Monday, July 30, 2012

wikedenial

My first and perhaps last attempt to contribute to the wonderful world of Wikepedia has crashed and burned, perhaps because the site is run by politically correct fascists? During the Revolutionary War, the british (in a move that was admittedly probably more pragmatic than idealistic) promised freedom to any colonial slaves who ran away and fought against their former masters. There are no records of how many slaves took up arms, but it might have been a very large number. Knowing this, i edited "freed slaves" into the appropriate "Belligerents" column on the war's main page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Revolutionary_War. It was removed almost immediately. This is particularly curious because elsewhere on the site, they freely admit that slaves joined the british ranks, in higher (probably ridiculously higher) numbers than those who agreed to fight for their oppressors:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Americans_in_the_Revolutionary_War. Have i been blacklisted (HA...get it? "Blacklisted"? Hysterical!) from Wikeworld, accused of adding erroneous data? I hate to think that, not least of all for the fact that i would have added something wild and patently false, had i known my fate. Is it too late to edit into the Wikeverse the fact that the british fought pantless, in the hopes of confusing their foes? Or that Abraham Lincoln had an invisible childhood friend named Rastus Pookie Tigerbones? Or that there's a branch of the KKK in Alabama who eschew white in favor of Star Wars sheets? Sigh.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Stargate SG1, season 5

FOUR STAR
-Wormhole X-Treme!
This may be a bit of charity, as most of the episode is just high three-star. But the last few minutes, courtesy of actor Michael DeLuise (SEAQUEST), is uproarious delight. Martin (Willie Garson, SEX AND THE CITY) is back, with his memory wiped (again!). With one of his species' ships approaching Earth, SG1 investigates. Lots of cloak and dagger stuff surrounding Martin, who is now a Hollywood producer of an action series based on his unconscious memories of the stargate program. We spend much time on that set, where SG1 lampoons itself (and its leads, and Hollywood in general) very satisfyingly. Director Peter (Michael's brother and Dom's son) plays his "Wormhole" counterpart beautifully.
NOTEWORTHY
-Enemies ***
A worthy conclusion to the season 4 finale. SG1 and their ship have been flung across the galaxy, chased by Apophis, the only other survivor of the supernova. They hide in an asteroid field when a powerful alien attacks Apophis. Replicators find their way onto both ships. Teal'c has been resurrected and brainwashed into thinking he is still Apophis' loyal Prime. The replicators build super speed into the engines, to reach the resources in our corner of the galaxy. Can the ship be sabotaged, yet in such a way that all the stars of the show live? Hmmm...
-Threshold ***
The first all-out back story in SG1 history, and it's a good'n. Bra'tac removes Teal'c's symbiote, believing that a near-death experience is all that can free his protege's brainwashed mind. As his friends pour the truth into his half-conscious mind, Teal'c relives his youthful ascension to First Prime. If you feel the writers have never really tapped into Teal'c's potential, you're right.
-Ascension **
A home-made stargate in the basement is fun, but...this one's a head-scratcher. You'll swear the writer had no previous experience with STARGATE (though you'll be wrong). Saved from one star by the game performance of Sean Patrick Flanery (YOUNG INDIANA JONES), and the SG1 debut of John de Lancie (STAR TREK).
-Beast of Burden ***
An earnest, uncorrupted tale of the enslavement of a population of unases. Their human masters were their former slaves. SG1 tries to rescue the unas Daniel befriended, but things get ugly. Larry Drake (L.A. LAW) deftly plays the town's master. This is as good as SG1 writing gets, but in the middle of it, there's a moment that points up the barrier of excellence the show still can't crack. Anderson and Shanks have a face to face, and for a moment, you can feel the actors almost bursting into a higher, more authentic human reality. Then the moment's gone.
-The Tomb **
SG1 teams with a russian unit to investigate the disappearance of a russian team. They become trapped in a ziggurat with a goa'uld inside the body of a wolverine/octopus-type carnivore. One star lost for cliched treatment of russians, but otherwise very nice (plus a helping of Jen Halley, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA).
-2001 ***
A surprisingly righteous follow-up to "2010". The aschen initiate contact with Earth through an unexpected source, and it's up to the SGC to discover whether they are the same race Jack's bloody note from the future warned of. Whatever you do, actors, don't play a love interest for a character the writers have earmarked for Mr. Dean Anderson. They might as well just hand you that red shirt.
-Proving Ground ***
A quartet of cadets go through SG1 wargames scenarios, overseen by Jack, in the actual SGC. For a while it all feels kind of obvious, but the fake-outs you know are coming are layered and satisfying. Plus a happy helping of Grace Park (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), with baby fat cheeks.
-48 Hours ***
Unique in the show's history, for juggling three plot lines which all stay airborne. Teal'c gets trapped in the event horizon, requiring Daniel to go get Russia's DHD. Jack runs around with Maybourne, trying to gather ill-gotten NID intelligence. Sam tries to figure out how to get Teal'c back, with the help of Area 51's top stargate expert, the delightfully arrogant Rodney McKay (David Hewlett), who will be spun off into STARGATE: ATLANTIS.
-Summit ***
Feels like what the pitter patter of the first 100 episodes has been building to. Daniel is sent on an undercover mission to a meeting of the seven system lords, with a toxin that will destroy them all. He changes the plan when he learns of the re-emergence of the ancient goa'uld Anubis. Great visuals, and the debut of Cliff Simon as Ba'al. Michael Shanks is now offcially up to the task of carrying a second-rate sci fi episode. That's not as left-handed a compliment as it sounds.
-Fail Safe ***
SG1 does ARMAGEDDON. But once again, they sidestep predictability.
-The Warrior ***
Jaffa leader K'tano (Rick Worthy) has arisen, and gathered an army of freedom. He prepares a bold strike, with suicidal abandon. Teal'c and Bra'tac join him, and SG1 brings arms and supplies...but Jack loses faith. Some plot holes, but a powerhouse performance by Rick, a sci fi stalwart with recurring roles in GALACTICA and ENTERPRISE.
-Menace ***
SG1 discovers an advanced android in the remains of a dead civilization. They bring her to the SGC, and reactivate her. She's childlike and evasive. She makes a replicator for Daniel as a present, and they realize that her abilities killed her people and birthed a galaxy-wide menace. A lovely performance by guest star Danielle Nicolet. Kind of nice to see ol' General Baldy Hammond camo'd up and laying down some whoopass, for a change.
-The Sentinel ***
SG1 tries to repair a planetary defense weapon damaged by the "fake" SG1. The people it protects have regressed technologically, and have no idea how to fix it. Their leader is Mural (Henry Gibson, LAUGH-IN, in a strikingly nuanced, delicate performance).
-Meridian ***
The death/ascension of Daniel Jackson. I am neither thrilled (as i thought i would be based upon his early mediocrity) nor sad, as the attempt to make this an emotional farewell feels forced, by SG1's lack of character depth and the old sci fi "non-death" death. The only thing that moved me was the realization that Teryl Rothery has the sexiest philtrum in the galaxy.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

