This is Better than Real TV, Isn’t It?

This is Better than Real TV, Isn’t It?

Sep 20

“Our next presenter has two things in common with L.L. Bean. Please welcome L.L. Cool J.” — Andy Samberg on Sunday night’s Emmy awards show.

Nothing significant about that quote except that it made me laugh.

This seems like a good time to write something I’ve wanted to write for kind of a long time. The Late Show with David Letterman went off the air in May, and yes, of course at my age I’ve seen lots of great shows come and go, with the exception of M*A*S*H, the greatest television show of all time, none has left the void in my life that I knew David Letterman’s departure would leave. My real-life friends know, just based on our conversations, that no single television program has meant more to me than The Late Show.

For the longest time, I didn’t know how to talk about why Letterman was so great. I could point to certain characteristics of the show itself, such as the best television band in the world, or I could point to specific memories that left my mind blown by what television entertainment could be, such as the guy on Stupid Human Tricks who snorted milk up his nose and then shot it out of his eye (or, another of my favorites, Can a Guy in a Bear Suit Get a Table at the Russian Tea Room?). But it was Craig Ferguson, while he was settling into his groove on The Late Late Show, who said Johnny Carson kind of defined the late-night talkshow format as we know it, and then David Letterman deconstructed it.

Yes. That’s exactly what he did. Ed Sullivan would follow the Beatles with a dancing bear, and it was all supposed to be entertainment. But Letterman read a letter from an old lady offering to read her poetry on the show, then had the old lady on the show, and then interrupted her just as she began to read her poem. He asked the audience if it would rather listen to this old woman’s poetry or watch a fat guy leap into a hammock filled with raw eggs. The audience voted for the fat guy, the old woman left the stage, and the fat guy leapt into the hammock, cracking eggs and dripping yolks all over the stage. Of course the old lady and the fat man were actors, and the whole thing was just a silly setup so that we could look at something on TV we hadn’t seen before, but honestly: what was the difference between that silly thing and Don Rickles insulting Johnny Carson in one of his countless appearances on The Tonight Show?

I couldn’t stay up late when I was in high school, so I seldom got to see Letterman on the old Late Night until I got to college, when I saw him just about every night. I moved to Hilo to finish my BA at UH-Hilo in the fall of 1993, which is when Letterman moved to CBS with The Late Show, and I’ve pretty much seen him every night since, minus a few years at the beginning of my teaching career. And nobody has made me laugh more in all that time than David Letterman. That by itself is all the reason I need. Recent years have brought Jon Stewart and Jon Oliver on TV and Tony Kornheiser on radio, and they’ve all filled my days with even better laughter, to be honest, but it’s different, the way Letterman has made me laugh.

I’m going to miss him so much.

Stream of Consciousness: Grammys

Stream of Consciousness: Grammys

Feb 09

Performance: The quality of an AC/DC performance hinges on Brian Johnson’s ability to sound semi-close to his records, something he doesn’t always pull off. But he did it this time. Angus seemed a little lackluster, but I’m cutting him slack because he’s like seventy. I was curious about who was on rhythm guitar and it turns out it’s Stevie Young, a nephew of Angus and Malcolm, so that’s cool.

Best new artist: Please, not Iggy and not Sam. Ugh. It’s Sam. HE SUCKS! Man, would I have loved to see Bastille get that, but it’s amazing enough that Bastille was nominated.

Performance: Jessie J with Tom Jones doing “Unchained Melody.” I hate this song. I don’t have issues with the singers. I just hate that song. Fast-forwarding.

Best Pop Solo: It’s a great field. I’d vote for Taylor’s “Shake it Off.” It goes to…Pharrell for “Happy (live).” Ah well.

Performance: Miranda Lambert, “Little Red Wagon” or something like that. She’s hot, but this just isn’t my cup of tea. I’m going to let this play while I get a snack.

Best Pop Vocal: Please, anyone but Sam. Dang it.

Performance: Kanye. Kanye is a songwriting, producing genius, but he really can’t sing or rap. Pretty good performance tonight. I like this. “You’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes.”

Performance: Madonna. OH MY GOODNESS LOOK AT THOSE LEGS. The song isn’t great, and her singing has been better, but this performance is sizzling.

