Wednesday, October 27, 2010

1 Kings

God grants to Solomon (chapter 3:10-12) the most wise and discerning mind in the history of humankind, then Solomon turns away from the Lord. I'll repeat that, as it might be significant. God grants to Solomon the most wise and discerning mind in the history of humankind, then Solomon turns away from the Lord. This might be a needed lesson on the fallibility of even the most brilliant, but there are other implications which are staggering. The Lord grants one human the most wisdom in the history of the world. If this MWADMITHOH (acronym, see above) rejects God, how reasonable is it to propose a system of divine justice based upon whether or not we "lesser" humans embrace said God? We, who are necessarily less discerning than the MWADMITHOH?? To avoid divine punishment, we would have to avoid the judgment "error" the MWADMITHOH made, could any of us be expected to be more discerning than the most wise and discerning mind ever? This is the most (and indeed, only) astonishing passage in the entire Old Testament. Why is this not the most talked-about passage of the Bible? Why is there not an entire school of theology devoted to this single passage? Do these verses contain a long-misunderstood or ignored injunction from God Itself, commanding that we reject God?


-spring 1996
I'd returned north, and was in my second semester of a master's in philosophy at WCU, my old stomping grounds. Aside from an occasional visit with Sandi, i spent little time at the theater department. On a visit to Bucks County, i dropped by the church where my brother John was rehearsing the Youth Club musical. My dad was still acting coach. They were doing JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, which i thought was probably out of their league. It was fun watching rehearsal, and some of the kids remembered me. John played Pilate, and they were actually doing a credible job. Opening week, my dad called, and asked whether i'd fill in for a guard they'd lost (Youth Club attendance had gone down since my day, and there were only two guards left). I laughed and said sure, why not. It was a hoot. I was the lasher of Christ (with Johnny shouting commands), and had a solo line (to John, as well), "Someone Christ, king of the Jews!" We had a hard time keeping straight faces. John was a step-brother, but i was closer to him than my blood brothers. I got on great with the kids. It was ten years Youth Club had become at once more overtly religious, yet also more cynical and bawdy (the most hysterical moment was in the dressing room when John Lazur, a righteous kook, jumped onto a table and did his impression of a girl, tucking his genitals between his legs). The mother who did my makeup told me i had perfect bone structure. When they called for the cast photo, i ducked out of the way. They were still doing the Teddy Bear Award, and on opening night they still played "One Shining Moment" before the show. There were tears, but now a few quiet groans as well.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Shallow Hal"

-directed by the Farrelly Brothers
One of the funniest, most thought-provoking movies i know, perhaps the most singularly successful conjunction of those two qualities in one film ever...the only really overt "issue" film i can think of that almost totally transcends its message.
And it's also an object lesson in how subjective our responses are. I know people whose taste in comedy i often share, who think this film is dreck. Usually these people are huge Farrelly Brother fans, while i'm only a mild fan of the rest of their work. Is HAL only so resonant with me because it pushes my buttons? For much of my life, i've walked around with a faint air of self-satisfaction at being less shallow than most of the idiots in the world (i'm the guy whose hackles raise when someone suggests Lyle Lovett is "ugly"). This movie threatens to de-pants my smugness.
Jack Black is perfect, and Gwyneth Paltrow gives a dual (but not) performance that ranks with the greatest ever. Jason Alexander is spot-on as Hal's neurotic and equally shallow buddy Mauricio. Anthony Robbins' two scenes are priceless, even a smidgen funnier than the rest of this hysterical movie. Is he spoofing himself? Somehow, yes and no. I was strongly predisposed to always considering him a parasitic wanker, but now i'll love him always. Susan Ward, as Hal's stunning neighbor Jill, must have been uber-thrilled with her part, given the shallow roles she usually gets. She's fantastic. The rest of the cast is excellent, some of them in dual roles like Gwyneth's...rarely have i seen an entire ensemble nail just the right values, without fail. No small amount of the credit for that probably rests with creators Peter and Bobby.
Hal's relationships with women have always been awash in shallowness. Robbins hypnotizes him into seeing only the inner beauty of everyone he meets. He embarks on a grand romance with 300-pound his eyes, she's Gwyneth at her most slender. When Mauricio convinces Tony to remove the hypnosis, it all falls apart. There are one or two moments when the movie feels the tiniest bit facile. Do we really buy that Hal would reject Jill, when she decides he's not the shallow twit she thought he was? No...we don't. Do we really buy that Hal, at the end, wants to spend the rest of his life with Rosie? Hmmmmmm. We're undecided. But in the moment, we go with it, because the film's so perfect. Above all, would we like a window into the lives of those who created this film, to find out whether they live up to these non-shallow ideals? Yes we would.
There are moments of tear-inducing poignance, centered on Hal's interactions with the children in the burn ward. His ability to "see" their inner selves, an ability he re-finds once he's no longer hypnotized, we go along with happily.
So why does this film push my buttons so?
Shallow wrob?
I've always been aware that i'm not attracted to fat women...athletic is my type. And there has always been a part of me that feels a pang of guilt at the thought that my chubby-aversion is societally-taught. The few times i've come close to sexual involvement with a fat woman, a voice pops up: "Nope...not working". Oh, i've had one or two lovers who had extra weight, and it didn't really bother me. But too, if those women had lost those 10-15 pounds, would i have pursued them more? That's gut-check honesty time, and the answer may be yes.
There's another voice that seeks to defend my "shallowness", however. Sexual attraction involves motivations that we are nowhere near fully aware of, and it is simply a fact that sexuality is about spreading our genes, and that our bodies have an agenda. The average person is a laughable puppet in biology's hands. If you'd like a window into this reality that might blow your mind, read "The Myth of Monogamy", by David Barash and Judith Lipton.
Is that rationale a dosing of bullshit? If i lived in a society that held up chubby girls as beauty's ideal, would i be a chubby chaser? I hate to confess that i might. Or maybe i'm selling myself short - i did, after all, reject my society's ideal of the "skinny woman with big boobs".
There's a woman who works at my local post office. She carries herself with far more joy than the average person, and she and i share a lovely spark. I fantasize about loving her. She also carries maybe fifty extra pounds. And i'm NOT operating from a societal perspective that expects a woman to be unhealthily thin. So my urge to open up to her, clams up when we talk.
Will i change that? Would that be a great/awful idea?
The movie's bloody marvelous. Watch it now.


-by Robert M. Sapolsky
Saplolsky is a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford, and has done extensive field study of primates. He's funny and accessible. He writes about how current science is demonstating that genetic expression is a malleable thing, prone to environmentally-influenced changes throughout the life of an individual. He points up the illogic in our fear of cloning, as clones have lived among us since humanity began (identical twins). We learn about male fruit flies, who mate with a female only once, and whose semen contains toxins that kill the sperm of any future males copulating with his ex...unfortunately, these toxins impair her health, so she produces anti-toxins, which, if too strong, can kill all sperm (if you think that's interesting but has nothing to do with you, there's a placental parallel in humans). We learn why the chase is more compelling than the consummation. We learn about how humans are not the most evolved species around (nor the cleverest). We learn how the male autonomic nervous system seems to recover back to baseline more quickly in men than in women (if you were ever wondering why women seem to stew longer...). We learn that multiple sclerosis is one of the very few diseases with a reverse SES gradient (i.e. a rich person's disease). We learn that females seem to be as stupid as males, in treating certain other females preferentially just because they're cute. Many other nifty things are to be found...not least of which, for this writer, the knowledge that being a non-firstborn with a contentious father-relationship, makes one likely to embrace novelty long after most other humans have stopped doing so.
Two previous pieces that attest to my regard for this book:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Voyager, season 1