statutory life

There is a fourth statue of me in the world!
Or more precisely, there are now eight (four originals, four copies).
The newest, created this year in Brooklyn and headed for the Maritime Museum in Washington, D.C. continues my burgeoning military career. I started out as a West Point cadet, just before the first world war. It took me around sixty years to find myself promoted to lieutenant, aboard a destroyer. I blame the slowness of my rise on the unconventional choice of switching branches of the service. At this rate, i'll make general (er, admiral) just in time to annoy a certain Picard with my know-it-all ways and comic relief flatulence.
This newest one, made at Atta Studios (http://www.attainc.com/frames/portfolio_frame.html ...how many seconds does it take you to find me??), was created with a combination of techniques. The molds for the body and arms were done with good, old-fashioned plaster (as the statue is clothed [yawn], precision there wasn't crucial). The head and hands were done in goopy, rubbery, hardening alginate.
If you've never had your body reproduced, here's the drill. You shave any body hair that won't tuck under a swim cap (you'll pay for any lack of meticulousness). You slather yourself head to toe in vaseline. Or maybe you'll skip the cap, and vaseline your hair, too. If it feels like you have enough on you, you don't.
Your artists get dipping and slapping plaster. It's nice and warm at first (if your artists have done their part with thoughtfulness and care). It hardens within ten minutes, and that's when the fun begins. As they pull on whatever part of the plaster they can grab, you expand and contract your muscles and skin, pulling away from the plaster molecule by molecule. There are sections of the body where this is fairly pain-free.
Then there are the other sections.
Anywhere you missed hair, anywhere you didn't have about a centimeter of vaseline, it might hurt. The sweaty, light-headed kind of hurt that feels like the initial stages of a drug trip. This is the part where the once-warm plaster is cold and unyielding...unless you have extra layers of fat on you, you'll be all too aware you're the only naked one in the room. You'll ask for your robe to be draped on the naked parts as they emerge, and hope that the studio's space heater is working, so it can be pointed right at you from the closest distance that won't actually peel your epidermis. As understanding as the artists will be, there will be moments when their speed will be one gear above yours (when you're trying to extract your lost body, hoping it comes back like it was before, one gear is the difference between oxcart and Studebaker). At any point during this process, they may or may not actually put their feet on your thighs or chest, to get more leverage.
Nope, not making that up.
Finally you're free.
The artists inspect the insides of the molds, mostly to see where you didn't shave so well.
On to the head and hands. Alginate technology has come a long way. When i did an all-body alginate job five years ago, you had to stay inside the mold for almost an hour and a half, during which time 78% of the subjects pass out. These days, it's about five minutes. They leave your nostrils uncovered, hope you're not claustrophobic, then shhhloop, shloop, pop, you're out.
The artists are done with you. Off to the showers. Parts of your skin feel like the steel-wool dance troupe has been practicing pirouettes on you. You're cold and squishy, but faintly giddy breathing the sweet air of freedom. You place yourself under a shower that may or may not have hot water. If it is hot, you're so grateful for any warmth at all, you'll want to stay under there forever.
Which is good, because forever is approximately how long it takes to wash off vaseline. You eventually give up, and towel off. You'll shower again when you get home (but it'll be another day or two before you recognize your skin).
A couple months later, there's a new you in the world! And to think, women just put a penis in their vagina to get the same magical effect...them ladies, always taking the easy way. No pain tolerance.
So if you're in the old District of C., stop on in and see me. Kissing, mooning, and saluting are all encouraged. No leg humping, though.
I'm an officer now, after all.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

breath are you taking the fields of your gold?

"What are you Doing the Rest of Your Life?"
by bergman/bergman/legrand
What are you doing the rest of your life?
North and south and east and west of your life? 
I have only one request of your life
That you spend it all with me.
All the seasons and the times of your days.
All the nickels and the dimes of your days.
Let the reasons and the rhymes of your days.
All begin and end with me.
I want to see your face,
In every kind of light,
In fields of gold and
Forests of the night;
And when you stand before
The candles on a cake.
Oh let me be the one to hear
The silent wish you make.
Those tomorrows waiting deep in your eyes
In the world of love you keep in your eyes,
Ill awaken what's asleep in your eyes,
It may take a kiss or two..
Through all of my life..
Summer, winter, spring and fall of my life,
All I ever will recall of my life
Is all of my life with you.


The most appallingly dysfunctional look at sex and romance in the history of pop music? If you're not queasy after the eighth line, it's long past due for you to take a critical look at the attitudes about love and sex that were instilled in you as a child. Doing so may begin to untangle the misery you've been living for however many decades you've been drawing breath on this ol' rock. What's even more upsetting, sting himself covered this song (which even, odin help us, won a grammy). This song is like the AM gold B-side to "Every Breath You Take", but without that song's saving grace, its intentional perversity (never mind how many millions missed said perversity). The sting connection is furthered when you look at the lyrics and wonder whether Mr. sumner plucked one of his own song titles from this (ahem) gem.

