Monday, June 29, 2009

Love and True Blood in the Air

Best True Blood - 2.3 - of the new season last night. Sookie is attacked by some human/bull creature who claws her back, and leaves some deadly poison that even Bill's blood can't cure. Fortunately, Bill brings her to Eric, who knows whom to fetch - a healer with the proper savvy. But this gets Sookie further into Eric's thinking and desires, and ...

Who was the creature that attacked her? Surely not some monster she accidentally ran into on the road.

Sam's a shape changer, and he was leaving Merlotte's before the attack, but Sam could never in any form attack Sookie. Who, then? Well, Maryann has a reason - she wants Tara to stay with her rather than with Sookie - and did she kill the woman who scammed Tara about removing her demons?

Meanwhile, Eric is emerging as a more interesting character than he was on last year's True Blood. He's willing to negotiate with Sookie to get what he wants, he's taken by her strength, and he's clearly attracted to her more deeply than a vampire sheriff would otherwise be to a human woman.

Love and blood are also in the air with newly minted Jessica and shy Hoyt, and that was oddly nice to see. But someone's jumping into the water with Sam, and she has scars on her back, that look a lot that the ones Sookie received from that monster...

See also True Blood Pours Back In









5-min podcast review of True Blood







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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Michael Jackson, Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, and David Gregory

David Gregory asked Senior White House Advisor David Axelrod a question near the end of their interview on Meet the Press yesterday that bothered me for two reasons. Why, Gregory asked Axelrod, did President Obama not say anything publicly about the death of Michael Jackson, given that "some African-American leaders say the significance of this popular cultural icon was significant. I mean, before there was Barack Obama, before Tiger Woods and Oprah Winfrey there was Michael Jackson crossing over, breaking barriers."

First, I'm wondering why Gregory chose to attribute this astute obervation to "some African-American leaders," when it was first said by the Rev. Al Sharpton, in a powerful, impromptu statement in front of the Apollo Theater on Thursday, shortly after Jackson's death had been announced. "Way before Tiger Woods, way before Oprah Winfrey, way before Barack Obama, Michael did with music what they later did in sports and in politics and in television," Sharpton said to the crowd in front of him and watching on television.

At best, Gregory's attribution of the statement was needlessly vague. At worst, it verges on plagiarism, implying, with the "I mean," that Gregory came up with the specific names in the analysis. I don't like this kind of fuzzy attribution in student papers or on national news shows. Gregory should have clearly identified the statement as by its author, Al Sharpton.

But, more important, why indeed did Barack Obama not publicly and directly say something to the nation and the world about the impact of Michael Jackson? Axelrod's answer - that Obama had "written the family and has shared his feelings with the family" privately - did not really address Gregory's question. There is a world of difference between condolences privately given and a statement to the world about one of the people primarily responsible for "We Are the World," and so many other towering things in our popular culture.

Few things happen by accident in any White House, least of all this one. Obama and his advisors clearly thought it not appropriate for the President to comment publicly about Michael Jackson.

Why not?

I suspect this is another expression of the odd Puritanical streak we sometimes glimpse in Obama, related to his attack on television in favor of books for children, and perhaps his refusal to support gay marriage. Michael Jackson was no doubt a complex and controversial figure, accused of a serious crime. But he was acquitted, no further civil actions were brought against him, and this was not a time to cold shoulder his extraordinary accomplishments.

A President of the United States is a Chief Executive of many things. One of them is talking to the world about events in America of such significant cultural importance that they dominate world news for days. Obama loses points for not stepping up to this job and saying the right thing about Michael Jackson.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Michael Jackson and the Ever Lasting Record

Michael Jackson died today. He was 50 years old. In his own way, he was the successor of Frank Sinatra in the 1940s, Elvis in the 1950s, the Beatles in 1960s, and no one recording artist or group in the 1970s. He was probably the most like Elvis, in that both died, way too young, of natural causes. Jackson was a voice, an image, and an icon that helped define the decade of the 1980s.

He also help ignite a revolution in video that we are still enjoying. Not only was his "Thriller" album in the 1980s the best selling album in history, his "Thriller" video helped propel MTV to international attention in its early days in the 1980s. This along with HBO and CNN in turn helped launch cable television, which spelled the dethroning of network television as the only game in town. YouTube today can be seen as a beneficiary of the music video revolution that Michael Jackson helped start.

