Hi, Bob

Posted in The sacred box on November 9th, 2008 by bill

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The first thing I should say is that, as far as I know, Bob Newhart is still alive, thank goodness. Often the only time someone writes about an aging celebrity is when they die, so I hope you didn’t see Bob’s picture at the top of this entry and think the worst. It’s one of life’s cruelest ironies that we tend to celebrate someone’s life and work only when they’re dead and can’t enjoy it. So after watching an episode of Newhart this afternoon I wanted to take a minute to praise Bob.

This was an episode of the Vermont show, not the superior psychiatrist show, but contained a classic scene of vintage Newhartism. In this episode Bob takes over the book-themed talk show on the local TV station. For his first show, he books the author of a slim volume called The Complete History of the Universe, who no-shows and sends a replacement guest in his place. This guest, a retired military man who has written a book about a canoe trip up the Amazon, starts off well enough but soon produces what he claims to be a photograph of a herd of dinosaurs that he found on the banks of a tributary.
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Two guys named Bill

Posted in Dancing about architecture, The sacred box on July 22nd, 2008 by bill

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The filename of the picture at the left,
for reasons I won’t go into here, is “william-shatner-kidney-stone.”

As fate would have it, one day recently the postman brought CDs by two guys named Bill: The Transformed Man by William (Bill to his friends) Shatner and The Best of Bill Withers (Bill to everybody, as far as I know).

Shatner, who is never far from my consciousness to begin with, has been especially on my mind lately because my lady friend and I have become dangerously obsessed with the TV show Boston Legal. At one time I would have had a hard time publicly admitting this fact, because BL is after all a prime-time lawyer show, and what self-respecting pseudo-intellectual watches those? But honestly, this show couldn’t be more different from the CSIs and Law and Orders of the world: where they are ponderous and self-important, it is playful and self-aware; where they are stuffy and straight-laced, it is sexy and insouciant; where they revel in procedural details, it makes no pretense of realism whatsoever. Boston Legal may not be the best show in the history of television, but it is among the most entertaining.
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Yes, there is no justice

Posted in The sacred box on March 6th, 2008 by bill

I am still recovering from last night’s season finale of “Project Runway.” (There was a time when that last sentence would have embarrassed me, but I have evolved past feeling any shame over being addicted to a reality show about fashion designers.) The result, if you ask me, was a travesty. The annoying Christian — an arrogant little guttersnipe who can’t stop saying the word “fierce” — triumphed over the humble and talented Rami, and I just don’t think it’s right.

I don’t consider myself much of a judge of fashion, but I thought Christian’s stuff was weak. It was somehow both over the top and monotonous, not to mention profoundly unsexy, looking more like battle armor than clothing. Rami’s work was subtle, sleek, and classy, and on the whole he just deserved it more. But why should I care so much? I need to take a deep breath and get on with my day.

All Hail Ambassador Magma

Posted in The sacred box on March 4th, 2008 by bill

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You can’t turn over a rock anywhere in cyberspace without finding a whole universe underneath. In an idle moment today I happened to think of a Japanese TV show from when I was very young about giant humanoid robots who could also turn into rocketships. About all I could remember was that there was a character called “Goldar” and that he was the patriarch of a family of these creatures that I probably cannot legally refer to as “transformers.”

Three minutes later I was in possession of the following facts:

• Goldar’s wife was named “Silvar” and his son was named “Gam.”

• The show was called “Space Giants” in the U.S., but in Japan both it and the Goldar character were named “Ambassador Magma” (for fun, say that aloud to yourself in your best Dr. Evil voice).

• “Ambassador Magma, despite his robot-like appearance, is not a robot, but actually, a living giant forged from gold.” (says Wikipedia)

• Far from being forgotten, as I would have thought, “Space Giants” is currently at the center of a trademark dispute between Powerslam Productions and one Bernard Schulman. Powerslam gives their side of the story at some length here. For some legal reason they are no longer selling the (11-volume!) DVD set but “giving it away” when you buy an autographed “Space Giants” comic book. Even so the price is more than my idle curiosity tinged with nostalgia warrants spending, and anyway I don’t need 11 more DVDs cluttering up my living room. But I’m glad to know it’s out there.

Lost Planes

Posted in The sacred box, Whatever Else on September 10th, 2007 by bill

There was something oddly compelling about this story from today’s Chronicle, which may have flown beneath the radar of my non-Bay Area readers (hi, Dad).

