Random Television Pontifications: #2 – In Defense Of Dana Walsh (and 24)

•March 23, 2010 • 1 Comment

Note: This blog entry discusses plot points from 24 Season 8 as of March 22nd, 2010. If you’re not caught up, this could be potentially hazardous to your health.

Dana Walsh - Boring and annoying

There are many things that can be said about this current season of 24; but the one thing that almost everyone seems to universally agree on, is how much they hate the ongoing storyline with Dana Walsh (played by Katee Sackhoff). This story has been increasingly hard to watch, compounded by the fact that every time you think it’s going to wrap up, it finds new legs. It is then further compounded by the fact that they seem to be wasting all the potential they have with Sackhoff as an actress (from the critically adored Battlestar Galactica remake, and no, I haven’t finished the series, so mind your spoilers).

Dana’s storyline had built up so much frustration and hatred, that I would instantly love any character that chose to walk in and end it; by any means. Then the most recent episode happened. Everything came together in the most logical way possible. Dana Walsh is evil. We found that all along she’s been a mole working for Samir (random terrorist bad guy #27).

It seems that this reveal isn’t being as well received by others as it is by me. Complaints like “another mole!?” and “completely illogical and stupid” have been thrown around. I would like to address some of these complaints and present my view on them.

  • “Another mole!?” – I feel that this complaint is moot when it comes to 24. Every season of 24 has been littered with moles. Hell, even last season when CTU only existed in an underground capacity and only consisted of 4 people, 1 of them was still working with a hidden agenda. Moles are as much a part of 24 as terrorists and bomb threats. I also don’t think this was the episode to start complaining about her being a mole. We’ve known all season that she illegally infiltrated CTU under a new alias. If anything, her working for terrorists makes the fact that she pulled that off more plausible.
  • “Illogical and stupid” – Is it a twist just for the sake of having a twist? Probably. However, I feel that this turn of events makes some of her past decisions much more believable. She didn’t mind breaking the law for Kevin, because she’s already a soulless character working for terrorists. Cool. If Kevin blew the whistle on her fake alias, he’d be inadvertently thwarting the terrorist attempt; so she had ample reason to not let him screw it up. Does this make any of the lost hours enduring her story better? Not really, but at least they’re mildly more understandable.
  • Potential – This is key. Now that Dana Walsh is a full fledged evil terrorist, we have potential. Not only does Sackhoff finally get to play a competent badass again, this raises a whole new issue for Freddie Prinze’s half decent character. This is his version of a Nina Meyers story.

Dana Walsh - Evil and Exciting!

24 is a difficult show. You can’t take it too seriously. I’m tired of hearing complaints about how things aren’t matching up to real time. Now, I will admit the show does seem to be losing steam, but it still offers more action and suspense than most shows on television. This season has been lacking purpose, and more importantly a real villain. I’m not sure we have purpose yet, but my god did I hate Dana Walsh. Now I’m supposed to hate her and I couldn’t be happier. I look forward to finding out her real motivations and what problems she’ll be causing everyone throughout the day. This season is finally starting to look up again.

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Random Television Pontifications: #1 – Good Procedural vs. Bad Procedural

•March 21, 2010 • 2 Comments

Cop Shows!

Alright, so let’s do it: Let’s talk about cop shows! You may have seen one or two in your day. Just turn on CBS any weeknight, you’ll find one. Five different Law & Orders, three different CSIs, two different NCISs, you get my point. It’s a television staple that can be traced back all the way to the days of Sherlock Holmes in the written word. People like to follow smart, savvy detectives as they solve heinous crimes. Some might call it lazy television or claim that it’s all cliche now; and in some respect, that’s very true. That brings me to this particular pontification. Television is littered with crime shows, from sillier things to overly serious. I try to watch most of them; this is my story.