Stargate SG1, season 4

It's starting to feel like there was some kind of revolt midway through season 3, where the actors threatened to strike unless the writing stopped sucking. I expected the run of goodness at the end of season 3 to be a fluke, but...the quality level in 4 stays at that level somewhat relentlessly. The reason seems to be largely attributable to one person - Peter DeLuise. This season marks the start of his run as the show's creative consultant (in addition to directing 56 episodes and writing 18).
FOUR STAR - none
NOTEWORTHY
-The Other Side ***
A tight, dangerous trip that focuses on the give and take of morality vs. self-interest. SG1 meets a technologically superior people who are willing to offer all their advances in exchange for the heavy water needed to end a war. In a surprisingly effective performance, Jackson is the lone voice of moral objection (Shanks has turned his personal corner, giving solid performances regularly now). Perhaps a touch obvious at the end...if these people didn't turn out to be so "evil", Earth's moral dilemma would have cut deeper. Well-lifted by Rene Auberjonois (M*A*S*H, BENSON, DS9) as the alien leader.
-Upgrades ***
Fun. The tok'ra supply SG1 with alien armbands that increase their abilities exponentially. Vanessa Angel (SPIES LIKE US, KINGPIN) is the tok'ra you can't decide whether to trust. The armbands make the team act irrationally, as they go rogue to try to destroy a new goa'uld supership. Teal'c saves the day.
-Crossroads ***
Now, Mr. DeLuise, don't give directors who are willing to dial up the sexy a bad name by simultaneously dialing down the intelligence. We suspect you're better than that; we certainly loved you on SEAQUEST. This one's actually very good until a confrontation between Teal'c and a goa'uld infiltrator comes off childishly, as they both indulge in "menacing" acting when their characters would never be so obvious. A former goa'uld high priestess (Musetta Vander, OH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU?) convinces everyone she has learned how to communicate with her infant symbiote, and taught it to hate goa'uld oppression. She and Teal'c fall in love. Musetta and Vanessa are spilling sexy all over the place. That's a good thing, but...to suddenly have Vanessa dressing like a Robert Palmer video girl, when every other tok'ra dresses like a jedi...as much as we appreciate the intent, it just shows a lack of imagination. Perhaps some more creative way could be found to employ her sexiness...some more, what's that word, "organic" context? Perhaps involving a gymnasium, or a waterfall? Or a gymnasium under a waterfall? I'm just spitballing here.
-Divide and Conquer ***
A well thought-out, well-crafted entry. Sam and Jack fail a lie detector test designed to sniff out goa'uld agents. Have they been programmed to kill the President? Can they be stopped from committing suicide if they're thwarted? Ultimately, they realize that they failed the test because they were suppressing feelings for each other. A major step in SG1 character development...but is anyone (including these two) really feeling the chemistry? Goodbye to Vanessa Angel...which is sad, because we love the way she kissed O'Neill and presented an alien (and of course, healthier) approach to sexuality. Also the bloody death of JR Bourne's Martouf, who had lent a likable, strong presence to the tok'ra.
-Window of Opportunity ***
The SGC find themselves in a six-hour time loop, centered on an SG1 mission. Jack and Teal'c are the only ones who remember the previous loops, and must learn latin to operate the machinery that will free them. After a couple months, they start to go loopy (haha...loopy, get it?) and engage in some sophomoric pursuits. This is the first time SG1 has ventured into what can only be called mild self-parody. The purist in me is suspicious...but i can't deny my smiles. This is the second time it's occurred to me to pair an SG1 episode with a TREK ("Cause and Effect", TNG). I'm not quite there, but i'm one step closer.
-Watergate ***
Actually a clever title, and nothing to do with corruption. SGC discovers that their original stargate was recovered by the russians. They were able to get it going, but a disaster brings a call to the americans. SG1 finds a siberian compound where everyone is dead, and the gate locked open into an undersea world. Sam, Daniel, and the sole living russian (Marina Sirtis, STAR TREK TNG) take a sub into the waterworld. Jack and Teal'c must deal with a retrieved water sample, which it turns out is alive and capable of inhabiting people. High marks for unpredictability. Marina is the closest we've come to TREK royalty on SG1...she acquits herself, and sci fi, well.
-The First Ones ***
Why haven't we had more episodes (or any) that put Daniel in a life or death situation where he needs to understand an unfamiliar language? On the goa'uld homeworld, Daniel is captured by an adolescent unas. The planet's waters are teeming with larval goa'uld, which present quite a hazard to the rescue team.
-Scorched Earth ***
Another SG1 that feels like legitimate sci fi. A refugee population has been relocated to a friendly planet. An alien ship appears in orbit, burning away all life below. SG1 discovers that the ship is terraforming the planet, to seed the DNA of a peaceful, extinct race. There isn't time to relocate the entire population. A hologram is created to speak on behalf of the ship, which can find no way around the dilemma, as the ship doesn't have the resources to start its mission elsewhere. Jack disobeys orders, to attempt to destroy the ship. Jackson goes against Jack's wishes, staying onboard to seek another solution. Look for a nice lil' slice of Alessandro Juliani (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA).
-Beneath the Surface ***
Yet ANOTHER episode that cries out to be paired with a TREK ("Workforce", VOYAGER). Of course, such viewings might only serve to remind one how derivative post-TREK sci fi can be...but then, whoops, "Workforce" aired five months AFTER this one. So there, it's TREK that rips off other sci fi! Of course, with only five months difference, the similarity was probably just fluky coincidence...indeed, given the circumstances, can it be entirely coincidence that one of the characters in "Workforce" is named Jaffen? SG1 find themselves working as alien industrial slave labor, with no memory of their former lives, except for Tuvok...i mean, Teal'c...and they struggle to overcome memory-manipulation. The writers missed a great chance for more humor, in the lines where the team get their real life memories wrong (or half-right). But overall, well done.
-Point of No Return ***
Willie Garson (SEX AND THE CITY) plays an erratic individual who contacts the government with information about the stargate. Who is he? Is someone drugging him? Silly fun...and look for Matthew Bennett (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA).
-Tangent ***
Stargate meets Apollo 13. Teal'c and Jack are adrift in space in an experimental flyer adapted from goa'uld gliders. It's overdue that an episode point up how helpless humans are space-wise, using technology way over their heads. Conventional rescue is impossible, and only one tok'ra ship can save them, but it's out of reach and undercover. Recurring character Major Davis (Colin Cunningham, BEST IN SHOW) is in no way flashy, but doesn't fall prey to any SG1 acting/writing flaws. Anderson's character has never been fully realized, but for one moment he nails a line that is worthy of the best Kurt Russell or MACGUYVER, with his delivery of "We could do better".
-The Curse ***
Will you STOP IT with this unending run of good episodes? You've accustomed me to a certain level of crap, SG1, and you're failing to deliver. This makes about twenty in a row. A treat for Egyptologists who may have loved the movie, but been disappointed by the series. Daniel learns that the archaeology professor who trained him has suddenly died. He returns for the funeral, and picks up the abandoned research thread with the help (and antipathy) of two formerly close research assistants. This episode touches on how achingly hard it must sometimes be for the stargate crew to never tell anyone in the outside world about what they do. An idea that needs to be explored further...
-Exodus ***
A righteous season finale. It rises above that "TV" feel, just a lil'. SGC and the tok'ra hatch a plan to use Kronos' stolen mother ship to ignite a star, destroying Apophis' fleet.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

