Fall Movie Preview: October 2012

You know what weird about this coming October? Not a lot of splatter films. That is certainly not a complaint; I'm just used to it being a dumping-ground month for disposable horror flicks. We're not completely free of them, of course, but they are noticeably scarce. What does that leave in their places? Some pretty weird stuff. Witness:

October 5:

Butter: Jennifer Garner enters a butter-carving contest at a state fair. That subject is so odd. Toss Ty Burrell and Hugh Jackman into the cast, and it becomes even more intriguing. (Rental)

Frankenweenie: A mad scientist kid resurrects his dead dog, creating mayhem in the neighborhood. It's basically a cross between Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and unless audiences love it, I think I'll stick with those two movies. (Pass)

The Oranges: Leighton Meester has a crush on Hugh Laurie, who is her best friend's father. I love Hugh Laurie, but this doesn't sound promising. (Pass)

The Paperboy: The director of Precious sets forth Nicole Kidman as a sexpot who manipulates Zac Efron and Matthew McConaughey into helping her spring her pal John Cusack out of jail. Despite my newfound admiration for McConaughey, this is the very definition of a wait-and-see movie. (TBD)

Pitch Perfect: Speaking of movies that are perfect for the sneak-some-booze-into-the-Esquire treatment! Anna Kendrick is lured into a female a capella group on her college campus, and shakes things up by refusing to be all traditional and boring and shit. It's not that I think it'll be quality cinema. But it'll be entertaining as hell. (Must-See)

Sinister: Another found-footage horror movie based on a family moving into a cursed house. I hope Ethan Hawke got a nice paycheck for being in it, but I won't be contributing to it. (Pass)

Sister: This movie is what Switzerland is putting into contention for a Best Foreign Language Oscar this year. A brother supports his titular sibling by stealing from rich folks at a ski resort. Let's see what the reviews have to say. (TBD)

Taken 2: Saw the first one. Liked it. But that was plenty. (Pass)

Wuthering Heights: I'm ashamed to admit it, but I've never read the book, which I feel like I must do before seeing the movie. (Rental or Pass)

October 12:

3,2,1...Frankie Go Boom: A guy whose life is ruined by a viral video hides out for a while, and is brought back into society by his manipulative brother. It has Lizzy Caplan and Chris O'Dowd, which is very promising. I'm hopeful for this one. (TBD)

Argo: Ben Affleck directs a Oscar-buzzy film about a 1979 rescue mission to get some Americans out of Iran. I listen to a lot of movie podcasts, and a lot of talk is already flying about this. It stars people I like, is a fascinating historical topic, and has all the makings of a truly exciting story. So why am I so suspicious about this movie? I don't really know. It's likely I'll see this, just so I can stay in fighting weight for the Oscar pool competition. (Must-See, but possibly in Rental form)

Atlas Shrugged Part 2: Hehe. This one comes fully-stocked with schadenfreudic delight. The first Atlas Shrugged sang the praises of Ayn Rand's disgusting philosophies about how the free market should rule all, and completely tanked. So the filmmakers ignored the free market and went ahead and made this. I'll be waiting with a Nelsonesque "HA-ha!" when this one tanks, too. (Pass)

Here Comes the Boom: Kevin James was genuinely likable on The King of Queens, so I don't know why he insists on making such horrible movies. Does the plot of this latest brainless comedy even matter? (Pass)

Middle of Nowhere: When her husband is sentenced to 8 years in prison, Rudy drops out of med school in order to focus on her husband's well being while he's incarcerated - leading her on a journey of self-discovery in the process. Hmm. I'll check out the reviews, but it's likely I'll let this one slip by. (Pass)

Nobody Walks: John Krasinski is the father of a wealthy family who volunteers to help the art student (Olivia Thrilby) who lives in their pool house finish her film. Naturally, complications ensue. Lena Dunham co-wrote this, and I'm not a huge fan of hers, but I could be persuaded into seeing it if I hear enough good things. (TBD)

Seven Psychopaths: Colin Farrell and Sam Rockwell are pals, and steal a dog from a mob boss, played by Woody Harrelson, who promises bloody revenge. This was directed by the same guy who did In Bruges, so it's likely to be too gory for my tastes. (Pass)

Smashed: This one has been on my radar for a while. Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Aaron Paul play a couple who share a fondness for getting drunk together. When the drinking develops into a career-jeopardizing issue, they have to make drastic changes to their behavior and relationship. It looks like a really quality movie, but not one I need to catch in theaters. (Rental)

October 17:

Holy Motors: A man travels between multiple parallel lives, and apparently kidnaps Eva Mendes along the way. I have no idea how to feel about this. (TBD)

October 19:

Alex Cross: Tyler Perry, Action Hero! Limecrete, Movie Skipper! (Pass)

Killing Them Softly: Brad Pitt is a hitman who tracks a couple of guys who rob a poker game run by the mob. It seems like a pretty by-the-numbers movie, and doesn't particularly interest me. (Pass)

The Loneliest Planet: Gael Garcia Bernal goes backpacking with his fiancee, and in the most remote corners of the globe, their relationship begins to fray, all of this is witnessed by the guide they have hired. This movie sounds pretty interesting, but I wish I had more to judge on. If I hear enough good things about it, I'll toss it on the Netflix queue. (Rental)

Not Fade Away: Three New Jersey teenagers are inspired by a Rolling Stones show and form a band. The only other information Entertainment Weekly gives is that David Chase is directing it, and James Gandolfini plays one of the teens' fathers. (Pass)

Paranormal Activity 4: You know all that budget horror that went on in the first three movies in this franchise? It's more of that. (Pass)

October 26:

The Big Wedding: Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton are a divorced couple who pretend they're still married for their son's wedding. Katherine Heigl and Robin Williams are also in this, which makes all sorts of comedy-warning-bells go off in my head. This sounds like a scenery-chewing disaster in the making. (Pass)

Chasing Mavericks: Gerard Butler is a surfing mentor. No, thanks. (Pass)

Cloud Atlas: Critics can't say enough about this labyrinthine movie. And when I say that, I don't mean that everyone likes it; they just can't stop talking about it. Six interwoven storylines across genres, time periods, and locales make this difficult to describe. And it's made all the more difficult by actors playing multiple roles. Even though it's got prestige written all over it, I may have to let this play out a bit before I decide to see it. (TBD)

The Sessions: John Hawkes is confined to iron lung for 21 hours a day, and in a bid to lose his virginity, hires Helen Hunt as a sex surrogate. I've already heard good things about the performances, but the people praising the acting have been noticeably silent about the movie itself. This one's a tough sell. (TBD)

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D Nope. (Pass)

October TBA:

The First Time: Two teens meet at a party and fall in love. That's the entire plot summary on Wikipedia, and despite some guesses that it'll premiere on the 19th, it doesn't seem to have a set release date. Sure sounds promising, doesn't it? (Pass)

Decisions, Decisions

What I'm Playing: Mass Effect 3

I haven't been able to afford the big-ticket games lately, but one thing I am rich in is gamer friends. One of them is buried under work for his internship, and asked if I'd like to borrow his copy of Mass Effect 3 for a while, because he just has no time to play it. I believe the word "Duh" figured into my answer. I'd heard all sorts of intriguing things about this game, and was anxious to give it a try.

