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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A brief review of "Human Target"

"Human Target" is Fox Television's shiny new gift to action fans everywhere and a perfect companion piece for the often gloomy "24." It's the most thrilling thing I've seen on TV in a long time. The pilot episode is suspenseful and funny (in a good way), with a plot full of brilliant twists and turns and not a second of screen time wasted.

Director Simon West, who hasn't given the world anything so worth watching since 1997's Con Air, keeps the pace fast and the action tightly choreographed and gleefully executed. I constantly felt myself being physically drawn toward the screen, my face tightening with anticipation, and my breath shortening at every close call.

As for our new hero, if Jack Bauer had a square jaw, a heart of gold, and a sense of humor, he might look something like Christopher Chance, played with vigor by Mark Valley (probably best known for his role on David E. Kelley's "Boston Legal").  Writer/producer Jonathan E. Steinberg is like the action-junkie's Aaron Sorkin, and Valley reads Chance's dialogue like an adrenaline-pumped Bradley Whitford. (I realize that is something of a left-field comment to make, but listen to--and watch--the way Valley delivers his lines. It was bothering me during the denouement until I finally realized who he sounded like.)

The supporting cast is equally up to the task. Chi McBride (that's pronounced shy, I believe), fresh from "Pushing Daisies" (The Pie Hole will be dearly missed), improves anything he's in, though here he has essentially the same archetypical role he played so well in that late, great show. And, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but Jackie Earle Haley with mustache and beard! (Sorry.) I cannot express how excited I was to see that Haley--the absolute best thing cast-wise about both Little Children and Watchmen--would be appearing in a weekly action series, and furthermore, one that gives him such a tantalizing character to play.

I look forward with eager anticipation to the next episode of this highly entertaining new series. Watch it here: http://www.hulu.com/human-target.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Some thoughts on tonight's broadcast of the Season 9 premiere of American Idol

1. First of all, this is Simon Cowell's final season as a judge. He's a unique personality on the show and on television in general, and American Idol will be lacking without him. Fox will undoubtedly try to fill his shoes with another abrasive middle-aged man with a sharp tongue, but it will be a step down no matter what they do. He's irreplaceable.

2. Oh yeah, Paula Abdul's gone. I barely noticed. Now there's only one inarticulate babbler left behind the judges' table. Speaking of whom....

3. Randy Jackson manages to be rude even when complimenting someone. He usually sounds something like this: "Y'know, dawg, when you first came in, I looked at you and I was all like, I don't know if this is gonna be good, but you worked it out, dawg, you did a'ight." Also, someone needs to help Randy grasp onto the concept of numbers. This "one-hundred-and-ten-thousand-billion-kajillion-yes-you're-going-to-Hollywood" stuff is getting out of control.

4. The new judge, though she won't be joining the ranks until the Hollywood rounds, will be Ellen Degeneres. I love Ellen, and am excited to see what she brings to the table because she's witty and talented and often hilarious, but shouldn't they have gotten somebody from the music industry? Like, I don't know... Deborah Gibson, or one of the Bangles?

5. Kara DioGuardi is one foxy lady. And kinda scary.

6. Round 1 of the auditions took place in Boston. Do you think the show's music producer saw the irony of using California-band Augustana's 2006 single "Boston" as the episode's theme song? Or was he (or she) just like, "Hey, the song's called 'Boston'! Perfect!" Remember, these people are trying to get out of Boston and go to California. For my part, I think they should have gone with a certain native Boston band's 1976 classic "Foreplay/Long Time." Check out the lyrics:

It's been such a long time
I think I should be going
And time doesn't wait for me
It keeps on rolling
Sail on
On a distant highway
I've got to keep on chasing a dream
I've got to be on my way
Wish there was something I could say

(Or, you can listen to it in my playlist at the bottom of the page.)

It doesn't get any more theme-appropriate than that.

7. The guest judge for the Boston auditions was Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham. Again, why not secure a Bostonian? Donna Summer or James Taylor would have brought some clout to the proceedings. It would've been way cool to bring on Tommy DeCarlo, the current demo-and-a-dream singer for the band Boston. Or, get Boston native Conan O'Brien. I hear he may need the work.

Not that I'm complaining, really. I never noticed before tonight how strikingly, naturally beautiful Victoria Beckham is when she's not striking a pose and being all posh. She also brought a very welcome sense of decorum, which nicely complemented Scary Spice DioGuardi. And, boy, is she tiny!

8. Best performance of "Ring of Fire" ever! Johnny Cash has nothing on... whomever. (I'm being waggish, of course. It was awful.)

9. It's come to my attention that having those outstandingly awful contestants audition on television is tailor-made "reality TV" by the producers. Not that these are not actual, real eccentrics with big dreams and little talent. I'm sure they are very real and painfully actual. But every contestant has to go through a preliminary audition before ever reaching Simon and the others. Otherwise, those three or four "face" judges would have to sit through thousands of auditions, which would take much longer than the two days allotted. Which means that those prelim judges are obligated, maybe even contractually, to send through the worst of the worst so that prime-time TV can have its reality train-wrecks. This seems somewhat disingenuous to the contestants and manipulative of the audience... oh, right, Fox Reality. Of course, without such a process, the world would have gone on spinning in ignorance, forever deprived of William Hung and Bikini Girl.

10. I really am just a sucker for this show. But there is something about the shared experience of live television, and about event programming and even serialized drama in general, that appeals to me. It's the idea of being connected, however inconsequentially, with millions of other people around the country. It's one of the reasons I still prefer to watch Saturday Night Live when it's live, even though I know it will largely suck, to be in that moment with the rest of a vast audience. It's why I like to see a potential blockbuster film in a packed theater on opening night. Plus, as a bonus, when it comes to Idol--I just love having something so ripe for criticism before me. It's an outlet, and sometimes even a creative one. (And a much better outlet for my unbridled sarcasm than close friends and immediate family.)