(Following in the steps of DEEP SPACE NINE, one is almost immediately struck by a veritable absence of though the franchise had been trying to run in concrete shoes, and now has been reborn in lightness and possibility. I hope that's not just about the allure of serial novelty possible aboard a constantly-traveling starship, but rather about the profound flaws in DS9's conception and execution.)
-Caretaker ***
A Starfleet vessel and the rebel maquis ship it's chasing get yanked to the far side of the galaxy, in this double-length pilot. An alien entity has been pulling ships from all over the galaxy, trying to find a genetically compatible being. With only one vessel left, the two crews must become one. Voyager's first officer, helmsperson, and doctor are killed, to be replaced by a maquis, an ex-con observer, and an emergency medical hologram. The human manifestation of the dying alien is played with crusty pathos by basil langton (MISTER SMITH CARRIES ON, ALMOST A GENTLEMAN). The chemistry between paris and the betazoid pilot (alicia coppola - NCIS, JERICHO) is thoroughly satisfying...underscoring the wrong-turn-to-come in hitching his romantic wagon to b'elanna (tom's chemistry with kes is better, too). Armin shimerman makes a sweet cameo as DS9's quark, trying to fleece a Voyager crewmember. The captain makes a moral choice which strands them all seventy-five years from home. They skedaddle a little unrealistically quickly from the endangered ocampa, but i quibble...
-Parallax ***
The tempestuous torres is considered for chief engineer, despite janeway's reservations. Voyager tries to rescue a vessel caught in a quantum singularity, only to find the ship is their own.
-Time and Again ***
A planet is discovered which suffered a recent cataclysm. Janeway and paris are thrown backward in time, and realize Voyager is responsible.
-Phage **
An away team is ambushed by plague-stricken aliens who harvest organs to keep themselves alive. Neelix's lungs are taken, and the doctor gives him temporary holographic replacements. Unable to leave his sickbed, he becomes jealous over tom's comforting of kes. Attitudes less painfully unenlightened might have saved ethan's character, but four episodes in we're already longing for kes to be free of him.
-The Cloud **
Voyager enters a nebula in search of a power source, as chakotay helps janeway find her spirit animal. The nebula turns out to be a life form. Just a classic episode reworked, and the writer (tom szollosi) treats the 24th century just like the 20th. We'll take dwight schulz, A-TEAM, you keep szollosi.
-Eye of the Needle ****
-written by bill dial, jeri taylor
-directed by winrich kolbe
A miniature wormhole leading to the alpha quadrant is discovered. They establish communications with a romulan scientist, seamlessly played by vaughn armstrong (ENTERPRISE, THE NET). His skepticism gives way, as the crew formulate a plan to transport home - but the wormhole is found to be a portal into the past. A touching subplot deals with the doctor's reaction to being treated by the crew as an appliance. Kes is the first to believe he's something more, and her advocacy is quite moving. The first episode that grips your heart over the plight of this crew, VOYAGER's first four-star entry is also the first without neelix. Coincidence?
-Ex Post Facto ***
And the first delta quadrant nookie goes, no, never mind. It takes paris only seven episodes to lose his "bad boy" image, as he passes on sex with a willing (if duplicitous) alien because it would be, um, "wrong". This kind of sexual repression is neither A) healthy, or B) a glimpse of humanity's future - rather the opposite, as our hormone-awash couple embrace and he proceeds to go all heathcliff & cathy. Aside from that however, this is a pretty brilliant episode. The baneans wrongfully convict tom of murder, and implant him with a device which makes him relive his crime through the victim's eyes once a day for the rest of his life. Even though this punishment is just a lesser degree of barbaric than our own, i admit to initially being struck with admiration for it. It's both more humanistic, and presumably a lot more effective deterrent than prison. And okay, neelix actually made me laugh in this one.
-Emanations **
Scans of a new element lead the ship to an asteroid which seems to be an alien burial ground. Harry accidentally gets switched with an incoming corpse, ending up on a planet which thinks death is but the doorway to corporeal existence in another dimension. They're ignorant of what actually happens to the people who enter their death portals, and suddenly the stability of an entire culture is threatened. There was tremendous potential here, but the resolution is too easy, and the philosophical dialogue falls short of brilliant.
-Prime Factors ***
A compelling meditation on being on the other side of the prime directive, when a culture that could send Voyager halfway home refuses on ethical grounds. This episode could only have happened in the first season, when the crew relationships are embryonic. The carrot of home sparks an escalation of disobeyed orders, as b'elanna allows herself to be convinced that this opportunity can't be thrown away. Her growing respect for janeway (and a life of self-respect and greater purpose that suddenly seems open to her), collides with a dire ethical dilemma, and the conflict is palpable. The even bigger surprise is the officer who ultimately takes all credit for the mutinous behavior - tuvok. Thinking that janeway's principles have locked her into a corner from which she desperately wants to escape, he takes the responsibility off her hands, fully ready to sacrifice his career. This is the kind of situation employing logic (and its potential for messy, divisive results) which the TREK writers should have captured more often. Janeway's dissection of vulcan logic is perhaps the most compelling such argument ever offered. The scenes involving these three actors are searing. The only things keeping this from four stars are guest chemistry that doesn't quite gel, and a casual dismissal of a hedonistic, living-in-the-moment culture - the writing lacks fair-handed subtlety.
-State of Flux **
A kazon ship is found, which was destroyed trying to incorporate Federation technology. Seska, a surgically-altered cardassian who was a spy (and chakotay's lover) with the maquis, is uncovered. A juicy premise for martha hackett's (NEVER BEEN KISSED, KISS KISS BANG BANG) thirteen-episode arc, but one that never bears much fruit. She escapes, to join the kazon.
-Heroes and Demons ***
Kim, tuvok, and chakotay disappear inside a malfunctioning Beowulf holonovel. Because he can't be similarly hurt (as he's already a hologram), the doctor is sent on his first "away" mission. Kes gets him to acknowledge his fears. He discovers an aggrieved photonic life form, saves the day, and gets his first kiss, from a warrior maiden (marjorie monaghan - SPACE RANGERS, REGARDING HENRY). Flawed but fun, with the first intimations of the greatness that lies ahead for the doc.
-Cathexis **
Chakotay's spirit is displaced from his body by vampiric energy aliens.
-Faces ***
Captured by vidiians, b'elanna is genetically split into two selves, one klingon and one human. What does it say about me that i find her unattractive as a hybrid, yet damned sexy as both domineering klingon and simpering human? There are plot holes big enough for a gas giant, roxann's klingon voice is stilted, and the writing is simplistic, but fun can cover many flaws. Also notable is how chakotay chooses silence over cookie cutter wisdom - it's unclear whether that's a writing, directing, or acting choice.
-Jetrel **
Neelix is (falsely) diagnosed with a fatal disease by a haakonian doctor...who, it turns out, developed a weapon that killed 250,000 talaxians, including his family. Neelix's first episode as central character was probably doomed anyway, but the writing is pretty shabby. A shame, too...having him deal with the guilt of avoiding military service is a powerful choice. The better resolution would have been for him to expose jetrel's deceit by confessing that he couldn't possibly have been infected, as he lied about being on the moon, because only military personnel were allowed in after the cataclysm.
-Learning Curve ***
I would simply be remiss if i didn't alert you to the fact that, after facing off against klingons, romulans, big ol' lizards, omnipotent beings, cybernetic hive creatures, and that mel guy from ALICE, TREK now goes toe to toe with...stinky cheese. No, really. And they almost get their ass kicked (i suspect a sneaky vegan on the writing staff). The A plot's pretty fine too, as tuvok trains four maquis hard cases in Starfleet ways. Guest armand schultz (VANILLA SKY, BURN AFTER READING) is given wonderful material...and nails it. Chakotay's "gentle" disciplinary hand is revealed.

Deep Space Nine, season 1

Picard, q, o'brien, keiko, lursa, b'etor, and troi (no, the other one) - no other TREK got so much first-season love from established franchise characters...or needed it. If you accept that DS9 is the most flawed TREK, you can relax enough to appreciate the occasional gem.
-Emissary ***