Best rock album: I already know Beck won this because I saw it on Twitter. Not a bad choice. I would rather it had gone to U2.

Best R&B Performance: Well here my prejudices show. I don’t know any of these songs. Beyonce and Jay-Z take it, and I have no meaningful comment.

Performance: Ed Sheeran with Herbie Hancock, ?uestlove, and others. Good performance. And a really good song. These guys really laid it down.

Peformance: Wow, what the heck? ELO doing “Evil Woman.” That’s a curveball I didn’t see coming. And now Ed Sheeran rejoins him and they do “Mr. Blue Sky” together. This is EXCELLENT. Geez, that really was great.

Performance: Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani. This is…well, it’s okay so far.

Performance: Hozier. Ugh. I haaaaaate this song. I’m fast-forwarding. Ah heck. I was fast-forwarding and I saw Annie Lennox. Now I have to go back and watch the whole thing. Eh. It was okay.

Best Country Album: My hormones want Brandy Clark to win this. And…Miranda Lambert. I can live with that.

Performance: Pharrell. Yeah. It’s fine.

Performance: Something about domestic violence, introduced by the President. I’m fast-forwarding over this too. It’s a bit melodramatic for me.

Performance: Katy Perry. Sorry. I like her but I can’t get into this song or this performance. This is this year’s version of last year’s same-sex marriage moment with Macklemore and Queen Latifah. I think there’s a way to pull this off in a sincere, effective way, but the Grammys haven’t found it yet.

Performance: Imagine Dragons. They were one of the buzziest bands after last year’s ceremony. This is fine.

Performance: Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga. I’ve already heard them perform this together (I think it was on Jon Stewart). Gaga basically holds the song together while Tony does his usual thing.

Performance: Usher. It’s okay.

Performance: Eric Church. Also okay.

Performance: Brandy Clark. This is more like it.

What happened to the awards?

Performance: Kanye, Rihanna, and Paul McCartney. This actually works well. I’m enjoying this.

Performance: Sam Smith with Mary J. Blige. I hate this song. I’m fast-forwarding over it.

Performance: Juanes, “Juntos.” This is kind of cool.

Album of the Year: Please, please, please. Anyone but Sam Smith. Wow, Beck. Totally unexpected.

Performance: Sia. She was a disappointment on SNL. Okay, this is bizarre but it’s really, really cool. I am not a fan of that dancing stuff she keeps employing with this album, but the singing with her face to the wall? Very neat. The stage set is cool too. And what a finish. Wow.

Song of the Year: “Stay with Me.” Bleah.

Dave Grohl reads a thank-you to David Letterman. That’s kind of cool.

Performance: Beck. With no turntables and a microphone. Is that Chris Martin singing with him?

Record of the Year: Please not Sam Smith. Suck! Aw suckity suck suck.

In Memoriam: Andrae Crouch. Pete Seeger. Big Bank Hank. Gerry Goffin. Paco de Lucia. I didn’t know about Paco and Big Bank. Gotta Google those.

Performance: Beyonce. She’s great. But this is just okay. I think the Grammys these past two years have been stricken with a bad case of the Seriousnesses.

Geez. That was a huge waste of time, and the show basically sucked. It had a few good moments, but all in all it was kind of a yawn.

Thirty Minute Catch-Up

Thirty Minute Catch-Up

Oct 21

lost issueI’m giving myself thirty minutes to write as much of the stuff as I’ve been wanting to write as possible. If it’s rife with errors as you read it, it’s because I haven’t had a chance to edit yet. I’m trying to just make as much use of these thirty minutes before bed time as I can.

Sometime in August, Ryan hit me up in GTalk to verify that my friends and I attended the premiere of LOST ten years ago at a then-recurring local event called Sunset on the Beach, where movies are screened right on the beach at Waikiki. It’s where every LOST season premiere also premiered and where every Hawaii Five-0 season premiere has premiered, and it’s one of the best things about living in this city. Yes, I told Ryan. He asked if I’d be interested in being interviewed about the experience for a special commemorative issue of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser (our city’s only daily paper now), and I declined, but I did put the writer in touch with one friend who agreed to the interview. Then, a few weeks later, before the special commemorative section was published, the editor of the entertainment section emailed me and asked if I would do a LOST-themed crossword for the section. I was flattered and somewhat daunted, but I said of course I can do that.

