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tuesday night teevee

SPOILERS AHEAD (and if you're just here to see what I have to say about last night's Jon Stewart, just scroll down to the bottom).

What does it mean, that I have to put a spoiler warning on a post like this? It's Wednesday morning, and I'm writing about Tuesday-night teevee, but I figure the TiVO people out there haven't seen everything yet. (I hadn't seen everything myself until I got up this morning and turned on my retro-tivo, also known as a VCR.)

Last night was a terrific night for television. Four shows at the top of their game. Three of those shows are rather brutal, which meant it wasn't exactly enjoyable television, but it was riveting.

First, 24 returned after a break of several weeks, and immediately cranked up the tension meter to "Unendurable." 24 is a fundamentally ridiculous show that nonetheless is very effective (at least when it's at its best) at making viewers anxious. This hasn't been a great season so far ... not as flat out stupid as last year's "Perils of Kim" plot lines, but not great in the "your genitalia will shrivel if you watch this, whether you're a woman or a man" way it can be. Well, I can't speak for Robin, but my balls are disappearing rapidly after last night's episode. The killer virus is loose, the bad guys are about to take over the country (I know, who could believe that), key characters are running around with blood-filled snot pouring out of their noses ... for once, there wasn't a moment's rest for the viewer, and if they can keep that up the final eight weeks, this will once again be must-see teevee you can't bear to see.

NYPD Blue has been revitalized recently by the addition of Scott Winters. Winters, who played the brain-addled brother in Oz, is terrific as a brutal cop who can't control himself ... yes, I know, that character used to be named "Andy Sipowicz," but Andy's been a lot more mellow the last few years. This new cop is like Andy, if Andy was a sick fuck who hated women. The gradual emergence of the guy as Bad is fascinating, as is the gradual recognition by the Heroes that their new compadre is, well, is a sick fuck. The one thing you can count on with NYPD Blue is actors working at the highest levels, and the Saved by the Bell Guy has been Smits-esque with his subtle performance in this plot line. It's nice to see an aging favorite crank it up one more time, even if just for a few weeks.

Just when you're ready to congratulate the old show for being more spry than usual, here comes The Shield. This program is like NYPD Blue on 24-laced methedrine. Vic Mackey continues to be one of the most fascinating characters on television ... he's Tony Soprano fascinating, folks ... it's astonishing, but after 2 1/2 seasons, they still haven't toned Vic down, still haven't let his heart of gold overwhelm the rottenness at his core. It's been said many times, by myself and by others: with the tight teeshirts and the shaved head, Michael Chiklis looks like a walking penis, and The Shield is a primer on what the world would be like if dicks ran things (I know, who could believe that). Mackey is as brutal as Tony Soprano, with the added twist that Vic thinks he is doing good for society. He's Dirty Harry Callahan without the cool punchlines, he's not just a lovable bully who gets the job done, he's a murderer, a sadist with a badge. And the show walks an interesting line ... the tone of the program takes its lead from Vic, it's as ugly and pessimistic a show as you'll ever see, but while the tone is Mackey-inspired, the show is more condemnatory of Vic than it is celebratory. Viewers "root" for Vic the same way they "root" for Tony Soprano ... he's the central character in the show, we spend our viewing time following him around doing his job, we "want" him to succeed on some basic level, but we're also appalled by the man and his tactics.

And last night featured two other characters having one of the greatest fights in teevee history. This was Fight-Club brutal, the guys were going at it in what seemed to these never-been-in-fights eyes to be v.realistic, and for a second you thought this would be one of those macho Peckinpah scenes where after the two guys beat the shit out of each other they realized they really liked each other ... and then, before that could happen, the girl friend of one of the guys clobbered the other guy with an iron (irony ... get it? irony!), which REALLY fucked him up, and he got in his car, drove away, blacked out at the wheel, crashed into another car, went flying through the windshield, and is quite possibly dead, although I guess we won't know until next week.

And the way it played out was masterful, not just because the fight scene was so well choreographed. All through the episode, a running gag was that two competing teams of cops had a bet going about which team would catch the Bad Guy du Jour. The loser was going to have to parade nude through the station house. We were all waiting for this ... you knew it was coming, you knew it would end the episode, you knew it would be funny ... and, let's be honest, you knew you were gonna see some nekkid people.

