Sunday, May 31, 2009

In Treatment, In Retrospect

In Treatment concluded its second season on HB0 last week, I'm up here on Cape Cod at the end of a splendid weekend, so I thought I'd say a few words about this splendid series.

First, let me just say - or, reiterate, because I've probably said this before - that In Treatment is like no other show on television. It does what The Shield did with brilliant plotting and jolting action, what Lost does with labyrinthine mind-bending story telling, with just ... talk. And that's saying a lot, because the classic take on all television drama is you need more than just talk.

Mia's talk - the first of the five threads this season - was ok and enjoyable. But the happy ending - the smile on her face, and on Paul's, when they say goodbye, and she says she'll be back next week, after declaring she's finished with Paul's therapy, was one of the best in two seasons.

April's was a much more powerful story, from the beginning. She has cancer, needs therapy, and has told no one except Paul. He has no choice but to take her - but that fractures the patient-therapist's relationship. So she's bound to leave. But not before she tells Paul that Sophie - whom Paul saved last year from suicide - wrote on a Web for evaluations of therapists that he had saved her life. Paul's always at his best with people much younger - and older - than him.

Oliver's was an excellent segment - though his parents, like Jake and Amy in Season One, were a little obvious. But Paul's demonstration that he and Oliver could still talk, even though he was moving upstate, was great. Telephones do make our lives easier, they have since the day they were invented, as I pointed out in my Cellphone book.

Walter - the fourth patient - was my favorite this season, and right up there with the very best of the two years. It was classic psychotherapy - Paul gets Walter in touch with the little boy in him that he had shut out for most of his life. And though all the acting - especially Gabriel Byrne as Paul - was marvelous this year, John Mahoney as Walter was in a class by himself.

Paul as Gina's patient was different this year than last year - Paul was much more combative, and more closely mirrored with Gina what his patients were doing with him. So, unsurprisingly, but still very well rendered, Paul tells Gina that he's leaving...

I'd be surprised if Paul was not back in her office next year - assuming there is a next year, and HBO renews In Treatment. Hey, HBO - you'd need to have your heads examined if you don't.







8-min podcast review of In Treatment

See also Back in Treatment on HBO ... Back in Treatment: Three More Fine Times ... 2.1-2: Fathers and Daughters ...2.3-5: A Senior, A First Love, A Boy and His Turtle ... Sleep and Ethics

And Season One reviews: In Treatment on HBO ... 2. Scalding ... 3. Triangle ... 4. Love and Death ... 6. Paul's Greatest Strength ... 6. Paul's Boat ... 7. Alex in the Sky with Diamonds ... 8. A Princely Performance ... In Treatment Concludes (For Now)






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why One Strike Against the First Amendment Should Rule Sotomayor Out of the Supreme Court

As many of you know, I was disappointed by President Obama's nomination today of Appellate Judge Sonia Sotomayor to replace David Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court. As a lifelong advocate of the First Amendment and its protections of freedom of speech and press, and a critic therefore, of judges who do anything to dilute and undermine its protections, I wrote back at the beginning of this month that Sotomayor's Anti-First Amendment Decision Should Disqualify Her for Supreme Court. The decision in question was the one that Sotomayor's 3-judge Federal Second Court of Appeals made in New York last May, when it failed to uphold Avery Doninger's claim that her First Amendment rights had been violated when her high school prohibited her from running for Senior Secretary, after she had posted on her off-campus Live Journal blog that school officials were "douchebags" for canceling an event.

I recognize that there are some who think Avery was justly punished, and/or the school did not violate her First Amendment rights when it punished her.

But I'd like to now address a different objection to the problem I have with Sotomayor - one which in fact has been the most frequently raised on my blogs and status reports on Facebook, etc.

The objection is as follows: Should we let just one mistake count against a Supreme Court appointment and confirmation of a judge who has otherwise been excellent in all of her opinions? This certainly seems like a reasonable point, given that we require three strikes to be out when at bat in baseball, and we give people all kinds of second chances in life.

But I think that one strike against the First Amendment should indeed disqualify Judge Sotomayor's appointment to the Supreme Court.

First, before I explain why, let me just stipulate, for the purpose of this explanation, that Sotomayor's decision in Doninger was wrong, and all of her other decisions right. I understand that people may disagree with both parts of that stipulation, but let's proceed here as if they were right.

I maintain that Sotomayor would still be a dangerous appointment to the Supreme Court.

She made a decision on the Appellate Court that did not strongly support the First Amendment. The Appellate is itself a higher court, just one level below the U.S. Supreme Court. Why appoint someone who made even one mistake there, in a position that in this situation is in effect an audition, a farm league, for the big time? Isn't performance on the Appellate Court the best possible gauge of performance on the Supreme Court? Are not the stakes on the Supreme Court just too high, too lasting, to take a chance on an Appellate judge with even just one bad decision?

If that is the case, then the only reason we could excuse a bad decision on the First Amendment would be if we don't hold the First Amendment to be what it is - not the Tenth, the Fourth, or even the Second Amendment, but the First or most primary amendment for protection of our freedoms. An amendment, moreover, whose protections for us are eroding daily, with the FCC levying millions of dollars of fines, and Congress calling out for FCC regulation of cable, etc. All of that can hang in the balance with this appointment.

