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by Jessy Krupa

4 Mar 2010

NBC desperately wants its new family dramedy Parenthood to be a success. For months, the show has been advertised online and in magazines with such tired clichés as “Parenthood is realizing you’ve become your father” and “Parenthood is reading more Dick and Jane than Moby Dick”. Its premiere episode was hyped as “brought to you with limited commercial interruption by Nissan”, so I thought I was in store for a rip-off of Brothers and Sisters or Modern Family that served as a cheap infomercial for minivans. Furthermore, the show is loosely based on the 1989 movie of the same title that started Steve Martin. However, it’s better than advertised.

One problem with the show, though, is the fact that there are so many members of the Braverman family to keep track of. A large focus of Tuesday’s episode was single divorcee Sarah (Lauren Graham) who picked up her spoiled brat daughter, Amber, and seemingly normal teenage son, Drew, and moved back home to her parents. However, a more interesting character on the show is Sarah’s brother, Adam (Brian Krause). After losing his position as Little League coach when he fights with the umpire over a call involving his son, Max, he argues with his pushy dad (Craig T. Nelson) over a nosebleed he apparently caused by pushing Max to play basketball. After a violent outburst in school, Max is diagnosed with Asperger’s Disease. The two most poignant moments in the episode dealt with Adam and his wife, Kristina, dealing with this news and the grandfather’s realization that “something’s wrong” with Max. Less interesting is the plight of Sarah and Adam’s slacker brother Crosby (Dax Shepard), a recording engineer who reluctantly agrees to have a baby with his record producer girlfriend within three years, after learning that she was looking for a sperm donor. A supposed cliffhanger is his discovery that he fathered a son named Jabbar with a stripper named Jasmine. What I find more interesting is Braverman sister, Julia, (Erika Christensen) a working mom who is beginning to realize that her daughter, Sydney, prefers her stay-at-home dad to her.

As typical of a family drama, family crises occur. Amber gets herself and good-girl cousin, Haddie, arrested for drug possession and Drew runs away to live with his father after seeing his mother slugging wine in the kitchen with her new date. Also, Sarah believes her father could be having an affair. By the end of the episode, the whole clan comes together to cheer on Max at another baseball game.

For a show that proclaims to be all about family, it’s ironic that Parenthood is not a show that a family could watch together. It’s too soon to know where the series is headed, but with a little tweaking, Parenthood could become the next 7th Heaven or Eight Is Enough, or at the very least, be the show that Life Unexpected pretends to be.

by Michael Landweber

4 Mar 2010

The post-mortem on the Jay Leno failure has been extensive. According to pretty much everyone, the 10 o’clock hour is safe for scripted drama again. Already the Law and Order and CSI clones are flooding into the networks for this development season. All is right in the world. 

Or maybe not. As the goofy closing ceremony of the otherwise stellar Vancouver Olympics ended abruptly on NBC, the network unveiled its latest effort to revolutionize almost-late-night TV: The Marriage Ref.

by Alex Suskind

4 Mar 2010

Broken Bells
Broken Bells
(Sony)
Releasing: 9 March

Broken Bells brings together two of today’s brightest and most innovative musicians: Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse), best known for his work as one half of Gnarls Barkley and James Mercer, principle songwriter for indie-pop darlings the Shins. According to NPR, the duo met six years ago and finally found time to record together this past year.

Despite clocking in at only 37 minutes, Broken Bells’ self-titled debut is complete with signature sounds from both members—light harmonies and catchy hooks reminiscent of Mercer’s Shins and haunting organs and dark synth riffs from Burton’s production on Gorillaz’ Demon Days from 2005 and Beck’s Modern Guilt from 2008.

The upcoming release of this album (9 March) comes as bittersweet news to Shins’ fans, who have been waiting three years for a new record. Instead, they get a glimpse of Mercer’s songwriting ability outside the indie pop sound that made him big. At the very least, Broken Bells will keep them entertained in the meantime.

The album is currently streaming over at NPR. The music video for their first single, “The High Road” is below.

SONG LIST
01 The High Road
02 Vaporize
03 Your Head Is on Fire
04 The Ghost Inside
05 Sailing to Nowhere
06 Trap Doors
07 Citizen
08 October
09 Mongrel Heart
10 The Mall and Misery

by Rick Dakan

4 Mar 2010

Spoiler Warning: This post gives away a spoiler that’s irrelevant to the story of Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh but that is also the game’s most effective moment.