And, in fact, it did end the episode, people were indeed nekkid ... and the whole scene was beyond bittersweet, in fact it wasn't funny or sexy, because it happened at the same time as the aforementioned fight, there was cross-cutting, there was blood and violence and perhaps death ... The Shield won't let up for even ten seconds, won't let the audience have even a few moments of pleasure, even when they set up a punchline guaranteed to elicit enjoyment they have to mess it up with crud. What a great show!

And then, this morning, a different kind of televised greatness entirely: I watched my tape of The Daily Show. Last night, Jon Stewart's guest was Richard Clarke. It's a commonly stated notion now that The Daily Show is the first place many people get their "news," and this is supposed to say something because TDS is fake news, but one thing which gets lost in the shuffle is that when he's on his game, Jon Stewart is the best interviewer in the American news business, fake or real.

And so not only did we get a solid interview with Clarke ... he wasn't quite as humorless as I'd expected, but shall we say he is very good at staying on topic ... you couldn't help noticing that it was a better interview than the hundred other interviews Clarke has done the last week, interviews done by, you know, "real" journalists. And Jon managed to throw in some jokes as well ... this is Comedy Central, after all ... I guess my fave was when Clarke said someone had the temerity to do such and such and Stewart replied "this is Comedy Central, you can't say temerity, you have to say 'balls'."

And then there was a tiny throwaway moment at the end, one which spoke volumes about the importance of The Daily Show in the American cultural-political scene today: Stewart thanked Clarke for coming on his show, and Clarke said something like "thank you for keeping this stuff out there." That's right, Richard Clarke, the hard-assed careerist who is currently doing more than anyone on the planet to help bring down George Bush, thanked Jon Stewart basically for just doing The Daily Show four times a week. That's how important The Daily Show is.

[Interesting anti-snobbery note: two of the four shows discussed above are on broadcast teevee, two are on expanded basic cable. No premium channels to be found on Tuesday nights.]

jennifer does jon

Had a visitor posting a comment in an old L Word thread, which was nice, and then surprise surprise, Jennifer Beals was a guest on The Daily Show tonight. It was nice to see my least-favorite L Word character in a different environment, and she was quite charming, in part because she and Jon knew each other from back when they made a movie together (and had a screen kiss, which led Stewart to ask Beals how kissing him compared to kissing a woman on L Word ... as Jon put it, "when I kiss my wife, she sometimes says she wishes she was a lesbian!").

Tomorrow night's guest is Richard Clarke, and that should be a good one, although I have a hard time imagining the guy with a sense of humor. Gotta thank Jon Stewart for his one great line tonight: "Robert Novak, douche bag of liberty!"

Meanwhile, I have yet to see this week's episode of L Word ... I have to choose what to watch at 10:00 on Sundays, and Deadwood wins, in part because L Word gets replayed in HD more often. Once L Word finishes its run in a couple of weeks, Queer As Folk starts up ... I sure wish we'd have our HD recorder by then. Robin's gonna be happy ... if I had to guess what HBO/Showtime program she liked best, I might go with Queer As Folk.

tony soprano, vic mackey, anxiety

Got an email from Jillian that inspired the following. She was talking about how anxious The Sopranos is making her, because so much suffering is on the horizon.

I told her that I forget not everyone watches a dozen shows and has that kind of anxiety several times a week. Heck, the entire rationale for 24 is to make the viewer feel non-stop anxiety during every episode, no matter how far-fetched they have to make the plot.

The Shield is definitely in this mode so far this season, too ... like Tony Soprano, Vic Mackey is feeling a lot of noose-tightening these days. He has a self-righteous streak that Tony lacks ... Vic thinks he's doing good for society, and last week, when, during one of the most excruciating scenes on a show that's full of them, he stuffed a gun down a prostitute's mouth and then later explained that it was the only way to get her to do what she needed to do ... well, he is one disturbed anti-hero is all I've got to say.

I think of this season of The Sopranos ... and next season, for that matter ... as moving us into Godfather II territory. It's less and less possible to laugh off the behavior of these guys. It's not as entertaining as it used to be, because the chickens are coming home to roost or whatever the saying is. But, and this is the thing about great teevee series, it's a long, drawn-out process ... what would take a few hundred pages in a novel, or a couple of hours in a movie, will take months, even years, during a teevee series, and the anxiety will be unendurable.