Apparently, the ongoing search for missing “millionaire aviator” Steve Fossett has turned up no fewer than eight other planes, all of which remain unidentified for the time being. Only after concluding the search for Fossett will the agencies involved go back and investigate the other discoveries, and isn’t that a great premise for a TV series?

Suggested soundtrack:
“Lost Planes” / the Fixx
“Burning Airlines” / Brian Eno
“Hit the Plane Down” / Pavement

The Sopranos, end minus 1

Posted in The sacred box on June 4th, 2007 by bill

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Since viewing last night’s penultimate episode of The Sopranos (and how often do you get to use the word “penultimate,” accurately anyway, in your daily discourse?), I have been mulling over a theory that is as yet half-formed, or maybe half-baked. But here goes.

There is no escaping the fact that in this run-up to the end of the series, David Chase has been wrestling with questions of morality at the highest level. Tony Soprano is a lifelong criminal, a multiple murderer, a serial adulterer, intermittently abusive to his wife and son, and on the whole a menace to society (as emphasized by lingering shots of asbestos being dumped into a lake on Tony’s authority). The question is, do Tony’s human elements — his affection for his family and friends, his self-awareness, his philosophical bent, his love of ducks, for Chrissake — balance the negatives to make him worthy of some sort of redemption? Or is he just a charming con man who uses those human elements to justify his bad behavior to those around him — and to himself?
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Why Advertising Sucks, Pt. 639

Posted in The sacred box on April 7th, 2007 by bill

I feel violated. There I am, finally sitting down to watch my beloved 30 Rock. The first commercial break starts, and before I can even reach for the remote, I hear this:

Sheryl Crow, on tour. Four weeks in and her hair still looks fabulous!

I mean, after all the precautions I take to avoid having to listen to this kind of gibberish. Geez.

Alert the Media: New Sitcom Blows

Posted in The sacred box on March 12th, 2007 by bill

So, yes, it’s been a while. I missed you too, blog. I wish I had some good news to report, but the only note on the culture front I can think of concerns the new Rob Corddry sitcom, The Winner, which I am sad to report is an absolute piece of crap. It was all I could do to make it through the first five minutes, which were jam-packed with tired characters, ancient jokes, and a ridiculously obtrusive laugh track. Supposedly Seth MacFarlane of The Family Guy is involved with this abortion, though it’s hard to see how. This show makes Chris Elliott’s Get a Life — from which it cops its premise wholesale — look like T.S. Eliot.

I hope Corddry didn’t give up his day job — I mean, night job — on The Daily Show for The Winner, which should be gone mercifully soon. Then again, maybe it’ll become a huge hit, while the rest of us continue to wait for the DVD of Andy Richter Controls the Universe. Who knows.

Now I must go watch several episodes of 30 Rock to get this bad taste out of my mouth.

All Hail the Olbermann

Posted in The sacred box on October 18th, 2006 by bill

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I lifted this picture from the fan site Olbermann.org, which captioned it “Attractively Rumpled.” And who am I to argue? The salt-and-pepper hair is terribly distinguished, and only a little bit satanic.

I’ve had a little man-crush lately on MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, who’s the only guy out there in the vast wasteland we call TV news tellin’ it like it is. (Other than Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, of course; but since they’re still nominally comedians, they don’t count.) Hammering every day on the Bush administration’s latest travesties isn’t exactly a difficult job, but Olbermann does it with an admirable mix of passion and precision.

Every time I watch one of Olbermann’s “Special Comments”—carefully written, articulately delivered, cogently argued, and peppered with literary and historical references—I think to myself, “I can’t believe I’m actually seeing this on TV in the 21st century.” It’s so counter to the general trend that it seems like a miracle. And while you could argue that Olbermann’s nightly outrage has become a tad predictable, still, it feels like he’s expressing the outrage I should be feeling, if only I had the energy. And a TV show. So I say, keep it up, Keith. I love what you’re doing, but not in a way that should make you uncomfortable.

We can’t rewind, we’ve gone too far

Posted in Dancing about architecture, The sacred box on August 7th, 2006 by bill

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Put the blame on Duran Duran.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the 80s lately. The recent 25th birthday of MTV was for me a bittersweet occasion, and not just because it marks those of us who can remember life before MTV as officially Old. It’s also because I feel about those days of the early 80s the way some people feel about the 60s: It was an era when things were changing, the old rules no longer applied, and anything seemed possible. And looking back now with the right set of eyes, you can definitely see the high-water mark — the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
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