jessica

WOMEN 67
A delightful, poetic, free-spirited, healthily sexual young soul. We met in a jazz club in Brooklyn. I had come with another woman meeting a larger group of friends, most of whom knew the musicians. There was a growing romantic connection with that woman, but she never returned my calls after that night, most likely because she didn’t like the energy between Jessica and i. I wouldn’t say we were quite flirting, but Jessica had come all by herself and i was genuinely attentive...and that’s the way these things go. We met in the Village a couple weeks later, and spent a day reading our poetry to each other in a park, then wandering through the tail end of the gay pride parade. I intensely wanted to hold her, and told her so. She smiled, and made no comment. Next month, we spent an evening at my home. She danced in the kitchen while i made dinner. She had long brown wavy hair, a lazy smile, and oh-so-full mammary glands. She was in her early twenties, and of her bisexuality she said that female companionship made her quite fulfilled, but that she would never give up men, as she liked cock too much. After eating, we sat on the couch and watched an artistic erotic Japanese film which we were alternately interested and disinterested in. She suddenly pulled one of my fingers into her mouth. I responded with nuzzles and affection. We spent the night in my bed together, in various states of undress and sexual embrace. I held back from full coitus, as i wasn’t sure about taking a lover who professed disinterest in monogamy. At no point did i think we had a profound compatibility, but…there were times over the next few months when i thought i might love her more uninhibitedly, given another chance. But she'd met a boy from Boston whom she was becoming serious about. Jessica was a part of a four-day sequence in my life that was, well, unprecedented. Understand, i’d generally been as far from a “womanizer” as one can get, at least in the easily quantifiable ways. I’d almost never been romantically involved with more than one woman at the same time, and between lovers there had been gaps sometimes measured in years. But living in New York kind of made the previous eight years in Florida seem a romantic wasteland, at least that first year or three. Perhaps it was that New York women responded more to thoughtful, artistic types. Perhaps it was that there are 500,000 more single women than men. Perhaps it was just dumb coincidence, or something else or all of the above...but my night with Jessica was part of a four-night sequence in which i slept with three different women. One was spent in platonic cuddling with Jocasta, an actress friend. The third night was spent with, um, Vanessa, i think. Or Elisabeth. No, Vanessa. I liked New York.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Scrooge


THEATER 63
-December 2001
The Wood Theater had a children's program, still called the Pirate Players, who put on several shows a year. The new director was Jenn Robinson, fresh out of college, energetic and eager. She asked whether i would be the sole adult actor in the first production, playing Ebenezer himself. I loved children dearly, but had never been crazy about doing theater for them. Here was a chance to act with them, in a theater i loved. After haggling over compensation (i got my $100/week plus housing), we held auditions. A lovely cast of about sixteen was assembled. We held rehearsals in the community center across from the theater. It quickly became a love-in between the cast and i. Not in charge, i was free to be a grown-up kid. Disciplined and dedicated, but always goofing and playing when the moment was right. Lots of the kids regularly hopped on my back (or head). The youngest ones loved swinging on my outstretched arms. Jared played Bob Crachit. He had one foot in the acting world and the other in normal adolescence, and loved joking around and talking with me. Sarah was my other best buddy. She played the ghost of the past, with presence and talent beyond her years. I'm almost positive that i'd been her kindergarten substitute teacher seven years earlier. I think she and i had made a special connection even then, that she'd drawn a picture just for me and that i'd saved it, out of the many, many similar such drawings i didn't keep. Now in early adolescence, she grew a little crush on me. She concocted games for us that were wonderfully childlike, but she was also aware that the world was starting to tell her she could no longer be held or bounced around like the younger cast members. I could almost visibly see her mind trying to figure this stuff out. She played a pouncing cat game with me, trying to hold on to the human contact that, in this broken world of ours, only a child is "entitled" to. It was so very touching, perhaps a little heartbreaking, and i adored her every bit as much as she did me. Kasey played the ghost of the present, and centered the younger kids nicely. Whitney was the ghost of the future. She was so adorable you almost had to laugh, as the smallest cast member playing the most frightening role. She had no ghost lines, just lots of pointing. In rehearsal, she needed regular help with her cues. We would get to a pointing-point, and she would stand there. I would lift my finger just the teeniest bit, she would see it, smile, and raise her hand ominously. Possibly the cutest thing i've ever seen. She also played my sister Fanny, and had the most-mimicked line of the play - "Ebenezer, Ebenezer!" She said it so quickly and earnestly, you couldn't help but smile. Another of her lines, "A great black bear!", sounded like "beer", particularly to the adult crew. I entertained the kids with a Crocodile Hunter impression, searching for the rare (and dangerous) "scroogius whitnius" bird on Sanibel, listening for that high-pitched "ebenezer!" Chris played Jacob Marley. He had auditioned for me at the Orpheus the year before, and was a delight. Amanda's spunky little brother Jacob played Dick and Topper. He would say things like "as I live and breathe", and it was so funny coming out of his mouth. Another of his line readings came across like "jazzercise". During our first performance, Jenn was suddenly running around backstage, because he couldn't be found. I finally spotted him on the stage right ramp, in full view of the audience, just lying down and watching. Playing the pivotal part of Fred was Carl.  He was in a tough spot, because he was only doing the show to look after his younger brother Tyler, who was playing Tiny Tim (Carl had entered the age when theater wasn't "cool"). He had one scene where he was supposed to kiss a girl, but Jenn reworked it, because Carl wouldn't even TOUCH a girl. He came through fine, though. 5 year-old Tyler's casting was a shameless bit of promotion, as he was a real life Tiny Tim, with cerebral palsy. Jenn's favorite, he'd taken his first steps only a month or so before. But his smile was an infectious starburst, he learned his lines so quickly, and his performance was heart-touching, spirit-lifting, and perfect. I got to hold him as the play ended, and my hug needed no actor's touch. Amelia, funny and spunky, played the street urchin outside my window, along with Kacie. They were a great pair. Danielle played Belle. She was talented, but i could never get her to make eye contact onstage. I was being housed in a Sanibel resort. While there, i did some storytelling for one of their Christmas functions, and met the widow Wood, plus another patron who told me i had replaced John Cassavetes' as her favorite theater voice. We performed on a dressed-up set of LION IN WINTER, the medieval architecture lending a nice feel to our show. My buddy Ken was playing the oldest son in LION, a dream role for him, but he was unstable because of the HIV Cocktails he was taking. Robert and i had 11th-hour discussions about me replacing him. I was pulling for Ken, and he came through. On a backstage bulletin board, our casts left notes for each other. Amanda was in LION, and i wrote that our cast had the talented, feminine one from her family. She zinged back. Around this time i had some nasty breath, starting with my sickness in TONY AND TINA'S. Kids are honest about that sort of thing (particularly Jacob, bless him), and i did much to fight it (gargling, parsley, pills), with iffy results. Prior to this, i'd been a remarkably unself-conscious human, but that was no longer the case for years to come. Performing as Scrooge was so, so wonderful. My costume, with top hat and cane and white mutton chops, was so great. Doing the show meant a third year in a row that theater kept me from being with my family at Christmas, but there was no sense of sacrifice. To play those emotions, to go through that character's unbelievable transformation, kneeling at my own grave…finally, when i realize it's not too late, i felt like i was floating through the air as i walked. Add to that the energy of the kids all around me…what more could anyone ever want? The audiences were huge and happy. For the curtain call i came out last, always picking up one of the youngest actors to carry in my arms. Everyone then sang "Joy to the World". The final show, i picked up Whitney's 4 year-old sister from the audience. Her smile would have lit up the world's deepest darkness. I also picked up Carl's and Tyler's younger sister one night, and a year and a half later, i bumped into their family at a garage sale. The sister was the first to see me, and as soon as our eyes met, she ran to me and leaped into my arms. Happy Christmas. Bless us, every one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Stargate SG1, season 3

