Archive for April, 2011

Words worth a thousand pictures

I’ve been reading Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere recently – fulfilling my duties as both a Sandman devotee and a literary Chicagoan, since the book is April’s selection in our Public Library’s “One Book, One Chicago” program. As any Gaiman reader would expect, the story is propulsive and chock-full of rich world-building and encyclopedic literary allusions. But at times, I feel like the strictures of prose lead to pitfalls that a comic book would skip over: some of the characterizations are a bit too on-the-nose, and descriptive passages occasionally lean on triteness.

And then I come across a passage like this one (which I quote here without context in order to prevent spoilage):

“The marquis felt, then, that much of what he had gone through in the previous week was made up for by the expression on Hunter’s face.”

Only pure prose can render that moment so perfectly. In a comic book, the expression on Hunter’s face would have to be drawn by an artist, who interprets the meaning of the sentence and the scene a certain way. The reader’s interpretation of that drawing may, in turn, diverge from the artist’s intent, but will nevertheless be restricted to the range of emotions conveyed by a particular physical image.

As it stands, that passage encapsulates the competitive advantage of a verbal medium. By relying on the limitless malleability of language, Gaiman allows every reader to process the meaning in her own way. In that sentence, Hunter’s expression might be one of anger, shock, bemusement, respect, relief, astonishment, joy, disbelief. It might contain any combination of those emotions. So it contains all of them, while stating none of them. It’s a Schrödinger paradox of a sentence. It forces the reader to do a bit of work, to invest himself in a way that a visual medium cannot.


Celebrity Apprentice recap: “Bitter Suites”

Celebrity Apprentice, Bitter SuitesGuys, we all knew this day was coming. It happened. It’s over. Sulking about it won’t do any good. Gary Busey is gone, and he isn’t coming back. Don’t worry, I hear the producers sent him to a farm upstate. He’ll have plenty of room to frolic and practice his animal impressions and book ironic sitcom cameos and talk show appearances. And if you all behave yourselves, I promise, next season we can get a new Gary Busey.

For now, a somewhat less flummoxed nation soldiers on. When last we left the men of Team Backbone, John Rich was one white glove short of challenging his teammate to a duel, and Meat Loaf was stammering like a trauma victim (it should be noted that the CDC has repeatedly warned against prolonged exposure to Gary Busey). Donald Trump – a man who doesn’t stand for turmoil, discord, or needless attention – had no choice but to send the troublemaker packing.

The good news is, I’m sure NBC has a back-up plan in place for Busey, just like when they stuck Charles Van Doren on the Today show after he finally lost on Twenty-One. The bad news is, The Cape flamed out before he could land a three-episode arc as recurring villain.
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Categories: Humor, TV

ATTENTION STARZ: I have your next historical-but-not-really drama right here

April 20, 2011 1 comment


Followers of my Twitter feed will not be surprised to learn that I’ve been brushing up on my mythology – specifically, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, a sort of greatest-hits compilation of the gods and heroes of Greek, Roman, and Norse legend. What remains striking about virtually every one isn’t what they reveal about the values and mentalities of antiquity so much as what they reveal about timeless human nature. This isn’t a terribly original observation, but it’s true: the roots of all storytelling are here.

Anyway, the one I’m really loving, one of the preeminent stories of its time but lesser known today, is the saga of Theseus. He was Athens’s greatest hero, and dude was a straight-up knight of the realm: brave, just, and wise. And his story would make for a pretty kick-ass graphic novel or 13-episode TV series.

The details in most myths are fungible, stemming from an oral tradition written down by a handful of poets sometimes centuries after they originated. So the plot descriptions herein come from Hamilton’s volume; other versions may vary in certain particulars. But check out some of these TV-ready story elements:

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Categories: Literature, Pop Culture, TV

Weekend Round-up


My brief thoughts on Thursday’s NBC comedies, including:


A very funny but slightly disjointed Community, “Competitive Wine Tasting;”


A ho-hum The Office, “Training Day,” that coasts on the wattage of guest star Will Ferrell;


And a superlative Parks and Recreation, “Fancy Party,” which solidifies its place as my favorite show on the air.