I am starting to find myself extremely bored with many of the cop shows on TV now. I’m getting tired of shows like Psych and The Mentalist (oh my god, I’m comparing them!!!!) having boring, predictable, and played out cases. In the case of those shows and the shows like them, you are watching for the characters, not the crime. This is what I am starting to consider a “bad” procedural. A bad procedural is by no means a bad show. It just simply refers to a show that merely exploits the fact that it is a procedural. The crime is a vessel, a means to an end; no more, no less. The crime will take the characters and put them into situations that bring out particular character moments or situations, and that’s why we watch them. We just want the character stories. My issue with this, however, tends to be that they are STILL procedural shows. Which means we’re watching the show WAITING for our character moments. The procedural parts are still there to act as the vessel and we wind up twiddling our thumbs in between scenes waiting for our next great character moment.

A good procedural means you can take the detectives out of the story, replace them with any other random detective, and it would still be a story worth watching. The victims are actually characters. The killers are characters. There are elaborate motives. When the mother of a victim breaks down in tears, you feel her pain. This is why a show like Law & Order has been able to last twenty years while maintaining a revolving door of a cast. Every episode is about the case. Every now and then they can work in moments for their characters, but it’s never a priority. This allows the show to be completely accessible and ready to watch any time.

Now good procedurals aren’t for everybody. People want characters, and I agree; characters are important. People also want overarching stories. A problem with every show being about the case, is if the case sucks, your episode instantly sucks. If the case sucks in an episode of Psych, no one cares; Shaun and Gus are still going to bicker.

The X-Files, one of my favorite shows of all time, was able to juggle this balance perfectly, in my opinion. The cases were well thought out, and the victims/killers were characters. You didn’t need Mulder and Scully investigating the case, but you had them anyway. They were characters too. The show had overarching mythology that it would address occasionally throughout the season, and in between they had “monster of the week” episodes. If you asked someone who watches the X-Files if they remember the kid from the episode D.P.O. (a young Giovanni Ribisi, no less!), they will. He was a character. He only appeared in one episode, but he had a story arch. He had hobbies and he had an obsession (and he could control electricity…) Now if you asked someone about the killer from the season premiere of the Mentalist, they’ll just shrug. It was some dude. He had some contrived reason for wanting someone else dead.

D.P.O.

My pointless rambling is trying to get to this point. If we’re not going to flesh out our procedurals, why are we even bothering with them? Why are we spending our time rolling our eyes at predictable crime stories, while waiting for our character moments? Isn’t there a better way? Would it be so wrong to put some priority on fleshing out the cases more? And no, casting a big name in your crime doesn’t make it better… that’s a whole new rant…

Dude killer from that episode of the Mentalist

Either way, that’s all I ready had to say. I’m still going to tune into every procedural I possibly can and watch them until my brain melts away. If it ever gets too rough, there’s still a good 10 years of law & order I’ve yet to see… Feel free to let me know if you agree/disagree with my descriptions. Better yet, what do you think qualifies as a good or bad procedural?

Television: Law & Order Criminal Intent – Goldblum Takes Over, Show Renamed to “Raines”

•March 21, 2010 • 30 Comments

Jeff Goldblum - Criminal Intent

No, Criminal Intent has not been canceled, although in many ways, it has. I haven’t bothered posting this for a long time, so I could give myself plenty of time to deal with my feelings about it. When Law & Order: Criminal Intent was renewed for a 9th season, only Jeff Goldblum was given a full renewal to come back. The rest of the entire cast: Vincent D’onofrio (Goren), Kathryne Erbe (Eames), and Eric Bogosian (Ross) were all given the pink slip. Saffron Burrows will be joining the cast as Jeff Goldblum’s new partner and the show will just follow Goldblum and Burrows. Goren, Eames and Ross will be given a two parter at the beginning to give the show an opportunity to write their characters off.

Of course when I first heard about this I was a little upset. To imagine procedural television without Robert Goren is something I cannot do. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. First off, we get two final episodes in which they can give the characters a fitting send off. At the very least we won’t get a one sentence explanation the episode after they leave saying “Oh yeah, they quit”, as is a trend in most Law & Order TV. I also think it might be time for the character of Robert Goren to be put to rest. Last season of Law & Order saw Goren all over the map when it came to presentation (See my season 8 review!) Another thing to think about is the fact that the show is now on USA instead of NBC. USA no longer gives Criminal Intent a full 22-24 episode season. Season 8 was 16 episodes long. With the show’s current format of following two different detectives, alternating every week, we only got 8 episodes of Goren/Eames last season. Now with 16 episodes to focus on ONE pair of detectives, a little more stability might be able to come to the show.

