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Monday, Nov 23, 2009
Tired of boring reunion shows? Angry at disappointing series finales? Larry David and his Curb Your Enthusiasm/Seinfeld mash-up provide all the answers.

As the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm draws to a close with the much hyped and reasonably satisfying Seinfeld reunion, Larry David has succeeded in redeeming himself for writing a lousy Seinfeld finale and in the process reinvented the reunion show.


The reunion show was once a staple of desperate TV executives looking to rekindle old love affairs between the fickle viewing public and once beloved shows. People would tune in to see the Brady girls all grown up and getting married. We wanted to know if Captain Stubing could still pull off wearing those Love Boat shorts 10 or 20 years later. The reunion shows themselves were across-the-board awful, but nostalgia lured millions to tune in despite knowing that they were being manipulated by a gimmick. The reunion show, like a visit home for the holidays, necessary but sometimes painful, was the only way to see favorite characters again.


Now, with infinite choices available, nothing disappears long enough for nostalgia to set in. If you want to watch old episodes of your favorite shows, they are almost guaranteed to be rerun on some cable channel and easily added to your DVR. If that’s not immediate enough gratification, try one of the countless websites streaming TV shows. You could always rent or buy the DVD box sets. Or maybe you’ll be satisfied with the remake, the reimagination or the reinvention. Hello V and The Prisoner, my old friends! 


Then again, if you were one of the people who watched reunion shows purely for the rubbernecking, there are plenty of options for you too. You don’t need a reunion show to find out which child stars have grown up to become junkies or which actors had major reconstructive surgery. Celebreality shows cover that ground just fine, thank you. It has never been easier to keep up with the likes of Willie Aames and Danny Bonaduce. Or just slum it with some paparazzi pictures of the Olsen twins.


So R.I.P to the reunion show. Or so it seemed.


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Friday, Nov 20, 2009
Former New York Giants superstar (and current in-demand sports commentator) Michael Strahan speaks with PopMatters.

For years, Michael Strahan was one of the single most feared forces in the NFL; quite a feat for a guy known off the field as something of a big softy. In his fourteen year career as a defensive end for the New York Giants, Strahan was selected to seven Pro Bowls, named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2001, and captured the NFL single season sack record.


After a stellar career on the gridiron, Strahan seems set to be as dominant on TV as he was on the field. He’s a host for Pros vs Joes and the star of the new sitcom Brothers, where he plays a retired NFL star named Michael. It’s all a little bit postmodern, yes. And like any retired football player worth his salt, Strahan is offering his thoughts on the current NFL season on TV every Sunday.


I caught up with Michael Strahan earlier this week to talk about his Super Bowl picks, his former team, the business end of running an NFL franchise, whether or not getting hit in the head for a living can ever be a safe occupation and of course, how he stays pretty for his new career in TV land.



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Wednesday, Nov 18, 2009
You can almost sense how self-conscious Scooter felt when it came time to engage in the traditional opening-theme self-promotion; Scooter's entire personality boils down to consumerism: "I've got my computer."

I was listening to the Muppet Babies theme song the other day (don’t judge me!), and I made a point of studying its lyrics. (Surely you’ll concede that somebody has to intently critique the lyrics to songs from Saturday morning cartoons that aired 25 years ago.)


Point being, I noticed something terrible. Note what each of the Babies says in the opening theme:


Kermit: I like adventure.
Piggy: I like romance.
Fozzie: I love great jokes.
Animal: Animal dance!
Scooter: I’ve got my computer.
Skeeter: I swing through the air.
Rowlf: I play the piano.
Gonzo: And I’ve got blue hair.


Now, I admit that Gonzo’s “I’ve got blue hair” is hardly characterization at its deepest and most stirring, but whereas Kermit’s an adventurer and Fozzie’s a comedian and Rowlf’s a musician, Scooter’s only claim to fame is, “I’ve got my computer.”


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Wednesday, Nov 11, 2009
Legend of the Seeker had a rough start in its first season, but it improved greatly by the season finale. Season two picks up where the first ended, both in terms of plot and quality level.