I've never played any of the Mass Effect games before, so it took some getting used to. In a way, it's a lot like Dragon Age, but instead of wizards and rangers, it's aliens and robots. You still have to fight enemies, of course, but the real game is in the interactions with the characters around you. The stances you take on certain issues and the way you treat people in conversation is far more important than being good with a machine gun.

Every action having such weight can be intimidating. Piss off the wrong party member, and they'll walk out on you (or worse). That's what makes the game exciting. My problems are pretty minor so far, and can't really be blamed on the game. The type and subtitles are hard to read - my fault for still having an old, low-res TV. The story and directives can be a bit confusing - my fault for not playing the previous two games. Selecting, assigning, and modifying the weapons/powers can be a bit of a clusterfuck.

I've heard people grumbling about the game's ending, but have managed to stay spoiler-free, so I guess I'll have to judge for myself. In the meantime, Mass Effect 3 is like a long, interactive movie, and I'm really enjoying the ride.

(A)cts of Valor

For the beginning of my alphabetic project, I went to the Netflix instant streaming catalog, and just put the letter "A" in the search field. Mistake. That's not near enough information to process, so it just threw up twenty or so selections. So I tried progressive two-letter combinations like "Ab" and "Ad". I reached "Af" before I found something that looked like it would fit the bill.

That something was Aftershock: Beyond the Civil War, a special on the History Channel that explored the Reconstruction period after Lee's surrender. I've been getting increasingly interested in historical topics lately, so I'm not surprised that I was drawn in by this. Several topics were covered, from how the newly-freed slaves were locked out of any viable forms of the Southern ecomony to the explosions of violence and reprisals that became a daily fact of life. I also appreciated that they took the time to step out of the black vs. white box to go into how Native Americans also figured into this period, with a large chunk of time devoted to the Lowry Gang.

Like most programming on the History Channel, the special was a bit over-produced and cheesy, but not distractingly so. The big eyebrow raise came with a couple of interviews with a couple who have written a book about Reconstruction from a more Southern point of view. Their inclusion was fascinating, but gobsmackingly sympathetic to the Confederacy's woes during this time, as if the North should have given them a slap on the wrist for attempting to rend the country in two.

It was an intensely sad period for all involved. After all, this is when the KKK was born, and supposedly free citizens were as targeted for intimidation and murder as they were during the war, but no longer had the Union army at their back. In fact, the special ends on the somber note that retaliatory violence against Southern insurgents was about the only effective method of regaining any amount of control.

Nobody ever said that learning about our nation's history would be a relentlessly cheery prospect. Oh, well. At least the guy who played Daniel Upham in the reenactments was hot.

Aftershock: Beyond the Civil War: B

Teen Titans

I had an interesting discussion with a friend last night about the scope of a movie's budget versus how successfully it achieves what it's trying to accomplish. Any film fan knows that throwing wads of cash at a movie doesn't automatically make it better, and in many cases, actually tends to make it worse. The reason we were talking about it is because we had just sat and watched Chronicle, a movie that cost a meager $15 million, but whose plot could easily be misconstrued as something you'd see in the most bloated of summer Hollywood blockbusters.

The story can be pretty easily summed up: A trio of high school guys (the popular guy, the pretentious philosopher, and his socially maladjusted cousin) discover a cave and some sort of artifact within that gives them telekinesis. As their powers develop, their relationship to the world and each other naturally takes drastic turns. At the center is Andrew, the socially maladjusted character who has a miserable home life, due to a dying mother and an abusive father.

So many things could have gone wrong for this movie. The marketing for it was terrible. When I saw the commercials, I thought to myself "Ugh. Teenaged douchebags with superpowers. Pass." It's a found-footage movie, so the characters are always filming themselves. That made me suspicious that it would have a lot of shaky-cam scenes, which I despise. Although I enjoy superpower movies, they've become well-worn territory, and it's becoming more difficult to say anything new or interesting about the subject. I pretty much dismissed this when it was released, and it's only after I kept encountering positive reviews and enthusiastic word-of-mouth that I realized I needed to give this movie a shot.

I'm glad I did, because it's a very good film. It's only an hour and a half long, but doesn't waste any of that time. The best thing about it is its tone; in most superhero stories, the person with newfound powers immediately sets their mind to fighting crime or wreaking havoc. In this movie, the characters are much more realistic, to chilling effect. If teenaged boys really acquired telekinesis, they'd screw around, which is what happens here. They send a grocery cart careening down the aisle. They move a lady's car around the parking lot so she can't figure out where she's parked. And of course, they blow classmates' skirts up. Naturally, the stakes soon change. Repressed anger blows up in violent ways. People get hurt. Excitement over having superpowers is twisted into entitlement. And again, all of this is completely believable from a character perspective.

In a way, Chronicle starts off like any wish-fulfillment story. But unlike most stories in that vein, getting one's wish in this universe brings more pain than happiness. The people who gain power are the ones you'd least trust with that responsibility, and they certainly live down to expectations. That sounds dour and depressing, but it makes for a fascinating story. If The Avengers is the smartest way to make a big budget superpower story, this is the smartest way to make a small budget one.

Chronicle: B+

2012 Fall TV Preview: Friday

Generally, Fridays are a TV dead zone. I can't think of a single show in recent history that aired on a Friday that I was actually interested in watching live. Until now!

Fringe - Season 5 (Fox - 8-9PM - premieres September 28):

I haven't ever watched this show, but it's attained a loyal cult following. I'm not generally into most sci-fi/supernatural shows, but from what I've heard, this one has promise. Since this will be the final season, I'll wait until the entire series wraps, then give it a whirl on DVD.

CSI: NY - Season 9 (CBS - 7-8PM - premieres September 28):

Yet another crime procedural. I understand why they're popular, I just don't see why there's a need to have so many on the schedule. I'll be skipping this one, just like all the others.

Last Man Standing - Season 2 (ABC - 7-7:30PM - premieres November 2):

I honestly thought this had been canceled along with the other execrable poor-downtrodden-white-man shows last year. Suffice it to say that I have zero interest in watching it, hearing about it, or reading about it.