A pilot that scores as legitimate sci fi. In a far corner of the quadrant, the Federation assumes command of an abandoned cardassian space station at the planet Bajor, which has suffered a brutal occupation. Starfleet and non-Starfleet must work side by side, with alien ships coming and going. Inside a stable wormhole, a race is discovered which experiences time as a single moment. Commander benjamin sisko must convince them that we are no threat, while explaining how anticipation, reminiscence, hope, and loss inform human life. Flawed...but with many four-star elements. Guest star patrick stewart (as picard and locutus) hits the right notes, compelling yet not show-stealing. Not as "Up With People" as earlier TREKs, with sisko a damaged, grieving single parent. Plenty of pilot-itis too, with kira's hair, quark's nose, and odo's look rather embryonic.
-Past Prologue ***
A "former" bajoran terrorist asks for asylum, and bajoran first officer kira must decide where her loyalties lie. The callow, eager doctor bashir has suspicions about the tailor garak, the station's lone cardassian. Plus...lursa and b'etor!
-A Man Alone **
Security chief odo, the sole station holdover from the cardassian regime, is a shape-shifter who has never met another of his kind. He's also the prime suspect in the death of a murderous criminal. Keiko starts a school. Rom (max grodenchik - BRUCE ALMIGHTY, SISTER ACT) debuts, his voice a far cry from what it will become.
-Babel ***
A lethal, verbal gobbledygook-inducing plague left by bajoran terrorists eighteen years earlier accidentally gets loose aboard the station.
-Captive Pursuit ***
The first alien from the gamma quadrant (scott macdonald - ENTERPRISE, AMERICAN CRUDE) arrives through the wormhole, followed by hunters. O'brien befriends him, and tries to teach him self-determination. A stellar meditation on cultural relativity.
-Q-less ***
Q and vash (jennifer hetrick - 500 DAYS OF SUMMER, CIVIL WARS) show up on the station after she refuses to be his companion any longer. Bright and bursting...anything with john de lancie is a must-see, i say.
-Dax ***
Jadzia is put on trial for a murder her former host allegedly committed, thirty years before. If not for a kowtow to monogamous marriage, this one is knocking on four stars.
-The Passenger ***
A criminal dies in bashir's arms. Is he really (or only mostly) dead?
-Move Along Home **
A game-loving species visit from the other side of the wormhole. Quark underestimates the seriousness of their game...or does he? The senior staff find themselves pawns. If the puzzles had been better thought out, we might have had something.
-The Nagus **
The grand nagus comes for a visit...and dies, leaving quark the supreme ferengi leader. Can wallace shawn (MY DINNER WITH ANDRE, THE PRINCESS BRIDE) save the ferengi from flaccidland? Probably not.
-Vortex **
A shady stranger tells odo of the existence of others of his kind...and takes him on a wild goose chase.
-Battle Lines **
Sisko, bashir, kira, and Bajor's spiritual leader (camille saviola - THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO, PENN & TELLER GET KILLED) crash on a moon on the other side of the wormhole, and find themselves embroiled in a local war between factions who come back to life after even the most brutal murder.
-The Storyteller **
Bashir and o'brien try to cope with an emergency in a superstitious bajoran village. Dreary and desultory. The only thing keeping it from one-star is the B plot, in which jake and nog crush on a teenage bajoran leader...the writing is equally feeble, but the chemistry is nice.
-Progress ***
Kira must convince an old farmer to abandon his home, because the provisional government needs the land cleared. Brian keith (FAMILY AFFAIR, HARDCASTLE AND MACCORMICK) is understatedly brilliant, offering one of the greatest guest turns in TREK history.
-If Wishes were Horses ***
People's imaginations come alive! Or wait...are these figments non-corporeal aliens? They should have left an idea this juicy to a cable series, of course. But not bad TREK, as these things go. One star added for making the greatest baseballer ever, NOT come from 20th-century Earth.
-The Forsaken **
TNG's lwaxana (majel barrett - WESTWORLD, EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT) visits, and hounds odo for some lovin'! An electronic alien child, visiting awful lot of balls in the air. In all fairness, majel actually became a fair actor after a few decades' practice.
-Dramatis Personae **
The command staff mysteriously become power-mad, plotting alliances and assassinations.
-Duet ***
The performance of harris yulin (GHOSTBUSTERS II, THE HURRICANE) as a suspected war criminal is scenery-chewing the way it was meant to be. This is a tricky take on issues of great subtlety...and it absolutely works.
-In the Hands of the Prophets **
A bajoran religious leader begins a boycott of the station's school, for not teaching religion. The most sexually-repressed, quease-inducing teaser in TREK history. With all this holiness and anti-humanistic monogamy, this should be one star...but the writers were striving for something meaningful, and succeeded a tiny bit.

Next Generation, season 1

(One may fairly ponder why TNG wasn't cancelled during its first season, as the writing was often embarrassingly bad. It's extra baffling, given that roddenberry brought back a number of writers from the classic...justman, fontana, black...but even season 3 TOS never descended into the bouts of unsophistication and melodrama found here. Fortunately, charm, chemistry, and a starving fan base pulled them through, and no TREK would ever be this bad again.)

-Encounter at Farpoint ***
The most conspicuous TREK cast (numerically, anyway) takes its debut. A wild ride...and not just because hindsight sees the coming seasons (more than double the original), feature films, guest appearances, and general brilliance. The writing is occasionally amateurish (tasha in particular is cringingly written, acted, AND directed), and the characters are not-quite-developed (a captain of picard's stature and personality having no input into the selection of his first officer?), but the chemistry is ready to go. Eighty years after the classic, a new crew takes its first mission on a new Enterprise, as an omnipotent being (john de lancie - LEGEND, THE FISHER KING) puts humanity on trial. A captain with the wrong accent, a blind engineer, a precocious teen, an android, an empath, a klingon, an o'brien, a bridge officer named lt. torres...and deforest kelley in a cameo as a 120-something mccoy. Engage!
-The Naked Now **
Priceless - the best two-star episode you'll ever see. The crew is infected by an intoxicating virus. The chief engineer is a macdougal! In what had to have been the first episode shot, the cast takes baby steps (and missteps). More moments of mawkish melodrama, as stewart may have had a few "I left the RSC for THIS?" moments. The plot follows up the classic "The Naked Time", a direction they would hereafter eschew (at least for a goodly while). But even in the awkwardness, there are glimmers of loveliness...and more than a glimmer, as an eye-popping tasha seduces the hell out of data.
-Code of Honor **
The leader of an alien society claims tasha, and his wife challenges her to a fight to the death. Unlike the pilot, charm can't overcome simplistic writing.
-The Last Outpost ***
Enterprise chases an alien vessel carrying stolen property. They begin a silent face-off as their power mysteriously drains, until they finally find an automated relic of a lost civilization which must be convinced its creators are dead, before it destroys both vessels. Facing an alien telepathic hologram, will riker and Federation ideals save the day. General ferengi lameness notwithstanding, their first appearance (Serpentine! Violent!) isn't so bad, and allows one to appreciate their metaphorical significance. Classic TREK took down racism, religion, tribalism, and warriors/bullies (it also tried to take sexism down a peg, albeit tokenly and contradictorily). What was left of western society's ills? The ferengi are roddenberry's whack-bang at capitalism. The galaxy's ultimate profit-seekers? Amoral trolls. Ain't that a kick? Satisfyingly, armin shimerman (DEEP SPACE NINE, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER) is one of the inaugural batch. The scourge of bad writing continues - witness here a lack of effective natural dialogue, and service dialogue.
-Where No One has Gone Before ***
A scientist (stanley kamel - HILL STREET BLUES, MONK) riker dismisses as a crackpot, has Starfleet permission to use a new propulsion matrix with Enterprise. The ship is launched into another galaxy (300 years away at maximum warp - suck on THAT, Voyager). Only wesley notices that something is amiss, and that the alien assistant (eric menyuk - FEARLESS, THE AIR UP THERE) may be responsible, but then the ship is hurled to the edge of the universe, where thoughts become reality (Rape gangs! A targ on the bridge!). Before returning everyone home, the traveler tells picard that wesley is a genius, and must be gently cultivated. The captain makes him an acting ensign. Plus...chief engineer argyle!
-Lonely Among Us **
While Enterprise transports delegates from two Federation applicant species who can't stand each other, a non-corporeal alien disrupts the ship, inhabiting computer systems and crewmembers. The writing occasionally descends to a 3rd grade level.
-Justice ***
Visiting a utopian culture, wesley commits a minor transgression and faces the only punishment their society offers - lethal injection. Can someone tell me why the crew is interacting with a pre-warp culture?? These people worship a sky god which is actually an alien ship - kudos to the writer for having the locals refer to god as "It". Despite a pitifully-written resolution, they had four-star immortality in their hands, if only they'd presented this hedonistic society as they would logically be - nude. Do you suppose they filmed a director's cut? Starring brenda bakke (HOT SHOTS! PART DEUX, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL), jay louden (OPPOSING FORCE, LAKER GIRLS) and josh clark (BIG, VOYAGER), never imagining that death awaits him in the delta quadrant.
-The Battle ***
A fine tale that takes us aboard the Stargazer, picard's first command. Abandoned and adrift, the ferengi discover it and present it to the Enterprise as a gift (with a deadly secret). Mind control makes picard try to recreate a violent piece of his past. Daimon bok is finally stripped of command for indulging in the non-profitable exercise of vengeance. With no glaring flaws, it's the first NEXT GEN to resemble what the show will become.
-Hide and Q ***
Q returns, to offer omnipotence to...riker? It's another test for humanity (let's ignore the fact that he actually fails). He tries to offer maturity to wes, sight to geordi, humanity to data, and sex to worf. I get the first three rejections, but...anyway, another dandyfine de lancie performance. The continued implication that "animals" are a set which does not include humans, feels a bit 20th-century. But at death's doorstep, tasha comes on to picard. So that's nice.
-Haven **
Troi unhappily meets her arranged husband, as a peaceful planet is menaced by an approaching alien plague ship. The NEXT GEN debut (in the flesh, anyway) of nurse, lwaxana troi that is, as majel barrett arrives as our favorite (and only) betazed mother. The assertion that humans are still crippled by the word/thought duality that cripples our race currently, is probably inconsistent with the notion that we've gotten our act together by the 24th century. Lots of humor over the impending nuptials (a little of it forced - yes, writers, we get the idea that betazed marriages are NAKED, you may stop giggling like prepubescents), then the groom runs away. And i'm sorry, but was riker just watching...harp porn?
-The Big Goodbye ***
Picard relaxes on the holodeck, as '30s gumshoe Dixon Hill. He brings along beverly, data, and a guy in red (sort of). The local mob boss? Lawrence tierney (HILL STREET BLUES, THE NAKED GUN)! What it lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in charm.
-Datalore ***
Enterprise visits the planet of data's origin, and discovers a copy of him...with a deceptively different personality. With humanlike humor and ambition, lore soon overcomes and impersonates data, attempting to sacrifice the crew to the ravenous crystalline entity. Amateurish writing is (mostly) overcome by the first transcendent performance by a NEXT GEN regular, courtesy of brent spiner (and brent spiner).
-Angel One ***
On a pre-warp world (still working out those prime directive kinks) where the women are larger than the men (who are little more than servants), an away mission team tries to find a lost freighter crew. The planetary leader (karen montgomery - AMAZON WOMEN ON THE MOON, GOING IN STYLE) takes a shine to riker...given her aggressive defense of the status quo, it's fascinating that she's attracted to his intelligence, assertiveness, and strappingness. A feminist parable in reverse, as the seeds of equality and social unrest are blooming.
-11001001 ***
In for repairs at Starbase 74, the ship is commandeered by a race of aliens so integrated with their computers, they nearly speak binary. After a faked containment emergency, riker and picard are the only ones left aboard. Will's romance with holo-character minuet (carolyn mccormick - ENEMY MINE, SPENSER: FOR HIRE) is provocative and beautiful. To say that this is the best season 1 episode may sound like faint praise, but the fourth star almost falls into place - crisp, exciting, with no obvious flaws.
-Too Short a Season **
Enterprise transports an aged admiral (clayton rohner - THE NAKED TARGET, NAKED SOULS) to a terse negotiation. The admiral takes alien youth-restoring drugs, with lethal side effects. A web of deception and revenge, featuring one of the worst acting turns in TREK history - rohner does a raspy voice and lip pursing to portray old age...and he's only marginally better at playing his own age. How this avoids one star is anyone's guess.
-When the Bough Breaks **
A planet cloaked for thousands of years suddenly asks for trade relations. What they really want is the ship's children. Finally, says picard. Brenda strong (SPORTS NIGHT, STARSHIP TROOPERS) and jerry hardin (1941, THE HOT SPOT) are the leaders of a race whose addiction to technology has left them sterile and without self-reliance.
-Home Soil **
A non-organic life form is discovered on a planet being terraformed. The lead scientist (walter gotell - THE AFRICAN QUEEN, THE BOYS FROM BRAZIL) starts killing them, even though he has suspicions about the light crystals' true nature. The life forms respond by killing an engineer, then endangering the Enterprise when they get beamed aboard for study. A profoundly earnest TREK. Purer science fiction than most, but not much deeper than a puddle.
-Coming of Age **
Wesley and three other brilliant teens compete for admission into the Academy, as a visiting admiral disturbs morale with a top-level investigation. The first plot is dragged down by the childish writing and bad acting of the second.
-Heart of Glory ***
Three klingon warriors are the only survivors on a damaged freighter in the neutral zone. Geordi's visor provides a visual link to the rescue away team. The klingons test worf, and invite him to join them in a life of predation, rejecting the alliance with the Federation. A klingon battle cruiser, of the same vintage as classic TREK, shows up to imprison the renegades. Worf helps them die with honor. Starring vaughn armstrong (ENTERPRISE, CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER).
-The Arsenal of Freedom ***
On a planet long dead, Enterprise discovers a holographic merchant (vincent schiavelli - ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH) selling advanced weaponry, whose "demonstrations" turn deadly. Geordi must assume command of the Enterprise, and he separates the saucer. Chief engineer logan gives him flak (farewell, engineer argyle, we hardly knew ye). Picard's decision to go to the surface seems unjustly rash, and the resolve is perhaps too easy, given that these weapons were supposed to have killed their makers, but a wonderful ensemble effort.
-Symbiosis ***
Enterprise mediates between two cultures, one suffering from a plague and the other providing medicine to treat it. Seeming generosity is anything but, as only one side knows that the plague no longer exists. It's a happy KHANcurrence as merritt buttrick (SQUARE PEGS, ZAPPED!) and judson scott (V, BLADE) are reunited! Future TREK recidivist richard lineback (NATURAL BORN KILLERS, TWISTER) also logs a fine appearance. Tasha tries to explain the allure of recreational drugs to 24th-century wesley. Anyone spoofing me could superimpose my face onto his. A desultory effort lifted to three stars by the first TNG patrick stewart scene of deftness and depth.
-Skin of Evil ***
A crashed shuttle is stranded on a planet where a malevolent oil slick kills tasha. Is the writer a sneaky alternative-energy advocate? It's not very good TREK, as the whole "evil vs. good" thing befits a lesser franchise...and it's more than a little disconcerting to see the Enterprise eradicate a disagreeable life form from orbit (in other words, this is TNG's "The Man Trap" moment). But the holodeck memorial scene is the first TNG to stir a deeper emotional response.
-We'll Always Have Paris ***
Enterprise rescues a couple from a planet which was the emanation point for a time distortion felt light years away. He's barely conscious, and she's the woman (michelle phillips - VALENTINO, KNOTS LANDING) picard left behind twenty-two years before. On the planet's lab, three datas must repair a rupture in time. The brilliant writing tails off in the third act, but otherwise it's tender, touching, and exquisite...the first full TREK flowering of stewart's abilities.
-Conspiracy *
The most hilariously (and schizophrenically) bad TNG ever. It starts out tight and dark, as picard is summoned to a covert summit of captains who believe Starfleet has been compromised at the highest level. One of the ships is soon mysteriously destroyed, and Enterprise heads for Earth. Once there, an admiral friend of picard's transports aboard...and then, like a switch has been flipped, the episode morphs into a 40s sci fi serial - unintentionally hysterical cheese, special effects that make kirk vs. gorn look cutting edge, underdone writing, overdone acting, and mustache-twirling aliens. You may not believe your eyes.
-The Neutral Zone ***
As they investigate disturbances near the neutral zone, the Enterprise finds three frozen 20th-century humans - a housewife, a dissolute but garrulous musician (leon rippy - STARGATE, DEADWOOD), and, if you'll pardon the redundancy, an amoral financier (peter mark richman - NAKED GUN 2 1/2, AGENT FOR H.A.R.M.). The romulans (featuring marc alaimo - DEEP SPACE NINE, HILL STREET BLUES) return, and none too soon, for among it's other shortcomings, season 1 lacked any dangerous presence. The somewhat simplistic interactions are rife with the TREK vision, including a riff on how people once feared death.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