Whenever someone famous and great dies way before his or her time, I always think of A. E. Housman's poem, "To An Athlete Dying Young." Housman's pervesely rational take was that it's not so bad - because, when you die young, you don't live to see someone else exceed your record, and leave your accomplishments in the dust. "Eyes the shady night has shut, cannot see the record cut."

Michael Jackson did see some very rough times after his glory years. But his record and place in history will never be diminished.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

President Laura Roslin vs. Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer

Fine, taut episode of The Closer last night, with Mary McDonnell, fresh from her role as the late President Laura Roslin on Battlestar Galactica, right in the face of Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick), and the Deputy Chief of course giving it back as good or better than she gets.

The confrontation is about Capt. Sharon Raydor's (Mary McDonnell) investigation of Sgt. David Gabriel's shooting of an unarmed man. We the viewers saw the flash of fire that Gabriel was responding to, so we know he's telling the truth, but Raydor did not and does not. Brenda Leigh knows Gabriel is telling the truth, not because she saw anything, but because she believes in the Sgt., and her job is to get the proof.

But the best action was between Raydor and Johnson. Brenda already acquired a brilliantly evil nemesis last season in the character of the lawyer Stroh, and now she's acquired a tough, volatile opponent in Captain Raydor, who is unimpressed with Brenda Leigh's rank and drawl. But Raydor clearly does appreciate the Deputy Chief's intelligence and power, which should make for a good continuing story this season. It could be The Closer's equivalent of Kavanaugh vs. Mackey on The Shield, though so far Raydor doesn't seem quite as pathological as Kavanaugh, and Johnson is clearly a different kind of cop than Mackey, though both like to take authority into their own hands, to say the least.

Hey, it would be really wild now if Michelle Forbes walked into some role on The Closer...

See also The Closer Re-Opens Tonight ... Det. Dick Tracy on The Closer







5-min podcast review of The Closer






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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Read the first chapter of The Plot to Save Socrates
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Saturday, June 20, 2009

A Brief History of New Media and Their Success in Opposing Repressive Governments

1942-1943: The White Rose uses photocopying to tell the truth to Germans about the Nazi government. Fails to dislodge Nazis.

1979: Audio cassettes of Ayatollah Khomeini distributed in Iran. Succeeds in fomenting successful revolution against Shah.

1980s: Samizdat video in the Soviet Union criticizes Soviet government. May have helped pave the way for Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost, and end of Soviet rule.

1989: Email gets word out to the world about Tiananmen Square protests. Fails to dislodge Chinese government.

2001
: Cellphones help mobilize peaceful opposition to President Estrada in Philippines. The Second People Power Revolution succeeds.

2009
: Twitter and YouTube get word out to the world about Iranian opposition to reported election outcome. Result: not yet clear as of this writing.


For more details on the impact new media on the democratic process, see New New Media.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Joan Walsh, Bill O'Reilly, and Keith Olbermann about The Media and The Assassination of George Tiller

I wanted to say a few words about the media and the murder of Dr. George Tiller - in particular, Salon editor Joan Walsh's heated discussion with Bill O'Reilly on his show last week, and Keith Olbermann's denunciation of O'Reilly as being complicit in Tiller's murder because O'Reilly repeatedly attacked Tiller as a "baby killer" for his performance of late-term abortions.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, let me mention that I consider Joan Walsh a friend, and one of the heroes of the new media age (my forthcoming New New Media book has a blurb on the back from Joan). At the same time, I have been on O'Reilly's television and radio shows a bunch of times - and the last time, on his radio show, was even told to "shut up" - but I enjoy the rough and tumble discussions I have had with him, and like to think they make a contribution to the public discourse. I have never been on Keith Olbermann's show, though he did quote me several years ago about who might best succeed Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News (I mentioned Chris Matthews, Paula Zahn, and Shepard Smith - Olbermann left out Smith when he quoted me).

So bearing all of that in mind, here is how I see what happened with Joan Walsh, Bill O'Reilly, and Keith Olbermann regarding the murder of Dr. George Tiller:

1. Joan was right to want to go on O'Reilly's show with the goal of cooling down some of the heated rhetoric. Calling people "killers" in an already volatile situation - as O'Reilly had been doing for years about George Tiller - does little to help reach a rational conclusion or course of action.