Shark Tank - Season 4 (ABC - 7-8PM - premiered September 14):

Unlike Last Man Standing, this is one of those shows that sounds pretty good, but just doesn't appeal to me personally. I watch a few reality shows, but if I see too many, I get misanthropic and cranky. This one just never made the cut, and it airing on Fridays doesn't help. If you do watch, though, you should know that it's moving to 8PM in November.

Touch - Season 2 (Fox - 7-8PM - premieres October 26):

I didn't like what I saw of the first season, and never went back. It's very possible that this show got its act together, but I still don't have much interest in catching up with it.

Whitney - Season 2 (NBC - 7-7:30PM - premieres October 19):

Hahahaha! No.

Community - Season 4 (NBC - 7:30-8PM - premieres October 19):

Yaaaaaaay! I love this show. This will be an interesting season, not only because NBC has banished it to Friday, but because this will be the first (and likely only) season without the fired showrunner Dan Harmon. Will it be as good without him? Does it have a prayer in hell of existing beyond these thirteen episodes? Let's find out!

Malibu Country - Season 1 (ABC - 7:30-8PM - premieres November 2):

Me reading the blurb about this show in Entertainment Weekly is the first and only mention I've seen of it so far. I can't imagine what ABC is thinking, putting what essentially sounds like a low-rent version of Nashville on...two days after Nashville. I suppose this is for all those fans that need their Reba McEntire fix.

Made in Jersey - Season 1 (CBS - 8-9PM - premieres September 28):

Ugh. Aren't we past the whole Jersey fad yet? Not only that, but it's a legal procedural in which the main character uses her Jersey roots to solve problems at her New York law firm. This sounds brutally awful. I'm almost tempted to tune in to see how awful, but I'm hopeful that this glimmer of curiosity is temporary.

Nikita - Season 3 (CW - 8-9PM - premieres October 19):

I'm not a regular viewer of this show, but the few episodes I saw were very good. I feel like I should go back and watch the series at a stretch sometime, but I doubt I'll make a point of carving out Friday evening time to watch it.

Blue Bloods - Season 3 (CBS - 9-10PM - premieres September 28):

The only people I know who watch this are over 60.


Community? Community. Community!

2012 Fall TV Preview: Thursday

Thursdays used to be the most must-watch day of the week, but with the advent of streaming technology, it's mostly fallen into the realm of catch-up shows. This year certainly typifies that idea - as I paged through the Entertainment Weekly TV preview issue, only a couple of shows leaped out at me. Let's hit it!

Elementary - Season 1 (CBS - 9-10PM - premieres September 27):

Countless versions of the Sherlock Holmes stories have been presented over the years, but this most recent adaptation has been getting the side-eye for trying to steal the thunder from the come-on-let's-face-it-probably-superior Sherlock. The timing certainly is suspicious. The American show is also a modern take on the character, but is trying to differentiate itself by casting Lucy Liu as Doctor Watson, and while I have no problem with her, I can catch the scent of unmistakable desperation around this show. "Ooh, check it out! A woman!" If this show existed in a Sherlock vacuum, I could see myself wanting to watch, but since the BBC version exists, watching this show seems like reaching for a Hydrox when there's a stack of Oreos nearby.

30 Rock - Season 7 (NBC - 7-7:30PM - premieres October 4):

This show has been responsible for some of the biggest laughs a sitcom has ever given me, but exhibited some really distressing jump-the-shark moments last season. Since this is the final season, I'm sure they'll go all out, and I'm sure there will be worthy moments, but I'm not going to make an effort to catch them as they air. I'll just shotgun this season once it's over.

The Vampire Diaries - Season 4 (CW - 7-8PM - premieres October 11):

I've heard through the grapevine that this show isn't half as silly as I pictured. I still don't watch it, though.

Two and a Half Men - Season 10 (CBS - 7:30-8PM - premieres September 27):

Um, no.

Up All Night - Season 2 (NBC - 7:30-8PM - premieres September 20):

I never saw the first season. Apparently, this show isn't half-bad, but like Happy Endings, it's a show that's probably better experienced by watching a bunch of episodes in a row once they're available on DVD, rather than attempting to catch it every week.

Beauty and the Beast - Season 1 (CW - 8-9PM - premieres October 11):

A typical CW show, in that it throws a bunch of blandly pretty, young people into dramatic situations and stirs. Not my type of show at all, although the thought of Kristin Kreuk as a hard-boiled detective from New York City is hilarious.

Grey's Anatomy - Season 9 (ABC - 8-9PM - premieres September 27):

I watched this show back in Seasons 1 and 2, but even back then, the viewing party I watched with spent half the time making fun of it. It has long-since veered into completely unwatchable, and I won't be paying the least bit of attention to it.

The Office - Season 9 (NBC - 8-9PM - premieres September 20):

Like 30 Rock, it's a show I used to watch. Like 30 Rock, this will be its final season. Unlike 30 Rock, I won't be watching it later.

Person of Interest - Season 2 (CBS - 8-9PM - premieres September 27):

I've never seen a single episode of this show, and what's more, I never hear anything about it. Is it great? Does it suck? Nobody I talk to or read seems to know. It's not outside the realm of possibility I'll watch someday, but I won't be watching weekly.

Parks and Recreation - Season 5 (NBC - 8:30-9PM - premieres September 20):

Yes! Yes, yes, yes!

Jersey Shore - Season 6 (MTV - 9-10PM - premieres October 4):

No! No, no, no!

Glee - Season 4 (Fox - 8-9PM - premiered September 13):

I used to watch this show every week, but once it began to run off the rails, I officially graduated from Glee. Frankly, I don't miss it. I continue to read reviews and comments about the episodes as they air, and if there's a remarkable performance or something, I'll look it up, but I see no need to sign back up as a weekly viewer.

Scandal - Season 2 (ABC - 9-10PM - premieres September 27):

I've never seen this show, and Grey's Anatomy and Private Practice have made me deeply suspicious of Shonda Rhimes offerings. Still, that's not to say I won't watch this show someday. That day just won't be September 27.

Last Resort - Season 1 (ABC - 7-8PM - premieres September 27):

This is the other Thursday show that interests me, but while the premise is intriguing, I have a little trouble envisioning it as a weekly show. Andre Braugher and Scott Speedman command a nuclear sub that goes rogue after questioning an order to attack Pakistan, so they go hide out on an island. I can see that being an amazing pilot, and can also see it running out of steam quickly. I'm anxious to see where they go with it, though.

The Big Bang Theory - Season 6 (CBS - 7-7:30PM - premieres September 27):

This is a good "laundry show" - a program to half pay attention to while you putter around getting household chores done. I won't set my watch by it, but I wouldn't mind checking in for an episode here and there.


Not difficult. I can begin with Last Resort at 7PM, then catch Parks and Recreation at 8:30PM. If Last Resort doesn't work out, I can always replace it with The Big Bang Theory or 30 Rock.