I have used baseball metaphors several times here, and let me say that it grieves me not to support Sotomayor, given that she is such as fervent Yankee fan. (Hey, I was born in the Bronx, too, proudly teach there at Fordham University, and am a lifelong Yankees fan.) Just as it grieves me not to support a woman and Latina for the Supreme Court.

But that's just not enough.

This does not make Sotomayor a bad person, or, even a bad judge across the board. But it does make her not the best person to appoint for the rest of her life to one of nine positions on a Supreme Court already dominated by Justices who don't care much about the First Amendment and the rights of kids.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Thomas Cromwell on The Tudors: "Surely All Art is a Lie"

The Tudors third season wraps up this Sunday on Showtime - I had the pleasure of seeing the final episode in this short season On Demand (and I can tell you Catherine Howard is young, saucy, and naked) - but I wanted to say a few words here about the impressive media savvy displayed by Thomas Cromwell in the next to last episode (3.7).

You may recall, last season, that I praised Cromwell's keen understanding of the relationship of the printer and the monarch, a theme which I explored in my nonfiction book, The Soft Edge.

Last week, Cromwell caught my attention again with a remark he makes to the painter Holbein, who wants to clarify that Cromwell wants Holbein to create a flattering portrait of Anne of Cleves, whatever she may really look like. "Surely all art is a lie," Cromwell sagely replies. And indeed, as I also explore in The Soft Edge, and teach my students in "Intro to Communication and Media Studies" regarding symbols and signals, a painted portrait is an entirely human concoction (or symbol), and thus in principle a subjective or inevitably deceptive depiction of reality, in contrast to a photograph, which although it can deceive, has an intrinsic connection to the real world (light bouncing off the world onto the photographic plate, etc), and thus has an irreducible element of truth (a signal).

Good for Cromwell and the writers and producers of The Tudors for saying that - and in fewer words than I just did.

As for Cromwell ... well, you surely know his history, and I'll miss him.

Meanwhile, whatever Anne of Cleves may have looked like, I certainly found Joss Stone, who portrayed her, attractive enough. But I guess acting, too, is an art...





See also The Tudors, Season 3: Hard History and Sweet Flesh


5-min podcast review of The Tudors








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The Plot to Save Socrates



"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Monday, May 18, 2009

24 Season 7 Hours 23-24 Finale! How 24 Reinvented Itself

A fabulous, altogether wrenching, satisfying, and brilliant finale of Season 7 of 24 tonight, with up-against-the-wall story lines and jarring resolutions for just about all of the major characters. There will be spoilers galore in this review, so if you haven't seen the finale yet, trust me, wait until you do to read this.

I'm going to present these resolutions in ascending importance, though every one of them is important to the continuing lore that is 24.

1. I take back what I said last week about Kim Bauer, being the eternal victim - tonight she was the best she's ever been, cool on the phone to the FBI when the terrorists are watching, courageously risking her life to get a briefcase to stave off another attack and locate her father, and not taking Jack's no for answer about using her stem cells in a dangerous medical procedure to save him. This was far and away Kim Bauer's finest hour - she's finally becoming her father's daughter (as my wife pointed out ) - and beautifully and movingly played by Elisha Cuthbert.

2. I knew that Jack couldn't die - and for all we know, he still may - but, yeah, they made it tough tonight. When the imam comes to talk to him, it sure looks like it's a final conversation before death. And the substance of the conversation was about the best we've ever seen from Jack about his life and work - he tells himself that he has to break the law and torture to save 15 people on a bus, but he's not so sure that he's right, and he realizes he may be taking the extreme action so he can live with himself. In an earlier conversation, he tells Renee - who is tempted to torture the head bad guy to extract information - that she has to follow her heart, whatever her head may tell her....

3. And looks as if Renee's heart may indeed be telling her to do what Jack Bauer, in less self-reflecting seasons, was quick enough to do (even though Jack has told her that he's been struggling with these demons of what to do all of his life). Renee handcuffs Janis, takes off her badge, and walks in to ... likely do whatever is necessary to get the information from Wilson (played by Will Patton). But the scene ends before we see what Renee actually will do ... leaving us hanging until next year. And I gotta say - great earlier scene with Renee riding on the side of the car, gun blazing!

4. Meanwhile, President Taylor has some spectacular scenes, in which she goes against her husband's advice, and turns her daughter over to legal authorities for her role in getting Hodges killed. She's been one helluva a President. And it makes me realize why I'm better suited to writing and teaching than public office: The President had no other real choice in tonight's situation. But I don't think I could have put what the law and public service may require above my children. (On the other hand, Olivia, objectively, did deserve whatever she got.)

5. And, then, there's Tony - I knew he wasn't bad! I said so in those blog posts, lots of times, but few of you believed me. Well, at least not all bad, not even mostly bad, just a little bad, on behalf of a greater good. In one of the best scenes ever on 24, Tony tells Jack that whereas Jack ran away, Tony went after the head guy who was most behind Palmer's assassination and Michelle's murder (and we find out Michelle was pregnant with Tony's baby boy). So Tony hunted Wilson, for years. And he did what we could to stop the worst of what Wilson was doing - the attack on numerous American cities, the germ-tipped warheads that Hodges was about to launch. But he did kill three FBI men in cold blood, and he was about to let some of the deadly prion-germs loose on the Metro. I would have felt better had Tony at least figured out a way to substitute a dummy for this weapon - but, I'm still satisfied that he is a good man, at heart, whose vision and purpose was blurred by the awful pain of losing loved ones, and who still did mostly the right and brave thing. And I hope we see him next season...

