mind it couldn’t be further from it.

On Political Authoritah…

I am a fan of South Park. My opinions on this are well documented. One of the things I like about the show is how it plays with politics and lampoons serious issues without ever descending into partisan nastiness. While I think it’s pretty safe to say that most people watch the show for fart jokes and the storylines that border on the obscene and blasphemous (and I mean that in a good way), there is an underlying political ethos, but you have to wade through the malicious and hilarious skewering of all players on the political scene to get there. There’s definitely a general trend toward conservatism, which may seem odd for such a socially liberal show. I mean between Big Gay Al, Cartman’s crusade for stem cell research so that he could clone a pizzeria, and the episode where euthanasia was the only way to let Kenny save all of creation, the South Park guys probably aren’t on the RNC’s speed dial. But I’m not talking about the typically Christian, moral majority brand of conservatism. Among others, Nick Gillespie over at Hit & Run seems to read Trey Parker and Matt Stone as Libertarians (even if they wouldn’t say so themselves) and I tend to agree.

I also like that he acknowledges the show’s ambiguity. It refuses to pin itself down to any one ideological framework and rakes muck at everybody. They are also unwilling to sacrifice fetus jokes and swear words to become some sort of crudely animated Doonesbury, so I’ll keep tuning in.

On the Politics of 24

I’m just starting to get into 24. I’ve always been leery of jumping on board because I’ve never been able to consistently watch it, and I figured it had to be too intricately plotted for the casual viewer. But the advent of DVR in the household has made it possible to get on board for the new season even though I won’t always be home at 9:00 on Mondays. My old friend Netflix is helping me catch up on the previous five worst days in Jack Bauer’s life.

I’m enjoying it immensely. From the rapid-fire plot to the well-shot (if ludicrous) action scenes, 24 is good TV. I can’t get over the sheer Bad-Ass-itude of Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer. I don’t know everything the character has ever done, but within the first few hours of season six, he goes from being a horrifically scarred and fragile prisoner of war to actually killing a man with both hands tied behind his back. That’s right. Jack Bauer is so determined and hardcore that he will RIP OUT A DUDE’S THROAT!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wd_Aotvwkms

WITH HIS TEETH!

Yowzah. But as impressive and awesome as I think the show is, I can’t help but feel a little queasy about its politics. As some would have it, 24 is a conservative version of The West Wing. Both shows operate as a kind of mythical fantasy world where everything is taken to extremes, and Straw Men abound. Except in 24, instead of a liberal dream of idealistic social justice we find a world where torture is often necessary, racial profiling is encouraged, and intensive government surveillance is the only thing standing between the civilized world and the viscous dogs that want to bring it all down.

I like both shows, even if I can’t fully get behind the politics of either one. But there is something about 24 that makes me a little uneasy. It does border on propaganda. Whether a recently (and apparently extensively) tortured Jack Bauer can get over his squeamish inability to Interrogate with Extreme Prejudice in time to save us all is a key plot point. (He does.) It seems to be taking its toll on the old man, and only time will tell if this is a completely one-dimensional story, or of we will get even an echo of the moral and ethical questions Jack has to face in the course of his job as a Counter Terrorist Unit agent.

More problematic is plot thread with a character who is the head of an Islamic advocacy group. He was rounded up with several other American Muslims and sent to a detention facility. Initially, it seemed as though the show might be looking at the problems associated with racial profiling, and the difficulties of respecting civil liberties while safeguarding against threats. As far as we know, Walid is innocent of any crime. But some of the detainees aren’t, and Walid is able to eavesdrop on their plans. The moral of the story: Its okay to round up “dangerous” ethnic groups into detention camps, because chances are some of them will be guilty.

Granted, the season has only just begun. I don’t know how the rest of the day is going to play out. And I’m not condemning the show either. I like it and will continue to watch. I just wish the writers would pay more attention to the moral ambiguities inherent in the situations in the show. As it stands, 24 doesn’t ignore these ambiguities exactly. It just portrays them as less than ambiguous.

And just a side note: 24 airs on Fox. All the anti-terrorist heroes of CTU watch Fox News. The nuclear terrorists watch CNN. Huh.

Imitation is not always the sincerest form of flattery, apparently

Let me just start by saying Dr. Phil will always have a special place in my heart. Whether he is spouting obvious advice to mothers of spoiled children, or making obvious comments about cheating husbands, that loveable blowhard always makes for good TV. I try to make him the guiding center of my life whenever possible, but I am forced to disagree with him here.


If Dr. Phil was as disgusted as he seemed, we never would have seen the segment because it never would have made to the airwaves. I do not endorse bumfights, but the guy had a point. I think what probably happened was that Dr. Phil got peeved at his guest’s hilarious (oh, how hilarious) imitation of his look. He probably realized he wasn’t getting the serious debate he wanted, and his delightfully homespun wisdom would fall on deaf ears. If the bumfight impressario wouldn’t take his words seriously, then he wouldn’t come across as the paternalistic loudmout we know and love. So, he aborted.

Goin down to

I think South Park is wonderful. My feelings for the show run deep and whenever it lets me I make sweet, sweet love to it. Usually from behind.

I am something of an aficionado of animated television. I have gone on the record as being a proponent of Simpsonian social satire. The Simpsons is still one of my all time favorite shows, despite the cyclical nature of its quality. Without the wacky misadventures of the yellow, four-fingered Everyfamily there would be no South Park. What I loved about The Simpsons was the way it could balance social satire, surreal lunacy, and heartfelt storytelling. At its best the show managed to blend these three elements into a cohesive whole. Yet, in many ways I think South Park is the better show. This pains me to admit, as middle era Simspons is what I grew up with and will always hold a special place in my heart. But I have to speak the truth, and from where I sit, South Park is the best cartoon of all time.

South Park is cruder, exponentially so. This can occasionally be a turnoff for me, as crudity for crudity’s sake is just plain lazy. While dealing with aborted fetuses, ten year olds giving celebrity handjobs, and magical excrement that spreads Christmas cheer the vulgarity of the show never seems gratuitous. Well, almost never.

South Park is bizarre. The boys often embark on surreal adventures, and entire episodes have been devoted to things like a hamster’s quest to escape from a gay man’s ass. Aliens, monsters, time-travellers, and crab people are regular residents to the itular mountain town. The inspired lunacy of the plots make the show stand out even from the more outlandish Simpsons storylines.

South Park is also adept at walking the fine line between lowbrow gross-out humor and insightful political/social satire. The willfully bizarre and grotesque in many episodes counterbalances the cultural commentary. But both elements are integrated seamlessly in the best episodes, and the story is brought home with at least some level of heart. The fact that it is a group of kids saying, doing, and encountering these very adult things enables the creators to approach them with a level of common-sense innocence, more or less free of the schmaltzy sentimentality or self-righteous moralizing that occasionally tripped up the Simpsons.

The show is both ridiculous and sublime. It is both tasteless and insightful. But it straddles the line. Thats what makes the show better than its animated peers. Its a tough call, but what kind of cultural critic would I be if I was unwilling to examine the sticky issues.

But don’t even get me started on Family Guy…