Valley of the Dolls

As an avid Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I wanted to expand my Whedon horizons. Some avenues of exploration have not been terrific successes (more on that in the next Shorties entry), while I have very much enjoyed others. It's not often I wish I could overcome my aversion to gore, but I'd really like to see what he did with Cabin in the Woods. Alas, that has to stay in the realm of reading internet reviews and spoilers.

One thing I can do, though, is hop on Netflix Instant and work my way through the two seasons of Dollhouse. It was a short-lived show that got off to a pretty rocky start, and it's not difficult to see why, given what a complicated concept it attempted to pull off. Eliza Dushku plays Echo, a young woman who willingly signs up to participate in a shadow corporation's schemes. What the Dollhouse does is essentially upload personalities into a blank shell of a person. Need a girlfriend for the night? An industrial spy? A backup singer? The Dollhouse has got you covered.

I've now finished the first season, and it was a strange experience. A lot of shows find a groove and settle into it, but Dollhouse was all over the map. The good episodes were really good, and the bad episodes were really bad. The first five or so episodes were the roughest patch, but as more of the show's mythology and background information was filled in, it got a lot more interesting. Characters who previously seemed one-dimensional began to fill out, and acquired multi-faceted personalities and motivations.

A couple over-arching problems remain. The show never really nails down a consistent tone regarding the morality of what the Dollhouse does to people, and although he's certainly easy on the eyes, Paul Ballard - World's Worst FBI Agent is an ineffectual, borderline obnoxious antagonist. Still, the universe that Dollhouse has built is pretty fascinating, and I'm definitely in for Season 2.

Dollhouse - Season 1: B-

2012 Fall TV Preview: Wednesday

On first glance at the Entertainment Weekly TV preview issue, Wednesdays seemed as stuffed as Tuesdays are. Then I did a more careful reading of the shows, and yeah... No worries about free time now.

Nashville - Season 1 (ABC - 9-10PM - premieres October 10):

However, this is one of the two shows that appears to have some promise. Connie Britton plays a fading country music icon who is talked into opening for a young starlet (Hayden Panettiere), and drama ensues. I don't even like country music, but that plotline has the potential to be deliciously evil. If nothing else, it'll definitely be worth checking out the first couple of episodes to see how it looks.

Arrow - Season 1 (CW - 7-8PM - premieres October 10):

I like superhero stories, so I should be interested in this. But TV has such a terrible track record when it comes to producing decent superhero dramas. Alphas is the only one that seriously delves into the personalities of people blessed/cursed with special abilities, and let's face it. A show on the CW is not going to take the time to do that. So even though the lead actor is dreamy, I think I'm going to take a pass on this one. If it turns out to be fantastic, I can always circle around and shotgun it later.

The Middle - Season 4 (ABC - 7-7:30PM - premieres September 26):

I've heard some positive things about this show, but it's just never been one that I've watched, and I'm not interested enough to rent it. I'm afraid it's just going to be one of those programs that slips through the cracks for me.

Survivor: Philippines - Season 25 (CBS - 7-8PM - premieres September 19):

It's interesting that Blair from The Facts of Life is a contestant, but I've never been a fan of this show. I don't like the camping/survival aspects, I find Jeff Probst smarmy and condescending, and people who tend to excel at the game also tend to be shitty people. It's a wholly unappealing show, and I'll continue to ignore it.

Animal Practice - Season 1 (NBC - 7-7:30PM - premieres September 26):

Of the five pilots that I watched, I enjoyed this one the most. That's not to say this will be an automatic home run with me - it may easily stray into the too-zany territory, and Bobby Lee is a very grating actor. Still, I liked the first episode enough to stick with it for a while.

Guys With Kids - Season 1 (NBC - 7:30-8PM - premiered 9PM September 12):

I didn't watch the first episode, but I did see a preview that was actively repellent. I'll be surprised if this makes it a full season.

The Neighbors - Season 1 (ABC - 7:30-8PM - premieres 9:30PM September 26):

Not to be outdone by NBC, ABC is also debuting a comedy that looks completely terrible. Think Third Rock from the Sun but without any charm.

The X Factor - Season 2 (Fox - 7-9PM - premiered September 12):

As I said when I mentioned The Voice, I just don't watch singing competition shows, and this one looks just as annoying as American Idol. Just let me know if I need to look up anything particularly noteworthy on YouTube.

Criminal Minds - Season 8 (CBS - 8-9PM - premieres September 26):

Serviceable crime procedural.

Law & Order: SVU - Season 14 (NBC - 8-9PM - premieres September 26):

I used to watch Original Recipe Law & Order, but never really got into this one.

Modern Family - Season 4 (ABC - 8-8:30PM - premieres September 26):

I'm given to understand that this show has gone downhill lately, but as I'm still stuck back in Season 2, I wouldn't know. This is a catch-up show; I'll see the episodes at some point, but don't need to keep up with it for water-cooler purposes or anything.

Supernatural - Season 8 (CW - 8-9PM - premieres October 3):

Well, I'm not into most SciFi/Fantasy, and I'm not an overly hormonal girl, so no, this isn't one of my shows.

Suburgatory - Season 2 (ABC - 8:30-9PM - premieres October 17):

I haven't seen this show, and haven't decided if I'm going to loop around to catch up with it at any point. This may be the show that leaves the least amount of impression on me (neither good nor bad), so we'll call it a maybe for now.

Chicago Fire - Season 1 (NBC - 9-10PM - premieres October 10):

Normally I'd just lump this on the cop/lawyer/doctor pile, but I feel like I can't dismiss this one outright. I never saw Third Watch, but this Dick Wolf show is described as being character-based and no-frills. I doubt that I'll watch every week, but I'll definitely keep an eye on it.

CSI - Season 13 (CBS - 9-10PM - premieres September 26):

Used to watch it. Don't now. The end.


So this one's easy. Animal Practice at 7PM, take a break, then Nashville at 9PM. Normally, a season of Top Chef would have to wedge itself in there somewhere, but I haven't seen any mention of it on anyone's schedule.

Next Time Won't You Watch With Me?

Most of the pop culture I consume is planned. That is to say, I intentionally seek out a movie (show/game/song/book) that I think looks interesting. But once in a while, it's more fun to just wander into the wide world of entertainment and see what you encounter. In an effort to get out there and discover what other possible gems are lurking in the shadows, I'm launching the ABC Project.

For each letter of the alphabet, I'll choose a fairly random pop culture property and see how it strikes me. Twenty-six is a manageable number, and in order to widen the scope, I'll attempt to spread the genres around. Fiction, non-fiction, documentaries, cartoons, comedies, dramas... It's all up for grabs.

Plus, it'll be a good opportunity to re-immerse ourselves in Sesame Street odes to the letters. This damned fairy alphabet song has been stuck in my head for 30 years.