And, so, 24 has reinvented itself with a President of utmost morality and personal courage, Kim Bauer at the top of her game, Renee becoming more like Jack, Tony a far more complex and powerful character than ever he was, and Jack a little less like the classic Jack and far more human and contemplative....

I'm looking forward to Season 8.









10-min podcast review of 24 Season 7 Finale!


See also: Hours 1 and 2 ... Hours 3 and 4 ... Hour 5 ... Hour 6 ... Hour 7 ... Hour 8 ... Hour 9 ... Hour 10 ... Hours 11-12 ... Hour 13 ... Hour 14 ... Hour 15 ... Hour 16 ... Hour 17 ... Hour 18 ... Hour 19 ... Hour 20 ... Hour 21 ... Hour 22






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Bones: Science, Hilarity, and Crime

I thought I'd jump in here with a little review of Bones - my wife and I have been watching and enjoying this and prior seasons of show on DVD and DVR all year, but I wanted to wait until I was up to date with the show to review it (lest someone come in with a comment and give something away to me).

First, I thought this season - the 4th - was different from the previous seasons, in some ways better and some ways a little worse. I liked the rotating assistants - after Zack was revealed as the bad guy's disciple last year - but I missed the one central, zany assistant like Zack (and a dominating central story line, too). For that matter, I didn't find Zach as evil apprentice too believable in the first place. But what this year's season had going for it was its irrepressible humor even funnier than in the previous seasons, and bubbling closer to the surface. I laughed out loud, for example, when Booth and Bones were interviewing high school women in a pregnancy club this season, Booth asked who the father was, one of the women said "Clinton," and Bones asked, "President Bill Clinton"? (And I'm generally a fan of the Clintons, too.)

The season finale was Booth's dream in a four-day coma, in which he and Bones were not only sleeping together (unlike in the reality of the series) but married. They were night-club owners in the dream, not FBI guy and scientist, and the rest of the crew were well and hilariously dreamed, too. The dream ends when Booth wakes up, with Bones next to his bed in the hospital, and he can't remember who she is ...

Not a bad set-up for the next season. But, romantic that I am, I'd like to see Bones and Booth together - or least, sleeping together, already - in the reality of the television series, too. (Second time I've used that phrase - it says something interesting about television, doesn't it, when you need to distinguish between a dream and a reality in a series.... Hey, I like it.)

For that matter, I'd like to see Angela and Hodgins back together, too.

But I doubt if we'll see all that, and I'm looking forward to Season 5, and the great mix of science, hilarity, and crime, and that great little musical bit by The Crystal Method at the beginning of every show, which in its own way is as good as the musical beginnings of Alias, The Wire, and Damages....







5-min podcast review of Bones Season 4 Finale!






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Levinson News Clips podcast reviews of Lost, 24, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, Big Love, Weeds, more

I thought you might enjoy this Levinson News Clips podcast player, where you can hear my 5-10 minute reviews and analyses of Lost, 24, Fringe, Battlestar Galactica, Big Love, Weeds, Californication, The Closer, and more ... including, starting next month, True Blood...

You can put this player right on your own site, by clicking the embed button on the right side, and copying the code. (You first click to start the podcast. Look for the < > icon on the right - it's the third one down - and it contains the embed code.)

Many of these podcasts also have ads for Levinson News Clips sponsors - Angie's List, Avis Car Rental, Budget Rent-A-Car, eHarmony, eMusic, NurtriSystem - which offer special discounts (for example, 25% off on Angie's List). You'll find links to the coupons and coupon codes below the podcast player.





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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Lost Season Five Finale: Jacob and Locke

Let's begin at the beginning of the Lost Season 5 finale ... Two men are talking on the shore of our island - Jacob and a man played by Titus Welliver. The man says he wants to kill Jacob, and says he'll one day find a "loophole" to allow him to do this ... This happened a long time ago...

Back in our time - that is, the past few decades - Jacob visits most of our original, now still surviving, Flight 815 passengers. Some, like Saywer and Kate, are visited when they are children. Others, like Jack and Locke, when they at low or desperate points in their adult lives. Jacob visits Sayid, distracts him, so he can't stop Nadia from being hit and killed by a car. Hurley's visit is the most recent - its purpose to convince Hurley to get back the island.

Tonight's episode, then, among the many intriguing, fabulous things it is, is the story of Jacob. It provides at least part of an answer to something I've been saying since the beginning of the second season - that the key to understanding Lost resides, somehow, in the inexplicable coincidences in the flashbacks, in people who presumably first met on Flight 815, or on the island, crossing paths in the past - such as Desmond and Jack running into each other on the steps of the stadium, Kate's mother serving Sawyer in a diner, etc. We didn't see Jacob in those intersections tonight, but we saw him in enough places and times to make it plausible that he could have manipulated those coincidences to happen, too...

But Jacob's story is also as short as it is long. And it ends with one of the best surprises in the series: Locke did not come back to life when Flight 316 crashed on the island this season. No, not at all. The Locke who has been walking around on the island is the man who was talking to Jacob on the shore all those centuries or whenever ago. He has somehow taken Locke's form - as well as, inexplicably, at least some of Locke's memories - and in that form goads Ben into killing Jacob. That, apparently was the loophole - the man could not kill Jacob himself, but he could drive someone else to do that...