My first draft was rejected for not being LOSTy enough. I had tried to hold to certain established practices for themed puzzles in the current crossword market, but what the editor was asking me for was basically to discard one of those practices and go all-out on themed clues, even if it meant slightly less elegant “fill” (that’s crossword constructor jargon for the rest of the puzzle, the non-themed words). So I tried again, and within a day, we had something the editor liked. And on September 21, my first published crossword puzzle made its appearance in the pages of a major local daily. The answers appeared the next day, and a few days later, the Star-Advertiser released the content from behind the paywall, and it’s all here, including my puzzle, if you’re interested in checking it out. I can’t say I’m super proud of the work (it’s kind of obviously, to a practiced eye, the work of a beginner), but I’m proud of my contribution, and it pleases me enormously to have published this work.

Last week, I taught a three-day, eight-hour-a-day training session for the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health division of the state’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. It was a business writing course, and although I’m confident in my teaching ability and my knowledge of the subject, I had never taught anything like an eight-hour, one-subject day, and to do it for three consecutive days with the same group of participants was an insane concept. Of course, I said I could absolutely do it, and the days leading up to the training were insane. I had to put materials together and outline the course for a group of people I had never met. This went against everything I’ve known about good teaching, which is reponsive to the people in the seats, and it stressed me out something fierce. I slept just an hour Sunday night (the training went Monday through Wednesday) and three hours each the next two nights, and I was a mess, but the class went (mostly) quite well. The participants were great, and I feel very strongly that I could do this again, now that I have done it once. My course evaluations pretty much reflect my own feelings: I got high marks for teaching style and ability, but mediocre marks for relevant content. Strangely, I may have made a few friends there, too. We got along quite well.

I was then offered (on very very short notice) a one-day advanced grammar course for another state office, and I said I’d be happy to do it, but then the office requested the person who’d taught their course the last time, so I was let off the hook on that one. Still, I’m looking forward to other opportunities.

amandaA few weekends ago, I was finished with my paid writing and still sipping on my latte, so I flipped idly through the TV season offerings in the iTunes store. Always a dangerous situation, as I’m sure you know. Of course I bought something: Season One of HBO’s Silicon Valley, of which I will write a thoughtful review later. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend it. It’s funny and crude and fascinating, and as a bonus, the lone female character is one of my new favorites. The actress’s name is Amanda Crew, and she’s got kind of an Anna Kendrick thing going on. Just adorable. Season One is eight episodes, which feels like just the right length, and it’s been renewed for a second season. It’s from Mike Judge (the guy who did Beavis and Butthead AND King of the Hill) and I’ve now watched the season three times through, laughing aloud at least once in almost every episode. There is some really good writing here, and I love the subject matter.

Okay. Half an hour. Perhaps I’ll try again tomorrow night and get to the other stuff I’ve been meaning to get to.

Many Headache; Much Meme

Many Headache; Much Meme

Apr 27

I was going to expound on something pretty deep this evening, but I’ve got this headache that’s only beginning to go away with half an hour left before this cafe closes, so I’ll just do a few memes.  Deeper thoughts tomorrow, perhaps.

TV Meme from here.