The first season of Legend of the Seeker faced a decidedly uphill battle. Not only was it one of the first pure swords-and-sorcery fantasy shows in many years, it was also the first major show to try its hand in syndication since Xena: Warrior Princess went off the air. The link between the two shows was executive producers Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert. Conventional wisdom said that the syndication market was basically dead in the 00’s, left behind by the proliferation of cable channels willing to fund original programming. Raimi and Tapert believed otherwise; with a tailor-made timeslot on Saturday nights on stations usually devoted to the CW Network (which doesn’t broadcast on Saturdays), they believed they could find success again in syndication. And they turned out to be right. Action-oriented shows are always easier to market worldwide, and with strong ratings in dozens of countries, Legend of the Seeker was renewed before the first season was even halfway over.


But finding an audience wasn’t the show’s only uphill battle. Based on author Terry Goodkind’s sprawling epic fantasy series The Sword of Truth, Legend of the Seeker had to find a way to make a dense, highly serial story into one-hour stand-alone episodes. Unlike a cable network, the reality of the syndication market demanded that the show not be excessively serialized. Syndicators believe strongly that their shows need to be accessible to a casual audience that might not see every episode. Creatively, this was a huge issue for the show. Go too episodic and you turn off your core audience, go too serial and you alienate the casual viewers that are theoretically the lifeblood of syndication. And they struggled with this quite a bit for the first half of the season or so. But eventually, the show managed to find that balance, turning into a very satisfying hour of TV from week to week. The action scenes were always strong, and filming in New Zealand is always a huge advantage to a fantasy story. But the acting got better, the writing improved, and by season’s end, Legend of the Seeker actually resembled an engaging, serious fantasy show instead of the unintentional parody it started as.


This past weekend’s season two premiere found the show picking up right where it left off. The episode established the premise of the season, taken directly from Goodkind’s second novel, The Stone of Tears. Series hero Richard Cypher (Craig Horner) has destroyed the evil Darken Rahl, but in doing so, has inadvertently opened a fissure in the earth which leads directly to the Underworld. And the Keeper, the lord of the Underworld, is scheming to get out and destroy the surface world. So Richard and his companions must find the Stone of Tears, a near-mythical object which will allow them to seal the Keeper back in the Underworld. Aside from the overarching plot, though, the episode managed to work in a storyline involving rescuing kidnapped village girls which was resolved by the end of the hour. Not to mention another thread popping up regarding Richard’s surprise family lineage, which is already tearing apart the D’Haran nation, the people formerly loyal to Darken Rahl. Oh, and there’s another prophecy to worry about. In the first season, a prophecy said that The Seeker (Richard) would defeat Rahl, but now a different prophecy is saying that Richard will fail in his quest to seal up the Keeper. All in all, it was a strong opening for a show that is starting to live up to its considerable potential. Now the challenge is maintaining that level of quality as the show returns to its more episodic structure next week.


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Wednesday, Nov 4, 2009

About partway through ABC’s adaptation of the Reagan-era sci-fi drama V, an FBI counter-terrorism agent, played by Steve the Pirate from Dodgeball, kicks down a door to a suspicious rusty old shed discovered while hot on the trail of a suspected terrorist. “Nothing!”, he proclaims as the interior reveals the banal components of your average quotidian shed, wishing to seek no further.


It turns out that the FBI agent was deliberately defeatist because he didn’t want his fellow spooks sneaking into his secret lair. Still, this disavowal pretty much sums up V;  a dramatic entrance (the arrival of a spaceship/flying LCD screen) and a subsequent failure to carefully examine interiors. Who would believe for one second that a counter-terrorism agent would surrender so easily on the trail of a terrorist cell recently found to be making massive purchases of C-4?


The rejection of surfaces is pretty much the thesis of V‘s first episode, but it’s a thesis upheld by the lazy sci-fi shorthand of a singular empirical reality laying beneath the surfaces. We know the good guys are good, because they know what’s really going on, whereas the suckers pledging a dogmatic “devotion” (the show’s big buzz word) to the new movement are apparently just dupes lured in by the Id-drive to fuck galactic travelers or the desperation-drive to accept anybody offering peace and prosperity in a time of turmoil.


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