Which may explain a lot of things. Let's say no ever came back to life on the island? Coming back to life certainly seems like news to Richard - his people can cure the critically wounded, not the dead. That's why young Ben but not Faraday was saved. Did this shape-shifter look like Christian, to manipulate Jack; look like Alex to manipulate Ben; and who knows who else?

Dead is dead, that seems clear now. And it brings us to the other great part of tonight's story.

Jack brings the core of the hydrogen bomb to the Swan site. There are some wonderful scenes with Jack and Sawyer - who, as he's been throughout much of this season, is a more admirable character than Jack. The plan is that the bomb will wipe out the island, 815 won't crash, and nothing we've been seeing for the past five seasons will happen. Sayid is badly wounded, so this might be good for him (though Richard could well cure him) ... but for everyone else?

As I wrote last week, and in previous weeks, the plan can't succeed. Faraday was right when he said the past can't be changed (and he was too torn by grief to be thinking clearly when he said it might be changed, after all). Miles seems to best get this now - he says maybe the bomb going off will cause the "incident" to happen - will cause the reality we have seen to occur.

Jack drops the bomb into the shaft, as the digging already going on unleashes a magnetic force that starts pulling the equipment apart. Phil from Dharma gets killed - good riddance (but good acting by Patrick Fischler). Juliet gets pulled into the shaft. She's hanging on. Sawyer and Kate try to save her (great line from Sawyer - "where you going, Blondie?") But the force is too strong. Juliet leaves go because doesn't want to pull Sawyer in and she falls down the shaft.

But she's not killed. And at the bottom of shaft, she finds the core of the h-bomb, still intact. She pounds on it. And - it goes off.

Have the past five years been destroyed? Will they never happen?

Of course not. Of course they will. I'm sure Miles was right. And we'll see how this all plays out - with the new "Locke" next year... The fact is that we can't be sure what the blast will do, other than that it won't change the past and wipe out five years. Conceivably, it could throw our people from 1977 back into the present ... it could even, perhaps, save Juliet in this way.

Minor quibbles ... I found Jacob coming in and out so fast a little unsatisfying,* and we could have used a little more precedent in the story for the shape shifting. But, all in all, a splendid resolution to this season and a powerful set-up for the next, and final, season.

And, oh yeah, Rose and Bernard! Someone asked me, in a comment somewhere about one of my Lost reviews this season, if I thought we'd ever see those two again. I said I was sure they'd turn up in the final episode of the season, as they usually do. And, sure, enough, they did (taking care of Vincent!) - both looking better and happier than ever!

See also: Thoughts about Lost Season 5 Finale, One Month Out: Richard and Jacob




10-min podcast review of Lost Season 5 Finale!

More Lost - see : The Richard-Locke Compass Time Travel Loop ...

and Lost Returns in 5 Dimensions and 5.3: The Loops, The Bomb ... 5.4: A Saving Skip Back in Time ... 5.5 Two Time Loops and Mind Benders ... 5.6 A Lot of Questions ... 5.7 Bentham and Ben ... 5.8 True Love Ways ... 5.9 Two Times and a Baby ... 5.10 The Impossible Cannot Happen ... 5.11 Clockwork Perfect Time Travel ... 5.12: Ben v. Charles, and Locke' Slave ... 5.13: Lost Meets Star Wars and the Sixth Sense ... The Problem with Baby Aaron and the Return of the Oceanic Six ... 5.14: Eloise, Daniel, and Obsession Trumping Paradox ... 5.15: Moral Compasses in Motion







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The Plot to Save Socrates



"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Fringe Alternate Reality Finale: Science Fiction at its Best

A superb, jolting alternate reality finale to the first season of Fringe tonight, which kicked us into all sorts of incredible things, including that we'll be seeing a second incredible season of Fringe starting this Fall.

Here's what we saw and learned -

[[HUGE SPOILERS FOLLOW]]




1. Jones, the teleporting cruel scientist who dominated a lot of the action in the first part of the season, is trying to go into an alternate dimension, where he can presumably cure himself and/or confront Bell. Olivia and Walter stop that - with a device Walter has, which he had years ago, which plugs up the portal. Jones is stopped halfway into the portal. He dies, as his body is literally sawed in half between two realities...

And that's the least incredible thing we learn tonight...

2. The two realities are more or less the same, with some "minor" differences. We learn, in a powerful scene with Walter at a grave site, that his son Peter died in 1985, as a little boy. Ergo, the Peter Bishop we have come to know this season must be Peter from the alternate reality, whom Walter presumably kidnapped years ago.... leaving the other Walter bereft of a son? ... We'll no doubt learn more about this next season...

3. And the most incredible, daring part of this alternate reality of all: Olivia goes into this alternate reality to meet William Bell - played by Leonard Nimoy. That's not the incredible part - we already knew that....

But Olivia sees a newspaper - its headline says "Obamas set to move into new White House..."*

And when she looks out of the window of the skyscraper ... and the camera moves out the window and shows us where she is ... We see she is one of the World Trade Center Towers, apparently not destroyed in this reality ... (perhaps the White House was, and that's why it's being rebuilt?)