  1. TV Theme songs. Which is your favorite, and which makes you crazy enough to hit mute on the remote?
    Of course it’s the theme from MASH, but less subjectively, I will also name the themes from Cheers, Hill Street Blues, Night Court, Welcome Back, Kotter, and The Greatest American Hero. Okay, yeah. That last one is my real favorite. Least favorite: I love Family Ties and think is the most influential television sitcom on my generation’s sensibilities (baby-boomer parents, late-Cold-War children), but that theme song sucked, especially the “sha-na-na-na” that ended it. Blech.
  2. The Classics. What is your favorite Classic TV show?
    I guess it depends on your definition of classic. My favorite show of all time, as I have said a million times in this space, is MASH, but if that’s not classic enough, I’ll go with the original Twilight Zone. “You’re traveling through another dimension: a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey through a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. There’s the signpost up ahead; your next stop: the Twilight Zone.”
  3. What character from a Classic TV show would you like to be?
    Boy, I’ll tell you who leaps to mind: Rob Petrie of The Dick Van Dyke show. Not because I know more than one thing about the character and not because I’ve ever seen more than a few minutes of any episode of that show, but because that character’s wife, Laura Petrie, was played by a very young Mary Tyler Moore, the sexiest funny woman there ever was. Yes, please.
  4. Can you remember a line you liked from a Classic TV show?
    Well, the opening voice-over from a few different seasons of The Twilight Zone. The one I quote in the second question is from the second season, probably the best one even though I think it’s season six whose opening begins with, “You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension…” Which is the coolest phrase the TZ ever used. As for actual lines of dialogue, I’m going with something Paul Lynde supposedly said on Hollywood Squares when asked, “When would you rub your hand on a sheep’s back?” His response: “When a thank you just isn’t enough.” It’s much funnier if you hear it in Paul Lynde’s voice.

  5. Heroes. What show featuring those who protect your country (fiction or non-fiction) is your favorite?
  6. How can you beat MASH? It’s the reason TV was invented. It’s all been downhill ever since, and I’m not saying that jokingly.

  7. TV Cops. Who is your favorite (past or present) TV cop? Which TV cop do you think was the most crooked, or the most inept?
  8. My favorite is without question Barney Miller. That show had an incredible way of being dismal but allowing the tiniest amounts of optimism to shine through. It was Taxi before Taxi was on the air, a kind of aquarium of bizarre human life that seemed to say, “Can you believe this is who we are?” but then still shone that tiny light out from all that darkness. It was a great, great show, and Barney Miller was the ringmaster. Harry Anderson would later assume a very similar role (in a show with a very similar soundtrack) when Night Court came on some years later. In many ways it surpassed Barney Miller, but it also held on too long and by the time it went off the air, it was only a shadow of its amazing original self.

    For crooked, I’m going to go with Andy Sipowicz of NYPD Blue who wasn’t really crooked, but certainly walked the line in a way that, for its time, was pretty edgy. For inept, the one who leaps to mind is Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show, but of course he has been surpassed by Eddie, Lou, and Chief Wiggum from The Simpsons. Three of my least-favorite characters from that universe.

  9. You need to hire a bodyguard for yourself. Which TV cop do you choose?
    Okay, for something like this, you need someone who’s bad*** but since you have to spend all that time with him (or her), you need someone who can be a friend, someone who’ll chat with you and stuff. So I’m going with Seargent Judy Hoffs, played by Holly Robinson on 21 Jump Street. As Arsenio Hall once said of Ms. Robinson: what she ain’t got, you don’t need.
  10. TV Doctors. Which TV doctor would you choose to remove your appendix? Which TV doctor would you not let touch you with a 10-foot pole?
    I know that once we got to know her as Fox Mulder’s partner, Dana Scully on The X-Files wasn’t doing surgery, but I’m sure she could handle a little appendix if she wanted to, and why wouldn’t she want to handle mine? I have tons of sympathy for Dr. Frank Burns on MASH, but I wouldn’t let him operate on me.
  11. TV Moms. Which TV mom would you have liked to have had for your own? Is there a TV mom you would never want as your own?
    Mrs. Cosby first. Mrs. Cunningham second. Mrs. (Jill) Taylor third. Mrs. Partridge fourth. Wasn’t Mrs. Siever a child psychologist? For that reason alone, I wouldn’t want her.
  12. TV Dads. Which TV Dad would you have most liked to have for your own dad? On the flipside, who was the TV Dad you’d have least liked to have had?
    Mr. Cunningham. Remember how he handled Richie’s first episode with drunkenness? That by itself is why you need a dad like Howard Cunningham. I guess Tim the Tool Man Taylor second. For the second question, isn’t it obvious? Who’d want Homer Simpson for a dad?
  13. Comedies. How do you feel about sitcoms? Good, wholesome fun or saccharine inanity?
    The overwhelming majority of them are inane. But that’s true of any television genre. Sitcoms at their best are better than dramas at their best, because comedy at its best is generally better than drama at its best. It’s just true. And when everything is clicking the way it’s supposed to in a great comedy, you don’t even think of it as a comedy. Who really thinks of MASH or Ally McBeal as a sitcom?
  14. If your life was a sitcom, what would the title be?
    By Myself. Which is the title of Lauren Bacall’s first autobiography, so, you know. Double coolness.
  15. If you went to a comedy club on amateur night, and they gave you some jokes and a microphone, would you go onstage?
    Yeah, I’d give it a try. I wish I could learn to do stand-up.
  16. Reality. Are you a fan of Reality TV? What’s your “can’t miss” reality TV show (or shows), or what reality TV show do you suppose the devil plays on the TV in Hell as punishment?
  17. The worst are those Bachelor shows; anything that encourages people to bring out the worst in each other, I have no room in my life for. But as I said, no genre of television programming is all bad. Pawn Stars, which I watch every week, is like a little history lesson, and why would anyone have a problem with Antiques Roadshow and other shows of that sort? I’m also a fan of Ice Loves Coco, which is apparently finished. And the early days of Monster Garage and American Chopper were terrific.