Economics and a diminishing pool of unwatched sci fi got the best of me. After originally deciding to abort viewing the middle seasons of SG1 due to a lack of excellence, i'm resuming for two reasons: the improved entertainment value of seasons 9-10, and the ridiculously cheap prices on Amazon. At first my choice seemed unwise, as the show still felt like the special olympics of sci fi, but then a funny thing started to happen.
FOUR STAR - none
NOTEWORTHY
-Point of View ***
Actual, bona fide heart...you may just have an emotional response (consider yourself warned). An alternate universe Sam and Kowalski arrive at Area 51, having transported from an Earth which has been conquered by the goa'uld, and on which Sam and O'Neill were married (though he died). They plan a mission to return and make first contact with the asgard. Tapping and Anderson's scenes aren't perfect, but good enough. Plus an unexpected moment of homicidal ruthlessness from Teal'c, as he murders his alternate, who is loyal to the goa'uld. That ain't taking care of a brother. Also, i understand the unforgiving, unflattering nature of television acting, but...it sometimes seems that the gap between Tapping and Streep is just a little wider than it ought be.
-Deadman Switch ***
Sam Jones (FLASH GORDON, 10) displays no small acting chops as a bounty hunter in this abnormally character-driven tale.
-Forever in a Day **
An okay resolution to the relationship between Daniel and Sha're (Vaitiare Bandera) which began in the movie. She deserves better, but whatever. Freeing Abydonian slaves, SG1 confronts Amaunet. As she is killing Jackson, Teal'c kills her. Daniel refuses to forgive, and resigns from the team. Visions from his slain wife tell him he must return to the stars, to find and protect her child. Another charming appearance by Eric Avari (STARGATE, DAREDEVIL) as Sha're's father.
-Past and Present ***
The most comedically-obvious "that's what we calls exposition" moment in sci fi history? But after that, it's one of the rare occurrences of actual science fiction in TV sci fi. A planet is found in a state of amnesia, with no old people. It's discovered that they've been used by a genocidal stranger (Megan Leitch), in a quest to find a youth drug. This stranger grew young with everyone else, but also lost her own memories, and now exists as their leader. She and Jackson fall for each other, then the truth is discovered.
-The Devil You Know **
Evidence that even Mr. Anderson was guilty of one of the worst sins of STARGATE acting, that of being unrealistically blase' during life and death situations. There are also times when the "dumbing down" from Anderson to O'Neill rings false.
-Foothold ***
A fine little adventure about a covert alien invasion (with body snatchers) surprisingly free of the usual SG1 weaknesses.
-Pretense ***
A charming little diversion featuring the return of Skaara (Alexis Cruz, STARGATE). Having crashed on the tollan planet, they put him on trial to sort out his plea to be freed of the goa'uld enslaving him. He arranges for SG1 to advocate on his behalf. A goa'uld lord prosecutes. Garwin Sanford (Narim) and Frida Betrani (Lya) return. The courtroom scenes are actually intelligently written.
-Urgo ***
Dom DeLuise (!) plays a holographic alien who is projected into the brains of SG1. He wants to heighten their senses, follow them around, give them subliminal suggestions, and learn...forever. He's puckishly wonderful - when he's onscreen, it's almost impossible to not smile. One more rewrite might have really juiced this one...in particular, there's no scene wherein he "suggests" amorous thoughts to one (or more) of them. But it's lovely.
-A Hundred Days ***
One of the few episodes that, if you saw it having never seen any SG1, you'd want to see more. During a mercy mission, Jack is stranded in a faraway solar system when the stargate is apparently destroyed. He and the surviving villagers rebuild. Three months later, Teal'c arrives underground at the buried stargate. Jack has fallen in love, and started a life with Laira (Michele Greene, L.A. LAW). No writing weaknesses. It reminds you of TREK's "Paradise Syndrome", where Kirk loses his memory and falls in love among pastoral, simple people. Instead of paling in comparison, seeing both episodes together might be a sweet experience.
-Shades of Grey ***
Jack steals technology from an ally, and is forcibly retired from SG1. The writers have "formulaic" locked in, but at least it's well-rendered formulaic. He gives a hard cold shoulder to all the members of the team, and the acting, even from Shanks, is up to snuff.
-New Ground ***
Pretty good. Strangely gritty. Has SG1 turned a corner?
-Maternal Instinct ***
A compelling monk (Terry Chen) whose esoteric ramblings are strangely well-written. Look for a baby-faced Aaron Douglas (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA) as a dying jaffa.
-Crystal Skull ***
Tight, adventurous...with a grand feeling that should have been more common in SG1 so far. The team finds a pyramid that dwarfs any ever encountered. A crystal skull transports Jackson out of our reality, though he can still see and hear us. He returns with the team to Earth, where they enlist the aid of the only other scientist to ever find a crystal skull (and write of being teleported)...Daniel's grandfather (Jan Rubes, WITNESS), a discredited scientist who's been in an asylum for decades. He can see Daniel, but doesn't tell the others, out of fear of being called crazy. Jan's presence is pure wonderfulness, and not just because of our warm, fuzzy memories of Eli Lapp. You be careful out there among them English.
-Nemesis ***
Okay, what's going on? They've taken my regular SG1, and replaced it with Folger's Crystals? We're still not breaking the four-star barrier, but in the last third of the season they left two-star land with style. This one's a corker...visually scrumptious, with strong dashes of menace. Jack is beamed aboard an asgard ship. Thor is dying, his vessel being taken over by a lethal new enemy - the replicators, robot bugs that know nothing but consumption and reproduction (hmmm, it's a shame i'm not a bigot, there's a great illegal alien joke in there). Teal'c and Sam beam aboard for a possible suicide mission. The stargate is sacrificed in a rescue attempt. Suddenly, SG1 is acting like a book i don't want to put down.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"M*A*S*H"