It doesn't help that Deadwood comes on right after Sopranos ... that is another seriously disturbing show.

Meanwhile, here's Steve Hammond's weekly f-word update:

The Sopranos - Episode 56 - "All Happy Families"

Said the F-word 55 times

Total for the season 216
Average per episode 54

Most in a Season 5 episode - 61 - Episode #55 "Where's Johnny?"
Least in a Season 5 episode - 47 - Episode #54 "The Rat Pack"

Most ever in a single episode - 104 - Episode #37 "Pine Barrens"
Least ever in a single episode - 13 - Episode #27 "Mr. Ruggerio's Neighborhood"

Average for Season 3 - 51.77 per episode
Average for Season 4 - 42.1 per episode

** Note: all statistics are from seasons 3 through 5, seasons 1 and 2 under review **

[Editor's note: the dirty-word count on the second episode of Deadwood seemed a bit lower than in the pilot. On the other hand, we got to see full-frontal male nudity that wasn't even clearly flaccid. Meanwhile, all of this is spilling over to FX ... somebody said "cocksucker" on The Shield last week.]

another great piece on bonds

I can't seem to link directly to this piece yet ... I suspect after it's a week old it will show up under "Archives," but in the meantime, go to Edge of Sports and read "This Week's Column," which is by Dave Zirin and is titled "Reasonable Doubt: Why Barry Bonds is NOT on Steroids." An excerpt:

Reports about Bonds' body: how wide his back, how big his jaw, how thick his legs - basically dissecting the man like an animal - pepper the papers. Never mind that Bonds has maintained that he has never taken any banned substance. Never mind that other than the 73 home run year, Bonds - like Aaron - has never even hit 50. Never mind that Bonds' trainer, indicted for steroid distribution, has maintained Bonds' innocence even though such a juicy snitch would keep him out of the clink. Never mind that unlike Giambi, who showed up at training camp this year looking like Aly McBeal, Bonds has maintained his current physical shape for a decade, and even gained 6 pounds this off season. Never mind how common it is for all athletes, like Michael Jordan to Shaquille O'Neal, to thicken with age.
Never mind all of that. The greatest case for reasonable doubt lies in Bonds' very late career success. His unparalleled middle-aged majesty screams his innocence. Steroids and rapid "unnatural" muscle growth puts tremendous pressure on the joints and tendons. Admitted steroid users like former MVPS Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco, Lenny Dykstra and banned substance user Mark McGwire all saw their bodies break down as they hit their mid 30s. In the end, they limped away from their careers and were put down like Seabiscuit in Elmer's Glue Land. Bonds has thrived as he hurtles toward 40, not unlike Jerry Rice, Bret Favre, Reggie Miller, and Randy Johnson. To go by the rumors that surround him, Bonds' ankles should be snapping like toothpicks every time he jogs to first base....
Whether the anti-steroid furies are motivated to "protect the game", crush the players union, or target Bonds - the fact remains: muscle enhancers cannot slam a 95 mph slider into McCovey Cove. Barry Bonds can - and Ashcroft, Selig, and Bush can kiss his asterisk.

2004 fantasy baseball team

This marks the 18th year I have played fantasy baseball. I made a lot of friends along the way, and a coupla bucks while I was at it. I used to be better at it, but I went through a dry spell that hopefully ended last season when I won my ESPN fantasy league.

Today our teams were drafted, and so, without comment and before I make moves to fix the damn thing, here are the 2004 Rubio Begonias:

C: Joe Mauer, Adam Melhuse
1B: David Ortiz, John Olerud
2B: Luis Rivas, Frank Menechino
3B: Bill Mueller, Willie Bloomquist
SS: Derek Jeter, Tony Graffanino
OF: Hideki Matsui, Carlos Beltran, Tim Salmon, Brian Jordan, Chone Figgins, Jose Cruz Jr.
SP: Tim Hudson, Brad Radke, Jarrod Washburn, Rodrigo Lopez, Brian Anderson
RP: Francisco Cordero, Aquilino Lopez, Jose Jimenez, Chad Bradford

happy birthday david!


It's my brother's birthday today ... there are a lot of family birthdays in March, so later today we're having a party to celebrate them all (Chris, Sean. Karen and David). This particular brother is the Black Oak Arkansas fan ... well, he's the one who will admit to being a BOA fan, there might be a few others in the family who are keeping quiet about it.