  18. If you were given a free ticket to be on any reality show, which one would you choose?
    I think I could do okay on The Apprentice, but the one I’d really, really like to be on is Food Network Star.

Three on Thursday from here.

  1. What is one thing you would like us to know about you?
    Ah man. It’s a new meme so these are getting-to-know-you questions. I’m going to answer them in good faith, but part of me is regretting copying these questions this week. What do I want people to know about me? Maybe that I’m a lot shyer than most people believe.
  2. What is your favorite color and why?
    *sigh* As I’ve said many times in this space (not that it needs saying; pretty much everyone knows this about me right away), my favorite color is black. I have black sheets on my bed. I have a black bathrobe. I used to paper the walls of my classroom black. I don’t know why it’s my favorite, but everything looks great against a black background. Most people look best dressed in black. All the women I’ve been in love with have had black hair. And black is the color of night. Black is awesome.
  3. Do you follow/believe in Horoscopes? What is your sign?
    My sign is Capricorn, but I don’t believe in astrology one iota. I don’t believe in luck, or ghosts, or hexes, or curses, or clairvoyance, or palmistry, or numerology, or haunted places. I do believe in one virgin birth, in a creator, in a trinity, and even in a resurrection. I understand that this makes me horribly inconsistent, but if you knew what I know, you wouldn’t think so. I know what I’ve seen, and I know what I’ve experienced, and that’s good enough for me. If someday I see a ghost, or if someday some clairvoyant can see into my heart and even take up residence there, I could be persuaded to believe. But I haven’t seen those things or experienced them, so I do not believe. Call me Doubting Thomas.

Friday 5. From here.

  1. Those silly TV programs showcasing supposedly funny videos often feature unexpected blows to someone’s Man Zone (you know, crotch shots). How amusing do you find these videos?
    Not really funny at all. I don’t think I’m a snob about it; I just don’t find crotch-shots funny.
  2. Athletes today often talk about being “in the zone,” attaining that state of mind where everything is both automatic and excellent. When did you last find yourself in the zone?
    I’ve met my writing partner a few times (outside our usual meeting time for sharing work) and we just sat and wrote. There were a couple of times last week when I was just flowing, grooving, cruising down the stream of creativity in a canoe called Prose Narrative. Haha. Seriously, I don’t know how excellent the work was, but it was pretty good, and I love it when I get like that. It’s getting to the point where I can summon that, a lesson I think I learned from NaNoWriMo.
  3. What time zone do you live in, and is there anything especially good or bad about it?
    I live in the Hawaii time zone, which doesn’t have daylight savings time, thank you very much. What’s bad about it is that since we’re five or six hours behind the east coast (depending on THEIR daylight savings time), we have to avoid FB and Twitter (and sometimes even just the regular news) to avoid television spoilers.
  4. An erogenous zone is an area of the human body that has heightened sensitivity, the stimulation of which may result in the production of sexual fantasies or sexual arousal (not to mention orgasm). What typically non-sexual part of your body is an erogenous zone?
    I’m guessing that most people would say their neck, and I’d add my voice to that chorus. I once had a girl’s tongue in my ear and that was pretty darn hot. I’m not sure it’s what I’d like on a regular basis, but that one time it was pretty electric. The small of my back is pretty good too.
  5. Where can you get a really good calzone?
    The ones at Boston’s North End are pretty darn good, but they charge you for extra dipping sauce, which is lame. I almost never order a calzone because they’re sold where you get pizza, and who’d rather have a calzone than a slice of pizza? Also, I taught myself how to make a pretty decent calzone a few years ago, using Pillsbury croissant dough.