2. But, just to be clear, Olbermann's view that O'Reilly was an accomplice to Tiller's murder, and bears some direct responsibility for it, is not supported by what we know about how media influence our actions. Olbermann repeatedly cited advertising, and the big dollars that are spent on it, as proof that what we see on TV can guide our behavior. But advertising works because it appeals to already existing human needs. An ad for McDonalds can get us to buy a hamburger because we already are hungry. And if McDonald's wasn't around, we'd sooner or later get something else to eat. These needs are profound and deep-seated, as psychologist Abraham Maslow realized more than 50 years ago. Tiller's assassin, who had a record of violence and mental instability, clearly had a need to act violently which predated O'Reilly's condemnations of Tiller. O'Reilly's words may or may not have been a trigger - but, sooner or later, someone else's words would have had the same consequence. But what then can we do to prevent madmen from acting on their needs?

3. Joan Walsh was also right to bring up the question of gun control, and O'Reilly missed a valuable opportunity to bring this into central focus. Because, a gun in the hand of a madman is what killed George Tiller. The question that everyone who was horrified by Tiller's murder (O'Reilly has condemned Tiller's assassination) should be asking is: how does someone with a record of violence and mental illness get in possession of a gun? At very least, our laws on gun control don't seem to be working. At worst, what if there was an organized group that put the gun in the assassin's hand?

4. Seeking to use concern about violence committed by guns as analogy, Joan asked O'Reilly if it would be right to denounce stores that sell guns as having blood on their hands. O'Reilly found the analogy not relevant, but seized the language and threw it back at Joan, saying she had blood on her hands. And this is precisely why such rhetoric, coming from O'Reilly or anyone else, does no good. O'Reilly started by using it about Tiller. Joan Walsh tried to show its inappropriateness by asking if it made sense to use it about gun dealers. O'Reilly responds by using it against Joan Walsh - not someone who either performed an abortion or sold a gun, but who was only defending George Tiller.

Still and all, I think Joan Walsh's confrontation will Bill O'Reilly was valuable to watch, and contributed to the public dialogue. At least O'Reilly - unlike Olbermann - has people on his show with whom he vehemently disagrees. Sure, the nine minutes that Joan had on O'Reilly did little to cool the rhetoric. But in the end, they allowed two people passionately committed to their views to exchange them in public view.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Shield: Thoughts on What Might Happen After the Final Scene


Well, now that The Shield is over, and I posted a scrupulously non-spoiler rave review of the series, I thought I would get into the tantalizing territory of what might happen after the final scene in the series. (This will of course contain spoilers, so if you haven't seen the complete run of The Shield, save this post until you do.)

The last scene shows Vic in the FBI cubicle, pulling his personal weapon out his desk draw, putting it into has back holster, and walking out (with what looks to me like a defiant, grim expression).

Where is he going?

I think he's still in the game, and will never cease and desist from pursuing his goals.

In particular -

Vic will not stand still and see Ronnie go to prison. Vic can still talk to Aceveda, and though the photos of Acevada's mortifying moment are gone, Vic can still compel Aceveda to help him, given that Vic has pretty much figured out that Aceveda had the guy who forced him to get on his knees killed. Once Acevada becomes Mayor, he'll be in an ever better position to help Ronnie behind the scenes.

I don't think Vic will sit still and have no contact with his family, either. Cassidy on her own might reach out to him. And there's no one better than Vic to doggedly track someone down.

The FBI may have his soul from 9 to 5 in that lifeless office. But once the clock strikes 5, Vic will be back out on the street, slowly putting the shattered pieces at least partially back together.


5-min podcast predictions about The Shield

See also The Shield in Perspective (no spoilers)







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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New New Media vs. the Mullahs in Iran

Bob Brill on KNX Radio out of Los Angeles called me this morning for my thoughts about the banning of international media in Iran. Here is an expanded version of the gist of what I told him in our interview:

The banned media are traditional, old-time broadcast and print media. They are still an important source of information in our world, and their muzzling by the mullahs in Iran is nothing to cheer about, but this action will do little to stop the flow of news out of Iran.

And this is because we now live in the age of YouTube and Twitter - or, what I call the new new media. Unlike CNN and The New York Times on the Web, these newer media allow anyone and everyone to become a reporter, and are impossible to totally shut down or even effectively control.

New media have always been a thorn in the side of totalitarian governments. The White Rose used photocopying to alert Germans to the lies of the Third Reich, and samizdat video undermined the Soviet Union from the inside out in the 1980s. Word got out on the early Internet about Tiananmen Square in 1989, and though the Chinese government in the end crushed that democratic uprising, the people of Iran today have a lot more new media at their disposal. Hundreds of YouTube videos are coming out of Iran and Twitter has been buzzing with at least that many Tweets per hour about the crackdown on democracy in that country.