greyt genes

I've just encountered the first scientific theory to explain why human hair goes grey. Not some dry description of what occurs on the cellular level (melanin blah blah), but WHY grey hair exists - evolutionally, what purpose it serves.
Are you sitting down?
It's a sexual signal, a way for humans to signal to potential mates that they didn't die young (i.e. they have excellent longevity genes). Hey, all you potential mates out there, grey hair screams, get a load of these GREAT genes! Get over here and sample these GREAT GENES!! Whee! That was awesome! Anybody else want some great genes??
I like this, as very occasionally i'm forced to admit that my ideals run contrary to biology and the dictates of nature. It's nice to be on nature's side, while idiots run the other way. I've long championed the embrace of aging, which makes me an anomaly in a society in which it's treated as an enemy, to be feared and attacked at any cost (that's not hyperbole...many die on the operating table each year in the struggle). We humans are so good at rationalizing our bullshit, that this war against the natural progression of life somehow becomes ennobled. The media spurs us on to "defeat" wrinkles, look "ten years younger", etc. Who funds the media? The same corporations that sell you the products you need to "fight" aging, peabrains. People are so afraid of being unloved, that they buy all those millions upon millions of dye bottles each year...
Maybe being fucked in the ass is just a part of life, but would you all at least stop BENDING OVER AND PRESENTING?
Do something crazy instead. Learn to love yourself for who you are. I'll repeat that, it might be important. Learn to love yourself for who you are. Learn to carry the signs of aging with pride, reflecting the fact that you're a survivor who has wisdom to share, and stories to tell. In a healthy society, there would be two major communal celebrations in each person's life: the arrival of sexual maturity, and the arrival of grey hair.
So for pity's sake, please stop hiding those beautiful sexual signals coming out of your head.
Love yourself. If you don't, no one else ever will.
Okay...i will.
But i wouldn't complain if you made it a little easier.