It’s going to be a tense week at work. I can’t say confidently I will emerge unscathed. Details (as always) later.

I’ve Heard That These Things Happen

I’ve Heard That These Things Happen

Oct 03

I haven’t picked out a planner yet; hoping to do that Saturday. Work has been kind of busy this week, in a way that’s hard to define. Or identify. Or even really confirm.

So the pre-dawn writing and coffee experiment went surprisingly well Monday. I banged out about 770 words in forty-five minutes. It was encouraging. But then after I got all excited, I somehow turned the volume on my alarm all the way down and overslept Tuesday, not getting up out of bed until just after five. Still managed to swim, though.

Wednesday and Thursday I got back on track, with about 1100 words Wednesday and then another 700 today. I’m playing around with young adult fantasy. I’ve got some good characters I like working with and have no idea where the story’s going, which to me feels like a good formula at least for verbiage.

It seems that the premiere episode of Lucky 7 received the lowest rating for a drama series debut in the history of ABC. Which is too bad because of the new shows I’ve seen so far, it’s the only one I really like. Its days are almost certainly numbered, but I think I’ll try to hang in there and perhaps convert the masses.

Last week, the founding bassist in Adam Again died, making him the second member of that group to die. Gene Eugene, whose name I have mentioned here a few times, died thirteen years ago. It’s hard to think about, the way this super, super, super important group doesn’t even exist anymore. I like a lot of music, and I like a lot of musicians, but there are a small number of bands I cannot imagine surviving my youth without, and Adam Again is one of them. It makes me sad in a way that goes beyond the demise of two musicians who made such a huge difference in my life. There’s something in there about my own getting old, something that’s been fluttering around on the fringe of my consciousness for the past couple of years, and I’m not ready to deal with it yet. I have a feeling that Paul Valadez’s death is a signal that I’m going to have to deal with it soon.

Meanwhile, one of those other bands who got me through my college years, The Choir, just launched a Kickstarter campaign with a live online concert during which the band took some questions from viewers and even responded to requests. Not MY request, but still. Some things die. Some things continue. And I keep getting up in the morning and greeting the sunrise from my spot in the Pacific Ocean, struggling to add a day or two to the end of my life because surviving is maybe the one thing I understand in this swirling mystery. The morning swims, the pre-dawn coffee and writing, the dying of musicians, the canceling of TV shows, the launching of new artistic projects by other musicians who still have something to say to me: these are all the same subject, in case that escaped you.

The earth is hard,
The treasure fine.

(Adam Again)

TiVo To-Dos

TiVo To-Dos

Sep 15

In case anyone was wondering, these are the new fall TV programs I’m going to take at least one look at. TiVo already set for the shows that air in the next two weeks:


  • Back in the Game. Can’t resist a show set against little league baseball.
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I kind of expect this to stink.
  • The Crazy Ones. Robin Wiliams. Sarah Michelle Geller. It’s going to be sad when this show turns out terrible.
  • The Goldbergs. Jeff Garlin (you know, the guy who plays Larry David’s agent in Curb Your Enthusiasm) is so funny, I don’t see how this can fail.
  • Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. I really don’t think I’m going to like this one, but c’mon. Ming-Na Wen.
  • Lucky 7. I have a good feeling about this.
  • Mom. With Anna Farris. This is the show I look most forward to.
  • Super Fun Night. With Rebel Wilson. Totally unsure about this one, especially with Wilson doing an American accent.
  • Trophy Wife. I’m mostly in it to see Marcia Gay Harden, one of my favorite movie actresses.

Not seeing Witches of East End just because the subject doesn’t interest me at all. Happy that Julia Ormond is on TV though.