But are all of these self-produced reports, sent to the world without editors or vetting, truthful? Of course not. But the same open process that brings this information also makes identification of false reports and unsubstantiated rumors easy.

The Iranian government can do what it can to shut down sites and block Internet access in Iran. But the capacity of most cell phones to record and upload videos, and just about any cell phone to Tweet, makes this a brand new ballgame for democracy.

The point of a gun is still hard to disobey or work around, but the informational means to do so have never been more accessible and powerful.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Shield in Perspective (No Spoilers)

My wife and I just finished the seven season run of The Shield, first shown on the FX Channel. Netflix made the seventh and final season available just last week. We saw The Shield on the strong recommendation of our nephew, Marc Thacher. I was extolling the virtues of The Wire, and my wife and I the power of Lost, and Marc said, yeah, but trust me, you have to see The Shield, it's the best show ever to have been on television.

He may well be right.

First, though, let me offer the ever-relevant apples and oranges proviso - television series, like all works of fiction, are never completely comparable. The Wire is in a superb now classic class of its own, not as police drama, but in its vivid, scalding, anthropologically rich presentation of life in the drug drenched hood. The Shield, in contrast, is more about police. And neither show has much in common with Lost, which inhabits a unique position in story telling that transcends even the science fiction of which it partakes.

But television series can nonetheless be compared on some levels.

Lost, for example, had a weak second and most of a third season (which ended with a stunning game changing finale). It also has had its share of weak episodes. The Wire also had a few weak episodes, though nowhere nearly as many as Lost.

The Shield had none. Furthermore, it started with a kick in the solar plexus at the end of the very first episode, and played out its ramifications through all seven seasons. And the last show was the best series finale I've ever seen.

I wrote a lot about the series finale of The Sopranos - and gave a talk about it at The Sopranos conference I helped organize at Fordham University last year. I thought the ambiguous ending was masterful.

But it didn't hold a candle to the ending of The Shield, which tied up in brutal, heart-rending detail the story lines of major characters - not with tantalizing question marks ala The Sopranos, but with punch in the soul resolutions. This is story telling on television in a new, real dimension.

All great television has great acting, and The Shield is in the top tier of that, too. Glenn Close and Forest Whitaker did some of their finest acting in their guest roles. Michael Chiklis was a tour de force in the lead role of Vic Mackey in every scene. And Walton Goggins grew as Shane in the series from a sidekick to one of the most memorable characters ever on television.

I'll say more about the plot in a later review (with spoilers), but, in the meantime, trust me, you have to see The Shield.

See also
... The Sopranos Anti-Ending and The Sopranos Conference at Fordham University May 2008




5-min podcast review of The Shield

Sunday, June 14, 2009

True Blood Pours Back In

True Blood poured back for its second season premiere tonight on HBO, and it was a hot episode indeed.

First, as I said at the end of Season One, I had a feeling Lafayette wasn't dead - and, sure enough, he isn't. But he's not in a very good place. Erik has him prisoner in his dungeon, and if and how Lafayette gets out of this (I'm of course thinking he will), should be one of the more interesting threads this season.

So will be the relationship between Sam and strange Maryann, who, we see tonight, loved Sam (that is, made some kind of wild love to him) when he was a young dog (17 years old as a human). Maryann also seems interested in getting Tara together with a dude already on Maryann's estate.

In the rest of the world, a woman is found outside of Sam's bar and grill without a heart - who took it?

And Sookie and Bill are in fine, if a bit predictable, form, with Sookie upset that Bill doesn't confide completely in her, and later that Bill killed Sookie's great uncle (who had abused her as a girl). But they make it all up with their most passionate, unclothed love scene yet, and Sookie looking better than ever.

Another element I especially liked, given our political climate, is the continued background tension about vampire rights. As sentient, human-like beings, vampires certainly deserve them. But whether they get them, given the fundamentalist, no doubt Republican climate - in which Sookie's brother is now naively basking - remains to be seen.

Though, to be fair, in our real world no group is deprived their rights has cruel characters like Erik - which is part of why True Blood is such a compelling show.

See also 2.3: Love and True Blood in the Air and True Blood: Last Bite of the Season (1)









5-min podcast review of True Blood






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, June 11, 2009

Thoughts about Lost's Season 5 Finale One Month Out: Richard and Jacob

It's nearing a month since Lost's Season 5 finale was broadcast, and I thought I'd post a note about something that's been bothering me about the finale, the more I think about it.