1972-1983
FOUR-STAR EPISODES
A four-star movie begat 61 four-star episodes. No other television show comes close.
-season one: 8
-season two: 9
-season three: 11 (by this measure, the greatest single season of serial television ever)
-season four: 9
-season five: 9
-season six: 5
-season seven: 1
-season eight: 5
-season nine: 1
-season ten: 0
-season eleven: 3
PERFORMANCES (# of episodes)
Alan Alda (Benjamin Franklin Pierce, 251)
Who was the most influential creator of the most influential sitcom ever? Larry Gelbart. After that...Burt Metcalfe? Or Alan. He wrote nineteen episodes, directed thirty, and was creative consultant for one hundred thirty-one. All with nary a single Hawkeye-less entry.
HAWK-A-THON
-Yankee Doodle Doctor
-Tuttle
-Dear Dad, Again
-Adam's Ribs
-The Late Captain Pierce
-Hawkeye
-The More I See You
-Hawk's Nightmare
-Inga
-Peace on Us
-Who Knew?
-Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen
Loretta Swit (Margaret Houlihan, 237)
One of the most clearly-rendered character arcs in television history.
HOTLIPS-A-THON
-Hot Lips and Empty Arms
-The Nurses
-Margaret's Marriage
-Comrades in Arms
-Stars and Stripes
-Father's Day
Jamie Farr (Max Klinger, 211)
Early-series Klinger was classic, latter-series Klinger lovely (though occasionally forced). Who wouldn't love an actor who turned "Halt! Who goes there?" into a character for the ages? Think of how the very lifeblood of M*A*S*H would have been diminished had Klinger been portrayed swishily, as originally written?
KLINGERTHON
-Chief Surgeon Who?
-Radar's Report
-Ain't Love Grand
-Too Many Cooks
-Dear Uncle Abdul
-As Time Goes By
William Christopher (Francis Mulcahy, 210)
William created a character so sweetly and understatedly lovable, we forgot to be annoyed that he's a bible-thumper.
MULCAHYTHON
-Alcoholics Unanimous
-Movie Tonight
-Mulcahy's War
-Dear Sis
-Blood Brothers
-Heroes
Harry Morgan (Sherman Potter, 179)
Can anybody calculate how towering it is that every episode from seasons 4-11 didn't end with the viewer thinking about how much they miss Henry?
POTTERTHON
-Change of Command
-Dear Mildred
-Hawkeye Get Your Gun
-Potter's Retirement
-Pressure Points
-Old Soldiers
Mike Farrell (B.J. Hunnicutt, 178)
See the previous actor's note.
B.J.-A-THON
-Welcome to Korea
-B.J. Papa San
-Hanky Panky
-Period of Adjustment
-The Party
-Oh, How We Danced
Gary Burghoff (Radar O'Reilly, 155)
A timeless synthesis of actor and character. Can we please have W*A*L*T*E*R released on dvd? We don't mind if it sucks.
RADAR-A-THON
-Springtime
-The General's Practitioner
-Fallen Idol
-Your Hit Parade
-Lt. Radar O'Reilly
-Mail Call Three
-Hot Lips is Back in Town
-Good-Bye Radar
-The Foresight Saga
-"It Had to be You", AfterMASH
David Ogden Stiers (Charles Emerson Winchester, 131)
Back up a fresh truckload of superlatives, please.
WINCHESTERTHON
-Fade Out, Fade In
-The Winchester Tapes
-Dr. Winchester and Mr. Hyde
-Mr. & Mrs. Who?
-Morale Victory
-Death Takes a Holiday
-Run for the Money
Larry Linville (Frank Burns, 117)
The greatest pure acting performance of the series?
BURNS-A-THON
-Five O'Clock Charlie
-Rainbow Bridge
-Major Fred C. Dobbs
-House Arrest
-Soldier of the Month
-Margaret's Engagement
Wayne Rogers (Trapper John Macintyre, 73)
Focusing on how well M*A*S*H replaced lost characters so seamlessly makes you overlook how easily Alan and Wayne made us forget Donald and Elliot.
TRAPPERTHON
-Requiem for a Lightweight
-Ceasefire
-As You Were
-Bombed
-Bulletin Board
-Check-up
McLean Stevenson (Henry Blake, 70)
The best character on the best sitcom ever.
BLAKE-A-THON
-Sometimes You Hear the Bullet
-The Army-Navy Game
-Cowboy
-Henry, Please Come Home
-The Trial of Henry Blake
-Henry in Love
-Abyssinia, Henry
Allan Arbus (Sydney Freedman, 12)
The highest per-episode rating of any M*A*S*H actor.
SIDNEYTHON
-O.R.
-Quo Vadis, Captain Chandler?
-Dear Sigmund
-War of Nerves
-The Billfold Syndrome
-Bless You Hawkeye
Edward Winter (Col. Flagg, 7)
The second-highest per-episode rating.
FLAGG-A-THON
-Deal Me Out
-A Smattering of Intelligence
-Officer of the Day
-The Abduction of Margaret Houlihan
-Rally Round the Flagg, Boys
-"Trials", AfterMASH
Soon-Tek Oh (5)
The greatest recurring guest star in M*A*S*H history who never played the same role twice. Surgeon, soldier, medic, translator...and no one ever surrendered with more charm.
TEKOHTHON
-Love and Marriage
-The Bus
-The Korean Surgeon
-The Yalu Brick Road
-Foreign Affairs
-"Honor Thy Brother", TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY
GREATEST GUEST STAR PERFORMANCES
-Virginia Ann Lee, "The Moose"
-Leslie Nielsen, "The Ringbanger"
-Harry Morgan, "The General Flipped at Dawn"
-Blythe Danner, "The More I See You"
-Mariette Hartley, "Inga"
ENSEMBLE-A-THON
-Big Mac
-Deluge
-The Interview
-Point of View
-Life Time
-Our Finest Hour
COMINGS AND GOINGS
It's tempting to think about what might have been, had the original cast stayed together. But...a marathon of the debut and finale episodes of the changing characters might be the most satisfying marathon of all.
-Abyssinia, Henry
-Welcome to Korea
-Change of Command
-Fade Out, Fade In
-Good Bye Radar