2012 Fall TV Preview: Tuesday

Mondays in the upcoming season look pretty weak, but as barren as Mondays are, that's how stuffed Tuesdays look to be. I can tell that online streaming is going to become increasingly important to me. So... Make your programs available, networks. None of this "You can watch new episodes a month after they air!" bullshit. Get them up on Hulu (or stream them on your own websites) the day after they air, and I'd be perfectly willing to sit through some ads for them. Anyway, Tuesdays.

The Mindy Project - Season 1 (Fox - 8:30-9PM - premieres September 25):

The pilot was fairly decent, if not spectacular. It's certainly got room to grow, but the source material is good. I'll probably give it a shot, and see how it develops.

Hart of Dixie - Season 2 (CW - 7-8PM - premieres October 2):

This isn't a show I'd ever take much of an interest in. I'm just tossing it in here for completion's sake.

NCIS - Season 10 (CBS - 7-8PM - premieres September 25):

If I were to watch a crime procedural, it wouldn't be this one. This is one of those shows that apparently has a huge audience, despite me not knowing or interacting with a single person who watches it.

Raising Hope - Season 3 (Fox - 7-7:30PM - Premieres October 2):

I've let myself get behind on this, and I feel bad about that. This is a charming show, and I like it a lot. Unlike a lot of other shows, I may even be willing to check in with the third season without having seen a lot of the second.

Ben and Kate - Season 1 (Fox - 7:30-8PM - premieres September 25):

The pilot wasn't half bad. As with The Mindy Project, it may be worth seeing where this show goes over the next few episodes before I make a long-term decision. What else is there to say? Oh, I know! Is it me, or does Nat Faxon have the biggest face in creation?

Go On - Season 1 (NBC - 8-8:30PM - premiered September 11):

I've already seen two episodes of this show: I watched the pilot in my mad watching dash, and caught the second one after it aired. The pilot was better than the second episode, which is weird. It's still got some problems and still got some promising things going for it, so I'll stick with it for now.

Happy Endings - Season 3 (ABC - 8-8:30PM - premieres October 23):

I really liked the first season, but haven't seen the second. This may have to be one of those shows that I just catch up with after it's available on DVD or streaming.

NCIS: Los Angeles - Season 4 (CBS - 8-9PM - premieres September 25):

Wait, what? They're going to air two solid hours of this franchise on the same night? Bleh.

New Girl - Season 2 (Fox - 8-8:30PM - premieres 7PM September 25):

I keep hearing good things about this show, and yet haven't ever found the time to tune in. I'm sure I'll catch up with it someday, but probably won't make an effort to watch the episodes as they air.

The New Normal - Season 1 (NBC - 9-9:30PM - premiered September 10):

Thank goodness I was able to see an advance screening of the pilot, so I won't have to waste another moment on this piece of shit. Based on the fact that Ryan Murphy projects seem to be pretty popular right now (and the inexplicable praise I saw on my Facebook wall), I can't even depend on this sinking into obscurity the way the equally vile Work It did last year. At least it should be easily avoidable for now.

Don't Trust the B---- in Apt. 23 - Season 2 (ABC - 8:30-9PM - premieres October 23):

Much like New Girl, I've been hearing good things about this show, but feel like I need to catch up with the old episodes before I attempt to watch the new ones. This is the textbook definition of a "catch-up show".

Parenthood - Season 4 (NBC - 9-10PM - premiered September 11):

And this is the textbook definition of a "series show" - a program that I'll probably wait to end before I go back and watch the whole thing at a stretch.

Private Practice - Season 6 (ABC - 9-10PM - premieres September 25):

Nope. I have no interest in this show at all.

Sons of Anarchy - Season 5 (FX - 9-10PM - premiered September 11):

Also nope. Unlike Private Practice, though, I actually know people who watch and enjoy this show. It's just not for me.

Emily Owens, M.D. - Season 1 (CW - 8-9PM, premieres October 16):

The only interesting thing I've heard about this is that it stars Meryl Streep's daughter. I also think the entertainment calendar is already suffering from a glut of medical dramas, so it's unlikely I'll make room for this one.

Vegas - Season 1 (CBS - 9-10PM - premieres September 25):

Dennis Quaid plays the sheriff of '60s-era Las Vegas as it starts its economic boom and its invasion by organized crime. It also stars Michael Chiklis and Carrie-Anne Moss, so everyone involved has done some pretty great things. I'll admit, my curiosity is piqued.


Hmm. Well, in a world where I do nothing but sit at home all night watching TV, this is actually workable. It's possible to watch Raising Hope, Ben and Kate, Go On, The Mindy Project, and Vegas all in a row, without missing any shows I mentioned wanting to watch as they air. Of course, this won't be a practical way to spend every Tuesday, so I'll have to make some tough choices.

2012 Fall Tv Preview: Monday

Aww, does someone have a case of the Mondays? I know what'll help! Let us all bask in television's warm glowing warming glow. Or, after seeing what's on tap for the upcoming season, let's not. At least there's one exception that will bring the entertainment: Bring back...my girls.

Castle - Season 5 (ABC - 9-10PM - premieres September 24):

As with The Mentalist, it's a perfectly serviceable crime procedural, but nothing I feel the need to seek out. Besides, I'd feel the need to watch seasons 2 through 4 before starting this one, and that's just not going to happen anytime soon.

Revolution - Season 1 (NBC - 9-10PM - premieres September 17):

Another "event" show from executive producer J.J. Abrams. This one takes place 15 years after some catastrophe has disabled all forms of power on the planet. I don't want to entirely dismiss a show I've never seen, but this one already has a few strikes against it. I've already mentioned that I find Abrams extremely overrated, as he tends to develop high-concept shows, then loses interest in them almost immediately, leading them to devolve into confusing messes. Word of mouth from people who have watched the first episode is not good. And the heroine walks around with a bow and arrow, because Earth losing all its power sources means that guns don't work now? Or something? It's likely I'll just pass on this show, and circle back around to it later if it becomes some cultural touchstone. I'll take my chances.

90210 - Season 4 (CW - 7-8PM - premieres October 8):

A lot of the shows up for discussion can be summed up in a few words that mean I'm not interested. Case in point: Teen drama.

Bones - Season 8 (Fox - 7-8PM - premieres September 17):

Another case in point: Serviceable crime procedural.

How I Met Your Mother - Season 8 (CBS - 7-7:30PM - premieres September 24):

I generally like this show, but I'm several seasons behind. It's going to take me a while to catch up, so I don't envision seeing this season until some undetermined future date.

Dancing With the Stars: All Stars - Season 1 (ABC - 7-9PM - premieres September 24):

Ew. No.