And so we're left with a brilliantly provocative ending ... Applause to Fringe for daring to do this. Science fiction at its very best. (I said in my review of Fringe's episode last week that I expected to see some glimmering connection between the finale of Fringe and the new Star Trek movie ... it's the mixing of alternate realities....)

*And here's a screen shot of that New York Post front page ... looks in the upper left corner as if JFK might not have been assassinated in this reality!







See also Fringe Begins ... Fringe 2 and 3: The Anthology Tightrope ... 4: The Eternal Bald Observer ... 7: A Bullet Can Scramble a Dead Brain's Transmission ... 8. Heroic Walter and Apple Through Steel ... 9. Razor-Tipped Butterflies of the Mind ... 10. Shattered Pieces Come Together Through Space and Times ... 11. A Traitor, a Crimimal, and a Lunatic ... 12, 13, 14: Fringe and Teleportation ... 15: Fringe is Back with Feral Child, Pheromones, and Bald Men ... 17. Fringe in New York, with Oliva as Her Suspect ... 18. Heroes and Villains across Fringe ... Stephen King, Arthur C. Clarke, and Star Trek in Penultimate Fringe


10-min podcast review of Fringe 1 Finale









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The Plot to Save Socrates



"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Monday, May 11, 2009

24 Season 7 Hour 22: The Personal Dimension

The next to last episode of 24, Season 7 tonight - Hour 22, with a two-hour season finale on tap for next week - continued the unusual, change-of-pace, more humane rendition of 24 we have seen this season.

The presumably last-gasp of the germ terrorism has been averted. Tony is in custody. Jack has helped Gibran get reunited with his brother. (Gibran made a brave attempt, a few beats earlier, to stop the attack - but was foiled in a nice twist for television, a bad guy playing cop.) All's far from over - the ultra head of the bad guys, played by Will Patton, is still at large - but can it be that the worst is over for Jack and the country on this awful day?

Of course not - this is 24. And Jack is supposed to die of his exposure to the prionic germ, anyway. But, more than that-

Kim Bauer's in danger! Yes, Kim's back in her perennial role, wrongly suspicious of her protectors, blind to the real dangers right next to her, ever the target of people bent on getting to or manipulating Jack in 24.

And this time, what's at stake is a trade of Kim for Tony.

So, what will mostly be at stake in the two-hour finale next week will not be the country, but Jack - about as personal as it's ever been - because Jack has strong emotions about both sides of the equation, for Kim, of course, and who knows what, exactly, for Tony, his friend who saved his life so many times, but in this Season betrayed him. (Another prediction: I predict neither Kim nor Tony will die this season. Hey, that's obvious about Kim, but somewhat risky about Tony.)

Meanwhile, Olivia is also heading for a critical showdown, as Aaron is digging into what exactly she has been doing in the Chief of Staff's office ... I have a feeling we're seeing the development of story there that we'll see more of next year.

But next week - it's 24, the Season finale, the personal dimension.


See also: Hours 1 and 2 ... Hours 3 and 4 ... Hour 5 ... Hour 6 ... Hour 7 ... Hour 8 ... Hour 9 ... Hour 10 ... Hours 11-12 ... Hour 13 ... Hour 14 ... Hour 15 ... Hour 16 ... Hour 17 ... Hour 18 ... Hour 19 ... Hour 20 ... Hour 21






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Star Trek: Reborn, Reset, Resplendent

Star Trek, since its birth in our popular culture in 1966 on NBC television, has led a remarkable life. Canceled after three seasons due to an insufficiently large audience - of which my wife (then my girlfriend) and I were devotedly among - Star Trek went on to break the hold of network television, with a series of series beginning with Star Trek: The Next Generation that went directly into successful syndication. As I pointed out in How Star Trek Liberated Television, this in retrospect was the beginning of television entertainment on cable and the Internet which is still burgeoning today. Along the way, Star Trek had some of best time travel stories (City on the Edge of Forever in the original series, Yesterday's Enterprise in The Next Generation) - keep that in mind - as well as some of the best humans meet alien stories ever told. I truly believe that when we eventually get beyond our solar system with faster-than-light travel in centuries to come - who knows, maybe decades - we will still be inspired by Star Trek as we navigate our way through the cosmos.

Star Trek also inspired other works in popular culture, including a whole bunch of movies, most of which were not as good, not even close, to best of Star Trek television. This is the challenge that J. J. Abrams and his colleagues took up when they set out to make a new Star Trek movie.

They decided to make a movie about the original crew and characters - Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov - before and during their first meeting up on the Enterprise. A movie about Star Trek Academy, detailing some of these budding relationships, had been talked about for decades. Abrams could have made such a movie, and it would no doubt have been excellent, a real delight for the fans, and everyone.

Instead, J. J. Abrams decided to something better. The reason, I'm sure, is that he didn't want to be locked into telling the same stories we already saw on television all those years ago, once again, now, on the big screen, if this movie succeeded. Nor did he want to be confined to filling in the gaps of what we already know about Kirk, Spock, et al....

So .... Abrams did something very different indeed. And here the story of the new Star Trek begins....