Friday, October 22, 2010

apple raisin crisp

Know what the most appalling, unforgivable aspect of corporate America is?
No, not the price-fixing or egregious misdistribution of wealth. Nah, not the crushing of independent business. Unh-uh, not even commercials so insipid that your teeth cringe, perhaps featuring a song you once innocently frolicked to, with lyrics now extolling the virtues of crispy nuggets.
Nope, it ain't those.
It's when those jagoffs take the greatest product ever off the shelves.
Take it, like it never existed. A product so yummy that a room full would put stars in your eyes.
It's happened four times in my life.
The first time was back in those non-discriminatory days of youth when i ate milk chocolate. I'd enjoyed Twix bars from time to time. A lovely product. Then one day, i saw a cookies and cream Twix Bar. It had a dark cookie with white cream, and a dark chocolate coating. It was amazing. I enjoyed them throughout that summer. Then one day...gone. Just gone.
Another time it happened when i'd eaten the product only once. I pulled the last bag of ranch Dirty Potato Chips off the grocery shelf one night. I'd never heard of the brand, which would go on to become my favorite chip ever. I came back later that week, and the clerk told me they were out. Years of fruitless searching later, i found no mention that they'd even existed, on the company website.
The third time, it wasn't a disappearing product, but the changing of a recipe. For years, my favorite candy was Hershey's Special Dark. Then one day i looked at the label, and where it had read "semi-sweet chocolate", it now read "mildly sweet". Mildly sweet? What the blessed balls of mary is "mildly sweet"? I examined the ingredients. They'd upped the milk content. It was a calamity. They'd taken my beatles of candy bars, and turned it into new kids on the chocolate block. I rushed around to stores, buying up as many of the huge-sized classics as i could find. I froze them, and ate the last piece a few years later.
And then there's the deepest wound of all.
The most beloved cereal of my life.
Kellogg's Apple Raisin Crisp.
My mouth parts and my jaw hangs, just remembering.
It had these huge flakes that never lost crispness, and were a 'lil sweet. Yummy, unsweetened raisins. And big chunks of dried apple, dusted with cinnamon.
My mouth was never so happy.
Then one day, it was gone.
Just gone.
I found out a few years later that you could order it in bulk. I obtained the form...and never ordered. Maybe i was still off-balance from its disappearance. Maybe i was waiting for someone to know me so well that they'd give me a crate as a gift, and it would be one of the best gifts of my life. Maybe i didn't want to prolong my pain.
And now, it seems that ordering in bulk is no longer an option.
Life is about loss. It's our losses that teach us more about ourselves than happiness.
No tears.
Maybe just one.
And maybe, just maybe...if one day i fell the mighty giant that is corporate America...if i make this land safe for every mom & pop store, every corner bodega, every bootblack, and hobo cleaning your windshield at the intersection...maybe one day your kids will look at my statue.
In my left hand?
A box of that damned Apple Raisin Crisp.
Them bastards fucked with the wrong wildflower.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

dear mom leftovers

(a follow-up to

Looking back over the piece, in terms of explaining me, it's really so insufficient as to be comical. I feel as if i could spend a lifetime coming up with different levels, angles, and questions of self-understanding. If i saw somebody demanding an accounting from someone like me, my blood would freeze at the sheer, callous blindness.
But i'll yammer on in that milieu anyway, as loose ends keep rolling...
That my choices seem inscrutable to anyone, strikes me as silly. It just seems so patently obvious that ANYONE walking my shoes would make exactly the choices i've made. Is it possible there's some kind of denial/coping device that makes me think that? I don't think so, but i could be wrong.
On another level, i sometimes wonder whether one of my deepest motivations is simply to NEVER do what is expected of me. As soon as somebody says, "wrob should do this", is it almost guaranteed i'll never do that? I will not be pigeon-holed, pegged, or defined by ANYONE, the child silently vowed. Yet that theory has holes (or does it?). I'm very communal-minded, and i remember somebody once saying, "why on earth aren't you writing poetry"? Ten years later, i was writing poetry. Of course, maybe i'd already had that idea, and was just waiting until i had something to say?
On yet another level, living in this society, it seems just the purest common sense to have at least one foot off the grid, and not live a life that endorses this greedy, bloody land we live in. It takes a special kind of cognitive dissonance to not be appalled with the U.S.A. For example, seen up close, the most inhuman horror of the twentieth century is the Holocaust...yet there's a good chance that when history's annals are written, the atomic bombings of Japan will be looked upon as the most horrific event ever perpetrated by the human race. That's what cognitive dissonance does, it makes the unthinkable okay.
So is my psychological need to confound simply purest good sense, or is it some drive i understand not? I feel like i control it, and that i'm happy to not confound people who aren't crying for a spiritual wakeup.
But that begs the question, am i the person most qualified to understand myself, or am i the person LEAST qualified? This is one of the chief conundrums of self-awareness. To what extent is any of us able to see past our own vanity, conceit, fear, and all-around bullshit?
I'm doing my best.
And beyond all these levels, there's an element of "dumb like a fox". In a way that i can't explain, i have this sense that one day even spiritually-challenged people will walk away from me saying, "There goes the luckiest guy ever".
There's probably another level coming.
Just wait a few minutes...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

dear mom

Dear Mom,
It's still funny processing the pseudo-intervention you and Aunt Joyce laid on me. I love and forgive you, even if forgiveness isn't on your mind. Good intentions, and all. The idea that i might look back one day and see missed's amazing that you could come up with that, as i may be the LEAST likely person you'll ever meet, to know that feeling. It could almost be said that avoiding that feeling has been my life's focus.
On the other hand, it's not the least surprising you might feel something is "wrong". It's hard not to view children as an extension of ourselves. But we can only ever understand another person through the lens of our own fears and desires, our own insecurities and dreams.
I actually didn't mind Aunt Joyce's participation so much. There's a greedy part of us all that wants to be the "favorite" of someone we like, and my affection for her has maybe made you feel like day-old okra once or twice? I never meant that, but it may make you smile to know that she gets a free pass here, and YOU don't. She gets to misunderstand, she's not my Mom.
And don't think i'm taking this too seriously. I know your words had an "is it possible" quality.
So, not that you've earned an explanation, because i've never hidden who i am, but i'll give a little one anyway. Heck, understanding one's OWN self is well beyond most people, much less someone else. Still, we try.
Why am i not out there feeding the poor, righting wrongs, and saving the spotted owl? Or more modestly, why am i not the coolest prof on campus? I don't rule out any of those possibilities, but my drive to never waste a moment of life has always been focused on the things we give up to get society's "rewards", and the daily nonsenses that most people endure. My drive has always been focused on avoiding the wheel of material achievement (sacrifice + consumerism = good school/good job/great nursing home). For an agnostic, my response to the world is ridiculously spiritual. I'm profoundly driven, but not in ways that most people can recognize, for i understand that the human struggles are fleeting. With my life, i'd love for it to be said, "Man, that guy had fun". Perhaps the thing that sets me apart from most people, even smart people, is the ability to grasp a larger picture.
And in some ways, i'm selling myself short here to accomodate your myopia. I've run three theaters, touched the lives of thousands of students and disadvantaged, acted in eighty plays and films, created a modest body of literature, and touched many people in many ways. How much ambition do you want?
Just now, i'm not "in the world" as much, because i feel that maybe the greatest contribution i can give the world is my words. It's entirely possible that's just conceit. If so, fine, and along the way i'll have been filled with a sense of purpose and fun. I'm a debt-free burden to no one (except inasmuch as all Americans are a greedy, violent burden on the world). So...what's the problem?
It's also possible that there are things about my journey, my need to experience life in a certain way, that even i don't fully understand. If i were rich and celebrated, or a second grade teacher, would my life suddenly make sense to you?
No, i do appreciate your concern, but someday you may say "Hey, that wasn't one of my better moments". Don't sweat it. You know i love you.
see you soon,

Monday, October 18, 2010

JCM morality

I've been an idiot.
I've occasionally talked about "judeo-christian morality". In doing so, i've been both misleading and divisive. That phrase muddies the world around us, instead of making things more clear. Forthwith, i will say "judeo-christian-muslim morality", because it's more accurate, and it knocks away one more version of the "us vs. them" bullshit mentality that cripples human consciousness.
Historically, two of the most conspicuous sub-groups of human society are those who live in rain forests, and those who live in deserts. These groups have very pronounced and dissimilar ideologies. Rain forests produce polytheistic animists, and deserts produce monotheists. Desert life is hard, and it produces big, singular ideas. The loss of a single food or water source in a forest is no big deal, but in a desert it can be calamitous. Accustomed to horrible loss, desert-dwellers have a God who is prone to meddling in human affairs, often cruelly or capriciously. The many gods of balanced forest life tend to keep to themselves.
Desert leaders are reflections of desert Gods. The hardness of desert life spawns a dominant warrior class, slavery, and a pronounced stratification of society. Rain forest societies have none of these.
And if you're a woman born into a desert society, god help you (sorry). Women are usually chattel passed from father to husband, commodities to be denigrated and used as such. Rain forest societies are typically matrilocal - related women form the core of the community.
And to top it all off, desert societies are far more likely to have repressive taboos dealing with nudity and sex.
Now, are you ready for the kicker, which you hopefully saw coming? We live in a desert society. In fact, desert ideology dominates the majority of the world. The desert dwellers and ideas which historically poured out of the Middle East left a defining mark on Eurasian cultures, which in turn subjugated the populations of Africa, the Americas, and Australia. Rain forest ideologies just don't seem to expand as well. This may be partly because of historical happenstance, but also of course because of the more aggressive tendencies of desert society. you sip your latte in climate-controlled comfort, take a moment to look inward at your desert heart. Take time to examine the general precepts in the sacred texts of Jews and Muslims and Christians (who do lip service to the New Testament, but whose basic behavior reflects older point of fact, "judeo-christian-muslim morality" could be shortened to "judeo-muslim morality"). At the core, these three ideologies are one and the same. Seen in that light, our current conflicts with the Middle East (and the unending ones within that world) are entirely understandable and natural. If we're going to have any hope of evolving beyond our origins, it must start with understanding. We may be desert rats, but we're getting better...we did, after all, produce Switzerland, Sufis, and the Spice Girls.
Now i get to go back over all my writings, and revise every "judeo-christian" reference.
I love you all.
(this piece owes a huge debt to "Monkeyluv", by Robert Sapolsky)