Partners - Season 1 (CBS - 7:30-8PM - premieres September 24):

This one has me curious. It's from the Kohan/Mutchnick team that brought us Will & Grace, and stars David Krumholtz and Michael Urie as childhood friends who now work together and must navigate their respective romantic relationships. Sure, it has the potential to be painfully obnoxious, but I like Krumholtz, I like Urie, and I like Brandon Routh (who stars as Urie's partner). It's certainly worth a try, and at least I can be certain that it can't possibly be anywhere near as awful as The New Normal.

The Voice - Season 3 (NBC - 7-9PM - premiered September 10):

I like some reality shows, but singing competitions are not among them. From what I've seen, this is easily the least annoying of the bunch, but not to the point that I'll be sitting and watching it.

2 Broke Girls - Season 2 (CBS - 8-8:30PM - premieres September 24):

I saw a couple of the first season episodes and didn't like them, so I will continue my blissful ignorance of this show. Be sure to let me know how people having different accents is, like, totally hilarious.

Gossip Girl - Season 6 (CW - 8-9PM - premieres October 8):

Teen drama.

The Mob Doctor - Season 1 (Fox - 8-9PM - premieres September 17):

The concept is interesting (a woman who must pay her debt to the mob by providing medical care), but advance reviews have not been kind. Maybe I'll give it an episode or two, but I'm not very excited about it.

Mike & Molly - Season 3 (CBS - 8:30-9PM - premieres September 24):

I've never seen this show, and what's more, I've never met anyone that has. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it just a series of uninspired fat jokes? Is it saved by Melissa McCarthy? I just don't know, and I don't think I'll be able to jump in on the third season to find out.

Hawaii Five-0 - Season 3 (CBS - 9-10PM - premieres September 24):

Another one I've never laid eyes on, and so I can't just begin with the third season and hope to know what the hell is going on. I'm afraid this will just have to be one of those shows I either shotgun years after the fact or wind up missing altogether.

That does it for Entertainment Weekly round-up of Mondays, and you'll note there isn't a single show I'm interested in seeing, except maybe Partners, and even that is up in the air. However, Entertainment Weekly doesn't report on many cable shows; just network stuff. And there is a Monday show that they overlooked that I will most certainly be parked in front of the screen for.

RuPaul's Drag Race: All-Stars - Season 1 (Logo - 8-9PM - premieres October 22):

Ooh, girl! You've got She-Mail! The past two seasons of this show have been phenomenally entertaining, and not only is there a new season on the horizon, but it incorporates many of my favorite past contestants, like Manila Luzon, Pandora Boxx, Latrice Royale, and Jujubee. The hardest part of watching this show will be deciding who to root for.


Not as easy as it sounds. I don't get Logo, so I go over to a friend's house to watch RuPaul's Drag Race. That sucks up more than just the running time of the show, so there may not be much time to watch much else on Mondays. Thankfully, the rest of the Monday schedule looks eminently missable. If Partners turns out to be good, maybe I'll be able to stream it after it airs. If not, it may turn into a How I Met Your Mother style show, in that I'll just catch up with it later.

Pilot's License

I'm more excited than I should be about getting back to the next day in the Fall TV Outline, but before we move on, I should report on last night's project. A couple of networks released some sitcom pilots ahead of their "official" air dates, and so as a lark, I watched all five. I like this system; it gives me an idea of what to expect, gets a lot of exposition out of the way, and helps me compare one show to another.

I should offer the usual disclaimer that a pilot is not always the greatest indicator of what a show will be like. The pilot of Parks and Recreation (and in fact the entire first season) is nothing like the show it became, thank the heavens. Sitcom pilots have to establish the universe and do a lot of explaining, which can easily get in the way of a show's rhythm. So, I tend to be more lenient on a pilot than I will be with later episodes. Some pilots, however, tell me everything I need to know (please insert dramatic, portentous music here).

The Mindy Project

I really liked Mindy Kaling's book, and while I'm not a regular viewer of The Office, every time I've managed to catch a Kelly Kapoor scene, I enjoyed it. I definitely wanted to check out her new vehicle, in which she plays an OB/GYN who excels at her profession, but whose personal life is a mess. Actually, I take exception to the "excels at her profession" description, because she seems equally inept at being prepared for work as she is for a date. The pilot was a little overly precious, but overall, it wasn't bad. (Grade: B-)

Go On

I wasn't expecting much from Matthew Perry's new sitcom about a sportscaster who's required to go to group grief counseling after the death of his wife, and was pleasantly surprised. This pilot packed much more of an emotional wallop than most sitcoms (never mind sitcom pilots), and still managed to wedge in a few pretty funny jokes. Among the supporting cast, Most Valuable Player goes to Julie White, playing a woman whose partner has passed away, and is pretty clearly in the "anger" stage of grief. She really tore this episode up. (Grade: B)

Animal Practice

Justin Kirk plays a veterinarian who understands all there is to know about animals, but can't connect with fellow humans. Of the five shows I watched last night, this was the most "sitcomy". I'm not sure if it taking fewer risks and hewing to a more standard sitcom structure is the reason I chose this show as having the most promise, or if it was simply better-written than the others. Since I mentioned the standout supporting cast member of Go On, I'm should also mention the anti-standout supporting cast member of this one. Even in a cast of "zany" characters, Bobby Lee sticks out like a sore thumb; his is the only performance that doesn't work. And I'm including the monkey in that calculation. (Grade: B+)

The New Normal

I...just don't know what to say about this. Well, I do, but it's far easier to just point you to Todd VanDerWerff's review and say "This." Lazy, insulting, boring, and a structural mess, I didn't crack a single smile during this painful half hour. Maybe pilots don't always paint a good picture of what a show is going to turn into, but unless this one gets a complete overhaul, I never want it to assault my eyeballs again. (Grade: D-)

Ben and Kate

This one was almost as wacky-sitcom as Animal Practice, and almost as successful in my eyes. Nat Faxon plays a spastic guy with no filter or sense of self-control, while Dakota Johnson is his overly uptight sister who's doing her best as a single mother to a requisite precocious child. The kid is super-cute, though, and detracts surprisingly little (unlike the obnoxious kid in The New Normal). The supporting cast of Lucy Punch and Echo Kellum is also very strong, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this show goes. (Grade: B)

2012 Fall TV Preview: Sunday

Pity me, for I have no DVR. That is ridiculous when you consider how many television shows I consume (and wish to consume), but it is a fact. The explanations for why are long and tedious, but suffice it to say that I am still a member of that unfortunate group of people who must choose between competing programs when they air at the same time. God forbid I ever actually want to leave the apartment - I've now missed several episodes of Alphas because Hulu stopped streaming them the day after they air. Remind me to piss and moan about that type of business decision later.