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Stargate: Atlantis, season 5

FOUR STAR
-The Shrine
There is a reluctance in me to award any SGA product four stars, as even the best episodes almost never escape the series' primary flaw, the unwillingness or inability of the writers to imbue the characters with genuine depth. However...when these credits rolled, the words that rolled off my lips were "that was great". An episode that feels like nothing you've seen in sci fi (okay, Uhura did revert to a childlike state once, but this resolution is entirely new). Rodney is exposed to an alien parasite that renders him a simpleton. His gradual loss of IQ is painful and poignant, and shows that David Hewlett was capable of much more than the writers gave him. The team takes him to a shrine on a wraith-held planet which supposedly provides one day of complete cure before the patient dies. Dr. Keller provides the most realistic-looking improvised brain surgery you've ever seen.
-First Contact/The Lost Tribe
Absolutely gripping, unpredictable, and breakneck, with stabs of humor for flavor. It's funny that the first title is a lift from STAR TREK, as i'm torn over whether four stars here is as great as a four in TREK. That being said...i couldn't NOT give four, as i don't think the SG people could have blown the doors off any more impressively. I bend over backwards to avoid hyperbole, so bear that in mind when i call this two-parter heart-pounding. Even more surprising, the guest star is SG1's Michael Shanks. He's grown since he first entered the sci fi universe, as a piece of balsa. Jackson arrives at Atlantis with a clue to a secret lab. As soon as he and Rodney discover it, powerful aliens in environment suits appear, taking both them and a piece of technology. The wraith Todd is at a summit with the Daedalus, exploring the feasibility of the DNA treatment that would allow the wraith to no longer feed on humans. On a distant world, Rodney is forced to activate the ancient device, which will destroy any wraith ship that engages hyperdrive...but also explode any stargate being used, with the force of many nukes. Todd commandeers the Daedalus, and is off on a race to the mysterious alien planet. They turn out to be a splinter group of asgard who would let anyone die to be rid of the wraith. Also racing to the planet is Sheppard, hitching on a traveler ship. Ronon and Doc Keller have some great moments as they try to re-take Daedalus. Everything, but everything, works.
NOTEWORTHY
-Broken Ties **
Teyla's return to active duty over being a full-time newborn parent should have come as the result of an experience demonstrating how her actions can affect the lives of millions. Her choice here feels too easy and manufactured.
-The Daedalus Variations ***
Three stars doesn't get any more fun. An empty Daedalus duplicate appears in orbit. As Shepard's team investigates, the ship flashes into a parallel universe. They find another version of their team dead, and realize that the ship's engine design taps into alternate universe energy, but is uncontrollably jumping them from universe to universe. In the next jump, they are attacked by frighteningly powerful aliens. Then they jump near a star going nova. They realize the only way to get home is to re-traverse all the stops they just made.
-Whispers ***
A tale of blind, predator, mutant hybrids who emit a spooky mist. Sheppard and Beckett fight alongside an estrogen-powered team containing Nicole de Boer (DS9), Leela Savasta (BATTLESTAR GALACTICA), and Janina Gavankar (TRUE BLOOD). Perhaps a trifle obvious, but with great chemistry.
-The Prodigal ***
The SGA swan song for Connor Trineer (ENTERPRISE). In nine episodes over four seasons, he was always compelling. Like all SG characters, there was untapped potential, and the writers pissed away the enormous sympathy he entered the series with. But a good arc (including an ending worthy of Nicholson) is nothing to be ashamed of. This episode deftly avoids predictability. Michael's forces take over the Atlantis control tower, leaving everyone powerless and cut off. They all attempt to foil him, but in credibly disjointed ways. At the end, the most humanistic character (Teyla) does the most cold-blooded act ever seen on the show.
-Brain Storm ***
Cheeky, delightful quirkiness. Rodney takes Jennifer to a physics conference on Earth run by an old rival (Dave Foley - KIDS IN THE HALL, NEWSRADIO), who is about to implement a dangerous idea he doesn't realize he stole from Rodney. 100 of the world's top physicists are suddenly trapped in a compound which is about to freeze solid. Foley is understatedly, spot-on funny. Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson play themselves, plus a credible facsimile of Stephen Hawking rolls by. It almost tips into too silly, but the menace keeps it in line. Jennifer briefly dies, then invites Rodney to join the mile-high club. He doesn't fumble the moment.
-Enemy at the Gate ***
I rolled into this episode with grand hopes, assuming that SGA had intended to finish after five seasons. But no, it was cancelled. For all its limitations in terms of character, the series is a delightful ride. As a finale, this one will leave you wanting more (the romance between Sheppard and Teyla that never happened, a resolution to the wraith problem, and Ford's plot line), but much like the series itself, if you can ignore the flaws, you'll have a sweet ride. They went for the highest octane action they could, and hit the mark. A super-powered wraith ship finds the location of Earth. Another uneasy alliance with wraith Todd (the under-appreciated Christopher Heyerdahl, whose unexpected moment of laughter is the highlight of the show) provides two ZPMs, and the whole city flies into hyperspace in pursuit. A battle above Earth ensues, with Sheppard already aboard the hive in a nuclear suicide mission. Parts of it are a little too easy (Ronon's death scene! No, never mind!), you might long for a little more guest star juice, and wish they'd been able to incorporate something unexpected...but enjoy it, because it's a burner.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