Friday, October 15, 2010

dear ann

Dear Ann,
It's funny that i only just now thought of trying to talk to you here. You became a follower of my blog last month, so of course there's a fair chance you'll see this. I became a follower of yours a few weeks later, which i'd wanted to do for the past year.
I've wanted to write to you, of course often since we broke up, and even moreso since you briefly reappeared in my inbox last month. But it's hard knowing what level of politeness to maintain...knowing that you are in a romance, i wouldn't want your love to see a letter from me, talking about feelings that are still there.
It's been hard the past year, being in this limbo. You disappeared from my life, stopped responding to me...but only 99%, not 100. That 1% is bigger than any of the 99 that came before. If we'd kept open communication, perhaps i would have gotten over my desires for you more readily. Sometimes i laugh, and think that maybe there's a part of you (conscious or subconscious) that wants it like that, a little piece of me ever in limbo, desiring to hold and love you.
It's not a horrible place to be. Making love with you is one of the sweetest memories of my life. In lonely times, i feel like i would pin you and love you for hours, were you to appear. Then we'd watch some TREK, and do it all over again.
I became a follower of your blog anonymously, because maybe your new love might recognize me, and be unhappy i was there. Also because i saw that you deleted one of my comments from last year.
Such a funny limbo place to be.
But i love you. I may not have said that as much as i wanted to, on the backside of our romantic arc.
missing you,

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


A fellow teacher from my subbing days, we would find each other almost every school day to hang out. She was good people, i made her laugh and feel good. She was married with kids. One day while we were doing something teacherly, i passed her a note saying she made me smile. As time went by, she opened up about finding me attractive, and dreaming about me. I was attracted, but because of her marriage, didn't really think about it. One night after a school function we'd chaperoned, she drove me home. We parked in my driveway and talked about life, and her marriage problems…after awhile, shared a goodnight hug. As our faces passed, she brought our lips together. I pulled back, telling her she should go. We've stayed in touch, and her family has stayed together. Had i been more profoundly attracted, would i have acted so "nobly"? Even though i've almost always been suspicious of monogamy, i once accepted a friend's compliment that i was the least likely man to ever have an affair with a married woman. A big part of that, though, was my life-long crusade against secrecy.

Social Security

-winter 1995
I returned to Florida and my grandmother for a longer visit, about eighteen months. This show caught my eye, and i was cast. It's a modern comedy about two daughters bickering over the care of their aging mother. The put-upon daughter dumps Mom with the more successful sister, and comedy ensues. Eventually the mother meets an artist, falls in love, and moves to France. Very funny and sweet. I played the art dealer husband of the successful daughter. The show was directed by Robert Toperzer, a goodly and talented gentleman. The mother was played by Betty Knobbe, who couldn’t have been more sweet and wonderful. She and i became buddies. Peter Stearn and Amy Tardif played the working class couple. The artist was played by Jack Anthony, who had been my onstage boss in A FEW GOOD MEN. We got along great. My wife was played by Nikki Fridh. We played off each other nicely, but never became close (she was dating someone, and i fell for her a bit). Peter's real-life teenage daughter came to many rehearsals, and had a crush on me. My funniest moment was in a scene wherein the other couple is discussing their daughter's over-the-top sexual adventures in Buffalo, and after a particularly juicy revelation, i say "So where exactly IS Bogle Avenue?" Nikki and i disappear behind a couch in one scene, and her robe comes flying up. One night she forgot to wear panties under her hose. The girls made a fuss afterwards, but i had been so involved in the scene, i'd barely noticed.

Monday, October 11, 2010

the paper, the news

Why did i stop reading the paper and watching the news a long time ago?
This week, in reverse order...
p. 43 - The weekly installment "The Justice Story", an in-depth look at notable or bizarre violent crimes in NY history. Glamorization? Yup.
p. 41 - A Canadian woman becomes ordained, and may be excommunicated.
p. 29 - Eleven female college students hospitalized after a college party in Washington State. They were drugged into semi-consciousness, so they could be raped.
p. 28 - Four gay American teens killed themselves last month, unable to cope with the stress of coming out. The primary story involved a college freshman whose roommate posted hidden video online of the student having a sexual encounter.
p. 24 - The editor of Playboy Indonesia is jailed for two years, for publishing pictures of partially-exposed breasts.
p. 16 - A jailed Chinese dissident remains unaware he has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
p. 8 - A British aid worker is killed by her captors in Afghanistan.
p. 6 - An Emmy-winning Fox reporter is arrested for molesting a four year-old girl.
p. 4 - Seven Bronx youths arrested for violently torturing and sodomizing gay men.
p. 1 - A professional baseball team is celebrated for winning a playoff series. The athlete glamorized on the cover is a confessed cheater.
There are two choices in this society...desensitization, or some middle ground between desensitization and torment so profound that it would literally kill you if you tried to take it all in.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


V (the series)
The great TV event of 1983? V. Marc Singer was fresh off BEASTMASTER. Despite my esteem for that incandescent project, i nonetheless almost entirely missed all V incarnations. Were one or two moments enough for me to glean that it fell short of greatness, and that the post-STAR WARS visuals were just sad? Well, yes. Seeing the original mini-series in its entirety, you are at once struck with the thought that it's both too short and too long. One feels that the scope of what they were trying to encapsulate, how a civilian resistance can form to an oppressor draped in a cloak of benevolence, could have used another hour or two...but as a one-night affair focusing on Singer's character, it might have packed more entertainment value. Yet there is something noble in creator Kenneth Johnson's reaching for more. The parallels to Nazi Germany, and the unspoken warning that what happened there could happen anywhere, are effectively rendered. You believe that any among us could end up a collaborator. Leonard Cimino (DUNE, THE FRESHMAN) gives a great turn as Abraham Bernstein, who sees the horrors of the Holocaust happening again before anyone else. There are great moments of almost-camp, such as when a high school band plays "Star Wars" to greet the aliens' arrival. In one too-obvious scene, a sympathetic alien offers Donovan her uniform. She had no other scenes, so what were the odds that the stripped-down actress might resemble a member of the Swedish bikini team? Hmmm...oh heck, we'll take it. But under it all is a moral ambiguity usually lacking in Hollywood. Not all the aliens are evil, and many humans act badly. As if that weren't enough, the resistance fighters join together in prayer, but their leader declines. Said leader is a woman. Yay!
The follow-up mini-series charges ahead with the struggles of the resistance, albeit more stiffly. Johnson abandoned the project due to creative differences with the studio, nor did he return for the series. The plot holes are gaping and the writing exudes the whiff of overripe fromage. The temptation to write it off is confounded by the cliffhanger of the penultimate episode, which suddenly bursts into the rarified air of pop culture iconography. Poor, sweet Robin gives birth to the product of the first human/saurian mating, and the "evil lizard" baby that emerges is so beyond-the-pale campily diabolical, one can almost still hear the howls of laughter and disgust that rang out in a nation's living rooms, on that 1984 night.
And the series, which managed nineteen episodes, is a cheesy, flawed delight. The aliens occasionally menaced us with "weapons" that would appear on Spencer's shelves a year or two later, and it suffered from painful dialogue and directing, but there was enough integrity to charm a follower. Plus guest turns by Bruce Davison, Brett Cullen, Sybil Danning, and Conrad Janis (MORK AND MINDY).
-Marc Singer (Mike Donovan): My name is Dar. I speak for the beasts. Except lizards.
-Jennifer Cooke (the starchild): Wonderful innocence and angst. Plus she makes me feel a little reptilian.
-Michael Ironside (Ham Tyler): The flinty underbelly of STARSHIP TROOPERS, he was already a master of the hard-bitten, amoral persona that would make casting directors cry "Gimme a Michael Ironside type!!" on those few occasions when he himself wasn't available.
-Jane Badler (Diana): Deliciously over-the-top as the alien commander, she was ready and able anytime the writers dialed up the evil or sexy.
-Duncan Regehr (Charles): An erudite, ruthless, and devastatingly charming alien. Also a veteran of DS9 and TNG.
-Robert Englund (Willie): Freddie Kreuger plays an alien all sweetness and clumsy.
-Michael Durrell (Robert Maxwell): A swell actor, who also had recurring roles in SOAP, HILL STREET BLUES, MATLOCK, and BEVERLY HILLS 90210. Way to work that spectrum, Michael.
-Lane Smith (Nathan Bates): Best known as Perry White on LOIS & CLARK, he made a ruthless collaborator believable and almost human.
-Frank Ashmore (Martin/Philip): Playing a murdered sympathizer and his twin brother, he does a lovely job. You also remember him as Ortega on GALACTICA, and in both AIRPLANE! movies (what's your vector, Victor?).
-Jeff Yagher (Kyle Bates): He was annoying at first, as his youthfulness bumped Singer out of the "young buck" slot, nor did we approve of the starchild falling for this yutz.
-June Chadwick (Lydia): Diana's alien rival, the immortal Jeanine in SPINAL TAP.
-Judson Scott (James): An alien henchman who graced TREK in TNG, VOYAGER, and as Khan's right-hand man.
4) The Deception
The aliens capture Donovan and use holograms to convince him he's convalescing at home after the war. If you need a Marc Singer fix, this'ns the one.
9) Reflections in Terror
The aliens create a clone of the starchild, the only successful human/saurian hybrid. The standoff between clone and original is absolutely classic...not leastly because the creators made the two distinguishable by having the clone wear NO MAKEUP...and i don't mean no alien makeup, i mean no makeup at all. The starchild has standard "human TV female" makeup. To watch them face off gives the viewer a stunning opportunity, possibly unique in the history of television, to appreciate how much more attractive a woman is without makeup. This one also has the hands-down cheesiest moment of the series, when our heroes trot out an a capella "America the Beautiful" in counterpoint to the alien's own anthem. Not for the queasy of stomach.
11) The Hero
It's possible to love V as an ensemble piece, and still acknowledge that Marc Singer was the best thing they had going. Perhaps having him be the central character of each episode would have been overkill, but he was in the middle of the show's best moments...including a fight scene in this one that would do the Beastmaster proud.
13) The Rescue
That......was......WILD. One half of the episode focuses on the rescue of an expectant mother. Even for V, it's hokey and credibility-straining. The other half centers on the shotgun marriage of invasion leaders Charles and Diana (Get it...Charles and Diana? Repulsive alien lizards? Brilliant!). She hates him, and he's marrying her to get her out of the way. Most V episodes have a sameness (resistance must save the blah blah blah), but this creating the wedding, the producers pulled out ALL the stops. There is a mix of aliens in human skin and as their natural selves, which compounds the silliness, as you don't see them as lizards often or for this long, as the heads aren't as lifelike as they would have wanted. It's all just exorbitant, and for a moment it transcends the genre.
14) The Champion
What's going on, and why is the are the aliens suddenly more compelling than the humans? In the wake of Charles' unsolved wedding night murder, Diana and Lydia are forced into a gladiatorial death match. It's freaking brilliant, over-the-top and sublime. The episode starts off with an overhaul of the credits, and for a moment it feels like everything's been revamped...the writing feels more realistic, and most of the characters seem to be gone. Mike gets swept into the resistance struggles in a small town, and it suddenly seems like he wants to make it his home, as he shacks up with a widow and her daughter. But what about his romance with Julie, and deep commitment to the L.A. resistance? Go with it, the episode says. The writing falls into hackneyed however, and at the end Mike does an illly-explained about-face. Still, a fascinating episode.
18) Secret Underground
A bad episode with what may be the worst little scene in TV history. A perfect storm of abysmal writing, clueless directing, and atrocious acting. A pair of unknown technicians kneel under a ship as a line of prisoners files past:
He: I have to stop them.
She: Jonathan no, it's too dangerous!
He: I love you.
I guarantee, you'll hit the rewind button. Other than that, the semi-revamping is interesting, and mostly for the better. Ever so slightly and saucily, they embraced their over-the-top quality more. The alien mothership now has a gay interior decorator. Not a fey caricature, a straightforward (if that's possible) gay interior decorator.
19) The Return
The alien leader comes to take the starchild away and usher in peace. They went out in style, with the most non-cheesy episode of the series, one that also hits high on the sexy/juicy meters. The starchild gave me heart palpatations. Anybody know where to find the unrated version of GIMME AN F?
(Note: i watched a chunk of the first season of the 2009 series re-boot. Wonderful acting and competent writing only carried it so far...eventually, the absence of innovation or the breath of intelligence wore me down.)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

