Dalton Ross on how TV’s kicking big-screen butt
First off, a disclaimer: I’m a TV guy. It started off when I was just a small boy and would put off doing homework so I could watch that crappy What’s Happening!! episode where Rerun got caught bootlegging a Doobie Brothers concert (which I suppose is what happens when one straps a tape recorder roughly the size of the Titanic to one’s belt). It continued when I started an Alf fan club in high school, and also and spent countless hours trying to untangle the mystery of Richard Grieco’s gravity-defying hair. Then, I somehow managed to score a gig where my entire job was to sit and watch television and write about it in some column called What to Watch. So, yeah. I’m a TV guy.
But that’s not to say I don’t also have a fine appreciation for the movies. Back as a youngster I saw every film possible, including — but not limited to — ones involving Rob Lowe on ice skates. I have a DVD collection that is just plain ridiculous and takes up almost an entire floor of my house (granted, not a big house). I can quote films like a geek, and tell you what makes Conquest of the Planet of the Apes stand out from all the other simian-themed sequels.
So if there is a bias, it is a small one, but I just wanted to put it out there. Now, I want to put something else out there: TV is better than the movies. A lot better. This is heresy to many who have always considered television a bastard stepchild to the more culturally significant silver screen, but it’s true.
If you don’t believe me, then just go to the scorecard. Summer is blockbuster season, when all the biggest movies are on display on 19 million screens across the country. So let’s talk about all the great, fresh ideas that hit theaters this summer. Hmmm, let’s see… There were creatively bankrupt sequels like Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, easy franchise remakes like Superman Returns, and remakes of — ahem, ahem — old TV shows like Miami Vice. How’s that for fresh thinking?!?
Now, I’m not saying that there weren’t any good films. Talladega Nights and The Devil Wears Prada provided laughs, Cars was another Pixar gem, and Al Gore turned up the heat on global warming, but I don’t think any true movie buff would claim this to be a standout season by any measure.
Now, let’s look at television. Summer TV is supposed to be a wasteland: where good shows go to reruns and bad shows go to die. And make no mistake, with approximately 13,000 channels now available, there is a lot of crap out there. But look at the crop of original programming available for viewing during the supposedly slow time of year. There is HBO’s Deadwood, which features characters and writing far sharper than any big-screen entry all year. There’s Rescue Me on FX, which is edgier, funnier, and darker than anything that goes with a large bucket of over-buttered popcorn. You want comedy? How about Entourage, Dog Bites Man, or Reno 911!? You want creative? Check out BBC America’s time-traveling Life on Mars. Heck, even Showtime is now worth watching — Showtime! — with entries like Weeds and the increasingly addictive Brotherhood. (I’ll keep unscripted programming for the most part out of the discussion since that is its own polarizing beast, but the fact that there are also reality options like Project Runway, Big Brother, and Rock Star out there only points to the diversity of programming that television has to offer.)
And once again, this is supposed to be the low season for TV. Just wait until this fall, when high-caliber shows such as The Wire, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica all return. Even the recent TV shows that have been adapted from movies (Blade, NBC’s upcoming Friday Night Lights) are a lot more successful than the never-ending parade of second-rate TV-to-movie translations (Bewitched or Dukes of Hazzard anyone?). TV — dare I say it, and dare I shall — is leaps and bounds more adventurous and creative than what’s happening at the multiplex, where scared studios seem content to go with a big star and a bankable brand that people recognize and call it a day (did I mention Bewitched, by the way?). That’s a lowest-common-denominator approach, and truly makes the boob tube the thinking man’s entertainment option. And if you want to turn the brain off and just watch a Flavor of Love marathon, well, I suppose you can do that, too.
OBSESSION OF THE WEEK
I hate Tucker Carlson. The guy is smug, annoying, and enjoys talking over others. Wouldn’t want to be on his show. Wouldn’t want to share a beer. Wouldn’t even want to shake his hand. But I do want to watch him dance. I applaud his inclusion on the upcoming edition of Dancing With the Stars. On one condition, and this is a big one: Tucker Carlson should be forced — at all times — to dance with a bow tie. And I’m not talking some suave black tie kind of thing. I mean something from his regular rotation. Something big, red, and really, really tacky. I don’t know why it pleases me to imagine Tucker Carlson dancing around with a big stupid tie, but it just does. It upsets me that Harry Hamlin is also participating, because that means I’m sure his wife will be on hand cheering him on and I’ll have to bear witness to her frighteningly inflated lips, but sacrifices must be made in the name of getting a little Tuckered out. Who knows? Maybe this will be the start of a new career for Mr. Carlson. Next he can do a little striptease (starting with the bow tie, of course) on Fuse TV’s Pants-Off Dance-Off.
Would I blow your mind if I told you I used to have long black hair that went almost all the way down to my waist? Then I just blew your mind! (No doubt there are incriminating photos out there to back this up.) In any event, I’m not about to throw on some black eyeliner or anything, but I can rattle off the Top 5 Scariest Goth Bands Ever.