[[[SPOILERS BELOW HERE]]]




Kirk's father dies at the hands of Romulans, as Kirk's mother, pregnant with James T., escapes in a shuttle. The father has been Captain for all of 12 minutes. Some 25 years later, James Tiberius Kirk and Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy do meet up at Starfleet Academy. Uhura, whom Kirk has unsuccessfully flirted with, is there, too. And, of course, so is Spock, who is ahead of Kirk, and puts him to a famous test-

But the Romulans attack again - this time, Planet Vulcan. Star Fleet sends out a whole bunch of ships - including the Enterprise with Captain Pike in command, and Spock the science officer. By the time they get to Vulcan, Pike is in Romulan hands, and despite the best heroic efforts of Kirk and Sulu, and Spock, now in command, Planet Vulcan is destroyed, and along with it, Spock's mother-

Wait a minute! Vulcan destroyed? But didn't we see the planet, numerous times, in various episodes of various series of Star Trek? And Spock's mother, too?

Yes, of course we did! So, what's going on?

J. J. Abrams, in the sharp script written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (all three of current Fringe fame), are giving us a splendid time travel story (shades of Lost). We get this spelled out to us in detail when young Kirk meets old Spock - played by Leonard Nimoy - who explains that Romulans killed Kirk's father after being whipped back in time from a future in which old Spock failed to save the Romulan home world.... And old Spock has been pulled back through time, too.

Now, if I were a sufficiently versed fan, I would have noticed at the beginning that this was another Star Trek universe - not quite the one we have seen on television and in theaters all of these years. Because no one ever said in a word in those about Kirk's father dying a few seconds after he was born. But Vulcan destroyed was more than enough to wake even me up that we were seeing something very different and daring here in which ...

Everything is new, to some lesser or greater extent, except old Spock, who has seen everything that we have on the screens over the years. Young Spock, smartly played by Heroes' Zachary Quinto, is also a new Spock - who has lost his mother and his planet, just as the new Kirk, perfectly played by Chris Pine, has lost his father. And young Spock (call him Spock 2) now lives in the same version of reality (call it Universe 2) as does old Spock (call him Spock 1). Old Spock's story along side of young Spock's story makes this Star Trek a sequel as well as a prequel.

There are other nice differences in this new reality. Spock 2 has a romantic relation with - Uhura, who's given a winning, sassy, refreshing performance by Zoe Saldana. But McCoy, wonderfully played by Karl Urban, is just and sarcastically funny as he should. And Simon Pegg's Scotty, John Cho's Sulu, and Anton Yelchin's Chekov are also fine and satisfyingly in character and ambiance - though poor Chekov, only 17 in the movie, and on the Enterprise earlier than he was in the original television series, is still stuck with that laughable Russian accent.

But Abrams has done the seemingly impossible, and done it with style and savvy - he has given us a genuinely new Star Trek, from the very beginning, with a genuinely new story - and even given us a witness to the original that we all grew up with, in the person of the original, older Spock. The story will live long and prosper indeed.

See also How Star Trek Liberated Television





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SPECIAL TREAT:
Photos: Front row at the Star Trek Premiere…see the photos on TV.com


15-min podcast review of the new Star Trek

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lost 5.15: Moral Compasses in Motion

One of the most satisfying, intellectually and emotional daring, and thoroughly brilliant episodes of Lost tonight - 5.15 - which is making me think it is well on the way to being the best series ever on television.

Among the many themes, spun and some resolved, most unresolved, that especially grabbed me -

1. Kate is the moral compass of the show now (with Sawyer a close second, for different reasons, see #7 below). She tells Sayid and Jack, in one incandescent moment: you can't right history by killing a little boy (to Sayid, about his shooting young Ben), and you can't right history by detonating a hydrogen bomb on an island inhabited by lots of people (to Jack). This, in addition to Kate realizing what was clear to her and us already, last week, that changing the history they know will mean they won't be together. So Kate speaks for ethics as well as true love. Jack, for his part, and in my opinion, has never really recovered from the Jack who was about to jump off the bridge in the Season 3 finale. He's lost his way, and he still has not found it.

2. Sayid, whom we haven't seen since he ran off into the woods a few episodes back after shooting Ben, comes out of the woods to kill the Hostile guy who was about to shoot Kate. I had been wondering when we'd see Sayid again - but that was a fine, kick-in-the-stomach surprise.

3. Resolved: Miles comes to see and understand why his father, Marvin Candle, wanted him (as a baby) and his mother off the island. Very satisfying. And it was fun seeing Candle trip up Hurley when Hurley tried to deny he was from the future. You gotta be lightning quick indeed and very well versed in all relevant history, if you're a time traveler who doesn't want to be outed.

4. Resolved: How Richard knew that Locke needed to get a bullet taken out of his leg - a very nice piece of time-loop resolved (and we get to hear about the time-traveling compass again).

5. But, unresolved: who has the real power now - in 2007 -- Locke or Richard or Jacob (whom we learn Locke wants to kill). And who is Jacob? Christian, Jack's father?

6. And ... Eloise recognizes her own handwriting when she reads the note she wrote in the future in Daniel's notebook - another nice bit of time travel writing. But ... I'd still like to know why Richard's people were able to save young Ben and not Daniel (because Ben was seriously wounded in contrast to Daniel who was dead? ok, but that should be made a little more clear).