To cut to the chase: Richard should have been Jacob.

After all, we already saw Richard off the island, with young Locke, and in helping get Juliet to the island. We already knew that Richard was immortal. We already saw how life-and-death significant Richard was in Ben's young life - at least twice (saving Ben's life after Sayid shot him, and helping Ben overthrow Dharma).

So what point was really served by introducing a brand new Jacob character - someone we have never seen before, making the rounds to see all the original 815 major players? Would not the Jacob character have been much stronger, more compelling, had he been revealed as someone we already knew - indeed, someone who we already had seen making the rounds with Locke?

Perhaps Richard will have a role in the final season which will justify his being overlooked as the perfect Jacob - but, for now, I'm thinking that Lost missed a golden, tingling opportunity.

See also Lost Season Five Finale: Jacob and Locke







5-min podcast review of Lost: Richard and Jacob






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, June 8, 2009

The Closer Re-Opens Tonight - Looking Back on Season 4

Hey, The Closer, one of my favorite off-beat detective series, opens Season 5 tonight on TNT, so I thought I'd do my part and provide a little retrospective on Season 4.

First, I would say that The Closer is probably the closest to Bones in its mix of serious detective work and comedy, and in further particular, with a lot of the humor coming from the lead woman (Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson in The Closer, Bones in Bones) and her interaction with her boyfriend/fiance/husband FBI guy (in The Closer) and not-yet-fully-expressed soul mate FBI guy in Bones (Booth). The supporting cast is also savvy and hilarious in both series. Otherwise, the two have little in common.

The past season of The Closer featured Lt. Provenza (close to retirement age, smartly played by G. W. Bailey) in an episode in which he goes undercover as a love-interest and you can believe it, a spectacular shoot-out on a roof which rivals something you would see on 24 or The Shield, and Brenda and FBI agent Fritzie finally getting married (Kyra Sedgwick and Jon Tenney are terrific together).

Brenda is an indefatigable closer - nothing, even Fritz's work, ever gets in the way of her closing a case. But in the best of episode of Season 4, and perhaps of the series, she and her team meet their nemesis in the form of a lawyer who, it turns out, not just defended his client but used his client to get out of Brenda's clutches for a series of sexual assaults culminating in murder that he, the lawyer, committed.

It will be fun to see what Brenda and her southern drawl does about that this season, maybe starting tonight....

See also President Laura Roslin vs. Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson on The Closer









5-min podcast review of The Closer






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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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Weeds 5: Sneak Preview Review

Well, Weeds Season Five starts up this Monday on Showtime - which was good enough to give me a screener for the first three episodes - so I thought I'd report back to you here with a generally spoiler-free preview (meaning, I'll let you know about general tone but not specific events)....

First, you may recall that we left off last season with Nancy pulling a powerful trump card in what had become a life-and-death game with Esteban. He was set to kill her, having found that she revealed information about his drug lording to the Feds, when she revealed to him that she was carrying his baby, likely a boy.

Season 5 picks up right at that dramatic moment.

A lot was written in the media, last year, about how Weeds had grown darker. That was true, and is even more the case this year. Glints of off-guard hilarity still shine through, but they're fewer and further between the desperation of Nancy's situation.

On the bright and even sweet side, Andy's off to his best season ever, Shane's growing up, and Silas is as good as ever. But Celia's crazier than ever - or, at least, her situation is - and Doug's funnier role is even shorter, so far, than in any previous season.

Nancy's slightly older sister Jill is an attractive addition, and she's wonderfully played by Jennifer Jason Leigh - a lot like Nancy, but a little different.

I'm keyed to see where this season of Weeds will be heading. At this point, it feels closer to The Wire and even The Shield than to the story of little boxes we enjoyed for the first three years. And that's ok - indeed, high praise - but just very different.

See also: Showtime's Sassy Hour of Sin ... Weeds 4.3: Nancy by the Endless Sea ... Sitting Shiva on Weeds and Laughing: 4.4 ... Nancy Gets Spanked and Likes It: 4.8 ... Nancy Has Limits: 4.9 ... Shane and Two Girls: 4.10 ... Nancy Turns a Corner: 4.11 ... The Bitter Fruit of Telling Till: 4.12 ... Finale Beginning: 4.13


8-min podcast review of Weeds









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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