1) Fields of the Nephilim
Okay, they are not necessarily here based on merit, but they are responsible for one of my favorite rock stories of all time. Once, the band was stopped at an airport for suspected drug possession when officials found a powdery substance. The group then had to explain that the powder was not for snorting or smoking, but rather to apply to their clothes when performing to achieve some sort of scary post-apocalyptic cowboy look. How Spinal Tap is that? Automatic No. 1, just for that.
2) Sisters of Mercy
I guess putting out a song called ”Black Planet” pretty much sums up their view on life and how to live it.
3) The Cure
Granted, these guys were just too damn happy sometimes (may I direct your attention to the ”Why Can’t I Be You?” video) to be truly scary, but listen to the album Pornography and tell me you don’t want to slit your wrists….
4) Christian Death
…but before you do that, consider the case of Christian Death singer Rozz Williams. Heralded as the grandfather of the U.S. goth scene, he put out songs like ”Theater of Pain” and ”Spiritual Cramp,” only to end up committing suicide in 1998.
They sang about vampires and stuff. Case closed.
Let’s start off with last column’s egregious typo of the week. In my List of The Top 5 Sexually Suggestive Bond Girl Names, I mistakenly listed Plenty O’Toole as being from You Only Live Twice as opposed to Diamonds Are Forever. I’m going to go ahead and blame this one on a last-minute change of heart. You see, I originally had Kissy Suzuki (from YOLT) on the List and subbed in Ms. O’Toole right before I sent the file in, yet forgot to change the movie name. My bad, and my thanks to all you eagle-eyed readers out there for noticing the error. Now, on to the mailbag, where readers shared their opinions over my Project Runway pet peeve.
I couldn’t agree with you more about the judging process on Project Runway. Season 1 winner Jay McCarroll’s advice during the season 3 casting special: ”Play to the Production. (Pause) That’s what I did.” When he said that, it only confirmed that this show is in fact rigged and decided mostly by Production. It pissed me off when he made the statement, but then I remembered — it is television. —April Taybron
Hey, April. While there is no doubt whatsoever that some contestants are kept around longer because of their personalities, I would say that when it gets down to the final three, the producers probably give it to who they think the actual best designer is. After all, no one can accuse Chloe of being more engaging than Santino or Daniel V. Of course, the conspiracy theorist in me could argue that the producers didn’t want another man to win a show about designing women’s clothes…
I was agreeing with your Project Runway column until you implied that Daniel was robbed last season. Look at his show: The only interesting piece was the dress Nick did for him. Nick should be the one crying. As far as this year, can someone please give Laura some buttons for her shirts? Her skeletal torso is not appealing. —Peggy McHugh
I actually kind of liked Nick, but again that might be more for his personality than anything else. As for Daniel — and keep in mind this is coming from someone who knows nothing about fashion — it seemed to me that he was the most consistent throughout. Hmmm… what was that I said about producers possibly not wanting two men in a row to win?
I’m seriously not understanding Project Runway. LOVED season 2, but I’m getting a little too ”L’Oréal Makeup Room” and ”Tresemmé Hair Salon” and ”Let’s take a ride in my new Saturn Sky Roadster which was recently waxed with Mixwax after being filled up with Pennzoil”-ed out. Enough with the shameless plugs! I thought Project Runway would have more taste than, say, Ford-Coke-Cingular-everyone with an album out-sponsored American Idol. —Annie Byrnes
Unfortunately, product placement is inevitable on a reality program. I would actually say Runway is not so bad in that most of the advertised stuff at least fits in somehow with the theme of the show (makeup, hair care, etc.). I think the most blatant, cheesy product placement I can ever remember coming out of absolutely nowhere was during another Bravo show, Blow Out, in which self-absorbed salon owner Jonathan Antin actually did a whole scene where he showed us how he pays his American Express bill online at Amex.com. He kept gushing about how easy and fast it was. (Of course, the company was a show sponsor, and he pitched their card in advertisements as well.) That was the lamest of the lame.
I loved the videogame Journey Escape for Atari. The only thing was, we only played it on a black-and-white TV, and never had the original package. I found out years later that you were band members dodging backstage obstacles to get to your escape car. I just thought you were on a journey in outer space trying to avoid aliens and get back to your space ship. —Betsy Kilmer
Betsy, I can remember many a drunken night in college playing Journey Escape on a beat-up old Atari 2600 purchased at a thrift store. You’re right — the graphics were horrible, even by Atari standards. (Where is Neil Schon’s Afro, for crissakes?!?) The ”Loyal Roadie” character apparently was an alien of some sort, because he had antennae on top of his head. And while I love the fact that the game included ”Shifty-Eyed Promoters,” I still don’t understand why anytime one of the ”Love-Crazed Groupies” touched you, you immediately lost $300. What were they, hookers?
Have another favorite Atari 2600 game? Harboring a secret crush on Tucker Carlson? Wanna weigh in on the big movies vs. television debate? You know what to do: Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out that super easy little form below. See ya next week!