Now that the Entertainment Weekly Fall TV Preview issue has finally arrived, I can begin an intense scheduling and planning ritual that rivals the invasion of Normandy. What shows should I make an effort to be home for? What can be shotgunned as a full season later? What can I pass up altogether? Let's explore the embarrassment of riches (or in some case, just pure embarrassment) of the new and returning shows for the upcoming season, starting with Sundays. In a stubborn show of support to my local viewing, all times given are Central.

Homeland - Season 2 (Showtime - 9-10PM - premieres September 30):

I don't get Showtime, so this is an easy call. The first season is on my Netflix queue, but I won't get my hands on it for a while. If I wind up liking it, this will be a shotgun-via-Netflix kind of show.

Once Upon a Time - Season 2 (ABC - 7-8PM - premieres September 30):

The first season is on my Netflix queue. If I wind up liking it, this will be a shotgun-via-Netflix kind of show. Noticing a pattern already?

The Cleveland Show - Season 4 (Fox - 6:30-7PM - premieres October 21):

Season 4? Really? I watched the first couple of episodes of Season 1, decided I hated the show, and have been ignoring it ever since. I have yet to read a positive review of it or meet a person who likes it, so I'm bemused at its staying power.

The Amazing Race - Season 21 (CBS - 7-8PM - premieres September 30):

This used to be my favorite reality show, but like all reality shows, began to show its age. Every season, I try to tune in for the first couple of episodes to see if anything has been done to make it interesting and exciting again, but for the last several seasons, it's continued its descent into becoming a complete non-entity. That pattern is likely to continue this year, but as with every season of this once great competition, I'll give it a whirl.

Call the Midwife - Season 1 (PBS - 7-8PM - premieres September 30):

Yup. I've already saved the date. This is the show that makes me the most hopeful for Sunday nights, though it's unlikely to capture the same lightning-in-a-bottle that Downton Abbey does.

The Simpsons - Season 24 (Fox - 7-7:30PM - premieres September 30):

Like a lot of people, this used to be my favorite show, bar none. And like a lot of people, I've stopped watching. If there happens to be an outstanding episode, I'm sure I'll hear about it somehow, and will loop around to watch it later.

Bob's Burgers - Season 3 (Fox - 7:30-8PM - premieres September 30):

Season 1 of this show was a delightful breath of fresh air, and Season 2 did some nice universe building, while still being entertaining. This show is my current favorite, as far as animation goes, and I'm really looking forward to the new season.

Boardwalk Empire - Season 3 (HBO - 8-9PM - premieres September 16):

I don't get HBO, and have yet to see a single moment of this show. Like Breaking Bad, if I watch this at all, it probably won't be until the entire series wraps. At that point, I can work my way through at my own pace.

Dexter - Season 7 (Showtime - 8-9PM - premieres September 30):

Another show I've never watched, and thanks to my gore aversion, never will. Enjoy!

Family Guy - Season 10 (Fox - 8-8:30PM - premieres September 30):

When this show was new and edgy, I enjoyed it. Then it became hacky and stale, and I've never looked back. Since it's had to endure endless comparisons with The Simpsons, let's throw one more on the pile: If there's an outstanding episode that I hear about through the grapevine, I'll catch it later.

The Good Wife - Season 4 (CBS - 8-9PM - premieres September 30):

Sing it if you know it: The first season is on my Netflix queue. If I wind up liking it, this will be a shotgun-via-Netflix kind of show.

Revenge - Season 2 (ABC - 8-9PM - premieres September 30):

Let's hear that refrain one more time! The first season is on my Netflix queue. If I wind up liking it, this will be a shotgun-via-Netflix kind of show.

The Walking Dead - Season 3 (AMC - 8-9PM - premieres October 14):

Some shows are just not built with me in mind as their audience, and this is one of them.

American Dad - Season 8 (Fox - 8:30-9PM - premieres September 30):

I hated this show when it first debuted. After several seasons had passed, I was persuaded by fans that it had dramatically improved, and that I should give it another chance, so I did. Nope, still hate it.

666 Park Avenue - Season 1 (ABC - 9-10PM - premieres September 30):

Vanessa Williams and Terry O'Quinn are a married couple who own a creepy Manhattan apartment building, and another couple (Dave Annable and Rachael Taylor) move in to manage it and have to contend with all the... Well, evil. This could turn out to be soapy fun, terrible trash, or some hybrid of the two. I'm curious about it, though, and will definitely give it a shot.

The Mentalist - Season 5 (CBS - 9-10PM - premieres September 30):

A middle-of-the-road if inoffensive crime procedural. I may catch an episode here or there if it happens to be on, but it's not something I consider appointment television.

Treme - Season 3 (HBO - 9-10PM - premieres September 23):

I haven't seen this show, but there's no way I'm even attempting to rent the first season until I'm through my other David Simon show, The Wire. So it's going to be a while.


I always start out with grand plans as to how I'm going to wedge all these shows in, and then the weeding out process begins. Some shows wind up being terrible, and I choose to stop watching. Some wind up being canceled, and I'm forced to stop watching. Some I have every intention of keeping up with, but real life intrudes, and I'm forced to revisit it later. But all that comes later. For now, here's the initial plan:

There's a rough clash from 7-8PM, as The Amazing Race, Call the Midwife, and Bob's Burgers all intersect. I'm hopeful that the former two will be available for streaming online after they air. Fox is stingier about that sort of thing, so Bob's Burgers is the one I should probably attempt to catch live. That just leaves 666 Park Avenue from 9-10PM, and Sunday is set.


Abortions For Some, Miniature American Flags For Others!

Letter grades aren't always the best benchmark of quality, but are a handy summary of how a particular pop culture project strikes me. When that project is a drama, it can be difficult to settle on that final letter, because some aspects may have worked well, while others fell flat: Perhaps it's well-acted, but the plot is a slog. Or maybe it's got a terrific concept, but causes my suspension of disbelief to snap. Dramas are complicated creatures. When it comes to comedy, it's a lot easier to assign a stamp of quality, because there's always the overarching criterion of whether or not it makes me laugh. Not that comedies can't have complex layers - they surely can - but if it's not funny, it's clearly failed on some level.

A friend of mine and I were looking to get out and do something last week, and settled on an evening showing of The Campaign. Both Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis are reliably funny, and the time is certainly ripe for an absurdist satire of the American political system, so I was surprised that this movie didn't make more of a splash when it was released. I hadn't heard anyone discussing it, and the audience was sparse for a Friday night. As we watched the movie, I realized why it had landed so quietly - it was fine. Not great, not terrible. Just fine.

Ferrell is fine as a vacuous, over-sexed Democratic incumbent. Galifianakis is fine as an effeminate, Republican upstart desperate to win his father's approval. The rest of the actors are fine. The storyline is fine. Fine, fine, fine. Nothing much stood out. There were some bright spots, of course. I got two big belly laughs and several small chuckles out of this movie, but that's just not enough to fill an hour and a half. I wouldn't call this a bad movie, and I'm not sorry I saw it, but a year from now, I doubt I'll remember much about it. And that's fine.