It’s the only time I really remember being scared in a video game. I’ve been startled by demons jumping out of monster closets in Doom 3. I’ve been creeped the hell out by Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. I’ve screamed in alarm in Wing Commander while flying through an exploding kilrathi fighter only to slam at full speed into the suddenly revealed side of the freighter that I’m supposed to be escorting. There was that time that I was so angry that I broke my TV. But the only time that I remember being actually, really scared was while playing Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh. And now it’s available for cheap and easy download at Good Old Games.

I was living in a tiny, badly lit apartment by the beach (so tiny that when they remodeled the place years later, they turned it into a laundry room). It wasn’t even night-time but rather a hot summer afternoon. I had the blinds drawn though, and the room glowed with that late-day amber light that you usually only find in Southern Gothic horror movies. On my 15 inch monitor, a full motion video horror story was playing out. It included monsters in copier rooms at the office, strained conversations with co-workers, and kinky sex. None of those things were scary at all, and while at the time I thought the actors and writing good enough for the job, this was all low-budget horror flick stuff. The kind of stuff that just doesn’t scare me.

No, the scary parts came from working on the computer. At various points in the game, you in your role as an office worker in his cubicle have to log onto the company system and do some work. The game screen switches from point and click adventure style to a simulation: your computer becomes your character’s computer with e-mail and other office-appropriate functions. Even then it seemed sort of simplified and unwieldy compared to my actual desktop, but it was believable. That believability was key, because it allowed me to suspend that pesky disbelief without even being conscious of it.

The terror came on subtle and simple. Compared to the special effect driven video sequences, I’m sure that it was the cheapest, easiest feature to implement in the game. I didn’t even know for sure what was happening or indeed that anything was happening at all. It was a flickering in the corner of my eye, a movement at the top right of the screen. It made me nervous, but I had my mind on other things (plot things, things I don’t remember at all now). As my disquiet grew, the weirdness couldn’t be ignored. I stopped everything else and just stared at that corner of the screen. I felt self-conscious about it because it might have been nothing at all, just a trick of the afternoon light or a defect in my old monitor. And then it flashed for less than a second, a single word. Maybe it was two. Memory fails me because there would be more of them, but it was something along the lines of “Murder.” It really, actually scared me.

The game had built up to this moment well with my character’s psychological state already seriously in question. Something bad was going on, but I didn’t know what it was. Then, in that moment, that flash of a single word, the game changed my reality. My brain had accepted the game’s computer interface as an analog experience to my own desktop. It was expecting creepy e-mails and weird images in response to mouse clicks. It wasn’t ready for the supposedly stable elements of my user interface to start urging me towards homicide. Ahh, how I treasure that moment.

Now you can have it too, except I’ve ruined it for you. I did put that spoiler warning up top (although I might’ve undersold it). I’m torn about buying A Puzzle of Flesh again. I think that it’s great that it is available, but I’m pretty sure that playing it now would ruin those memories. We’ll see, but if anyone out there does play it now for the first time, I’d love to know if it holds up even a little bit. Anyone else have some outstanding scary moments from video games?

by Rodger Jacobs

3 Mar 2010

Editor’s note: Check out Part One of this article.

Canyon Pointe
The Canyon Pointe Summerlin Center is a confluence of NYSE-traded big-name box stores nestled on a modest patch of acreage adjoining the Red Rock Casino and Resort in a quiet corner of the northwest Las Vegas city limits.

Canyon Pointe straddles the invisible border between the rugged mountains and arid desert of Southern Nevada and the brick, mortar, and steel footprints of human civilization; just walk a few blocks west on Charleston Boulevard and you’re at the cusp of the Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, a favored spot for mountain hiking and bicycling.

Ten years ago, the land that Canyon Pointe occupies was home to scrub brush and sand, ancient rock, coyotes, bobcats, quail, and geese. Today the lot, part of a 25,000 acre parcel of land purchased by eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes in the 1950s, boasts a Best Buy consumer electronics store, a Bed, Bath and Beyond for ergonomic pillows and scented soaps, an Office Depot, and a Marshall’s discount department store, offering a vast array of product from Adidas sportswear and men’s button-down dress shirts to imported tins of sardines and rich bratwurst mustard from Munich.

The anchor of the privately-owned Canyon Pointe Center, smack dab in the middle of all of those other branded box stores and within strolling distance of a Burger King and a Chevron gas station and car wash, is store number 0534 in the Borders Books, Music, and Café chain.

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