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Saturday, October 25, 2003
Time for the final five:
"My So-Called Life: Pilot": It's really hard to choose one episode from this series, because it's not an individual episode that really has impact, but rather the entire series. Yes, it's over-reliant on voiceover. Yes, it's a bit overly self-important. However, it's great acting all-around, and is the only series that (IMHO) really evokes the pain and joy (often simultaneous) of high school. Other great episodes from the series include "Halloween," particularly for the one scene where Danielle dresses up as Angela, and "So-Called Angels," the show's one and only Christmas episode, with a wonderful cameo from Julianna Hatfield.
"The West Wing: Two Cathedrals": After shocking us with the revelation of the death of a beloved character at the end of the last episode, the plots of an entire season converge. Yes, the symbolism is a bit heavy-handed, with a literal storm headed for Washington at the same time the Bartlet administration is experiencing a metaphorical storm. But Martin Sheen's Latin speech in National Cathedral is brilliant, the risky flashbacks and ghost/hallucination moments actually work, and the use of Dire Straits' "Brothers In Arms" is astounding. The wordless ending really gets to the viewer.
"ER: Love's Labor Lost": This is the episode that made "ER" and Anthony Edwards great. Every season since, sadly, they've felt compelled to return to the well established by the episode--the focus on one doctor and one case, and typically a dangerous birth. But the story making the doctors and the patients both human at once and the great acting throughout really gets to you.
"Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Hush": I'm not a big fan of "Buffy" generally, but this one episode, which is completely silent for about 2/3 of its running time, is brilliant. A demon takes away speech from the town of Sunnydale, and everyone must cope. A great example of storytelling, writing, and acting all meshing together, with the lack of dialogue making it even more impressive.
And, a relatively new addition:
"Law & Order: SVU: Loss": NBC hyped this as though it was going to have a cliched ending. However, not once, but twice, they pull the rug out from under the viewer. The final portion of the episode, where we see the characters finally cope with the loss of someone they've cared about, and then a shocking revelation about the fate of the character they thought was gone changes everything. Particular kudos to Stephanie March, who finally knocks one out of the part with her last appearance on the show.
Well, hopefully moving away from my Mandy Moore shame, Adam, over at Throwing Things, has again provoked a discussion in his comment section that I'm taking over here. The subject--what are the ten greatest TV Drama Episodes of the Past 10 Years? I present them here, in no particular order:
"Alias: Truth Be Told (Pilot)": Wow. Just wow. Leaving aside the brilliant technical work and the well-designed non-linear storytelling in the script, you have great performances from Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber, including the brilliant final sequence, wherein it's revealed that a character we (at first) thought was good, then thought was bad, is actually good. The whole first season is now available on DVD. My bet--rent the first disk, watch this episode, and you'll be hooked. It's like crack.
"Alias: Phase One (Super Bowl Episode, Season 2)": What do you do when given what is possibly the most coveted timeslot in American television? You completely reboot your series' continuity in a way to make it accessible, yet keep the villains and characters that viewers have become attached. Want to know how to make your series make a 180 degree turn in storyline while still keeping your loyal viewers happy? Watch this.
"The West Wing: In The Shadow of Two Gunmen": Maybe it's because I just rewatched this this week, but this episode is another brilliant narrative structure. We'd come to know and love the characters over the course of the first season, and the episode successfully explains who these people are, and gives us a hint as to their prior motivation. Priceless if just for two scenes--one, Bradley Whitford's wordless smile as he stands outside the conference room--two, Allison Janney's lengthy "avert your eyes!" speech.
"Law and Order: Aftershock (Season 6 Finale)": Oddly, I HATED this episode first time I saw it, because it's a complete departure from the "Law and Order" formula. There's no crime, there's no mystery. The cast goes to witness an execution, and they react to it in different ways. No preaching, no "ripped from the headlines" moments, just straight up great acting and writing that finally tells us something about the background of these characters. That we end with the death of a major character in an unexpected way only adds to the shock.
"The Practice: The Spirit Of America": This is a risky, risky gambit--doing a "faux documentary" episode. We saw how bad it could get with the debacle of "ER: LIVE!," but David Kelley makes it work here. The particularly impressive work in this episode is from Michael Badalucco, whose character comes in believing in the death penalty, but who, in the final shot, simply tells the crew to turn the cameras off rather than ask him about his feelings, but his eyes say it all.
Five more to come tomorrow--I'll keep ya in suspense!
Thursday, October 23, 2003
I'm at least a little ashamed to admit it, but Mandy Moore's new album, Coverage is actually really good. In a bizarre move for someone who's (thus far) been marketed as a Britney clone (remember such pablum as "Candy?"), the album consists of a bunch of covers of songs made famous by other artists, mostly in the 70s. The secret--strong song selection. The songs that the average person is most familiar with ("I Feel The Earth Move," "Anticipation," and "One Way Or Another") are the weakest, although Moore acquits herself well on "Moonshadow" and "Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters." The secret weapons, though, are two songs I'd never heard of before, "Senses Working Overtime," and "The Whole of the Moon." Astoundingly listenable, and not even in the "wow, this sucks!" sort of way that I might have expected. Best Buy has it for 7.99 to minimize your shame.
Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Sadly, the amusement that was the Sniper Blog is over now that John Muhmmad is no longer representing himself. For entertainment, we're forced to look here. This is the 1092 entries on the Docket in U.S. v. Zacaharias Moussaui. Thrill to his quality pleadings like "MOTION by Zacarias Moussaoui | Emergency Strike by the Natural Born Terrorist, ZM, to Have a Dual Shoot Out with Chief Liar Ashcroft in Lieonie Court Yard" (Docket Number 971) and "MOTION by Zacarias Moussaoui | to Open the Dirty "Mouth" of Ashcroft on Pro Se Motion for Access to [Redacted] and Rejection of [Redacted] Proposed Substitution [Filed Under Seal with the Court Security Officer] " (Docket Number 914).
Monday, October 20, 2003
It's rare I scoop CNN. But this order says Kobe Bryant will be tried beginning November 10, 2003. Sorry for those of you who took him in your Fantasy NBA league.
Two new sources of endless legal amusement.
1. The judge, who in an opinion available here, decided to explain the ruling in rap form--this is made more understandable by the fact that the defendant in the case (one of defamation) is Eminem. Priceless couplets include: "If the plaintiff presents no question of fact/To dismiss is the only acceptable fact" and "Any reasonable person could clearly see/That the lyrics could only be hyperbole!" Yes, review for your Civ Pro exam with Slim Shady.
2. The Newport News, VA Virginian-Pilot is maintaining a Sniper Blog, which is constantly updated from inside the courtroom. Ordinarily, perhaps not that entertaining. Combine the deadpan tone of the blog with the defendant representing himself, and you've got QUALITY humor. Samples:
"Muhammad, speaking from the podium, began his opening remarks to the jury with the words, "Good evening." It is 12:43 p.m. "
"Muhammad began a rambling discourse about the nature of truth, citing the court's oath to present "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" as evidence that there are many kinds of truth. "
Thanks to Howard Bashman over at How Appealing for both links.
Sunday, October 19, 2003
OK--I went to Philly this weekend--a few thoughts.
1. If you're going to have a public transit connection from your major train station (and you should), the signage should be clear, rather than directing you to a construction site. I spent probably 10 minutes trying to find the subway connection at 30th Street Station, and couldn't. Especially in this situation, where at least a substantial number of the people who will be using the station will not be natives, sigage is crucial.
2. What's the deal with the massive Fox News ads everywhere, particularly around 30th Street Station? And even more interesting, why on earth are they featuring Alan Colmes? Is this their effort to actually seem "fair and balanced?"
3. My main purpose of the visit was to visit the National Constitution Center. It's wonderfully well-intentioned, and much of it is very good, particularly the clever combination of live actor and film that opens the museum "experience," a sculpture that morphs a bunch of casebooks and other legal texts into a tribute to "the law," a display of how a case gets from original dispute to the Supreme Court, and the wonderful "Ben Stein explains the Constitution," which HAS to be partially ad libbed. I strongly reccomend it to visitors to Philly regardless of their legal background (or lack thereof). However, there are a number of things the museum overlooked. First, the museum makes no real mention of the "new federalism" jurisprudence (Lopez, Morrison) of the Rehnquist court or the debate over it. Yes, there's a glossy mention of Bush v. Gore and a lovely display of an actual "butterfly ballot," but no discussion of how it (arguably) reflected a violation of the rest of the jurisprudence in the federalism arena. Second, the climax of the museum falls short. First, "Signers Hall" is a poorly laid out set-up, with the picture magnet statues (particularly Franklin) right in the path of the "signature line." Second, the hall fails to ask the tough question--the question is whether you endorse the Constitution "as amended." This neglects two crucial points. First, it neglects the question of "were you in the framers' shoes, would you have signed what they signed." Essentially, it fails to deal with the question of whether the Constitution (as originally written) is a tenable and moral document. Second, the museum nowhere raises the question of the Constitution's legitimacy. Yes, it mentions that the Convention was originally called for the purpose of amending the Articles of Confederation, but it doesn't ask whether how the Constitution was adopted constituted a legal act. It's an interesting (and troubling) question, and one that the museum would be well-served to adopt.
4. From my observation--Philly (or at least the area within walking distance of my hotel, near the Franklin Institute) seemed like it had a disproportionately high number of porn shops and a disproportionately low number of restaurants. Not good.
On a completely unrelated note, I've been watching Joan of Arcadia on my TiVo, and two things are starting to bug me. First, can we please have less cop show? I know, to get Mantegna to sign on, the show probably had to promise him a certain amount of screen time, but what's sold the show is the premise of "Girl talks to God." It doesn't need to be "CSI" with special guest God. Second, please stop regurgitating the "dealing with a handicap" plotline for Jason Ritter. Yes, it's important to address that sort of stuff when you have a handicapped character, but we don't need to have the plotline EVERY WEEK.