7. Back to Sawyer: he's trying to get Juliet off the island, on a sub that will take both of them back to the U.S.A., in 1977. That's not going to happen, of course - but it was great to see Sawyer do that anyway. But, happy endings are hard to come by in Lost, and the scene of Sawyer and Juliet, now joined by Kate, shows that the Kate and Sawyer story isn't over yet, either - especially given Jack's willingness to let his story with Kate go into an alternate time line.

Two-hour season finale next week!







8-min podcast review of Lost 5.15


More Lost - see : The Richard-Locke Compass Time Travel Loop ...

and Lost Returns in 5 Dimensions and 5.3: The Loops, The Bomb ... 5.4: A Saving Skip Back in Time ... 5.5 Two Time Loops and Mind Benders ... 5.6 A Lot of Questions ... 5.7 Bentham and Ben ... 5.8 True Love Ways ... 5.9 Two Times and a Baby ... 5.10 The Impossible Cannot Happen ... 5.11 Clockwork Perfect Time Travel ... 5.12: Ben v. Charles, and Locke' Slave ... 5.13: Lost Meets Star Wars and the Sixth Sense ... The Problem with Baby Aaron and the Return of the Oceanic Six ... 5.14: Eloise, Daniel, and Obsession Trumping Paradox






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stephen King, Arthur C. Clarke & Star Trek on Penultimate Fringe

Well, they threw in the science fictional kitchen sink on the penultimate first season episode of Fringe tonight - a fine and fanciful thing, if, like me, you love science fiction - as well some media-history science fiction concerning the phonograph, which also appeals to the media historian part of me.

King's pyrokinesis - the capacity to create fires through sheer mental focus - was mentioned by name, Clarke's Childhood's End (one of my childhood and still favorites) is on the bookshelf of a victim who can't control her pyrokinetic powers, and there's a guy who thinks he's Spock. (I predict some sort of recondite, glimmering connection to Fringe in the new Star Trek movie, which I'll be seeing this Friday. J. J. Abrams across space and time.)

And the story was crackerjack sharp on Fringe tonight, too. Peter builds a device to help Walter make digital copies of his old vinyl records, and this device is able to recover sound - speech and a cellphone number - from a molten window. As I pointed out in in my media history and future The Soft Edge, and worked into the story in my science fiction The Silk Code, the phonograph is at basis a very old technological process, in no need of electricity. Conceivably, ancient potters could have captured ambient sound in the clay they were molding....

Olivia also finally gets rid of the irritating FBI official who is trying to drum her out of business. Well, actually, he's working for bad guys, and Olivia doesn't plan to kill him, it just happens when she gets one of his intended victims to focus her fire-starting power away from Olivia and her, and it ends up burning up the FBI guy.
Good riddance to bad luggage.

But who, really, are the bad guys. Lots of things are pointing to William Bell, whom we'll meet next week, but it's pretty clear, I think, that Bell is just trying to prepare to fend off the real baddies ....

Klingons?

Nah, I don't think J. J. Abrams would go that far. But the eternal bald observer has collected Walter, and we should find out something about where they're going next week, in the Season 1 finale...











8-min podcast review of Fringe penultimate

See also Fringe Begins ... Fringe 2 and 3: The Anthology Tightrope ... 4: The Eternal Bald Observer ... 7: A Bullet Can Scramble a Dead Brain's Transmission ... 8. Heroic Walter and Apple Through Steel ... 9. Razor-Tipped Butterflies of the Mind ... 10. Shattered Pieces Come Together Through Space and Times ... 11. A Traitor, a Crimimal, and a Lunatic ... 12, 13, 14: Fringe and Teleportation ... 15: Fringe is Back with Feral Child, Pheromones, and Bald Men ... 17. Fringe in New York, with Oliva as Her Suspect ... 18. Heroes and Villains across Fringe






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Monday, May 4, 2009

24 Season 7 Hour 21: Execute and Forgive

Let's start with my favorite scene in tonight's Episode 21 of Season 7 of 24: Olivia - the President's daughter - has arranged for a hit-man to kill Hodges. She has to pay him. She's poised at her computer, the funds all set to be transferred. All she has to do is ... click on the "Execute" icon. I like that ... execute the fund transfer, execute Hodges. A nice little piece of television that Hitchcock would have liked.

But Olivia can't go through with it, and hits "Cancel," instead. And Hodges is blown up in a car, anyway.

So we have another mystery on our hands. Certainly the villains that Tony is working for have a motive. But I'm thinking ... I don't know, maybe Aaron. I know, he's a straight arrow. But Olivia did blurt out to Aaron last week that she wanted Hodges dead. And we did see more than usual of Aaron tonight. We'll see....

Bear in mind, though, that my powers of prediction have not been that good about 24 this season. I've been holding out for Tony being good, but I can't see much hope of that now.

Jack, though, is getting more humane than ever. In another fine scene, Jack has a conversation with an Imam whom Jack had come close to roughing up. He learns the Imam is innocent. Jack apologizes. The Imam forgives him. Jack says he "gave up on that a long time ago" ... Shades of Clint Eastwood and The Unforgiven.

A compelling scene in a powerful, strange, transformative season of 24, with only 3 hours left...