Only time will tell how Criminal Intent reacts to these dramatic changes, but if Law & Order’s past is any indication, cast changes don’t mean anything. It’ll be interesting to see Goldblum be the focus of an entire Law & Order show, NBC’s failed attempt at detective procedural “Raines” didn’t really give Jeff much to do. It’s clear USA is trying to give Criminal Intent another wacky lead character like all of their other popular shows, but I’m not sure how that’s going to fit in the gritty world of Law & Order…

Criminal Intent premieres March 30th!

Jeff Godlblum - Raines

Random Music Pontifications: #18,492 – Stone Temple Pilots

•March 21, 2010 • 1 Comment

Here they come, come, come...

So a couple of years ago, the Stone Temple Pilots finally got back together. I never thought much of the news and kept more of a “I’ll believe it when I see it” kind of mentality. After all, Scott Weiland had announced he was going to do another solo album first; so we’d have to hope he could stay out of legal trouble long enough to not only finish his solo album, tour to support it, and then still remain on good terms with the other band members before we could ever hope to see their reunion actually result in new material. Somehow, the stars aligned and it seems we’re actually going to see a new album from STP on May 25th.

This finally hit me like a ton of bricks after reading a review of a show the Stone Temple Pilots played at South By Southwest. The show is the opening act for their U.S. tour to support their self-titled new album. It wasn’t until I read this article that I realized how much I’ve been missing the Stone Temple Pilots; after all it has been 9 years since we’ve last seen a new album from them. To tide the world over in the 9 years, we’ve been able to listen to Scott Weiland in Velvet Revolver and the DeLeo brothers in Army Of Anyone; but now after all this time (and drug issues), everyone is finally on the same team again.

Like so many of the random reunions we’ve been getting, the Stone Temple Pilots are a Rip Van Winkle in the music world. Gone for a decade only to return to a complete change in music distribution, declining physical media sales, and major record companies on the verge of extinction. How will they perform when they return? Will anyone care that they’re back? Does the world even still want the Stone Temple Pilots?

This guy does, and let me tell you why. I’ve never considered myself a huge Stone Temple Pilots fan, but I would be lying if I didn’t say I was getting excited to see their return. Despite all of the changing STP had been doing on each of their albums, they’ve always rocked. The Stone Temple Pilots represent an era of rock and roll. An era that I grew up and discovered music during. Love him or hate him, Scott Weiland is a front man. He is a rock and roll singer. It’s his only job in the band, and he does it well. He’s an entertainer. He leads the band, he sells you on the music STP plays. When you see them live, he won’t just stand in one place and emote. You want to scream those choruses at the top of your lungs (and don’t forget that megaphone). Dean DeLeo is a rock and roll guitarist. Heavy distortion, crunchy riffs, chord master, solos and sometimes acoustic when necessary. They’re a rock and roll pair. Like Robert Plant/Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger/Keith Richards, or to a much lesser extent Scott Stapp/Mark Tremonti. They belong together. Their strengths complement each other. That’s not to say the other members of the band are worthless either; what would “Trippin’ on a hole in a paper heart” be without Robert DeLeo’s bass?

Megaphone!

I think I’ve been lost in the indie-hipster movement too long. I mean no disrespect to any of the bands, but I am just getting tired of the sonic experiments or folksy emoting. I miss the four piece rock band. I miss the arrogant bravado of a lead singer. I miss a band that can be razor sharp one minute, and then ultra soft the next. I miss big, dumb arena rock. In a new world where everyman can be a musician, where have all the rock stars gone? Where are all the bands who have just as much personality in the tabloids as they do in their music?

Perhaps it’s unfair for me to be lumping all this onto STP. I don’t need to be told that there are still rock bands out there, nor does anyone need to justify the merit of any of the bands in the indie scene. I am aware that the Stone Temple Pilots are not the epitome of rock and roll goodness. To me, this is all a matter of timing. I’m feeling homesick for the rock and roll I used to know, and suddenly a rock band I thought long lost to me, is returning with a new album in May.