I also beseech America to watch Cougar Town, an under-appreciated comic gem which returns from hiatus this week (reviews to follow Monday’s and Wednesday’s episodes).





Categories: Pop Culture, TV

Dispatches from my TV criticism


Over at The Vast Wasteland, I have reviews up of some of this week’s new programs:

Celebrity Apprentice“Australian Gold,” in which Gary Busey is on everyone’s last nerve, except for the NBC ad sales department.
How I Met Your Mother“The Exploding Meatball Sub,” in which the frustrating outweighed the funny.
The Chicago Code“Wild Onions,” in which a series of vignette-style stories shed some light on partnerships old and new.
Modern Family“The Musical Man,” in which the show coasts on a contrived plot and some overly-familiar gags.
Justified“Debts and Accounts,” in which one of the most grippingly written and acted seasons of TV continues apace.

And from last week, my Q&A with fantasy author/former Buffy star Amber Benson.





Categories: Pop Culture, TV

Celebrity Apprentice recap: “Australian Gold”

April 11, 2011 1 comment

Gary Busey in Celebrity Apprentice, Australian Gold
In the two weeks since I first ventured into the world of Celebrity Apprentice, Donald Trump has firmly established himself as the Most Annoying Man In America (Non-Elected Official Division). And yet, returning to the boardroom this week, I found it astonishingly easy to compartmentalize away my distaste for the asinine politics and birther hokum he’s been spouting in non-reality-based-contexts. (Hey, it doesn’t get much more non-reality-based than Fox News.)

Maybe that’s because Trump isn’t really a political contender, any more than he’s really a real estate magnate. He’s a professional celebrity, an entertainer who wears various public guises to inflate his profile. Unlike true demagogues, he doesn’t set the zeitgeist, he follows it. People like Limbaugh and Palin are like the pharmaceutical companies, creating the blockbuster ideas; Trump is like the generics manufacturer who makes a low-risk killing repackaging a proven winner.

So my conscience is relatively at ease as I load up Hulu and give NBC another monetizable click on the Celebrity Apprentice page (I say “relatively” at ease because, well, I’m still frigging watching Celebrity Apprentice). I learned two important things from the recap of last week’s episode, in which the teams sold art for charity: 1) Everyone on the men’s team is fed up with Gary Busey, and 2) Gary Busey is manna from ratings heaven. The men all wanted him gone, but Trump instead ousted Richard Hatch, because he sold the least art and not because he sells less ad space for NBC than Busey, definitely not, and how could you even think such a thing?

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Categories: Humor, TV

Sports Night Revisited, Episodes 12-13: In which a love triangle becomes a love rhombus


Season 1, Episodes 12-13: “Smoky,” “Small Town”

A good story works its way into your system. But every fiction fan has a few immunities, aesthetic antibodies that will always reject a certain storytelling strain – a particular genre, character type, plot device, whatever – notwithstanding the quality of its execution. You might be congenitally incapable of enjoying a conspiracy plot, or a brooding bad boy character, or anything remotely science fiction-y, no matter how skillfully or originally it’s handled. That’s a normal aspect of fandom.

I think that’s why “will they/won’t they?” relationships just don’t register with me. To me, this sort of storyline is only able to sustain dramatic momentum by relying on behavior that ranges from implausible to baffling. Do people often behave in implausible and baffling ways, especially when addled by the hormone charge of attraction? Sure. Again, this sentiment isn’t rooted in dispassionate criticism, nor could I fairly say that exceptions don’t or can’t exist. But as a rule of thumb, an extended will they/won’t they story is likely to bounce off me like a Nerf pellet.

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Categories: Pop Culture, TV