The Campaign: C+

Comedy Stylings

Some weekends are spent doing chores, running errands, or spending time with loved ones. And some are spent plowing through massive amounts of pop culture. Somehow, I managed to strike a nice balance this past weekend. I feel like I put some social time in, and yet also managed to knock off two drunken episodes of America's Next Top Model, advanced in two video games, saw a movie (more on that in another post), and most importantly, finished off two full seasons of television shows I missed on their first airing.

The first was the inaugural season of Happy Endings. The recent television landscape is littered with the corpses of attempted Friends clones, so I think I can be forgiven for letting this fall through the cracks. Sure, there's a pleasant surprise here and there, but most of them are tooth-grindingly obnoxious. I'd been hearing positive murmuring about Happy Endings, though, so I thought I'd give it a shot. And hey, pleasant surprise! The cast gels well, and everyone gets to take a turn at being both the "straight man" and a wild ball of personality quirks. A couple episodes go beyond quirky into spastic, but despite some minor hiccups, it was pretty enjoyable.

Happy Endings was just the appetizer, though. The most recent season of Parks and Recreation was my meaty main course. I hadn't seen any of it on first run, and when Netflix finally made the episodes available for instant streaming, I was all over it. At first, I had some genteel plan of watching one episode a day, in order to fully soak in each storyline. That plan quickly died on the vine, and I blew through the entire season in about four days.

Season 4 is almost entirely about Leslie Knope's run for city council, and there is tons of comedy to be mined from the political maneuvering against a moronic trust fund baby, played by Paul Rudd. Surprisingly, this is also the most poignant season to date, and a lot of broad comedy was shelved to make room for some genuinely touching scenes of Leslie fighting hard to represent the city she loves.

That's not to say that the season wasn't funny. Several sections of it were downright hysterical, and the casting of Patricia Clarkson as Tammy One was pitch-perfect. If there was anything wrong with the season, it was throwing Ann and Tom into a relationship that makes zero sense, given what we know about these characters. To the show's credit, they do attempt to address that they make the worst couple in the world, but it still feels jarring, and doesn't fit into the show's established universe. That's my sole complaint, though. The rest of the season was masterful, and I'm happy that I was able to catch up with the show before the new season premieres. More shows need to do that. Hear that up there, Happy Endings?

Happy Endings - Season 1: B
Parks and Recreation - Season 4: A-

Back in the Day

What I'm Listening To: BackStory (with the American History Guys)

Since I take the train to work, then spend the whole day in a room full of other people, then take the train home, keeping the iPod plugged into my head has become an essential way of maintaining personal space. Sometimes, I'll listen to my library or a streaming music site, but generally, the majority of my workday is spent listening to podcasts on a variety of topics.

One of those topics is history. It wasn't a topic I enjoyed much in school, but I'm coming to realize that it didn't capture my attention not because history can't be interesting, but because it wasn't taught well. Sorry, Mr. Yarborough. You may have been an amazing football coach, but you sure didn't take that passion into the classroom. My first history podcast was Stuff You Missed in History Class, which was a perfect descriptor for why I listened. It was a terrific way of discovering historical events I'd never heard of, or if I had heard of them, I knew only the barest information. I listened for a long time, but started to become disengaged recently. A hosting change led to some dire presentation problems, but the biggest reason I finally canceled my subscription to Stuff You Missed in History Class is because no matter how great they were about researching facts and then regurgitating them for the audience, there was no analysis. It became the very "This happened, then this happened, then this happened," kind of style that I disliked in high school.

Fortunately, I've discovered a much better podcast to replace it. BackStory (with the American History Guys) chooses a topic, then follows its history, evolution, and significance from our nation's founding up through today. Each of the three hosts has expertise over a chosen century, and the presentation is punctuated by interviews and listener call-ins that usually open up other interesting avenues of discussion. Here's how you can tell this is a great program: They can take a topic I have zero interest in and make it compelling, such as the most recent episode about the importance and impact of college sports on American society.

I have yet to hear a bad episode, and in the half dozen or so I've gotten so far, they've covered things from maps to marriage. From the post office to body image. Through the lens of this show, everything is fascinating. Podcasts tend to drop in and out of my daily rotation, but once a week, BackStory is appointment listening.

B's In My Bonnet

My summer reading habits this year have, in many ways, been a mirror version of what the majority of people do. A lot of people do the bulk of their reading in summer before the whirl of autumnal activity begins, and their book choices are on the lighter side. I spend the summer catching up on TV and movies I haven't seen, and when I did find time to read this year, it was heavier fare. Aside from the gigantic disappointment of the second Game of Thrones book, the other books I've read this summer have been solid, if not fantastic.

Marcelo in the Real World was recommended by Tasha Robinson over at the A.V. Club, and I tore through it on a camping trip when I probably should have been enjoying nature or something. There's been a distressing theme in pop culture lately with an over-reliance on autistic characters granted adorable quirks or magical abilities by their disability. I can really only think of three times it's been done well: Gary on Alphas, Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and this.

Marcelo is the teenaged narrator, and his mild form of autism makes for an interesting way of perceiving the things that happen to him and the challenges he must navigate. Like any teenager, it's time for him to start considering what he'd like to do with his life, and Marcelo is pushed to integrate into the "real world" by working in his father's law firm mail-room.

He's confronted by moral quandaries having to do with his attractive supervisor, a shady trust fund baby, and his own father's actions, and when all is said and done, he's matured and expanded well beyond the safe little world he's constructed for himself.

After the passing of Ray Bradbury, I realized that I haven't read as much of his work as I'd like, so I picked up The Illustrated Man, a series of his short stories. They're mostly very dark and twisted, and would be right at home as Twilight Zone episodes. A couple of my favorites were "The Rocket", in which a man devises a way to make a little money go a long way for the happiness of his family, and "The Concrete Mixer", in which Martian invaders discover that fighting back isn't the only way Earthlings can overcome their attackers.

And because I liked Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad so much, I checked out one of her earlier books, Look At Me. It's not as good or as ambitious as A Visit from the Goon Squad was, but still has a lot going for it. The writing is terrific, but the plot kind of deflates at the end. Look At Me also has the same pattern of interwoven storylines and disparate characters, the most interesting of which is a former model who has been in a traumatic car crash. Her face is now held together by a series of titanium screws, and trying to resume anything resembling her life before the accident exposes just how much of an anti-hero she is. Despite the minor problems I had with the plot, it's an interesting book that I'm glad I read.

Marcelo in the Real World: B
The Illustrated Man: B
Look At Me: B
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