How does anyone else feel about this? Is STP just another overrated mega rock band from the 90’s that should just stay in the past? Is anyone else excited to see them come back? What about the classic style rock band, not needed?

Here’s the article that caused this pontification:

http://www.spin.com/articles/sxsw-stp-recruit-doors-guitarist-tour-opener

Music: The Best of 2009

•January 10, 2010 • 1 Comment

Well folks, its the beginning of 2010.  Which means it is past due for me to review 2009.  On the whole 2009 was a great year for music and I would be more than ecstatic if 2010 was as bountiful as 2009 was.  Here it goes people, the best music of 2009:

Best Albums of 2009

1. The Decemberists – The Hazards of Love

To say that I went into this album with some high expectations is a bit of an understatement.  But somehow Colin Meloy and his crazy crew managed to top even 2006’s ‘The Crane Wife’.  Not only was ‘The Hazards of Love’ the most cohesive album to come out in 2009 but the production on this album was also among the best that I have heard in some time.  All of that aside, you haven’t heard this album until you have heard it live.  The experience is nothing short of epic and far and away was the highlight of Lollapalooza 2009.

2. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Those of you that are even mildly tapped into the indie scene this year undoubtedly heard at least some hype about this record.  Let me be the seventeenth to tell you that this album lives up to every shred of hype you may have heard.  Previous Animal Collective albums have dwelled in the inaccessible land of hipster, Merriweather Post Pavilion on the other hand has something for everyone.  There are poppy hooks galore and the soundscapes on this album are unlike anything you have ever heard.  All this is not to say that this album is not going to take some effort, but if you give this album some time it will become obvious why this is such an obvious choice for critic’s year end lists.

3. Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns

Sometimes a band just comes out of nowhere and broadsides you with a debut album so great you are stuck listening to it for years to come.  This year, that band is Rural Alberta Advantage.  I purchased this album on whim after hearing a little snippet on Sound Opinions, and since then its spent as much time in my cd player as it has on my cd shelf.  Technically this album came out in late 2008 but was re-released by Saddle Creek (Record label of Bright Eyes, The Faint, Cursive, and so many others) in 2009, so I am calling it a 2009 album because it would be a shame to let an album this good fall through the cracks.

4. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadaeus Phoenix

I found Phoenix’s previous work to be pretty uninteresting but it is no surprise that they finally started showing up on people’s radar after this album because ‘Wolfgang Amadaeus Phoenix’ is rocking pop bliss.  I can only hope that this is a taste of what is to come from this band.

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5. Metric – Fantasies

Metric is another band who’s previous work has never really caught on with me but from the first minute of ‘Help, I’m Alive’ it was obvious this album was going to be different.  The production on this album is better than on their previous work and the masterful addition of electronic synths makes this work stand far taller than anything Metric has ever done.

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6. The Avett Brothers – I and Love and You

This was actually the first Avett Brother album that I have ever listened to but it is definitely not going to be the last.  The Avett Brothers cover a lot of ground on this album but almost all of the album rings with Americana perfection and terrific harmonies. Great stuff.

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7. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything to Nothing

Another Lollapalooza band, Manchester Orchestra was a band that I had heard of but had never bothered to check out before the show.  After the show I went over to the merch tent and picked up both of their albums and a little EP that came with ‘Mean Everything to Nothing’.  While their first album was good ‘Mean Everything to Nothing’ is definitely an example of a band coming into its own.  Songs like ‘Shake it out’ and ‘I’ve Got Friends’, are tracks that will get stuck in your head for days but the whole album is terrific front to back.

8. Cursive – Mama, I’m Swollen

I knew that there was no way that Cursive could continue along the trajectory that they have for the last few albums.  Domestica (2000) was a great album.  The Ugly Organ (2003) was phenomenal and likely one of my top 10 albums of all time.  Happy Hollow (2006) somehow managed to be perhaps better than The Ugly Organ.  It was only a matter of time before they couldn’t make an album better than the last.  That is not to say that Mama, I’m Swollen isn’t a fantastic record.  As usual it is rife with interesting guitar parts playing dissonant chords over vocals that ooze emotion.