dopers & anti-dopers

"A relationship is the price you pay for the anticipation of it."

What was the "cause of death" on Romeo and Juliet's coroner reports?
It seems i've always been bucking a common trait, the idea that wanting something is more satisfying than having it...that the chase is more exciting than the consummation. This trait seems to me the saddest of immaturities, and a denial of one of my primary spiritual goals - that of being happy with exactly what you are. I've long focused my efforts to that end, to such an extent that i feel sadness for all those around me who invest huge amounts of themselves chasing things they'll likely never have.
But it turns out that i'm fighting biology. It all ties in with delayed gratification, which has apparently been a useful development in the evolution of our species. In the words of Robert Sapolsky (author of "Monkeyluv", and to whom this article owes a huge debt), what is it in our makeup that allows us to constantly sacrifice immediate pleasures, to "getgoodgradestogetintoagoodcollegetogetagoodjobinordertogetintothenursinghomeofourchoice"? Or what is it that allows us to maintain a decades-long courtship, even though a clear-thinking friend took thirty seconds to assess the situation's hopelessness?
I am, however, not the poster child for instant gratification. In one or two ways, i'm the polar opposite. Again and again, i seem almost constitutionally incapable of using people as objects of my desire. And if there is someone or something i want, i'm capable of waiting years.
I just don't pine for it while waiting (mostly, anyway).
Welcome to my brain.
So why is the hint of something we desire, the smallest taste, enough to sustain incredible amounts of hope where none is merited? Why is the lottery the biggest industry in this industrialized nation? Why can i never burn away the image of an ex-housemate i saw naked, even though there is virtually no likelihood of ever having naked time with her? Why would i jump if she asked, though our friendship was never deep?
It's time for a little trip to the frontal cortex, an area of the brain that is gi-NOR-mous in primates. It's responsible for long-term planning, and controls inhibitions of the limbic system, the part of my brain that wanted to walk into her room and tongue-bathe her holiest of holies, that day she accidentally left her door cracked.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure. When dopamine bathes the frontal cortex, it feels GREAT. What triggers dopamine? Science suggests that it's not the reward, but the anticipation thereof. In primate studies, anticipation triggered an instant rush, yet the reward itself provided no, repeat NO, rush. Ta-da! Every demeaning, unpaid internship is suddenly explained.
Why do we chase those who run away? Why are crumbs from someone we crave, a thousand times more tasty than a feast from someone we don't?
Dopamine, baby.
We're idiots, of course. "Maybe" is more enticing than "yes"? And the more uncertain the result, the more dopamine produced.
It goes the other way, too. Unpredictable punishments are far more stress-inducing than predictable ones, even when the predictable ones are larger. Baboon males keep their competition off-kilter by acts of brutal, random violence.
Baboons and Donald Trump.
So am I the one living a pathetic lie, constantly denying my true essence? Or am i a fascinating glimpse into the future evolution of the human species?
Not if i don't get impregnatin', i ain't.
Line up, ladies! Wheee!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Charlie's Angels, season 3