See also: Hours 1 and 2 ... Hours 3 and 4 ... Hour 5 ... Hour 6 ... Hour 7 ... Hour 8 ... Hour 9 ... Hour 10 ... Hours 11-12 ... Hour 13 ... Hour 14 ... Hour 15 ... Hour 16 ... Hour 17 ... Hour 18 ... Hour 19 ... Hour 20






The Plot to Save Socrates


"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Jeff Goldblum on Law and Order Criminal Intent

Just caught last week's debut of Jeff Goldblum on Law and Order: Criminal Intent on the USA Network. I thought Goldblum's Det. Zach Nichols was outstanding, and could be one of the best characters ever, in all the Law and Orders across history.

Nichols is a high-energy, happy version of Goren. Both are clearly geniuses - in contrast to Chris Noth's Mike Logan, just a very smart detective, whom Nichols replaced. But whereas Bobby Goren - brilliantly played by Vincent D'Onofrio - is morose, wounded, almost sadly pathological in his quirky, brilliant insights, Nichols brings a winning smirk and a joie-de-vivre to his work.

Genius, whether dark or light, works best in the Criminal Intent format. Much as I liked Chris Noth's Mike Logan, and enjoyed following him from Lennie Briscoe (also one in a million, Jerry Orbach is irreplaceable) in the original Law and Order old days to Criminal Intent, the shows with Goren were usually more memorable. It takes a slightly cracked out of the stratosphere mind to best catch the criminals on this show.

Nichols' partner Det. Megan Wheeler is not on this level at all. She wasn't with Logan, either, but since he was no genius, and wasn't supposed to be, they worked pretty well together. Whether Wheeler's sidekick character will work with Nichols remains to be seen - but, to make matters even more interesting, actress Julianne Nicholson will be off the show for an episode or two (the character and the actress are pregnant), so Goren's partner Alexandra Eames (played by Kathryn Erbe) will step in as Nichols' partner.

Eames has been a more powerful character than Wheeler - Eames had to be, given that she's partners with Goren - and it will be fun to see how she works with Nichols.

I liked Goldblum best in The Fly, and of course the Jurassic Parks, and I'm thinking Criminal Intent has the potential to make him even better known, in the long run, as Zach Nichols.







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The Plot to Save Socrates



"challenging fun" - Entertainment Weekly

"a Da Vinci-esque thriller" - New York Daily News

"Sierra Waters is sexy as hell" - curled up with a good book


more about The Plot to Save Socrates...

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Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sotomayor's Anti-First Amendment Decision Should Disqualify Her for Supreme Court

According to Sam Stein in the Huffington Post, Sonia Sotomayor is "the odds-on favorite" to be chosen by Barack Obama to fill retiring Justice David Souter's seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. She now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals of the Second Circuit in New York City. She is regularly described as liberal and a judicial activist - fine in my book - and it would good to have a first Hispanic and another woman on the Supreme Court.

But she has one major, very bad decision on free speech and press to her discredit, which should give everyone who values these freedoms in our society serious cause for concern about Sotomayor's possible nomination to the High Court.

The decision came from Sotomayor's Second Circuit Court last May, regarding Lewis Mills High School student Avery Doninger. While running for Senior Class Secretary, Ms. Doninger found reason to object to the school's cancellation of a "jamfest" event, and characterized those who scotched the event as "douchebags" on her off-campus LiveJournal blog (she also characterized a school official in that same blog posting as getting "pissed off"). The school officials, in turn, took umbrage, prohibited Avery from running for Class Secretary, and disregarded the plurality of votes she received, anyway, as a write-in candidate. Avery sued the school officials, and the Federal District Court supported the school. Avery appealed to Sotomayor's Second Circuit Court.

After acknowledging the Supreme Court's 1969 Tinker decision, which held that students do not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate," Sotomayor's Court proceeded to affirm the District Court's ruling - that is, Sonia Sotomayor and her colleague justices upheld the high school's right to punish Doninger for her off-campus speech. Their reasoning was that schools have an obligation to impart to their students "shared values," which include not only the importance of free expression but a "proper respect for authority".

"Proper respect for authority" ... is this what our democratic society and freedom is based upon? Last time I checked, I thought our democracy and freedom were predicated on the principle that all people have a right to express their opinions, which must certainly include disrespect for authority, if actions by the authority - such as canceling a school event such as "jamfest" - are at issue.

Or as Constitutional scholar and law-professor Jonathan Turley put it about this decision last year, "The continual expansion of the authority of school officials over student speech teaches a foul lesson to these future citizens. I would prefer some obnoxious speech than teaching students that they must please government officials if they want special benefits or opportunities."

It is not exaggerating events to say that our society hangs in the balance with the appointment of Souter's replacement to the Supreme Court. A powerful, corrective revolution is underway, with Obama's election as President, and the Democrats about to obtain a 60-seat majority in the U.S. Senate. But an adverse Supreme Court can stop and undo a lot of that.

David Souter was a surprise to the Republicans who appointed him and worked for his confirmation. His vote made a difference on the side of progressive and humane issues in many a Supreme Court decision.

We cannot afford or risk a Souter in reverse with this new appointment - a Justice who seems to have a progressive record, but who turns out to have an insufficient passion for protecting and strengthening the freedoms that make our country great.

I hope Sonia Sotomayor's name is taken off the list.

See also full text of Sotomayor's decision ... further discussion on Andy Thibault's Cool Justice Report ... and my 2005 Flouting of the First Amendment

Added after Obama's Nomination of Sotomayor: Why One Strike Against the First Amendment Should Rule Sotomayor Out of the Supreme Court
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