9. Franz Ferdinand – Tonight: Franz Ferdinand

When I purchased this album I had no idea that it was going to end up on this list.  This album’s most striking feature is the rhythm section.  Alex’s job on vocals is great as always but this band really stands out because they have some great interplay between the bass and drums.  Oh and because they write songs that are catchy as hell.

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10. Thrice – Beggars

Thrice has been really hit or miss in the past for me.  ‘The Artist in the Ambulance’ was probably the peak of their career up till 2009.   However, ‘Beggars’ is easily the most rock solid album this band has ever put together.  There is not a bad song on this album and there are no shortage of great ones.  Finally Thrice as actually taken the great sound that they have developed over the years and put it into a form that is worthy of a year end list.

Best Debut Albums of 2009

  1. Rural Alberta Advantage – Hometowns
  2. BLK JKS – After Robots
  3. Florence and the Machine – Lungs
  4. Cage the Elephant – Cage the Elephant
  5. Chester French – Love the Future
  6. Dead Weather – Horehound
  7. Ida Maria – Fortress ‘round My Heart
  8. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures
  9. Asteroids Galaxy Tour – Fruit
  10. The XX – The XX

Most Pleasant Surprises of 2009

  1. Weezer – Raditude
  2. Metric – Fantasies
  3. A Place To Bury Strangers – Exploding Head
  4. Mute Math – Armistice
  5. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadaeus Phoenix

Biggest Disappointments of 2009

  1. Our Lady Peace – Burn Burn
  2. Imogen Heap – Ellipse
  3. Green Day – 21st Century Breakdown
  4. The Fray – The Fray
  5. Tegan And Sara – Sainthood

Ten Tracks I Couldn’t Stop Listening To In 2009 (All from 2009)

  1. Things Fall Apart – Built To Spill
  2. My Girls – Animal Collective
  3. Shake It Out – Manchester Orchestra
  4. Oh My God – Ida Maria
  5. 60 Feet Tall – The Dead Weather
  6. What Have I Done? – Cursive
  7. Metric – Help, I’m Alive
  8. Magic (University A Capella Version) – Ben Folds
  9. Can’t Stop Partying – Weezer
  10. Lisztomania – Phoenix

And Over-Hyped Album of the Year goes to. . .

Dirty Projectors – Bitte Orca

Thats gonna close the books on 2009.  Feel encouraged to call my list garbage and post selections of your own in the comments! 🙂

–Ben

Tasteless Tuesday: December 15, 2009

•December 15, 2009 • Leave a Comment

The year is finally starting to wind down and I couldn’t be happier. Music fans can finally stop spending money on themselves and start purchasing gifts for their loved ones. Here are a few random picks from Metacritic’s upcoming release calendar.

Animal CollectiveFall Be Kind [EP]: If I were these guys, I’d stop releasing music while everyone still thinks they’re the greatest thing since we made a toilet that could spray water up your ass.

Alicia KeysThe Element of Freedom: I never hated her single off of “Songs in A Minor”. I have no idea what she’s been up to since; but she seems to have been steadily releasing CDs. Ben claimed this CD came out 2 weeks ago; he is wrong, and you should probably get used to it.

Shiny Toy GunsGirls Le Disko: A bunch of DJs remixing “classic(?)” Shiny Toy Guns songs. I think their music is fairly susceptible to such a treatment, so if that sort of thing is your deal this album could actually be worth a look. For me, it is not one of my things and I’m also still undecided on how I feel about the band as a whole.

There you have it, only 2 weeks left of the year. Apologies if this post isn’t as elegant and thoughtful as it usually is, but you get what you pay for. Stay tuned in the coming weeks, because this blog should be seeing some sweet and totally awesome year end lists. Hooray!

Until the next time I write a blog…

T-t-t-t-t-Tuesday December 8th, 2009

•December 9, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Well apparently no one wants to release music in December since it will likely be frozen out of any year end lists. Here is a short list of people that weren’t bothered by that prospect:

30 Seconds to Mars – This is War

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – Pin Points and Gin Joints

Snoop Dogg – Malice N Wonderland

Any chance of these albums ending up on your year end list?

–Ben