1) Angels in Vegas *
Appalling. Irredeemably. Dean Martin hires the Angels to investigate a death at his casino. He and Sabrina become romantically involved, and they don't have nearly enough chemistry or well-written lines to get past Hollywood's dipping yet again (and again and again and again and again) into the old man/young woman well. They had the services of Scatman Crothers, Robert Urich, Dick Sargent in his second ANGELS stint, and Michael Conrad of HILL STREET BLUES, but the only people who could enjoy this one are bulimics.
2) Angel Come Home ****
She's BAAAAACK!!! Wheeeeeeee!!! Farrah returns from the European racing circuit, summoned by a counterfeit cable. The producers take the bull by the horns, starting off with a "reunion" between Jill and sister Kris, who'd never met onscreen. It works, touchingly so. The costume designers have fun...under accessories, Farrah's first costume is an iconic red swimsuit, with nipples exactly where we left them. Everyone gets caught up in a mystery involving a new engine design. Jill's fiance arrives, divinely played by Stephen Collins (SEVENTH HEAVEN's Rev, STAR TREK's Will Decker). Jackie Stewart drops in. And in the final scene, a's lil' sis Kris who appears in a bathing costume that might make a gay man or straight woman reconsider.
3) Angel on High ***
A lovely episode about a client's search for a lost son, who turns out to be a free-spirited show pilot who wants no part of the millions he stand to inherit. Quick! Spot the BEASTMASTER actor!
4) Angels in Springtime ***
A middling episode brightened by a climactic fight between Kris and guest star Nancy Parsons (Beulah Balbricker, PORKY'S). Actually, not "fight" so much as a bend-over ass-whupping, with Kris in the supine position.
5) Winning is for Losers **
How, how, HOW do you trot out an episode this bad for Casey Kasem and Jamie Lee Curtis (pre-HALLOWEEN)? The writing is so dreadful that pity is the only reasonable response. Casey plays an LPGA announcer who is only marginally more convincing than Gilbert Gottfried might be. Jamie doesn't fare much better as a young pro; i hope it was the director who made her smile like it's all silly fun shortly after being shot at. The sexiness meter never wavers from flaccid, either. The only thing that saves this episode from one-star land is a scene so over-the-top that hysterical laughter is guaranteed. Jamie and Kris tumble from a collapsing bridge, and Kris promptly fights off not one, but TWO alligators. Bare-handed. Ten-footers.
6) Haunted Angels **
Whenever the writers gave David Doyle just a few extra lines, he shone. Bosley gets all het up in this one about "fraud quack psychics". Quick! Who can spot Henry Blake? Not that one, the other one...
7) Pom Pom Angels ***
A charming episode, with lots of "oh that guy!" moments, like Ben Davidson (CONAN THE BARBARIAN). The Angels infiltrate a professional football cheerleader squad to investigate disappearances. It's kinda sexy, and the action sequences are silly and fun.
8) Angels Ahoy ****
The Angels return to a cruise ship, to investigate a criminal-smuggling operation. No, not criminals smuggling, criminals BEING smuggled. Sabrina plays a lowlife on the lam, and Kelly plays cruise director. This one has it all, starting with Bosley, who falls for a passenger who turns out to be the ringleader. A happy dose of sexiness comes from - surprise - Kelly! She's eye-popping in her jazzercise outfit, showing off shapelier legs than you'd have guessed. And of course, an action climax so over-the-top that all you can do is guffaw with delight. A bunch of baddies plan to drown Kelly in the ship's pool, the cause of death being "drunkenness". She's dead sober, but they'll fix that by, um, tossing booze on her. How it's going to get in her bloodstream is a mystery, but the baddie taunting her as he repeatedly throws gin in her face is too, too classic. They chuck her in, then bring out the murder weapons...POOL SKIMMERS!!! Yes, those lightweight net tools that remove detritus. They're going to push her under! It's so ridiculous that it's sublime.
9) Mother Angel ***
Farrah's second return is a bit anti-climactic, as the writers gave it an "oh, she happened to be in the neighborhood" feel. The episode starts slowly, but picks up nicely. Samantha is a precocious, troubled orphan, a fascinating character played by Olivia Barash. She witnesses her Aunt's ex commit a murder, but no one believes her. The Angels are finally on the case, with Jill as Sam's personal (sigh) bodyguard. Gary Collins and Robert Davi are satisfying baddies. Sabrina and Kelly making cross-eyes at each other while undercover, is thoroughly charming.
10) Angel On My Mind ****
Are you stunned that i'm not caterwauling like a harpy because Jonathan Frakes guest stars? The reason i'm not shrieking is because this one is so excellent it actually outshines Commander William T. Riker. It achieves a four-star rating without causing a spike in the sexiness meter, something no other four-star entry has done. And there's a moment of action so sudden and realistic, you're completely unprepared. Classic ANGEL action makes you laugh, not scream in alarm. Kris witnesses a murder, and the killer creams her with his car. She comes to, not knowing who she is, and wanders off. She ends up alone on a desolate beach. The best ANGEL episodes occasionally had a dark quality. Three men stalk her, and the looks in their eyes can only end in rape. There's a poignant scene with an old drunk who befriends her. Nine years before NEXT GENERATION, Frakes is a beach partier who feeds Kris (Cheryl looks so much like his eventual wife, Genie Francis of GENERAL HOSPITAL, it's downright eerie). The other Angels search for her, not knowing that the killer is also searching. As she slowly recovers her identity, there is genuine poignance as she contrasts the innocence of her childhood with her present life, full of "angry people". In the final scene, you can tell she's still shaken, and will be for a long time. All that, plus Billy Barty as a newspaper salesman.
11) Angels Belong in Heaven *
Ewwwwf. An unknown acquaintance of Charlie's puts a hit out on one of the Angels. At times it threatens to pass over into "so bad it's good"...there's an MST3K moment that could have you giggling for hours...but most of the time it's just so bad. One hopes that the actors were at least able to amuse themselves with the wretchedness. "That guy" baddie extraordinaire Lloyd Bochner drops in.
12) Angels in the Stretch **
Off to the races (horses, that is). A middling effort featuring David Hedison (VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, the first two-time Felix Leiter).
13) Angels on Vacation ***
Entertaining and tight, from start to finish. Bosley and the Angels visit Kris' small-town relatives in Arizona, but all is not well. Baddies have most of the town's women held hostage. The rest of the townfolk try to scare the Angels off, but soon...well, you know. Tons of "oh, that guy" richness.
14) Counterfeit Angels ***
No, they don't foil a counterfeiting scheme. There are actual counterfeit Angels running around, robbing people. A silly episode, with an underused Bubba Smith.
15) Disco Angels ***
The Angels return to the disco world, to investigate the deaths of old men in the vicinity of a discotheque. The episode starts out with a bang, as the producers popped for red-hot hit "Disco Inferno". The episode is rich, baby, rich with "that-guy" moments, and nicely-dosed with sexiness by Kris, following in big sister's steps as an undercover disco instructor.
16) Terror on Skis ***
Charming. More holes than swiss tofu, but simply charming. They protect a high-ranking government official competing in a skiing pro-am, played by Dennis "Who the hell do i gotta boink to play a good guy around here" Cole (in his third ANGEL stint, and now Mr. Jaclyn Smith offstage). He and Kelly spark romantically (surprise), but it's very nice. Curiously, he bought his snowsuit at the Darth Vader surplus store. The government security head brings the Angels in because their faces are unknown...then proceeds to de-brief them in the lodge lobby. There are delightful, unexpected visuals, such as ski dancing, mountain fireflies, and ski mimes. No, really. There's an hours-long chase scene that makes NO sense whatsoever,'s so much fun you can't say no. The charm is multiplied by endless snowmobile, skiing, and ski lift shots with fake backgrounds imposed. If you ever wondered what Cesare Danova followed up ANIMAL HOUSE (Mayor Carmine DiPasto) with, wonder no more. He's a, whattayacallit, baddie. This one has a slightly surreal scene as hostage Sabrina transforms a militant idealist into an, um, nihilist. Kris has a smaller part, yet she gives the most touching, realistic line reading she ever gave as an Angel, when she is gently kissed, and says "Well, hello".
17) Angel in a Box ***
Farrah's back, chapter 3! It starts off auspiciously, with Kris kidnapped. The kidnappers identify her as Jill, who soon re-joins the crew. An enormous misdirection is uncovered. The mastermind? John Colicos, who filmed this in the middle of his Baltar season on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA. He plays a grieving father who blames Jill for the death of his son, a race driver who crashed. Colicos is not chewing his usual scenery. Jill explains that the son, her friend and ex-lover, died because he was a bad driver trying to make his father happy. Just when you think John will be swayed, he ain't. The episode never gels, but it's nice. If you don't know what it feels like when your loved one gets a haircut you hate, Farrah has a feathered thing going on, and it just doesn't work. Layered good, feathered bad.
18) Teen Angels **
So bad it's almost good. The Angels go undercover at a girl's college, after a student is strangled. Kelly and Sabrina are teachers, Kris is a student, and Bosley shovels shit. They uncover a booze/pills ring, run by uber-alpha mean girl Audrey Landers. Egregious badness abounds, but Audrey plus a climactic chase in which the Angels are sidehacking (i kid you not...see MST3K's "The Sidehackers" if you don't know what the heck i'm talking about), rescue this one from one-star land. Art teacher Sabrina has Kris model for the class, but a golden opportunity fizzles. There's also a bizarre, unintentionally-erotic abduction of Kelly.
19) Marathon Angels ****
That......was......wild. This is what the TV saw, were it looking my way: wrob scrinches his eyes. He leans forward. He sits back. His jaw drops. His head lists to the side. He laughs. He squints. His head slowly swivels back and forth, slack-jawed. He laughs. Repeat cycle until end of episode. Okay, take a breath, and...Angels respond to the abduction of two runners on the day of a marathon. Kris and Kelly go running in the marathon! Not one day of training! Three of the runners break into a tap routine. Sheiks and sheik flunkies are running around. One of the runners has a large snake in her backpack. This episode renders LSD superfluous.
20) Angels in Waiting ***
Bosley's finest hour, the first episode ever to feature him as central character. It's alternately funny, frisky, and poignant, a la tears of a clown. He abandons the Angels at the office after meeting a strange woman during lunch break. He unloads on them about being underappreciated, and challenges them to figure out where he is when he calls in during the day...until they can, they must do the office paperwork. Out in the real world, he romances the lady while being stalked by James Sikking (lt. Hunter, HILL STREET BLUES). A fantastic episode for our wonderful David Doyle.
21) Rosemary, for Remembrance **
Oh man, did that fall apart. It starts out sharply, with murder attempts on a prohibition-era boozelord just released from prison. Kris is assigned to be his bodyguard, and she has an uncanny resemblance to his wife who was murdered forty years ago, a crime still unsolved. She starts to dress as the wife, to help him dislodge suppressed memories. A beautiful episode that spirals into the tank.
22) Angels Remembered ***
From the amount of laughter this one induced, it MUST be four stars...but no, i'll not break the unwritten commandment saying thou shalt not give highest marks to a clip show. The laughter came from the moments between the clips. The lead-in lines are so hysterically obvious, it was episodes like this that killed clip shows forever. But thisn's a gem. Sexy and funny, times three. The cure for any humdrum party! Kate Jackson heads off into the sunset...if they knew this was her swan song, no one showed it. Farewell, sweet Kate. Go get that Scarecrow.