M*A*S*H, season 11

FOUR STAR
-Foreign Affairs
Just when you thought that M*A*S*H had nothing left to say, Charles falls for a french Red Cross ambassador. He shuts down a touching romance, when he decides she is too bohemian. No happy ending, no lesson learned. How miserably human. The B plot almost rises to the same level, as a soulless P.R. major (Jeffrey Tambor[!] - THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) wants to make a hero out of an enemy pilot who (accidentally) delivered a high-tech plane to the americans. Hawk and BJ connive to replace the pilot with the translator (the infinitely-delightful Soon-Tek Oh in his final 4077 go-around) who actually wants to go to America.
-Who Knew?
Hawkeye has a fling with a nurse who is killed by a landmine. He realizes that nobody really knew her, least of all himself. He is forced to take a hard look at his own emotional standoffishness. The eulogy he delivers is one of Alan's most moving moments in the show's history. The fine B plot has Klinger trying to convince Winchester that hula hoops and frisbees would be good investments. Directed by Harry Morgan.
-Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen
If this isn't the most exquisite series finale of all time, i wish to know what is. Is it possible for me to overstate the sweeping, monumental brilliance? Yes, but i did quite well on my verbal SATs. Suffice to say that if every fan who ever loved this show were to have imagined the most perfect swan song, it's doubtful that many of those flights of fancy would have even come close to this. Tears, laughter, and everything in between. It starts and ends with Alan, who co-wrote and directed. They gave everyone memorable, perfect moments...but Hawkeye's storyline, which starts with him in a sanatorium after a nervous breakdown, is a stark, towering performance that, in a sense, was the only way to end his arc. In a way that perhaps the writers never even intended, it also makes a laser-sharp point about mental health. Earlier in the series, Sydney called Hawkeye the "sanest person" he'd ever me. If you think a mental breakdown during war isn't consistent with that, you don't understand sanity. Alan and Allan's scenes are searing. Hawkeye is ultimately sent back to camp. In the O.R., we hear armed forces radio announce the end of the war. It's indescribably moving. Mulcahy loses his hearing. Klinger stays in Korea, to help Soon-Lee find her parents. Winchester finds himself trying to teach a group of P.O.W.s about Mozart...only to see them killed after they finally get it right. And the mess tent farewells...you would think there's no way they could avoid being indulgent, with how long it goes on. But it's not. As the credits rolled, i stood in silence and clapped.
NOTEWORTHY
-Trick or Treatment ***
George Wendt! Andrew (no Dice) Clay!
-Run for the Money ***
A passable tale of a running scam pitting Mulcahy against the 8063rd's best, lifted up by a poignant gem of a B plot. Winchester defends a stuttering soldier, and tries to convince him he's not dumb. His behavior is curious, until the final shot reveals that his beloved sister at home is a stutterer.
-U.N., the Night and the Music ***
Not all flawless episodes are four stars. Some are merely delightful. Three U.N. delegates make a lasting impression. An Indian turns Potter and Klinger upside down. An impotent Swede falls into Margaret's arms. And an unctuous Brit outsnobs Charles, only to reveal that he's the son of a butler. Purely charming.
-Strange Bedfellows **
Potter's son-in-law (Dennis Dugan - Captain Freedom, HILL STREET BLUES) visits, and Sherm finds out he had an affair in Tokyo. Oh the angst, oh the hand-wringing! It's maudlin, embarrassing, and childish (not the affair, our society's obsession with soul-destroying monogamy), and only saved by the revelation that Potter had a similar affair when he was young.
-Say No More ***
It's fascinating to contrast this episode with numerous other M*A*S*H treatments of high-ranking officers insensitized to the killing they oversee. An abrasive general (John Anderson, PSYCHO) sets up a temporary base of command while his son is recovering from injuries. The son dies. There's no attempt to turn the general into a caricature, no crazy scheme whereby wacky doctors outwit said general. He and Hawkeye have an unexpectedly poignant and strikingly real conversation when Hawk delivers the news. Then of course, the general goes back to work. Ultimately there's the sense of something missing...but it was a hell of a try.
-Give and Take *
If you're ever trying to make someone understand that M*A*S*H could be saccharinly cringe-worthy, here's a nice exhibit A.
-As Time Goes By ***
A somewhat meandering penultimate episode, but sweet. Margaret prepares a camp time capsule, and Hawkeye lobbies to have less "proper" items included. The debut of Soon-Lee (Rosalind Chao - THE JOY LUCK CLUB, STAR TREK, AFTER MASH). They bury Radar's teddy bear.